Recently I was reading The New Yorker and stumbled on an article lamenting the current status of entrepreneurs today. The headline’s depressing message was clear, “The Gig Economy Celebrates Working Yourself to Death.” It discussed some rather tasteless stories of how companies such as Lyft, Fiverr and others celebrate how the new entrepreneurs are working themselves to death. A pregnant woman who continue to pick up riders while going into labor, people who choose caffeine over sleep, etc. It is a fairly typical anecdotal critique of today’s entrepreneurs, but does nothing to address the impact these businesses have on the larger economy.
I’m going to focus on just one of these — Fiverr. I must admit I am a fan and discuss it often on my radio show. I have used it for marketing pieces, graphic design, and even some technical areas. They are very easy to work with, incredibly efficient, and make it possible for me to leave a big impression on a modest budget. Yes, there have been communication problems (since virtually all of the ones I have worked with have been outside of the United States), but it has largely worked beyond my expectations.
Fiverr is a global marketplace that offers tasks and services, beginning at a cost of $5 per job performed (thus the name). The site is primarily used by freelancers who use Fiverr to offer services to customers around the world. Having been on the site often over the last couple years, I have no doubt that the majority of the vendors on the site are international. Furthermore, most of them are in developing countries. There seems to be far fewer from the United States, Canada, the UK, and other more advanced economies. Don’t get me wrong, they are there, but in much smaller numbers than those in the developing world. By the end of 2015 the company had over 4 million gigs and continues growing annually. Its website it one of the top 100 for traffic.
What I have found from looking at Fiverr is that the company is impacting individuals both here and around the world.
In the United States today it has become increasingly difficult to start a business. Taxes, regulations, licensing laws, and other barriers simply make many pause. Starting a business requires numerous levels of help — programming, technology, business plans, graphics design, and more. Fiverr has the ability to reduce the fear about these often costly items. Websites starting at $5? Professional brochures too? It makes it very easy for a business owner to pursue the American Dream with the help of Fiverr.
On the other hand, if you are an American that is trying to compete in this marketplace, you can expect a rude awakening. No one went to college to learn how to develop websites to compete for gigs starting at $5. Graphic Designers who went to schools like the Art Institute cannot be happy to see what their global competition will do for a fraction of the cost. When a young person asks me what they should do for a living, I tell them to go to Fiverr’s website, look at the gigs offered, and stay away from them like the plague. That is the “mix bag” nature of Fiverr for Americans, it has greatly damaged the profitability of gigs that people could once make a decent income from.
There is no doubt that Fiverr has become a boon to aspiring entrepreneurs around the world. I personally believe it is a good thing. Politicians love to talk about ending global poverty, and Fiverr is helping to facilitate that without taxpayer dollars or money going through corrupt rulers that take the bulk of the support that is sent. I always look at the country of origin of vendors, and they are often from the poorest places in the world, making more than they thought possible, simply from a website.
There is, in my opinion, not much of a downside for those who are doing this globally, but it is a challenging marketplace for Americans to participate in. You can tell American gigs by the price. They often are not $5 or, if at that rate, they seem to want to offer less. There are simply too many people around the world who are willing to work at hours and prices many Americans find intimidating.
In the end, I think Fiverr thrives because it meets the needs of so many. If people do not like it, they should not use it. But they should also not be too quick to criticize those who are simply trying to take care of themselves both here (the entrepreneurs that use it) and around the world (those that serve them).