Community is THE ANSWER w/ WnotW Founder, Justin Gignac
For those who think gig economy platforms like Upwork and Fiverr are a race to the bottom for freelance wages, then this podcast is for you.
PODCAST TRANSCRIPTION sponsored by:
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Announcer: Hide your kids, lock the doors, you're listening to HR's most dangerous podcast. Chad Sowash and Joel Cheesman are here to punch the recruiting industry right where it hurts. Complete with breaking news, flash opinion, and loads of snark. Buckle up boys and girls. It's time for the Chad and Cheese podcast.
Joel: Hey guys, what's up? We are recording live from Branff, Alberta Canada-
Chad: It's Banff, dumb ass.
Joel: The Gathering #insidetheglass.
Chad: Inside the glass.
Joel: Yes, this is Joel Cheesman-
Chad: Chad Sowash.
Joel: I'm accompanied by Chad Sowash.
Joel: Special guest today, and all I really have to say is the creator of Elf Yourself. I think that's pretty much the beginning and end of the podcast.
Chad: Yeah, that's...and we're done.
Justin: I'm sorry.
Joel: Let's get into the boring stuff. Justin Gignac, G-Unit as his friends call him, co-founder of Working Not Working, a Brooklynite, which I refuse to believe because you're way too nice to be a Brooklynite New Yorker.
Chad: He's a sweetheart, he really is.
Joel: He's a total-
Justin: He's very nice.
Joel: Yeah, a total sweetheart.
Justin: [crosstalk 00:02:56] You turn the mic on [crosstalk 00:02:57]
Joel: Fantastic beard, unfortunately for our listeners-
Chad: He's got a great hair cut too.
Joel: Don't know- Yeah-
Chad: He has a great hair cut.
Joel: Yeah, it's like if Chad and I had a baby, to put my beard on his head and that's kind of Justin's look.
Justin: Thanks guys.
Joel: Justin, welcome to the show. Give us sort of the 140 character or less introduction about you.
Justin: My background is art director and creative director in advertising, and about seven years ago my co-founder Adam and I started Working Not Working, it's a global community of the best creatives in the universe.
Joel: That's awesome.
Chad: Wow! Working Not Working. So, how did you come up with that name?
Justin: Back in the day when we'd freelance in New York the recruiters would be pretty old school and they'd be like "Hey Justin, you working or you not working?", and so we were like well shit that's pretty appropriate let's just go with that.
Joel: And you have an interesting story of how you let recruiters know you're open for work or not, tell our listeners about that.
Justin: So I had been freelancing around New York for about three or four years, and finding a freelance gig was a pain in the ass. You'd call and email every single person you knew in the industry, never have a gig for you, wait two weeks, finally get booked and then five more people would call me and I couldn't take the jobs. So I figured I'd just put a motel vacancy sign on my portfolio site, and so I call it the Justin Gignac Freelance Status Apparatus. It was a giant blinking neon sign that said Justin's working, available or available soon.
Chad: Dude, that is fucking genius.
Justin: Thanks, and I'm obnoxious so I had an over utilization of technology, so I had a Facebook group, a Twitter feed, a text alert, and iPhone app, and a mailing list to follow my availability so however you wanted to stalk me. And I ended up with forty recruiters from different ad agencies around the country following me. Every time I flipped my status to available I get two or three job offers within a day. Any jobs I couldn't take I would email to my art director friends and it got to the point that recruiter's were like "I see by your little sign that you're working are any of your friends available?" And I was like oh shit, I'm a rep.
Joel: I hope some students are out there listening at this sort of creativity for creative jobs. I teased our audience at the beginning but tell us the Elf Yourself story.
Justin: So, I had been working at various ad agencies around New York and I was the first creative hire at this small four person shop called Toy. And we got a brief from Office Max to get people to- You guys know what Office Max is?
Chad: Oh yeah.
Justin: Get people to do their holiday shopping at Office Max, which is stupid because it's an office supply store, why would anyone wanna go holiday shopping there? And so we had a very small budget, only a couple hundred thousand dollars maybe enough to do one commercial, and we didn't really think that would make the big impact.
Justin: So we ended up doing twenty holiday themed websites that were gifts for office workers everywhere all linked by the little Office Max tab and you can go to any of 'em. So there were ones like, here was roastaturkey.com where you could roast a turkey in real time. There was Mistletoe in an Elevator where strangers seemed like strangers came on and started making out and freaking out other strangers that were in the elevator. And the one that took off was Elf Yourself, which honestly we had no idea what was gonna take off, and it went nuts. It was up for five weeks and it got thirty-six million visits. At one point there were eight elves being created every second. The second year they put it up it was up for six weeks and it got a hundred and ninety-three million visits. We had no idea what kind of elf fetish we were unlocking. And so we ended up putting it out there and it's still going, they gave it to JibJab and then it got crazy after that.
