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Amid pay cuts and layoffs, online platforms are helping monetise a passion

On websites such as Kiwi, Kool Kanya and Refrens, you can pick your hours and sometimes your pay, and develop a side hustle in teaching or blogging, game development or graphic design.
By Cherylann Mollan
UPDATED ON MAY 22, 2021 12:08 PM IST

Have you ever enjoyed something so much you thought, I wish someone would pay me to do this? There is now greater hope for that dream.

Amid the pandemic, with lakhs of job hours cut and employees furloughed or let go, a host of new platforms is stepping up to help young professionals fill up their calendars with paying gigs that monetise a skill or passion.

Preethi (last name withheld on request), a mechanical engineer, is spending part of her week teaching and translating Japanese. Divya Sebastian, 24, a content marketing executive, is writing corporate blogs. Amit Kumar, 30, a graphic designer, has struck out on his own too. Platforms such as Kiwi, Kool Kanya and Refrens (all founded in 2019) and the older Upwork (2015), Truelancer (2014) and Fiverr (2010) are helping connect service providers with people who need that service. They’re also helping freelancers upskill, learn how to set their rates, navigate legalese — and some are taking on the onus of ensuring they get paid.

There’s room on these platforms for language tutors, translators, graphic designers, web developers, videographers, content creators, game developers, digital marketers and more.

“Apart from making some extra money, I want to build my skills as a Japanese translator,” says Preethi, who turned to a side hustle after her work hours began to decline in the pandemic. The 29-year-old loves Japanese, lived in Japan for two years and now earns off it by the hour.

For some, the side hustle is helping diversify future job prospects and make up for income lost to reduced hours or lost jobs. For others, after the rude shock of a layoff, a personal network of paying clients also offers a safety net they can fall back on, should they be let go again.

Amid all the uncertainty, meanwhile, the gig economy has boomed. “Daily registrations increased by 30% to 35% in 2020,” says Dipesh Garg, founder of Truelancer. Kool Kanya, a “careers community” for women, has seen registered users go from 2,000 to 2 lakh between January 2020 and April 2021.


To stand out in their market, the different platforms have established USPs. Kiwi operates a bit like Uber. If you’re online, you can take on a gig in real time, at a flat rate of $10 an hour that applies to all freelancers.

“The freelancer is paid 60 minutes after the project is completed,” says co-founder and CEO Imran Ladiwala. “This eliminates the problem most freelancers face, of having to wait for weeks or more to get paid.” Freelancers can opt to be notified about new postings, and can choose to mark themselves offline as needed (a feature that is handy for those who also have a full-time job). As of October 2020, the platform had about 5,000 registered freelancers, up from 100 in September 2019.

On Kool Kanya, you can find work, network and upskill. Weekly events see professionals from different fields share knowledge on a range of subjects, from healthy investing habits to mental wellness and communication skills. At AMA or Ask Me Anything sessions, members discuss juggling work and motherhood, career and passion, how to price correctly, or just talk about problems they face as working women.

“Most of our members are in the 18-to-25 age group,” says founder Vanshika Goenka. “At that stage, people have a lot of doubts, about the career to choose, how much to charge, even how to write a good resume. We want to help women get these answers, so that they find jobs and stand up for themselves in the workplace.”

Sebastian signed up five months ago. She freelanced once before, but was never paid for the work. “Here, everything is transparent, from the identity of the client to job requirements and fees,” she says.

Clients pay Kool Kanya the agreed sum as soon as they finalise terms with a freelancer. Kool Kanya transfers this money to the freelancer after the project has been completed and approved.

Refrens has a similar service called the “nudge feature”. It sends clients payment reminders on behalf of the service provider. “Many freelancers feel shy or uncomfortable asking for their money. With this feature, timely reminders are sent automatically so that your chances of getting paid on time improve,” says co-founder Naman Sarawagi.

Next, Refrens is exploring ways to offer insurance to freelancers. Sarawagi is convinced that the gig economy will continue to boom. “So far, it has not been taken seriously because it is fragmented,” he adds. “But this ecosystem can contribute greatly to the economy. It deserves more attention, and more freelancer-friendly services.”

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