Xenios Thrasyvoulou on Bloomberg TV Freelance Labor Market Strong as European Jobs Lag
The past month marks a year since we launched the new site and introduced Hourlies. I find it really hard to believe – on one hand it only feels like yesterday, on the other it feels like an eternity with all that’s happened since.
Given the occasion, in this month’s post I’d like to take a step back, reflect and share the main learnings (or in some case stark reminders) of the past 12 months with you.
It Takes Talented Teams to Build a Good Business
The year certainly has not been without challenges. But just 12 months in, we have now sold 33,000 hourlies, we are growing in double digits per month, and have over 25,000 active Hourlies on the site. Today almost 2/3 of transactions on PPH are Hourlies rather than Job postings. In as far as our purpose is to innovate to bring more work opportunities to freelancers, the last year can be credited with some success.
Most of that credit goes to our fantastic team at PPH who have toiled away tirelessly in the past year and made the new site a success, optimising the myriad of things that were left in the wake of the launch that needed attention, and to our fantastic community of PPHers whose feedback and inspiring stories are what drive us day in and day out.
But Even a Fool Can Run a Great One!
That said, we certainly didn’t get everything right. We have our fair share of screw-ups; but we picked ourselves up, fixed them and learnt from them. And we are now much stronger for it.
In times of rapid change, I’ve learnt the most important thing is to remember what you are truly about, what you really stand for, and make sure everything you do builds on that core. It takes incredible discipline for organisations to eliminate everything else but that, to say ‘no’ to other things so that they focus and build on that core. We’ve become a lot better at that and I feel we are just beginning.
Good businesses have an identifiable purpose they collectively keep pointing and marching towards. But great businesses are almost the opposite; they have an iron clad purpose that keeps dragging them back to it whatever they do; like a magnet. That’s why it takes skill to run a good business. But even a fool can run a great one.
That core for PPH is simply this: helping people get their business off the ground; living their dream of becoming their own bosses and paving the way to financial independence. We didn’t craft that purpose; that’s the voice of our community. Our job is to help materialise that into an experience online, on mobile and wherever other platform we deliver our service on. For Sellers that means helping them win – helping them get started painlessly, even if only with something small and build up from there, guiding them along way. For Buyers that means helping them quickly find quality talent to hire frictionlessly and transact with trust and to educate them on the vast myriad of things they can do so affordably with the talent that’s now available at their fingertips.
Know Thy Core. (And Forget the Rest)
Looking at the past 12 months the things that we did that really worked are the ones that touch that core, that enhance the nucleus of what PPH is all about. The rest had marginal impact, if any, and collectively were a distraction, however obvious they seemed on the surface. Yet, its been a great learning experience – we had to try in order to know, so for that we have no regrets.
Amongst the best examples of things that worked are things like improving our search algorithm to allow for quality Sellers – including those that show early signs of quality and reliability and not just proven track record – to trickle quickly to the top. Allowing Sellers to Feature their Hourlie or submitted proposal to get a chance at breaking the chicken and egg problem if they are new and having a shot at winning early. Featured Hourlies have a 300% higher chance of success. And more recently the introduction of Hourlie Add-ons which has already led to uptake of 2/3 of all new Hourlies posted and an almost 80% uplift in ticket values for those that sold.
Equally, we removed some high friction points following feedback from the community, like the cash back system . We improved the payments system and introduced more algorithmic automation that now means we can process payments a lot faster. Invoice processing time has gone from an average of 44 hours 12 months ago to just 7 last month. More will be done in the payments chapter to allow for processing in more countries, more withdrawal options and with cheaper bank charges levied that we hope to pass back to our users.
Listen to Your Users
More recent changes have been a tidy up of some of the support collateral on the site to further reduce friction. We introduced a peer-to-peer support system called Community Q&A to allow for PPHers to share learning between themselves and help them win faster. We introduced a new integrated Feature Request Forum to organise all the conversation under one place. And we’ve prioritised the feedback that was collected so far, making implementation of requested changes a focus for the next few months.
