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We're Tomaž Zaman and Per Esbensen, founders of Codeable - ask us anything!

Nov. 9, 2016

We've met on Elance some 7 years ago, when Per was running his web development agency specializing in TYPO3 and 3D animation and Tomaž being a certified TYPO3 integrator.

Together we were working on a couple of enterprise-y websites for Scandinavian companies and after two years, both observed a decline in attitude towards online freelancers; It was a race to the bottom which resulted in low prices and a shark tank environment.

We decided that standing by as the industry went haywire just wasn't good enough so we've set out to build what we think was the best approach to online freelancing: No bidding, Quality control, Freelancers being colleagues rather than competition - so we founded Codeable [1]

In those early days, while doing the market analysis, we also found the best possible open-source community in the world: WordPress. We felt we could be a constructive part of this community, and we were not wrong - working with some of the most popular plugin authors and renowned businesses to provide great support for their clients beyond their capabilities has been both a humbling and a rewarding experience!

And to this day we're constantly trying to improve the freelancing experience by making a promise of quality to the clients and a promise of fair treatment and payments to the freelancers.

In more operational aspects of the company, Tomaž takes care of the technical parts like servers and infrastructure, development, technical blogging, while Per is the chief of our fanatical customer support, legalities and accounting.

[1] codeable.io

Ask us anything!

Comment
25 votes   Flag
Sanjeev Mishra

Hello Tomaž and Per,

Thanks for having this AMA here.

Great job with running Codeable along with external freelancers and delivering good projects. As you have also worked with in-house developers and employees, what is the most challenging part of running the show with external freelancers and how do you deal with that? Say for example, if a freelancer is not able to deliver the project in a good condition, what role your company plays in that situation and how do you convert that not-so-happy customer into a happy one?

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Tomaž

The hardest part of working with external freelancers isn't the code or their skills, it's how to communicate both with us and their clients in the most effective way. There are time zone issues, cultural differences, language barriers, all seemingly working together to screw things up for us :)

But, we somehow managed to tame these issues by first focusing on the freelancers, rather than on clients; We have a long list of rules we demand our experts to follow to the letter, lest we terminate our working relationship. We also make sure they don't fight over projects but rather help one another winning them, which is only possible if the amount - or rather the ratio between the number of projects and number of freelancers in the system - is just right.

Finally, and probably most importantly, we make sure they are treated like the experts they are and paid well, and on time. This is their job, first and foremost, and everyone should be treated respectfully at it.

And regarding your customer happiness question, it's actually simpler than most think it is: When people have problems, they usually understand it takes time to solve them, so what they mostly want is to be heard and understood. As a company, you just have to be there for them, let them know you are on it (and mean it!) and update them on the progress of resolving their issues. Needless to say, having an awesome customer support team is an absolute must for any company, yet few are aware of that.

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Jonathan Bossenger

I did not know that you both came from a TYPO3 background. What (if any) hurdles where there in switching your focus from TYPO3 to WordPress and what descions/changes did you have to make to accommodate this?

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Tomaž

Very little actually. TYPO3, like WordPress, is written in PHP, so switching was not that difficult. But it didn't matter much, because we ourselves don't do actual development, freelancers that work through Codeable do, and we make sure they know WordPress well. And that's the beauty of the WordPress community, everyone can contribute because it's not just coding skills that matter. So we're contributing in other ways (the internal Codeable team).

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Nemanja Aleksic

Thanks for being on our AMA!

1) What's the biggest challenge you face when vetting new freelancers?

2) Where do you see Codeable in 5 years?

3) Tomaž, when did you find the time to have so many kids? :D

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Tomaž

1. The sheer volume of applications we get on a daily basis is not a challenge in itself, but it takes a lot of time and energy because we like to be thorough, so we either invite acceptable ones to a Skype interview or deny the unacceptable ones. In any case, we have to follow up, explain why they were (or were not) accepted, feelings get hurt, explanations need to be made,... And when the accepted freelancers start working, we manually monitor their performance for the first month to increase the changes of their success. Interestingly enough, only about 20% of accepted freelancers "get it" (the Codeable way of doing things) and stay for the long run.


