Jibril Sulaiman, II stops by Dreamer’s Den to share the “secret sauce” of Incluzion. The marketplace that promotes diverse US-based freelance talent, is making its mark in the freelance platform space. Sulaiman and his co-founder have plans to create opportunities that no other in the industry have presented.
He is no stranger to entrepreneurship and can relate to both the joys and pain points of the journey. Learn all about him and Incluzion.co in this profound podcast episode.
Connect with Jibril:
Danielle: Welcome back for another episode of Dreamer’s Den Podcast. I’m Danielle Towner and today we have with us Jibril Sulaiman, the founder of Incluzion. Incluzion is a marketplace for freelancers and specifically for freelancers that are black, Latinx and women.
So we’re going to get right into it and learn more about Incluzion.co and what everything is all about. So thanks for joining us Jibril.
Jibril: Thank you for having me. I’m happy to be on the show — on the podcast.
About Jibril and His Journey to Incluzion
Danielle: Awesome. Awesome. You are not an amateur in the business world. You have a proven track record of success, so share some of your background with us and how that went to establishing Incluzion.
Jibril: Yeah, well I’ve been an entrepreneur for I’d say 17 years, but I guess we’re a new year so it’s 18 years now I’ve been an entrepreneur.
Jibril: And that — I mean starting out selling cell phones at the flea market to opening the store to shutting the store down to going across the street and opening a completely new store across the street under a different name to growing that to four stores. To realizing the problem in accepting payments from those prepaid wireless customers to going and starting a tech company It’s a lot. It’s a lot of things that I’ve done throughout the years, and I think that a lot of those experiences specifically have said to you I am and what I’m doing now with Incluzion.
From working for two years as a board member for an African American Chamber of Commerce to working on. Precious startup before this called Spendwith. And that’s the startup we actually pivoted from with Incluzion. There’s — it’s a lot to say.
Danielle: Yeah. [laughter]
Jibril: Where do I start, really?
Danielle: Yeah. You have a solid foundation. And I can – that kind of tells a lot about what led you to Incluzion and founding Incluzion.
Jibril: Yeah. In growing my tech company, Pay Sell, Pay Sell Systems and then we changed it to just Pay Sell Co., growing that tech company – if you look – I made the Inc. 5000 list in 2016 based on three years – the three year growth from that from 2012 to 2015 for 700 percent growth and $9.8 million in sales. And if you look on that listing, it said that I had six employees. I really had one employee. It was myself and maybe a part time employee as well. Everybody else were freelancers, and they were incremental in helping me grow my company because I was able to access on-demand skills in a way that I could implement them based on my budget, right.
And so over the years, as I’ve talked to different businesses, everyone has that same problem. They want to access skills. They need a designer for this, a developer for this and so forth. But in addition to that, they’re looking for skills that have, or freelancers that have those skills that also have a specific cultural connection to whatever they’re developing or just as a person.
So being able to access skills on demand is important and being able to access that cultural connection is important as well. There are some women who want to hire a developer that’s a woman. And we want to be able to provide that person, especially someone that’s here in the United States. And that’s where our focus is. Anything I’ve done in my career has led up to this point of creating this type of platform that facilitates that particular function.
Freelancers are Mini Businesses that Help Create Big Businesses
Danielle: Awesome. Now, they say that small businesses are the bread and butter or they basically help the city or they built the cities and built this country. They’re like the foundation of it, but freelancers are in there too. They help out with businesses of all sizes. They help out with small businesses and what you said proves that.
Jibril: Yeah. Freelancers are businesses themselves. Whether they know it or not, they are – one small one-person operations. They have to go through some of the same things that businesses go through in regard to taxation or smaller businesses, I would say. And as far as dealing with their taxes, most of them are operating on 1099, so there are certain things that they are. They are mini businesses as well, so they all add to the collective in servicing other businesses that need their services.
Incluzion’s Cutting-Edge “Secret Sauce” Set them Apart
Danielle: Yes. Yes. Now, there are several freelance platforms out there such as Upwork, who acquired E-lance. There’s Fiverr and there’s Freelancer, among many others. We know that Incluzion highlights black, Latinx and women freelancers in its promotions, which is what sets it apart from these other similar companies. Can you expand on that and also what else is it that makes your company different?
Jibril: [chuckles] Well, I believe that the talent pool that we’re building, it is – it’s our secret sauce. Our platform is very similar to what Fiverr- oh not, excuse me – [laughter] ironically, I say Fiverr, but not Fiverr – but Upwork would offer. I always contrast that we’re different from Fiverr in our model because Fiverr’s like going to the grocery store and just picking a freelancer off the shelf. Upwork’s model is you are putting your task or your project out there and getting quotes back like an Angie’s list or something like that. You’re actually posting your task and you’re getting quotes back with the best price and you’re choosing then the best mixture of price and experience for your task or for your project. So our model is similar to Upwork, and the platform does the same thing in regards to facilitating the search for a freelancer, the communication between that freelancer, the bidding or quote process, the payment process, the dispute process. God forbid if there is a dispute.
