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.

The boys interview Justin Gignac, co-founder at Working Not Working, a site dedicated to making sure freelance designers get paid. This exclusive comes at you compliments of Uncommon.


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Chad: A lot.

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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.

Chad: Hello.

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?

Joel: Sure.

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 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.

Joel: Awesome.

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.

Justin: Thanks.

Chad: How many people?

Justin: So we're at 65 thousand creatives now around the world.

Chad: Jesus.

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.