First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID19 times?
Alok Alström: My family and I are doing well: however, just like everyone else, we are feeling the changes of this unusual period. I have been fortunate enough to be based in Sweden. The restrictions put in place by the Swedish government are a lot less strict compared to other countries.
I have been able to spend a lot of time outside with my family, which I feel extremely lucky to be able to do. Despite the rules in Sweden being more relaxed, we’ve still been careful seeing other people outside of immediate family. It’s been challenging and I really miss the people I care about who I haven’t been able to see during the pandemic.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded or joined Appjobs
Alok Alström: I grew up in the suburbs of Uppsala in Sweden. I first took on a management role at the age of 20, when I moved to Stockholm and became the General Manager of the biggest youth organization in Sweden. Eventually, I started studying at Stockholm School of Economics.
Once I completed my Masters, I joined the Boston Consulting Group and was working there for 4 years then joined Bisnode. It was not until 2015 that I had my first experience of working in a startup, when I became General Manager of Uber in Sweden.
My time at Uber gave me the inspiration for Appjobs. I realized that the revolutionary idea behind Uber was greater than just getting people from A to B at the push of a button. The key idea is that people can get work through the medium of their phone. This is where Appjobs concept lies: matching people who want flexible work with apps that are active in their area (like Uber, Deliveroo and Rover), all through their smartphone.
How does Appjobs innovate?
Alok Alström: We have a very transparent culture at Appjobs which I believe has cultivated an environment of innovation and collaboration. One of the most important things I remind my team is that bad ideas are actually good; we should value bad ideas more! The reason I say this is because bad ideas always have room for improvement, whereas if you have no ideas there will be no development or good results.
We are certain that the gig economy will be a major actor in the future labour market, and we want to make sure that the transition to working in the gig economy is as smooth as possible. We believe the gig economy will keep growing for several reasons. Firstly, companies can reduce their fixed costs by hiring on demand. This is due to the technological developments previous years that has made it possible to lower the transaction costs.
Due to the increase in interest in the gig economy, we created a new department called the Appjobs Institute: with the sole purpose of analyzing and forecasting the trends within the Future of Work. Using the knowledge we possess and experience in this field is an important part of being innovative and preparing for the next challenges that will face us.
How the coronavirus pandemic affects your business and how are you coping?
Alok Alström: Some of the biggest challenges Appjobs has faced during the pandemic include the influx of people turning to the gig economy and the fluctuation in demand in the different sectors. However, we have also faced internal challenges, as have many companies, in adapting to the changes the pandemic has brought.
Gig platforms have been impacted in different ways across the different sectors. Currently, we have seen that the delivery and online survey sectors have increased in demand. However, childcare and house sitting gigs are some of the sectors that have suffered due to the pandemic and lots of countries enforcing isolation measures. This means that we have had to adapt, especially due to changes in revenue: if platforms have lower demand, then they are less likely to run a paid campaign with us.
However, for services that are seeing an influx of demand, we need to increase the services we can provide for partners to help them out as best as we can with the changes. Our Gig Acquisition Platform recently added both a Power Filter (filtering out the perfect candidates for the job) and SOURCIE (which helps partners throughout the entire acquisition process).
As for the internal challenges we have faced, a lot of them are focused around how to adapt to these changes in the way we work. It is a challenging time to be a CEO and try to find solutions for your team who are all across the globe and face different levels of impact. It is hard to adjust from a regular routine in a physical office to having to work from your home. When you don’t have that division between work and home, it is easy to overwork. I feel like there’s a very fine line between pushing in a motivational way and in a way that is detrimental. In order to help our team combat these issues, we have created workshops to discuss how we are all dealing with these issues and discuss the difficulties we are facing: community is more important than ever in making it through these challenges.
Did you have to make difficult choices and what are the lessons learned?
Alok Alström: One of the biggest personal challenges I have faced during this crisis has been to lead the company across unfamiliar terrain. It is difficult to give the right support to the management team and figure out how to bring out the best of the team as a whole. I see how the lockdown has affected my colleagues. It is a challenging time that doesn’t just require us to stay inside and spend a lot of time introspectively, there is also an underlying uncertainty about the future and not knowing what’s to come. To address this, I’ve been taking notes from many in the pre-digital era who faced challenges, but did not have the assistance of technology. It has helped me a lot in trying to navigate and make the tough decisions together with my team.
How do you deal with stress and anxiety, how do you project yourself and Appjobs in the future?
Alok Alström: Over my 15 years of experience as a manager, I have had a whole host of different situations thrown my direction – many of which have been quite challenging. This has taught me more about how I handle difficult situations as well as taught me my limits. Nowadays, I never push myself over the limit because I know my personal limits, which is important for any working person.
For me, spending time with my son has always been the best way to relieve my worries and stresses. I’ve also learned during the years that it’s good to communicate with others if you’re in a stressful period: this helps in keeping connected and keeping one another safe.
Who are your competitors? And how do you plan to stay in the game?
Alok Alström: The gig-economy is still a young and immature ecosystem. This is part of the reason why there isn’t a solid set of competitors in the marketplace. For that reason, we view other market participants rather as potential collaborators and partners at this stage and welcome participation in the evolving gig economy space as it fosters innovation. This is something we believe will benefit us as well in the long run.
I’ve always said that it’s no point of reinventing the wheel every time you’re trying something new. It’s good to look at how other companies have done and benchmark against them. However, I also think it’s important to remain focused on your own mission and goals because without the strong belief that you’re doing something good, it doesn’t matter what your competitors do, it’s not the right thing for you.