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Q&A with Erin Halper, Founder of The Upside


WHAT IS THE UPSIDE?

The Upside helps corporate professionals become consultants and independent contractors in their specific fields of expertise, and then matches them with companies in need of high level, flexible, scalable talent. Our consultants gain the independence and balance they are seeking in their careers while businesses gain best-in-class talent to help them efficiently function and grow. It's a true win-win! HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE IDEA?

As a marketing consultant for the past 7 years, I felt I had an ideal balance of having my own business, getting paid for my work and spending quality time with my family. However, I quickly realized that many corporate professionals were unable to transition their careers into a consultancy or convince their employers to provide any sort of flexible schedule. This scenario leads to the now-famous figure often quoted from Sheryl Sandberg's NY Times bestseller Lean In stating that 43% of highly qualified women with children are leaving careers or off-ramping for a period of time. Forty. Three. Percent. Yet many of that 43% still very much want to work, they just refuse to work 50-hr weeks while trying to also balance family life at home. So here is this enormous pool of wasted talent that hardly any companies are tapping in to. Not to mention all of the professionals who have not opted out, still working exhausting full time corporate schedules because they've determined that there are no viable part time options.

I've learned that the best business ideas often rise out of trying to solve a common problem. And in my opinion, this is a big common problem. I knew that if I could replicate the same consultancy model that provided me and my clients with so much flexibility, I'd be able to provide others with a career option that allows them to avoid the dichotomy of total opt-out and full time employment. And that's how The Upside was born.

ARE THERE ANY COMPANIES DOING SOMETHING SIMILAR?

Most people loathe competition. I actually love it because it provides proof of concept for my budding business. As I developed the idea for The Upside, I began digging for competitors and found that just within the past 2 years, 5 or 6 new businesses in my category started popping up. That's not a coincidence. With the extreme political landscape, growing women's movement, the undeniable influence of the Millennial generation and a few recent NY Times bestsellers discussing the topic of women and work, it's no surprise that change is happening and a new industry of "flexible talent" is developing.

We are all doing it a bit differently, but all have the same mission of changing the traditional 9 to 5 "face time" structure that corporate America has maintained since the 1950s. As far as I know, The Upside is the only company helping professionals become true consultants, and using a traditional human-to-human headhunter model on the front end to generate connections while applying technology on the back end to support its clients and consultants. Other companies have created digital marketplaces (or job boards) for finding flexible or project-based work, which is great for many people. However, I prefer focusing on a more personal connection and boutique experience between clients and consultants to ensure quality and longevity which I think is a huge differentiator for The Upside. We are also the only company that negotiates rates on behalf of our talent, something I feel strongly about.

CAN ANYONE BE A CONSULTANT WITH THE UPSIDE?

The Upside is building a brand known for having access to best-in-class corporate professionals. Some are currently working, some have taken a couple of years off, but all have at least 10 years of corporate experience and the confidence to be able to step into any company and make a measurable impact with their skills and experience. Our consultants are corporate rock stars that any company would be lucky to have on their team.

WHAT TYPE OF INDUSTRIES AND CONSULTANTS DO YOU WORK WITH?

The Upside will work in just about any industry with an office structure and can provide talent with a wide range of backgrounds. We have senior-level consultants in marketing, finance, HR, PR, accounting, legal services, media, writing, design and research, just to name a handful. And if a client needs a skill set not in our existing talent pool, we will find it for them!

WHAT DOES THE UPSIDE DO FOR ITS CONSULTANTS?

The Upside performs all of the client generation, rate negotiations, contracts, time tracking, reporting, invoicing and collections for our consultants. Not to mention, we are creating a social community of like-minded go-getters where we collaborate, socialize, lean on one another and lift each other up.

WHAT KIND OF BUSINESS IS AN IDEAL CLIENT FOR THE UPSIDE?

Just about any business that can benefit from flexible, scalable, high level talent is a potential client for The Upside.

I often ask a potential client, "Would you rather have an expert for 20 hours/week or a junior employee 40 hours/week for the same price?" This resonates with business owners who value quality results over simply having a warm body filling desk space.

Additionally, if a business would rather avoid hiring an outside agency with monthly retainers and overhead costs in favor of an individual specialist who can get the job done flexibly and cost-effectively, that's a potential client. The Upside can easily replace big agencies with one single consultant. That's how talented our professionals are.

Finally, if a company needs a particular business function but it's not quite a full time position yet, that's a potential client. This typically works well for non-core business functions within a specific industry, like HR at a real estate company or marketing for a law firm. In situations where you feel like you need "half" a senior level employee, The Upside is an ideal solution.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE GOALS FOR THE BUSINESS?

Slowly but surely, companies are starting to realize that they can attract the best talent by providing some level of flexibility. I want to be a part of this cultural shift. For the next 1 - 2 years, I plan to build upon my existing network in the New York Metro area and create dozens of matches locally. Once that becomes a well-oiled operation, the next step is to expand nationally by finding business development rock stars in various cities who share The Upside's values and can help replicate the model in their local markets. My goal is for The Upside to be a company that provides life-balancing opportunities to thousands of people across the country, and for The Upside to become a voice for positive change in corporate America.

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