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Upwork: A Great Millennial Stock

By Motley Fool Staff – May 3, 2019 at 9:14AM

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The freelance platform is well-positioned to thrive from the rise of the "gig economy."

Upwork (UPWK -1.50%) has grown to become the largest marketplace for connecting freelancers with employers. That makes it a natural fit for millennials who crave location independence and want to boost their income through part-time work.

In this segment from Industry Focus: Technology, host Dylan Lewis and contributor Brian Feroldi discuss why UpWork is well-positioned for growth as the millennial generation continues to enter the workforce in droves.

To catch full episodes of all The Motley Fool's free podcasts, check out our podcast center. A full transcript follows the video.

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This video was recorded on April 26, 2019.

Dylan Lewis: All right, Brian, our stock No. 2 is a slightly different tailwind. Also digital, but we're looking a little bit more at the workspace here. This is one that you and I know quite well -- Upwork. We've talked about it before on the show. We've also both used this company before.

Brian Feroldi: Yeah. Upwork, for those that don't know, is the online matchmaker of freelancers. Companies go there if they want to hire somebody for a specific gig or a specific job. Individuals that have skills to sell can go there and find work. This is another market where network effect is critical. Being the top dog, having the most employers and employees to connect together, is critical. They have acquired their way to become the top dog in the space.

Lewis: You hear very often that the millennial generation is the digital native generation. You have people that grew up online and really lean into that with their work. I think that this is a company that really benefits from that. There's so much work out there, especially in the creative fields, but even in the work that we do for, where you don't necessarily need to be sharing an office with someone to get something done. If you're submitting articles, if you're doing video production work, what have you, there are a lot of ways where that can be done remotely. Increasingly, companies are catching onto the fact that they can get people for distinct periods to work on projects, and it's better to have that arrangement. This is a company that really benefits from that.

Feroldi: Yeah. You see it's positive for both sides. For employers, if they have one specific job and they want to hire one specific skill and don't necessarily want to take on a full-time employee to have that, this is a great site to go to, to get just that one specific task done. Upwork has thousands of skills that they can go out there and promote and sell, which is huge. And then for employees, well, a lot of people can do this whenever they want. They can choose when they want to work, they can do it on the side. This is one of the best plays that I see out there for the rise of the gig economy.

Lewis: The gig economy has gotten so many headlines over the last couple of years, often associated with Lyft and with Uber, Airbnb as well. I think this is one that maybe people don't realize quite as much plays into that. Some people are doing this for their full-time jobs because they work in the creative fields and they can do that. It's very easy now to arbitrage the cost of living. You can charge roughly what you would to live in a major urban area for your work, but live somewhere totally different, and be able to enjoy quite a bit of difference there.

With this business, I love the fact that they're able to do the matchmaking. I've used it firsthand and seen, in looking for some video production work for the Fool, we found some super qualified people. We were able to augment some of our multimedia work. It was seamless. They were able to hook us up with great qualified folks, and it didn't really cost us much to make it happen. They were happy to be the matchmaker. That's a pretty good business model, too. They're doing I think 20% year over year revenue growth. One of their early earnings reports were a little disappointing, but broad strokes, I like where this company's going because it seems like so many macro trends are pushing it along.

Feroldi: Yeah, completely. The nice thing here is, if you are a believer in the gig economy rising and millennials picking and choosing when they want to work, where they want to work, this company plays right into that hand. The potential market here is just massive. The global payout for freelancers was $560 billion. Upwork's revenue, by contrast, is just a tiny portion of that. This company has had a tremendous growth runway ahead of it, if it can remain the top dog.

Lewis: And they have what I think is hard to quantify, but super important when you're looking at a platform or a software-as-a-service company. That's that they are the de facto name in that space. I don't know of anyone else that has the standing that they do in this community. That's a testament to the network effect. That's the first place that freelancers are going to go. It's the first place that employers are going to go. You can't underestimate that strength.

Feroldi: Yeah, completely. Speaking to the stock, this is a company that came public and had a lot going for it, and so far has not been a great performer out of the gate, which to me is a great showcase of, even if everything looks good on paper, you still want to give the company some time to make the shift to a public mentality. It's so different from the private markets. I think Upwork is down quite a bit from its IPO. But the company itself still looks good, still growing. It's just that it hasn't worked out yet for investors.

Lewis: A testament to why you need to nibble on the first 12 months when a company has gone public.

Brian Feroldi has no position in any of the stocks mentioned. Dylan Lewis owns shares of Upwork. The Motley Fool recommends Upwork. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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