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A ‘managed’ model for hiring freelance tech talent catches on


Photo credit: Steven Zerlink / Flickr

Domino’s pizzas are as popular in urban India as anywhere else for a quick meal or a treat. And as Indians increasingly turn to their mobiles to order everything from furniture to food, the pizza-maker’s online orders are growing.

Jubilant FoodWorks, which operates Domino’s Pizza in India, reported (PDF) that online sales overtook offline sales for the first time last year. And more than two-thirds of the online orders were on mobile.

But it also noticed a high drop-off rate in the funnel to sign up and place orders on the Domino’s app. That’s not a trivial problem to fix for a traditionally offline pizza chain. Domino’s doesn’t employ so many techies like a Zomato or a Swiggy which are in the online food delivery business.

What came in handy was a freelance site, Indiez. It promises to help a client like Domino’s not only find relevant tech talent but also manage the project to ensure quality and on-time delivery.

Domino’s contract is with the site and not the freelancers who work on the project. Just as you don’t have to pay if the pizza doesn’t reach you in 30 minutes, Domino’s can hold Indiez to account for slippages.

Here’s how it works. Domino’s chooses a project manager on Indiez, who then puts together a team and ensures requirements are met. Indiez takes a 20 to 30 percent cut from what the client pays.

With 40 active clients currently, the two-year-old startup has an annualized run rate of US$2 million. It doesn’t disclose net income, but says it’s profitable.

Freelance sites are trying to serve the growing gig economy in different ways.

Traditional businesses are struggling to build quality digital products or take advantage of new technologies like AI, and their mobile apps are poorly designed, says Indiez co-founder and CEO Nitesh Agrawal. Good developers and designers are mostly at big tech companies and fast-growing startups, or work independently.

Freelance sites try to bridge the tech talent gap for businesses like Domino’s as well as mid-sized enterprises and early-stage startups. But it can get messy to find and manage a set of freelancers for a project. That’s where the Indiez model comes in.

Agrawal discloses that the eight-member team for the Domino’s project included a project manager, who led a team at travel portal Yatra, and a design director, who led the mobile push at ecommerce biggie Flipkart. They took charge of the project. The managed model also works out better for freelancers because Indiez can negotiate a price for the project, instead of each freelancer negotiating a rate.

Early adopters and teething troubles

Domino’s, Aditya Birla Finance, Jones Lang LaSalle, and MakeMyTrip are among big clients that Indiez has attracted. Startups like Upgrad and Cure.fit have also been early adopters. But increasingly, Indiez is targeting the US and European markets where mid-sized enterprises are looking to digitize and boost their online and mobile play, says Agrawal.

Businesses hire Indiez when they lack the tech capability to build something. Or they need it built superfast. For example, Aditya Birla Finance wanted a dashboard for its management team. “We executed the project in one week,” says Agrawal. “We handed over the code and product to them to build further.”

Gigster’s enterprise focus makes it costly and opens the door for players targeting the mid-sized segment.

The biggest challenge is ensuring timely delivery and quality. Once a lead developer suddenly went AWOL. It took weeks for Indiez to get the project back on track. “We hired extra engineers to make up for lost time. In the end, we lost around US$8,000 on the deal,” recalls Agrawal.

Such experiences have led to better systems to prevent problems. Freelancers applying to join the Indiez community go through a series of interviews and a probation period.

Work is tracked automatically. “We’ve integrated our tool with Slack, Google Docs, Dropbox, Github, Trello, and other productivity tools to understand the project’s performance,” says Agrawal. Apart from the project manager, there are reviewers on the platform assessing the progress of projects.

Not all projects are best suited for Indiez. “Typical projects that we have seen are in mobile application development and new technology like AI/ML development. We have seen fewer backend projects, which suggests that clients want to keep the core to themselves,” says Agrawal.

Moonlighting

Finding the right talent is hard, and Agrawal spends much of his time on LinkedIn and other networks to pitch Indiez to likely candidates. Nearly half of the 400 to 500 who’ve signed up so far, Agrawal says, work at tech companies, including the likes of Google, Facebook, and Flipkart.

When asked about ethical or contractual issues in moonlighting, he says it’s up to employees to get permission from their managers to take up these projects in their spare time and make an extra buck. The motivation also comes from the chance to do new stuff and hone their skills.

Indiez co-founders Nitesh Agrawal, Ishan Shrivastava, Archit Kejriwal, and Amrose Birani in a virtual meeting / Photo credit: Indiez

Agrawal was one of the first to join Ola, Uber’s main rival in India, founded by fellow IIT Bombay alumnus Bhavish Aggarwal. His next stint was as data science lead at another startup by IIT Bombay alumni – Housing, which had a meteoric rise and fall. It was during a post-Housing backpacking trip in Vietnam that he decided to start Indiez.

He ran into a bunch of digital nomads at a Hanoi backpackers’ hostel. “Dude, it’s so hard to find gigs,” one said during a boozy evening chat. “I don’t want to deal with this client, man,” lamented another. The penny dropped: why not solve problems for both sides with a site where gigs are managed end-to-end? “I thought we could absorb all the pain of the freelancers and businesses,” says Agrawal.

There was already Gigster doing this. But with US$32.5 million funding from Andreessen Horowitz and Redpoint, the San Francisco-based startup pivoted to focus on high-end tech projects for big companies.

With medium-sized businesses, “we’re able to do a good job for the client, but not always as good as the client wants. It’s a bit of a mismatch,” Gigster co-founder Roger Dickey explained to TechCrunch. “With enterprises, our satisfaction has been off the charts.”

Gigster’s enterprise focus makes it costly for smaller companies, and opens the door for players targeting the mid-sized segment. Agrawal says the cost of hiring developers on Indiez would typically be one-third compared to Gigster.

Indiez is also headquartered in the Bay Area, but its core team is in Bangalore and pulls in developers from India, Southeast Asia, and Eastern Europe. “Bay Area engineers are too costly. Talent arbitrage gives us an opening,” says Agrawal.

India has 15 million freelancers, second only to the US which has 60 million, according to a study by Manipal Global Education. Data analytics, app development, and digital marketing are seeing the biggest shift to independent work.

Different models

A number of freelance sites are trying to serve the growing gig economy in different ways. Toptal and CodementorX connect businesses with developers. Crossover goes a step further and enables a client to hire a remote team. Indiez and Gigster are for those who want to outsource a project without running it day to day.

Wonderlabs in Indonesia is trying a related model. It hires Indonesian developers and designers to work remotely for global clients from campuses in Yogyakarta. “We co-manage them on a daily basis,” it says.

Agrawal believes the opportunity to serve small and medium enterprises is huge. “The rock stars work for tech giants. And IT services companies don’t have the right talent [for building digital products, because they focus on implementing IT infrastructure for large enterprises].”

See: What retail tech enabler Ace Turtle brings to Southeast Asian ecommerce

Indiez has US$500,000 in seed funding from angel investor Haresh Chawla, CEO of Network18, and an unnamed investor. Chawla had earlier invested in Housing where he met Agrawal.

The Indiez CEO relies more on networking than marketing, and currently spends his time in the Bay Area scouting for projects. He has come up with paid “channel partnerships” with well-networked individuals, mostly entrepreneurs, who connect businesses with Indiez.

This post A ‘managed’ model for hiring freelance tech talent catches on appeared first on Tech in Asia.



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