What went wrong with Upwork?

This year is my 10th anniversary of working on Upwork. I started back in 2006. when it was still oDesk (ah, the good old days 🙂 ), and until recently, it has been my main source of freelance jobs. In retrospective, it has been a great time. I’ve had a chance to work with some great people and on some great projects. I even worked for Upwork itself, helping  to build and improve their platform.

Yet, for a while now, I find myself increasingly looking for work outside Upwork. Despite the fact that I’ve build my profile and portfolio to the top rated status and great customer satisfaction, I feel like there is no way for me to advance my career further on Upwork. So, what is it that went wrong with Upwork?

The turning point

I have a habit of following Upwork forums from time to time, and I noticed that great increase in community backlash coincided with the time oDesk re-branded itself as Upwork. Although it was known for a while that Elance and oDesk are going to merge (announced back in 2013), nobody quite knew how it was gonna play out. The actual Upwork launch was kept under wraps by the management, and came as quite a surprise to the users, so I believe it was quite a shock for them. As I mentioned, I worked for Upwork at that time, and was familiar with the plans, so I didn’t pay much attention to that. But, I believe most of users were genuinely shocked and probably most Upwork employees can’t really appreciate the magnitude of it.

Anyway, community backlash started right after Upwork launched. Technical problems that seemed to plague new platform from the beginning, causing the flood of angry posts on support forums. But, aside from these problems (which are inevitable for the system of that size), I distinctly remember 3 things that cause general outrage in the community.

Introducing connects

At some point after launch, Upwork introduced the system of connects. Basically, you are allocated a number of connects for each month, and for each job application that you submit, you spend some connects, usually 2. Also, you can buy extra connects if you want.

This feature caused a torrent of negative feedback, with most freelancers complaining that Upwork is trying to rip them off. Many people threatened that they will “leave Upwork and take their business elsewhere”.

From my point of view, this change was not so bad. For freelancers, it did not differ that much from job application quota, which was in place before connects. With basic accounts, you get a chance to apply to 20 jobs per month, making it about 2 per day. I believe this is quite reasonable, since I’ve never managed to make more than 2 quality application per day. Of course, it does mean that you can’t be applying to every job that you run into, but I believe that was the point: to reduce the number of spam applications.

Also, the option to buy additional connects created a new revenue stream for Upwork, which is what every company needs. So, in my view, this was a good move by Upwork.

Introducing Job Success Score

The next thing that caused community upheaval was to replace 5-star rating system with Job Success Score(JSS). This new system gave every freelancer a percentage score, based on some algorithm that Upwork implemented, and that takes into account various performance indicators of freelancers.

Again, community forums were running red-hot with discontent. Again, people were threatening that they will leave the platform. The main point was that nobody knew exactly how this algorithm worked, and how 5-star freelancers can suddenly have 60-70% feedback score, instead of 100%. People were worried that their ability to get hired will be affected.

Personally, I still don’t know what to think about this new rating system. My JSS remains at 100% to this day, so it does not affect me, but I believe that Upwork just made things more complicated with this. They claim it helps clients to hire the best freelancers, and it might be good from client’s point of view, but for freelancer, it’s just a pain in the ass.

Introducing sliding fees

The final things that caused another community mayhem was the introduction of sliding fees. Again, community forums were ablaze, and again people were threatening to leave. Most comments were making the point that Upwork just wants to rip off small contractors, who worked hard to make the platform what it is today.

It’s hard to say who is right here. It’s true that small projects are affected a lot, but it also means that big projects get rewarded. Some will like this change, other won’t. I guess the only way here is to suck it up and decide what’s best for each individual.

Current state of affairs

Although things mentioned above seem controversial at best, it is not the reason I am less and less frequent Upwork user. They are after all some business hurdles every freelancer learns to live with and deal with them one way or the other. No, the main reason Upwork doesn’t cut it for me any more is the low number of  high quality jobs. By quality jobs, I mean jobs which will bring high hourly rate and are interesting and challenging.

Sure, there are this, but they hard to find and negotiating desired rate is tough, sometimes even impossible. Simply, clients have wide and deep pool of talent they can choose from and which is capable of satisfying their requirements. Additionally, what frustrates me the most, is that most of these jobs end up not hiring anybody and simply expire.

So, what can Upwork do attract more high quality jobs? I’m not sure, and don’t think they even care. From company perspective, they are doing great, growing steadily and are de-facto leading freelance marketplace available. On the other hand, they started Upwork Pro. It’s a place where Upwork offers to clients pre-screened developers that are good fit for their project. I’m not sure what to think about this, since in a way it gives Upwork an unfair advantage, in that they can take the best clients and offer them only a handful of approved developers.  In any case, I’m not sure how promising this new version of Upwork would be.


To be honest, I’m not ready to give up on Upwork yet. I’ve been user for years and have built a solid reputation, so it’s kind of hard for me to let it go. But, I will also be looking for opportunities elsewhere.

Also, I would highly recommend Upwork to anybody. Whether if you are just starting, or are a seasoned freelancer, you can find great opportunities on  Upwork. This especially goes for people from countries where local freelance markets are not strong and finding good work is hard. With Upwork, you get the chance to access a global pool of work no matter where you are located.

Happy freelancing!


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