Jibril: Our platform does all of that as well. But being able to access specifically US freelancers, this is the pain point that I realized when I was hiring freelancers and when I became a freelancer for a short time was the fact that the overseas freelancing model is so aggressive. You could post something on Twitter and you’re gonna get emails. Let’s say you’re looking for a web developer and you post it on Twitter. You’ll get emails based on that tweet from development companies that are overseas – that are offshore – wanting to earn your business. And in the United States, there isn’t that aggressive process so we have to find other ways to connect clients with the freelancing talent that’s here. And that talent is here. It’s experienced and, in many ways, it comparable in price. It’s just that because they’re not aggressive (the US freelancers) in the way that they are overseas, you would never know. You’re going to be exposed to the overseas freelancers first.
And, so we want to change that by having a US focus, but then on top of that, there are studies out that that says that there’s – that indicate that there’s bias on existing freelancing platforms. Bias against black and brown people. We want to change that. We want to affect that as well.
And also, lastly but just as important, the freelancers that are women, there’s a pay equity issue. They earn 30 percent less than freelancers that are men as well. So, we want to address all of those different social impact issues with our platform and by providing a unique talent pool as well which would be the secret sauce and what really differentiates us from the competition that’s out there.
Pay Equity Discrimination is an Issue in Freelancing Too
Danielle: And that’s interesting that you brought that up because we know what the pay equity issue is apparent within the workforce or the traditional workforce.
Jibril: It is.
Danielle: But that’s interesting that it’s also – we’re dealing with the same issue as business owners or as freelancers also.
Jibril: So freelancing is called — is part of an overall theme. It’s part of the future of work, so when we talk about the future of work, we talk about being able to do a job remotely or in a virtual way. We talk about learning in a virtual way. Improving our skill sets in a virtual way.
There’s many facets to the future of work. But the future of work, in many ways, even though it has technology built into it, it mimics some of the bad traditions — the bad things that occur in the traditional work as well. A lot of those elements are there as well as a lot of those bad elements.
So pay equity discrimination, those are things that are a part of — or bias, those are things that are a part of the traditional workforce. And unfortunately, they are also in the future of work. So we need these things, these platforms, these new technological advances that will balance that out and try to close that disparity that’s there.
The Future of Freelancing in the United States
Danielle: Right. Okay. Now, “Freelancing in America”, which is a report that it’s a report, but “Freelancing in America” predicts that over half of the US workers will be freelancers by the year 2027. So that kind of goes back to what you were saying. What does that mean for the future of Incluzion and the contractors and businesses who use its services?
Jibril: That means that yes, there’s going to be more competition. As for the freelancers in particular —for us as a platform, we love it because that means 30 more million people will be freelancing by 2027 than there currently are now.
Currently 36-37 percent of the workforce are considered freelancers or are freelancing in some capacity, so that’s about 50 million people. Workers that are out there, professionals so it’s gonna be predicted that by 2027, 87 million and that’ll be over half of the workforce at that point.
So that provides more opportunity because our revenue model is contingent on clients or companies paying their freelancers for work. And that’s how we make our money, and that’s how most of these platforms — all of them, whether it’s a Fiverr, Upwork or whatever, that’s how they earn a large portion of their revenue. And so that means that the market — the freelancing market is growing and that always looks good. You don’t want want to enter into a market that’s declining, so if you’re opening a job board, you’re entering into a market that’s declining actually.
So a freelancing platform, it is, it’s part of that future of work. And it’s part of a model that will be even bigger in the next couple of years. Along with some of the additional statistics that are out there, freelancing, freelancers, independent workers, contractors consultants, gig workers, collectively they earn 1. — it’s either, depending on the research — 1.2 to 1.4 trillion dollars a year in the United States. That’s a lot of money.
Danielle: Trillion. Yeah [laughter]
Jibril: Trillion with a T. They earn that amount of money per year in the US. So if we can get . S0, if we can transact, if we can facilitate .0001. I may need to add a couple more zeros.
Jibril: Then that’s still billions of dollars, or at least starting our millions of dollars of transactions that we can facilitate of activity through the platform payments to freelancers for different projects and all. And that’s going to be our goal. So the horizon looks good for Incluzion and for the freelancing industry.
Danielle: Awesome. I love to hear that. I’m all about being able to work on your terms and that flexibility and it looks like where where we’re headed so I’m excited about it.
Current Trends in Freelancing
Now, what are some of the current trends you have observed in freelancing?
