Uplink Update: How Grew Our Online Community To 1600+ Members

Manuel Meurer
Founder, Uplink
from Berlin, Germany
started August 2016
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Hello again! Remind us who you are and what business you started.

Hi again, I’m Manuel and I started Uplink, a community of IT freelancers in Germany, in 2016. We have 1600+ members by now and we offer a lively online community, cooperations, events (online and, pre-and hopefully post-Corona, in-person), and, last but not least, job placements, which are also our main source of income.


Tell us about what you’ve been up to! Has the business been growing?

Well, where to begin, reading my last interview from December 2019 feels pretty surreal, since only a few months later the world started turning upside down, and it hasn’t stopped yet.

In March 2020, when the Corona cases started going up quickly here in Germany and the first lockdown went into effect, 80-90% of the freelancers, who were working through us for clients at that time, were let go. Most businesses simply were not prepared to continue their projects completely remotely, and due to the uncertainty about the future, most companies tried to quickly lower their costs as much as possible, and the freelancers are the first ones who are let go in such situations.

We had 3-4 months with only a few client requests per month (compared to 20-50 requests in “normal” months), then business started picking up again and since September it’s almost back to normal. Most projects are completely remote now, which is a positive development that hopefully continues after the pandemic.

Since we had enough runway and relatively low costs, and we were eligible for government aid, we were never really in danger of going out of business, but it was scary nonetheless.

Looking back, we did use that downtime wisely by reflecting on what was working well in our business (before the pandemic) and pondering how the world of IT freelancing and recruiting would develop in the coming years and how we can adjust to stay competitive. We decided that becoming a platform (i.e., get other players in the market to post their jobs in our network) instead of solely focusing on acquiring end customers ourselves would be the most promising avenue for us.

There are a few other freelancer platforms in Germany, but none really focus on high-quality IT projects, so we are confident that we can compete with them.

What have been your biggest lessons learned in the last year?

I’ve always read that every startup founder who wasn’t really interested in sales and just thought “if I build a really great product, it’ll sell itself” realizes at some point what a fool she’s been, hires a sales team, and the business goes through the roof! This is total BS, I now realized, and on-par with the myth that to run a “real” startup, you need to seek VC funding or pitch your business constantly. You can totally build a great business without funding and a single sales person if you focus on the business and find other acquisition channels that work for you (marketing, SEO, referrals, events, cooperations, etc.)

Being a small and flexible business is quite an advantage during a pandemic.

In an extremely chaotic and confusing environment, focus on a few things that you know are working well for you and will (probably) continue to work well in the future. Keep your head down and don’t panic. Stay in touch with your community, peers, and clients - you’re all in the same boat, and they will remember who was with them in that boat after the storm is over.

If you feel overwhelmed by day-to-day news and developments, try to step back and see the bigger picture. Which fundamental changes are underway and how will they shape the business environment 6 months, one year, or 5 years from now? What can you do now to steer your business in the right direction to take advantage of these changes in the future?

What’s in the plans for the upcoming year, and the next 5 years?

The 5-year plan is to establish Uplink as the #1 community for IT freelancers in Germany. We dream that at some point, Uplink offers so many advantages to its members, that it’s a no-brainer and just doesn’t make sense for any IT freelancer in Germany not to join.

Realizing what makes our business unique, and how we can embrace that and play to its strengths, gave me a lot of confidence to push through hard times.

We will stay true to our core values of transparency and fairness, and find more recruiters and other players in the IT recruiting business that share those values.

For 2021, the plan is to fully transform Uplink from a service business to a platform. We will not stop working directly with clients (it’s the most fun and rewarding part of our business!) but at least half of the projects published on Uplink should come from our recruiting partners.

Have you read any good books in the last year?

Unfortunately not, since my personal situation in 2020 did not leave much time for reading or other such pleasant activities.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who might be struggling to grow their business?

It’s hard to advise on this topic since everyone’s situation is different.

One thing that has helped me enormously in the last year is realizing how we can position Uplink in the long term to be unique and stand out from the crowd, and thereby giving it the best chance of becoming successful. Before that, I often had the feeling that we are very similar to our competitors, but they are bigger, better funded, perform better, etc.

Realizing what makes our business unique, and how we can embrace that and play to its strengths, gave me a lot of confidence to push through hard times.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

No, we are very happy being a team of two right now.

Where can we go to learn more?

If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!

Manuel Meurer, Founder of Uplink
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