Joel: So they literally sold the idea to JibJab? Or Office Max sold the rights to it?
Justin: No I think they partnered with JibJab and they figured out ways to monetize it-
Joel: They fucked you basically, go ahead and say it.
Justin: Well I was only there for about a couple months after the first one launched so, and then I went freelance so it was fine.
Chad: You've gotta start the conversation with that, "So Justin what have you done?" 'Well, I don't know if you knew this little thing-'[crosstalk 00:06:31]
Joel: [crosstalk 00:06:31] that would be a great pick up line for chicks
Justin: It's great for my dating life, yeah. Although, I spoke at a conference in Omaha to a bunch of students and one of the students- this was on Monday- she's like "Oh my God, my family's gonna be so excited that I met someone that made Elf Yourself 'cause when I was six years old we made elves of our family." And I just went oh my God, I'm so old. When you were six years old. I'm like, oh yeah that was like 13 years ago, it's crazy.
Chad: So let's get back into Working Not Working, I'm sure you don't wanna talk about that at all. So, a platform that is focused on people like you, and I mean this is really the virtual sign that you're flipping on and flipping off, right? I mean, it was that idea and you're just trying to take it to scale.
Justin: Yeah, my co-founder Adam Tompkins and I- he was working one his own start up at the time, trying to find freelance developers, it was impossible- and we were talking and we were like well if that sign could work for me it could probably work for everybody. So, we built the site and creators make a profile with their current availability really big at the top of their profile, some examples of their work, and then companies go on and follow their favorite creatives and get notified when they are available for projects. So, really simple, they can flip, get your real time availability, they jump to the top of your dashboard as soon as they update and then you get pinged when your favorite people are available for gigs.
Chad: So fucking smart.
Chad: How many people?
Justin: So we're at 65 thousand creatives now around the world.
Joel: Now, when I first heard about the idea- and I didn't know about you honestly-
Justin: That's okay.
Joel: But I'm not a creative type so I shouldn't have known about you-
Chad: Not at all.
Joel: But my first thought was why don't they just join Upwork or Fiverr? I mean there's plenty of designers there. And you have a very interesting business model, tell us about that.
Justin: Well I think for us the curation was really important to start, and so only about ten to fifteen percent of people that are on the site get a kind of vetted member status that are approved by our membership board. So that was really important, and also to- we wanted to give people access. So we only charge companies a couple hundred dollars a month, or a couple grand a year, to have access to all of the talent and the platform. And that goes and really democratizes it and gives people opportunity.
Justin: And so, a lot of those other sites are driving the cost of freelance down. So you go and find someone and it's a logo design to the lowest bidder for five bucks. We have the best creatives in the world that are doing the Instagram logo and the Superbowl commercials and all that, and I think what's happened for them now is they're getting more opportunities because your opportunities only used to be however big your Rolodex was and now they're getting jobs at agencies and brands around the world. And so they're more in demand and are able to increase their rates and really be more in control of their own careers.
Joel: So we had Josh Wright, Chief Economist at iCIMS on the show not too long ago, and we talked about sort of the downward push of salaries and what people could charge for their services, and I love your business model in that you actually curate and vet your people so you're actually increasing the amount of money that these folks are getting for the work that they do.
Justin: Yeah and it's also giving them a kind of a stamp of approval which some of our clients have said they won't hire anybody unless they have a Working Not Working member profile. Which feels really good to us that we've been able to put that out in the world and it also created a really big sense of community within our members, and for me we've always described it as we built a platform and network for our friends. Our friends who are creative, and our friends who hire creatives. So, it's important to us to treat people how we would treat our friends, and also talk to people how we would talk to our friends. So we call people out and we say like, when they apply for a job, we're like "Make sure you're actually qualified and interested or else you'll look dumb." And we have a verification to make sure that they know make sure you're actually into this 'cause sometimes you've gotta protect people from themselves, and so yeah it's important.
Chad: It's a trust thing though too, right?
Justin: Yeah, it's a trust- yeah.
Chad: 'Cause you've got these huge brands that are coming in and they're looking for individuals who are qualified and if you have a bunch of unqualified individuals applying then it's like, we just have the same issue. [crosstalk 00:10:21] You really don't-
Justin: Yeah, well we know then the recruiting space it's all about efficiency and you throw a job up and you get a hundred people applying, that's overwhelming, never mind some other platforms you get five thousand. And so for us it's important that everyone that's applying is actually really good and it's gonna save you a lot of time because we're doing the curation for you and you're getting the best people applying to your opportunities.
