What makes the difference between a startup’s success and failure? What sets a truly great business apart from an average or mediocre one? It’s not funding, and it’s not the product. It’s the people.
Every day, I talk with startups that struggle to find qualified talent to push their businesses to the next level. It’s apparent that talent is the single biggest lever your business has, but it’s often the most difficult to find. For starters, you are limited to the candidate pool within commuting distance of your office. But even if the best possible person for your business lives within that 50-mile radius, what are the chances that you could you actually find, attract, and afford them, given that great talent has countless options?
Traditional hiring can be painful, especially for resource-strapped startups. But thanks to the explosion of online work, businesses are breaking the barriers of geography, and they aren’t going back — 76% of businesses characterize online work as a long-term strategy, and 90% say it makes their business more competitive, according to an independent survey of more than 7,000 oDesk clients by Genesis Research.
Real talent is flexible and scalable. You can find incredible freelancers anywhere — and online marketplaces like oDesk can help you get started. So how can you use online work to turbocharge your startup and get a competitive edge? Here are some of the ways oDesk clients are leveraging online work:
- Augment your staff cost-effectively
Jonathan Swanson, co-founder and COO of local services marketplace Thumbtack, uses oDesk as a core part of his business. Though they have just 16 employees in their San Francisco office, Thumbtack has 120 oDesk contractors around the world, including a core team of 15 managers and directors. The core of Thumbtack’s customer support team consists of oDesk contractors, but they also use the platform for a variety of other needs. “What would take one person alone a decade to do, I can do in a couple of months through oDesk at a price that makes the whole project possible … If we didn’t have oDesk, we wouldn’t be able to do lots of the things we have done,” Jonathan said.
Similarly, many businesses use oDesk to extend their offerings and take on projects they wouldn’t have the in-house expertise to do otherwise. For example, Matt Sims — Vice President of Marketing for VoIP solution provider Eyeball Networks — said, “We hire for specific projects that require qualified help but don’t demand a full-time person.”
- Find experts with very specific skills
According to Mark Kauffman, co-founder of online language learning system The Linguist Institute, one of the biggest benefits of using oDesk is that he can find experts with very specific skill sets that he often can’t find in his local market. “When our lead developer left, we came to oDesk thinking it would be temporary,” he said. “It turned out coming to oDesk was huge for us, and we turned over all our development work to oDesk. Part of what influenced our decision was that there weren’t a lot of Python/Django developers available in Vancouver.”
- Scale up and down instantly in response to demand
For Gwyn Pritchett, who runs his own WordPress consultancy, being able to quickly scale up and down in response to demand is key for his lean startup. “The savings are important for a bootstrapping company, but the oDesk scalability is what is a huge factor,” he said. “By hiring on a contract basis, I don’t have the weekly payroll commitment I would have if I had programmers on staff locally.”
- Experiment with new features or programs, with minimal risk
Nick Blasgen of Refractive Dialer, a cloud-based multi-line dialing system, uses oDesk contractors to experiment with new features. “We do a lot of proof of concepts through oDesk,” he said. “It probably cost me a few hundred dollars that gives me an idea whether we can pursue it. If it pans out, it’s a new revenue feature. If it weren’t for oDesk I would have to hire an individual and pay them — even if it were for the same costs, I would still have that individual on the payroll and still working on a concept that I knew wasn’t going to work out.”
These are some of the most common ways startups leverage online work, but they only scratch the surface of what’s possible. What will your oDesk success story be? Visit the Microsoft Certified Professionals Group on oDesk to find out — you can start by searching for one of the more than 500 Microsoft-certified developers on the platform!
As CEO of oDesk, Gary Swart has a passion for helping small businesses succeed and more than 17 years of experience in the enterprise software market. Before oDesk, as the VP of Worldwide Sales for Intellibank, he was responsible for building the sales organization, but Gary's enthusiasm for small businesses was born during his tenure as a Business Unit Executive for IBM's Rational Software Product Group, where he led Small and Medium Business sales for the Americas. Gary came to Rational through its merger with Pure Software, where he held sales, management and leadership positions. Gary holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Maryland.