Why your next job should involve freelancing and the sharing economy

Isaac Tay is the co-founder of honestbee, a local grocery delivery company that delivers within one hour.  Prior to this, he was the founder of SGEntrepreneurs, which was acquired by Tech In Asia for an undisclosed sum. Here, he talks to us about the sharing economy, why he started honestbee and his thoughts on the local start-up scene in Singapore.

We started LifeOpp [honestbee’s precursor] because of a common belief that the process of hiring and finding a job online can be better and more fruitful for everyone. Folks like you and I can benefit from LinkedIn, but how about the best waiter in your favorite restaurant?

LifeOpp and honestbee share one thing in common–providing the masses who can’t work fixed hours with income opportunities. Before the shift, we were considering a few niches, for example home cleaning and grocery shopping.

The mission is to create happy homes with delightful services and flexible jobs. The current vision of the company is to build the largest and most convenient online supermarket in Asia.

Once we know [of our employee’s] skills and the hours they can work, there are many other [niches] we can enter to generate demand for this labour. The key is to support this workforce in doing more on-demand jobs efficiently so that the per hour wage increases.

We chose grocery shopping because of these two reasons: quality can be standardised and maintained, and grocery shopping happens more frequently than home cleaning.

We don’t view ourselves as competitors to any businesses out there. As an on-demand business, we add value to traditional supermarkets and boutique stores. Our commitment to quality, as well as our trained, dedicated concierge shoppers and speedy delivery bees are our unique advantages that allow us to ship fresh products among other things.

Our belief is that we should not just start a business just to create wealth, but also to improve people’s lives. That is what drove us to start honestbee–to be a social impact business.

We want to create sustainable job opportunities for our shoppers and delivery team targeted at all individuals who are looking for more flexible working hours. These may include working mothers, retirees, or individuals who may only have a specific amount of hours to work.

I think [more of the world is going freelance] for two very different reasons.

First, the highly skilled workforce is using better tools to manage their time and projects better, so it becomes less necessary for organisation under a firm. While going freelance seemingly sacrifices financial stability, it allows them to increase their per hour income, and satisfies their need to constantly do different and more interesting work.

At the same time, it allows more flexibility in time and travel plans.

Second, for the lower skilled workforce, there are less economic opportunities because they are being replaced by either technology or low cost labour.

To them, going freelance is a means to secure as much employment as possible; it is very possible that this segment of society is being under employed. Chances are, they want to work more but they can’t.

I can understand that feeling [of not being able to earn enough]. I think with the growth of the sharing economy there are more opportunities to increase your income.

For example, you can rent out the spare room in your private apartment on Airbnb, or share a journey with your car on GrabHitch. You can also be our shopper bee to help our customers pick up groceries, since you might already be shopping for yourself and get paid at the same time.

In my opinion, one of the main reasons why start-ups fail is the lack of a product fit for the market. As such, it is important to have sort of a checklist to evaluate the venture.

For me, it is whether 1) will it improve people’s lives; and 2) are there people willing to pay for this improvement to their lives.

I think Singaporean startups also fail because we don’t think regional from day one. Singapore is a good place to start but you got to build to quickly grow out of it.

Recruiting great talent is a major challenge as we are competing with more established brands for their attention. However, with our recent funding announcement that we are backed by world-class Silicon Valley investors, this has been changing.

To me, the biggest achievement is the talent that we have recruited. The team has a shared culture of excellence, where we trust each other to do the best work we humanly can do to fulfil the company’s mission and vision.