Artificial Intelligence has gotten a bad rap for automating previously human run tasks. We’ve been seeing this for years in many industries ― manufacturing, banking, publishing ― and according to Boston Consulting Group, up to one quarter of current jobs will be replaced by automation software or robots by 2025.
However, with proper foresight people can set themselves up for success by capitalizing on monetization opportunities that only humans can perform. I was recently introduced to Will Lee, Artificial Intelligence expert and founder of Verlocal, an online marketplace for services, classes, products and events.
While studying A.I. at Stanford, he and his peers were excited about the developments and overall new machine-driven movement taking place. Of course there were (and still are) computer scientists optimistic about the phenomenon, and other social scientists who warn that human jobs will disappear. Much like we once did in the industrial revolution, Lee is optimistic as long as our workforce is preparing for what he says is inevitable.
So how do we adapt? Lee says the answer lies in the growing freelance economy. Here’s what he had to say when I asked him to elaborate:
What suggestions do you have for those looking to enter the freelancing market?
Those entering the freelancing market must find and pursue their own personal mission in life rather than strive to become a cog in the machine and playing a small role in society to service another’s or a business’s purpose. If someone cannot first find what their true passion is, or what they are uniquely skilled in, they will not be successful as a freelancer.
There will be thousands, even millions, of others who will be offering the same service. Someone entering the freelancing market must avoid stepping into this black hole. College courses and other channels of higher education will be open to the public, courtesy of companies like Google and Coursera . The resources for us to prepare for the coming change are available. Now, we must decide if we have the will to utilize them and embrace the change.
When each person can create one unique combination of skills based on their personal interests and mission, they can have their own unique brand and story. This will eventually help differentiate themselves from other individuals and trainable machines. There are so many different kinds of manufactured shoes; however, many people purchase Nike shoes because of the brand name. The eventual goal is to shift our focus from corporate branding to individual level branding by allowing individuals to brand themselves after exploring their own identity.
How to respond to the upcoming change regarding the freelance market?
On a society wide level, there needs to be more corporations pursuing social impact. The current problem that society has is that corporations can take advantage of new technologies developed and researched by others, while society expects the corporations to distribute their wealth to others. However, most of the wealth in society is being used to generate more profit for corporate shareholders. In the end, there is a no way to force them to distribute wealth.
The fundamental solution to this problem is to convince more corporations to put an effort toward finding innovative ways to build a sustainable labor market in order to prepare for upcoming changes. Donating hundreds of millions of dollars will not solve poverty. We need to invest in individuals’ potentials through building and improving educational and social infrastructures.
The goal of building a sustainable freelance market is to prepare for any impending social changes and build a new infrastructure for human labor in the future.
People are familiar with apps like Handy, Groupon, or Upwork. How do you see Verlocal changing the freelance marketplace?
One reason why the freelance marketplace is not as big as it could be right now is because of the entry barrier, believe it or not, is pretty high. It takes a lot for someone to quit a 9 to 5 job and pursue an uncertain future of building their own brand or business.
The key to lowering this barrier to the freelance marketplace is figuring out how to successfully and efficiently help individuals convert to flexible and creative business entities based on their passions and skills so that people build more confidence around becoming freelancers.
In the case of all three aforementioned companies, their supply and demand populations are not integrated together seamlessly. This results in a disconnected community. We strive to provide an open platform where each member of the community can engage with one another effortlessly and organically.
By providing a much more interactive experience for community members, we are able to grow a truly collaborative and diverse community. We have seen hosts trade classes, collaborate on hosting a class together, and more.
We have been able to build our community in this manner thanks to 70 percent of Verlocal’s providers being individuals or one-person businesses. Our providers are able to offer more unique experiences and services to our users, resulting in a more open and collaborative atmosphere.
What is the biggest pain point for freelancers and what does Verlocal do to address this?
Even though freelancers are greatly skilled and have a vast wealth of knowledge in their own individual field, they don’t necessarily have the marketing skills and resources to reach and bring on new customers. We not only offer a marketplace, but we also handle all marketing efforts on behalf of our providers based on their online content and potential customers’ behaviors, so that we can target new customers from both external and internal networks.
As a marketplace, we help our providers find all kinds of resources by connecting vendors together. In some cases, individuals will have a difficult time finding a space to offer a class or event in. Or in other cases, individuals have certain ideas but can’t seem to find the right people to bring it to fruition with.
By building a robust community full of professionals and passionate individuals in all fields, we are able to provide support and the right resources to our community members. For example, one Verlocal provider, who had the designs and idea to build a new house, connected with another individual on Verlocal who happened to be an engineering teacher, in order to get help on building the house.
Where do you see the future of the freelance economy in 5 years?
I think that there are two possible futures of the freelance economy in 5 years.
In order to predict both possibilities, we first need to see what possible problems will arise. There will have been strides made in AI research and application. Uber will be using driverless cars to transport people. There will be more unemployed people, and it will be difficult for people to be successful as freelancers in driving, cleaning, or other industries that require the freelancers to do simple, menial tasks. The reason for this is that, with more people becoming freelancers, it will not be easy to differentiate oneself to potential clients among a crowd of people who are offering the exact same service.
In the first possibility, we haven’t figured out a way to increase individuals’ values by helping them discover and build upon unique skills and talents. If we don’t help people explore their identities and become freelancers based on unique passions and skills, an overcrowded, uniform, and uneducated freelance labor force will become the future of the freelance economy.
In the second possibility, we’ve built a sustainable freelance market based on each individual’s special skills and passions. Each freelancer is able to find work and make a living due to their ability to differentiate themselves from others in the freelance market.
I hope that Verlocal will be at the forefront of making the second possibility become reality.