What would be better than a site where you could not only network but also find trusted people to whom you could sell your services? Well, this exactly what startup founder, Rick Carlile thought when he decided to combine the best of the networking world with the freelancing world with Aegora. Although it’s been some time since I graduated college, I wish this would have existed then as I’m sure it would have made the transition to the corporate world much easier!
With Aegora, users can sell, buy, and even manage projects. Simply connecting and networking is no longer enough considering the potential of the online experience and Carlile, with his ear to the ground, is well aware of this and has already begun with his transformative vision encompassed in Aegora.
Having come from a long line of computer coders, Carlile was first gifted a computer by his grandfather who by the way, was coding well into his 80’s.
We had a chance to talk to Carlile about the nuts of bolts of Aegora, a seaplane outfitted with a recording studio, and mountain living. Here’s what he shared with us:
What’s your company about? What do you do? Who are your customers?
Aegora is the world’s first networked professional marketplace. Imagine if LinkedIn and oDesk loved each other very much and gave each other a special hug; Aegora’s the offspring. It’s a professional network where you can locate trusted, quality people to work with, sell your services, and build new types of lean, low-overhead businesses. We’re seeing the traditional paradigm of corporate employment collapsing, and there’s currently no real alternative apart from existing online freelance marketplaces, which are too difficult to use for most people. We want to build that alternative paradigm; a way of creating solid earning streams for professionals of all types, on the Web. It’s an exciting vision!
What’s the greatest thing about your company/website? Why is it better than the competition?
The “secret sauce” is the marriage of the professional network, and the transactional model where you can buy, sell and manage projects. Existing professional networks like LinkedIn don’t have any real functionality for the average user apart from network-building; you can spend time building a lot of great contacts, but then what?
We become professionals to make a living, so the logical next step is to monetize the professional network so we can use it to support ourselves. Networking also solves the problems that make online freelance marketplaces so hard to use – the terrible signal-to-noise ratio problem, the hordes of low-end users, the race to the bottom, the poor image. When you can filter things based on network proximity, everything becomes much simpler and more straight-forward.
Others have tried to solve the problems of the first-generation online freelance marketplaces, but they all do it by introducing manual filtering – like checking peoples’ credentials manually – which increases per-user overhead and makes scaling hideously expensive. So they either remain niche and expensive or go bust trying to scale.
How’d you come up with the name for your company?
Our founding principle was that designing an online community is like writing a country’s constitution. We wanted to create the ideal, egalitarian, level playing field where everyone is equal, there are no filters or distinctions between users and anyone can promote themselves, buy and sell in a civilized environment.
Most online marketplaces are like military dictatorships, full of draconian rules and regulations – we wanted to be more like the ideal liberal or libertarian free-market utopia. I happened to study classical civilizations at school, so the Ancient Greek “Agora” – the marketplace where citizens would gather to engage in debate and trade – was the obvious historical model.
So we became the “e-agora”, and then “Aegora”. The original agora was an interesting place – it was the citizens’ ability to congregate, debate and trade that not only made the city-states rich, but also free.
What was your first computer? How old were you when you first got on the world wide web?
When I was five or six my grandfather (who was an industrialist but also a coder, programming C++ well into his eighties) gave me a Commodore 64. I don’t know how I would’ve turned out without that eye-opener! It was hard work at that age to learn the concepts of operation and basic (and BASIC) coding, but it became internalized very quickly.
What time do you usually start work each day?
I usually get up quite late, maybe nine or nine-thirty, then usually work pretty much straight through until ten or eleven in the evening. Meals are usually taken at my desk, but I always make time to give my German Shepherd a proper run in the hills every day! I also have a mobile office that fits in a briefcase, so I’ll sometimes take my Jeep and spend the day working at the beach, or in the mountains.
When’s the last time you went on vacation and where did you go?
I’m lucky enough to be constantly on vacation. I come from Scotland, but I live in the hills of rural Taiwan, which is pretty tropical and exotic. That’s one of the reasons I created Aegora; I have been able to achieve a terrific lifestyle by using online marketplaces to build businesses, but it’s been damn hard work!
So I want to make it easier for everybody to attain that kind of freedom where they can say “well, I sell my services 100% online so I can work from anywhere in the world – how about we go live in Thailand this year – or maybe Iceland – or…?” Sounds crazy but it’s reality for some folks and is only going to become more prevalent.
What’s the very first thing you do at work every day?
Boring stuff. Email. Google Analytics. Then I forget all about it and go do “real work!”
When do your best ideas come to you?
I have this great shower room at the top of the house that has a huge picture window looking out over a lush, jungle valley. It’s probably a bit odd for people looking in but I like to take long showers, look out over the valley, and dream up ideas.
How many people did you start the company with and how many people work for you now?
There are three of us: me, Peter our tech maven, and our business guy and mentor, who I can’t name at this stage – he’s a well-known high-level business type and we don’t want to interfere with his “day job”, which is rather sensitive. Aegora is in its early stages – invitational alpha – so it’s still at that founders-only size.
What gave you the confidence to actually go after your “big idea?”
Pain. I used to work in a cubicle and it just felt like waiting for the grave. So in 2008 I started a small consultancy, then in 2010 my web development company, now Aegora. I think entrepreneurs need an odd mix of optimism and fatalism, a knowledge and acceptance of one’s own mortality. We’re all going to die some time, you might as well die trying.
