Matt Cooper (oDesk Vice President – Business Development & International)

- Did your experience in investment banking help you in the startup world?

- It did. Investment banking is a very intense job. I worked at JPMorgan for 4 years and learned a lot in a very short period of time. Investment banking is a great first job, as you receive 8 years of experience in a 4-year period. I learned a lot and having a strong financial background is good for any executive.

- What do you do at oDesk?

- I lead our international efforts, as well as business development and enterprise sales.

- You said that there are many efforts here in Ukraine. Is that why you are here at the moment?

- Ukraine is a very important market for oDesk. It is the second largest market for developers on oDesk and it’s one of our fastest growing client markets, as well. It is still a small client market, but it’s growing very rapidly. The combination of the technical talent here and rapidly growing technical community creates a lot of opportunity for us.

- When I first heard about oDesk, I first thought of How are you better than them?

- The main difference is that we are global. We have clients and freelancers in 180 countries, so we can offer a much larger and broader set of opportunities to the freelancer and a broader range of skills for the client. If you want to work for companies in Silicon Valley, London, or Sydney, you can find those jobs on oDesk.

- When I used to work as a freelancer, the biggest problem was in payments. It was common for the client to not pay the freelancer for the executed work. How do you solve this problem?

-That’s another key difference. As long as you track your time on oDesk using our software, we guarantee you will be paid. If client doesn’t pay, we pay the freelancer and track down the client. If you do the work, you will get paid for those hours.

- And what about legal issues in Ukraine and Russia?

- If you are a freelancer on oDesk, you are required to pay your taxes. Each freelancer is responsible for understanding the local laws and regulations to make sure they are compliant and pay their taxes properly.  Because online work is new, it’s not a common model, but with a little research, you can figure out how to do it.

- But there is a problem with a transparency with taxes in Russia and Ukraine. How are you going to deal with it?

- I’m not sure we can solve this problem unilaterally. For us, if there are key pieces of information, we can provide thorough reports or other statements to make it easier to pay taxes and be compliant. we are happy to develop these features. But, online-work is ultimately a new model. And there are a lot of questions around us, as with PayPal, AirBnB, and other new business-models.

- I know that you have great statistics on the freelance market. What can you tell about Ukraine and Russia?

- Earnings by Ukrainian freelancers in 2012 were about $25 mln and tens of thousands freelancers were active here. As a point of comparison, Russian earnings were about $19 mln.

- When we talk about outsourcing, we always mention India.

- Yes, India is very active market force. In terms of development, India is #1, Ukraine  – #2, and Russia – #3. This is different than outsourcing though. It’s also insourcing, meaning that there are clients (as well as workers) in these countries and work is going all directions. Online work is really about work no longer needing to be in a particular place and people being able to tap into global opportunity, regardless of where they are.

- What is oDesk’s business-model?

- We earn 10% from what the client pays and give 90% to the freelancer. It’s a very simple and straightforward model. We don’t charge users until they are earning money and finding value from our platform.  We don’t make money until you make money.

- What are your biggest clients?

- We have some very large enterprise customers, but the overwhelming majority of our customers are small businesses, startups, and tech businesses all over the world.

We have some very large, well-known companies on our platform like Panasonic, Unilever, Dropbox, Pinterest etc. In total, over 900,000 companies are using oDesk.

- Why do big companies like Panasonic need oDesk to hire people? I think they should have enough money to have their own HR-department.

- Companies of all sizes are starting to realize that the online-work model has real benefits. You have access to talent that would otherwise be inaccessible. It is also a much more flexible way to engage. For example, if you roll up a new mass product in Macau and you need locals to help you do user-acceptance testing, how else are you going to do that?  Are you going to establish an office in Macao for a short-term project? You can just use us, hire your team in Macao, and get work done. If you don’t need a long-term function there, you can switch it off at any time.

- In your presentation, you said that Google, eBay, Apple and Facebook are black holes for talents. But Panasonic is very large company too. Isn’t it a black hole, as well?

- If you are a mobile-developer in Silicon Valley right now, you can go wherever you want. Facebook, Apple, eBay, or Samsung will hire you. There is no shortage of opportunities for top developers. For middle-size companies like oDesk to compete with the big guys takes a lot of time and resources. Those who don’t go to the big companies want to go to the hottest startup. The competition comes from both sides, the corporate giants and the hot new startups. Between those two competitors, it can be really hard to hire the talent you need. Luckily for us, we use our own platform and have a great team here in Ukraine.

- What about the future of working online? Will this sector grow or stay at the same level?

- We really think that there’s going to be exponential growth in years to come. Right now, the biggest challenge is awareness.

It will just take time. Right now we are at the innovator/early adopter-stage. We are moving towards more mainstream customers . The first challenge is to make people aware people that we exist. The second challenge is to educate clients in the differences in how you manage and build an online team, as opposed to a local team. You need a different set of management skills that a lot of people haven’t yet developed. It’s a new way to work. So it will take time to a) raise awareness and b) educate them.

- How many freelancers do you already have in the base?

- Over 4,5 million.

- I see one huge problem in online-work – teambuilding. If you don’t have your team in one place, it’s much harder for them to communicate and build an effective team. What do you think about it?

- Our customer service team is a great example. There are 100 people and only 10 of them work in the office, with the others working from home in more than 30 countries. The way they build culture is through running Skype chats and consistent team meetings. Once you are logged in, you are in the Skype chat.  Some of these chats are about asking professional questions and giving advice.

While some of the exchanges are professional, there’s a lot of personal interaction, as well: “Hey, what are you doing this weekend?”, “Here is the picture of my cat!” etc. So people share the same things they do on Facebook or Twitter. There are ways to build a community without people sitting in the same building.

- And what sort of short-term plans does oDesk have?

- We’re focused on building awareness, making sure that more people know about working online and about oDesk. We are looking for ways to make it easier to get started in online work, from both a product and service perspective. If you came on as a new client, how can I be 100% sure that you will find the right person the first time and get the job that you need to be done?

And for our freelancers, how do I make sure that the best people get the best jobs and work for the best companies, no matter where they happen to live?

- Do you have rating systems?

- We do. We have couple of different marketplace mechanisms to help people find the best talent. We have public-feedback systems with comments, a private-feedback system, certifications, skill-tests, and more. We try to pull together a lot of information and different data-points to offer buyers insight into who has the right skills and experiences for your job. We also have a lot of data that we use to properly rank the freelancers you see, in order to decide who is on the top of your list.  We spend a lot of time trying to optimize these models.

- At the end of the day, what is oDesk’s aim?

- We think that our market is huge. The addressable market for oDesk is any work that can be done via computer. So this is a trillion-dollar market opportunity. If you build a great, sustainable, standalone business, you have plenty opportunities for an IPO, M&A, and other options. Right now, we are focused on building a really strong, healthy, high-growth business.

- And the last question – what does oDesk fear?

- I think the biggest question is how long will it take for the world to catch up with us. People like to talk about Instagram, but very few companies go from zero to a billion in a year. So I think it’s just a question of time. How long does it take for online-work to become a common and accepted standard. I want to see us grow as fast as we can, but it’s going to take time.