Written by Deena Douara
Not everyone can do the 9-to-5 office workday, commuting, tethered, and subordinate. A small class of people have found a way to make a living outside of that – freelancers. They choose when, where and how they work, but of course, it’s not utopian. There are often gaps between jobs, there is no pension or insurance, and one hustles for assignments.
“It’s such a hard life that the only people we see doing it are those that are so passionate about their craft and love what they’re doing so much that they can’t envision not doing that thing,” explains Bram Warshafsky, co-founder of 5Crowd, an on-demand marketing agency.
Warshafsky and co-founder Rachel Zimmer are betting their business on these individuals, who they showcase in promo videos on their website, and on a wall in their downtown office.
“We want to unlock the power of freelance and share it with the world,” says Zimmer.
Of course, ultimately, the business is about business – and about how 5Crowd can help other, larger businesses be more agile, efficient and frugal by utilizing their network of vetted freelancers – the “crowd” – who do anything from design work and animation to copywriting and videography.
Some of the less glamourous work the team takes on is helping with testing of digital assets – a time-consuming but necessary stage in digital implementation.
“It’s analogous to physical production. You have an architect coming up with blueprints working with the client, and you have construction workers who go site to site to build as efficiently as possible,” explains Warshafsky. “We’re the first blue-collar construction workers in digital production.”
Warshafsky and Zimmer understand the problem well. Both worked as brand managers for a multinational during a time of rapid change for the industry. They and colleagues all felt “the pinch” – the burden of having to do much more (fresh digital content in particular), with less. It is what one executive has called the industry’s Kodak moment.
“So we reverse engineered the business partner we wished we had when we were client-side,” explains Warshafsky.
They say their services help save clients, which include Labatt, Johnson & Johnson, Telus, Hershey’s and CIBC, millions of dollars and many, many man-hours.
Warshafsky says accessing important multinationals has been relatively easy. “Up and down one highway you can get to almost every big company…. That makes Toronto a really great place to incubate any sort of enterprise-based business.”
Toronto has also provided a supportive atmosphere for the co-founders, who have leveraged hackathons and TechTO events, as well as funding from IRAP, to help foster their growth; growth which has landed them a spot on Marketing Magazine’s Top 30 Under 30 list.
The co-founders knew they worked well together after first meeting at Queen’s University and forging a bond through entering and winning business plan competitions like Canada’s Next Top Ad Exec (earning them two cars in the process). Zimmer recommends such high-pressure testing for any entrepreneurs considering working together.
Despite similar backgrounds though, the two take quite different approaches to the work. Zimmer is the consummate extrovert and is driven by a desire to deliver excellent customer service and to tell a good story. Meanwhile, Warshafsky takes an analytic approach, where the psychology of persuasion and the opportunities that data and technology offer, are what propel him.
What they share is a commitment to engage the most talented freelancers available in order to pass along cost savings and efficiencies to partners.
And hence, their name. Warshafsky explains that while marketing managers traditionally had four options for rolling out new digital initiatives – hire a traditional (costly) agency, hire a fulltime (under/overworked) employee, (tediously) find their own freelancers or avoid the project altogether, 5Crowd offers a fifth option – the Crowd.