3Sourcing – finding tech talent, simplified

When we started 3Desk in early 2012, our vision was to make the labour market more liquid.

We believe that helping find people meaningful work is one of the most valuable ways we can drive a healthy and happy society. We believe the recruitment market is tired and desperately in need of innovation, which represents a huge opportunity.

Armed with the knowledge that the contingent labour market would grow to 50% of the total market by 2020, we set out to build a marketplace that would transform the way freelancers are hired.

It was an excellent idea. It still is. Each day the platform places people in jobs all over the world. We won the European iTalent Award and acquired over 370,000 users in just a few months. But the platform (as is often the case with marketplaces) was proving hard to monetize. So we took stock of our findings and decided to spend a couple of months experimenting with new ideas.

A few of those ideas went unnoticed, but one caught on – within an hour of emailing a prototype to a few recruiters I had a number of them on the phone asking if they could get more logins for their colleagues. Within a week I was getting called by companies we hadn’t even sent the prototype to. Word was getting out, without our even trying. For an entrepreneur, that’s a wonderful sign.

Armed with amazing feedback and desperate demand, we continued to experiment. Three months later, we’ve pivoted. Our prototype has blossomed into 3Sourcing (www.3sourcing.com), a search engine for people and the reaction has been phenomenal.

In just 3 months from a standing start, over 50% of the UK IT recruiters are using the platform and we’re already close to making a profit. One recruiter said that 3Sourcing is ‘the best tool we’ve seen since we first tried LinkedIn’. Johnny Campbell gave us a pretty smashing review here too - www.socialtalent.co/?p=9051

Not bad, given we’ve only just begun. We’ve kept our focus extremely narrow for the time being (just software developers in the UK). However, the engine is hugely powerful and applicable across many geographies and sectors. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be sharing our progress, what we’re learning and some amazing new features that have been driven by user requests.

But freelancers fear not, our mission remains unchanged. The original platform is still alive and well and we’ll be integrating the two in due course to help employers and employees find each other a little more easily.

Wish us luck.

Freelancers Are Entrepreneurs & Escaping The City

This post originally appeared here.

I used to work in the city, in the belly of the beast – an investment bank. There were a mere 1000 unlucky souls on the floor of our corporate prison office.

I lasted just 3 months. The banking world was too disconnected from ‘life’ and what it means to be a passionate and creative human being. For me, it was a like a battery farm of bright people, all slowly dying at their desks.

So, I escaped the city and have never looked back ‘becoming’ an entrepreneur.

At first, it seemed lonely. Yet as I explore, I’m rewarded to find there are many more of us chasing this freedom than first meets the eye. Freelancers, consultants and contractors all run their own small businesses with the highs and lows that accompany. Each have taken the leap to escape to a working world that befits them.

The Startup of You

Reid Hoffman wrote a book recently entitled ‘The Startup of You’. As the founder of LinkedIn, and an investor in Facebook, Zynga, Path and many others, he should know a thing or two about the world of work.

What is clear is that work is changing. Employers cannot guarantee job security and so people are less willing to sacrifice themselves. Most interestingly, more and more people are recognizing that they need to be in control of their work, rather than leaving it to the ‘cultures’ of businesses and at the mercy of their managers. Some are sounding the death knell of the traditional job – like this TechCrunch article outlines.

Certain commentators believe that by 2020 over 50% of the US workforce will be temporarily employed – meaning, amazingly that over half of those working will have part-time jobs. More people will be running their own businesses (read careers), even if they don’t always see themselves as entrepreneurs, or having ‘escaped’ full time work.

These don’t have to mean working in Starbucks, but it could also be as a ‘super-temp’ (as this Harvard Business Review article explains).

My Story

My peripatetic escape from the city led me to start a marine conservation charity (www.blueventures.org), to build a sustainability-focused recruitment business in London and San Francisco and to build a house in Kenya (https://www.airbnb.co.uk/rooms/173098).

