A 35-year-old Palestinian-American bootstrapped a $5 million platform matching freelancers with agencies. Here's how she's taking on Accenture, McKinsey, and the biggest marketing companies in the world with independent talent.

Rosie Stephanie Olson 1

  • Former advertising executive Stephanie Nadi Olson worked 13
    years in sales and was frustrated by the lack of diversity in the
    industry.
  • Two years ago, she quit her agency job and launched We Are Rosie, a network that
    connects independent marketing talent with national brand
    campaigns.
  • The network now has more than 2,300 members across 41 states,
    and is on track to make $5 million in revenue this year.
  • Olson spoke with Business Insider and shared how she’s filling
    a gap in the consulting market by taking advantage of new trends in
    remote work — and growing a purpose-driven business, too.
  • Visit BI Prime
    for more stories.

As the daughter of a Palestinian refugee, Stephanie Nadi Olson
says she has always identified marginalized or underrepresented
groups of people. From a young age she volunteered with refugees,
even as she built a career in advertising sales with brands like
Microsoft, Disney, and Bank of America.

After 13 years in the industry, something was still
missing. Olson was watching her profession lose talent as friends
and colleagues decided that living in a major city or working
60-hour weeks wasn’t for them.

Between industry problems with diversity, as documented in a

survey conducted by Digiday
, and a national epidemic of
burnout, as shown by the American Institute of
Stress
, workers are increasingly
opting for independence
. A recent
report
out of freelancing platform Upwork found that more than
35% of Americans are freelancers, and last year they earned nearly
$1 trillion. 

Olson knew from experience just how much potential is missed
when people don’t feel at home in their company’s culture. “There
are so many people that are longing for a sense of belonging in
this industry,” she said.

She calls them “corporate refugees,” and she has a solution.

Working from home, or anywhere else, comes with challenges

Olson founded We Are
Rosie
to help ad agencies find much-needed talent and to
improve the careers of freelancers. So far it appears to be
working. The Atlanta-based company is on track to earn more than
$5 million in its first calendar year of business.

Most of We Are Rosie’s clients don’t allow Olson to publicize
their names, but she can say the list includes 20 Fortune 500 firms
and nationally recognized brands. 

Olson’s network now boasts more than 2,300 freelancers across 41
US states, and the company has satellite offices in the major tech
and marketing hubs on both coasts.

After a freelancer applies and is matched with a client,
assignments usually last a month or more at 20-40 hours per week.
The work can range from brand strategy to copywriting to
coding.

Olson says some clients needed a bit of persuading to work with
a team that is neither in-house nor in-timezone, but the results
are helping her case.

“It’s a vast leap for these brands to see that we are able to
offer this really high caliber of talent,” Olson said. “Also that
our talent is happier and less stressed, and that they do better
work.”

Solving the two biggest challenges for freelancers

We Are Rosie’s client portfolio generates a steady flow of high
quality commissions for national brands, allowing freelancers to
focus on the work at hand rather than where the next one is coming
from.

Agencies get a bespoke match with a creative pro. The pricing is
for serious bidders only: the project minimum for companies is
currently $10,000 per month.

“If you’re not accessing talent that’s working in an independent
way, you no longer have access to a world class organization,”
Olson said.

As Rosie members do longer projects with the service, they
become eligible for several perks that are designed to further
simplify their freelance business.

The first perk is often overlooked by those with full-time jobs:
predictable income.

We Are Rosie helps with this by negotiating quicker payment
turnarounds with its clients and ensures that its freelancers are
paid weekly, even on the platform’s dime.

“If you take care of the people who care for your customers,
everything else solves itself,” Olson said, “even if it costs you
more money in the short term.”

Olson partnered with another staffing agency to extend its
benefits to Rosie freelancers. As of September, any Rosie who takes
on a 60-day project is eligible for a benefits package that
includes health insurance and retirement accounts.

A purpose-driven business

Olson says she is tired of waiting for large companies to make
meaningful improvements with inclusion, so she’s charging ahead to
demonstrate the business sense of diversity. She is confident that
We Are Rosie’s economic results will bear out her argument.

“We are a rising talent that can go toe-to-toe with Accenture,
McKinsey, and some of the biggest marketing companies in the world
because we have access to this really rich tapestry of talent,” she
said.

Although the company’s name may call to mind the iconic Rosie
the Riveter, Olson said that wasn’t her intent.Her youngest
daughter’s middle name is Rose. “We call her Rosie,” Olson said,
“and it’s just a very personal kind of business name so I can
remember: if I can do my job really well, then my daughters will
have better access in the future.”

Olson often uses the word revolution to describe her mission
with the platform, and
a new survey
by Deloitte suggests she’s on to something. Half
of Millennial and Gen-Z respondents said they would leave their job
within two years if they had a choice, up from 38% in 2017.

A majority cited issues like work-life balance, flexible
scheduling, and inclusivity as reasons they would leave, and more
than 4 in 5 would be willing to freelance.

If those trends continue, Olson will have quite an army.

PRESENTING: Everything
you need to know about becoming your own boss and making more than
you did at your full-time job

SEE ALSO: The
29 best US cities to be a freelancer

READ MORE: My
husband and I are both full-time freelancers. This is how we make
it work.


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A 35-year-old Palestinian-American bootstrapped a million platform matching freelancers with agencies. Here's how she's taking on Accenture, McKinsey, and the biggest marketing companies in the world with independent talent.