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With Kmong, keep day job and try a gig

On freelance matching platform, 90% are just testing independence

July 19,2019
Kmong founder and CEO Tony Park says the online platform addresses key freelance pain points, like signing contracts and getting paid, and offers independent contractors a sense of community. [KIM HYUN-DONG]
Developing cryptocurrencies. Managing Instagram accounts. Relationship coaching. Telling fortunes. YouTube consulting. These are just some of the jobs offered on Kmong, an online platform that links supply and demand in Korea’s “gig economy.”

For decades, the most desirable career was at a big chaebol, working up the corporate ladder until retirement. And while some still value stability, an increasing number of Koreans are searching for ways to make use of their professional skills outside the confines of a company structure, either through side jobs or by freelancing.

Behind this shift is the practice of companies signing short-term, task-based contracts with independent workers - the “gig economy.” That term is used for everyone from Uber drivers to high-level professionals, like consultants and lawyers.

The market is supported by infrastructure that connects buyers of services with the independent sellers of services.

Established in 2012, Kmong is one of the oldest and largest in the business. In three rounds of funding, it brought in 14.7 billion won ($12.5 million).

Kmong’s website and app offer marketplaces in 11 categories, including marketing, translation, programming, private lessons and fortune telling. More than 200,000 tasks are registered on the website. Clients can rate the task provider on a five-star scale, and the top five earners for each category have their usernames pinned on the website.

“We’re different from headhunters or outsourcing agencies in that we don’t propose hires - instead we cater to immediate needs for short-term projects or specific tasks, like translating an investor-relations report,” said Kmong CEO Tony Park.

Park, who worked as a programmer and was a freelancer himself for a short period, said that Kmong solves problems that gig employees have in finding jobs and getting paid.

“One thing I learned was that contract-based workers - designers, for example - don’t quit freelancing because the work is hard or because they lack passion. The real problem comes in getting contracts and dealing with payment issues,” he said. “Kmong offers a platform that takes care of those pain points for them.”

According to the Korea Labour & Society Institute, a policy and research organization, Korea had at least 420,000 freelancers as of 2017. This was equivalent to 2 percent of economically active population aged between 25 and 49 years.

The gig economy has been a major force for years in United States. A Gallup survey in 2018 showed that 36 percent of U.S. workers engaged in gig work.

A major factor believed to be driving this shift is millennials joining the job market. This group values a work-life balance, flexible working hours and has lower barriers to changing jobs multiple times throughout their careers. Digitalization is another contributor, as it allows for more on-demand tasks and has led to the development of whole new sub-sectors.

Apart from this global trend, a local factor that Kmong sees benefitting its platform is the 52-hour workweek. Companies will be forced to manage their workforces more efficiently without expanding their workforces too much. Employees, on the other end, will have more time on their hands to seek life outside the office.

Freelancing is not an easy choice to make for office workers already benefitting from stable incomes, better borrowing opportunities and insurance coverage. The popular view that equates freelancing with unemployment is also a hindrance to making the leap to independent employment.

“These are people who want to create value outside work - that wish to have a business of their own or work as a digital nomad one day. Our platform offers an opportunity for challenge,” he said. “We already have a lot of cases where people quit jobs and set up a one-person company of their own.”

Park says that Kmong offers a chance for office workers to test their competence as freelancers before deciding to leave work. At the moment, 90 percent of people offering expertise via Kmong have a day job.

Top freelancers registered on Kmong earn more than 100 million won per year. Ranked No. 1 on the website is a logo designer who has earned 240 million won so far. Notable cases include women who quit their jobs after childbirth and succeeded in building up a business through the platform.

Park himself is also a good example. When he started out in 2011, Kmong was close to being just a personal project. Back then, the service offered a marketplace for small chores like dog walking at a fixed price of 5,000 won. As the platform gained more users, more substantial jobs, like marketing and design, started to come up. At the request of users, he dropped the fixed price.

On Tuesday, Kmong launched another service, again driven by user requests, to handle business-to-business deals.

“A lot of freelancers battle with anxiety about financial insecurity and the stigma of working alone. This should change. Kmong can offer relief and emotional support to them by highlighting more cases of success and creating a community that links freelancers in the country,” said Park.

BY SONG KYOUNG-SON [song.kyoungson@joongang.co.kr]


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