Joel: You had an interesting story as we were talking offline about sort of the human element of working by yourself, or freelancing, and how that human connection- and I would think that creative people in general are people people. They like to get out, express interest, and bounce ideas around- so you have kind of an interesting take on that and maybe a solution around that.
Justin: I didn't even realize until I was doing it and working from home, freelance can be really lonely. Especially if you're working on your own, or you're bouncing from agency to agency or company to company, it's pretty nomadic and lonely. I had seen at a conference recently that the World Health Organization said the leading cause of ill health and disability in the world is depression. And I feel like the creative industry probably is more susceptible to that than others. And so, for us it's really important to bring people together in real life so they're not feeling as alone. So we started doing- the first year we did the first annual freelancer holiday party, 'cause freelancers never get invited to holiday parties. They're always in the windows outside, fogging 'em up, watching people getting gropey on the dance floor. And so we started doing that-
Chad: I want open bar, I want open bar.
Justin: And we started doing Drinking Not Drinking so it's kind of a quarterly happy hour in different cities, and I also started doing a creative support group last year. I call it Talking Not Talking, and we set up about thirty to forty chairs in a circle and have a theme whether it's courage, or letting go, or creative insecurity, and just start talking about this stuff because I think it's really easy for people to put on like they have it all figured out, and once you realize that nobody actually does you feel a lot better about your own journey. And I think especially as a freelancer independent you wanna put on that you got it, and you know everything, and you're successful, and I'm hustling, I'm hustling, I'm killing it. And that's hard to keep up because most of the time that's just bullshit. And so I think it's really important to get people together talking about this stuff and really supporting each other.
Joel: Now are recruiters invited to these events 'cause I could see a lot of recruiters foaming at the mouth to get in front of these creative folks.
Chad: Oh good God.
Justin: Well we do, they're invited to the holiday party and we do happy hours at brands all the time, so bringing our network into them and so getting everyone together and really letting them show off who they are and what they do. And I've done Talking Not Talking for recruiters too to talk about the struggles of, that's completely changing landscape. Especially a lot of our clients are ad agencies where they're just losing talent left and right to brands and start ups.
Chad: Talk about some of those brands, what are some of the big brands that you kinda show case.
Justin: Our biggest clients are Apple, Google, Facebook, Airbnb, Nike. I have a actually-
Chad: Cult brands, those are cult brands.
Joel: Never heard of them,
Justin: And then like every major ad agency. We used to have a thing at our home page that said "Remember if Working Not Working creatives aren't working for you they're probably working against you". And the best of the best are on it and they're using it and when we first started a lot of recruiters had a lot of pride in their Roladexs right, and they were like oh I don't need this. And we initially built it just so you could have everyone you'd already like to hire on one dashboard and see who's available right there, and then who's available soon, and who's working, so you don't have to call and email everybody. And so it's made those people better at their jobs, and then being able to search the 65 thousand vetted creatives really helps you get to better talent faster. And if you're not on it you're kind of at a disadvantage.
Joel: What's next for creative? Is it around video, is it virtual reality? Is it mobile- Talk about what the trend is coming soon and what's hot.
Justin: Well we're getting a lot of- we started primarily with advertising, and
design, and illustration, and we've just seen a lot of our clients diversifying their offerings so getting more into production, getting editors, and cinematographers, and directors, and content creators. So we've been kind of going with that evolution as well and getting more folks on there. Yeah, VR was really hot a couple years ago, and augmented reality, all of that stuff, and it's all still there. I think experiential creativity and brand experiences is gonna be a lot more- and I think especially our clients who are in advertising and in general I think IP is the future of this. You have a lot of- every creative I know has a start up idea, an app idea, a movie idea- and I think that the brands that are gonna survive and the companies that are gonna survive are gonna start creating their own intellectual property, investing in their own talent, and being help support them with their ideas and make that happen.
Justin: And if you're able to as a creative, if I feel like I'm gonna be able to make the best creative work of my life in house here I have no reason to go anywhere else, and if they're gonna support my endeavors, which now being an entrepreneur myself is really hard to start your own business. It's really hard to figure out who to talk to and how to do this right. And we always joke that, Adam and I, my co-founder- our business skills are two guys who know Photoshop. And so, if you have an agency you can go and use your resources to help make some of the stuff happen and then own a piece of that and really start-
Joel: So not display ads in the Sunday newspaper.
