It’s no secret that America's freelance workforce is growing. In 2014, a landmark survey by independent research firm Edelman Berland found that 53 million workers in the U.S. - or 34% of the workforce - are employed doing freelance work. According to Forbes, the percentage is predicted to be 50% by 2020.
Maya Rafie, a senior at Emerson College, and Zac DelVecchio, a fifth-semester Berklee student, have smartly tapped into the pulse of this economic trend with their start-up, Bistara. Launched on October 14th, Bistara is the world’s first marketplace to connect college students with freelance work.
Bistara aims to help college students prepare for a future of freelance labor by gaining work experience before the oft-dreaded graduation day. By creating an account, users enter into a pool of freelance workers who can be hired through the site by third parties. It’s free to sign up for both job seekers and employers.
“How many artists graduate and are like, ‘Well, cool. I graduated. What do I do now?’” says DelVecchio. “People do jobs they don’t want to do because they just need a paycheck.” According to DelVecchio, simply having a college diploma is not enough to stand out in today’s job market. By developing a freelance portfolio before graduation, Rafie and DelVecchio claim Bistara users will have a leg up on the competition. “You can make money on your own terms doing something that you want to do,” says DelVecchio, “and [after graduation] you can go to a firm and say ‘Here’s everything I’ve been doing.’ Now you stand out.”
“When you’re a freelancer, there are as many opportunities as there are risks,” says Rafie. To prepare students for this reality, users of the Bistara platform learn everything from pricing services to developing a freelancer’s work ethic. Unlike typical job boards like Craigslist, which can attract predatory types, Bistara’s policy of holding money up front means freelancers can focus on building a portfolio without the risk of being ripped off.
According to Rafie, there’s also a community benefit to the service. She recently initiated a music video project featuring student artists and technicians, a collaborative opportunity enabling students to hone their skills while expanding their portfolios. She hopes the effort will attract clients to Bistara’s talent pool. “The filmmaker’s a college student, the person doing the audio is a college student . . . It’s an example of what can happen for a client.”
In addition to their undergraduate course loads and work co-founding Bistara, both Rafie and DelVecchio have freelance careers in photography and guitar repair, respectively. With an around-the-clock work ethic, perhaps it’s no surprise they parlayed a chance 3AM encounter at a pizza shop into an LLC. When Rafie arrived at the restaurant with a mutual client, their adjacent social circles finally overlapped. “We started talking and hanging out, getting to know each other because we kept running into each other,” says DelVecchio.
Uncovering their mutual interests eventually sparked the idea of connecting freelance filmmakers to musicians. In partnership with two other colleagues, they began their first start-up. “It was basically music marketing consulting,” says Rafie. When their partners backed out, they took it as an opportunity to rethink the business model. “We realized it wasn’t just between Emerson and Berklee. Somebody might need a coder at MIT, somebody might need a designer at MassArt. So we just kind of made a bigger [model] with a lot of categories, and that’s when it became a college freelance marketplace.”
With the platform up and running for several weeks now, Rafie and Delvecchio are working hard to ensure that Bistara meets its growth goals for the next five years. Their success is tied to the success of their clients, who currently come from 26 colleges around the country. In an effort to continue the platform’s expansion, the year ahead will bring a lot of travel, many events . . . and did I mention they’re both still students? I asked when they find time to sleep. “He doesn’t sleep,” says Rafie. “It’s actually terrifying.”
“I gave that up a long time ago,” DelVecchio admits, laughing.