By Tom Jackson
South African startup BetterWage has launched with the goal of helping people match their skills and passions with online platforms that can make them money, such as Airbnb and Uber.
BetterWage allows users to identify their skills and available services, and promptly matches them with hundreds of online platforms where they can monetise them.
“If you have room in your house to share, we’ll introduce you to Airbnb and many more. If you can drive people around for money, we will suggest Uber and their equivalents,” co-founder Rudie Shepherd told Disrupt Africa.
“If you can programme a computer, we’ll tell you that you can make a good living on Freelancer and a host of similar sites. We also offer a fortune of articles and videos to explain how to make money in this new online economy.”
Shepherd and fellow co-founder Dean Furman were – and are still – employed by financial and risk services firm Alexander Forbes when they launched BetterWage at the suggestion of the company.
“In around September 2015 Alexander Forbes took myself and Dean out of the business, put us in a virtual garage and told us to “come up with something that could disrupt the financial services industry – before someone else does it to us”,” Shepherd said.
“Having had decades of experience with building and rolling out IT systems, I promptly put in for a budget of a few million rand to get us started because I knew what it costs to develop new software. Financial services companies routinely spend millions on R&D projects, don’t they?”
However, the Alexander Forbes chief executive officer (CEO) at the time – Edward Kieswetter – told the pair that they would have to behave like a startup and find their own money. BetterWage was thus developed with a very lean mentality.
“This was the best thing that could have happened to us,” Shepherd said.
“We got extremely creative with how we spent money because it really felt like we were spending our own, (because at one point we were. I dusted off development skills I forgot I had, learnt to use open source technology for free and figured out that hosting in the cloud is the only way to go for a startup in the bootstrap phase. Dean jumped in and did most of the research himself and authored nearly 40 blog articles in the process.”
The pair soft-launched BetterWage with internal staff at Alexander Forbes on December 1 to gauge the response.
“They did not know BetterWage was actually us and we had to deal with spam blocks and junk mail folders with the rest of the wannabe startups vying for their attention on any given day,” Shepherd said.
“After seeing a near 30 per cent conversion rate off a message that kind of looked like spam, to be honest, we knew we were onto something.”
The startup has now officially launched, with Shepherd saying it has been on a rollercoaster ride since.
“It’s still just the two of us, in a virtual garage – but with a much better site and credibility based on delivery. It remains to be seen if the site is going to be a success, but we think so. We put our hearts and souls into this thing and we have every intention to see it succeed,” he said.
BetterWage’s competition comes in the form of recruitment agencies that specialise in connecting people with job opportunities, but an individual would be required to leave their current job to use their services.
“Who can afford that risk in this economy? We rather work with them to find opportunities in the 9-to-5 category – which incidentally is only one of 32 ways to earn a wage these days,” Shepherd said.
“We believe people must have multiple jobs of various kinds. Our other competition is Google – because surely you can just type in “make money online” and get going? Good luck with that… 134 million results. Our WageFinder search engine is tiny in comparison – but it is extremely focused and doesn’t waste your time searching for things that won’t work for you,” he said.
Shepherd said it would be “wonderful” if BetterWage were to attract venture capital, but nonetheless he was quite happy with the organic growth it had seen so far.
“To be honest the strings attached to venture capital might be detrimental to what we are trying to do,” he said. “We believe that if we keep our focus on making money for our community before making money for our investors, the reward will be greater in the end for everybody concerned.”
With the need to generate a better income universal, BetterWage is making its services availale globally.
“Most of our users are close to home in South Africa because that is where we focused most of our marketing efforts to gauge the market appetite, and because this is where the poor exchange rate makes it very attractive to earn in dollars right now,” Shepherd said.
“We have plenty of subscribers from the United States (US), where the sharing and gig economy is already well understood but poorly serviced with information of how to best earn with it.”
BetterWage has three revenue streams: affiliate revenue through selling online courses with Udemy, consulting and expertise, and advertising. Shepherd said a this point the startup is for all practical purposes a “gift” to society right now – a “loss leader”.
“We’re not seeking profit at this stage but will be happy to start funding our next round of development which include the add-ons to the BetterWage platform that will earn real money for investors,” he said.
“We’re not a charity – but we are happy to give something away for free to learn where people’s true needs are – and what they are happy to spend their hard earned money on going forward. We want to remain true to our founding philosophy that we will only help people spend money we helped them to earn in the first place.”
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