Start-up tar­gets top-tier niche mar­ket

CityPress - - Business - LESETJA MALOPE lesetja.malope@city­press.co.za

Three young pro­fes­sion­als have come to­gether to provide skilled, experienced work­ers with free­lance jobs and their client com­pa­nies with the ex­per­tise they need for spe­cific projects.

Scelo Makhathini (30), a char­tered ac­coun­tant; Ler­ato Manaka (25), a hu­man re­sources spe­cial­ist; and Eu­gene de Beer (28), an IT ex­pert, have de­vel­oped an innovative way for highly skilled, re­tired or un­em­ployed pro­fes­sion­als to earn money do­ing free­lance projects, with­out the time and le­gal con­straints of or­di­nary em­ploy­ment.

Makhathini and De Beer, for­mer col­leagues at a lead­ing au­dit­ing firm, founded LinkdPro, a dig­i­tal platform, af­ter notic­ing a gap in the mar­ket.

Makhathini and Manaka told City Press that the ini­tia­tive was prov­ing a hit with some of the biggest com­pa­nies listed on the JSE.

Com­puter al­go­rithms are em­bed­ded on the on­line platform, en­abling a can­di­date to be matched with a suit­able project within 48 hours. The client com­pany chooses a prospec­tive con­sul­tant, and then LinkdPro con­tacts him or her to ar­range an interview.

Once the two par­ties agree on terms and a fee, LinkdPro man­ages that re­la­tion­ship and re­ceives a por­tion of that fee. “We re­alised that there was de­mand for spe­cialised ex­per­tise for a lot of projects,” said Makhathini. “This was be­cause ex­perts in a com­pany wanted to free up their time from hav­ing to do the or­di­nary stress­ful jobs. Our platform provides com­pa­nies with that flex­i­bil­ity.” An­other el­e­ment that sets LinkdPro apart from tra­di­tional labour bro­kers and job agen­cies is the fact that the com­pany tar­gets only niche mar­ket per­son­nel, such as man­age­ment strat­egy con­sul­tants, com­mer­cial lawyers, ex-in­vest­ment bankers, in­dus­try ex­perts and busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives. “Peo­ple want flex­i­bil­ity; they are mov­ing away from the rigid 9-to-5 work reg­i­men,” said Makhathini. “Gone is the term ‘work-life bal­ance’. There is now a new term: work-life flex­i­bil­ity. We are giving peo­ple a platform that gives them op­tions.” Makhathini said the ser­vice filled the gap be­tween the sup­ply and de­mand of highly skilled spe­cial­ists for top-tier firms. Manaka de­scribed the process in­volved: “As soon the com­pany rep­re­sen­ta­tive sees the con­sul­tant they want, they sim­ply click on an icon. We then con­tact their cho­sen con­sul­tant to sched­ule an interview.” Manaka said the com­pany’s vet­ting process in­cluded do­ing background checks. “We are not rigid about our vet­ting process but very fluid.” While skilled pro­fes­sion­als are given the chance to free­lance on projects need­ing their ex­per­tise, client com­pa­nies have the ben­e­fit of not hav­ing to hire th­ese spe­cial­ists on a full-time ba­sis.

Makhathini said LinkdPro made its money by re­ceiv­ing a com­mis­sion from the project fee, an amount agreed to by the pro­fes­sional con­sul­tant and the client com­pany.

“Our clients are some of the biggest com­pa­nies on the JSE,” said Makhathini.

Given LinkdPro’s func­tion of con­nect­ing top pro­fes­sion­als with project-based free­lance work, there is con­cern that pro­fes­sion­als may be “auc­tioned off” in sit­u­a­tions where there is a scram­ble for certain spe­cialised skills. “We will never do that,” said Makhathini. “There is a lot of trans­parency in our model. We just fa­cil­i­tate the process; we do not play a part in it.”

Manaka said the platform was prop­erly mon­i­tored and that there were pre-agree­ments be­tween par­ties. In ad­di­tion, the com­pany re­mained vested in the project un­til it ended.

“We make sure the con­sul­tant is pro­fes­sional at all times, from be­ing at work on time to per­form­ing the task at hand,” he said.

The trio has ini­ti­ated an­other dig­i­tal platform. It is sim­i­lar to LinkdPro, but tar­geted at finance pro­fes­sion­als such as char­tered ac­coun­tants, in­vest­ment bankers and chief fi­nan­cial of­fi­cers.

Called Oc­to­pus­group, it has also proven pop­u­lar among some of the com­pa­nies in the fi­nan­cial sec­tor.

Scelo Makhathini and Ler­ato Manaka

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