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What Would You Do?

We have a lot of constructive criticisms and complaints about Upwork; I know I do!


If you were CEO of Upwork for a day and could change any part of Upwork's business (i.e., platform, staff, operations, advertising/marketing, etc.), what would you change? (You have all power for one day, but you can only make one change.)

(Here are a few suggestions, but please feel free to recommend your own.)


1. Do whatever it takes to stop spam, fake/scam jobs, bots, and other fake accounts on the platform.

2. Eliminate the proposal Boosting feature.

3. Spend more money on strategic advertising/marketing to attract more high-quality clients.

4. Roll back the new fee structure or create a new fee structure. (How would a new fee structure look?)

5. Bring back the Upwork Readiness Test and make it even tougher to gain entrance to the platform.

6. Remove underperforming freelancers from the platform. (Based on what criteria?)

7. Add more perks/features for Top-Rated, Top-Rated Plus, and Expert-Vetted freelancers. (What types of perks?)

8. Spend more money on research and development.

9. Reduce bonuses/incentives for Upwork's top executives and hire more Technical and Support staff.

10. Designate myself as the permanent CEO. 😂

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Do whatever it takes to stop spam,fake/scam jobs bots,and other fake accounts on the platform. 

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I think a lot of folks--freelancers and clients--would choose this!

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10. Designate myself as the permanent CEO. 😂

Of course!


This is like being granted three wishes and one of your wishes is to have an infinite number of wishes! 😂

Community Member

You got my vote.

Community Member

Aw, Clark, no fair—you're only allowing one change. I have a list of my own six-to-ten recommendations for the CEO that I've been mentioning here and there for a few months, but if I must play by the rules and choose just one that could make the broadest impact across all the issues that I spy with my branding-pro eye...


Cull lowest quality freelancers, so employers get a better experience. That seems hard but doing the hard work is what the CEO's here for—and it would have ripple effects over several of the most stubborn problems with the site.


Also, #10. Naturally. How else can I get to the others on my list?

Community Member

You might be right (re: "...that could make the broadest impact across all the issues...")


Most of the other changes will likely only help freelancers, clients or both for a little while.

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To keep it interesting, I will respond to your list which will probably get more interactions.


1. Agreed - I have volunteered to help the software engineers for free since this is a few days fix for a programmer.

2. Probably not a good idea because this is part of the corporate revenue stream.

3. The marketing budget was cut 94% beginning this Summer. Yes be strategic with the remaining 6%.

4. If anything, fees could get increased by January 2024 from 10% to 12% so the company is profitable.

5. Anything to reduce the number of freelancers on the site.

6. Anything to reduce the number of freelancers on the site.

7. Top-Rated and Top-Rated Plus are too easy to obtain. Yes more Expert-Vetted perks.

8. Not likely due to the massive corporate budget cuts in 2023. Probably the opposite.

9. Not likely due to a 15% staff reduction effective in this second quarter. Use more generative AI to cut costs.

10. I worked at that level as an Financial Analyst for JPM - I would settle as a Business Strategist to the Executive team. The company would have quick decisive impactful decision making that makes the company profitable by 2024.



Very interesting!


I think the culling of low-performing, low-quality freelancers is getting traction here.


I'm interested in #10 though. It seems to me that Upwork already employs Business Strategists who work closely with the C-suiters. But I wonder how much "pull" or influence they have? Meaning, as an executive, I choose to accept or completely ignore the Business Strategist's advice, no?



Most Business Strategists come from very specific Universities, with MBAs, and worked for the big Consulting firms. I got in with this group of people because of my unique education and vocational background working directly as the technology financial analyst for JPMorgan Chase for one of their Vice Chairman. Most of my peers were Ivy League MBAs with banking and consulting.


Attending the same Ivy Universities and obtaining an MBA with the same work background, frequently blinds consultants to group think. That is part of what is occuring on the site. Group think is less risky for everyone involved, however may or may not create the BEST results.

Yes. They say group think discourages creativity and I think it has been evident.

William—your #10—I have a CTO and an ad guy on the "outside" that if I were crowned king of the forest, I'd bring in with me... but I've often thought, from the forums, that we could really come up with a great advisory board of 8 to 10 folks who each come at the issue from their own direction. A one-week no-holds-barred conference with the essential folks at UW, and we'd have a year of plans that would make some serious impact. People who work for themselves, as we all do, know how to make much, with little, out of a muddle.


(Easy for me to say from the outside, but I still believe it!)

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I've heard this idea tossed around the forums for a long time, and I think I like it.


Upwork is public, but I'm wondering if a public or a private company would be more inclined to construct an advisory board consisting of 8 to 10 users, stakeholders, citizens, etc. My guess is, a private company would never do this, but it should be heavily considered by a public brand. It shows transparency, and announces to stockholders (and stakeholders) that you are willing to listen to and consider their concerns.


And maybe Upwork uses these forums as a "pseudo" advisory board? 🤔 I doubt they would ever admit it, but haven't we seen them make slight changes to features after freelancers/clients made suggestions or complaints? (I know this isn't a true advisory board analogy, but any semblence of influence by freelancers/clients speaks to the power of suggestion. The Moderators always say: "We will pass your feedback on to the team for review," but we never know if this happens.)

