I believe that we’re moving towards a future dominated by ‘solopreneurs’ — individuals who work for themselves and have no intention of hiring staff or growing a team. I’d argue that recent shifts to a more fluid and mobile workforce are precursors to this future. No longer are workers joining a company with the plan of staying there for life; hell, I doubt many workers see themselves spending more than 5 years at the same company. This shifts the mindset of workers to be less aligned with their company and more aligned with their own future, which is a stepping-stone to working for yourself.
I believe these ‘solopreneurs’ will mostly be split into two categories:
- Those who are selling goods or services, e.g. Etsy/Shopify or Uber/TaskRabbit
- Those who are selling skills and knowledge, e.g. your traditional business consultants/contractors, which I believe will increasingly happen through marketplaces like HourlyNerd/oDesk
The Internet’s ability to provide business access to thousands of potential customers has made this future a possibility and we’re already in the nascent stages. However, as this paradigm shift continues to unfold, it will become more and more difficult for any one individual to break through the noise and acquire customers. It’s for this reason that I believe two-sided marketplaces will become increasingly important conduits for ‘solopreneur’ employment.
The symbiotic relationship between a marketplace and its supply makes for an ideal employment hub for ‘solopreneurs’. Marketplace companies are by definition reliant on their supply side, which makes it in their best interest to provide tools and support to be successful. That support comes in the way of: marketing, operational logistics, customer support assistance, community access, educational tools and much more. By providing a streamlined business framework, suppliers can more easily focus on growing their business. Additionally, marketplace network effects amplify the necessity of joining if there is a dominant operator in your space. Even if you’re able to build your business independently of a marketplace, the benefits (resources, more business, branding by association) of joining likely outweigh the costs.
While the Internet, existing marketplaces and a more fluid employment environment have laid the foundation for this transformation, I believe the larger catalyst will be the shift to remote work becoming the norm, which I believe is on the near term horizon. Once people begin to feel comfortable working from home and away from the traditional office, the leap to working for themselves will seem less daunting. As we continue to shift away from a labor based economy to a knowledge based economy, it will continue to make more sense for workers to move between jobs to increase their knowledge and leverage that into higher pay, or putting it another way — it will make more sense to become independent consultants or contractors.
This is why I’m so bullish on marketplaces and it’s a large part of what led me to CoachUp, and now 1stdibs. I believe we’re increasingly moving to an e-commerce landscape mostly dominated by HUGE winners, with a spattering of small-to-medium sized niche players. This has been the typical status quo for much of the post-industrial evolution world, however until recently I think you could make the argument the Internet was changing that. Unfortunately we’re reverting to the mean, as the majority of businesses have moved online and it’s now more difficult than ever to standout. Because of this, I believe these winners will often take the form of marketplaces, as they will best position to leverage the shifting workplace dynamics that increased ‘soloprenuerism’ will bring.