All Things Upwork

Ever wonder how oDesk came to be? Or what our name even means? Then today is your lucky day — come along on our trip down memory lane!

Where it all began

As our co-founder Odysseas Tsatalos likes to say, oDesk was born out of the best entrepreneurship inspiration there is — “personal pain.”

At his previous startup, Odysseas wanted to work with one of his closest friends, Stratis Karamanlakis. The two grew up together in Greece; Odysseas had become an entrepreneur (he was then on his third startup), and Stratis had become a talented developer. They were a perfect pair for Odysseas’s new venture, but there was just one problem — Odysseas and his startup were in Silicon Valley, and Stratis was still living in Athens, with no plans to move anytime soon.

Co-founder Odysseas Tsatalos

Co-founder Odysseas Tsatalos

The co-workers at Odysseas’s startup knew Stratis was truly the best person for the job, but how could they be comfortable working with someone who happened to be halfway around the world? In response, Odysseas and Stratis created a new technology platform to provide visibility into ‘remote’ work and instill trust in work relationships happening via the Internet.

The technology and remote work arrangement went so well that the two realized their solution had much broader value. They were confident that many companies could benefit from gaining access to a broader pool of quality talent, and that workers would want the freedom and flexibility to work on the projects they choose, whenever they like, from wherever they are. They decided to found a company based on the technology, and oDesk — an abbreviation of ‘online desk’ — was born.

oDesk as we know it officially launched in 2005, when the network of clients and freelancers were added to our tech platform.

Chickens, eggs, and a remote work culture

As is all too familiar to any business with a marketplace model, oDesk initially experienced the ‘chicken and egg’ dilemma — trying to balance acquisition of both clients and freelancers. We had to build out both sides at the same time, knowing that clients wouldn’t join a network with no freelancers and freelancers wouldn’t join a network with no clients.

Stratis Karamanlakis

Co-founder Stratis Karamanlakis

“It was really high-touch,” oDesk CEO Gary Swart says of building out the platform at this stage, adding that we hand-screened each freelancer and personally matched every client with the right worker. “But we quickly realized that wasn’t scalable. We also got a wake-up call when a client asked us to accept a freelancer he knew was great and wanted to hire, but who we had already rejected in the phone screen. We thought, you know what, maybe we’re not the best judge of which freelancer is right for which business. So we opened the floodgates.”

From there, demand exploded. Today, our market (the online work market) is more than $1B, and is expected to reach $5B within five years, according to Staffing Industry Analysts.

PS: Wondering what happened to Stratis? He is still happily living in Athens, helping guide the company’s direction from thousands of miles away. His remote presence has shaped a culture of remote-friendliness — in addition to having 250 full-time-equivalent oDesk contractors that work for us every day from around the world, our office has big-screen TVs in every conference room for Skype and Google Hangouts, and we have company-wide work-from-home days every Tuesday. Stratis visits our Silicon Valley headquarters several times a year, but we’re still keeping our fingers crossed for a company retreat to the Greek islands…

Jenna Weiner

Content Marketer

Jenna Weiner is the former content marketing manager at oDesk and was the editor-in-chief of the oDesk blog. With a background in business and technology writing, she specializes in content marketing and strategy, public relations, and branding. Before joining oDesk, Jenna was a writer and editor for Monitor Group’s marketing department (now Monitor Deloitte) and was the Business & Technology Section Editor for Brafton Inc.… read more