Each also enabled other people to escape from the city for a little while (Blue Ventures ran expeditions for volunteers in Madagascar) or to change the city from with in. The recruitment business I started helped people switch to environmental careers until the recession dragged us slowly under (escaping isn’t always a blessing). Yet my current business 3Desk (www.3desk.com) feels like the strongest contributor helping change the workforce and enabling escape.

Yet for all that will to escape, there is a problem – with more and more people wanting to be self-employed, there need to be new and better solutions to enable these people to find work that suits them and their skills. A graphic designer might be absolutely amazing, but the nature of their work means they’re often not natural marketers, or business developers. Escaping is often easy, finding a rewarding, relaxing spot on the far side can be more challenging.

Our Aim

As we mentioned in a previous blog post, we want to build a liquid marketplace for freelancers who work face-to-face. Although marketplaces for freelancers exist, the focus is on remote work, from one cubicle to another, without human interaction.

We want to help people with skills find the work they need, when they need it, and enable employers to tap into talent locally without forcing people to become permanent workers. Although a great, cohesive permanent team is truly wonderful, there are too many people who hate their jobs but have valuable skills. We want to enable those who want to escape, escape. Not just from one job to another, but from unemployment into employment, and from motherhood to a work routine that is symbiotic with childcare. We want to prevent the United Nations and Governments wasting billions on besuited city-based consulting firms because they can’t find the people they need individually.

I escaped the city, yet work harder than I did there for a fraction of the pay. But I am free, and making a difference to other peoples’ lives. Every day I thank my lucky stars that I had the means to escape. Now I feel like a liberator from the jail of conformity, helping others escape too to the wild and wonderful pastures of working the way you want to, when you want to and still earning what you need to, to be happy and live a simple life.

 

A PhD in Twitter

An interview between Tom Savage of 3Desk (www.3desk.com) and Bill Lampos (http://www.lampos.net/ & http://www.cs.bris.ac.uk/~lampos/)  – who’s just finished a PhD in Computer Science in Bristol, studying Twitter.

Although a slight detour from our usual freelancer features, we love Bill’s answers and wanted to share:

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Tom (@brightgreen): you were very clever/lucky (delete as appropriate) to choose Twitter, back before it was wildly popular on which to base your thesis. What made/makes it so interesting?

Bill (@lampos) Social Media offers another way of looking at our society. My research investigated methods for mining information about events in the real world, based on Twitter data – shedding new perspective on important trends. Of course, I also use Twitter or Facebook as tools for various aspects of my personal online entertainment and socialising, in general but I’m not sure that’s as new, or interesting.

Social media enables a unique new form of analysis – allowing us to watch and learn from the spread of information in real-time. To me, that’s way more exciting than seeing photos of my friends’ holidays, love them as I do.

@brightgreen: What can we do now as a society that we couldn’t without Twitter?

@lampos This is an interesting question because – in my opinion – there are two answers.

The first one encapsulates the great impact that Twitter has in timely information spread, not only events related to entertainment (such as sport or artistic occurrences), but more importantly the sudden social political bursts such as the Arab Spring, the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movement, or for me the situation unfurling in Greece. By sharing information quickly among such a diverse set of nations, Twitter has brought people closer, creating a togetherness or sense of unity. For example, before the Twitter era, it would have been hard for me to find trusted information about troubled regions around the globe, such as Syria, Bahrain or Egypt. Perhaps more importantly I didn’t care so much. I can now follow and better understand things on an international level as well as helping create greater bonds on a national level.

On the flip side, we should not ignore the silent issue – that society is also being ‘restricted’ by the existence of Social Media such as Twitter, especially in terms of social expression and psychical interaction, as well as the increasing concerns about the possible violations on user privacy.

@brightgreen You’ve probably spent more time analyzing Twitter than anyone outside of Twitter towers. Tell us a couple of things you’ve learnt that most users won’t have realized.

@lampos At the moment, there are many research groups working to analyze Social Media in various ways; several interdisciplinary projects are funded by the European Union. This not only proves the importance of the content published on the Social Web, but also reveals that there are many people who have been analyzing it for research purposes; I am just one of them.

Twitter is not about ‘you’ or the individual, despite the way many people interact with it. Twitter harnesses the interests of a variety of people – it is about that interaction, the communication between people rather than the people themselves.

