Labor Clouds and Being Your Own Enterprise

My friend John Battelle published an interview with our portfolio company Work Market‘s CEO Stephen DeWitt yesterday.

There are a couple interesting ideas that are explained in that interview:

  • Labor clouds. It turns out that John’s new company NewCo is using Work Market to create and manage a labor cloud of writers and editors to create a new publication. Some of these writers and editors are full time employees, some are contractors, some are true freelancers. In the “labor cloud” model, you manage all of the labor you need to get something done in a single platform instead of three (or four, or five, or six).
  • My favorite line from the piece, and the one I tweeted out, is this “”By 2040, I’m pretty confident that every skilled worker will have their own signpost. You will be your own enterprise” I like the idea that people are going to have more agency over their work life, their careers, and the way they want to work. I think that leads us to a better place, for both employers and employees.

This vision for the enterprise is more than the “uberization of work” although many people will simply see it as that. It is a recognition that enterprises should not manage workers in silos based on how they pay them but instead they should manage their workers in a cloud which allows everyone to be paid and managed the way they want. That’s a transformative vision for the future of work.


Comments (Archived):

  1. markslater

    this is truly already happening today. Work from home policies, vacation days (the no restriction movement), benefits aimed at self-improvement (in any skill – see udemy) are examples of how we as a society are beginning to change how we view work….

  2. Joe Marchese

    As a working professional of a certain age, I took the advice of a colleague who said that most businesses, but especially young businesses, are desperate for your experience… they just can’t afford to pay your market rate. So we have created a model where they can receive the best of our experience without having to pay money they don’t have. I think finding a model that works for all parties is key to seeing DeWitt’s vision become reality.

  3. LIAD

    [grrrr. disqus]

    1. fredwilson

      What happened?

      1. LIAD

        nada. just still cant delete comments or edit/delete images.

  4. William Mougayar

    When I worked at Cognizant in 2006-2008 (global IT outsourcing firm, 250,000 employees & 12.5B revenues), we had an internally developed version of the Work Market software to manage talent growth and match required skills to customer needs, as well as identify gaps proactively), and that was a key system.Global labor arbitrage and the globalization of talent are driving this plug and play modularization that Work Market and NewCo are exploiting well. But you still need to have a good part of your company stable and grounded in order to manage the rest of them who are in the work-cloud.

    1. Susan Rubinsky

      Indeed. You sometimes have to go all out to retain key talent. Otherwise you can’t provide reliable service to your client base.

    2. fredwilson

      Everyone should be in the work cloud. The managers and the managees

      1. William Mougayar

        But when you hire people, even for temporary slices of work, you still need to manage them. That’s what I was referring to.

  5. LIAD

    For me, the future of work is the most interesting game in town.I may have become a little obsessed.Real-time desk photo. https://uploads.disquscdn.c

    1. Jess Bachman

      Thats a lot of toner.

      1. jason wright

        Cheaper to buy a tablet?

  6. Mario Cantin

    That notion goes hand and glove with the concept of a basic guaranteed income that Albert is so adamant about.

    1. fredwilson


  7. awaldstein

    Proximity usage within large manufacturing plants is doing this as well from a geophysical perspective, basically attaching skills to need in a mobile workforce in real time.Municipalities as well for all physical infrastructure issues.

  8. Marc-Oliver

    That is indeed interesting. So the situation right now is, that; an incorporation of a company/enterprise is an artificial entity recognized by the law as a legal person that exists independently with rights and liability.We now reverse that?

    1. Vendita Auto

      basic guaranteed income

      1. Marc-Oliver

        Labour is not like other exchanges of goods. Getting paid is not enough. That really simplifies the notion and meaning of “being employed”. It’s what capitalists want to boil it down to. Thatcher, Reagan and now Trump love(ed) it.

    2. jason wright

      That would be a revolutionary move. The powers that be would go to war to prevent it.

  9. Vendita Auto

    Noted on TheHussle: The Information, published a study comparing the number of employees at some of the world’s biggest tech companies on the day they reached $200B in market capitalization:https://www.theinformation….Snap (Snapchat’s parent company), which had just 330 employees last year

  10. Devon Johnson

    This is dramatic shift in the labor market is absolutely under way. For organizations to stay competitive in this new world of work, they will have to evolve their corporate mindset and capabilities. Check out this white paper on “Winning with a Flexible Workforce” –

  11. RameshJain

    Technology is slowly but certainly bringing ‘individual centric’ organizations in every facet of life. This is really individual centric work. The other major transformation happening slowly but certainly is individual (or patient) centric health care. That is another very exciting direction to me — a real transformation for human life.

    1. cavepainting

      Yes, I agree that agency for the individual consumer is transformational. Can you share more thoughts on patient centric healthcare and how it would work differently from today ?

