Future of Work: Transcript of interview with: Ariel Seidman, CEO, Gigwalk.com

Future of Work

Recorded on: June 30, 2012

Host:          Welcome to the Human 1.0 Future of Work Series, hosted by Scott K. Wilder, Digital Strategist and Founding Partner of Human 1.0. Today’s interview is with Ariel Seidman Co-Founder and CEO of Gigwalk.com which uses mobile devices to connect businesses to an on-demand, tech-savvy mobile workforce.


Scott K. Wilder:     Hi. My name is Scott Wilder. As part of the Future of Work Series we’re going to be talking today to Ariel Seidman, CEO of Gigwalk.com. Ariel, thanks for joining us.


Ariel Seidman: Thank you for having me.


Scott K. Wilder:     So, Ariel, just tell me a little bit about Gigwalk.com, what you guys do and where you guys are going.


Ariel Seidman: Sure. It’s – Gigwalk’s a very simple idea. So, we’re basically rethinking how people can find mostly short-term job opportunities directly from the Android or from their iPhones. And so, companies, you know, small- and medium-sized businesses all the way up to very large businesses can come on to Gigwalk.com and post a job to over 130,000 people in the network.


And it can be a job from as simple as, “Hey, I just am about to launch a new mobile app and I need 50 people to test my app at all these different locations and run it through these series of steps” to “I need a mystery shop done at this location” or “I need a computer or wireless LAN fixed at this location.”


And so, the nice part about it is that you can track and verify all the work that everybody’s doing. So, somebody picks up the job, says, “Yep, I want to do this job,” you then know exactly where they’re at when they started the job, you know exactly where they’re at when they complete the job, how long they spent. And they can also provide photographic evidence of the work that they actually did.


So, we have a wide range of customers that are using it in a couple of different ways.


Scott K. Wilder:     Interesting. So, just to step back for a second, can you tell me a little bit about your background and how you got to be the CEO of this venture?


Ariel Seidman: Sure. I was at Siebel Systems, which is in the enterprise software space, for about four years and then decided I wanted to do something a little bit more on the consumer side. So, I joined Yahoo in 2005 and at Yahoo my first job was actually as the Director of Products for Yahoo HotJobs.


So, it was then that I started to realize kind of how backwards the whole HR job space was and how antiquated it was. And basically people were job – you know, they’d take in the job boards that existed in the back pages of the newspapers and put them online. But there wasn’t anything more to it than just that.


And so, I was like, ‘Wow, like, you have people with reputation and now you have so much more information about how effective people are and none of it is actually being used in any kind of clever kind of way.’


And then I moved over to Yahoo Search and there it was kind of really understanding how do you track performance, how do you understand performance? Ultimately search is about understanding mass amounts of quantities of data and then leveraging that data to make better decisions or make – help the user find their information – you know, better information more quickly and so forth.


And then I moved over into the mobile world. And so, I was working on a lot of different, then, mobile applications for Yahoo.


So, Gigwalk is kind of combination of all those three things together: it’s jobs, it’s technology that helps people find the right kind of jobs and then mobility. How do you do all this in a mobile world?


Scott K. Wilder:     Tell me a little bit about – so, you talked about how you worked on Yahoo Hot Jobs and obviously you’re familiar with – or have done a lot of research on Monster and some of the other players out here. Where do you – what do you see as kind of some of the emerging trends in the space and what do you think some of the challenges are for them and how you guys address those?


Ariel Seidman: Sure. So, I think there has been a couple of phases. And so, you know, phase one was the Yahoo Hot Jobs and the Monster where it was (inaudible) job (inaudible) and it was obviously about the job (inaudible). And then you just basically got, you know, email attachment resumes. And you didn’t know anybody, right? I mean, if you got, like, an email from Joe at hotmail or, you know, Jeff at gmail.com, it just came with an email attachment associated to it. And so, it was kind of the stupidest form of being able to apply to your job.


Then you had systems like LinkedIn that came along which provided a little bit more identity around who was actually applying to the job. So, you know, I think LinkedIn was kind of that next phase where it moved the ball forward in a very significant way, but the problem with LinkedIn tends to be is none of the work – I can go create a profile for myself on LinkedIn and say the most fabulous things about myself, but that actually turns out to be mostly, you know, BS.