Tweets should be well timed – usually this reflects an event happening in real time – and to be well articulated (which comes with practice and talent) and address the right audience.

Usually, Twitter users construct a persona, a character through their messages. This character should be well defined and stable as it quite often is the main reason that attracted followers on the first place.

Those are just some general hints; if you ask me, I’d rather be more spontaneous than imposing strategies and rules on my tweets. I have observed that my Twitter messages are well accepted when I am emotional.

@brightgreen What next for you?

@lampos I will further my research on Social Media by doing a post-doc as part of an EU funded project. Our aim in this project is to use Twitter as well as other web sources to investigate trends related to socio-political opinion or financial indicators.

@brightgreen What do people continue to get wrong when using Twitter?

@lampos Twitter is not Facebook; many users get confused about this. As a rule of thumb, their messages – which by default are visible to everyone – should not be about their ‘common’ everyday activities, unless the latter fit in a more general purpose or are amusing.

Twitter is not a platform for lengthy conversations or chatting. It is also quite straightforward to unfollow somebody; un-friending in Facebook might be taken as a personal insult. That gives the Tweeter the power to refine what and who they follow – not enough people use that power.

@brightgreen I read somewhere that twitter users are more intelligent than facebookers: do you agree?

@lampos I will try to answer this question based on my, possibly biased, personal experience with the addition of one more parameter. I do not think it is the medium (Twitter or Facebook) that attracts more intelligent users, but I believe that in this case the medium forces a particular behavior on its users. Therefore, if one judges users after removing the context on which they have been operating on, she might end up with wrong conclusions about them. My biased hypothesis is that Twitter inputs request greater focus and effort than the ones of Facebook. Hence, Twitter outputs – i.e. what people see and experience – might seem to be more elaborate, but that does not say anything about the users who produced them in the first place.

@brightgreen What matters more: who follows you or how many followers you have?

@lampos It depends on the purpose of each Twitter account. If one desires to disseminate information to a big set of recipients, then increased values on both those features will help. Alternatively, if you want to be seen as a potentially interesting account to follow, then proof for this may be provided by having ‘prestigious’ followers as well as having a small followers to followees ratio (say lower than .5). Note that it is easy to increase the number of followers by exploiting the ‘follow-back’ behavior of Twitter users. Consequently, an increased amount of followers alone does not say much about a person’s Twitter account.

@brightgreen For a new business like 3Desk, how would you use Twitter to best effect?

@lampos I do not think Twitter is a good medium to promote every type of business. I might, for example, like the products of companies X and Y, but I do not follow them on Twitter to stay up-to-date; if I am curious about their new developments, I will use Google Search or their dedicated websites to get this type of information.

On the other hand, it is – of course – a good policy to have a Twitter account to interact with users or clients who want to ask questions or get some type of feedback. It might also make sense to post business news on – or related to – the concept of your company; this could be as an indication that the company is active and engaging.

A more elaborate use of Twitter could be to exploit its Social Network characteristics to bind people together, partially investigate their interests and by combining this information with data from other Networking tools (such as LinkedIn), make job recommendations.

@brightgreen Is it possible to make money from Twitter?

@lampos There are several companies that make money out of Twitter’s content; BrandWatch (http://www.brandwatch.com/), Polecat (http://polecat.co/) and DataSift (http://datasift.com/) are some examples. These companies seem to be successful at the moment and thus, Twitter has been a good way to make money for those early efforts. In my opinion, with the adaptation of algorithms and methods coming from the scientific areas of Natural Language Processing and Artificial Intelligence on Twitter, the value of its contents will be further increased due to the increased number of accomplished applications.

@brightgreen You studied the spread of flu using Twitter, can you sum up your thesis in a few sentences?

@lampos ‘Nowcasting’ flu rates was just one case study (http://geopatterns.enm.bris.ac.uk/epidemics/). In a sentence, one finding of my Ph.D. states that we can use content from the Social Media to track the occurrence and magnitude of several types of events emerging in the real world. It is also interesting that, based on Twitter content, we are in the position to investigate socio-political patterns. Here’s something I put together which measures ‘the mood of the nation’ (http://geopatterns.enm.bris.ac.uk/mood/).

