Elance is a platform for online work that helps businesses hire and manage in the cloud.

I’ve been asking VP Europe Kjetil Olsen about Elance’s business model and its future plans… 

In one sentence, what is Elance?

Elance is the world’s leading platform for online employment, helping businesses hire and manage in the cloud.

What problems does Elance solve?

For businesses looking to staff-up a team on an hourly or project basis, Elance offers instant access to qualified professionals who work online. Elance provides the tools to hire, view work as it progresses and pay for results.

It is faster and more cost-effective than job boards, staffing firms and traditional outsourcing, making it ideal for businesses looking to jump-start a project, broaden their reach or just simply get things done.

For skilled professionals such as web developers or designers, who want to work online, Elance offers access to qualified clients, a virtual workplace and guaranteed pay for great work. To help make delivering great results easier for freelance contractors, Elance offers a suite of tools to help make working life as efficient as possible.

When and why did you launch it?

Elance was originally launched in 1998 as the first e-commerce application to procure and manage contractors and services. The enterprise business was sold in 2006, and the company began to focus on building a web-based platform.

Fabio Rosati, CEO of Elance, saw a tremendous opportunity to not only provide a revolutionary service for small and medium businesses, but also to transform employment and how companies and people work and since its re-launch in 2007, Elance has enjoyed accelerating double digit growth.

Elance opened its European office in 2011 to provide better services and support to the UK and continental Europe too.

What was your background before launching Elance?

I came to Elance with 10 years’ experience in the online recruitment industry. Prior to Elance, I held the position as Group Director M&A in StepStone, Europe’s leading job board.

During my studies, I founded the job board deltidsjobb.no and EasyCruit, the latter of which is one of the most widespread recruitment software providers in Europe.

Who is your target audience?

Elance has two target audiences worldwide: freelance contractors seeking work online and clients of all sizes from startups, SMBs and enterprise businesses seeking to hire virtual staff on an hourly or project basis.

There is a particular focus on freelancers in marketing and website development sectors, including SEO, web development and design, copywriting and site management.

What are your immediate goals?

Elance has experienced rapid growth all over the globe, including Europe. Our immediate goals for the European market is to further accelerate this by having a European presence to support our new and existing clients and contractors and generally improve visibility in the market.

Do you have a mobile version of the site?

We are in the process of building a mobile version of our site, and plan to launch it in early 2012.

What were the biggest challenges involved in building Elance?

In the beginning the challenges were enormous. Fabio had to build up team confidence and build a loyal customer base, all while managing scarce resources and leading the company into unchartered territory.

While the benefits of e-work was being widely discussed, it hadn’t been implemented yet. Fabio spent his time experimenting with this vision and, over time, Fabio and his team created an iconic and revolutionary model used by more than 100,000 businesses and spawned an entire industry.

Silicon Valley now calls this the Human Cloud and Elance is credited with being there from the beginning.

How will the company make money?

Businesses can register and post an unlimited number of jobs at no cost. Elance service fees, the lowest in the industry, are always included in the price quoted by service contractors.

When clients make payments to their service contractor, Elance deducts a fee from each payment to cover the Service Fee and Payment Processing costs, and transfers the remaining amount directly to the service contractor’s account (between 6.75% and 8.75%).

Who is in the team and what does it look like?

The Elance team is led by our CEO, Fabio Rosati. At Elance headquarters in Mountain View, California, there are 55 full-time, onsite employees, and two full-time workers in the Europe headquarters in Oslo, Norway.

We also have more than 100 “Elancers” telecommuting from around the world. Every department across Elance, from marketing to IT to customer service, includes e-workers on Elance as a part of their team. So we really do live and breathe freelancing!

Where would you like to be in one, three and five year’s time?

In one year’s time, we’d like to see more European companies and freelance contractors sign up to Elance.

In three years’ time, we expect that hundreds of thousands of businesses will connect on-demand with skilled professionals and work together in the cloud as the benefits of working online become widely known and adopted.

In the long run, five years or more, we aim to have a disruptive effect on the employment models used across the globe, as the efficiency, transparency, and reliability of finding, hiring and working in the cloud becomes the standard for engaging talent and finding work around the world.