Tomorrow's Gig Economy Marketplaces Are Smarter, Larger and More Global
Ten years ago, undoubtedly sparked by the 2008 recession, freelancers began building the foundation of the gig economy, with marketplace upstarts like ours, 99designs, along with Airbnb and Taskrabbit and others introducing new ways to connect buyers with services -- and people with sources of income.
Today, many of these peer-to-peer pioneers have expanded globally and evolved. Thanks in part to the technology and social advances -- the launch of Google Maps, smartphones loaded with GPS capabilities, the growth of Facebook and social sharing -- these companies simultaneously embodied and sparked a new way of thinking, behaving and buying.
99designs, too, has evolved based on the ebb and flow of the gig economy and customer needs. The company, which was originally best known as a logo contest site for startups, now has a network of designers around the world and serves customers from 193 countries across 90 categories of design -- from app development to websites to tattoos and book covers. And we've expanded beyond the strict confines of contests to offering new, more direct ways to connect and work with designers on the platform, along with tools designed to help agencies and businesses source creative talent on-demand. Obviously, we're not alone in our journey to adapt and evolve with a society that's increasingly expectant of on-demand services and comfortable with peer-to-peer transactions across geographic and cultural borders.
As I look back at where we've come since those earliest days and ahead at the next 10 years, it's easy to see a few of the key factors I believe will most directly impact the future of the gig economy. The winning marketplace brands in 2028 will be those who successfully account for and leverage the following three movements:
1. Artificial intelligence makes your business smarter.
AI is like having the smartest data scientist working on your business 24/7. While we're still some time from mass AI implementation, those who aren't scared off by data and algorithms are reaping the rewards. A recent Deloitte survey says 83 percent of the most aggressive adopters of AI and cognitive technologies have already achieved either moderate (53 percent) or substantial (30 percent) business benefits. Customers expect automation. AI provides it. If you don't catch on soon, expect your competitors to leapfrog over you.
AI as a service is the real groundbreaking trend that I see pushing it mainstream. The fact that we can just utilize IBM Watson or Google or Amazon's versions via public APIs effectively allows anyone to use this computing power to solve many problems.
Already, AI is successfully driving better connections between sellers and customers on several platforms. For example, professional services marketplace JustAnswer (which connects people with certified professionals like doctors, lawyers and tech support technicians for help) launched an AI chatbot that answers simple questions, helps qualify leads and more effectively connects its customers with one of the site's experts. AI brings greater intelligence and efficiency to the process, resulting in better close rates, a higher percentage of paying customers and a better customer experience.
At 99designs, we already see AI playing an increased role in helping us better identify the ideal match between customer needs and preferences (based on criteria noted on the design brief) and specific designer whose skills, style aesthetic and experience meet those needs. Recently we introduced a "Find a Designer" tool that utilizes this technology and we only see this building from here. In the future, I see us deploying virtual design assistants who work with our human designers to help them define and then extract a customers design brief through intelligent chat bots, extracting and converting files and then deploying and maintaining them wherever they are being used, doing research, collating images, etc.
2. Globalization gets a boost from emerging and established collaboration tools.
Advanced platforms are more effectively pairing companies and talent across the globe, enabling them to compete for bigger business or simply open up new revenue streams. Take Globality. The company uses a B2B matchmaking platform to connect multinational corporations with pre-qualified consultants around the world. The service enables small to medium-sized companies to leverage freelancers and consultants with strategic expertise in certain geographical regions in order to contend for big contracts worldwide.
You can also expect to see more companies offering services that make it easier to do business across different regions of the world, and this will have a direct impact on marketplace businesses. Companies like Welocalize and Unbabel offer translation and localization services.
Machine learning/AI applications (as mentioned above) enabling real-time translation services will have a huge impact on the globalization of the gig economy. Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon are already providing real-time translation APIs for text and voice. The Google pixel buds with real-time voice translation embedded is a sign of things to come and will open the world up further.
Communication is the key to collaboration, and therefore doing meaningful human-centered work. If we can open the world up, so anyone can effectively communicate with anyone from anywhere, anytime.
3. Companies tap into the needs of the enterprise.
While consumer platforms like Airbnb, Amazon and the like drove the first wave of peer-to-peer marketplaces, companies are adapting their business models to capture new sources of revenue from corporate enterprises.
Uber for Business promotes its enterprise service as "digital headquarters for all your company's ground transportation." The service offers a way for administrators to manage trip activity, billing and set parameters for employee travel. Similarly, Airbnb caters to enterprise needs by offering safe, Wi-Fi-enabled workspaces for solo travelers or business teams looking for a productive environment off hotel row. On 99designs, we recently launched a "Pro" platform that makes it easy for companies to find and work with topnotch design talent.
In addition, newer upstarts like Gigster and Paro.io are connecting corporate customers with freelance talent across diverse industries on demand. Companies can look to Gigster's pool of freelancers if they need software developers and engineers, or to Paro.io if they need vetted financial analysts, CFOs, CPAs and bookkeepers.
Looking toward the horizon, there are few signs the gig economy is slowing down, no matter what the larger political or even financial markets future holds. Those marketplace businesses that have the foresight to harness these trends are likely to be leading the pack for years to come.