The US and EU tend to be seen as the most important markets for freelancing. And, data support it. Global studies point out that the US accounts for almost half the total revenue ($1.5 T) generated by freelancing platforms, and the EU adds an additional 25%. While only 11% of freelancers are Australia and Asia based, the freelance revolution is rapidly expanding in ASEAN. And, as the revolution grows, Australia and Asia are obvious markets. Many of the large global platforms operate in Australia and are doing well. But, in my writing for Forbes I’ve also described a number of home-grown Australian platforms that are doing well, for example, Weploy and Expert360. And, I continue to learn about interesting startups that are making waves. Here’s another.
Meet Mash. Three partners from Melbourne Australia – Tash Menon, Amy Williams, and Sarah Churchlow – have been building what someone of my generation would call “Mighty Mouse,” a small but regionally powerful alternative to traditional advertising agencies and marketing consultancies. Mighty Mouse, for those who don’t follow early TV, was small in size (come on, he’s a mouse) but large in strength and stature.
Mash is a diminutive platform in total numbers of freelancers, but not impact or capability; in fact, it’s fairly unique in the seniority and experience of its members or “Mashers”. Most have a decade or more years of experience in advertising, marketing or marketing communications, have worked in one or more top firm, and collectively bring expertise in four key areas:
· Marketing communication/PR
I was particularly interested in how Mash operates and how it has quickly grown a reputation that belies the youthfulness of its founders and the comparatively small size of its platform membership. And, was excited to learn that two innovations are front and center.
First, Mash begins each project with the assignment of a freelance CMO (or “Mash manager”) to helm the project and to provide leadership to the client.
Second, Mash supports the freelance CMO with a curated team of freelancers from the platform.
For example, Breitling, a premium global watch company needed help launching its first campaign in SE Asia to attract female customers. The challenge: Breitling was traditionally a men’s watch (big, chunky, heavy) and the company’s culture and communication had grown around that tradition. Mash was able to provide a “C” level advertising executive – expert and female – who was able to design a campaign that was focused on affluent potential clients (“well-heeled women). She was supported by a team of “Mashers” that included a brand strategist, creative director, junior art director, and production lead and are able to deliver the project in 8 weeks from start to launch in Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.
Mash is an example of the world wide shift from a corporate dependence on expensive, traditional agencies to an increasing reliance on freelance platforms in the marketing, marketing tech, and independent management consulting spaces. It is by no means alone. For example, YunoJuno, MeasureMatch, and Hoxby are well-known in the UK, We Are Rosie is a success in the US, and there are a growing number of new players in this space like Vrootok in Macedonia. Despite its young life, to my knowledge, Mash is among the trending innovators in this space in SE Asia.
What’s the future of Mash and similar platforms? Tash, Amy and Sarah were clear about their ambitions: to be a global player. And, they are making good progress. A year ago, as Tash put it, “We weren’t seen as an alternative to agencies.” But in the last couple of years the company has enjoyed year over year growth above 50%, and has seen its business mix shift to where less than 35% of their business is SMB; the remainder, and the growth, comes from its work with larger corporates.
The big client categories for Mash: Fintech, Luxury Fashion, Finance, Tourism, Property and Food and Beverage.
What’s holding back growth? First and foremost, Amy pointed out, is the emphasis on top talent and their cultural fit. Mash’s founders see Mash as more as a community of experts than a typical marketplace. Sarah opined: “We want to be consistently great, not big for its own sake. Whenever we find an exceptional individual, they are welcome. But it’s not about getting to 1000 Mashers, it’s about the best.” That philosophy has led to a culture of collaboration and the decision to hire a community manager who working closely with individual platform members and helps in curating teams.
While collaboration is key, Mash also understands the importance of individual freelancers’ brand and reputation and ensures that Mashers are credited publicly and individually for their work. Moreover, the platform is increasing its efforts to support platform members through ongoing webinars and educational offerings.
Community building is one of three important areas of growth investment for Mash. Community is the first growth driver for Mash, and contributes in two distinct ways. First, community activities help to build Masher relationships as well as attract top Mashers, and a foundation of trust is so critical to effective teams and teamwork. As well, informal teams have formed as a result, and that makes it possible to “hunt in packs” and share opportunities.
A second is the decision to grow through “Ambassadors”. A US Ambassador has been appointed as well as one in APAC, and Mash plans to appoint other Ambassadors in more major markets as the company expands.
But, as Mash grows, a third decision was essential: how to keep costs down, and efficiently manage their full-time headcount. That’s required a major investment in digitizing the service model. To keep the team lean, and cost efficiently grow and administer the platform, Mash is making a significant investment in platform tech capability.
Thought leader John Winsor recently opined, “the agency model is dead.” Well, it may not be dead, but it’s certainly facing tougher competition from freelance platforms like Mash. I’m seeing a new class of exciting and innovative alternatives to the traditional agencies, and as new entrants like Mash, the Look After Group, PR Cavalry, White Panda, Rise and others come into being we can expect continued innovation.
Viva la revolution!
By: Jon Younger