  12. jason wright

    and then comes the virtual corporation, as a persistently ‘molten’ organisation.fashionably unfashionable as it is to say around here, but…Block Work Inc. i would name it.I was never a serf. The next generation of labour will never have been employees. Normal is the new.

    1. Dan Moore

      I have been part of at least one virtual company and the smoothing out of supply and demand for labor is the hardest part. The risk of not having eork either falls on the company (employees) or the individual (contractor). But the flip side of that risk is if it is pushed to the individuals, you can’t count on their availability regularly.I see the modern corp becoming more and more flexible, but until you can slot people into well known, well defined roles (like Hollywood) I don’t see an ephemeral entity being workable.

  13. panterosa,

    I wonder how much of this overlaps with the ‘author model’ I’m aiming for. Specifically, I’m looking to contain the scope of my own activities so I do the work I’m best at, and not the work I’m so-so at (that others do much better). While you call it a labor cloud, I see it as a progression of steps (of the “product” passing through many sets of hands on the way to the “consumer”) which is perhaps more linear.

  14. Jess Bachman

    Maybe we need a cloud union, to handle all these new labor models. The gig-economy union could be one of the most powerful in the US.

  15. iggyfanlo

    Married with some concept of economic freedom like UBI, this is exciting. Without hat economic for freedom there is a risk of digital serfdom

    1. fredwilson


  16. Susan Rubinsky

    Could not help recalling when Fast Company produced the issue called The Brand is You. I recall getting the copy in the mail and telling my business partners that this was the future. I tore off the cover and hung it on the wall by my desk. 1997. Good times.https://www.fastcompany.comhttps://uploads.disquscdn.c

  17. Dan Moore

    Do people want to “be their own enterprise”? I get that they may be forced to by the evolution of the labor market, but many folks I talk to, including some highly skilled engineers, are happy to trade control and earnings for security.Will there be a place for such preferences in this new world?

    1. Jess Bachman

      I can attest. The freelance/gig economy is not good for your cortisol levels.

    2. Susan Rubinsky

      Serendipitously, I started a page on Facebook yesterday called On Jobs because I had previously posted a rant on Facebook and ever since I posted it, I’ve had incessant inquiries by people who want to work for me. Almost every person who contacted me was someone who is out of work and does not know how to proceed. By and large, most of the people are Gen X-ers (though I had one recent college grad contact me and also one Boomer).Here is my first post on the page:I started this page because I posted a bit of a rant on Facebook about a week after the 2016 presidential election:”I love everyone, but am feeling a bit sickened by people who want us to create jobs for them in dying industries. You worked in a factory and now don’t have a job? Oh my, please take a time machine back to the last century. If you can’t find H.G Wells to take you there, here is some advice: get your ass into gear and learn some 21st century skills. There are so many open jobs that are unfilled because we don’t have people to fill them. I’m going to give mine to people overseas because you know why? They can read, write and think better than most American applicants.”In the wake of this rant, I’ve had many people personally contact me for a job. I’m seriously intrigued by this and want to find out some answers.Why don’t people have 21st century skills?How should people go about getting them?What are the questions people have who want 21st century skills but don’t know how to go about getting them?I’m hoping this page can be a place for people to explore and learn.

      1. LE

        Why don’t people have 21st century skills?Learning is harder when you get older (and you know this obviously). When we had our first kid I found out later that our ‘nanny’ (not live in) who had come here from Russia used to be a Pediatrician over in the Soviet Union. At the time I was young and I remember thinking ‘wow why doesn’t she just become a doctor here?’. Was very naive of me. She was in her mid 50’s perhaps. Getting up to speed in our country and training is apparently not the easiest thing (not to mention the cost).Another example: The woman who cleans our house (owns a small cleaning service). She was a lawyer in Brazil before coming here. Now she is cleaning houses here. She is also not prime learning age (maybe early 40’s?). Once again, cost and ability to learn at an older age. Then you also have to get hired.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          Interesting points. However, both of those are professions where a degree and certification matter. Plenty of people our age (I don’t know your age actually) can learn if they want to. There are 21st Century skills that people can easily learn through online courses or through local community colleges if they want to.

