The Gradlancer founders claimed the company gives students a head start in their careers by providing them with paid freelance work opportunities. The company already has a network of over 5,000 students and more than 400 employers.
The inspiration for the business came when the three university friends saw the difficulties their fellow classmates were experiencing trying to find jobs to wrack up work experience.
“In our final year at university we realised that we were in competition with every other graduate for a full time job when we graduated,” said co-founder Anthony Adeloye. “Some of us had taken on a placement year or unpaid internships but others didn’t have the time or they weren’t offered on their prospective courses. We came across students that had been freelancing as a means of earning money whilst they were studying, not only to earn a living but to gain work experience related to or around their degree. Cue our lightbulb moment – ‘Why doesn’t everyone do this?’”
Despite their youth all three founders had previous business experience. Adeloye ran a small summer enterprise during his early years of secondary school right through to college, providing help with anything from lawn mowing to cleaning cars. Other co-founders, Ben Alfrey and Jay Gujral each separately started merchant companies that sold low value items from China on eBay during their time at university.
They started developing Gradlancer in their final year of university and the company was registered in February 2014. After searching for and eventually finding investment they launched the platform in March 2015.
The company has secured significant funding from Just Develop It, (JDI), a tech company founded by entrepreneur Chris Phillips, who has invested in a number of different industries including websites, fashion and property. During Gradlancer’s first round it raised £35,000. Since then it has gone on to raise a further six-figure seed stage investment.
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“JDI has given us the tools to not only develop the platform but also help guide us with how the business should grow and how to market effectively,” said Adeloye.
Gradlancer works by allowing students to upload all their relevant work experience to a detailed profile and to create an online portfolio to impress potential employers. They then have access to a host of opportunities and can bid on those ones that best suit them. They submit completed work and send an invoice generated by Gradlancer. All completed projects are saved into a virtual timeline that can showcase a student’s accomplishments and experience to date to keep work flowing.
Companies are offered 15 different categories to post a work project to and projects can vary from hourly work to a fixed fee to meet specific needs. Students are matched to a company’s requirements and can make a bid. After reviewing these bids and profiles, businesses can then make an informed decision on who to employ for their project.
The vast majority of Gradlancer traffic comes from social media. This has enabled it to build a extensive network that the founders can regularly engage with both through their platform and through targeted emails. “We find that by keeping people engaged with your product, this is the best way to keep customer retention high,” said Adeloye.
The toughest challenge has been educating both students and employers alike about the benefits to both of them of freelance work. Early on with Gradlancer, many students didn’t believe that there would be opportunities that would add value to their degree and be flexible around their studies. The Gradlancer team has also had to persuade employers by demonstrating that there is a talented, flexible and affordable university workforce available to be utilised.
For Adeloye the biggest break – and proof of concept in many ways – was when the first freelance project was completed. “Seeing both employers and students engage with the platform successfully was a great feeling early on,” said Adeloye. “Knowing that we had taken the first step to solve a problem that we had personal issues with was a great feeling.”
Adeloye and his colleagues argue that they offer a new take on the debate about whether entrepreneurs are better off at the university of life rather than going to college. “At Gradlancer we’ve mixed the two together. We feel that both university and work experience is a great springboard for you to get started on your entrepreneurial journey,” he said.
One unexpected development has been a growing demand by employers looking to offer students full time rather than temporary positions on the platform. As a result this has opened up a whole new market for Gradlancer to tap into and a potential new direction for this still very young company.
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