Freelance work platform Elance-oDesk raises $30M

Steven Loeb · November 25, 2014 · Short URL:

The company has also released an report studying the social and economic impact of freelancers

It was almost a year ago that Elance and oDesk, two of the biggest websites dedicated to helping freelancers find work, announced that would be combining. Now the new company, called Elance-oDesk, is thriving. Since the merger was completed in March, it has 750 million users, with companies processing $900 million through the platform annually.

As proof of the success of the merger, Elance-oDesk has just raised its first ever funding raising as a combined company.

The $30 million over-subscribed round of funding was led by Benchmark, with participation from additional existing major shareholders including T. Rowe Price, FirstMark, Sigma West, NEA and the Stripes Group.

"We consider this to be our Series B, with our merger as a Series A," Jaleh Bisharat, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Elance-oDesk, told me in an interview. 

The funding will go toward building out the product, specifically in three areas, she said. The first will be in data science in order to better match up employers and workers.

"Our platform  is so vibrant, with  more than 2.5 million jobs posted each year. We want to use data science magic to match the ideal freelancer to the ideal job."

The second area is the online workplace, in which it helps with collaboration, as well as keeping records, and  exchanging ideas, tools that "are a big area of focus for us." And, finally, Elance-oDesk's talent cloud solution, which are branded private portals where businesses can place their own freelancers management system. They can bring their own teams and put them on the cloud.

The company will also be using the money to build out its data science team. By the end of this year it will have hired 100 new people since the merger, bringing its combined workforce to nearly 300. It also had 500 freelancers who work for the company. 

Impact report

In addition to the funding news, the company also released its 2014 Annual Impact Report, which includes new research on the work fulfillment of online freelancers and showcases how businesses of all sizes around the world can collaborate with teams of freelancers.

The report also demonstrates how the ability of these freelancers and businesses to work together via the Internet, or “online work," is providing access to job opportunities for many who may otherwise struggle to earn income.  

"The reason we did this is that we are a mission driven business. We are not only coming to work to build a business, but to make a difference, and to have an impact on livelihoods," said Bisharat. 

There are two areas of focus, that Elance-oDesk was specifically looking at: the social impact and the economic impact that the company has.

The social impact is about the personal stories of people who built businesses. The company wanted to know what it means to be fulfilled at work, so it interviewed 1,000 freelancers and also went out to random sample of peoples jobs around the world who are not on the platform. 

People who are on Elance-oDesk, the report found, have more flexibility, and feel like they are being challenged, and have the opportunity to learn new skills. 11 out of of 12 freelancers rated their work satisfaction higher than workers in regular jobs.

For example, 70% of freelancers said they had a good work-life balance, compared to 54% of other workers. 61% said they had challenging work, as compared to 48% of regular workers. 72% said they had control of their career path, with only 46% of their counterparts saying the same thing. 

The other part of the Impact Report has to do with the economic impact that using freelancers has on businesses. It found that the 9.3 million freelancers on the site were earning over $900 million annually. 73% of businesses said hiring freelancers helped their business grow, while 62% said it made them more competitive.

"Online work platforms like oDesk have allowed us to build AppMakr into a truly cloud-based company. Our team is spread literally across six continents," Jay Shapiro, co-founder and CEO of AppMakr, a business that uses Elance-oDesk, told VatorNews. "What is has meant is that rather than going out and hiring the best people we can find, who coincidentally live within 30 miles of some arbitrary office, instead we can just hire the best people we can find - wherever in the world they may live."

 "We want to open up the office. The world is hyper connected now,  with possibilities that exist that didn’t exist in the past. The future is hybrid teams, where some people will chose to work in the office, but with plenty of talent that isn't where you happen to be," Bisharat said. "With millennials, there is a desire for independence. Their expected tenure is shorter, with more freedom and flexibility. Business will have to learn how to hire that talent."

Prior to the merger, oDesk had raised over $46 million, including $15 million in a Series D round of funding, since being founded in 2005. Meanwhile Elance, which has been around since 1998 had raised nearly $95 million, most recently grabbing $16 million in January of 2012.

You can see the results of the Impact Report below: 

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Elance-oDesk is now Upwork, the world's largest freelancing website: