Upwork, for the uninitiated, is the world’s largest freelance online marketplace.
Each year, millions of workers flock to the freelancer platform to find remote work opportunities and connect with millions of active clients looking for freelance work.
Upwork, in a nutshell, is basically an internet matchmaker for freelance work.
And its accolades are impressive.
At the time of this writing, the publicly traded company is valued at $1.68B. And Upwork was even recently listed as one of TIME Magazine’s 100 Most Influential Companies of the Year (2022).
But have you ever been curious about how this massive company got its start?
In this article, we are going to be taking a closer look at the company’s origins and the people who made it happen.
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When was Upwork founded?
The company’s roots trace back to the 2013-2014 merger of freelance companies Elance (founded in 1998) and oDesk (founded in 2003).
In 2015, the new Elance-oDesk venture rebranded and assumed a new name – Upwork.
Who founded Upwork?
Because Upwork’s birth was the result of a merger, Upwork’s founders include a roster of both Elance founders and oDesk founders:
- Beerud Sheth (Elance)
- Sanjay Noronha (Elance)
- Srini Anumolu (Elance)
- Odysseas Tsatalos (oDesk)
- Stratis Karamanlakis (oDesk)
The birth of Elance
Elance was founded in 1998 by entrepreneurs Beerud Sheth, Sanjay Noronha and Srini Anumolu in a two-bedroom apartment in Jersey City.
Sheth, a Wall Street veteran prior to starting Elance, recently shared the company’s origin story on the 100x Entrepreneur podcast. The episode is entitled “Beerud Sheth on building Elance (now Upwork) & Gupshup”.
“This was in the mid-90s when something dramatic was happening in the tech world. The internet was just being born. There was a great transformation going on with lots of industries starting to get digitized,” says Sheth.
“I liked my business experience on Wall Street … but I didn’t want to end up decades later when something as dramatic as the internet was happening asking myself: What were you doing? I was on the sidelines and wanted to be in the game.”
It was at the crosswords of business and technology that Sheth ultimately came up with the idea for Elance.
“For me, it was a combination of life experiences that I had until that point in my career. Coming from India I knew that there were so many talented people all over the world. Given my computer science background … you could see all the technical and social transformation that the internet was driving. Namely in connecting people in places who could previously not communicate with each other. And it was my Wall Street experience that made me realize you could create a marketplace for any kind of item,” Sheth recalls.
And so, Sheth, alongside his co-founders, took those three ideas – a global talent pool, an internet to connect them and a marketplace to facilitate transactions – and pioneered the world’s first online freelance marketplace.
Today, Sheth is the CEO and Co-Founder of Gupshup, a smart messaging platform for developers. Noronha is part of the Engineering Leadership team at Meta (Facebook). And Anumolu went on to create TutorVista and BigBites.
The birth of oDesk
Meanwhile, oDesk was founded in 2003 by co-founders Odysseas Tsatalos and Stratis Karamanlakis.
The name is a short version of “no desk” in reference to the company’s intent to enable anyone to work anywhere.
Tsatalos and Karamanlakis came up with the idea while employed at other companies. They built the company on their credit cards before receiving formal funding from Gary Swart who would later go on to become the CEO of oDesk.
The merger of oDesk and Elance
While the two freelance platforms were different in their own rights – with Elance primarily focusing on fixed-price projects and oDesk focusing on hourly – it was around 2013 that the realized that instead of competing with one another, they might be stronger together.
For a short while, the merged company operated under the name Elance-oDesk before eventually rebranding as Upwork in 2015.
Who is the owner of Upwork?
Today, Upwork is a publicly traded company (NASDAQ: UPWK).
Hayden Brown is the company’s Chief Executive Officer.
According to the company’s website, before joining Upwork, Brown led corporate development for LivePerson and held strategy and corporate development roles at Microsoft. She began her career as an analyst at McKinsey and Company after earning an AB in Politics from Princeton University.
Brown has held a variety of leadership roles at Upwork since 2011. She was appointed CEO of Upwork in 2020.
Stephane Kasriel, a tech entrepreneur, held the position prior to Brown’s appointment.
Other C-Suite level executives at the company include:
- Jeff McCombs (Chief Financial Officer)
- Zoe Harte (Chief People Officer)
- Sam Bright (Chief Product and Experience Officer)
- Brian Levey (Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer)
- Melissa Waters (Chief Marketing Officer)
- Eric Gilpin (Chief Sales Officer)
The company is headquartered in San Francisco but also has an office in Chicago.
While Upwork remains the largest online “world’s work marketplace”, several competitors have entered the ring in recent years.
Major competitors include:
- Freelancer.com (2009)
- Fiverr (2010)
- TopTal (2010)
Are you currently a user of the Upwork platform? Let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to connect with me on social media.
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