And so the question really now is what we refer to as observed work. In other words, can – has somebody actually seen you do this kind of work before? Is it verifiable in any kind of real way? And so, you know, with so much stuff being written into social networking, it’s hard to determine what’s true versus what’s, you know, made up.


And so, I think the next generation of all of the stuff in work is going to be verifiable work. So, if somebody paid you to do a job and then came in and said, “Wow, like, I want to pay this person more to do this kind of job in the future again,” that is verifiable. That’s observed work.


And, you know, I think there’s a lot of innovation happening in this sector. You know, we’re doing it in the context of mobility, but there’s other players doing it as well and this is the exciting area to be watching.


Scott K. Wilder:     And what are you seeing in certain terms of the type of people using your service? What kind of trends that you can share with us?


Ariel Seidman: There’s probably two or three major ones. They tend to – because we’re smartphone-based, you have to have an iPhone or hopefully an Android. They tend to mirror a little bit the overall smartphone adoption market. So, you know, they tend to be ages 22 to 45 or so, they – and a little bit higher income bracket than if you were to just look at the cross section of the United States. They tend to be about 80% of people have a full-time job and so they’re doing this for supplemental income.


So, you see a lot of people looking for, “Hmmm, you know what? I just really need that supplemental income,” or they’re in between jobs or they’re teachers who may not be working during the summer.


So, there’s either some income gap they’re trying to fill. Or, in some cases, this is actually their primary living. So, you have an IT technician and he’s looking to piece together a lot of different shorter-term job opportunities to effectively earn a living. He could be semi-retired or maybe he doesn’t want to work fulltime anymore and so he’s saying to himself, ‘Okay, I’ll work three days and I’ll find myself, you know, a couple of jobs that will pay me $300, $400, $500 a day’ kind of thing.


Scott K. Wilder:     So, the Wall Street Journal and a number of places today had articles about how creative folks are more – in this kind of free-temp market or a super-temp market, the creatives are being more productive. And so, they’re not – totally don’t define creativity whether it’s a designer or whether it’s a developer because I think, obviously, developers can be creative.


Are you getting a sense of that at all? Are you able to, like, tap into that and find out who’s getting higher rankings or who’s getting more verification?


Ariel Seidman: Yes, more observed work. So, yes, it depends on which kinds of jobs in the network. But there’s some data that suggests to us that people – you have to have the technical skills to be able to do whatever is being asked of you in the job obviously, otherwise you don’t even stand a chance of, you know, being successful.


But what you also see is just the people who can communicate more effectively, the people who are more creative about ways to actually solve whatever the customer’s asking them to solve tend to be the ones who get repeat business from these specific businesses.


So, we have this feature which has basically allowed businesses to add people into a private group. And so, the benefit of a private group is anytime that business that has a future job opportunity for them, they could instantly do the gig, right? And so they’re just kind of saying like, “Hey, you’re part of my trusted network. You know, Ben if I add you into my private group, I don’t have to verify who you are, you’re just kind of trusted to do that.”


That’s kind of like the ultimate verification, if you will, that this person is trusted. And so, the people who tend to make it into those groups are those people who are entrepreneurial, creative in different ways of solving the customer’s problem because a lot of times the customer, frankly, doesn’t even know how to describe what they’re looking for very effectively.


And so, these are the people who can kind of take that and say, “Ah, okay, this is what you really mean,” you know, and then kind of play it back to the customer or the business and say, “Yes, sure, I can do that.” So, you do see that.


I mean, in our own business, you know, we’re a start-up and, you know, we definitely are looking for people who – and I think the people who do the best at Gigwalk are those that have a cross section of skills, you know, beyond the technical skills, beyond just the marketing skills.


And so, it’s really the combination of a lot of different skills that make people really interesting and effective at a place like Gigwalk.


