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Gary Swart

Gary Swart



Company Profile
oDesk is the world’s largest online workplace, freeing businesses and talented freelancers to work together on demand, via the Internet. Before online work, most small businesses struggled to attract top talent locally, did not see success with traditional outsourcing firms, and typically received B- talent from staffing firms. oDesk is creating opportunities that level the playing field by granting access to a global, flexible bench of talent.

The idea for oDesk was originally born of a problem our two co-founders had: they wanted to work together but were halfway across the world from each other. One, Odysseas Tsatalos, was getting a Silicon Valley startup off the ground and wanted to collaborate with the other, his childhood friend who’d become an expert engineer, Stratis Karamanlakis. So they did what any enterprising tech-heads would do—they created a digital platform that would allow them to work together remotely. And that’s how oDesk began.

With more than 160 countries and U.S. $1 billion in work done on oDesk to date, we are bringing freedom and opportunity to businesses and independent professionals around the world.
My Role
To best describe how my role as CEO of this rapidly growing business has changed, I like to use the analogy of traveling from the jungle to the bumpy dirt road and finally onto the highway. When the team was small, I was connected to everything and everyone. In the “jungle” I regularly talked with our customers, I interviewed every hire, I replaced ink cartridges in the printer -- I literally touched every aspect of our business and was involved with every decision. As we grew and merged onto the dirt road, it became increasingly difficult to be involved in every decision and I learned that if I attempted to insert myself everywhere, we would not scale. As the business continues to grow, I become increasingly aware of the importance of our team and having trust in them to manage all of the details and involve me only when necessary. Though we’re on the highway, we still run into traffic jams and hit pot holes but I am confident in our team to handle these issues and allow me to navigate the business towards accelerated growth, exciting product developments and continued market leadership. 
Relationship with potential investors
The potential of the online work market is massive -- we equate its likely growth trajectory to the evolution of ecommerce. In the early days of ecommerce, people were only comfortable buying small items, but as trust grew, people began buying and selling larger items online. With ecommerce now an established part of everyday life, it may surprise you to hear that less than 6% of global retail is online still. If 6% of all work transitioned online, that is a huge, multi-billion dollar opportunity. Luckily, angel investors and venture capital firms share our vision, making fundraising at oDesk a really positive experience.

Conversely, in my previous role at Intellibank, we pitched 30+ different investors to try and raise money and came out with empty pockets. Though we didn’t get what we wanted or had hoped for, I believe that experience is what you get when you don’t get the other things you wanted. Without question, participating in a failed fundraising round enabled me to do a better job at oDesk.
Culture as the company has grown
In my opinion, it is the CEO’s job to create an environment where everyone is set up for success. I define success as knowing that every team member has clarity on their goals, they understand how to achieve their goals and they know how their goals will be measured. As the company grows, it becomes increasingly more difficult to maintain the same clarity, responsibility and standards. I therefore recommend when hiring that managers consider the personal characteristics, motivation, skills and knowledge of the potential candidate and remember that company cultures can shift or be led astray with just one wrong addition.

Being in Silicon Valley where Segways and catered meals are commonplace, it is hard to have perspective on what defines a culture. I believe that creating a fun culture is good but it’ll only get you so far. I think creating an environment where people can thrive is absolutely necessary because in my opinion there is nothing more fun than winning as a team.
Difficulties faced
oDesk is a marketplace on which businesses post jobs and hire freelancers presenting us with the age-old question of the chicken or the egg -- if we have jobs will freelancers come or is it if we have the freelancers the job postings will follow? The biggest challenge we face is making sure that we deliver a good result every time to every client and every freelancer. If we don’t, there will be no positive word-of-mouth and virality potentially lost. Also, as a marketplace business, it took us quite a bit of time to build liquidity but once we did it, we had created a significant moat around our business allowing us flexibility to innovate and iterate.
Advice to young entrepreneurs
My advice is to first, figure out what you’re really good at and then figure out what you really enjoy doing. To the extent that those things intersect and it’s a big, viable market, go do that thing and focus on building that thing day in and day out.
Key thoughts about Entrepreneurship
With the rise of online work, it is remarkable how much easier it is to be an entrepreneur today. If you’ve got a decent idea and a prototype, you are off to the races! Crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter, the prevalence of social media and the need to be hyper connected, allow entrepreneurs the opportunity to start a business with next to nothing. The friction is minimal and the barriers to entry are low, allowing more people to realize their dreams than ever before.

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