Getting To Know You: Gary Swart, CEO oDesk

What do you currently do?
I am the CEO of oDesk, the world’s largest online workplace. I am responsible for setting the strategic direction for the company, leading our team of employees and freelancers, and enabling our users to access the world’s best talent and jobs, via the Internet.

What is your inspiration in business?
I am inspired by the meaningful impact oDesk is having on the world. We are empowering businesses and freelancers to work together on demand, regardless of location, on any type of work that can be done in front of a computer. We are giving our clients boundless opportunities to grow and develop their businesses and giving our freelancers the freedom and flexibility to work whenever, wherever and however they want.

Who do you admire?
I am floored by many of the CEOs who have such a wide breadth of skills and experience so early in their careers — knowing how difficult it is to start and grow a business, I’m truly impressed by millennials like Drew Houston (Founder and CEO of Dropbox), Brian Chesky (Co-Founder and CEO of Airbnb) and Ben Silbermann (Co-Founder and CEO of Pinterest). Their brilliant ideas, great execution and risk-taking mentality is inspiring.

Looking back are there things you would have done differently?
I would have taken more risk earlier in my career. Early on, I had the opportunity to join an e-commerce company as employee number 3 and I passed. At the time I was happy with my current responsibility, balance and financial reward. That company turned out to be a very successful internet business and I would have had a much steeper career trajectory by taking that risk early on.

With regards to oDesk we could have done a better job in the early days to recognize that client success was our responsibility. In a two-sided online work marketplace business it is hard to ensure a quality outcome when we are not directly in the middle of all of the work. Despite this, client referrals are the number one source of new business and giving them a reason to tell friends is our responsibility.

What defines your way of doing business?
In two words: focus and flexibility. Throughout my career, I’ve learned that probably the most critical skill an entrepreneur can have is to successfully focus their efforts.

Trying to boil the ocean typically leads to failure, while carefully targeted and prioritized strategies have launched some of the biggest companies today – think of Salesforce’s early focus on SMBs and very targeted CRM solutions, or Dropbox’s simple yet laser-sharp focus on sharing files.

And flexibility is key as well. Be ready to pivot quickly when dynamics change and refine your focus, and be smart about building your team flexibly so that it can adapt along with you. At oDesk, we have a very scalable team powered by two full time equivalent contractors for each of our employees

What advice would you give to someone just starting out?
My advice is to first, figure out what you’re really good at and then figure out what you really enjoy doing. To the extent that those things intersect and it’s a big, viable market, go do that thing!