Interview: oDesk's CEO on Opportunities for Web Workers


A few months back, Mike covered oDesk, which is an online staffing marketplace and management platform that hooks up prospective remote workers from all around the world with employers, and vice-versa. Many web workers may find opportunities to get paid for their skills through oDesk. We caught up with the company’s CEO, Gary Swart and asked him about the opportunities there, and about a few web worker success stories there.

How do oDesk’s services work, especially from the perspective of people who have web and software skills?

oDesk is a staffing marketplace and management platform that provides a simple way to hire, manage, and pay people with specialized skills from all around the world.  oDesk is unique in that it both guarantees payment to service providers for hourly work and guarantees the work to buyers.

oDesk providers have access to over 10,000 new job postings every month.  Web design and development as well as software programming represent a significant number of job opportunities found on oDesk.

Becoming an oDesk provider is easy and there’s no cost.  A provider simply creates a profile that summarizes relevant previous work history, skills, desired hourly rate, and may include samples of past work.  We also encourage new providers to take any number of free skills tests as a way to verify capability to potential clients.  Once the profile is set-up, the provider may apply to any of the posted jobs.

oDesk buyers typically interview candidates by phone, chat, or email.  Once a buyer and provider decide to work together and agree on terms (e.g., hourly rate), the provider is added to the buyer’s virtual oDesk Team Room.

For jobs paid by the hour, the provider tracks his or her time using oDesk Team, a small desktop software application, and receives guaranteed payments on a weekly basis.

oDesk serves a global market. Can you tell us a little about how U.S.-based candidates can make contact with and get paid by overseas employers?

oDesk is a truly global marketplace.  Close to 40% of the the 10,000+ new jobs posted every month are made by non-U.S. buyers.  Applying for jobs with overseas buyers is no different than applying for jobs with U.S. buyers.  And, like all work done on oDesk, providers are always guaranteed payment for hourly work.  oDesk collects your earnings from the buyer each week.  All payments on oDesk are made in U.S. dollars.

Is there a particular type of remote worker who has an excellent chance of finding remote work via oDesk (such as web developers, etc.)?

The majority of work performed on oDesk requires technical skills.  Web developers, web designers  software developers, graphic designers, freelance writers, and data entry professionals are all in high demand on oDesk.  Beyond having the specific technical skills a buyer may be looking for, there are other things that increase a provider’s chances of finding work including:

  • Compelling profile information including relevant, error-free overview, work history, and impressive work samples.
  • High feedback scores and positive comments from past clients – conveys to potential new buyers how well other buyers rated your previous work.
  • High scores on certification tests – oDesk offers over 150 free certification tests for various skills.  High scores can increase your chances of getting interviewed and hired.
  • Competitive hourly rate – is it in line with what other providers with your comparable skill set are making?
  • Well-written and highly customized cover letter – when applying to a job, the cover letter is the first impression the buyer has of a provider, sometimes the only piece of information the buyer cares to see. It’s imperative to make it succinct, to the point, and clearly indicate why the candidate is the perfect person to do the job.

Do you have any interesting anecdotal citations you could provide about, perhaps, people who found remote work on oDesk and made a success of it?

There are so many compelling stories of how oDesk has dramatically improved the way people work.  Here are a few . . .

Hinesville, Georgia-based, Arron Washington, a software and web developer was working on oDesk to make some money while he was finishing up his last year of college.  As Arron acquired high ratings and stellar feedback on oDesk,  he started receiving more job offers than he could accommodate.  He became so successful that he dropped out of school during his last semester to pursue a full time career on oDesk.  Just recently, Arron started hiring other providers to help fulfill more client requests.

Sonoma, California-based Michelle Baker works on oDesk to supplement her income.  She works as a writer and researcher on oDesk, when she isn’t working in the tasting room of a local winery.  Michelle likes oDesk because she can work anytime, from anywhere–even if she can’t sleep.

Russell Tweed is another programmer from Portland Oregon.  He makes $50 / hour working part time.  He likes oDesk because it eliminates the pressure of having to find consulting work within his local geography.  He still takes on local work through word-of-mouth referrals, but is increasingly spending more of his time on oDesk.

What are the steps involved in inviting a candidate to interview via oDesk?

In order to initiate an interview with an oDesk provider, a buyer must post a job opening, which is very easy and always free of charge.  Jobs can be posted privately if you do not wish to make your posting available to the entire oDesk network.

If a job is made public, a buyer should expect at least 10 candidates applying for the job within the first 24 hours though we also encourage buyers to actively search the oDesk marketplace for other talented providers who fit the requirements and have not applied for the job.

Buyers invite providers to interview using the “Invite to Interview” button on the profile of the provider or the candidate queue.  Interviews take place over email, chat, or over the phone.

A little tip: many buyers narrow down the selection to a 2-3 great candidates, and then hire them to their virtual team for a short “test” project to see how they complete a small assignment.  There is nothing like going for a “test drive” with a provider to make sure there is a good fit.

oDesk allows employers to keep tabs on remote employees online. Can you describe how this works? Are there any privacy concerns?

Because the vast majority of work on oDesk is delivered online and paid by the hour, transparency in tracking time is critical for building trust.  Time-based work is the way most work gets done in the world and it’s different from fixed-price project work where the parties agree to a fixed fee for a specific deliverable, but give up the flexibility to accommodate evolving requirements that are typical of long-term relationships.

oDesk providers keep work diaries which give buyers unprecedented visibility into work performed by automatically capturing screenshots, activity logs, and work memos up to six times an hour. This hassle-free tracking guarantees convenient, safe, and accurate billing for all work performed.  It also improves collaboration and reduces surprises among team members.  As Lisa-Marie Newton, a provider from Belmont, CA said about how this helps her with her Buyers: “They want a way to be able to tell that I’m actually doing what I say I’m doing”, and this is exactly how it’s done.

