We talked to Petr Shchekochikhin of Insolvo, the smart freelancing platform, and he had the following to say:-
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Petr Shchekochikhin: We were very lucky since just before the pandemic hit, we had purchased a small country house in a very nice and quiet area. It turned out to be our best investment and the best decision we could have made at that time. Both the energy and the money we spent for fitting it up paid off in full during the self-isolation time.
For that reason, the Covid did not affect us much. We lived remotely yet were not locked. We were all having an amazing time together: we walked a lot with the kids and were not afraid of catching the illness. Additionally, my wife was pregnant at that time, and I was really happy that she was staying in a truly safe place.
I didn’t have to leave the house often; probably it was happening once a month or so; therefore, the risk that the virus would reach our area was down to a minimum. Various delivery services proved to be extremely helpful during that time. Before the lockdown, we didn’t use them much and, therefore, didn’t realize how convenient they could be, but now even the flowers we send with the courier.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded Insolvo.
Petr Shchekochikhin: I have both a degree in economics and an MBA, as well as teach statistics at the university. My partner and I met many years ago, while both of us were working together in South Korea.
We founded Insolvo as we wanted to bring the opportunity to work closer to people, in other words, straight into their computers. To enable more people to earn money from home without even leaving their apartments – that was the idea that kept us inspired.
Since then, we’ve been doing our best to make this process as easy and affordable for everyone as possible. People even from the most remote regions can work via the Internet and are not required to have any particular “freelancer” skills or special education. Anyone can easily earn at Insolvo by performing some basic help tasks, such as selecting the pictures or getting the lowest price for a certain item.
In such a way, some Insolvo users save their time by delegating both work-related and private tasks to the freelancers. And the others earn.
How does Insolvo innovate?
Petr Shchekochikhin: Insolvo is a smart freelancing platform. Our artificial neural network helps to select the freelancers for each task and provides every customer with the list of the most experienced professionals as well as ensures the chosen candidates are the best match.
We have trained our neural network to forecast the effective cooperation likelihood for every specific assignment. To ensure this process works well, we require the freelancers to pass complex testing, evaluate their interests, preferences, and skills. We also track their previous experience in order to predict how well they would be able to handle the task they will get on our platform.
The mentioned above is required to ensure the customers spend less time while searching for a freelancer and have their task done quickly and efficiently. The best sign is when the percentage of the successfully completed tasks grows, that means we are doing everything right.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Petr Shchekochikhin: Like many other online services during the pandemic, we had rather a growth in the user activity than decline. Within the first few weeks of the lockdown, we received an enormous amount of registrations from the new users. People, while being forced to stay at home, experienced various difficulties, including financial ones, and began to look for opportunities to earn remotely. Some of them stayed with us and are successfully using our platform till now, while the majority didn’t as they weren’t initially our core audience.
Over the longer term, COVID will definitely have a beneficial impact on the freelancing market as well as the remote work as the new format of cooperation in general. During the pandemic, many office workers tried to perform their duties remotely for the first time, and I am pretty sure the majority enjoyed it. In addition, thousands of executives all around the world have actually realized that remote work not only keeps their business afloat but also allows them to save a lot on office and equipment costs.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Petr Shchekochikhin: Fortunately, our company has very quickly adjusted to the ‘new normal’ scenario, unlike many others. The reason is that our team was meant to work remotely from the very beginning: all of our employees live in different countries, and the time difference between their time zones may vary up to 10 hours. We know how to efficiently interact with each other even while working remotely. All communications were well-tuned, so when the whole world was hit by the lockdowns, our workflow was running smoothly and did not get affected. There was no need to either reduce the team, or cut the wages, or make other difficult choices. If any of our employees were getting sick and couldn’t perform the duties, the others were taking over their tasks until they were back to work safe and sound.
The only unfortunate thing that happened to us was that we had to cancel our annual and so much anticipated offline team building. This news made everyone truly upset, as we all understand how important live communication, bonding, and the feeling of being united are for the team that works remotely. Last year the pandemic ruined our plans, but we are determined to win back this year.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Petr Shchekochikhin: During the first weeks of the lockdown, we received a great inflow of new users, which created an ultimate load on our technical support team. We immediately adjusted to the changing environment by expanding the shifts and enhancing the efficiency of our working processes. Our ultimate priority was to provide our users with the necessary assistance, whether they faced any difficulties or just had a simple question.
Our technical support team works through Zendesk, as this is a very convenient platform that allows them to efficiently and professionally perform their duties. The average request response time takes up to 30 minutes, but we are continuously improving and tend to close the majority of all the received tickets “in one touch.” We wish to provide our customers with helpful and comprehensive answers so that they would not need to spend a lot of time for long correspondence with the support team. We are happy to say that we are being praised by Zendesk itself for providing great customer service and performance results that are higher than 97% of their customers have.
Do you remember I mentioned artificial intelligence? We have trained our neural network to moderate the tasks. The network carefully checks all the submitted tasks and marks only the suspicious ones, which saves a lot of time for our moderators.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Petr Shchekochikhin: The tax burden for the IT companies was significantly reduced during the pandemic. It had a positive impact on this industry which boosted its development and growth of the new workspaces.
Your final thoughts?
Petr Shchekochikhin: The pandemic became a real challenge for all humankind, as well as triggered some constructive processes: spurred the medical industry development, technology development, reminded of how important personal communication and mutual assistance are.
Also, it clearly demonstrated to the world the necessity of remote work and once again made us feel highly confident in how significant everything we’ve been doing all this time was.
Before, we used to be innovators trying to draw more attention to remote work and the opportunities it had. We were saying: “Remote work is truly great! Just look how convenient it is!”. But unexpectedly we’ve got a new player on our team – CORONAVIRUS. Of course, it is a joke, but if you look at it from the other hand, the pandemic served as a great boost to various forms of remote collaboration.
We all witnessed a huge shift in our perception of everything. I personally could feel it everywhere. The strict institutions that, for example, earlier required me to submit the documents in person only now respond to my request: “Not a problem, you may just mail it to us.”
The pandemic is like Mephistopheles in Goethe’s Faust, who describes himself as “Part of that Power which still produces good, whilst ever scheming ill.”
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