Tag Archives: human capital

A New Operating System for the Gig Economy

An article in Forbes today suggested the title of this post, that companies need a new operating system for the Gig Economy.  The article entitled, "How Businesses must Adapt to Accommodate the Growing Freelance Workforce",  http://www.forbes.com/sites/under30network/2016/12/05/how-businesses-must-adapt-to-accommodate-the-growing-freelance-workforce/?utm_source=TWITTER#17edc57f42f5 was written by Peter Johnston, the CEO  and Founder of Lystable,  one of the companies that now comprise what I like to call  the Gig Economy EcoSystem.

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These firms and their founders, like Peter, have recognized that the independent work trend in the United States is not going away.  Between workers wanting more flexibility, technology reducing the market frictions of just in time expertise and a highly mobile workforce the usage of independent workers will only increase.  Given this expected growth, there is money to be made in creating enabling mechanisms to make it easy more more companies to jump on the band wagon.

Lystable, https://www.lystable.com  along with others like ShortList https://shortlist.co/about/ promise to eliminate the logistical problems that can make engaging consultants a human supply chain nightmare.  For unlike employment and its sourcing partner, recruiting wherein a centralized corporate solution is offered, securing independent consulting services often tends to be a one-off endeavor in most companies.  Procurement ( and not recruiting typically) may imposes guidelines and rules that may be followed or not; many savvy managers have figured out over the years how to get around those pesky rules in order for the department to bring in their talent of choice. These external workforce platforms capture contract details, engagement letters, Statements of Work (SOWs)and payment details. Many handle on-boarding and post project reviews. Perhaps most importantly though, they provide an overall dashboard for how external expertise is being deployed in the enterprise.

Johnston points out thee business benefits which are real.  Speaking as someone who dealt with the initial forays of procurement in the vendor management world, creating an appropriate environment for independent talent us well overdue. Changing that operating system is key, but so too is changing the mindset.  Efficiently and effectively using independent talent is a competitive advantage.  And now, as deployment methods are becoming more enabled and thereby  making the workers more mobile, those workers have more options.  They can go to their client of choice.  So just as employers want to be the "Employer of Choice", they also need to give some thought to being the "Client of Choice. " For many firms, that will be quite an operating system change.

The Sharing Economy versus the Gig Economy

gig economy

Thriving in the Gig Economy - Scholarly Research

Since I am working on a new book, Thriving in the Gig Economy, I am reading  every scholarly item I can find on new alternative marketplaces.  As such, I was thrilled when  The Future of Work Podcast (1)  recently included an interview with Arun Sundararajan,  the author of The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism.  I had read Sundararajan's book already so was eager to hear him discuss it.

I appreciated the fact that he recognized that the advent of digital platforms is really an extension of age-old marketplaces.  The fact that they now happen to be powered by technology rather than a central urban location was somewhat incidental.  Technology was able to become the purveyor of these markets in part due to the increase in trust that the medium affords.  Millenials, interestingly  enough, have grown up in an era where trust in institutions and society is at its lowest level.  (which does not bode well for the upcoming election) .  Conversely, though, they are the most likely to trust a digital platform; since they grew up in a digital age, technology can provide a layer for legitimacy and trust to this cohort, more so than it does to Gen Y or boomers.

What did not resonate with me though was the way sometimes, the gig economy was used as a proxy for the sharing economy.  With all due respect to Professor Sunderararajan, I do not see it quite the same way.  To me, although the sharing economy term is often used interchangeably with the gig economy, it is not the same.  The sharing economy refers to the economic activity generated from the sharing of physical assets on a peer-to-peer level.  The poster child for the sharing economy is AirBnB, the home sharing service.  It enables individuals to rent their property or a portion of it to people in need of a vacation rental.  Although the host may need to prepare the house for the guest, that is not the service that is being purchased.  The product is the temporary housing. By extension, the preparation of the host is not a gig, but rather his/her role to get the financial benefit from the short-term rental of physical assets.

Other assets can be involved as well. There are several peer-to-peer lending platforms, like Lending Club, where individuals can pool financial assets and make loans to individuals or enterprises in need of funds.  Share a Mortgage is a London-based start-up that allows individuals to pool resources for the purchase of real property. E Bay, of course,  is also a sharing platform, allowing individuals to sell handicrafts or grandma’s antique dining room set.

There is some intersection with the gig economy when the asset being shared is in part intangible. SofaConcerts in Hamburg, Germany for example, allows people to host musicians in their home.  The home is being shared, but the experience, the performance, is also shared. Similarly, EatWith in San Francisco, allows hosts to open their homes to put on a dinner party.  The home and meal are shared, but the host has done the work to prepare the meal. The host could be an expert chef, so in that sense expertise is being purchased.

That said, the key distinction between the sharing and gig economy is that the former involves the purchase of a service or experience that involves a physical asset. At the high value end of the gig economy, the transaction can include an intangible asset in terms of the intellectual property that is developed on the gig, but a physical asset isn’t involved.

