An Interview with Ian Ippolito, CEO of vworker.com

Usman Shahzada: Where are you from and tell something about yourself?
Ian Ippolito: I grew up in Merritt Island, Florida, which is the home of Kennedy Space Center. Most of the people who lived there worked for NASA and my dad did too. He first worked in the Apollo control room, and then later became the director of the U.S. shuttle tracking station. It was an huge inspiration to see my dad (and his co-workers) use their brains and technology every day, to conquer huge challenges and push the boundaries of human knowledge.

After college, I moved to Tampa, Florida for my first job. I loved the weather, lifestyle and affordable housing and decided to stay. It also became an excellent place to start a business, because of the lost cost of living and ease in bringing in new recruits.

Usman Shahzada: When and why you started rentacoder.com (now called vworker) and what was the reason behind it?
Ian Ippolito: It was back in 2001. 6-7 years earlier, I had created a site called Planet-Source-Code.com, which was the first site to enable programmers to share source code. As the webmaster, I was bombarded by people asking me to help them with their code. I was an independent programmer/consultant at the time and was happy to be getting so many requests for paid work. But it also hurt to have to tell so many of them “Sorry I can’t help you, because I’m too busy.”

I realized there was a need that wasn’t being met, so I decided to create a marketplace that would connect people to programmers. But I didn’t just want to create a copy of the same thing that already existed in the real world. Traditional freelancing/consulting has a lot of serious problems and I felt it was a broken model. I saw many good programmers work very hard and end up getting ripped off by clients, who never paid them. I also saw extremely bad programmers ripping off good clients by walking away with their deposits and never delivering…or by delivering shamefully buggy code and never fixing them.

So I wanted to create something much better. I came up with the idea of a marketplace where the employers would not pay the programmer directly, but instead would escrow the funds in advance. This would prove to the programmer they had the ability to pay, and relieve them of the worry about being ripped off. And if the employer acted poorly and refused to pay them, we would test the deliverables and pay them anyway. And by the same token, we would protect employers from bad programmers who would otherwise walk away with an advance payment or who didn’t deliver the final work in a quality format.

Usman Shahzada: Now vworker has more than 300,000 registered workers but when you started it what was the initial response of the people?
Ian Ippolito: I created the first version of Rent a Coder in 2001 on my laptop during a long plane ride back from Italy, and it went live a few months later. We were profitable in the very first month, but it was not much of a profit (less than a few hundred dollars). But every month was better than the last. The company’s first big break came when a Wall Street Journal reporter used the site to have some programming work done and wrote a very glowing article about the experience. After that, more customers and publicity from others followed, and we grew very rapidly.

Usman Shahzada: How did you market your business/website after the launch?
Ian Ippolito: This was back before Google adwords even sold PPC ads, so that option wasn’t available to us. We marketed on Overture to get a jump start, but soon word-of-mouth became a much better source of new business.

Usman Shahzada: How many teams members you have at vworker?
Ian Ippolito: 12 full time employees, 3 part time and a team of another 10-12 virtual workers from the site. Staffing is a significant cost, so I purposefully keep it to a minimum, so that we are able to pass the savings on to our customers.

Usman Shahzada: Do you have other businesses/websites other than vworker?
Ian Ippolito: Yes, I own Exhedra Solutions, Inc. which is the parent company of vWorker. It runs the Planet Source Code website, sells some shareware products and offers consulting services. However, after 2002 or so, 99% of my time has been, and is continued to be taken up by vWorker.

Usman Shahzada: How do think makes vworker different from odesk, elance, freelancer, getacoder, guru and other online market places?
Ian Ippolito: The online marketplaces are as different and unique as if they were real people! There are about 50-60 major differences between us and the rest. I don’t want to bore anyone, so I’ll talk just about the top two differences between us and the first two you mentioned. Then I’ll give links where they can more details.

1) oDesk: oDesk offers two services: pay-for-time where the employer pays by the hour (they call it “hourly”), and pay-for-deliverables where the employer pays for the entire job (they call it “fixed price”). I take my hat off to them for inventing the idea of pay-for-time, and first enabling the employer to monitor the workers’ desktop and webcam so they know for sure they are being billed accurately. However, today, we also offer this service, the exact same guarantees, but charge customers 10-35% less for it. On pay-for-deliverables: their tagline is “Guaranteed Work. Guaranteed Payment”, but they actually don’t guarantee either party on it. This makes that sort of work much riskier than on vWorker where we guarantee safety to both sides. More info is at: http://www.vworker.com/RentACoder/oDeskVersusVWorker_ForWorkers.aspx

