Let’s Go Liquid: One Million Liquid Businesses


Today, we launched a new website for Liquid, the operating system for agile businesses. I’m so excited to share what we’ve been working on, and so proud of how far we’ve come from when we first started our consulting firm together many years ago.

With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on our vision for Liquid and the future of work, how we got here, and why I believe we’re building something important.

Shifting from role-based work to project-based work

For years, I had seen my friends — fellow MIT alums — leaving their careers behind because they couldn’t find a way to make work fit into their lives. Whether it was making more time for their children or parents (or not wanting to be tied to a job and an office), highly educated women were leaving the workforce in droves. I had long found project-based work to be a means of finding work-life fit and I wanted to build a way to make it easier for anyone to do project-based work. And as a long-time consultant, I had seen for myself how tapping into on-demand talent enable businesses to scale quickly and efficiently. I realized project-based work was a win-win for all parties involved.

Project-based work and the future of work

I’ve been a big proponent of project-based work as a critical component of the future of work. Project-based work allows small business owners, entrepreneurs, creators, and enterprises to grow and scale their businesses while also expanding opportunities to bring in diverse talent. Working with on-demand talent is a good business decision for agile businesses. On the talent side, project-based work is a means to find work-life fit, particularly for lifelong learners eager to strengthen and develop their capabilities.

Starting FlexTeam

It was with that goal in mind that I co-founded FlexTeam — we wanted to build a world where previously sidelined professionals could engage in challenging, meaningful work when it fit into their lives. In addition, we envisioned a world where anyone could build an agile business, bringing on just-in-time talent to complete only the specific work that needed to be done.

Building FlexTeam’s platform

As we built FlexTeam, we initially used half a dozen different platforms to get signatures, manage contracts, agree to scopes of work, make payments, etc. We realized a tech platform was needed to manage this. Bringing on a CTO, we built an operating system for our modern consulting firm. Our proprietary platform allowed us to vet, onboard, manage, and pay FlexTeam’s consultants, while also enabling our clients to approve scopes of work, communicate with our team, and make payments.

Going Liquid

Liquid @ Techstars LA

FlexTeam grew to over 700+ independent contractors working on strategy projects with hundreds of clients, from SMBs to Fortune 500 companies. But we realized that to accelerate our vision for the future — to help more businesses Go Liquid — we needed to reduce the friction for every business to work with on-demand talent.

We saw several main trends: workforce was becoming more flexible and global and agile companies succeed by tapping into the best non full-time workers. But working with on-demand talent can be really difficult because it’s not a regular recurring expense like payroll — and there are additional compliance issues and challenges with controlling costs / work.

So we created and spun out Liquid — joined Techstars LA, and raised venture capital. Today, the Liquid platform streamlines the way a business’ finance, operations and talent management teams work with its vendor and supplier networks in the U.S. and abroad. We simplify contracting and global payments while ensuring financial controls and compliance.

The Future of Work

It’s widely accepted that COVID-19 has accelerated the shift to the future of work. In 2020 alone, wages and workforce participation of independent workers rose by 33%. In 2021, we’ve seen the “ Great Resignation” / “ Big Quit” — which has led to further growth in the percentage of independent workers — and businesses becoming more comfortable with remote work, asynchronous work, hybrid work, and project-based work.

While others talk about the future of work being remote, I believe it’s much bigger than that. The future of work is about everyone and every business working together in a way that works for all parties involved. It’s a distributed hybrid world where some folks will remain employees, but more and more people will become independent contractors — some working through agencies, and others working directly with companies (with some growing to build their own agency and hiring their own subcontractors). The companies that thrive in the future of work are those that Go Liquid, embracing on-demand talent and virtual talent benches.

Liquid and the Future of Work

At Liquid, we are building the operating system for agile businesses to enable everyone and every business to succeed in the future of work — project-centric contracting, work orders, purchase orders, and payments for agile businesses and their global vendor networks. In addition, our platform allows businesses to quickly understand and control their variable non-employee costs. We want to help every company Go Liquid, and we want to make it easier for people to Go Liquid.

Every day, I wake up excited to build Liquid because I know we are changing how work gets done; we are building the future of work. I love our hectic startup life (for example, I previously led Marketing for Liquid on an interim basis) but I primarily spend my days leading Customer Experience and Customer Success at Liquid. With a consulting background and experience as a trusted advisor, I’m thrilled to be building this critical (and growing) department. I love partnering with startup founders, finance leaders, HR leaders, COOs, Chiefs of Staff, and other operations leaders to help them scale their businesses while saving them (and their teams) time and money. It’s been a joy to connect with our customers and ensure they are getting exactly what they need from our platform. I’ve seen our customers take their businesses from idea to Series A and from seed to Series B — and I love knowing that our platform has supported their rapid agile growth.