@brightgreen Which tools do you use to interact with Twitter?

@lampos I use the old version of Tweetdeck (the one released just before Twitter acquired Tweetdeck). This is the only tool I use, as I do not want to rely or provide information to many third parties. I am also registered to Klout, but this is not a Twitter tool really; it is just there to fulfil our vanity.

@brightgreen It’s also proving useful for understanding what’s going on back in your home country, Greece – how do you follow movements there?

@lampos During the past year, I have found a set of people, who are mainly based in Greece, with similar beliefs to mine. Most of them have an active participation in all socio-political events and usually tweet about it. There is also a famous independent citizen journalism effort initiated by radiobubble.gr; people, who support this initiative, tweet real-time news using the hashtag #rbnews. Established news outlets such as The Guardian or Al Jazeera have quite often referred to it.

@brightgreen You’ve just been appointed CEO of Twitter, what would you change?

@lampos Twitter’s web interface is a ‘bad’ implementation. I rarely use it and when I do, I dislike it even more.

@brightgreen What’s the best thing Twitter has achieved?

@lampos I think that Twitter ‘addicts’ or specialists will come up with various answers to this question; ‘best’ is always a matter of perspective.

One great achievement of Twitter is, as I mentioned, creating a foundation of a togetherness among people on an international level. After using Twitter for some time now, I feel closer to people in the US, Australia, Egypt and so on, as I get to see, in practice, that we approach the world in a very similar manner. It helps to narrow social, ethnic and cultural divides.

Twitter assists the timely and uncensored dissemination of significant events; this platform promotes citizen journalism. To an extent, Twitter also forces citizen journalists to undertake their ‘hobby’ with more professionalism and in a much more thoughtful manner.

Professional media has also benefited from information sharing on Twitter since their employees cannot physically be everywhere. I was surprised when a journalist from BBC contacted me on Twitter to ask about the current situation in Greece (during one of the riots) because I was translating into English messages from people on location.

In terms of research, Twitter content enables a diverge set of experiments for various scientific disciplines (such as Artificial Intelligence, Sociology or even Psychiatry) to be conducted on large-scale amounts of data, something that was impossible in the past.

@brightgreen What’s your perfect job? Where’s your favourite (or third) desk?

@lampos There is no such thing as a perfect job. Having said that, I enjoy to work on something not because it may be supported by a good salary, but because I really like and find it interesting. Obsession usually defines perfection for me; I know this is unhealthy. However, as I grow older, I try to reduce this egoistic perspective to the extent possible; I am trying to pursue activities that in the future might benefit others as well. I think that 3Desk is a timely idea, helping people connect with work that doesn’t tie them to a permanent role – especially as the workforce is becoming more fluid through the utilisation of smart technology.

My favourite desk could be anything located anywhere; the only constraint is having ‘beautiful’ people around it and a decent amount of desk space.

Bristol Freelancer Interview – Aaron Geis

Over the coming months, years even… we’ll try to feature some of our finest users.

Without further ado, we’d like to introduce Aaron Geis, a photographer from Portland, Oregon who’s recently made his home in the southwest.

Aaron is a freelance photographer, taking wonderful shots (some of which we’ll use in this post).

A young English lad in Thailand playing the didgeridoo

How long have you been freelancing?

I transitioned to full time freelancing at the beginning of 1995. I kind of fell into it after working at a professional photographic supplier and doing photo jobs on the side.

You recently moved from the US, has it been hard getting work here?

I really just started my marketing efforts but so far I have found Bristol to be a very welcoming market. I’m getting some work but still focusing on connecting with the advertising agencies based in the area.

Where’s your favourite desk?

Ah, good question. My favorite desk is a 1950′s Steelcase, the kind that was designed to double as a shelter in the event of nuclear attack and it is in a shipping container somewhere in the Atlantic.

One man's transport is another man's desk

We’re trying to make it easier to find and administer work? Do you find this challenging? 