Well, in regards to the type of freelancing, there’s an overall trend that a lot of freelancer are – even though there are freelancers of all types and categories that are out there, (professions)you tend to see freelancers that are in the highest demand in development, designing and writing. So, those are the trends that I see. No matter what platform you go on, those are going to be the most in-demand projects or tasks that are posted. Definitely, there’s more specialized tasks that may be posted.
And that’s the trend that we see as well in our platform, so I get that quite often, “What are the in demand services?” They are writers, developers, and designers right now. One of the things that I see as a trend also is the – because there’s an independence – there’s the trend to travel while you’re freelancing. Becoming a nomad while you’re providing services, so that’s a trend that I’ve seen personally as well.
But there’s some additional trends that I think are concerning and these are things that we want to be able to provide some type of educational piece in our platform, which is on healthcare. As freelancers become independent, they’re not attached to a company that provides them with healthcare. So being able to provide them with some type of accidental healthcare is important.
Being able to have access to the right bookkeeper or accountant or financial assistance is going to be important as well because now these individuals are financing cars or buying houses with alternative forms of income that may not be tracked through a W-2. So as these 30 million additional professionals come in, these trends are going to be real concerns for many people as they try to get credit or they have to go to the doctor and things like that.
Danielle: Right. Those are some thing that I’ve observed in my research to with being able to have alternative ways to show that you are worthy – credit worthy or capable of providing or paying for these things. And also being able to access things like health insurance and healthcare.
Jibril: Right. Right. It is. It’s really going to be important, and that’s why I say freelancers are – they’re mini businesses in their own rights because as business owners, full-fledge business owners, you have to think about healthcare. You have to think about making sure the financials are right, paying taxes and things like that. So all those are real concerns that flow over into the freelancing space that as regular employers may not have flowed over into the traditional workforce before because that was handled for you. But now, in this case here, it’s not and any, of course, resources – educational pieces – that could provide guidance for that. And we want to be able to do that for the freelancers on our platform as we grow as well.
Danielle: Right. Yeah. Maybe that’s another solution to come or another idea to come. Maybe pooling together these freelancers for resources like that. That’s true. That’s true. And I’ve talked to a few people that have looked to provide something like that. They are working on other initiatives where they do need to have access to talent. And so that’s one of the things that we’re looking to do even in the addressing or pooling freelance talent and leveraging the talent that’s on our platform for some type of government or commercial RFPs and so forth. So there’s many possibilities that are out there that this model can be applied to, especially with pooling the talent that’s on this platform.
How to Set Yourself Apart as a Freelancer on Incluzion’s Platform
Danielle: Awesome. Okay, so one last thing or well one of the most important things. Last, but not least. How can freelancers sign up for Incluzion, and with those trends or those most demanded services, if it comes a time where they’re saturated, what can they can do to stand out in the marketplace.
Jibril: Right. Right. So signing up is going to the site and we have a list as clients or business experts. You can be a business or even a technology expert, but that’s what you would choose as the signup method as an expert and you would just fill out your profile. From there, your profile – we just actually turned on this feature where it would have to go through an approval process because we want to make sure the talent is vetted or that the profiles are filled out completely. So, if your picture, if your portfolio or your work history or something like that isn’t filled out completely, then it won’t get approved until that’s done. And then, once it is approved, you will go live from there.
When people post or clients post projects with specific skill sets, if the skill sets that you have indicated in your profile match, then you’ll receive an email about that project. That task that’s posted. In that email, it’s inviting you to submit a quote, what you’re fee would be to complete that. So, as the system becomes more saturated, we need to be able to build in AI so that AI would better match a project that’s posted with freelancers or even in the invitation process. We want to look at the ranking of the freelancers in regard to maybe assessment tests, their work history, different things that even if they haven’t done any work here, we want to look at. Let’s say, for instance, they may have another profile. We want to be able to import their previous work history over and allow the AI to better match clients that are performing well.
So, we want to be able to do those things and I think as we improve on the technology in the platform, it will allow the people that are excellent at freelancing or at providing that service to rise to the top and continue to earn money through the platform.
Danielle: Awesome. Awesome. It sounds like you have everything mapped out and well-formatted for your freelancers to win.
Jibril: Yeah. It’s a work in process and we have to grow as a company. We’re working on getting into a local accelerator program here and really just growing the organization and bringing on additional people as well that have expertise beyond my scope and my abilities. And it takes time to do that. And to everyone that has joined that’s listening to this, thank you. And we will strive to improve the experience and the process and the ability for you to earn money through the platform.
Danielle Awesome! Well, you have heard it from the man himself, Jibril Sulaiman of Incluzion. Thank you guys for listening and if you have any further questions for him or me, you can press the record – the voicemail button that will be on this podcast and we’ll get back to you. Also, I’ll be posting Jibril’s contact information and his social media information for you to reach him directly if you want to either contribute to growing Incluzion or to become a freelancers on the platform.
So, thank you for listening. And as I always say, “Dream Until your Dreams Come True”.