Scott K. Wilder:     That’s interesting. You know, some of the trends that I’ve been reading about are the focus of people being more specialized. Do you have any sense of that based on what you’re seeing in your universe? This whole kind of – it’s the specialists are the ones who are going to, you know, establish consistency in getting gigs and things like that as opposed to the generalist and then also companies trying to hire specialists.


Okay. So, maybe I’ll talk about from the perspective of, you know, short-term job opportunities, yes, there’s definitely, like, certain jobs which are specialized. So, building certifications. So, okay, well, you need to be building certified, you need to be able to do that kind of stuff. You know, certainly it’s those people who are going to do better.


Even some of like this mystery shopping gigs you tend to be – you tend to see people who have just done a lot of them and they know kind of how to record the information properly and, you know, not present any sort of personal bias into the mix.


And so, they are definitely people who are specialists in that context who can do certain types of jobs very effectively, jobs that can be kind of chunked into smaller bits.


So, yes, I would agree with that aspect of it certainly. Maybe talking differently here from more of a start-up perspective, you know, a company that is hiring also in the context of full time what I would say is there are certain roles that I would characterized as (sounds like: T-shaped). Like you need kind of a certain core set of specialized skills.


But then if that’s all you could do, that’s probably not sufficient for us. Like, if all you can do is push, you know, I guess the derogatory – if you can push pixels around a page, you know, you probably can do some of the design that we need.


But really a great designer can internalize the problems that we’re trying to solve from a business perspective and then come up with potential solutions for those, present those solutions, you know, create a personality for the product experience, you know, all those types of things kind of go into it and they may not be, you know, very specialized skills in terms of being able to move pixels around a page in a beautiful kind of way.


Scott K. Wilder:     Interesting. So, you’ve obviously made the decision to focus on mobile platforms. What are some of the big product, design and development issues you guys are dealing with today? And if you looked into your crystal ball,  what you think they might be down the road?


Ariel Seidman: That’s a great question. So, mobility provides you the convenience factor in the sense that it’s always on you, you can very quickly, you know, tap somebody on the shoulder and figure out exactly where they’re located, where they’re located relative to certain job opportunities. So, there’s definitely that aspect of it.


The challenging thing is really around the number of different mobile platforms that exists for a small company like ours just being able and having to develop for all the different platforms can be challenging sometimes in terms of keeping up on that.


So, those are probably the two primarily things. I mean, I ultimately believe that a lot of the stuff that you’re seeing especially in the job stage short-term, part-time, even full-time jobs, like, it’s mostly about information access, right?


In other words, okay, you know, Pepsi launched a job board that you can apply to Pepsi via mobile app or an iPad. And it was like, well, I don’t know if that’s a – there’s not a lot of value in that, right? Like, okay, you know, something that you used to be able to do in a PC now you can do in a mobile world.


Like, what is – what we always ask ourselves is, like, what is natively, inherently mobile about that thing which is different? And, you know, that’s the question that always goes back to, so, what’s inherently native and different about mobile and the types of jobs that we see is there’s a verification aspect to it, right? The business needs somebody to check in at a certain time, you know, do the job for a certain number of hours and then check out.


You know, so, a lot of times people would show up and be like, “Yes, I was here for three hours,” right? And so, now you have this technology that enables you to do that whole check-in, check-out of a job with some level of verification. Actually a whole lot of level of verification.


So, I would say that’s like natively mobile. I think the other aspect of it is you can now record information about the job that you performed, right? You can photograph it, you can answer survey questions related to it. All those things are, again, natively mobile things you do that you previously would have had to done in kind of a lot of, you know, either pen and paper or you have to have your, you know, (sounds like: SLR) camera there and then upload the photos later.


So, what it’s always asking yourself is, whatever you’re building, don’t just, like, build it because the mobile’s hot and everyone has an iPhone or everyone has an Android or everyone will have one; build it because it actually solves a problem for your business.


And so, again, one of our companies which is a mystery shopping company, they’ve seen their shopper fraud rates basically drop, you know, to like below 1%, you know, well below 1%. And so, you know, they were dealing with shopper fraud rates in the 8%, 9% range previously.


