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oDesk CEO Gary Swart Fireside Chat: Video & Top Takeaways

Last night Startups Uncensored featured the king of online workplaces, Gary Swart, CEO of oDesk. oDesk is the largest online workplace in the world, and enjoys almost twice the market share of it’s next-largest competitor. With over 3 million freelancers and 1.5 million jobs posted a year, they show no signs of slowing.

So what are Swart’s secrets? When he joined oDesk they were questioning their direction and needed a leader to help them charge forward. How did he lead oDesk to the success it has become today?

To watch the full event, check out the video above. To get the highlights of Swart’s top tips, take-aways and stories from the night, read on...

On his career:

  • He was asked to become the third employee at Netflix, and turned them down. Ouch—I guess we all make mistakes!
  • “When I was trying to pitch a product called Intellibank, I ended up pitching to like 20 different VCs for funding, and it was a very humbling experience. I also learned a lot about pitching. Intellibank’s biggest problem was that we didn’t have a crisp, narrow focus. A lot of startups try to be too big, too early. Don’t try to jump from point A to point F, show investors how you will get from point A to point B, and then maybe to point C and D.”
  • “When I started at oDesk, half the company wanted to move in one direction, and half the company wanted to move in the other. I realized that in every company, you need clarity in your destination, a plan for getting there and everyone needs to know their responsibility to help you get there. If you’re not on board with the vision, then get off the bus.”

On hiring:

  • “When hiring, I look at personal characteristics before everything, because personal characteristics drive everything. If someone has genuine ambition and excitement, that will fuel everything else.”
  • “You can teach a chicken to climb a tree, but you might as well get a squirrel in the first place.”
  • "When interviewing, I like to ask 'Are you more of an individual contributor, or a team player?' The answer isn’t as important as the dialogue that will come out of it."

On management:

  • All employees have four motivations in a job: 1) Have an impact 2) Balance 3) Growth & Development 4) Financial. They all care about these things in different degrees, and at different points of their careers.
  • “I have a regular employee survey, and measure my success as a CEO by whether or not the survey results are moving in the right direction. Our growth is dependent on whether we’re fostering an environment conducive to employee success."

Note: Some quotes have been shortened or summarized for the purpose of clarity.

Article by Rochelle Bailis

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