Today, hundreds of businesses spanning marketing agencies, startups, production companies, social enterprises, and SMBs are using our platform. These businesses use Liquid to contract, onboard, manage, and pay their on-demand talent and vendors in the U.S. and in 175+ countries across the globe. Thousands more are #GoingLiquid and engaging the liquid workforce in ever growing numbers. In just the last year, Liquid has securely processed millions of dollars in global payments. Our customers love our platform, rave about our helpful customer support team, and rely on Liquid on a daily basis. Liquid is becoming the operating system for agile businesses.

And we’re just getting started.

If you’re as excited as I am about what we’re building and our vision for the future, read more from our CEO. Then, visit our new website (www.goliquid.io) to learn more about Going Liquid or subscribe to our newsletter to follow our journey.

Are you ready to Go Liquid?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Secrets Of Developing A Digitally Ready Workforce

Before 2020 started, remote and virtual work had already grown 159% since 2005. This growth has been driven in part by the rise of the liquid workforce. Freelancers and independent consultants have long been shaping the future of work and making a digitally ready and virtual workforce a reality.

The work that we do and how we do it is also transforming. The World Economic Forum has predicted that over the next 10 years, digital skills will be required for 9 out of 10 jobs, and automation will change 5 out of 10 jobs. Freelancers are also at the forefront of this skills transformation.

Rethinking The Workforce

The current environment is rapidly accelerating these trends. So how can we develop a digitally ready workforce that can scale and grow a business? Insights from working with executive-level freelancers and consultants can help provide the answers.

The liquid workforce has steadily grown over the last decade, with over 57 million people freelancing in the US last year. This growth has been driven in part by the shift to more project-based workflows in companies. One of the fastest-growing segments of the gig economy is knowledge workers due to the demand for a digitally ready workforce. Knowledge workers serve as on-demand consultants and advisors, helping companies to take advantage of business and technology trends.

Redesigning Work Styles And Workspaces

Increasingly, companies are moving toward a blended workforce, with a strategic talent pool of full-time workers for long-term needs and liquid workers for dynamic, short-term needs. This strategic approach increases flexibility, agility and diversity while fluidly scaling digital readiness.

The events of 2020 are likely to result in fundamental changes to our workspaces, accelerating the shift to virtual and flexible work and making it increasingly important to communicate effectively with fewer meetings. The new digital workspace will require managers to embrace flexibility and autonomy. Freelancers have learned how to build trust virtually. A key enabler to building that trust is having shared, clear goals and objectives. Combined with proactive, open and transparent communication through modern communication channels, freelancers can establish effective working relationships despite never interacting in-person.

Developing An Agile Mindset

The accelerated shift to digital and virtual interaction in our workspaces will put pressure on soft skills, with communication, collaboration and emotional intelligence all increasingly essential. The importance of emotional intelligence, also referred to as EQ, is often underestimated but is directly related to not only great leadership, but also the ability to learn from experiences. We all need to learn to adapt our work styles to match the fluidity of our workspace with a more versatile approach. For example, we need to easily pivot between multiple internal communication channels, adapting our communication style and tone to each for effective virtual and in-real-life collaboration.

Core to any digitally ready workforce is the ability to handle and seek change. Individuals need to be agile, flexible, and willing to learn. Successful freelancers are entrepreneurs and, as such, must be nimble, ready to take risks, and look for opportunities. These freelancers are curious and take the initiative to continue to advance their knowledge and skills. When hiring freelancers, you can use trial projects to gauge fit. Similarly, you can task employees with small projects to assess their agile potential.

Investing In Continuous Learning

To develop the necessary agile mindset, individuals must be comfortable with being uncomfortable. According to research by McKinsey, the key traits to seek among individuals are the ability to handle ambiguity, agreeableness, and conscientiousness. Agile thinkers embrace change and adaptability and strive to keep improving their skills and knowledge.

Successful freelancers continually assess and develop their skills, following personalized pathways of development. Seventy-eight percent of freelancers surveyed by Upwork responded that soft skills were at least equally important as technical skills to their success. These development pathways are pursued by combining online courses, mentoring, coaching, and experiential learning. For freelancers, proficiency in using collaboration and productivity tools is a minimum standard to achieve. They also require strong technical skills in their areas of specialty, combined with cognitive and soft skills.

Developing a digitally ready workforce requires assessing your company’s current talent in terms of both hard and soft skills. You also need to understand their passion for learning and curiosity — key traits that the best freelancers share. Support continuous, ongoing learning within your team, and help individuals develop the best personal learning pathway. Developing digitally ready talent isn’t a one-size-fits-all journey.