Despite our difference in perspective on this, I heartily recommend "The Sharing Economy: The End of Employment and the Rise of Crowd-Based Capitalism"; it is a good read.

 

I welcome your thoughts. 

 

The Gig Economy Eco System

Employment in the Gig Economy

As the politicians debate the implications of the gig economy, they typically just talk about jobs.  They lament that so many gig workers don't have benefits and are being taken advantage of by those running the powerful digital platforms. As I have said here often, they seldom mention the professional gig economy workers, 91% of whom have self selected this career path.  But perhaps the bigger oversight is that they fail to recognize the jobs that are being created serving the new needs of the gig economy and its workers.

Take a recent press release from ShiftPixy. http://www.shiftpixy.com This app is a way for

From the ShiftPIxy website

From the ShiftPixy website

companies in need of shift workers to recruit contingent gig workers to fill their scheduling gaps. This means that a small business can use this app, rather than trying their luck at all the digital sites. what Kayak did for travel, it is doing for low-end contingent labor.

Employment Laws and the Gig Economy

Moreover, the Shift Pixy guys have paid attention to the employment law issues that have bedeviled some of the large talent platforms like Uber and Handy.  ShiftPixy employs the gig workers on behalf of its clients.  By employing them, it enables them to accrue enough part-time hours from various clients to qualify for benefits typically only accorded to full-time employees.

In case you are wondering, I don't have an investment in Shiftpixy so this is not a commercial.  It is recognition that someone has solved not just one but two key problem with the gig economy. First they just bit the bullet and made the employment call. Since the laws are murky ( another favorite subject of mine) they built an employment infrastructure that is easily accessible via an app that takes the employment risk away from their clients.  "You want a shift worker to bag groceries, great, they would have to be an employee.  Since you don't want them to be your employee, we will handle that. " Most of the digital platforms put the onus on the buyer to figure out the employment law issues, so ShftPixy took that off the table, making it safe for any size company to engage a gig worker. In the spirit of full disclosure I  think that is especially brilliant idea, since I did the same thing 15 years ago, when I started Collabrus, a company designed to employ consultants when they need to be employed by nature of the work or as a risk management strategy.

ShiftPixy is solving another more intractable problem though, by creating a structure that consolidates part-time hours to enable benefits eligibility.  It sounds straightforward, but it is actually a pretty complicated business model.

In the end, Shift Pixy is a small start-up with a little staff, but none the less, they are themselves a job creator.  They have their own employees, but they will also be creating opportunities for various part-time workers to get additional shifts in a way that suits their lifestyle and financial needs.

So as the politicians lament the loss of traditional jobs, I say lets applaud the innovators who are creating the economic infrastructure to strengthen the new world of work.

The Freelance Marketplace Platform Race

Now that I have embarked on my research for the next book on the high-end of the on demand expertise marketplace, I am having a lot of deja vu moments.  Certainly, there is the fact, that though I have been gone from my old firm for several years, things have not changed that much. Tremendous, credentialed  expertise of just about any type is available on demand. Companies continue to avail themselves of this resource in new ways, and new competitors continue to arrive touting different points of differentiation.

It is this last area where the deja vu comes in, because the new platform competitors appear to be cropping up everywhere.  My twitter feed is cluttered with entreaties from one firm to beta test a new platform that "won't suck." (I couldn't help but wonder if they shouldn't get a free

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The Pets.com sock puppet

lance copy writer to come up with a better ask...) Quite frankly, I am reminded a bit of the frothy days of the internet when pets .com  became the 4th ( yes 4th) online pet supply store.  Despite the fact that dog food is not a high value shipping product, the firm had an amazing IPO valuing it at close to $100 million  in 2000 and was out of business 9 months later.

 

I am not suggesting that the online freelance marketplaces are headed for the same fate.  Indeed, I think technology is creating the platform to enable a market to be made in talent, in the true economic sense of the word market. I look forward to better understanding these business models to see how differentiated they really are.  Certainly, some are defined by the type of talent they seek to attract; the sites working with copy writer won't appeal to CFO's, but dancers will do... Interestingly, one in the UK, combines a totally automated service with consultant mixers, so freelancers can gather together.   I can't help but wonder if freelancers will subscribe to all that operate in their area of expertise, or if they will  choose just one.  If it were me, I'd definitely go for the one with the mixers...I am a sucker for cocktails...

 

 

The “Gig Economy” and the employment data problem

A recent news item little noticed apart from gig economy wonks like me was the fact that  the government is planning to get data on how many workers actually populate the "gig economy."  Labor Secretary, Thomas Perez, announced at the end of January that the department would team up with the Census Bureau and  restore the Contingent Worker's Supplement  as part of the May 2017 Current Population Survey.

