How Upwork’s First Woman CEO Is Pivoting The Freelancing Business For A Distant Globe

Just 66 days into her tenure as the CEO of Upwork, Hayden Brown was compelled to shutter and make your mind up irrespective of whether to sublease the freelancing platform’s physical workplaces and comfort and ease quite a few of her 600 freshly distant employees—all while fulfilling her assure to total a firm-wide listening tour and a report on the state of the small business within her first 100 times.

“This is a year where by you won’t be able to BS your way by means of nearly anything as a chief,” claims Brown, who was named Upwork’s initial feminine CEO in January. “I generally was dedicated to transparency and recurrent communication, and that was element of my leadership mantra and style setting up in January.”

Amid hundreds of thousands of layoffs and turbulent markets, the 22-12 months-old corporation has almost never viewed as substantially accomplishment as it has in the aftermath of the pandemic. With a market cap of $3 billion, Upwork (which went general public in 2018) is now the world’s major, public on-line freelance market, largely delivering distant job listings. Its inventory has surged, up about 70% yr-to-date. In the very last six months, the platform’s quantity of freelancer and company registrants has improved by 50%. 

In September, Upwork produced a examine of the U.S. independent workforce, showing that 36% of the U.S. workforce freelanced for the duration of the pandemic—a 22% improve because 2019. Twelve per cent of the country’s workforce started freelancing amid the pandemic. Covid also accelerated companies’ adoption of freelancers. The study discovered that practically 3 quarters of hiring managers are continuing or increasing their usage of unbiased industry experts.

Today, far more than five million providers use Upwork to article freelancer task listings for a month-to-month cost starting off at 3% of freelancer billing to purchasers, although freelancers can record their companies for free of charge and apply for remote jobs. They are billed a support fee of among 5% and 20%, relying on the overall amount they’ve billed clients. In 2019, Upwork saw $300.6 million in income, up 83% in excess of the final 3 a long time. And the corporation is on track to see more expansion this 12 months. On Wednesday, the company described a 12 months-around-year product sales increase of 24%, and claimed they are on monitor to see around $365 million in income in 2020.

Brown characteristics this success to pandemic-related tendencies. “People have shifted not just their notions about distant function in this second of crisis, but also their long phrase views of how distant perform will match into their organizations,” she says.

And she intends to capitalize on it. In the previous year, Brown has increased the company’s expense in a sales pressure concentrated on working with larger sized prospects, together with Microsoft, Airbnb and GE. Last 12 months, much more than 85% of Upwork’s $2.1 billion in gross expert services volume—or the whole dollar value transacted as a result of Upwork’s platform—was derived from big engagements and complicated tasks, not small-time period gig get the job done.

“The invest is basically likely to assignments that are extended-term in character. It’s substantial, intricate perform,” she states. “That’s wherever our buyers are obtaining achievement. It’s not about these like tiny transactions or fly-by-night engagements.”

“We’ve doubled down on our values and our beliefs. And frankly, a ton of all those have been aligned with some of the secular trends, these as remote get the job done.”

Hayden Brown, Upwork CEO

Brown is no stranger to pivots. At age 12, her family moved from the small city of Amesbury, Massachusetts, to Kathmandu, Nepal. While her mother ran a Nepalese women’s empowerment program and her dad labored in neighborhood enhancement, Brown examined at a small American faculty.

“Seeing the perform my mom and dad did was a massive inspiration for me in terms of dedicating your everyday living to doing anything that actually has an effects on the globe,” she claims. “That led me to, by means of my adolescence and early career, find out activities where by I could are living and operate in places extremely diverse, to be among other men and women and discover and obstacle myself to have new perspectives.”

After graduating from Princeton in 2004 with a politics degree—and a limited stint as an analyst at management consulting organization McKinsey & Company—Brown landed at Microsoft in 2007. Her aim was mergers and acquisitions tactic, and she reduce her tooth functioning on superior profile deals like Microsoft’s $45 billion Yahoo bid and $240 million Fb financial investment

But Brown yearned for a lot more mission-driven do the job. After interviewing with much more than 60 firms in the San Francisco Bay Location, in 2011 Brown took a occupation as a solution director at 70-person startup Upwork (then named Elance-oDesk). Approximately a 10 years later on, she’s operating the place—at a person of the most turbulent situations in the company’s record.

“From the pandemic to Black Lives Subject to wildfires, it has been a year that has analyzed us in new methods,” she suggests. “We’ve doubled down on our values and our beliefs. And frankly, a ton of individuals have been aligned with some of the secular developments, these types of as remote function . . . We have been carrying out it for 20 years.”

Just one of Upwork’s biggest troubles has been convincing organizations to count on its distant freelance employees, Brown suggests. Now, that barrier has been broken.

“Whether you go back again to operate on a hybrid design or whole-time, self esteem in the productiveness of remote work is unquestioned now,” says Ron Josey, a senior analyst at JMP Securities. “This pandemic has tested that you certainly can function from household, and you can do so quite correctly.” 

Having said that, Upwork is not the only organization capitalizing on this craze. Gig perform-targeted system Fiverr, whose stock has jumped an outstanding 84% this 12 months, is among the the fastest-developing businesses in the freelance area, Josey says. And freelancing system Toptal, which has no headquarters and deems alone the “world’s largest completely remote company,” is on track to see a lot more than 40% income expansion this yr, claims its CEO, Taso Du Val.

But with its new aim on pairing prolonged-phrase freelancers with large organizations, Upwork is differentiating by itself from opponents, Josey suggests. Upwork has also invested in user knowledge, teaming up with application company Citrix in June to develop a workspace so customers can a lot more simply onboard the freelancers they find on its web-site.

What is more, companies are also turning to Upwork to remedy their intrinsic variety problems. “I can’t inform you the amount of CEOs I talked to who are imagining, ‘I have to clear up the diversity problem in my business, and remote work is one of the essential instruments,’” Brown says. “We have to let go of this quite business office-centric tradition and include individuals who are in a ton of geographies.”

Brown has implemented this follow herself, asserting on Might 22 that Upwork personnel will be provided the choice to do the job from home even just after the pandemic is in excess of. 

“For culture and for business enterprise, which is only a excellent detail,” she says, “because it does open up the doors for people to take part in the labor market place in different means.”