And so, you know, that’s an example. Another company was telling us is like, “Hey, we never hear where people were relative to the jobs they had to do.” So there was no way to verify they actually showed up, they showed up on time. Now we have this promptness, you know, how prompt were they for their job.


So, all of these things rely back to those specific problems that you think these businesses had and we’re just solving them in a new way of leveraging the technology available on and iPhone and Android.


Scott K. Wilder:     I think the whole point of verification is really fascinating. It’s the first time I’ve really, you know, heard somebody talk about the importance of doing that as – in this – go ahead.


Ariel Seidman: Yes. No, I mean, listen, when you’re taking credit for oDesk, you know, they’ve kind of been grandfathered a little bit in this space. You know, they’re in a different – they’re in – I would say they’re in a labor market. I mean, we’re all operating the overall labor market, but I think what’s interesting to oDesk is they were trying to solve this problem of “I’m hiring a program in the Philippines or India or Russia. How do I actually know that they’re doing the work?”


And they had a piece of technology that would actually capture people’s work environment. And you – they would monitor it every couple of minutes so that the company, you know, in Europe or the U.S. knew whether or not that person was actually doing work.


And so, I think that’s another example of really, you know, clever verification in our world which it tends to be very local work, you know, we’re leveraging the mobile technologies to enable that verification.


Scott K. Wilder:     Uh-huh [affirmative]. Any other trends that you’re tapping into? Or that you will create?


Ariel Seidman: So, I think – there’s mobility which, you know, plays into verification a lot. You can target people based upon mobility, their location. You can verify with location and mobility.


I think the other big one is identity and so we talked about identity in terms of, you know, you’re not just a user name and password, you know, you’re a real person with a real reputation. You know, that’s a big deal. And so if you go back to the days of Monster and HotJobs, it was just like, “Hey, I can create a bunch of different, you know, user names and passwords” and, you know, you saw all kinds of weird, shady stuff happening in that context.


And now, like, your reputation is based upon as just a base level on, you know, the LinkedIn profile or your Facebook profile. You know, like that tells you that there’s a real human behind us, right, with somebody who is – has these presence or presences aligned.


I think actually in a totally, totally different space the guys who have done a really nice job on this are the guys are (sounds like: Air B&B). I don’t know if you’re familiar with that product.


Scott K. Wilder:     Very much so, yes.


Ariel Seidman: Yes. I mean, they have a similar kind of dimension to their product which is if you’re staying at someone’s house, like, you want to know that that person – you know, who they are. And so, they leverage Facebook, they leverage LinkedIn, they leverage all these other kind of social systems to help create a profile around you.


And so, I think that’s like an important aspect of what we’re doing as well. Ultimately if you’re hiring somebody to do a job for you; you want to verify who they are.


Scott K. Wilder:     So, a little bit about the company there. So, you’re obviously building a corporate culture there of some sort. What are your thoughts about – you know, in a start-up mode, what the culture is there and how it’s – you know, how it might evolve.


And I guess I’m – you know, a little is it are you using your own – eating your own dog food, so to speak, in terms of depending a lot on, you know, outsourced resources?


Ariel Seidman: Absolutely. Yes. No, we just posted a – we had to do a – we’re throwing a small party here at the offices, so we posted a gig for someone to come in to help us do some event hosting and event staffing kind of work. So, absolutely, we had to do some kind of admin, administrative office work around the office and so we posted that as a gig as well.


I think some of the guys were getting kind of antsy late at night coding and so they were looking for some food and so they got someone to deliver some food for them as well. So, we use it in a variety of different ways, absolutely. That’s definitely the fun part of it.


I think one guy who was looking to – he was looking to rent a vacation rental, like down in San Diego or something like that and got someone to actually go check out the house in advance for him because they didn’t have any pictures online for him. So, you know, we’re definitely using it in a lot of clever ways for our own uses.


In terms of the company culture that we’re trying to develop here, I’d say a couple things: one is we have this term called honey badger. Do you know – have you heard about the honey badger?


Scott K. Wilder:     Honey backer?


Ariel Seidman: No, honey badger.


Scott K. Wilder:     Badger. No.


Ariel Seidman: Okay. So, when you have a chance look up the honey badger video on YouTube.