2. When people ask us about our business model, I usually explain (apart from the obvious: we're a 2-sided marketplace) that we're a freelancing insurance company; We make sure that clients get their work done in time by a professional, and we make sure that professional gets treated respectfully and paid properly for their work. That's why I see Codeable becoming a central hub where most of the WordPress freelancing work gets done. We're already taking a lot steps to see that happen: We're partnering with the biggest plugin development companies and agencies to both provide work and support to their clients or to give them more work coming in from ours. Granted, it's a lot of work for us, but very satisfying to see things coming together and yielding results everyone's happy with.


3. In the evenings, like everyone else :)

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Net Style

Very good information, thank's for all:)

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Tomaž

You're welcome :)

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Nathan Ello

Hey Per & Tomaz, thanks for hosting this one! To me it seems running a business like Codeable could be so much more than a full-time job... So, I'm curious, what advice or tips can you offer when it comes to maintaining a healthy work/life balance? How do you separate the two and (aside from skydiving Tomaz) what do you prefer to do with your free time?

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Tomaž

This is a hard question, because for us, Codeable isn't a full time job, nor has it ever been - in a 9-5 kind of way. It has always consumed us entirely; From when we got the idea to the initial prototype, key partnerships and until today, we genuinely enjoy what we do (there are of course times and activities we enjoy less than usually, but then we either take some time off or persevere through it).

So you might say that Codeable is our calling, a way for us to make a difference to a whole lot of people (yourself included) - and achieving that is quite rewarding in itself.

We've also been lucky enough to have amazingly supportive families that sometimes demand our attention - which is great, otherwise we'd be focused on Codeable 24/7 and eventually burn out.

I hope this answer isn't too philosophical, I don't have a better one. In general, I'd say work on something immersive and enjoyable and you won't ever think about where work stops and life begins.

Regarding what we do with our free time, like you said, I personally Skydive (jump out of airplanes) and Per is an avid golfer and fisher.

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Ivan Paulin

Hi Tomaž and Per,

I've got two questions.

1. Which type of work is the most present on Codeable? E.g., is there bigger demand for front-end developers or for developers that know WooCommerce and etc.

2. Who is doing time and cost estimation for the project, Codeable or freelancer?

Thanks,
Ivan

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Tomaž

Hey Ivan, indeed the biggest demand is for WooCommerce, primarily because it's a direct way for the site owners to make money (as opposed to brick and mortar businesses who use their websites for promotion) and it's also much easier to measure impact of their activities. They are also aware that investment in your primary source of income is a necessity and are thus willing to spend more money on it.

We've had some luck in this manner really. When we started Codeable, we knew we're not gonna get far with some exposure, so we reached out to WooThemes at the time of our market analysis period and asked them if they had problems with providing "extended" support to their clients (by extended I mean additional paid work, not the classic support) and they confirmed which is when we offered a partnership. Having nothing else to offer them we went with Codeable shares and one thing led to another and today, Automattic owns those shares, so you could say we're part of the family :)

Regarding your second question, it's our freelancers that estimate projects, but we chime in if we spot anything out of the ordinary (someone estimating too much or too little, for example). Because we artificially level out demand and supply, the project usually get estimated by at most 3 freelancers, and an average is given to the client (no bidding on Codeable). Since we have very strict rules about estimation, the three are usually very close to one another (in terms of the amount) so the average is in 99% cases the best for all parties involved. Well, to be honest it's 100%, but that 1% of clients reaches out to our support asking how it works :)

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Ivan Paulin

Thank you for your detailed answer. :)

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Ray Flores

Per/Tomaz - Thank you for all you both do. (tailing off of Nate's questions) - like yourselves, being a highly involved family man can tax your physical/mental energy levels heavily. How do you find the energy to do both, be a family man and expert/businessman?

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Tomaž

You're welcome Ray!

