Bootstrapping London-based startup gigrove is looking to carve out a niche in the collaborative consumption space as a matching platform for digital workers with itchy feet, and startups with a spare room and pressing skills need. Which is all very zeitgeisty in these digital nomad/citizen of nowhere times.
While the team pushed out an MVP back in 2015, and opened up a beta last summer, founder and CEO Marko Islamovich says they’ve now launched fully the platform — and have just over 20,000 active users at this nascent stage; or around 5,000 startup hosts (spread across 130 countries), and nearly 17,000 traveling freelancers.
The basic idea is for a freelancer to swap their skills in exchange for a place to stay, so they get to bootstrap their travel, while their host gets help with whatever task they’re looking for. The platform lets users offer a wide range of skills, from startup staples like UX/UI design to non-tech activities such as garden maintenance and cooking. But if you’re busy running a startup out of your home you might not have time to manage day-to-day household tasks yourself, so a live in cook might be just the thing you’re looking for.
“We are noticing a huge change on how work is done,” argues Islamovich. “It’s becoming more project-based, more and more people work remotely from their homes. Understanding that startups have a lot of problems with human capital, (mostly due to insufficient funding) we decided to combine resourceful (accommodation) and useful (skills) and help accelerate those startup projects around the globe.”
He says most of gigrove’s users are pre-seed and seed stage tech startups at this point, covering all sorts of different fields — be it fashion, healthcare, transportation, fintech and so on.
“What’s common for all of them is that they are working from homes/garages,” he adds. “It’s like a whole ‘Silicon Valley garage experience’ — only a global level. Startups are looking for skills mostly related to what they are doing, skills like programming, design, corporate law, accounting, advising, social media management.”
On the traveler side, the majority are students or recent graduates with particular skills who want to experience startup life in another country, and/or beef up their resume via internship-esque experience.
“The most offered skills are programming, skills related to marketing, design, ‘growth hacking’. After talking to our users, we also noticed that a lot of traveling freelancers simply do those ‘gigs’ at startup hosts to boost their resumes and get hands-on working experience, which will further help them get a job,” he says.
There’s no set ‘price’ for an exchange on the platform, and users are solely responsible for making an agreement themselves, so there’s certainly potential for miscommunication resulting in dashed expectations on one or other side. As with so many digital platforms, the assessment of risk and authenticity is mostly the responsibility of the users.
That said, gigrove does also have an (optional) identity verification system to help users make judgements about where to stay etc. Verified users’ profiles include a blue tick.
They’re also planning to start verifying (certain) skills, to be able to offer hosts a little more certainty about the work smarts of their non-paying guest. “We are soon rolling out quizzes, where traveling freelancers will be able to prove particular skill by completing a test (for an example a test in Python, will add badge to user’s profile that he’s proficient in Python language, etc),” says Islamovich.
“We also encourage startup hosts and traveling freelancers to talk more deeply about the project and evaluate whether they are a match. By any time, we may ask startup hosts to upload supporting documents if we happen to believe that there is something suspicious with their listing. So far there weren’t any incidents as these are usually small projects which last from 3 days to two weeks (diminishing possibility for huge risk).”
While the platform is free to use, gigrove is doing some early monetizing via a premium account upgrade option that gives travelers the ability to apply for unlimited startup gigs listed on the platform, and also showcase an unlimited number of skills in their profiles — thereby increasing their chances of getting invited by gigrove startup hosts.
How is the team intending to grow usage of the platform? By outreach to startup communities, says Islamovich. “More than 70 million startups are opening globally each year on average for the past 30 years or so. There is a huge opportunity for us, as well for them to access this type of online talent service. So our focus is on reaching out to more startups through social media, events, blogs, etc. And of course, word of mouth.
“On the other side, I think that people dream of having kind of like ‘Silicon Valley garage experience’. It’s fun. It’s casual. It’s culturally spirited. Our strategy on growth is deeply based on providing that experience.”