The Intelligence Community LLC has sought the help of the crowd through the firm’s new marketplace for freelancers to promote their ideas in the national security and intelligence arenas.
Between October 27th and December 5th, interested individuals and companies will have the opportunity to back these ideas through the open-funding platform IndieGoGo.
In this two-part conversation with ExecutiveBiz, CEO Graham Plaster discusses the origins of the marketplace and how the firm sought to cultivate a community of professionals beyond just the intelligence agencies.
ExecutiveBiz: What led the company to develop a marketplace for freelancers in national security?
Graham Plaster: The company emerged from a LinkedIn group called The Intelligence Community, which was started in 2008 by John Goodenow, a private investigator and contractor living in Arizona. The LinkedIn group grew organically to about 16,000 members in 2011. At that point in time I was active in the Navy and specialized in the Middle East and social media. I’d been requested to be the Aide de Camp at DIA to General Flynn. I reached out to John and we talked about the potential of leveraging the LinkedIn group in service to the IC. We decided to form a partnership without any immediate intentions of monetizing.
Over the last three years, we’ve been growing and moderating the company while also brainstorming on ways to create value. Our initial attempts on leveraging the group included crowdsourcing electronic publications for Amazon like “The Syria Policy Playbook“, “The Egypt Policy Playbook“ and a book on Boko Haram. I wrote an ebook on how to get hired in the government contracting space called “Hacking the Job Search”. As we were cultivating this virtual community, one of the things we continued to hear about was the difficulty veterans and students were having in finding great work in national security.
With the current economic squeeze, sequestration and a shifting regional focus, many skilled job seekers felt as though all good options were drying up. The workforce, especially those coming right out of degree programs, were looking around trying to figure out what to do. We saw a real need for a platform for the national security sector similar to what services like odesk.com, guru.com, freelancer.com and elance.com provided.
These platforms successfully provided tools for matching freelancers to short term job opportunities. There was nothing quite like it for the national security sector. Open source intelligence, in particular, seemed well suited for this model. Additionally, cottage industries supporting intelligence and national security could be well served by this model.
We got the domain space for theintelligencecommunity.com, theintelligencecommunity.org and theintelligencecommunity.net, we built the LinkedIn group to 50,000 members, and we started socializing the concept with senior leaders in national security. Already we’ve been rewarded with some research money and are building a prototype. This month we launched our crowdfunding campaign to get the community involved in making the freelancer platform a reality.
ExecutiveBiz: How do you define The Intelligence Community in the broader sense? Could you describe the professional community you have established and what they want?
Graham Plaster: In reality, the Intelligence Community is much larger than just the agencies in the US Intelligence Community. We include areas of information management, curation, analysis and consulting that bridge the public and private sectors, academia, industry and of course the whole of government. An undergraduate studying political science may be somebody getting a job or pursuing a career in national security down the line.
A translator overseas, who has worked on a U.S. government or U.S. military contract, may have an interest in getting involved with our community as a freelancer and providing insights into regional issues over translation services. These are members of our community just as much as the full time analyst who has a clearance.
In fact, one of our roles is to help the U.S. national security sector reach out and tap a global pool of talent that might not exist in the traditional national security community.
ExecutiveBiz: What are some trends that you are seeing in the telework and freelance marketplaces?
Graham Plaster: Odesk, which has made over a billion dollars in the first 8 years of their existence, is paving the way on how to help freelancers find work. It bought elance.com for over $250 million. Freelancer.com went public valued in the hundreds of millions. These are just a handful of probably 70+ freelance marketplaces that exist and serve various niche markets. The technology is there for small and large businesses to manage dispersed, on-call staffs.
We just have to embrace it. We are seeing the trend towards empowering people to work from home and to find more flexible career paths for themselves. We want to take advantage of that progress happening in the private sector and apply it to the national security sector. It creates new pipelines for professional growth, agility for business, and capacity for government. It’s a win-win-win.
ExecutiveBiz: How about trends in the national security workforce?
Graham Plaster: According to reports coming out of GovLoop, telework options are being encouraged by some government offices to minimize overhead and to create a much more flexible workforce. During sequestration last year, there were some talks about 4-day workweeks in order to shave costs. If work can be done well from home, and managed effectively, these are great options. But there are inherent challenges in accountability.
ExecutiveBiz: What will job seekers, employers and government users see in the freelance marketplace once it launches?
Graham Plaster: Job seekers will be able to browse and search different types of jobs in the national security sector based on pay or specialty. They can also opt-in as trusted assets within various government databases to provide valuable insight to government agencies. Companies, upon logging in, will be able to search by expertise levels or by location and filter by freelancers that live in hubzones, or by languages spoken, or clearance if they are a verified GSA company. We are also looking at developing an API development community so that government agencies can write programs to directly integrate with our database of freelancers.
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