Freelancers’ freedom to work and play

Workana provides a platform to match both companies looking to hire and freelancers wanting to work

by LYDIA NATHAN/ pic by HUSSEIN SHAHARUDDIN

JENNA wakes up at 9am in West Perth and shuffles to the kitchen to brew some coffee before turning on her brand-new Apple Macbook Pro to begin work but, mind you, she is still in her flannel pyjamas.

Today, she is working on creating a user manual for medical machinery by using 3D drawings with specific colours and exact measurements for an engineering company in Hong Kong.

Tomorrow, it will be delivering a Photoshop clipping path on nine different images for a design company in Denmark.

All her work will be completed, checked and delivered to the client online, the ultimate seismic market shift in the labour force today.

Jenna is one of the thousands of millennials who have dived into the world of freelancing, trading the prospect of a nine-to-five predictable grind in the office to a flexible, work-when-you-can job.

According to Forbes magazine, the freelancing economy is expected to capture half of today’s workforce by 2025 and is becoming increasingly sought-after by companies — small and large — worldwide.

Beginnings Far Away

This was how online marketplace Workana Sdn Bhd was born in Argentina in 2012, founded by four Argentinian entrepreneurs, Tomás O´Farrell, Guillermo Bracciaforte, Fernando Fornales and Mariano Iglesias.

They noticed a growing interest in wanting to ditch an office job for the lure of having authority over one’s own time, and companies looking for the right talent for shorter periods of time.

Workana head of international growth Alejandro Kikuchi (picture; above) said the advancement of technology has opened so many features and possibilities today and that was what prompted the launch of the platform.

“When we first started, our earliest adopters were from our own network but then we hit it off with digital start-ups because companies needed to rely on freelancers as they couldn’t afford full-time teams,” he told The Malaysian Reserve recently.

The platform — which began operating across Latin America — has Kikuchisome 1.75 million freelancers and over 27,000 projects posted monthly.

Kikuchi said the first round of seed funding amounted to RM2.1 million, consisting of angel investors and the founders’ own funds.

“We then went through a series of funding with Australian job board SEEK in late 2015 and early 2018. We are not in the Australian market but SEEK is an investor,” he said.

The platform lists the remote working scheme (Source: workana.com)

Platform Features

Workana provides a platform to match both companies looking to hire and freelancers wanting to work by allowing the former to post up projects for the latter to bid for.

It does not cost either party anything to post a project or bid for one, and the platform allows a chat feature to discover more about what is needed. It also is adjustable to the country with different settings like categories and subcategories for an easier search.

According to Kikuchi, companies may choose to hire based on many reasons including hourly rates and different skill sets.

“The more experienced and seasoned freelancers are, the more they can afford to charge. It’s also more common for them to be more knowledgeable with selling their skills.

“Newcomers might be great with technical skills but could need assistance in conveying unique selling propositions. However, through chatting, companies could determine the chemistry and decide to hire or not,” Kikuchi said.

He said Workana facilitates both sides and provides a reputation system with reviews for potential clients to consider.

“Once a freelancer has won the bid for a project, the company will then pay the full amount while Workana holds the funds in escrow. Once it is completed, the money is paid to the freelancer,” he said.

A payment security is also provided for a greater assurance to both sides.

“For some companies, it may be normal to hire freelancers, but we are solving some of the main security points here,” he said.

Workana then takes a cut as commission from the transaction, varying according to the size of the project.

“If it’s a small project, the commission starts at 20% but the longer a company works with a freelancer the commission decreases to about 5%. We want to encourage longterm relationships and good connections between the two, so it makes sense for us to lower the commission rate,” Kikuchi said.

Goh says the idea of being able to earn and gain experience while still studying exposed him to many opportunities, which was instrumental when he first started out (Source: workana.com)

Workana Sets Sights on Malaysia

Interestingly, Workana chose to set up its first office outside of Argentina in Kuala Lumpur (KL), marking Malaysia as a primary market but also targeting Singapore and Hong Kong.

Explaining this, Kikuchi said Latin America has many cultural differences and he noticed the similarities in challenges for both here and there.

“It was the kind of challenge we knew how to work our way around from experience. Plus, Malaysia presented a great opportunity by means of getting both freelancers and companies on board,” he said, adding it opened business here in January this year.

He said Malaysia is also open and incredibly welcoming to foreigners and international companies with a bonus that most people have a strong command of English.

“Making Malaysia the regional headquarter is definitely a good choice. There are currently about 7,000 freelancers and 2,000 businesses active on the platform, varying from entrepreneurs to mediumsized companies with a handful of large ones as well.

“We have been attending talks and running marketing events to let people know about us. It has sparked interest and the questions we get are things we are used to dealing with,” Kikuchi noted.

He said the demographics of freelancers have been about the same globally in line with the freelancing economy.

“We naturally see a younger demographic at the forefront, because of their openness in trying new things. But, there are also older people who are opting for a healthier work-life balance and recent parents wanting to spend time with children,” he said.

Retirees who have stopped working but still have the time and experience have also jumped onboard.

“Freelancing is always a good choice as it gives people the flexibility and allows for more control.”

Growing Workana

Workana expects to grow six-fold next year, considering how fast it took off this year since opening in KL. Because of the success so far, a second office will be opened in the same location very soon.

“A person joined the sales team this quarter, to target more medium-sized businesses. But, regardless of the size of a company, it’s more of those that have a recurring need for freelancers,” Kikuchi said.

One of its other goals is to introduce Workana Prime, to target larger companies while providing extra assistance.

Companies can opt to pay a monthly subscription which will get them an account manager, handpicked top freelancers, meetings set up and more.

“It will be like a managed solution option. It has been doing very well in Latin America for a few years now,” Kikuchi said.

Success Stories

Since its launch, the gig economy-based platform has been helping thousands find work and for companies, the right person for the job.

Architecture major Arron Goh had a long-time goal of being his own entrepreneur.

The 22-year-old searched for work as a freelancer and stumbled upon Workana but was sceptical and tried various other platforms before realising competition was very strong and hourly rates too low elsewhere, before returning to Workana.

He is now Malaysia’s number one freelancer in the design and multimedia category with 16 completed projects and five repeat clients.

He said the idea of being able to earn and gain experience while still studying exposed him to many opportunities, which was instrumental when he first started out.

Some of Goh’s goals is to one day build a fashion and interior designing company, where he will use the experience he has gained.

“I would like to have a multidisciplinary company that can provide solutions and, of course, be open to hiring new freelancers to give them the opportunity to grow, just as other customers have once helped me in the past,” Goh said.

On the other side of the coin is one of Malaysia’s largest telecommunication network service providers, OCK Group Bhd.

With over 2,600 employees in Malaysia, Vietnam and Myanmar, the group deals with designing, constructing and installing huge towers and networks that provide signals to mobile phones.

While undertaking a bid for a new project, the group encountered challenges including time constraints in putting together an internal team and a consulting firm can get too costly.

Finding a freelancer was a coincidence but worked out well as he had the skills and expertise to help create a presentation in time.

The group said it was a priority to find assistance immediately and Workana kept to their end by finding the best professional help leading to great results.

Workana will continue to leverage the changing technology and build the trust of the brand.

“We want to ensure both clients and freelancers are reliable, so we are constantly monitoring and moderating the activities on the platform. We are very much actively taking care of the marketplace,” Kikuchi said.