          1. LE

            Well let’s go on this general hypothesis (because in your example you said ‘dying industries’ so I guess I assumed, perhaps incorrectly, ‘factory jobs in ‘small towns’.:a) People in factory jobs weren’t good academically. If they were they probably wouldn’t be doing blue collar jobs. Generally of course, always exceptions. Remember the kids who took shop at the local public high schools?b) Given ‘a’ it is not likely that they are, all the sudden, later in life, going to have an easy time learning and studying in order to be able to take up a new career that requires ‘skills’. ‘Skills’ requires either apprenticeship (which you won’t get generally) or ‘learning’ which is not your strong suit, certainly not later in life.For an exceptionally motivated person anything is possible. But most of these people out of jobs are ordinary. Meaning they took a somewhat easier path (or the path they felt comfortable with) in life given what their particular skill set and capabilities were. Now of course there might be some who ended up at the factory job because that is what their dad did as well.Sorry for the generalization but I’ve had conversations and interactions with many working class people over the years. They tend to be what I call ‘single function machines’ at least from my interactions. They are good at what they do but most (not all but most) don’t seem to be curious or want to go any further than just doing their job well. (And they seem happy by the way as well generally..)Here is an example from the wankfest ‘back in the day’ files (thanks for that expression @jasonpwright:disqus ). Back in the mid 80’s I wanted to get a CCTV system installed. So I flagged down a union Bell Telephone man and asked if could run and fish the wires for me. He said “I don’t know how to do that it’s cctv not pots lines”. I took a few minutes to convince him it was the same ‘fishing wires is fishing wires I will tell you what you don’t know’ [1] and he did a great job and I saved a great deal of money.[1] I would have done it myself but lacked the long drill and ladders and it just seemed easier to pay someone who knew how to professional do an install.

        2. Vendita Auto

          LE, From someone nearer 70 than 40 your comments ” Getting up to speed in our country” “She is also not prime learning age” “cost and ability to learn at an older age” are not so much naive as sad. I can be any timeline online, in hospital I would not tell my surgeon he is 2 old to operate.

        3. jason wright

          Harder but far from difficult. We just get comfortable and lazy. It creeps up on you quietly.

      2. Matt Zagaja

        I think this is actually an easy question to answer. You have at your disposal the most educated generation in the history of the world. The reason people do not have job skills is that to get job skills you have to be hired by an employer and the employer has to train you to have those skills. That’s how most of my friends got their job skills whether it was starting at a law firm or a defense contractor. The money for training people has to come from somewhere, but right now comes from nowhere in many places because clients and shareholders don’t want to pay for it. Therefore positions sit unfilled and/or employers are forced to up their wages to compete for people to fill these positions. So the other common case is employers are simply not offering wages that are realistic for the labor market for their position.

        1. Susan Rubinsky

          I think I will find out more through interacting with people on my page. I’m trying to learn from the bottom up from people who want to work but don’t necessarily have the skills.

      3. jason wright

        Can you give a couple or three examples of 21C job skills?

        1. Dan Moore

          Software developmentData analysisFront end web designCommunity managementLots of companies only want folks with x years of experience in these, but guess what, you can gain a large amount of experience for just your time.But, I have sympathy for older folks (I am rapidly becoming one of them!)–lots of these jobs that are entry level don’t have cost structures to support families, or require relocation to more expensive areas.

      4. PhilipSugar

        I don’t want to go political….but who are your electricians, your plumbers, your carpenters, your mechanics, your bricklayers, your drivers, your garbage people, your dish washers, your buss people, your waiters, your cooks……I can go on………this is why the election went this way.You do not survive without these people.

      5. PhilipSugar

        You show a total and complete distain for these people. They are sickened by you. They know that if they don’t come fix your heat in the middle of the night you freeze, they know if they don’t fix that leak your house floods, they know if they don’t go out in the middle of the night in a terrible storm and go twenty feet in the air and risk their lives with high power lines, you don’t have power. Your car has a problem…..well that is a person in your head that doesn’t have 21 century skills. Hell, I’m sure you are pissed if internet service is out.

    3. LE

      are happy to trade control and earnings for securityThis is specific for jobs that are in high demand now and specifically where demand exceeds supply. To repeat: Now. Doesn’t mean in 5 years, or if some bubble bursts, that those positions will continue to have any type of ‘security’.

      1. Susan Rubinsky

        I am seeing a general lack of ability to interact with user interfaces, inability to write coherent sentences, basic math, etc. This goes beyond specific jobs.

      2. Dan Moore

        I heard a quote once: the only difference between an employee and a contractor is that the former has the illusion of job security.I will say that Lin my experience there are two things that I have found employers to look for: skills to do the job and ability to get the job done (ability to make initiative and ownership). Once you are an employee, if you are good, you may be retained or retrained because of the second attribute (better the devil you know).

    4. Chimpwithcans

      Perhaps the counter argument is to point to the relatively limited security of the old model. I don’t know much about managing workforces, but I know big firms can fire at will, and that the freedom and control i have gianed from being my own boss is about a million times more satisfying than any pension scheme or medical aid package I was given in the corporate world. My experience may not be the norm though.

