Upwork Freelancers Under BlackRock: The Masters of the Freelance Universeby@nebojsaneshatodorovic
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Upwork Freelancers Under BlackRock: The Masters of the Freelance Universe

by Nebojsa "Nesha" TodorovicMarch 20th, 2023
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The freelance industry is worth $3.39 billion, according to the World Bank. The top 15 shareholders of Upwork have a combined ownership of 50% of the company. Upwork freelancers made more than $2B in 2019. Shareholders care only about the money, so, freelelancers are safe.
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Have you ever wondered how much the freelance industry (without quotation marks) is worth? More importantly and interestingly, who or what owns it?

These are legit questions to ask. And yes, my fellow freelancers, you should care a lot. Let me show you why.

If It Makes Money - It Ain’t Funny, But Dead Serious!

Let’s start with this jaw-dropping number.

Worldwide, the total freelance platform market is estimated to be worth $3.39 billion.

To give you a perspective, you’d need to take the top three US industries by revenue to match the estimated value of the global freelance market. I’m talking about all US hospitals, drug and cosmetic wholesaling, including the all-mighty health and medical insurance industry.

Is the omnipresent Mr. Musk the hero of this story? Except for this meme, no.

We, the freelancers, are.

The World Bank estimates that nearly 47% of all workers worldwide are self-employed.

The total number of freelancers globally is estimated to be 1.57 billion people out of a total global workforce of 3.38 billion.

So, we own it. Right? Well…

Have you heard about the “three kings” of the freelance industry?

Three Kings - Warner Bros. Pictures (Movie poster)

No, not these guys (great movie, definitely worth checking out), more like: Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer (com).

Having in mind that Upwork freelancers made more than $2B in 2019, let’s first talk about the biggest shareholders of this freelance platform.

BlackRock Inc. ownership in UPWK / Upwork Inc represents 6.7 percent ownership of the company.

So what? BlackRock isn’t even the biggest Upwork shareholder. That’s Vanguard Group Inc ownership with 8.46 percent ownership.

The “dynamics” of the Upwork ownership structure are worth mentioning:

A closer look at our ownership figures suggests that the top 15 shareholders have a combined ownership of 50% implying that no single shareholder has a majority.

Wait? What do Upwork shareholders have to do with Upwork freelancers? It doesn’t make any sense. They (shareholders) care only about the money. So, freelancers are cool. They (freelancers) are “safe.”

What could possibly go wrong or worsen for freelancers? Hmm, let’s see.

Why did you think connects were no longer free (profit)? Why more than 100K user accounts were purged in one single week (costs)? Finally, why the tricky “conversion fee” was introduced?

Now, have a look at this:

Are you surprised by the most recent changes because I’m not at all:

The official Upwork announcement

I’ve said it many times, and I still haven’t changed my mind:

As a newbie Upwork freelancer, you stand a better chance of making money by trading Upwork stocks than by using Upwork connects to find work.

But, that’s just me. Let’s see what’s happening with the biggest Upwork rival - Fiverr.

Fiverr (NYSE: FVRR) is owned by 46.62% institutional shareholders, 0.00% Fiverr insiders, and 53.38% retail investors. Goldman Sachs Group Inc is the largest individual Fiverr shareholder, owning 2.74M shares representing 7.33% of the company.

To sum it up. Behold, the masters of the freelance universe:

  • Vanguard Group Inc
  • Goldman Sachs Group Inc
  • BlackRock Inc

What about Freelancer dot com? When it comes to the ownership structure, the Aussies are in “a league of their own,” for the lack of a better explanation.

“Freelancer is not owned by hedge funds. The company's CEO Robert Barrie is the largest shareholder with 44% of shares outstanding. In comparison, the second and third largest shareholders hold about 35% and 2.3% of the stock. Interestingly, the third-largest shareholder, Darren Nicholas Williams is also a Member of the Board of Directors, again, indicating strong insider ownership amongst the company's top shareholders.”

So what? Well…

After doing some more digging, we found that the top 2 shareholders collectively control more than half of the company's shares, implying that they have considerable power to influence the company's decisions.

The silver lining here is that if you don’t like something about Freelancer, you can take it directly to the members of the board of directors or the owners themselves. In other words, you can make it personal.

Just Follow The Money, My Freelance Honey!

The future of work is remote. But, now that you know who holds the keys to your freelance future, how do you feel about it?

Let me adjust one of the simplest and well-known definitions of the market economy to suit the freelance economy:

A market economy is a type of economic system where supply and demand regulate the economy, rather than government intervention.

So, how about this one:

A FREELANCE economy is a type of FUTURE economic system where FREELANCERS and CLIENTS regulate the economy, rather than SHAREHOLDERS.

In 2019, I asked this question, here, on HackerNoon.

Just compare the stock prices from the 2019 article against the current Upwork, Fiverr, and Freelancer share prices.

How come nobody talks/writes about the “decentralization” of the freelance industry?

The last line I wrote almost four years ago still stands:

It stands, but I’m still looking for freelance friends - who share the same feeling and vision about the new and better future of work.