It is being restored because in 2005, in the infinite wisdom of governmental agencies, the decision was made to discontinue data collection in this area. The Supplement had only been published 5 times and in fairness, it had its share of critics.  A major failing, was the fact that  it aggregated all contingent work arrangements, from  senior management consultants to security guards to cab drivers.  As such, drawing conclusions about income trends, potential wage and hour infractions or economic security was difficult.  Similarly, no attempt was made to try reconcile the differences between the self employed - a broad category which  consultants, architects and dry cleaners - and 1099 tax filers.

Now that the gig economy appears to be fundamentally redesigning work and income structures in the US economy, the Labor Department  wants to try to get a handle on the phenomenon in large part to better inform policy decisions. They do acknowledge that it will be difficult, since just the definition of what qualifies as contingent work is controversial. Additionally, one would hope that they will make strides to refine the data to be able to draw more meaningful conclusions.    That said, we should not get too excited, since this  there won't be data until early 2018 at best.

What is ironic to me, as someone who has been involved in the  high-end of the contingent work force for nearly 30 years,especially now in this political season is the constant emphasis on jobs creation as a metric of economic success.  When you consider 53 million people, according to The Solo Project, have chosen to define  themselves as  independent consultants , free agents or free lancers, the magnitude of the data problem becomes apparent.  These people do not want traditional jobs. What labor statistics are capturing this? Lets hope Perez can fix the data problems inherent in the Contingent Workforce Supplement, because the world of work is being redefined quickly and the government needs to catch up.

Expertise 15 years later

Expertise and the Independent Consultant

I recently reread my book, A New Brand of Expertise, published in 2001. It was a book about, as the tag line said, how ” free agents, independent consultants and interim managers are transforming the world of work.”

bookIt was an odd experience, after all of these years to read the words. Perhaps more prolific authors are used to it, but for me it was very strange. I was surprised at the passages I didn’t recall at all, (really, I wrote that?) including some rather remarkable anecdotes. I had to laugh at the few (and luckily there were only a few) references that didn’t hold up at all; for example, my advice to new consultants to build a personal brand offered Martha Stewart as the role model. Obviously this was written before her prison sentence. My opening chapter referenced the Donna Reed show, because her husband, ” the company man” was becoming an anachronism. My guess is there isn’t a millennial around who could relate to that TV reference. (Oops, I am dating myself, but I only saw the show in reruns as a very young child…)

What dismayed me was one aspect of the forecast I made 15 years ago about what would happen to this nascent independent marketplace in the years ahead. I had suggested that on the horizon there could be some simplification of the legal ambiguity that was a threat to the dynamic growth of an independent talent market. I offered hope that U.S. 344, the Independent Contractor Simplification Act, authored by then Senator Kit Bond of Missouri would pass. I was overly optimistic. Not only did it not pass, it never made it to the floor — It died in committee the following year.

And now, the independent contractor issue is in the limelight again as the “gig ” economy has been caught up in the ambiguous regulatory environment, as firms like Uber, Handy and Instacart try to maneuver in the anachronistic definition of employment today. . In the meantime, the free agent and interim management part of the gig economy has only continued to grow. Perhaps the sharing economy, led by the Uber driver lawsuit, will help bring much needed clarity to this issue. Isn’t it about time?

David Bowie Bonds and the Future of Work

David-BowieDavid Bowie was an innovator of so many things including  in 1997 the first securitization of music royalties which came to be known as David Bowie bonds.  In my book, A New Brand of Expertise  published 15 years ago, I posited that Bowie was the first to create a human capital bond, since he was in essence creating a security from the creative works of a brilliant mind — his own.  In my final chapter discussing the future of work, I asked this question: Why couldn’t there be similar bonds created in the human capital marketplace, synthetic instruments which could pool the revenue streams of thousands of the top independent consultants, protecting against down time, slow periods or any other cash flow disruption? A consultant bond, I argued, would place a value on knowledge much as companies value their intellectual property assets.

Now fast forward 15 years, the Bowie bonds, made David a cool $50 million but were not such a windfall for his investors given the industry economic disruption caused by the onset of music streaming.  For more on this see http://money.cnn.com/2016/01/11/media/bowie-bonds-royalties/.

Although the music royalty bond notion may have fallen from favor, the consultant bond has more legs than when I originally described it.  The weaknesses to my early argument, to be completely candid, was in the issuer.  I suggested that the consultants collectively would be the issuer.  Although I knew that was an unwieldy structure, it was thought provoking when discussing the future of work.  What is different now, though is the human cloud.

Whereas my firm, M Squared,  was one of the first to provide on demand expertise 28 years ago, now there are all sorts of intermediaries parsing work into everything from looking up addresses to  writing code to managing corporate operations.  These firms  source, place and pay their resources in the cloud, and many rank them there as well.  So my year 2000 notion of taking the top 500 consultants in an area was aspirational, but now there  could be ways to do it through the yelp like data being collected on consulting purveyors.  Human cloud companies could be the issuers.  Investors would be buying into the knowledge and talent market, with prices fluctuating with demand and supply.

I know it still sounds a bit far fetched.  But in the words of the inimitable Davide Bowie,

“Turn and face the strange, ch – ch- changes.”

 

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