I don't think you need any extra energy. Every day goes by regardless to what extend anyone is willing to participate in it, so when you take both business and personal activities as a natural and no overthought part of your every day they stop being "to-dos" (of sorts) and become something you just do or participate in, without much thinking or planning.

In fact, I would argue that too much daily planning is what usually brings issues and stress. I would rather focus (business-wise) on achieving some weekly or bi-weekly goals and activities and organise (or rather improvise) any given day as I see fit. If I feel like watching a whole season of Breaking Bad midweek (and have no meetings planned), I'll do just that. Or sleep late - I love sleeping late :)

Same with when I get home to my kids - sometimes we read stories, other times play games on Playstation 4, and sometimes just ignore each other as everyone's already occupied with something. Nothing is planned, we just decide to do what feels best in that moment.

Of course this approach isn't for everyone or every type of organisation, but it works for me and Per, our families, and our business.

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Puneet Sahalot

Hi Per & Tomaž!

Thanks for hosting the AMA! I would like to ask two quick questions :)

1. My "Changing Lives" story was published today ;-) I would like to ask, How Codeable has Changed your Lives? :)
2. Do you plan to bring on devs from Asian Countries? What challenges do you see in doing that?

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Matteo Duò

I like the first question so much :D

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Per Esbensen

Hey Puneet,

Yes, I saw it. I especially liked the sequence where you talked about the community we have among our experts and that you saw other fellow experts more as your colleagues than competitors. When I hear something like this about Codeable then I'm really getting happy. Tomaz and I was talking about exactly this in the early days. We wanted to create a healthy working environment for both clients and experts and it seems we're on to something.

Building Codeable together with Tomaz and our awesome team has been and still is an amazing journey. It has changed my life radically. For the first time ever (work-wise) I'm actually doing something I love. I'm not lying. Other jobs were okay but nothing can compare with this. When you do something passionately the work itself get's a whole lot more fun to do. On top of that is the learning process of creating an idea to a company. The fact you learn something everyday is very rewarding and it keeps you on the toes.

Regarding your second questions then we haven’t thought of other markets as we simply do not have the resources to focus on that (yet). Saying this, then 95% of our clients are from the US and Europe (more than 70% of all clients are from the US) therefore most of our experts are from these parts of the world.

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Jonathan Bossenger

Thanks for this opportunity to delve into Codeable (and it's history), I love a good origin story.

1. The Codeable on-boarding process seems very similar to Automattic's. Was this by choice or did it just happen organically?

2. How do you select your first WordPress experts. There must have been a decision to make sure you got Codeable level expert developers on board, but as this was a new idea, how did you know where to find them?

3. What (if any) new areas or partnerships do you foresee for the future of Codeable.

4. (This one is for Tomaž) what cool new tech stuff are you playing with at the moment ;-)

Reply
Per Esbensen

Hey Jonathan,

1. I didn't know that. We have always only accepted senior WordPress developers to get on trial but the on-boarding process has evolved over time as the rest of our business. Our current process is a result of our core values combined with some great initiatives made by our awesome Customer Service team. They are really good at spotting the right developers having the right skill sets and as a result of that we have less than 10 refunds per 1000 competed projects. I think, that's saying it all.

2. Codeable has always only been about quality and nothing but quality and the quality had to come from our experts. While Tomaz was building our MVP I was searching for senior WordPress developers, which actually wasn't that difficult. I remember, we cold call 60-ish developers and got more than 40 to start working. Out of these we still have 30+ of them working with us today. That's four years ago in two months time! Man, I almost have forgotten all about this :) Some of these guys have been and still are our go-to-guys and their valid feedback has had a huge impact on how our application work today.

3. We have some amazing partners and I see a lot of potential in growing these partnerships. We're of course super happy and proud of our relationship with Woo and now also Automattic. We're getting a few new partners every week and I have high hopes in our Affiliate Program too. I seen an ocean of potential partners our there but we need more time and resources.

4. That's definitely for Tomaz :)

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