Privacy is extremely important to us.  Users provide full consent and have complete control over what is tracked.  Providers can choose to discard a screen capture before or after it’s uploaded to oDesk’s server, and can easily tell when the screenshot is captured.  The downside of discarding screen shots is that oDesk cannot guarantee payment for that 10-minute increment although the buyer, of course, has the option to pay for that time.

What are you doing to grow oDesk and its services? Can you tell us about new initiatives?

With over $46 million in work delivered through our system, oDesk is experiencing explosive growth.  The value of services bought and sold on oDesk has nearly tripled in each of the past two years, representing our most substantial growth period to date.  120,000+ providers from over 100 countries now offer their services on oDesk with the addition of 86,000 new providers in just 12 months.  Over 50,000 jobs have been filled through oDesk at an average hourly job size of 315 hours.

We attribute this level of growth to our superior business model, which includes guaranteed work for buyers and guaranteed payment for providers.  Our buyers and providers are fueling this growth by telling their friends.

Almost all of our new initiatives come from user suggestions.  Many buyers are now building larger teams on oDesk, so we’ve recently made it possible for buyers to set-up their team rooms in more flexible ways that match the way these companies like to work.  For example, companies can now set-up multiple team rooms so that each area of the company has their own work space.  We enabled buyers to grant hiring manager and recruiter permissions to select oDesk providers, so that they can easily hire the expertise and capacity to grow their teams on oDesk.  We also introduced new payment options beyond credit cards.  Several top providers have even crossed over to become buyers by hiring other oDesk providers to meet the demands of larger buyers.

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

First, we’ve seen an increase in both new buyers and providers on oDesk in the past couple weeks due as the economic down-turn as companies look for ways to get work done without increasing expenses and providers are looking for ways to increase their incomes without risk of non- or slow-payment.

Second, we continue to use our own service to manage our business.  oDesk has 43+ contractors hired and managed through oDesk that work directly with our local team, online every day; not outsourced!  By working with our own team and watching thousands of customers find success with distributed teams, we know that many more people could benefit from working the oDesk way.

Here is also a link to our use case of using our own service that you and your readers may find interesting.



Hello sir…. Nice to meet u.
My name is Sursea I have problem with my homework. Teacher gives a homework to interview a manager about job enrichment and job enlargement. Can I interview you? If I can, please is I want to know about your company always use job enrichment or job enlargement and why you use it? And what is advantage and disadvantage about it?
Thank You. I’ll wait for your email.
good bye…..

ODesk is great place for freelancer. I have been using ODesk for years. I have many relationships with customers who I am working for. And now I have just started up my own web development and design team at Things are going well…thanks to ODesk.


Unfortunately oDesks, customer Support is horrible… They don’t even have a support phone number to call into. It is an answering server.

They brag about making millions and when you do the math, 10% of millions is alot of money the supposedly bring in. And you don’t have a support phone center? Ridiculous!!!

The ticket support system takes about 3 days to get closed out and they delete you jobs which have all your notes after 30 days!!!

The quality of their providers is horrible and if you ever have an issue with billing, you can forget it!!

BOTTOM LINE: They are horrible!!!

Ruby Simmonds

Fascinated, want to join the team of persons willing to participate. Interested in being an Administrative Assistant. How do I apply?


oDesk is really a grate tool for us. We have been using it from last one year and we are working with a company called softobiz they really did a grate job for us. Thanks oDesk

Suresh Nair

Dear Sir,

This is Suresh Nair located at Ahmedabad (India) and having total work experience of 20 years. I wish to do job work with your Organization. I, therefore, request you to kindly consider my candidature for job work. I am having personal Computer with internet connection at my residence.

I hope you may consider my request favourably and look forward to hear from you soon.

With best regards,

Suresh Nair
Ahmedabad (India)
Mob. : 919377764220
Skype : suresh.nair66


The interview with the CEO of Odesk is really nice.I want unaware of the owner of such a big marketplace in the world.


“We caught up with the company’s CEO”

Was he on his morning jog or something?

Jai Thakural

Yes i too have heard quiet a bit about oDesk and the free and fair system it uses both for the buyers and the providers. I myself did a project there once where i hired a developer from smartData enterprises who did a great job.

Suggest those who are looking to work on oDesk should go with the rankings of the affiliates and check on there past profile.


Doug k

I repeat my comment from the previous posting on Odesk:

Odesks’ average rates are $14-15, before their 10% comes out. So, about $12-13 for coders.

In an earlier web worker post,
“Unless $12 an hour is an attractive rate for you, it’s time to bail out of such commodity activities.”

$12 an hour for programming is a good deal in India, Bulgaria, etc. For US coders, not so good. I can make that much as a janitor at my church, without having to install a spybot on my computer.

I can see the attraction of this model for employers, who can get cheap labor by opting out of the social contract; and for part-timers who can afford not to be paid much; and for workers in countries where the wages are low and the dollar exchange rate good. For the rest of us, it’s a disaster.


I dunno — that whole screenshot tracking thing looks kind of sketchy to me. I think I’ll pass.


Thanks for a great article, I’ve tried a few of these online resources before but I’ve not tried oDesk. I’ll give it a try.

Jack Ganter

I had no idea they were that big. This does seem a lot slicker than RaC and other coding sites I have seen and used. Guaranteeing payments is very nice since that usually is a big concern of a lot of users and buyers.

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