But anyways, the honey badger is the most fearless animal in the jungle. It doesn’t take s–t [expletive] from anybody. Can you see me okay? I know I just kind of moved the lighting. So, I don’t know if that’s – is that better?


Scott K. Wilder:     You’re a little dark, but that’s – you know, that’s okay.


Ariel Seidman: Okay. So, yes, the honey badger is this like very fearless animal and, you know, it will go up to a lion and, you know, an animal ten times its size and, you know, go after it. And so, we are this culture that, you know, we want people like who are fearless, who are willing to fail, you know, who are not afraid of their own ego, you know, who will like be persistent at a problem.


And so, you know, I do think right now – are you based in – you’re based in Silicon Valley, right?


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes, I’m in San Francisco right now.


Ariel Seidman: Oh, okay. I’m in Soma. So, I think there’s a little bit of a problem right now in the sense of the start-up world there’s a lot of noise. And, you know, I think one of the things is like I see this a lot from a lot of people which I like, “Oh, I want to join a start-up, I want to join a start-up, I want to join a start-up.” And I think it’s harder and harder for startups to filter out who really, really wants to do a start-up lifestyle.


Like a startup lifestyle doesn’t look anything like TechCrunch would maybe have you believe. {Laughter} And it’s not as glamorous as people make it out to be and it’s just a lot of, lot of hard work and a lot of people thinking you’re crazy oftentimes.


And so, I think it’s those kind of very persistent, fearless people who, you know, against all odds continue to march ahead. And that’s hard for a startup to kind of, you know, tease those people out in this kind of – in this environment where everybody all of a sudden wants to work at a start up.


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes. I mean, so my take on it is, you know, a lot of people say – they’ll answer the question, “I want to work at such and such a company because it’s start up, it’s this and that,” but they don’t really look at their own lifestyle of where they are…


Ariel Seidman: Yes.


Scott K. Wilder:     …and how that comes into play whether, you know, they can take on, you know, a low salary or whether they can – you know, they have kids or whatever it is.


Ariel Seidman: Yes. No, I think that’s right. I mean, one guy – you know, he was interested in working at Gigwalk and, you know, he was a very smart guy, very accomplished and, you know, as we kind of moved further and further along in the conversation he was like, “Yes, but I’m going to work remotely.”


And I was like, ‘Well, you know, at a small company that doesn’t really work, right? Like, the learnings really happen when you’re in proximity, when you’re close together, when you’re rubbing shoulders with the next guy. You know, that’s really when the most interesting things start to really come up.’


So, he just hadn’t considered his own personal lifestyle which is he really wants to work remotely and maybe come into the office a day or two days a week, but, you know, do the vast majority of his work on his own schedule and his own time.


And so, like, that’s fine, I have nothing against that; but that’s just like not – doesn’t really work in a very small company. I mean, maybe if you work at a PayPal or, you know, at Google there are some roles where that can work. But in most cases it doesn’t work at a startup very well.


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes. No, I agree. I agree. Just two more groups of questions. So, the first one is, do you guys run into any of the legal issues or do people ask about, you know, any of the people and the free agents ask about how they should handle tax information and legal issues and things like? Or is that just kind of totally outside and they’ll figure it out?


Ariel Seidman: No. So, they’re – like, yes. So, we do provide 1099s for people who earn $600 or more through this system. So, we’re pretty explicit about that which is, you know, if you earn – and most people on both sides, actually, like that we handle that or that we help manage that so that businesses don’t have to deal with the headache. And then also the people who are doing the work on the other side just generally know that, you know, they’re law abiding vis-à-vis all the 1099s and so forth. So, we do handle that. If you were – you know, if you make less than $600 you have to self-report that income.


There are certain times where people will come to us and say – seeking unemployment; it’s pretty common, usually, for companies. So, it’s basically, “Oh, I work for Gigwalk and I’m no longer, you know, fully employed or I used to do work for Gigwalk and I’m not doing any work.”


