Gig economy is here to stay, Field Nation’s Mynul Khan says
Mynul Khan launched Field Nation in 2008, during what turned out to be an opportune time. With the U.S. tumbling into recession, Field Nation offered a web-based platform to connect people looking for IT jobs with businesses that needed contract workers. The company took off. Within two years, it had broken even. By 2014 it had $60 million in annual revenue. The Minneapolis-based company now works with 2,000 of the world’s largest companies, including FedEx, Target Corp., Starbucks and McDonalds. It has a current roster of more than 100,000 freelancers and contract workers. The gig economy, Khan said, is here to stay.
Q: Field Nation seemed to be on the cusp of the rise of the on-demand workforce, or gig economy, which now accounts for as much as one-third of the labor force, according to Gallup. What changes have you seen in the marketplace?
A: When we started in the middle of the Great Recession, everyone said we were just capitalizing on the unemployment market. Then for the last several years, with low unemployment, you might think we’d see a slowdown. In fact we’re growing. Our company has tripled in size since 2015. However, it’s not just about growth. Market needs are changing. It’s no longer about being a matchmaker. Now we’re making the entire engagement simpler. Smart business leaders will always depend on full-time employees to work on their core products or services. But there will be additional work, initiatives or skill gaps that they cannot predict. That’s the kind of work that makes sense for an on-demand strategy. Now we have giant Fortune 500 companies coming to us and asking what their workforce strategy should be with the rise of the gig economy.
Q: Who is this new type of worker?
A: By 2025, some estimates say more of the workforce will be working in gig arrangements than full-time arrangements. People in this new generation of the freelance economy perceive risk much differently than someone like my dad, who had one job his entire career. This new era has redefined this sense of safety. When I talk to people who have three or four gigs, they feel they have more security. For them, if one job goes down, there are three others. It gives them flexibility to scale up and down. Most people say that millennials are driving the on-demand economy. But I’m not so sure about that. At Field Nation, many technicians on our marketplace have 10 or more years of experience. They’re typically not recent college grads coming into the platform. And many of our business customers want to assign only experienced tech workers to their jobs. The gig economy will only grow.
Q: How does a platform like Field Nation help gig workers?
A: When you’re a freelancer, you’re constantly having to hustle and think about where your next project will come from, how to invoice and collect payment. We simplify that. When technicians complete a job, their payment comes from Field Nation, so they don’t have to wait 30 or 60 days — sometimes longer, or never — to get paid by the business customer. We guarantee on-time, twice-weekly payment. That’s a huge value to a someone in the gig economy. It’s also a huge value to our business customers at the end of the year when we process all of the 1099 tax forms so they don’t have to worry about it.
Q: How does Field Nation serve two masters? You work with companies that are looking to keep labor costs low and with individuals trying to earn a decent wage.
A: Each party needs the other to make these things work. If we have a singular focus on one side, then the other side isn’t going to get the value. We have 200 employees who are split into separate teams. One team is dedicated to the enterprise companies and another team serving technicians and freelancers.
Q: The experiences of those in the ride-sharing economy of Uber and Lyft reflect some perils of workers in the new gig economy. Do you fear a race to the bottom where people don’t want to pay for services, workers have few job protections and can barely eek out a living?
A: It’s never a race to the bottom. I see it as a free-market economy. It used to be hard finding the right people at the right time — whether it’s a ride, a handyman, a copywriter. We’re making this easier. Is it changing how the safety net works? Absolutely. You don’t have a regular W-2, benefits or a matching 401(k). But I can also give you countless examples where I have freelancers who tell me, I had a $50,000 a year job and I got laid off. I found Field Nation and built my own freelance business and my income is now double. It’s offsetting. I don’t have company health care, but I have pride and freedom and more income. I am my own boss. There’s value you cannot match.