Identifying and developing digitally ready talent sets the foundation for an agile business that is ready to adapt and scale. While half of jobs may change due to automation, creative and critical thinking, thoughtful communication skills and emotional intelligence will be essential strengths to develop, regardless of how technology evolves over the next decade and beyond.

This article was originally published in Forbes.

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

What Exactly is Project-based Work?

I strongly believe in the power of project-based work as a means to find work-life fit and as a way for small business owners, entrepreneurs, and “starters” to grow and scale their businesses. Project-based work will be a critical component of the work of the future.

Obviously, I’m biased; I’ve been doing project-based work for 10+ years via my own consulting firm Lau Labs and I’ve been helping others find and complete project-based work via FlexTeam for the last three and a half years. I’ve seen small companies use project-based work to gain a better sense of their business needs via new financial models. I’ve worked with women, who are in the first few months or weeks of motherhood, on projects that have allowed them to still feel connected to their careers. I’ve seen entrepreneurs pursue (or not pursue) new markets or products after getting an outsider’s analysis and report on the competitor landscape.

I’ve seen firsthand the promise of project-based work. But I often get blank stares, initially, when I talk about project-based work.

What exactly is project-based work?

Project-based work are specific projects with clear milestones and deliverables. If needs change, the scope of work can be expanded by mutual agreement. Project-based work can be entirely remote, or have in person requirements.

Project-based workers (contractors) work for a specific number of weeks or months until the project is completed. They may or may not work at the client’s office or equipment. They can’t be told exactly how to perform her job or be told she can only work for you. And project-based workers can’t be called employees.

Why use project-based consultants / workers?

Project-based workers often bring skills and experiences from a range of challenging roles, often across many industries. Oftentimes, project-based workers have the ability to see innovation as a part of their working method rather than just a buzzword. They’ve developed flexibility, the ability to make sense of uncertainty and complex ideas, and an understanding of how to communicate new ideas and roll them out quickly.

In short, the insights they provide are often worth far more than the hourly, daily, monthly, or project-based rates charged.

Let me give you a few short examples of project-based work.

Assessing your competition. It’s not enough for your company to be doing well. If you aren’t taking a look at your competitors on a regular basis, you’re apt to miss the boat on market trends that could drastically change your industry. Project-based consultants can provide you a report of your competitors.

Generate written content. You have ideas you want to communicate. Ideas that set your company or your personal brand apart. Project-based consultants can help take your outlines or bare-boned ideas to help you generate blog content, white papers, press releases, and more!

Generate social media content. We all know social media marketing is important, but we don’t all execute on it. There always seems to be other priorities. Project-based consultants can help you do the leg work of creating content.

Create marketing strategy. Speaking of the importance of marketing, we also know it’s not enough to simply post stuff on social media. It’s best to have an overarching strategy that helps you direct your efforts. Project-based consultants can analyze your existing marketing strategy and provide recommendations for best practices in your industry, and craft a strategy tailored to your specific company. What is the right combination of paid and organic marketing across multiple channels? Project-based work can help.

Helping you craft a go-to-market strategy for a new product or service for either an existing company or a new one. For an existing company, the new product could either be an entirely new line of business, a variation of a current product, or something in between. Project-based consultants can help you determine the best strategy to go-to-market, provide a report to help you implement the strategy, and could help you implement the strategy.

Perform data analysis. Any business that neglects data an analysis will be left behind. Every company has some data that can be collected and analyzed to make operations more efficient, or enter new markets, or help make decisions about creating new products or services. Project-based consultants can get this done for you, though data experts usually have higher hourly rates.

Help you with gut checks. Sometimes you just need a quick 1–4 hour call with an expert to help you gut check your current strategy, and project-based consultants are perfect for this kind of work.

Determine where to cut costs. Every company needs a robust and professional financial model that accurately models your business. Project-based consultants can help you create a financial model from scratch, working with your managers on the important assumptions, and help you update existing financial models.

Help you research just about anything. Need a deep dive report on subscription based companies that rent products and an analysis of the differences and opportunity for new entrants? Or a list of potential acquisition targets in a specific city? How about due diligence on a company you’re considering making an angel investment in? On-demand project-based consultants can find research just about anything these days.

Create business plans and investor / fundraising decks. If you are a growing start-up, you need a solid business plan and a fundraising deck to convey your story to potential investors. Whether you have all the underlying information ready to create these documents, or you also need help with all the pieces of a business plan and investor deck, project-based consultants can help! For this kind of work, project-based consultants working in teams are best, as that enables the main consultant to pull together the various skill sets needed (researcher, financial model expert, designer, etc).

Branding and design work. Need brand guidelines for your company? Or help making your website or decks more polished? Design work is a great example of project-based work.

These examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Project-based consultants can help your business with practically any question or problem.

