CFD 511 – Lessons From The Founder of Upwork

Lessons From The Founder of Upwork

Beerud Sheth is the Founder of Elance (now Upwork). He is also the founder & CEO of Gupshup, the world’s leading messaging and bot platform. From immigrating to the US at 20 to founding Upwork (then Elance) in a cramped Jersey City apartment, to creating chatbots for the biggest companies in the world, Beerud’s journey as an entrepreneur and tech visionary has taken a number of surprising turns.

Podcast Highlights

  • Who is Beerud Sheth?

Beerud grew up in Mumbai, India in an average mmiddle-classfamily and was blessed with decent analytical skills. He was always good at math and computing but more than that, he had always been driven and determined with whatever he was working on. Those are the traits that have served him well in his life because no matter how hard you work, things don’t always go as planned.

  • Elance to Upwork

It took 20 years to take Elance to IPO, this is a reflection of the typical overnight success story in Silicon valley. There were many challenges along the way.

The IPO is not the end goal. In many ways ,Upwork has barely scratched the surface of the freelance economy. The point is not the IPO itself, it was to build a company that adds value to millions of people and generates a profit. In that, Upwork has certainly succeeded.

Entrepreneurs tend to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term.

All of Beerud’s skills and experiences culminated in the idea that would eventually become Elance and later on Upwork. The core idea has remained essentially the same even though the business has evolved quite a bit.

Entrepreneurship is a balance of irrational exuberance and a strong realism. When you’re trying to execute something you have to be realistic about what your customers want and how long it will take. The 2001 financial crisis forced Beerud to reevaluate his company and restructure it in a lot of ways. If you don’t have a runway, it doesn’t matter what your ideas are because you can’t execute.

  • Planning For The Bad Times

Much of it comes down to psychology. Try not to get too excited when things are going great but also try not to get too down on yourself when things aren’t going well. You can’t control what happens in the world, but you can control how you respond to it. Your own psychology can get in the way of your own clear thinking.

Entrepreneurs tend to take on all the stress upon themselves. Focus on what you can control and can do. It’s not the bad stuff that is happening to you it’s how you respond to it that determines the outcome.

Beerud relied on the advice of VC’s and mentors that were involved in the company. Leverage whatever resources you can and people’s willingness to share their wisdom, that’s one of the greatest strengths of Silicon Valley.

When you start a company people rely on you. Beerud always had an immense sense of obligation to the people he worked with so quitting wasn’t an option to him.

  • If there was no Upwork, would there be no AirBnB or Uber?

You can’t say for certain but Upwork definitely blazed a trail. In many ways, those companies were able to take advantage of the lessons Upwork learned and the validation it provided.

The success of those companies validates the initial idea of Upwork even more.

  • What’s coming in the future?

Gupshup is Beerud’s latest project. It’s a messaging platform that enables businesses to communicate with consumers in more intelligent ways. Gupshup basically simplifies your messaging channels by combining them so it’s easier to manage and then allows you to automate a lot of the most common questions.

Businesses have to be where the consumers are but the proliferation of messaging channels is making that much more difficult. But if you get that right, you have a major advantage.

  • Where did the drive to solve complex problems come from?

Beerud likes to connect the dots. When you enable two way conversations it becomes very powerful for a business to understand its customers but that leads to another problem. Solving those kinds of big problems is something that Beerud enjoys.

It’s equally hard to solve a small problem and a big problem, so you might as well work on a big one because if you succeed the outcome is that much greater.

AI enabled chatbots can be very useful to small businesses. Gupshup is creating templates for different kinds of businesses that make it more plug and play. Small businesses are always tight for resources and a chatbot can make a big difference.

  • Beerud’s Takeaway

Listen to the voice to the extent of trying to understand why it is saying what it is saying. If it’s just fear mongering for no reason, that’s not very helpful. It’s good to understand the risks and challenges involved but you have to follow your gut if you believe it’s the right course. It’s okay to be nervous, that’s part of the journey. You have to dive in and go for it but do it with your eyes open. It will prepare you for the inevitable challenges that are going to follow.


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