Amongst the most immediate requested changes are to make the inbox and Proposal management more user friendly for Buyers; for Sellers to introduce enhancements to the Portfolio section of the site, and improvements in the WorkStream to allow for easier and more real time communication file sharing and work management. All of these user requests are at the top of our list for the upcoming weeks. We will also introduce a feedback loop for Job posts so that Buyers can amend unrealistic budgets quickly based on the community’s feedback.
Mobile has been another area where I feel we have made incredible strides in the past 12 months. Considering that we are coming from a web background, mobile has been both technically and culturally a big learning curve for us. That said, thanks to our team and interaction from the community we now have both an Android and an iPhone app with collectively almost 40,000 downloads, with the latest releases receiving a rating of over 4.5 in the iTunes and Android App stores.
Mobile traffic has risen to a spectacular 13% of the total in just a few months and we expect that to grow. More and more of the share of online working will move to mobile and the ubiquity of devices that will surround us will increase in the future. So whilst its still in its early days, its an area of increasing importance to us.
If you haven’t yet, download the app for free here!
It’s a Marathon Not a Race!
As for the things that didn’t work… well, there have been and always will be features that flop. What matters is to fail fast. In the last 12 months we have become, I feel, a lot better at that as an organisation and also at removing things that have little or no impact.
My biggest reminder of the last 12months is – unfortunately – a lesson I already knew and still erred against it. The best businesses are like fine wines: they have to mature in their own time. Sure, you can get fast richer by brewing some crappy cheap stuff, but the best stuff takes time and you can’t accelerate it.
At some stage when we re-launched the new product in our eagerness to speed up, we let ourselves fall in the trap of thinking we are in a sprint race. Instead we are in a marathon.
Repeat 3 Times a Day: Fit the Chassis to the Engine not the Engine to the Chassis
The focus of every business – I now know – should evolve in 3 stages: first to figure out the product – no matter how many iterations it goes through – and have iron clad validation that there is a leak-tight product-market fit. Be sure that it serves a real purpose and have that as the core towards which everything gravitates.
The second is to build a business around it, optimise the metrics and make it financially viable. This ‘eyeballs now money later’ crap rarely works and it’s only when you have so many eyeballs that surpasses the odds that you are digging a hole for yourself or building a ponzy scheme. Most companies that are led with that philosophy are.
And the third is to then – and only then – build an organisation around the business. Then you hire management teams, bring in experienced grey-haired (or no-haired) people and embed processes and all the rest of the stuff they teach for MBAs. Otherwise it’s like trying to fit an engine to the chassis instead of the chassis to the engine.
Have One Eye On the Cliff Top, and One Eye On the Climb
Last but not least, looking back the past year I think as a team we are more ‘together’ now. More bonded. We are fewer (going from over 65 twelve months ago to 30 this month) but more glued and more focused. And the glue that brings us together is not just the sense of purpose we share, the goals and the ultimate destination, but very simply that we enjoy what we do a lot more today than 12 months ago. There was too much aggravation and negative tension a year ago. We still eye the same cliff top, but now I feel we also enjoy the climb.
Perhaps it’s the fact that the intensity of a big product re-launch, the uncertainty and the stress that comes with that have subsided or mellowed. It’s probably partly due to the healthy ‘team turn’ that so many start-ups go through to mature, with many of the early people leaving and getting replaced with people whose skill set is just better suited to the next phase of the evolution of the business. As instrumental as the early team is and as embedded in the DNA of the business they will be forever, the reality is that team-turn is important for a business to mature. The intensity, excitement and (necessary) chaos of the early days is just replaced with a feeling of people just getting on with it.
So now, we just get on with it. Our team is half the size of 12 months ago, yet we move at double the speed and growing a lot faster than we did then, or ever before. We just hit the sweet spot.
And we’re only just beginning.
To the next twelve months and the learnings, challenges, pleasures and earnings they will yield for all of us!