This Entrepreneur Runs a Thriving $76-plus Million Freelance Marketplace Business with No Employees
For Michael Brooks, breaking traditional rules of how to run a business is the mantra. In fact, the bigger the challenge, the greater the opportunity for his company’s success, he believes.
The founder and CEO of goLance—an online marketplace for recruiting, managing and paying online global freelance talent—created an unconventional business model that delivers high-quality services without having to support offices or even hire staff. Instead, Brooks relies on global freelance talent and agencies to help him develop and manage all aspects of his rapidly expanding business. The number of users of his award-winning platform has grown by more than 30 per cent in 2019 over the previous year. Today, it reaches more than 517,000 users and is growing dramatically as the gig economy expands.
Brooks launched goLance in 2015 with the objective of offering lower fees for freelancers, giving people the freedom to work from home, providing flexible and fast payments options, and helping businesses grow by using global online freelance talent.
“When I founded the company, my other business was on autopilot,” he says. “I asked myself what business I’d want to be in for the next 40 years—the expected time that I would want to remain working—and building a freelance community came to mind.”
Always an innovator, Brooks wanted to offer his clients and freelancers more opportunities and benefits that were available with other companies in the fast-growing online freelance marketplace. His business model is unique to the industry: clients don’t pay any fees, and freelancers pay low service fees. goLance integrates with many payment providers to give freelancers more options and even offers easy pay-in and payouts in cryptocurrency. If freelancers get busy and want to subcontract work, the goLance platform makes that possible.
“It’s really exciting to see how we are able to help people worldwide find work that helps raise their standard of living while giving them the freedom to do this from any location,” he says. “I chose to run my entire business using freelancers, and trusting people around the world with our technology was one of the most exciting things I’ve ever done.”
Brooks is proud that he can run a business with more than $76 million in payouts without having a physical office. “When you have people show up every day in a digital world, you get to control the corporate culture,” he says. “But when you replace control with trust, you can build a culture with remote teams that offers freedom to the clients and freelancers and helps them to achieve amazing results.”
Lower costs and faster payouts are core to the business, but having talented people drives the business forward, according to Brooks. “We are constantly working to fit the right freelancer with the right client, he says. “It’s about finding high-quality people and putting them in the right roles with a culture that focuses on character, loyalty and trust.”
We caught up with Brooks with 20 questions to figure out what he’s all about.
How do you start your day?
I begin with 20 minutes of meditation related to my intentions. I practice gratitude and visualize what I want to see unfold each day. Then I watch as I make that happen.
How do you end your day?
When I’m successful, I actually end my day exhausted. It’s about spending time with my family and working with my clients, freelancers and partners. I take that extra phone call or do a chat and focus on what’s important.
What’s a book that changed your mind and why?
Rich Dad Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Sharon Lechter changed my thinking on my life path. It changed my mind on thinking that I had to go to an office and climb the corporate ladder. After reading that book, I realized that I didn’t feel like I needed to do that to be successful.
What’s a book that you always recommend and why?
On the Wings of Eagles by Ken Follet is an excellent book. It’s an amazing story about the power of leadership and it’s about one of my greatest heroes, Ross Perot.
What’s a strategy to remain focused?
Meditation helps me focus on what’s important, and I do this through concentrating on my breathing and by repeating mantras. When things get hectic, I can realign myself by meditating and then tackle and address what I need to do.
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to be, but I was certain that I had to be useful and wasn’t afraid of hard work.
What did you learn from the worst boss you ever had?
I discovered how to get to the heart of an issue and be direct when dealing with a problem. I learned how to understand complex challenges, break them down, and work through them.
Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?
My wife has been the biggest influence in my work and life. I’ve seen how she raises our children and teaches them that the actions of others don’t dictate our own. She has encouraged me more than anyone else and pushed me to strive and do my best.
What’s a trip that changed you?
When I started goLance, I went to a conference in Moscow. While I was in that part of the world, I took a couple of days to venture to Siberia to meet with a freelancer of goLance, who was a top performer. He welcomed me in his home and I met his family. I know that it meant a lot to him that I would travel to see him in person. For me, it was inspiring and motivating to learn how his work with goLance was making a difference in his life.
What inspires you?
I like it when I can get someone a job and they don’t have to go to an office. It’s inspiring when I can help someone get results they never expected and move beyond their perceived capabilities of their value.
What was your first business idea and what did you do with it?
When I was seven, I wanted to make extra money so I started a dog-walking business. I learned some basic skills of finding work and was proud of my earnings.
What was an early job that taught you something useful and important?
In college, I hired people to support activities for a promotional events company. This taught me how to recruit, manage people and logistics and organize activities. I learned how to get people work, motivate them and manage sales.
What’s the best advice you ever took?
When I was a teenager, I took a trip abroad and attended summer school in a culture very different from my own. I got the best advice from someone who had been there a few weeks. He told me to keep an open mind about everybody. That advice still serves me today.
What’s the worst piece of advice you ever got?
The best and worst advice often comes from the people you care about. They’re concerned about you and caution you on the risks of starting your own business. Sometimes you have to go with your gut and take risks, which is what I’ve done. You may make mistakes along the way but you learn and can achieve huge rewards.
What’s a productivity tip you swear by?
Keep a yellow notepad with you at all times. If you get an idea, jot it down. Never forget your lists. Take out your lists and go through them daily to make sure you accomplish what’s important. I keep a notepad next to my bed.
Is there an app or tool you use to get things done and stay on track?
I love the goLance app we created and use it to check on people’s work all the time.
What does work-life balance mean to you?
I don’t believe in a structured work-life balance. Do what works best for you. I combine work with my family life. Some people categorize this in terms of hours—I categorize it based on what needs to be done, whether it’s working on a project or spending time with my family.
How do you prevent burnout?
There are times in my life where I’ll work 18-hour days, if necessary. However, I know that if I push myself too much I’m not going to be healthy. So, I also rely on other people and ask for help. Seeking out people that fit well with our culture lets me work more efficiently and gives them the breathing room to grow.
When you’re faced with a creative block, what’s your strategy to get innovating?
I try to get outside of what I’m doing—take a break—and enjoy the human experience. This could involve taking a walk, listening to someone else and trying to understand what they’re going through, or helping someone. After taking a break, I can tackle a creative block with a fresh set of eyes.
What are you learning now and why is it important?
Sometimes you just have to let go of control and trust people. When you start a business or have an idea, you may think it belongs to you. When you bring in other people, you can learn from them and realize that you’re just part of that idea. It takes a team to succeed.