2) Elance: has improved a lot over how they used to be several years ago. They emulated our ideas of escrowing and arbitration, and today offer a base-level pay-for-deliverables guarantee. However, it still is not ideal. First, arbitration isn’t free like it is on vWorker: it costs $99 or $199. And if the other party wants arbitration and you don’t want to automatically lose, you are forced to cough up the fee, just to avoid forfeiting. This doesn’t happen on vWorker. They also charge workers $10-$40/month for bidding privileges. Again, there are no fees for doing the same thing on vWorker. More info is at: http://www.vworker.com/RentACoder/ElanceVersusVWorker_ForWorkers.aspx

For 50-60 other differences, with elance, Odesk and the rest, your readers can read more at:

http://www.vworker.com/RentACoder/DotNet/misc/CompetitorInformation/WhyRentACoder_ForBuyers.aspx

http://www.vworker.com/RentACoder/DotNet/misc/CompetitorInformation/WhyRentACoder_ForSellers.aspx

Usman Shahzada: Where do you see vworker after five or ten years?
Ian Ippolito: We’ll have expanded into other areas of work, beyond what we do today. We’ll also be taking advantage of better bandwidth to allow better and richer communication between employers and virtual workers. And finally we’ll have expanded the model to other countries and languages as well.

Usman Shahzada: Any upcoming and new exciting features that are to be launched in vworker that you wish to share?
Ian Ippolito: Yes, we are putting out about 100 new changes every month. Here are some that your readers might be interested in learning about:

1) Change to bidding: Right now if a virtual worker bids $100, we take out our fee (say it’s an open auction project, so that is $15) and they receive $85. However, after this change, if the worker bids $100, we’ll add our $15 fee to it, and the employer will escrow $115. (Many workers are currently in the habit of adding the fee to every bid. So after this change, they’ll have to remember that they will no longer need to do that.) This will make it easier for workers to bid.

It will also give employers an incentive to save money with a preferred payment discount. The PPD is a discount for them sending us funds via a cheaper method (wire or snail mail check). Since it’s cheaper for us, we pass the savings on to the customer. Currently the employer doesn’t really “see” the affect the discount very clearly, so they don’t take advantage. After this change, they’ll see when they escrow the fund that doing this can save them significantly (because it will require less to escrow). So I expect we’ll see employers saving considerably more money this way than they currently do.

2) Tech Sherpa: Non technical employers with no experience managing programmers have a very difficult time using any online marketplace. That’s because effective supervision requires a combination of skills they don’t have: the skills of a technical lead, outsourcing manager, project manager, and quality control manager. We currently have in beta a feature where these people can hire a pre-screened Sherpa to manage their project for them at just $25/hour-$90/hour (depending on location in the world and skills). This is going to enable entrepreneurs to finally be able to take advantage of outsourcing and make it mainstream.

3) Worker qualification: The best virtual workers are 10x more productive than the worst, so choosing the right one is crucial. However, most employers don’t have the skill and ability to choose effectively. In a few months, we’ll be putting out a way that will enable them to do this, while drastically cut the time and cost required to do so. I encourage those interested to subscribe to http://siteupdates.vworker.com, to be notified when it’s ready.

Usman Shahzada: Any message for the newbies who want to start their freelancing career?
Ian Ippolito: That’s a great question, and to answer it well, would require a whole article in itself. The main keys are effective bidding, managing client expectations, managing deadlines and doing things to protect themselves in case of a dispute. For those interested, more details can be found here: http://imtips.co/freelancing-career.html

 

An Interview with Gary Swart, CEO of odesk.com

Usman Shahzada: Where are you from and tell something about yourself?
Gary Swart: I grew up in the New York City area and moved to the Bay Area of California almost 18 years ago. I moved to Palo Alto to work for Pure Software, and through a series of mergers and acquisitions, I ended up at IBM. After 1-1/2 years at IBM i recognized that I was happier in a smaller company environment and the opportunity to make a larger impact in the world. oDesk provides me with the ideal opportunity to have an exciting career while doing something meaningful for the world.

Usman Shahzada: When and why you started odesk.com and what was the reason behind it?
Gary Swart: I was not a founder of oDesk although I did come in very early, over 5 1/2 years ago. oDesk was started by our cofounders Odysseas Tsatalos and Stratis Karamanlakis with the goal of enabling people to work on the jobs they want from anywhere in the World. From day one we have been maniacally focused on our vision of enabling people to work from anywhere on the jobs they want, helping employers to access qualified talent anywhere in the world, and making online workers and teams just as effective as on-site, and not just early adopters utilize them.

Usman Shahzada: When you started it what was the initial response of the people?
Gary Swart: The initial response from our community was extremely positive. Our employer customers told us that they liked access to hard to find talent outside of their local geographies, guaranteed work through unprecedented visibility into work as it happens, and the ability to pay without the hassle of payroll. Similarly, our contractor customers told us they liked access to jobs and the guaranteed payment that oDesk provides, whether or not we collect the money from the employer. The positive response from our community continues to improve each year as our marketplace strengthens with more quality jobs and even more highly qualified contractors.