Ready to get started? I’m partial to FlexTeam for obvious reasons. But if you’d prefer to use a marketplace of consultants, instead of a one-stop-shop, you’ve got plenty of options. And if you’re already working with project-based consultants, may I recommend giving Liquid (brought to you by us at FlexTeam) a try .

Do you have a story of project-based work helping your business grow or overcome challenges? I’d love to hear it!

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.

FlexTeam  is  a mission-based micro-consulting firm, co-founded by Yolanda Lau in 2015, that matches talented mid-career women with meaningful, challenging, temporally flexible, remote project-based work opportunities. FlexTeam’s clients are businesses of all sizes across all industries and sectors. FlexTeam’s most requested projects are competitor / market research, financial models, and investor decks. FlexTeam is also the team behind Liquid.

Musings on Entrepreneurship and Education: Reflections Inspired by MIT’s new College of Computing

Last week, MIT celebrated the new College of Computing with a multi-day conference filled with talks by luminaries like Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Joi Ito, Henry Kissinger, Megan Smith, Thomas Friedman, and many more. When Eric Schmidt (Technical Advisor to Alphabet and former Executive Chairman of Google) opened the panel for Entrepreneurship and AI, I was struck by his comments that the world needs more entrepreneurs; that the world needs more of us to become entrepreneurs to solve the problems of our times. I’d read about Schmidt’s previous calls for more entrepreneurs in 2016, but hearing him reiterate the point felt like a call to action.

MIT was founded in April 1861, two days before the start of the civil war. It was founded before we knew of the existence of DNA or atoms, before cars, before telephones, before the internet. And yet it has endured and innovated to stay at the forefront of technology, while becoming a model for college level entrepreneurship education.

Today, it’s become commonplace for universities to nurture entrepreneurs and to teach entrepreneurial skills. But few high schools, middle schools, or elementary schools incorporate entrepreneurship into their curriculum. MIT has done its part to inspire high school student entrepreneurs with the spinoff of LaunchX (originally started as a program of MIT called MIT Launch) and by the relatively new creation of a world education lab dedicated in part to reinventing preK-12 education. And there are many other programs here and there for high school student entrepreneurs.

But I believe that we need to do more to empower our children (including younger children) to become the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs. To help them become change-makers who will make “a better world” (to borrow the name of MIT’s $6 billion campaign). Moreover, I am confident that an entrepreneurial education gives students the skills to succeed in any career or workplace.

What do I mean by an entrepreneurial education?

First, there’s the obvious — supporting students of all ages to turn their ideas into companies. But to me, it’s more than that. It’s giving students low stakes opportunities to fail. It’s showing students how to find joy in challenging themselves and to get comfortable with being uncomfortable. It’s helping students apply their learnings to real world problems. It’s nurturing their natural creativity, curiosity, and ability to find patterns and make connections. It’s providing opportunities to pursue interests and passions, and to collaborate and work in teams. It’s grounding education in ethics, empathy, and compassion so that they can prevent biases. And it’s teaching skills that are crucial to success in entrepreneurship, skills that are transferable to other careers and to life in general.

These skills are innumerable. But as a start, they include empathy, persistence, grit, confidence, self-awareness, communication, collaboration, curiosity, prioritization, flexibility in thinking, integrity, computational thinking, creative thinking, resourcefulness, optimism, conflict resolution, story telling, and so much more. It may sound old-fashioned, but I believe character education and ethics are also central to nurturing tomorrow’s entrepreneurs. Social emotional and ethical learning (SEEL) is not an over-hyped buzzword; this kind of education is critical for success in today’s hyper-connected world. As every job function becomes augmented with automated computing, it’s “soft skills” that will give our kids an edge. Moreover, we’ve all read about the misdeeds of Facebook and other Silicon Valley start-ups, and it seems clear to me that empathy and ethics could have prevented some problems.

As the world becomes more complex and interconnected, so does the work people do. As machine learning and artificial intelligence begin to do more of our work, it will become more important for people to do work that machines find it harder to do. An entrepreneurial mindset will help our students to succeed in work of the future. And it is imperative that tomorrow’s entrepreneurs are fundamentally ethical and trained to recognize and overcome biases.

MIT’s celebration left me feeling hopeful and inspired.

Hopeful that we can give tomorrow’s innovators, thinkers, doers, and leaders the ethically-grounded education that will allow them to use machine learning, artificial intelligence, data science, and other tools that have yet to be developed for the good of the world.

And inspired to help make that future a reality.

What are your thoughts on entrepreneurship and education, and the future of education?

Yolanda Lau is an experienced entrepreneurship consultant, advisor, and Forbes Contributor. She is also an educator, speaker, writer, and non-profit fundraiser.

Since 2010, she has been focused on preparing knowledge workers, educators, and students for the future of work.

Learn more about Yolanda here.