Justin: No, yeah- small space ads are really big. I remember my years in advertising was always the joke I never wanted to work on radio. And then like what are we doing right now? And so I think things evolve, I don't wanna keep thinking I know everything, I think nostalgia will kill you. Nostalgia and assumptions will kill you. So, it's gonna be constantly changing and just really paying attention to that.
Chad: So we're here at an event that really is focused around cult brands, right? And I think that companies are starting to understand, not just these big cult brands, but even these start ups are starting to understand that brand means something.
Justin: Yes, it's not just a logo anymore.
Chad: Yeah, it's not just a logo anymore. So talk a little bit about that. What have you seen from start ups, mid-market, and what have you, Where there is that real focus on brand and experience where before most companies just didn't really give a
Justin: Yeah we just made a product and put it out there. And I think even since we started seven years ago there's just been such a cultural shift of companies and brands prioritizing creativity and design. Ten years ago my mom didn't give a shit about the user experience of her smart phone, but then she went and got rid of her phone to go back to her other one because it didn't work-the user experience didn't work as well. And then you have brands like the Airbnbs of the world, and Apples that are making an expectation for quality, design, and creativity, and thoughtfulness, and the ways brands approach themselves and put themselves out in the world. And so I think the companies that we're seeing are being successful are putting creativity in the c-suite and really making their connection with their consumers more important than ever and not just the products that they're shipping out.
Chad: Well and they understand that brand actually impacts bottom line, so I think that was kinda the big disconnect for years is like it's marketing leads, but at the end of the day you're talking about actual cult brand type of impact- if you take a look at Apple and they come out with a new product and there's a line out the door, right? It's like, how do you get there? And I think that, and this is just me, I think that most companies are, they're trying to reach for that brass ring. They might not be able to get to that Apple status but they can have that cult-ish type of brand, even if it's in a certain segment.
Justin: Well it's really targeting the people that love your brand and doubling down, tripling down, quadrupling down on them. And even with my own personal projects and advertising work I've done in the past-Elf Yourself I guess was pretty broad- but I always like to create ideas and invest in ideas that only ten percent of people would get. Because then those people are even more passionate about it 'cause they feel like they're in on something. And you see the brands that are being honored here at The Gathering, and the ones that we use day to day that we just love and adore- they're ones that are so integral to our lives and we kinda can't live without. And so I think to have that indispensability in the hearts of your consumers and your fans is more important than ever.
Joel: And piggy backing on that, let's talk about employer brand for a second. And you sit at the crossroads of being a creative person but also dancing a little bit in the recruiting world. So talk about implement branding, how important is it? Chad seems to think they're one in the same, are they different? Give us your opinion on employment brand.
Justin: Well I started in advertising and it's been mind-blowing to me that people who are so good at marketing and positioning other peoples brands do such a shitty job of marketing themselves. And you can go and put up agency websites, and mission statements, and they're interchangeable, there's only a handful that really are able to differentiate themselves. And I think the places that are having an easier time doing recruiting, especially the brands, I know what I'm gonna get when I go to an Airbnb. That aligns with my values, they care about people, or Google. So employees now and workers are able to go and find the brands that speak to them and say hey I wanna be a part of that.
Justin: Advertising in general they do have an advantage 'cause I have friends that've gone in house with brands and done it for a year or two and they just kinda got bored of putting stuff on white and then wanna go back to advertising. I think agencies actually have a benefit of the diversity of opportunities, but they just need to do a better job of giving people access to those opportunities. Because it used to be I'm gonna go in there, and yeah maybe I'd have to kinda do my time on that big crappy client, but I don't need to do that anymore. Because I can be in charge of my own career and I can go wherever I want.
Justin: And so I think the brands that are really making their- you're not losing talent to Google because of free Tandoori chicken on Thursdays- You're losing it 'cause people feel like they can go there, they know what they're doing, and they're doing it with purpose, and they can make great work. And you have to be able to align with peoples values and their purpose 'cause just trying to convince people with ping pong tables and free snacks isn't really- people don't give a shit about that. We survey our creatives and they said no, it's the creative opportunity and the people that they're working with, it's all about the people.
Chad: And then you take a look at, I think just from my stand point, Facebook and all the shit that they've been through here lately, right. And how that has impacted their brand, and also their employees, and their employment brand. So therefore, the big brand is the brand, and what we try to do I think in every industry is we try to make things more complex. We try to fragment things and we try to say well this is this, and then this is different over here, and just from my stand point, I believe that the employment brand is part of the overall brand, and that is, that's the big key.