Usman Shahzada: How much you invested initially to setup everything? Were you able to find venture capitalists?
Gary Swart: oDesk has raised 3 rounds of venture capital to help us to build our business to where we are today providing $18M per month in payroll to over 1.4M contractors from around the world.

Usman Shahzada: How did you market your business/website after the launch?
Gary Swart: oDesk is primarily marketed via referrals from our customers. Our employers get great results and tell other employers how great oDesk is for getting work done cost effectively and contractors also bring other contractors to oDesk to make money. In addition to referrals we also leverage Search Engine Marketing, PR, and social media.

Usman Shahzada: How many teams members you have at odesk?
Gary Swart: We have 55 employees at oDesk and 170 full time equivalent contractors that we have hired from our network to help us to build and run our business. We are proud of the fact that we use our own service to get more work done.

Usman Shahzada: Do you have other businesses/websites other than odesk?
Gary Swart: I do not currently have other businesses in addition to oDesk.

Usman Shahzada: How do think makes odesk different from vworker, elance, freelancer, getacoder, guru and other online market places?
Gary Swart: oDesk is the largest and fastest growing company in the eWork space. We are the only marketplace that offers guaranteed work and guaranteed payment and as a result we have the worlds largest network of highly qualified rated, ranked, tested contractors and the most employers looking for long-term, time-based workers.

Usman Shahzada: Where do you see odesk after five or ten years?
Gary Swart: oDesk will be a globally mainstream way to hire and work. People can work from anywhere on the jobs they want.Employers can access qualified talent anywhere in the world.Online workers and teams are just as effective as on-site, and not just early adopters utilize them.

Usman Shahzada: Any upcoming and new exciting features that are to be launched in odesk that you wish to share?
Gary Swart: Stay tuned for even more continual innovation in all areas of hire, manage and pay.

Usman Shahzada: What do you think is the main reason behind your success?
Gary Swart: oDesk is successful based on the continued innovation and execution by our highly qualified and capable team.

Usman Shahzada: Any message for the newbies who want to start their freelancing career?
Gary Swart: My advice to new contractors that would like to start a career on oDesk is to recognize that it may take some time to get your first job on oDesk and not to give up too soon. Here are some tips to get started,

  1. Complete their profile including uploading a photo, adding samples of their work to the portfolio and take a few tests to demonstrate that they have the right skills and knowledge.
  2. Look through the 80+ jobs posted on a monthly basis to identify those most targeted to their strengths.
  3. Apply to jobs of interest with a very focused and relevant cover letter, clearly articulating how your capabilities will be an ideal fit for what the employer needs done.
  4. Be flexible on your desired hourly rate to get started
  5. Don’t give up!

 

A complete guide to Freelancing

There are many online market places such as odesk, guru, scriptlance,getacoder, freelancer, elance and vworker but I will focus on VWorker.com and Odesk.com only. So I will be discussing how to

  • Setup profiles on vworker and odesk
  • Comparison of vworker and odesk (Arbitration/Mediation, Escrow )
  • Fixed Price vs Hourly Jobs on Odesk
  • How to use Team Room (Odesk) and RAC Time Card (Vworker) for hourly jobs.
  • How to get your first job (Tips for getting your first job on odesk/vworker)
  • Setting up payment methods (Payoneer, Moneybookers, Western Union etc)

So if you are new to freelancing, this probably will help you setup profiles, bid on projects and earn money. You can have a look at my profiles on worker and odesk.

vWorker.com new feature “Sub Accounts”

The new feature “Sub Accounts” from vWorker.com is really what I was looking for. Now you can give access to your teams members to your company profile.  Once you add a sub account, you can then assign different permissions to that sub account e.g  your sub account can post bids, view projects, private messages, posts comments and replies etc.

The sub account will login with their own login credentials, once they login they will have an option to either Sign in as “Myself” or as a “Sub Account”.

Plus Points:

  • You can have multiple team members to access your profile/your projects and post bids and comments.
  • You dont have to share your username/password with your team members as they will sign in using their own accounts (their own login credentials)
  • When a sub account posts a comment or a bid on the main/master account, it shows Sub-account person id as well that can help to determine as which Sub Account posted the reply/comment or a bid.

Negative Points:

  • The main/master/company profile doesnt show the sub accounts and a sub account doesnt show the company you are working for.
  • When as a sub account you work on any project it wont show in your profile that you actually worked on that project, the rating will only apply to the main/master account. If we have 4-5 sub accounts working on a single project so it wont make sense that 4-5 people get ratings for that 1 project but atleast it should show in sub account that this worker also worked as a sub account on this project.

All in all its a great feature. My account on vworker (Usman Shahzada) is added as a sub account on my company account (COMSATS I.T Center).

Features that I am looking forward to have in vworker.com are

  • Profile Widgets (to add to your blogs/websites)
  • Moneybookers Payment Method (As Paypal is not available in Pakistan.)