Turtle offers a new model for freelancing

Vlad Lokshin, MBA ’15, co-founded Turtle to create a first-class freelancing platform, starting with software developers.

By: Janice Endresen
illustration showing Turtle’s mascot, a turtle, wearing a space helmet and floating in the universe while typing on a laptop computer

Imagine a world in which employers connect and work seamlessly with freelancers whose skills, interests, and availability are precisely on target for each project. That’s a world Vlad Lokshin, MBA ’15, and his co-founder, Venkat Dinavahi, envisioned when they created Turtle, a collaboration platform for freelance software developers and companies looking for top engineers who can help their technical teams sprint towards the next big milestone.

“Freelancing and hiring people globally should be a first-class part of the work economy,” says Lokshin. “But it’s been a second class thing, something people do if they want to save money, just a cheap race to the bottom. Historically, freelancers have been mistreated on these networks. We feel that’s wrong. And we believe we can turn that on its head.”

Vetting software engineers and treating them with respect

Turtle selects engineers they think will fit the bill for a client, then pays them for 10 hours of work in order to find out how developers work and determine whether they meet Turtle’s standards.

“Pass or fail, they get paid,” says Lokshin. “If we’re going to ask you to test with us, we pay, just like a traditional company would pay for the flights and everything else” when they invite candidates to interviews.

That sends a strong message of respect to freelance developers, right up front.

“Showing developers that they’ll be treated with respect from the beginning has meant that we don’t have supply-side constraints,” says Emily McAllister ’11, MBA ’15, who joined Turtle as the company’s chief marketing officer just this year. “It’s very easy for us to find great developers because as soon as one person passes the test and gets matched to work with a great customer, they’re referring their friends. They’re excited to be a part of a platform where they’re treated with respect and complimented on their work.”

photo of Vlad Lokshin
Vlad Lokshin, MBA ’15
photo of Emily McAllister
Emily McAllister ’11, MBA ’15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vlad Lokshin, MBA ’15, and Emily McAllister ’11, MBA ’15, are both “v1” Johnson Cornell Tech MBA grads — v1 meaning they are among the 41 graduates of the degree program’s inaugural class, a tight cohort that has remained connected from day one.

Vetting customers

Just as it vets engineers, Turtle also uses tools for vetting customers. By vetting both sides of the network, Lokshin says, there’s a natural selection process that results in matches that are both on-target for the work and marked by mutual respect.

Turtle vets new customers by showing them how to use Turtle, including sharing an example of a clean, clearly outlined freelance work assignment. The platform then asks potential new customers to create their own version of a work assignment—one that describes the product they want built, includes the design and the code repository, and may even break job components down into subtasks.

“Once a company uploads all its specs, Turtle sends a link to the assignment to a shortlist of developers who might be a good match and who have the availability,” says McAllister. Developers who have previous experience in similar projects or who have a strong personal connection to the work would have an edge in being selected. “It’s a double opt-in process, where a developer who is excited about the project before any work is actually done sets time estimates for each subtask,” McAllister says. “And the company has the chance to say, ‘Okay, these estimates look good. This person sounds interesting. It’s a go.’”

One-stop shop

Typically, “if you want to hire someone online today, you have to find them on a freelance marketplace and piece together a bunch of different tools, services, and processes,” says Lokshin. “You’d use one system to pay them and different services to video conference, to chat, to create schedules, and to handle task management.”

Lokshin and Dinavahi re-imagined the freelance marketplace and created a one-stop shop that provides clients and freelancers with all the tools they need to work through every stage of a project, all in one place. That simplifies the process and logistics of working together and also sets Turtle apart.

“Turtle handles the onboarding and matching of both sides and gives people the tools to work together through this interface,” says Lokshin. “So something that feels like a simple task manager and chat system actually ends up being the core of what people need to plan together, work together, prioritize together, track [work] time, and get paid, as well.”

“Making work feel really conversational and approachable is key,” adds McAllister. “Reducing all these processes to a chat app makes it feels super simple and familiar for anyone to get going.”

A versatile model, inspired by Shopify

While Turtle’s first iteration focuses on software developers, Lokshin envisions broadening Turtle’s platform to serve a host of freelance opportunities. Just as Shopify streamlined e-commerce, he sees Turtle as the model for a new, mutually beneficial way for freelancers and companies to connect and work together. In fact, he says, Turtle is already making the transition from powering just one marketplace and opening up its platform to power other marketplaces through TurtleOS.

Certainly, Turtle has seen real growth since it launched in 2017. “We’ve bootstrapped our way to over $2 million in historical gross revenues and over $133,000 per month,” says Lokshin. “Eighty-five clients’ teams are powered by Turtle and we continue to grow on a monthly basis.”

The bulk of Turtle’s customers are early-stage startups, says McAllister, “like seed-stage series A—small technical teams that are excited to move a little bit faster by working with freelance developers. But with TurtleOS, freelancers and agencies of any size can use Turtle’s tools to grow their online businesses and work with clients.”

 The abrupt shift to remote work, learning, and many other aspects of life brought about by the pandemic has led to an acceleration of Turtle’s growth. “In this new era of work from home and remote work, the company has grown substantially since March,” says Lokshin. Beyond increased demands for e-commerce and website development, “we believe the demand for flexible work arrangements across industries is a core driver in the shifts we’re seeing,” he says. “Workers have desired flexible and remote arrangements for some time, but businesses may not have believed in the viability of remote or flex work until COVID. That’s all changed and accelerated faster than anyone anticipated.”

Lokshin adds: “Work is no longer a physical destination; it’s now a state of mind.

illustration of a turtle with a spacing helmet typing on a laptop

Why “Turtle”?

When Vlad Lokshin was in Japan, he was struck by all the turtles he saw everywhere. “Turtles are a symbol of longevity; they’ve been around forever, since the dinosaurs,” he says. He draws the connection to a core company value: “We think about forming teams thoughtfully and slowly, so they actually stick around and those companies actually survive.

“We wanted something that has a positive connotation just about anywhere,” he adds, “and there are a lot of other international interpretations that are positive because we work in and hire people in more than 15 different countries.”

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