This Norwegian startup thinks it has the recipe to get companies the best freelancers
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Co-Founders CEO Fredrik Thomassen and COO Sondre Rasch (L) (courtesy)

Konsus is battling in an increasingly crowded field of freelance marketplaces

Good help is hard to find. With the explosion of the “gig economy” over the past five or so years, a wave of freelancers have flooded the internet, offering their services on the cheap.

But how do you sort through the masses and find the best talent for the job?

Now team Konsus out of Oslo thinks that they may have found the right spice for their special sauce, bringing some new ideas to the already crowded freelancer market.

Co-founded by CEO Fredrik Thomassen and COO Sondre Rasch, the company fancies itself the “Uber for high-skilled work,” trying to compete with the likes of Fiverr and other marketplaces for a chance to be ranked the highest-quality freelance finder in the world.

Helping to steer their venture forward, Kronsus received a $1.5 million investment led by the Slack Fund in August 2016, representing the company’s primary investment after a $120,000 seed round when they entered Y Combinator (Y Combo’s Sam Altman also contributed to the Slack). Other participants in the August round included Acequia Capital, Liquid2 Ventures, Paul Buchheit, and Geoff Ralston.

The point of differentiation though is Konsus wants some more control over the quality of what’s coming in. To that end, they have dedicated project managers to handle and direct the team of freelancers for the jobs, which can range from task like data entry to more complicated endevours that include design, writing, and research.

They claim to have a rigorous recruitment process for their freelancers, taking on only 2% of all those that apply. They also appear to be more comparable to a classical outsourcing service than say the gig sites like Fiverr that have become so common.

“Unlike a freelancer marketplace, we instantly match the task with top talent talent and take responsibility for the work.”

They tell Geektime that they don’t like relying merely on interview performance and CVs. They include their own testing method to grade potentially listed freelancers, something the most qualified freelancers likely would embrace to show themselves better than other potential contractors.

“We don’t like the old ways of recruiting where where you are from, CV, or interviews were deciding factors,” says Rasch. “We [like] testing in our application form, where we test for communication skills, your ability to learn, and [to] test in your specific skill. So if you are an English-speaking, smart and skilled person looking for remote work, we’d love for you to apply.”

Konsus charges on an hourly basis starting at $19 per hour. They take projects based on submissions from chats, emails, and even Slack. “But how much the freelancer [takes on] varies depending on their skill, so we don’t have the traditional ‘cut’ that you would find on a freelancer marketplace.”

Rasch argues that the process of organizing contractors is not efficient, time-consuming, and usually lacks quality because of the haphazard way freelancers are dealt with and the lack of options for other workers smaller companies have.

Hence, they pushed for quality control, which meant a top-heavy approach to finding freelancers by emphasizing the need for project managers.

“As it happens the project manager model has turned out to have a great advantage for us. Since our project managers speak the customer’s local language, and often has experience in dealing with people who have high expectations, we have further removed the friction of dealing with this kind of business support.”

This model appears to be paying off for them in reeling in big name clients like Deloitte, EY, Santander, and others that would be the dream of many an outsource contractor.

When asked why Konsus chooses to emphasize a freelance model instead of taking on workers as part-time employees of Konsus, Rasch’s answer reflects a prevalent attitude in Silicon Valley and definitely reflects the (very controversial) attitude of Uber: this is the future.

“We’re trying to build the future of work. To us, that means working from wherever you want, but also when you want, and on projects that interests you.”

That being said, he adds in his company’s consideration of factors that have made this marketplace worker model so controversial, saying they recognize freelancers are “too vulnerable” on other platforms. He says Konsus tries to provide stability for work and steady rates for workers. He still presses his argument that workers want flexibility, which is fueling this business model.

“Remote work is growing incredibly fast. Today, too many people are restricted access to free movement, reducing the productivity of billions of talented people.”

Bringing the Nordics to the Valley

Since launching out of Oslo, they claim to have been growing at 10 percent weekly and count 1,100 companies as clientele from 60 countries. Since moving to Palo Alto to access investors, they have been able to increase their reach with American customers.

The Konsus team at work with all their fancy Scandinavian flags (courtesy)

The Konsus team at work with all their fancy Scandinavian flags (courtesy)

“It’s been a very positive experience I would say, we’ve found that people in Silicon Valley [who] very much appreciate some of the oddities of Norwegians. Like, Norwegians people in Silicon Valley tend to be even direct and honest.”

“There is a big community of Scandinavians, actually!” he tells Geektime, excitedly. They keep their Palo Alto offices in the Nordic Innovation House, a landing pad for Scandinavian entrepreneurs. While it might be obvious why a company would choose to move to San Francisco, European startups are also pressed with the much closer option of capital-friendly London.

“We moved to Palo Alto because of Y Combinator, but now we find ourselves with more than 50 percent of our customers in the US, so it makes a lot of sense for us to stay. Being in Silicon Valley also gives you access to a lot of frontier knowledge and capital that isn’t as easily accessible in the European capitals.”

They want to amplify their reach in Northern Europe, especially Germany and the UK, but also the US. All that is good and fine, but the problem with this kind of business comes in that your brand needs to appeal not just to employers, but freelancers. Freelancers list themselves on multiple sites. If one site offers them the best opportunity to make money, they will rely on that more.

Konsus (screenshot)

Konsus (screenshot)

For truly skilled workers, visibility for their abilities is essential to Konsus’ capacity to expand its reach in North America and Northern Europe. Like Fiverr, Upwork, Freelancer, 99designs, DesignCrowd, and DesignHill, the Norwegian team knows that their products are only as good as how they are able to manage them.

“The biggest challenge I think all marketplaces face is to avoid becoming a market for lemons,” Rasch tells Geektime, seeing pitfalls in the services and people who might join a marketplace if quality isn’t managed correctly.

That isn’t to say the business model in trouble. On the contrary, the model will always be there and a competitor in the same space might be ready at any time to expose your own marketplace’s weaknesses.

“There will always be a place for these marketplaces; sort of ‘anything goes’ places where people can start out. The majority of work will however probably be done on more specialized aggregators that curate the people on the platform, and the trust-gap is better bridged.”

“Going forward we will keep growing where we grow naturally. That is primarily in the US, but also in Northern European markets: UK, Germany and the Scandinavian countries.”

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