Remember the early days of starting up? Describe the struggles you went through…
We’re still in those early days! The initial technical struggles are fresh in my mind but in a sense those problems are easy to deal with because you can directly fix them with your own hands, or tell someone else “this needs doing.” Getting user proof and traction, on the other hand, is a completely different ball game!
How do you handle frustration?
I don’t get frustrated easily. I used to do a lot of MMA and the thing I learned from that is that you get hurt much worse if you back off than if you get in there and give the other guy what he’s trying to give you. So I figure that if I lose, it’s nothing to get frustrated about – you did your best, just learn from it, move on and do better next time.
That said, my biggest professional annoyance is that I didn’t become an entrepreneur sooner. Like instead of university. I’m a big fan of Peter Thiel, not least because of his fund that will pay you not to go to college.
What’s your office environment like?
Music – constantly. Movies and video games – only after the work’s done. Old-fashioned that way, I guess.
How do you picture your company in 5 years?
I would like to see Aegora as a catalyst that opens up alternatives to traditional careers for people. Particularly those leaving high school and college. So in five years, if we see young people with a saleable skill or passion saying “I can support myself with the small business I’ve built on Aegora, so I don’t need to waste my time looking for mind-numbing entry-level corporate jobs,” I would love that.
Who or what inspires you?
Generally, nature and the environment; it’s so fecund here that I can go out into the jungle and see a new type of beetle every day – astonishing and humbling.
People: Peter Thiel, as mentioned. Elon Musk.
Lots of fictional characters, actually – old movie characters; Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson, Lee Marvin, Humphrey Bogart. Robert Heinlein novels; Jubal Harshaw. Jim DiGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat. Roy Batty from Bladerunner.
My dog’s very inspirational. She’s much calmer and more emotionally centered than I am.
Favorite quote: I have this one up on my office wall, from the actor Lee Marvin. “Security is two inches behind your belt, where you either keep your guts or you don’t. The rest is eyewash.”
How’d you fund this venture?
Self-funded so far. We’re focusing on building a core community of first-adopters who share our vision before taking the next step.
Got any great bootstrapping tips for the lean startups out there?
This sounds conflicting, but one the one hand, focus on high-leverage activities. Whatever will make the most difference. On the other hand, don’t be afraid to do drudge work or get your hands dirty. So if what you really need to do is spend a week doing something tedious – just hold your nose and do it. There’s also a lot of help for startups out there these days.
What other advice do you have for other entrepreneurs struggling to get started?
“Self-belief does not necessarily ensure success, but self-disbelief assuredly spawns failure.” (Albert Bandura) Never forget basic principles of trade. If you’re giving the customer something tangible he can’t get elsewhere, or giving it to him better or cheaper, you have a business. Do something of real value. That way when it gets tough going, and it will, you’ll have something solid to push against and keep you on track.
What would you do if you had a year off and $500,000 to spend?
I’m not sure if $500k would cover it, but I’d get a Grumman seaplane just like Jimmy Buffett’s, fit it out with a digital recording studio, and fly from one place to another creating film music. But that’s just me.
Do you consider yourself a successful entrepreneur?
I’m a successful lifestyle entrepreneur, in that I set out to build businesses that allowed me to create the kind of lifestyle I wanted; that’s worked out very well. As an entrepreneur in general? Honestly, not yet. I think a truly successful entrepreneur has to do something recognizably awesome that’s witnessed by society in general. We’ll see how Aegora goes.
Top 5 websites you couldn’t live without and why?
I know we bash freelance marketplaces like oDesk and Elance because they have some big inadequacies, and Aegora’s model is superior, but we shouldn’t forget that they really were revolutionary, and continue to provide value that would be sorely missed if it suddenly disappeared.
Apart from that, I grew up on newspaper comics so I need my daily dose of Dilbert, Doonesbury, Red Meat, etc.!
Top 5 mobile apps you’re in love with and why?
Living in a Chinese-speaking country, and not being a great Chinese-speaker, apps can solve a lot of problems. Google maps is of course vital for finding and exploring new places, or just getting to meetings (Taipei is a tricky place to drive around). Bing has a new visual translator that works incredibly well.
We have a lot of killer typhoons so it’s vital to keep up-to-date on the weather, particularly if you’re out in the boonies. There’s also a brilliant app that lets you jack into the CCTV cameras throughout the freeway network; very cool. I’m still a bit of a stranger in a strange land so anything that can make that less difficult or dangerous is very welcome!
What is your music streaming player of choice, and what are you listening to right now?
I don’t really have a preference for one player over another, if they run in the background and don’t bother me, that’s just fine! My favorite channel right now is the “Secret Agent” stream from Soma.fm. Very cool, relaxed, elegant; great stuff to code or write to.
If I’m designing and not using the word-processing part of my brain for work, I like to listen to BBC Radio 4 Extra, mainly for the archive comedy. I’ve always been a huge Goon Show fan. A great channel if you like ‘80s alternative is Steve West’s Resurrection streaming channel on 91X (San Diego).
Number 1 country you’ve always wanted to visit but haven’t yet?
One thing I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid growing up was explore the US properly, without distractions; road trip from west to east across the north, down the Atlantic coast and back to the Pacific via the southern states. I just love the open road and exploration.
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