Jun152012

“By failing lots of small times, I avoided failing catastrophically and ironically I succeeded!”

Entrepreneur Ian Ippolito
Ian Ippolito

Ian is the founder and CEO of vWorker.com as well as Exhedra Solutions, Inc., which is the parent company of vWorker.com. Before founding vWorker.com, Ian founded Planet-Source-Code.com, a site for computer programmers. Prior to that he worked for a number of years in the information technology industry as a consultant and employee for companies like UNIsite, American Tower, Siemens, Verizon, and R.W. Beck and Associates.

vWorker connects 178,000 businesses to remote workers in hundreds of fields (such as programmers, designers and writers). It saves them 36%-80% over traditional hiring and also protects them better with monitoring of worker desktops and a money-back guarantee. It also allows over 350,000 people to work from home, choose what they work on and set their own hours. Entrepreneur magazine called vWorker “one of the 100 most brilliant companies on our radar’. It is a four time consecutive winner of the Inc. 5000 “fastest growing private company in the U.S.” award. It has also been featured on CBS and FOX news, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fast-Company and many other broadcasts, publications and journals.

vWorker

MO: How have you managed to build a self-sustaining company completely from scratch and organically from an initial investment of only $1,000?

Ian: The first company I built was called Planet Source Code and I loved it because I started it very cheaply, ran it with only 3 people and it had fat profit margins of 95%. That was in the “go-go” dot com days and it sold advertising to many of the dot coms of that time (who paid rates that we would today consider outrageous). So when my customers started dying off, I realized I needed to start another business. My goal was to create one that had a lot of similar qualities. I also wanted to call my own shots, so I tried very hard to find something that I could do in a self-funding manner.

It was not always easy. There were times in the first few years where the company came within a whisker of going out of business. One time, a credit card thief stole $5,000 from me. Back then, that was enough to chew up all the profits for the month and some of the previous month’s profits too. But, along with my team, we found a way to overcome that obstacle and all the others. (In that situation, we invented an anti-fraud verification system that was copied and used by many websites today).

But being self-funded also had its advantages. When you don’t borrow huge amounts of other people’s money to create a business, it forces you to look at things in a profoundly different way. Behind every business decision I made, I was forced to ask myself “Is this really going to make more money than I’m investing in it?” Many funded ventures don’t have to scrutinize things this closely and end up trying 10 things at once, doing none of them well and losing focus. That never happened because I simply couldn’t take on that many things. I had to simplify, and doing things cheaply. And I always got feedback as fast as possible from my customers on everything. If I had a “brilliant” idea, I wouldn’t invest a year and $10 million in creating something in the laboratory that I thought people “should” want. Instead, I would invest a week in creating something quick and dirty and put it out to them immediately and get their feedback. If they liked it, I would build on it. If they didn’t, I’d move on. By failing lots of small times, I avoided failing catastrophically and ironically I succeeded! I was able to move much quicker and nimbly than a larger company.

The common wisdom is that you start a company by coming up with an idea and then borrowing lots of money from other people to make it happen. Certainly back in the old days, making a company always required huge investments in capital. So self-funding was a pipe dream. But that is rapidly no longer becoming the case. And all sorts of resources are available now: from free software to run websites (called “open source”), to cloud servers that are cheaper and more affordable than buying servers, to access to cheap, remote experts (which is what vWorker does). So today it’s easier to create a self-funded venture than ever before.

MO: The remote working trend has really exploded over the past few years with rising concerns over travel costs, sustainability and the challenge of the work-life balance. However, vWorker was launched back in 2001 before the remote working trend was even truly possible on the scale that it is now. Did you anticipate the growing trend and need for remote workers? Were you ahead of your time?

Ian: I wish I could claim I was that visionary! No I didn’t know it was coming down the pipeline. Certainly I hoped it might become a huge trend, but I couldn’t count on it. But I could see that even back then in 2001, there was a need that was a need not being met. I had started that programming website called Planet-Source-Code.com and the programmers were constantly asking me if I could help them with their excess work. I was a paid programming consultant, so this should have made me happy. But instead, it made me frustrated because there were so many more requests than I could ever possibly do! One day, I realized that this frustration was actually a huge potential opportunity. If I could come up with some way that both parties could be completely protected from the opposite party if they did something bad to them, it could be a huge hit. But it wasn’t immediately obvious how I could do that. So it took a few months to work out the major kinks. But that was how the site was born.

MO: Most people working remotely have met their employers. However, with vWorker these long-distance working relationships are taking place through a website and without any personal relationships being formed. What measures have you put in place to protect both employees and employers from being taken advantage of?

Ian: That’s a very good question. I knew that for vWorker to become big, it couldn’t be “almost as safe” as traditional hiring, or “just as safe”. It had to be better.

So the biggest protection for employers is the money-back guarantee. In traditional hiring, if a worker is slow, or doesn’t do the job right, or is just completely incompetent the only thing the employer can do is fire them. The salary they pay them (or the money they are billed, if they’re a consultant) is lost. Everyone simply accepts this.

But I thought “what if I could make it better”? So on vWorker, the employer doesn’t have to pay at all if the worker doesn’t do the job. There’s something called the triple-point money-back guarantee. The work will be to-contract, on-time and on-budget. And if it isn’t, the employer gets their money back. This is so much better than dealing with traditional hiring. And incidentally, it’s also a guarantee that none of our competitors can match. A few offer a similar service but charge significantly extra for it. I don’t think the employer should have to pay extra to get back their own money.

There are also numerous other safety features for employers. Every worker is rated by their employers and this is visible on the site. So they can see their past work history much more reliably than a resume and choose the best ones much easier. There’s a crowdsourcing feature where employer can test workers using an on-the-job trial and pick the best one (instead of guessing from a resume). And employers who need to supervise their workers closely can also monitor their desktops to confirm they’re doing the right thing (and help them if they aren’t). And of course, they don’t get billed if the worker is doing something they shouldn’t such as playing games or making a personal call. There simply is no similar protection in traditional hiring.