And so, in that situation it’s pretty straightforward. We’re (inaudible) – you know, these are all short-term job opportunities and everybody’s an independent contractor status. So, given that you fit those two criterias – and everybody has choice, right? Like, you can decide, “Okay, I want to do that job, I don’t want to do this job, I want to do this job, I don’t want to do that one.”


You have ultimate choice in the matter and as long as those things still hold true then you don’t get into this any kind of grey area as to whether or not they’re still 1099s or not.


Scott K. Wilder:     Interesting. So, this is a little bit different type of question. Where do you get your information? Which websites, which blogs do you read and follow?


Ariel Seidman: It matters what. I mean, for mobile stuff there’s this guy who writes – I’m going to butcher the name, but I think it’s Asymco.com or something like that: A-S-Y-M-C-O.com. Can you hear me, by the way?


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes, yes.


Ariel Seidman: So, you know, I think he’s a pretty good analyst in the mobile space; I think he does a really nice job capturing it well. He’s at the top of my list for mobile stuff.


Let’s see who else? I mean, I think (All Things D) does a nice job of covering the tech space in general which is kind of the Wall Street Journal Blog – you know (Walt Mossberg) and (Carris Fischer) and, you know, (Lauren) and (Ina) and all those folks. I think they do a nice job of that.


The guy I like, you know, who writes well is (Fred Wilson). I think he does a nice job, ABC. I don’t know if you ever follow him.


Scott K. Wilder:     Uh-huh [affirmative].


Ariel Seidman: And those are some of those – you know, that come top of mind. I like (Gigaoma) as well. He does – you know, I think he does a nice job. He’s a thoughtful guy.


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes. Do you ever have time to read books?


Ariel Seidman: Very rarely, unfortunately. {Laughter}


Scott K. Wilder:     Alright.


Ariel Seidman: I wish I had more time. The last book I read cover to cover was the Walter Isaacson book on Steve Jobs.


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes.


Ariel Seidman: So, how about you? What do you read?


Scott K. Wilder:     So, right now I’m reading this book, here’s the title: you can see the picture of it. It’s called…


Ariel Seidman: Okay.


Scott K. Wilder:     …A Future – oh, it’s coming out backwards, no?


Ariel Seidman: Yes, yes, yes.


Scott K. Wilder:     So, that’s very good. (The Future’s Already Here). And then I just – I am reading Steve Jobs. And, of course, you know about the four-day work week. So – and I actually recommend in the Harvard Business Review I was reading the latest online…


Ariel Seidman: Yes, yes. Do you know that – I’m just going to add that to my reading list on Amazon here. So, what is – (The Future Work is Already Here). Do you know the author, Lynda?


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes. She’s on my list of people to talk to. So, Lynda Gratton. She’s a Professor at University of London, I think it is. London School of…




Scott K. Wilder:     And then Harvard Business Review has a really interesting article about super temps and the reason I was interested in it because, you know, when I look at – it cites, like, you know, eLance, oDesk, you know, there’s a certain type of individual that’s on those sites and what they really focus on is more senior people who are basically – you know, like, for – it’s analogous to free agents and baseball, but on a project basis.


Ariel Seidman: Yes, yes.


Scott K. Wilder:     Yes. So, I think that was a really good article there. I forgot the author, but it’s in the latest issue.


Ariel Seidman: Hmmm. I will look at that; that’s very interesting. Okay.


Scott K. Wilder:     So, Ariel, I know it’s Friday and – oh, it’s not Friday, it’s Monday.


Ariel Seidman: It’s Monday.




Scott K. Wilder:     It’s Monday.


Ariel Seidman: I was thinking, ‘Wow, already?’


Scott K. Wilder:     You said you were going to have some sort of party tonight. So, I want to thank you, Ariel, for your time; this has been really great a lot of learnings from me here.


I’ve been talking to Ariel Seidman from Gigwalk.com. Ariel, any final words you want to share with folks?


Ariel Seidman: Go read the Future of Work. I think that day’s already here. I’m going to go read it and so it sounds like an exciting one.


Scott K. Wilder:     Great. So, thank you, Ariel. This has been Scott Wilder for the Future of Work and Human 1.0 and stay tuned for our next discussion. Thank you.