A funny thing happened on the way to the hockey-sticking growth cycle of eCommerce: Marketplaces aggregated supply from a variety of sellers. Amazon, eBay, Shopify, WooCommerce, Weebly, Esty and dozens of others have emerged as places where sellers can post their products and connect with anyone with an internet connection and a way to pay.
Another funny thing happened: Sellers needed a way to capitalize on the demand that these marketplaces also aggregated. That’s were many hit a brick wall as skill sets ranging from listing products to designing websites and product pages to SEO optimizing product descriptions to buying AdWords on Google were required to maximize those marketplace opportunities.
It’s a problem that Nate Hirsch, CEO of FreeeUp.com (the extra “e” is for eCommerce) encountered while in college working as an Amazon marketplace seller to make “beer money” for the weekend.
In this week’s episode of The Matchmaker Is In series, hosts Karen Webster and David Evans, economist and author of “Matchmakers: The New Economics of Multisided Platforms,” were joined by Hirsch, who talked about how his experience as a seller (grossing $7 million in sales — not bad with HQ as a dorm room) gave birth to a business to help other sellers realize their dreams.
Filling The Matchmaking (Employment) Gap
It’s amazing how many entrepreneurs start their businesses because they lived through the friction of trying to make something happen in another part of their lives. That was Hirsch as he tried to squeeze in a little study time in between being a multimillion-dollar seller on Amazon.
So, he did what all good enterprising entrepreneurs do: He found a way to solve his problem.
In order to fill in the gaps for the skill sets he knew he needed to make a go of his business, he hired a number of remote workers. Though he made some really good hires, there were also some duds. That process — time invested in finding and vetting a remote workforce and keeping a virtual Rolodex of the gems — was the inspiration he needed to help other sellers avoid the pitfalls that he encountered.
FreeeUp.com is an online matchmaking platform that connects marketplace sellers in need of a remote workforce with qualified workers that fit the bill — finding, sourcing and vetting them. Qualified is the operative word, too. Not just any Tom, Dick or Harriet makes the FreeeUp cut. Hirsch isn’t after everyone, just the 1 percent that he’d approve of working to support his own business.
FreeeUp, Hirsch said, gets hundreds of applicants every week and then uses an interview process created by him to field the top-notch workers. Then, those applicants are made available to FreeeUp’s clients on a first-come, first-serve basis, Hirsch explained.
Sellers using the platform get access to vetted workers, while the workers themselves get hired by those looking for their specific skill set and willing to pay market price for it.
What’s more, FreeeUp takes on the financial risks to ensure the workers on its platform are always paid no matter what — well, so long as they agree to the pretty stringent set of rules and regulations for being a good member of the FreeeUp platform. Hirsch said that FreeeUp also guarantees its business clients that, if something goes wrong with a worker it supplies, it will handle the issue quickly.
“I built FreeeUp to be what I wish I had when I was first hiring,” Hirsch pointed out. “An easy system to be able to find a top-notch person with the right skill set and knowing that, if there are any issues on the back end, you have someone to help and cover the costs.”
Workers are paid per hour, ranging from $5 to $50, depending on their experience and skill level, and have access to both short-term and long-term job opportunities via the platform.
Igniting On All Sides
Hirsch said FreeeUp had a built-in competitive advantage when it started since he had a core group of remote workers ready and willing to give the service a try.
“From there, it was just gaining the traction and getting the positive feedback, which leads to more clients,” he explained. “From there, it’s all supply and demand. You never want to have too many writers and not enough graphic designers. You try to have more supply than demand and recruit accordingly.”
Yes, the old platform balancing act in full swing.
“But at the same time, you don’t want to just take anyone in the door. You want to keep it at the top 1 percent and keep getting the best workers,” Hirsch added.
Not only does FreeeUp rely heavily on word of mouth and positive feedback, but Hirsch said it also spurs growth by offering extensive referral programs for both its clients and users.
Workforce Matchmaking Done Right
The platform also prides itself on what Hirsch told Webster and Evans is its “secret sauce” — the ability to screen out contractors and capture the best of the best by prioritizing communication guidelines.
FreeeUp’s vetting and interview process is proprietary, and assuming an applicant gets through that, they are required to memorize and agree to the platform’s communication guideline documentation. Hirsch said these guidelines are taken very seriously, and workers will be kicked out of the network for not adhering to them.
“You can have the most skilled person in the world, but if you’re always chasing them down, they don’t give you updates or they go missing, then there’s really no point in working with them,” he added. “It’s never going to be a good experience.”
Hirsch noted that keeping such strict checks and balances is what helps to keep both sides of the platform happy.
When asked about a marketplace platform that’s doing matchmaking right, Hirsch brought up a service he actually recently signed up for called Rover.
The matchmaking service connects dog lovers with dog owners who need boarding, house sitting, doggy day care, drop-in visits or dog walking services. Though he hasn’t walked any dogs just yet, Hirsch said he loves the platform and was intrigued when he first came across it.
“If you’re a pet lover, I could see it growing in popularity among them and the people that have the disposable income to pay someone $20/day to walk their dog for 15 minutes,” he added.