For workers, there are similar protections. The payment guarantee is their biggest protection. These days, everyone is freelancing, even in the traditional world. But the problem is getting paid. Last year, 42% of freelancers were not paid properly and lost $4.7 billion from deadbeat employers.

Again, I thought we could make it better. So we force the employer to escrow the funds before the job starts, so the worker knows they are not a dead-beat. And if they employer refuses to pay them, then we will award the funds to them. Of course, they will not get paid for doing shoddy work (like I said earlier). But the typical good worker who is competent and delivers on-contract, on-time and on-budget is guaranteed payment. We also have an hourly payment guarantee where they are guaranteed payment as long as they remember to clock in and out (and aren’t goofing off playing games, etc.). This is an even stronger guarantee and simpler to fulfill.

And there are numerous other safety features for worker such as employer ratings, verification of their phone # and credit card, etc.. We are constantly adding on things that can make the process safer and more comfortable.

MO: You’ve said that the best part of your job “is reading thank-you letters from workers.” What kind of feedback and thanks are you receiving? What is vWorker providing that moves people to write a personal letter in the day and age of e-mails and texting?

Ian: It’s probably easier to just include a few.

Workers:

I came to US one and a half years ago as an immigrant with limited money. I agreed on working remotely with my employer, but somehow he changed his mind and I lost my job. I spent 2 months to find any job, but I could not find one because of the economic crisis (low market, too many candidates, etc.).

I’ve came to vWorker.com after wasting 2 months, and it saved us and my family! Currently I’ve 3 projects going on.

I really thank you for your support of my life!

I left the job market 14 years ago to become a full-time mother. In 2006 I discovered vWorker.com and joined to see if I could make some pocket money from home. Since then I have completed over 1,800 projects and am the #3 rated service provider out of more than 280,000 workers on vWorker.com. The money I earn here represents almost 50% of our combined family income. Thank you vWorker!

It is really appreciated by all of my friends who are working on vworker that you are actually helping Pakistani people out, so million thanks from them. And personally Ian you rock man. I tried million websites really and none of them helped me get even a single project and make a single penny. And you know what i wasn’t here for two days and boom i won a project! And now I’m on a roll! So Ian what ever i earn it is only because of you really thanks for that and you are doing great job my prayers are with the you and the company.

Employers:

After many months of outsourcing more than 30+ ministry projects, I am convinced more than ever that the vWorker.com community is, without a doubt, one of the first great innovations of this 21st Century! I’ve had the pleasure to work with Graphics brilliance in Romania, 3D Animators in Russia, Web Designers in Brazil, Malaysia and Canada, and Software Developers in India… The vWorker.com rating system allowed me to read a trustworthy historical record of each Coders performance record…. I am more than happy to encourage any other potential buyers you might have to join vWorker.com… and try out a test project for a few hundred dollars. They’ll be thanking me for years! ;) Thanks!

As an entreprenuer on a shoestring budget, I can honestly say that vWorker.com is the way to go.

Before finding vWorker.com, I purchased Visual Studio Pro and hired a local programmer to ‘get me over the hurdles’. Then the nightmare began. As my deadline drew closer it became more and more obvious that I was in way over my head. I was really panicked when the programmer I hired to ‘get me over the hurdles’ shrugged and said “I can’t help you”.

Out of desperation I turned to half a dozen internet programming portals, and vWorker.com won out. What an awesome decision it turned out to be. My program got developed under budget and before deadline, and it totaly rocks! My skepticism was shattered, and now I will recommend vWorker.com to anyone.

MO: vWorker initially started out as Rent A Coder. What are some of the main changes the company has undergone since its inception and what inspired the name change?

Ian: The site was originally for hiring programmers and so it was called Rent a Coder. But over time, people started posting all sorts of projects in the “miscellaneous” category. There were projects in writing, SEO, marketing, translations, and design…all sorts of things completely unrelated to programming. I realized we were not doing a service to the non-programmers on the site by calling ourselves Rent a Coder. So we changed the name to fit the new, expanded scope of the company and to support them better.

Another exciting development was winning inclusion in the INC 5000 (for fastest growing private companies in the U.S.) for 4 years in a row. That was a nice honor.

Earlier this year we made another big change. In a survey, the #1 problem our employers reported to us was that it was too difficult for them to select the best worker from a list of bidders. So I thought, “what if we could make it so they could somehow always choose the best worker, every single time?”. So we introduced an on-the-job trial feature that lets them use crowdsourcing to try out numerous workers at once and pick the best performer and then award the project to them. It’s essentially a “try all of them before you buy” concept, and has been a very exciting new development.

MO: What are three trends in your industry that you’re excited by or think that our readers should be paying attention to?

Ian: 1) Broadband is growing so fast. In 2001, many of the things that are done remotely today would not have been possible. In 10 years, we’ll see exponentially more things are capable of being worked on remotely. 2) Movement from overseas outsourcing to domestic outsourcing: The early 2000’s were all about cost savings with overseas outsourcing. However, as the emerging world’s wages rise closer to the developed worlds’, the differences are starting to disappear. As an example, in China, wages are climbing 15-20% per year. By 2015, it will actually be essentially the same cost to manufacture in the U.S. as in China. This is going to have huge implications in other areas too, such as remote work. U.S. workers will be winning more and more of the pie than ever before. Crowdsourcing. I mentioned earlier how useful t is for employers to be able to put huge amounts of workers through an “on-the-job interview” to pick the best one. I think this is going to be copied industry wide. As broadband grows, this will become more and more powerful and useful as well.

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