Move over Freelancer, Elance-oDesk has landed

The online freelance jobs marketplace is growing exponentially and the recently merged, US-based rival to local start-up success Freelancer has big plans.

Australian start-up success is set to face fresh competition as recently merged online jobs marketplace Elance-oDesk launches itself in the local market.

In reality, Elance-oDesk has had a strong presence in Australia for some time, with its decision to ‘launch’ here -- it has appointed a country officer in Kyri Theos, working out of the Hub Australia co-working space in Melbourne, plus two city managers in Melbourne and Sydney -- coming clearly on the back of its mammoth growth here.

Per capita adjusted, Australia is Elance-oDesk’s number one marketplace in terms of jobs revenue, and online hiring in the country has skyrocketed 235 per cent in the last three years.

When asked why businesses would choose to hire freelancers on Elance or oDesk rather than ASX-listed Freelancer -- which as a market capitalisation of more than half a billion dollars -- the company’s Norway-based vice president international, Kjetil Olsen, appeared genuinely surprised, as if the local rival's presence was never factored into the decision to home in on Australia.

Olsen was quick to highlight Elance and oDesk's strengths (the two platforms remain separate and there are no plans to merge them as yet), including access to a global pool of talent spanning 180 countries from which companies can fill skills shortages, and a transparent and safe tender process.

Theos also stressed it was about quality: “The jobs that are posted on our sites are higher value workers, longer jobs, better projects.”

To the average browser, the differences between the rival services may appear subtle. And when it comes to the numbers? It all depends how you look at them.

Olsen’s position is clear: “I think there’s one important metric and that’s in terms of volume.”

The preference is understandable considering that in 2013 Elance-oDesk’s workers earned a combined $810 million -- nearly 10 times Freelancer’s $84.4m.

But from other angles, Freelancer wins the race: it boasts 11m users to Elance-oDesk’s 10m; it translates into 32 languages, operates in 18 currencies and it spans 240 countries, compared to Elance-oDesk’s 180.

But Elance-oDesk’s newly combined powers could also see it catch up to its rival on these metrics. Since the December merger the platforms are working to increase productivity and reduce costs by combining resources and infrastructure.

And in a February interview with The Wall Street Journal, the company’s chief executive, Fabio Rosati, hinted the merger would give more scope to invest in localising the platforms in different languages, along with a raft of other improvements.

While Rosati said at the time the company would be “making appropriate moves in the next year or two” in terms of acquisitions, Olsen was keen to play down such prospects in the near term.

“For now we are focusing on building the online workplace,” Olsen said. “We only merged the two companies at the end of Q1 and our focus at the moment is to do what we currently do better and grab a bigger share of the $422 billion global staffing market.”

In Australia that means working with industry -- particularly start-ups and SMEs in the ICT sector -- to spruik the benefits of freelance online work.

For Freelancer, robust growth has seen it launch offices in Vancouver and make strategic acquisitions in far-reaching places such as Poland and Ukraine since its November listing on the ASX.

But it would do well to also keep one eye on its home turf.

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