Happy New Year from Team Uplink!

In this post, I want to look back at what we accomplished in 2018 and give an outlook on what we plan to work on this year!

So how was 2018?

It was pretty, pretty good, to be honest!

Let's start with the hard facts:

  • The number of freelancers in our community more than doubled! (from 279 at the beginning of the year to 592 at the end of it)
  • We moved to a nicer office, where we have a first-hand contract instead of a sublease.
  • Timo left us in October to finish his studies, but thankfully Henrik joined us around the same time.
  • We organized six craft beer events in Berlin! The number of people who attended grew from each event to the next, reaching approximately 30 at our last event in November.
  • We changed our pricing in February, started a referral program in April, and announced two partnerships in May and August.
  • We posted 198 jobs in our community, introduced one or more candidates for 140 (71%) of them, 37 (26%) of which were accepted.

In addition to all of this, we kept working on our platform and processes, talked to hundreds of companies about their freelancing needs, chatted with a multitude of freelancers in our Slack and made a million little tweaks to how we post jobs in the community, identify the best matching candidates, and introduce them to the clients.

What went especially well last year?

  • Firstly, we noticed that many freelancers who applied to join our community mentioned that they had been referred to us by someone who is already a member! It is immensely gratifying to see that many members actively promote Uplink and tell their friends about it. Thank you to everyone who is supporting us this way!
  • The rate of freelancer applications increased a lot as well, especially after Uplink was included in a few "Top 10 job platforms for freelancers" type blog posts, which in turn gave our domain more link juice and made it rank well for many relevant search terms.
  • At some point, we noticed that for most of the jobs we tried to fill, we didn't have to "leave" our community to find candidates anymore! This was our promise to clients all along (that we don't simply go out and try to find a matching candidate through one of the business networks, but that we have a pool of trusted freelancers in our community), but of course, in the beginning, we had to build up the community somehow.

What didn't go well?

The one thing we're not yet satisfied with is the number of candidates that are accepted after an introduction. As mentioned before, we could introduce at least one candidate for 71% of the jobs we posted (which is a decent rate but can, of course, be improved further) but only 26% of those were accepted.

What could the reasons be? Sure, it's possible we introduced candidates who are not a good match, but often the communication between client and freelancer, especially in coordinating the first interview, is the main problem. This is why we're working on replacing our current basic introduction email with a new workflow that makes scheduling the first interview much more straightforward and direct! See below for details.

What are our plans for this year?

Glad you asked! Here are our plans for the tech, team, and community sides of Uplink:

Tech

The four biggest items in our backlog right now are:

New introduction flow! The feature we are most excited about is the new introduction flow mentioned earlier. We switched our main channel of communication with our members from email to Slack in 2017, which turned out to be a really good decision (although Slack is not free of flaws, see below). However, when introducing a candidate to a client, we still rely on a single email and the smarts of the client to understand that, from then on, every second counts and they need to contact the freelancer and arrange an initial interview as quickly as possible. Instead, what happens more often than not is that the intro email is lost among dozens of others in the client's inbox or that the client looks at the candidate's profile but doesn't feel the need to contact them right away. The new introduction flow will move the whole process onto our platform and 'force' the client to suggest times for an interview as quickly as possible.

Slack discussions! While Slack is a fantastic chat tool that lets you bang out hundreds of words in minutes, it's pretty bad at making all these words discoverable later on. In our workspace, certain questions come up again and again - where can I find a good tax accountant in Berlin? What tool is the best one for invoicing and accounting? Where should I invest my hard-earned money? While Slack has improved its search functionality a lot this year, it's still not possible to find a whole discussion about a particular topic, spanning multiple messages from different users. This is what we're planning to build in our member area - a history of interesting Slack discussions, tagged with relevant keywords ("tax-accountant", "invoicing-tool" etc.), that can be referred and linked to when questions come up that have been talked about before.

Slack archive! One major problem of Slack for us is their pricing policy. We are on the free plan, and while it's great to get all this functionality for free, their pricing makes it impossible for us to update to a paid plan. The cheapest paid plan would cost us 6.25€ per active user per month. This makes sense if you're a company with a fairly fixed number of employees, where each person benefits greatly from being able to use the company Slack workspace. But a community like ours is adding Slack users regularly, and we don't have a direct financial advantage from each user that would justify that monthly cost. With our current number of active users, we would have to pay almost 1,000€ per month. One of the most restricting limitations of the free plan is that only the last 10,000 messages in a workspace are visible and searchable. 10,000 messages sound like a lot, but we are at 63,000 messages now, meaning that almost 85% of those messages are no longer accessible. However, since you can configure the Slack Events API to call your own API for each message that is sent, we have all those 63,000 messages in our database and will make them available to our members for searching in our member area.

New website! Last but not least, we will completely revamp our website this year. The current version was created back in 2016 and doesn't adequately show what our ambition with Uplink is today and going forward. We also have lots of ideas for additional content and pages that will hopefully improve our Google rankings even more.

Team

We are currently a team of two and on most days struggle to keep up with the workload. I (Manuel) would like to have more time to work on the new features mentioned previously, and Henrik would like to be able to step out of the daily grind more often to focus on community building and event organisation. But of course, with such a small team, we can't do everything at once, and if we try to, we do all of it badly.

Two areas, for example, that we haven't approached at all yet, are SEM and LinkedIn/XING/Facebook ads. I'm sure we can find a repeatable and cost-effective way to acquire new clients through at least one of those channels, but we just haven't had the time to dive into those topics yet.

So it has become clear to us in recent months that we will be happier, more productive and more focused with a team of 3-4 people, which is our goal for this year. We are currently looking for an Account Manager, and the first interviews are already lined up.

Community

The nice thing about developers, especially freelancer developers it seems, is that they are - contrary to the stereotype of the introverted nerd - very forthright and outspoken. We really can't complain about too little feedback on the things we do and talk about doing.

What generated unanimously positive feedback were our bi-monthly craft beer meetups titled "IPAs and APIs". The concept is simple - invite everyone from the community for free drinks to one of Berlin's many craft beer bars. No talks, no agenda, simply an opportunity to meet the guys and gals you know from Slack in real life. And because everyone loves coming to these meetups, we'll continue doing them, every two months in Berlin, but we also plan to have our first meetup in Hamburg soon, since more and more members of the community are based over there.

On top of that, we see that there is interest for other meetups with very specific topics (e.g., finances and investing for freelancers) or styles (e.g., getting a group of 10-15 interested members in a room with a lawyer and/or tax accountant to let them talk about a few topics in-depth). We will continue to listen to the community and hopefully organize at least one non-beer-related meetup this year.

Wrapping up

As you can see, there's a lot going on! We are more excited than ever to grow the Uplink community to its full potential.

In our opinion, we live in a golden era for software developers, and being part of this world and seeing topics like digitalization, AI, VR, Blockchain, 'new work' - just to name a few - grow and spread first-hand is the most thrilling job one can possible have.

To the future, and beyond!