Marketing is the bane of my existence. I didn’t study it at University and I’m not a natural salesman. When I meet freelancers who are just getting started I often caution them against working exclusively for one client. When I did that I found that my marketing efforts dropped to zero and when the work dried up with the one client I was left high and dry.

If you could wave a magic wand and build something to help you do your work, what would it be?

A list of art directors and art buyers who are looking for a new photographer to work with on their ambitiously creative project.

[3Desk - roger that...]

Commercial shots that still look smashing... Aaron's your man

Tell us about life as a freelancer:

One of the most challenging things about being a freelance photographer is pricing.

I use the method approved by the ASMP and AOP (American and British photographers organizations) which is – creative fee + licensing fee + production costs.

The trick is to take all of the factors into account; running costs, taxes, insurance, pension, holidays, etc.

All of the things that a full-time employee takes for granted I have to work into my billings. The problem is that the client is then tempted to take my ‘day rate’ and multiply it by 200 and compare it to their base salary.

They do that and then say to me you’d be making ‘X’ times my salary if I paid you that much.

Even though freelancing presents some challenges I wouldn’t give up the freedom to make my own decisions about how to run my business. I love having the flexibility to put the priority on creativity rather than on fast track to maximum profit.

[3Desk - agreed Aaron. Check out - Why we started 3Desk]

Check out more of Aaron’s work here

Thanks, great views (sorry)

If you’re a freelancer and would like to tell your story, please email hello at 3desk.

Two Freelancing Friends

This is a story of two friends who freelance that helped shape 3Desk.

Both work in ‘international development’. One has worked in Afghanistan, Sudan, Sri Lanka, the DRC and Chad (amongst others) with many of the larger UN agencies and smaller NGOs. The other is based in the UK but has worked for a number of the bigger charities as a press and media expert, both nationally and internationally.

They both describe themselves as consultants primarily, but also sometimes freelancers or contractors.

The first, O, currently lives in Sri Lanka, but is regularly flown across the world to deliver projects in Sub-Saharan Africa and beyond. I asked her why all this money was spent flying her around the globe – was it because she was the only person that could do the job?

She told me that there were plenty of people with similar skills, but the managers of those projects had worked with her before, plus it was hard and time-consuming to find people, so she was often called upon, regardless of where she was. She said there may well have been lots of people locally who could have delivered the work, without having to spend thousands of dollars on flights. Yet the project managers tended to rely on their personal networks because it was easier and time consuming to look for others.

She’d rather work locally in Sri Lanka, but has to follow the work. Plus, it wasn’t their money, so hey.

But it’s our taxpayers money – and every dollar spent unnecessarily is a dollar that could have spent on another vaccine, refugee camp shelter, or rehydration salts. That’s just inefficient.

How often does this happen? Surely a more liquid marketplace would save money and enable those in the field to choose the best work locally? It was one of the many stories I heard which helped shape 3Desk.

The other, A, with a shiny top first from Oxford, works for a number of clients and has those who know her falling over themselves to give her work. However, given their limited number, she often has to take time out to ensure that she has new contracts coming in. In January of this year, she found herself without any work for a month because she hadn’t the time to do enough business development. If other employers had known about her, there’s no doubt she would have found work quickly, but there was no ‘place to go’, where she could let people know she was available. Her network is limited by who she can reach out to and recruiters and job boards meant an investment of significant time and money.

Both examples are indicative of the problem with hiring freelancers. Plus freelancers often have to charge inflated daily rates in order to cover their ‘business development’ and administrative time – the incumbent insecurity is factored into their charges.

If the UN could find the best possible people quickly at the best price, they would save millions of dollars and improve their projects.

The market is illiquid. There may be a freelancer in the same street as an employer looking, but if neither party is able to find the other, they’d never know.

Huge amounts of time, money and talent is wasted, every day – when many others are unemployed. Our dream is that by making the talent market more liquid and efficient we can help people find better work and organizations better people, more cheaply.

Watch this space.

A Taxi Brousse in Madagasar - taken on a conservation mission by a consulting friend of 3Desk's