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>>My guess is, a private company would never do this


It's actually a time-honored business-planning tip, so I expect at least some do... though longstanding wisdom like that is darned easy for businesses of any size to ignore.  o.O



>>And maybe Upwork uses these forums as a "pseudo" advisory board?


I certainly *hope* they do. I charge a boatload of money to get together .001% of the stakeholder knowledge they could gain just from having the mods send a few key links to the top-level folks once a week. And considering that they do not *have* to run this forum at all (they could just let everyone email CS with problems, and forget the rest of it)— I also *suspect* they do... or at least that once upon a time, they intended to.


And heck, I've done a call with UW staff in the past, and was scheduled to have a call with Hayden last fall, based at least a little on things I've written here, so I do believe they find value in the forums beyond letting us let off steam. (The call was cancelled at the last second and not re-scheduled, but the intent was there—get back to me, Hayden! and let's do this no-holds-barred conference too.)

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That would have been an interesting phone call!

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Clark S wrote:

That would have been an interesting phone call!

So true.


The funny thing is, it would have been a 180° different call back then. The cancellation was so last-second that I already had my notes ready-to-go... to keep the call to a reasonable length, not a thing on that list would be on my list today.


The platform has revealed WAY bigger fish to fry in the last 6–8 months, as a whole bunch of us in the forums probably agree.    o.O

Community Member

Much bigger fish--like the size of a whale with the ferocity of a piranha! 😂

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Hi Clark.  I like most of your ideas (except possibly the last one).  One feature of multi-national freelancers and clients is the income disparity.  It simply makes sense for a client in a wealthy country to hire cheap labour from elsewhere.  Its never going to be different and it happens in every industry bar those that require specific local knowledge.  


I would say all of Upwork's attempts to create a neutral freelancing platform hit against this.  So for example, a freelancer in New York can afford to spend 100 connects to apply for a job but might not get it since the income expectations are likely too high measured against someone in a lower income location.  The more Upwork tries to modify their rules, the worse it appears to get.   Boosting is their latest calamity.


I don't have a solution.  I can simply highlight it as an observation.  The only true suggestion I can make is to begin a major cull - get rid of freelancers who underperform and force clients to be more transparent before setting up a job.  Also, restoring connects if a job expires would go a long way to making freelancers feel valued.



A major decrease in the number of underperforming and/or low-quality freelancers is highly attractive. And I totally forgot about client transparency; a lot of freelancers would like more information about the client's they interact with.


Also, a lot of freelancers are concerned about low barrier to entry for clients. It's easy for clients to setup an account and post jobs. So easy, in fact, that bots can automate the process.

Community Member

Hi Clark. It's an informative question. And the (5 Bring back the Upwork Readiness Test and make it even tougher to gain entrance to the platform) is new for me. But I think it's more interesting. If you please, how this test was.

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Many of us took the Upwork Readiness Test long ago, so I can't remember how challenging or easy it was. I don't recall it being difficult though.


Upwork Readiness Test Discontinued

It was not hard at all. The problem was, most people would look up the answers only, which resulted in perfect and near perfect scores all the time.

Community Member

Oh, now From the link (Mike's article), it became understood what happened with the test. Thank you.

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I took [another site's] entrance test a month or so ago... it was MUCH harder than Upwork's was, if I remember correctly. I was really impressed, because I thought that [other site] was supposedly bottom-feeding all along... y'know, like this one is now. I studied English and linguistics, intending to be a teacher of English, and I speak it natively—and it still claimed I got a couple of English-language questions wrong.


Of course they asked for feedback afterward and I told 'em those questions actually had two right answers, including mine... but still.   🙂


I think Upwork's required you to understand the website, didn't it? (Or maybe I just read some tutorial articles at the same time. Can't remember any more.) Not my top priority but oh, how needed!!

Community Member

Yep. Upwork's Readiness test pushed you through a few lessons that covered website usage (i.e., how to make your profile 100%, how to create a saved search, click this button for support, etc.). Basically, it was the earlier versions of the lessons you see now in Academy courses, learning paths, and videos.

Community Member

The Boosting feature is a very close second, but I think #5. Bring back the Upwork Readiness Test and make it even tougher to gain entrance to the platform, or anything to reduce the number of low-skilled, low-quality freelancers is my choice as well.


I would probably call a Monday meeting at 8:00am and give a speech:


Good morning Upwork staff! I am so proud to be at the helm of such an extraordinary organization. I want to thank every Upwork employee for your unwavering dedication and support, and your expertise in helping to build, operate, and manage the world’s largest marketplace for connecting businesses with independent freelancers across the globe. There is no way we can be successful without you. And, I think I speak for the entire Upwork leadership team when I say, “Thank you!”

The first order of business for my only day as CEO, is to reveal the one (1) decision I'm allowed to make today.

I'm not sure which team of genius Upwork Product Developers, General Managers, or Marketing Coordinators decided to allow anybody and everybody to join the platform without limitations, but I swear to you—if you don’t work together to completely dismantle this absurdity and re-introduce the Readiness Test with the strictest requirements by the end of the workday--I will personally see to it that each of your lives is filled with endless telemarketing calls, and a year’s supply of worthless Zoom meetings every Saturday morning!

