Ethlance And The Rise Of The On-Demand Economy

Benefits of ditching your typical nine-to-five job to become a freelancer include freedom, flexibility, and not having to miss your kid's soccer game because your boss deems it unimportant. By using independent hiring platforms like Upwork and TaskRabbit, freelancers can choose projects that are best suited for their availability and lifestyle.

A report published by Intuit found the on-demand economy “has grown from 17 percent of the U.S. workforce 25 years ago, to 36 percent today, and is expected to reach 43 percent by 2020."

This mass freelance migration is why Matus Lestan saw fit to create Ethlance.

Ethlance is the first decentralized online marketplace where freelancers and employers can link up with one another via the Ethereum blockchain, and where cryptocurrency serves as the only form of payment.

Lestan independently built Ethlance in his spare time, using the relatively young (just ten years old) programming language ClojureScript. He felt it gave him an advantage over the more commonly used JavaScript, as it allowed him to work more efficiently and with fewer bugs.

Lestan also drew inspiration from his own experience as a freelancer, recounting:

"When I started working remotely, I realized pretty quickly I couldn't go back to a regular office job. It's such an essential part of my life because I can work from wherever I want, which is why Ethlance was such an obvious choice for me to build – it's a tool for people that I think will only become more relevant in the future."

The growth of the gig economy is perhaps a result of the structural shift in traditional employment, which has been evolving over the past few decades. For example:

•  Decline in defined benefit pensions: in 1982, 60% of full-time workers at U.S. private sector firms were enrolled in defined-benefit pension plans. Today, it’s a mere 14%.

•  Growth in average duration of unemployment: from 8.5 weeks in 1980, to 12 weeks in 2000, to 82.1 weeks in 2015.

In a ReportLinker survey, one third of US respondents said “they would consider exiting the traditional workplace to work as a freelancer or independent contractor,” and almost half of those surveyed said that they would be willing to make that move within three years.

Other on-demand platforms like Uber and Upwork have been known to take upwards of 20% as their fee. Ethlance only charges the cost of 'gas' that is required to run the transaction on the Ethereum blockchain, which is miniscule in comparison. Lestan instead plans to earn profits by setting up a token system at some point in the future, saying, “Tokens would be used to bid on top search spots. They will also be tradable.” Ethlance's reduction in fees gives them a significant competitive advantage, but from a marketing standpoint, they are still fighting an uphill battle.

The challenge is engaging those millions of individuals that comprise the contingent workforce but are currently operating outside the bounds of the crypto community, as they may have never heard of Ethereum or blockchain technology. It’s something Ethlance recognizes as a problem. Lestan has hired a videographer (via Ethlance, of course) to create educational videos designed to familiarize the potential labor pool with the ins and outs of blockchain technology and Ethlance. He also wants to build awareness campaigns using social media.

Incorporating Other Blockchain Entities

•  On any peer-to-peer job market platform, it is crucial that users trust they will be protected against identity theft. For this reason, Lestan plans on integrating uPort: a “secure, easy-to-use system for self-sovereign identity, built on Ethereum.”

•  Ethlance is currently utilizing IPFS (InterPlanetary File System) to host and distribute its files, which is why Lestan isn’t too concerned with the development of SWARM. His hopes surrounding future Ethereum updates are weighted more heavily towards lower gas fees and faster block times.

•  Whether you are a freelancer or an employer, it’s important to be aware that Ethlance functions on the public Ethereum blockchain, and requires the use of a Light Client and/or browser to access its platform. There are two ways one can do this: download the Google Chrome extension MetaMask; or download the official Ethereum Mist browser (you'll need to download the entire blockchain—several gigabytes—onto your computer).

Both methods require that you fund your account with Ether (so you can pay the 'gas' to run the transaction). A quick and easy way to do this is to go through a cryptocurrency exchange.

Once you have downloaded the Mist browser or MetaMask extension and fund your account with Ether, you can set up your freelancer account and begin using Ethlance. From that point on the user experience is no different than any other website.

Ethlance is still a very young project and will undoubtedly see further development as the community and technology evolve. One thing is for certain, regardless of Matus Lestan’s original intention for building Ethlance: he is no longer considering it a mere side project. Expect to see a lot of big changes in the future.