    5. jason wright

      The corporation is the modern castle and fortress. Inside is secure. In the 2040 future outside may be secure if the inside ceases to exist (history repeating itself yet again).

      1. Dan Moore

        Ah, the prescience of “Snow Crash”. Great book by the way.

        1. jason wright

          I’ll seek it out.

          1. Dan Moore

            It’s a bit cheesy in parts, but the opening chapter is, in my opinion, the best first chapter of a science fiction book ever. Let me know how you like it.

    6. fredwilson

      Those engineers might have a Stack profile and a reputation. That’s their signpost.

      1. Dan Moore

        Fair point. Perhaps I mistook “being your own enterprise” as “running your own company, even if it is a one person show”. I absolutely agree that everyone should be thinking about ways to stand out (blogging, SO, etc, etc) so that one can’t be thought of as a “lump of labor”. Which is not a fun place to be.

        1. Drew Meyers

          I don’t think blogging, social media, etc is for everyone. The time/effort required to break through the noise is incredibly high, and there are far better uses of many people’s time than trying.

    7. CJ

      >for security.Unfortunately there is no such thing any longer.

    8. Drew Meyers

      I agree with you. I don’t think everyone wants to be their own enterprise. Maybe some of the friction/BS associated with owning/running a business will go away, and convince more people to go down that path. But even so, I think there will always be a model to support people who value security and willing to take the wage hit to get it.

  18. Matt Zagaja

    I’m going to disagree on the second point a little. I think many workers don’t know what they want from work, or are largely indifferent to what they do as long as it is well compensated and has appropriate life flexibility. They also want to feel like they are advancing in their careers through pay and title bumps. A structured onramp provided by an employer is going to be much more beneficial for both sides than some amorphous marketplace.

  19. pointsnfigures

    I agree with that and put my money where my mouth was. See,, and

  20. Jan Schultink

    It scares me to think how old I am going to be in 2040…

    1. jason wright

      You can pack in a lot in 24 years. Get packing 🙂

    2. fredwilson

      I will be 79

  21. jason wright

    A question please.Does Peter Thiel have a blog? I can’t find.

  22. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:Isn’t there already a space for this?There apparently is room for more or the need hasn’t been fulfilled. The marketplace will decide if there is a need or VC, angels, etc will put enough funding promote the interest.

  23. creative group

    CONTRIBUTORS:OFF TOPIC ALERT……A troll admitting he is responsible for the fake news that were talking points shared on social media and by contributors on this site.https://www.washingtonpost….

  24. cavepainting

    I for one believe that there is a real opportunity for solutions that help a worker create his or her signpost where they have control and agency. In contrast to linkedin which solves for the recruiter and the enterprise salesperson, we need a solution that solves for the worker and his needs.

  25. Marc-Oliver

    I believe, John is under the impression that every worker is a skilled worker. The numbers show a different truth. Most workers are unskilled or skilled, but in a job situation that requires no skills and nor talent. I wonder if those might want to be their own enterprise?”Good morning Sir, I am the new enterprise XYZ and I open doors for rich people, just in front of the TRUMP tower.” Feel free to take over the world. At night, I clean hospitals, just so I can feed my kid. By the way – my husband left me, because he created a bigger ME-Enterprise and is now to busy to take care of family. I guess – family is outdated and overrated these days. … Anyways – have a nice day, Sir.”

  26. Scott Lancet

    Thanks for sharing Fred, loved the article too. I was just at a conference with a bunch of field service execs earlier this week. It was really interesting seeing how they reacted to our (work market’s) model. They operated for such a long time under the assumption their veteran field staff would be happy to pass on their knowledge and the millennial workforce would line up to work somewhere for 20 years. Two critical mistakes, now they are scrambling.The idea of leveraging a liquid workforce resonated with them though, maybe as bail out for them, or maybe as a natural evolution to their antiquated vision of a modern labor model. Either way, there is a giant opportunity to solve for a problem that they should’ve been addressing 5-10 years ago!

  27. John

    Interesting vision. I wonder if the platform takes into account sharing equity with employees and stock options. Or will this type of freelance work not rise to the level of being worthy of that type of compensation? Makes for an interesting question since many are fine to trade hours for dollars and this works well, but many work extra hard for equity (even if it’s often useless). I’ll be interested to see how this plays out on a platform like this.

  28. Jess Bachman

    Agreed, as we atomize the unit of work, we also atomize the collective power of the workers. The benefits of a gig economy are very lopsided towards the “employer”.

  29. fredwilson

    I don’t think so. They could easily be tilted in favor of the worker especially if we have a UBI to give workers walk away power

  30. Jess Bachman

    I’d like to think so, but thats a HUGE ‘IF’ that could be a decade away, or two decades if we are Trump in 2020 aswell.