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Creative Jobs Site Zerply Wants To Bring Balance To The Work Force

on Tuesday, Jan. 5th

When you’re a journalist with one foot in the tech sector you wind up getting pitched about a lot of companies. Apps. Technology infused schemes that are certain to change the world.

I’m lucky, and I know it, that Turnstyle doesn’t have to chase the 24/7/365 tech press churn the way everyone else does. Shielded by our status within public media, and with our focus on creating radio stories I get to pick and choose who I write about. I get to set my filters a little tighter and meet with the folks behind companies I find interesting.

Late last year I got to meet with one of those people: Christofer Karltorp, the co-founder and CEO of Zerply.

Zerply has had a storied journey in Silicon Valley.  For a minute there they were looked on as a rival for LinkedIn. Before going any further, I better stop down and explain that.

Zerply started up in 2010 as social media tool for building professional connections. It’s seen one life as a “personal branding” site  before starting to find its niche. The personal branding gave way first to a focus on portfolios for creative professionals. Now the company is continuing down that path, and expanding its focus on the entertainment industry as a whole.

An encounter with a visual effects expert led Karltorp and company to see a unique need in the creative industries.

Many professional artists in games, film, and advertising work from project to project. Entertainment is in a sense the original “gig economy.” Firms staffing up for the latest production, and then let folks go once it ships. This is a pattern you see across the entertainment industry, whether it is in film, game, or music production. It provides a lot of flexibility and freedom to the employees, but little in the way of job security. Let’s face it, that is an understatement.

As Zerply has evolved the founders clicked into the idea that by matching professionals who have verified work histories with firms that have specific needs the process of recruiting the right creative for a project would be smoother. In a sense it is a way of creating an internet based mirror of word of mouth: creatives can get endorsed for specific projects they worked on by people they actually worked with. A step far above and beyond meaningless Linkedin endorsements. (Go ahead, look at your own Linkedin endorsements. If you don’t think half of them read like garbage you are fooling yourself.)

This is a double edged sword for the company when it comes to dealing with recruiters. On the one hand, with a sufficient pool of qualified freelancers in the system it could make a creative recruiter’s job easier. Or it could been seen as an existential threat to their existence. Part of Karltorp’s current challenge is getting recruiters to see the former more than the later.

Selling creatives on Zerply is a little easier, as the matchmaking that the company is looking to accomplish can—theoretically at least—help close the gaps in freelancers schedules. Zerply is being positioned to be a labor marketplace that freelancers can turn to before their contracts run out in order to line up their next gig. It’s also possible to line up side-work or something more long-term of that’s what the artist is looking for.

By focusing at first on games and visual effects artists Zerply’s team hopes to not only carve out a lucrative niche market for the company, but to establish a toolset for workers who live the gig life. If Zerply can crack the nut on contract to contract scheduling across companies and disciplines, it could go a long way towards putting some of the power in the labor market back into the hands of workers. Skilled workers, at any rate.

The “gig economy” isn’t necessarily for everyone, but with employment practices (apparently) trending that way tools that have the potential relieve some of the stress gig workers have are more than welcome. Could Zerply end up setting the model for what the future of the “gig economy” looks like by solving some of the long standing issues in creative freelancing? Maybe. Execution is everything when it comes to ideas that are this social in nature, but for now the company has certainly found a niche by focusing on a very real pain point. That’s more than can be said for some in the Valley.

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