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vWorker: Creating the eBay of remote work

vWorker: Creating the eBay of remote work.

 

Name of your company and URL?

vWorker: http://www.vWorker.com

 

Date started?

April of 2001

What is your product or service?

vWorker connects 150,000 people and businesses to remote workers and saves them 36%-80% over traditional hiring. It also allows over 300,000 people to work from home, choose what they work on and set their own hours. Entrepreneur magazine called vWorker “one of the 100 most brilliant companies on our radar’. It is a four time consecutive winner of the Inc. 5000 “fastest growing private company in the U.S.” award. It has also been featured on CBS and FOX news, the Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Fast-Company and many other broadcasts, publications and journals.

Why did you start your company?

Before 2001, I created another website called Planet Source Code.com. Source code is the building blocks of computer programs and that site allowed programmers to quickly use other people’s building blocks to create their software more quickly. What I found is that these programmers needed help figuring out tough problems. A large number wrote to me and offered to pay me to help them, but I was so busy I didn’t have the time. After turning down the 30th or 40th one I realized that there was an unmet need in the marketplace. I thought “what if I could enable all the programmers on the site to bid on those jobs”? It was kind of a crazy idea (at the time) and I realized that most people probably wouldn’t hire a complete stranger without very solid protections. So every project would be protected by escrowing and arbitration, so the employer would get what they contracted, or their money back. And on the other side: if the worker met the contract, they would be guaranteed to get paid. That was the start of the site.

How was it financed ?

The company have never taken any outside funding or venture capital. To start it, I used my personal savings and a $5k loan from my parents to buy computer servers. This was back in the day when you had to actually buy your servers and couldn’t just rent space on the cloud. After that, it’s been fortunate enough to be self sustaining.

Date officially launched?

The site launched in April of 2011. The first month is made about $50, which is not a lot! But on the plus side, it was cash flow positive right away, which is something some businesses take years to achieve.

Do you have a YouTube video URL that you can share with us, and allow us to publish with your story?

How many people are currently working, including employees (freelancers or independent contractors for specific projects)?

There are 10 full time and 4 part time employees. I have a team of another 20 virtual workers hired from the site that do thing like design work, press releases, marketing, programming, etc.

What almost killed your business in the start?

Within the first year, the company was still struggling. One day we got a larger than usual order for $1,000, which was nice and got me excited. But 30 days later, I got a letter from the credit card company about that same order. They said the person who sent the money had actually stolen the credit card. I asked them how this was possible since it passed all their security check. They told me that many times they don’t catch credit card thieves right away. They also said that since we didn’t ship a physical product, there was nothing we could do to avoid having the $1,000 taken from us (by them). And of course, the worker had already been paid, so that would leave me $1,000 in the hole.

The next day, as I was just getting over my anger at what this person had done (and at the credit card company for taking no responsibility) a second letter came in. It was again from the credit card company, and it was another order for $1,000 that was fraud. I couldn’t believe it. Over the next few days a total of $5,000 in charge backs were sent to us. If it continued much longer, we would be out of business.

So I read up about other business owners who had gone through the same problem. I learned that there are criminal rings that buy and sell stolen credit card numbers, with the sole aim of extracting as much stolen merchandise and services from merchants as possible before the bad # is caught. Since they live in other countries, they cannot be prosecuted and then just go on to the next credit card and the next victim. There are illegal marketplaces where they can buy a credit card # like this for less than a dollar.

So obviously the criminals had the upper hand, and the credit card companies were not going to help at all. So I sat down with my CFO (Zoe Edgington) and we came up with a plan. We would call every single new customer that we got, to make sure they were a real person. Then we would confirm their credit card information with their bank by calling them. And finally we would make two small charges on their credit card and ask them to tell us the amount, so we could make sure they actually owned the card and hadn’t stolen it.

Thankfully this stopped that original ring of criminals from using the site. Over the years the criminals got more sophisticated and so we had to respond with more sophistication as well. We eventually teamed with a 3rd party company that specializes in internet fraud, that helps us stay on top of the latest schemes and one step ahead of the “bad guys”.

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