Let's make it happen, people!!

The only problem I see with this?  Do we actually know if UpWork has the expertise to properly vet freelancers?


Seeing how poorly the "expert vetted" programme is with UpWork not having the required skills to do the vetting, how would you trust them with this even if it is simpler?


If you chose this option, you should be putting structures in place to get expert vetted to actually mean something, look at the amazing community of freelancers that is here that have proven their worth in the field, hire them and work with them to set up a vetting process the readiness test for new freelancers and for expert vetted.


Use the power of the community to your advantage and compensate them for making your platform and marketplace better.  UpWork has 4m freelancers and only 850 employees ... it doesn't take a genius to figure out where a ready pool of expertise is available ... or maybe it does.

That's the problem with being CEO for a day and having only one decision to make. That single decision will be reckless because it doesn't consider how it will impact a multitude of other business functions (i.e., staff, operations, finance, marketing, research, programs, etc.)


Also, I think we are looking at two different forms of vetting: 1) Initial entry vetting, and 2) Expert vetting.


I think most folks would love to see a basic readiness test -- similar to the old Upwork Readiness Test -- that grants entry after progressing through Upwork's Courses and Learning Paths. There are millions of freelancers on Upwork who fail because they don't know how to use the platform correctly and don't take the time to learn. Upwork could likely rid its platform of 500K+ freelancers who won't or can't move past this test.


Then, as you suggest, Upwork could setup a targeted vetting process for each major skill category to identify experts. And, I agree that the expert readiness test or vetting approach should be a peer-to-peer process, especially if Upwork doesn't have the internal manpower for it. If you are a blockchain expert, guess who designs your readiness test--Upwork's existing freelancers who are blockchain experts.


By the way, Upwork recently announced in its 2023 1st Quarter Shareholder letter that they made moves to streamline operations, which included a workforce reduction. They reduced the employee workforce by 137 jobs (approximately 15% of full-time employees), and reduced their contractor staff as well. This means, they went from 913 full-time employees down to approximately 776 full-time employees. And, the last I remember reading somewhere, they had about 1500+ independent contractors who provide a variety of services, so I'm guessing that number is lower too.

Community Member

I appreciate your willingness to offer constructive criticism and suggestions for Upwork. As a CEO, I would focus on enhancing the platform's user experience by improving the search algorithm to better match freelancers with clients. This would ultimately result in more successful projects and greater satisfaction for both parties.



Yes--search algorithm improvements would be the one decision a lot of people would make!


The biggest problem I see with Upwork's matching algorithm is--like most multi-faceted programs--it is large and complex, and ingests an enormous amount of data. This amount of ingestion often leads to indigestion 🤣,  which is mainly due to volume, and the uncertainties inherent to the process of matching freelancers to client's jobs.


In fact, I think Upwork's best-match algorithms have some similarties to the search giant's search engine algorithms. It's a machine-learning algorithm, so you can tweak, optimize, rewrite, and re-code all you want, but when you're ingesting data on millions of completed projects, and tens of millions job postings and freelancer profiles, the uncertainties can lead to unpredictability. Meaning, even Upwork doesn't always know why its best-match algorithm makes the sorting and placement decisions it makes.


But I'm just speculating based on experience with algorithms; Upwork might be pulling every string and completely manipulating every bit of best-match results. We will never know!

Community Member

I would definitely create a meaningful readiness test, with random questions drawn from an bank, required before profile approval.  That would eliminate so much hassle for the forum and for customer service, cut way down on the number of scam victims and fake profiles, and generally improve Upwork (and, I suspect, its bottom line) immensely.


Get rid of boosting which I find incredibly dumb and borderline offensive.


Better perks TR and TR+.  I don't care about expert vetted because it isn't even available in my field.


And maybe change the Upwork staff make-up to more employees.  It's my belief that many of those in decision-influencing positions are freelancers who really don't have a dog in the hunt.  Employees take ownership.  Freelancers do not.

Sounds like another vote for a more stringent readiness test!

Community Member

Thank you, this is a great thread to have! I would need more time to think through some of the solutions, but I agree with the removal of spam and the Boost feature. I was very put off when it was introduced.

Removing spam and Boosting are high on many freelancer's wish lists, and some client's lists too! Both are definitely high on my list of things I'd like to see disappear.


Upwork's problem in removing spam/scams/bots might be similar to most online platforms. It takes resources (i.e., tools, people, etc.) to continually fight and reduce the amount of spam/scams/bots. Multi-million dollar corporations will often throw resources at anything they choose to prioritize, but not turning a profit and recent workforce reductions tells me it's not their biggest priority.


The problem with eliminating the Boosting feature is that monies are removed from Upwork's coffers. The question Upwork probably asks itself, is: "Are the revenues being generated from Boosting more important than the negative impact Boosting might have on freelancers, clients, and the overall marketplace?"


Boosting makes money, but at what long-term costs? If Boosting results in a worse marketplace with poorer client experiences, the costs will be high.

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