Chad: But again, in our industry I'm probably in the minority there's so many people that just wanna focus on employment brand, employment brand, employment brand-
Justin: It's all interchangeable and I think it's also really important not to bullshit people. On both sides of the coin if you're trying to get a job and you're trying to be the version of you they think they want or you think they want, and then same thing with the companies, it's never gonna work that way if people are- it's like any relationship, you gotta wanna be, you gotta be honest about what your needs are on both sides of the coin and then the people that are able to keep that honesty there and the transparency there and then really focus on making sure people are happy are gonna do really well and be really successful.
Joel: I find like most of the time your Glassdoor, Indeed, Kununu, whatever reviews are your employment brand, and it's more of the externally than what you say about yourself.
Justin: All of our industries no matter what segment, you're a creative or otherwise, they're very small industries and word travels fast and it's really easy to ruin your brand quickly. Word gets out- I look at a friend and they're posting at 4 a.m. leaving the office. I'm not gonna wanna take a job there-
Chad: Fuck no.
Justin: No, at all. And so I think that it's really important that you go and be honest with yourself and who are you and how do you treat your people and then what is the reputation that we have out there. And if you wanna know what's wrong with your company hire a freelancer 'cause they can- been in multiple different places and can just come in and go oh yeah your process sucks, these people are running the show, these people are totally unhappy because they talk shit about whatever, and you can probably find out within a week all of the issues in your company just by hiring a couple freelancers to be honest with you.
Chad: So when it comes down to kind of like footprint right now, you guys, obviously, you started in New York, and you've broadened up, where are your big markets?
Justin: Our biggest markets are in New York, L.A., London's our third biggest just kind of organically happened that way. San Francisco, obviously, and then Toronto's building up. Amsterdam is building up. And so we're primarily in the States but yeah we're kind of getting a footprint globally, we got 65 thousand creatives now.
Joel: You've been dumb enough to start a podcast, tell us about that.
Justin: Yeah so, well I get tired of going to conferences and seeing people only talk about the highlights, and looking at peoples social media and only seeing the highlights. And I can't relate to someones amazing illustration skill, but I can relate to the struggle it took to get there. So, I started overshare a couple years ago and I interview creatives I admire about the struggles of being a creative professional whether it's loneliness, creative insecurity, self doubt, all of that stuff, and try to get people that are at the top of the game to be really honest about the shit they struggle with, because it's really easy to think everybody else has it figured out but once you realize nobody actually does it makes you feel better about your own shit.
Justin: And so yeah, I've been doing that, we got season three I'm planning on now and hopefully we'll start that in the next month or two.
Chad: Excellent, how many episodes per season are you just-[crosstalk 00:23:49]
Justin: We do 13 episodes a season, every two weeks. We ended right before Thanksgiving season two with this guy Jeff Staple who's like the GodFather of street wear. First episode of season two is one of the co-founders Kickstarter, Yancey Strickler, which was an amazing episode so yeah, a lot of, kind of a range of business leaders, and creatives, and artists, and all that.
Joel: So turning into Netflix shows, season two comes out in March.
Justin: Yeah, exactly.
Joel: Well, Justin thanks for joining us. For those who wanna know more about you where would you send them if they wanna learn more about your companies or you in general.
Justin: Yeah just workingnotworking.com or @wnotw and I'm @justingignac. Can I just read one thing that just makes me happy, and makes me feel like we're doing something right? We got a text message from one of our members who got a text message from another member and so I'm just going to read you the text message, "Hey Mike, this is that random dude that you sponsored to be on Working Not Working after dropping you and your mom off through Lift. I just wanted to message you and thank you for opening that door for me. The last two years have been crazy, I was at Apple doing UX, I'm currently at Nike as a senior product designer. Two years ago I was doing Lift and Uber every day to survive and I still remember those days. Hopefully you are doing well, just wanted to drop you a note and thank you again. It might have seemed small but you helped turned my life around."
Joel: This is where we throw in the applause, yeah the applause sound bite.
Justin: But that's like it, it's that kind of stuff that' what's- I think anybody who I know that's recruited that's what they aim to do. And now being on the other side of the coin having been a creative and doing this now, I get so much more fulfillment out of enabling other people to do what they love. That kind of stuff makes me feel real good.
Joel: Well Justin, thanks for joining us. We'll be taking the stage with you tomorrow, hopefully-
Justin: Yeah I'm excited.
Joel: Talking about more shit. And we appreciate it.
Justin: Yeah thank you so much for having me you guys.
Justin: Yes we did it.
Chad: We out.
Ema: Hi I'm Ema, thanks for listening to my dad The Chad and his buddy Cheese. This has been the Chad and Cheese Podcast. Be sure to subscribe on iTunes, Googleplay, or wherever you get your podcasts so you don't miss a single show. Be sure to check out our sponsors because their money goes to my college fund. For more, visit chadcheese.com.