By Molly Socha
A growing number of Americans are finding work outside of full-time, salaried jobs. From “moonlighters” with evening passion projects to independent contractors who fully support themselves with side jobs, there are now roughly 55 million workers in the gig economy. By 2020, Intuit predicts the gig economy will grow to include nearly half of the American workforce.
While freelancing itself is not a new concept, opportunities to find gig work have exploded in the past few years thanks to the advent of apps and platforms like rideshare company Uber, delivery service Postmates and home-sharing site Airbnb. In fact, 73 percent of freelancers think technology has made it easier to find work.
Who are the individuals that found a way to survive—and even thrive—using these platforms? Here are three faces of the tech-driven gig economy: a wanderlust writer, a rideshare driver getting through college and a handyman looking for his next creative project.
MARIANA ZAPATA | THE FIVE-DOLLAR TRAVEL WRITER
The Backstory: Born in Colombia, Zapata moved to the United States when she was 10 years old with her family. In 2009, she moved from Miami, Florida to Sarasota to attend school at New College of Florida.
“I thought that I wanted to work in International Development in an NGO,” she recalls.
But after writing her thesis on NGOs, she began questioning the non-profit career path and realized her dream was to travel the world. After graduating in 2013, she moved to France and started picking up odd jobs—tutoring for private English lessons, translating for pharmaceutical companies, listing her apartment on AirBnb and, most frequently, writing travel stories on the freelance platform Fiverr.
The Platform: Fiverr offers services starting at $5 and scale up depending on the scope of the work or expertise needed.
The platform allowed Zapata to travel freely as long as she had internet, gave her regular clients and spurred a love for writing. Zapata estimates she wrote anywhere from 6 to 12 articles a week for two years because the price range for her work was so low. “It was a struggle,” she remembers.
What’s Next: Zapata now lives in South Korea, teaching English and writing on the side. “I would like to continue writing, pitching better publications and working towards being able to freelance as a full-time job,” she says.
While Fiverr gigs weren’t the most lucrative, she reflects positively on the experience. “I never would have thought of travel writing without Fiverr,” she says.
SAM | THE STUDENT DRIVER
The Backstory: Sam, who asked to be identified by his first name only, is a political refugee from Uzbekistan. He’s currently a biology major at Hunter College in New York City, and plans to apply for pharmacy school this year. Sam drives for rideshare platforms to subsidize his school expenses.
Before joining the rideshare community, Sam was an EMT and drove an ambulance in New Jersey to help meet costs as a student. “I got tired from that, the specifics of that job is a little bit different,” Sam says, referring to the intense hours and manual labor that come with working in emergency medicine. “A lot of my friends started to do [rideshare apps] and I got interested and decided to check it out.”
The Platform: While Pell Grants help pay for most of his tuition, the 29-year-old started driving for rideshare apps Uber and Lyft to help pay for the costly graduate school application fees.
“A primary application is about $75 per school and the secondary is around $100, so, it’s a relatively expensive process,” he says.
What’s Next: In addition to saving for school applications, Sam puts his earnings from ridesharing toward renting a the car he uses for $450 a week. Unfortunately, the cost of renting adds up and digs into his overall income.
At $1800 a month, “it’s not cheap,” he says. Sam also saves some of his earnings for a down payment on a car of his own eventually. Sam calculates that the monthly expenses of owning a car will ultimately be cheaper than renting and will grant him personal freedom, as well.
LUKE BARTON | THE CREATIVE HANDYMAN
The Backstory: Luke Barton joined the gig economy when he moved to California from North Carolina, where he grew up after his family emigrated from the United Kingdom when he was eight.
The freelance photographer was thinking of driving for Uber or Lyft to supplement his photography income and get some extra money to fund his travel to places he’d love to visit and photograph.
“I was at my friend’s house and she told me about TaskRabbit,” he says. “I was already looking for an independent contracting thing, but I’d never heard of TaskRabbit.”
The Platform: TaskRabbit is an on-demand platform for outsourcing errands and tasks like cleaning services, moving help or shopping assistance.
“I fell in love within two days of researching it,” Barton says.
He was especially drawn to the flexibility it offered. “One of the most interesting parts of the orientation was when they said, ‘What’s really cool about our platform is that you can travel.’ So if you wanted a task in New York, you just change your location, and then you’re working.”
This freedom led Barton on a 45-day cross-country roadtrip from California to North Carolina, tasking in 13 states and 15 different cities along the way.
What’s Next: The gig economy feeds Barton’s passion for human interaction. “I love the idea of helping people, genuinely,” he says. “I truly look at it as, ‘This person’s moving; they’re probably stressed as hell; they need a hand here; I’m happy that I’m the person doing it.’”
Barton claims the money is an added bonus: “The gig world is just great for people like me, entrepreneurial creatives,” Barton says. “Photography is my passion, so as soon as I can make a grand, I’m going to Vietnam or I’m going to Africa and I’m taking photographs. Then I’m coming back and I’m working [with TaskRabbit] again.”