All Things oDesk
June 6, 2012 by Matt Cooper

A few weeks ago I had the opportunity to travel to Bangladesh for the second time in six months. My first trip was in December, when oDesk was invited to present at the eAsia conference. I gave a presentation at a special freelancer segment of the conference, and was completely blown away by the reception, hospitality and level of excitement around oDesk and online work. oDesk had achieved rockstar status. Luckily I had 26 hours of return travel in a coach seat to bring me back down to reality.

This most recent trip was part of our new Contractor Appreciation Day event series. When you manage a marketplace business, it’s very easy to be fixated on the demand side of the equation — the clients that are spending money on your platform. We want to be sure that we similarly recognize the impact of the supply side — the hundreds of thousands of talented professionals that have made oDesk the largest and fastest-growing online workplace in the world. When planning the Contractor Appreciation Day series, we launched a Facebook poll to determine which cities we would visit, and Dhaka — the capital of Bangladesh — was the runaway winner.

Bangladesh has a fascinating story on oDesk. In 2009, Bangladesh accounted for only 2% of the total hours worked on oDesk. Today, it accounts for 10%, making Bangladesh the #3 country for contractors, behind only the Philippines and India. I did some digging around to see what was driving Bangladesh’s tremendous success, and my guess is a combination of three factors.

The first factor is the demographics. Bangladesh has a young, educated and rapidly grouping population. Of the country’s 150 million people in 2010, almost 56 million were under the age of 18. In 2010, 46% of Bangladeshis used mobile phones. While the unemployment rate is officially estimated to be around 5%, almost 40% of the country is underemployed, working only a few hours a week at very low wages. Net: Bangladesh has a young, educated workforce that is eager for more economic opportunity.

The second factor is population density. Bangladesh is the most densely populated large country in the world, and the city of Dhaka has 16 million people, with almost 60,000 residents per square mile. Net: Things spread quickly in this type of environment.  

And finally, you have an enormous potential for significant earnings growth. The per-capita gross national income in Bangladesh was $700 in 2010. Assuming the average contractor earns $10 an hour, a Bangladeshi contractor can earn the average annual income in less than 2 weeks of work on oDesk. Net: There’s a huge financial upside to working online — for both individuals and the country’s overall economy — compared to local opportunities.

So my assessment is that when you combine…

  • A young, educated population eager for opportunity, and then
  • Pack them all into a small geographic area, and introduce
  • Compelling economics…

… you get a country that grows from 2% to 10% of oDesk’s total hours worked in only 3 years.

In my discussions with people in Bangladesh, there’s a clear sense of lost opportunity when it comes to traditional BPO and IT outsourcing. They’ve seen countries like India and Philippines gain tremendous resources and economic growth, and then evolve from doing someone else’s production work to becoming their own centers of innovation. Traditional outsourcing is still relatively small in Bangladesh, and many people I talked with shared feelings that they’ve missed the boat.

The analogy I drew for them was telephone communications in Africa. The developed world went from telegrams to traditional wireline communications, stringing phone lines all over the country. Over the last 20 years, we have moved from wireline to wireless. Africa never had a widespread wireline infrastructure — they are going straight to wireless. I like to think that Bangladesh is going to skip the BPO/IT outsourcing phase and evolve straight to independent professionals working online in a global marketplace. So far, it seems like they are on the right track.

While the macroeconomic analysis is fun to think about, what makes any working relationship successful is the people involved. The individuals I met and their personal stories are what impressed me the most. The economics, demographics and geography may be drivers, but there’s an eagerness for opportunity that was unique. These professionals see the opportunity available on oDesk, and they are willing to put in the hard work to succeed. I wanted to share one particular story with you from a graphic designer I met:

From my early childhood I grew up loving colors and shapes. I had a dream to be an artist and to have appreciation from the world for my artwork! But there were obstacles between reality and my dreams. When I had just started my diploma course in fine arts, my father passed away. We suddenly had severe financial problems in our family. A job to run my family became crucially important to me. I was desperate trying to get a job anywhere – part-time art instructor, restaurant waiter, sales agent, part-time teacher in coaching center, customer support person in call center. Eventually, I got a job at a local customer care center as a customer manager. Over there I had to handle more than a thousand calls every week – along with sales targets and everything. It was a lot of pressure for me – I was not really a sales person. But I had no other choice.

Almost three years passed in that way. I became totally frustrated. I could neither concentrate on my study, nor manage time for any creative work like painting and drawing. I was becoming hopeless. On that time, I heard about oDesk. One of my friends (now my fiancé!) started working on oDesk and he told me that it could also be the perfect place for me to get work that I like. He suggested me to take a short graphic design course and start working through oDesk – because that way I can use my creative/painting skills in crafting digital arts. I listened to him and now I am an established freelance graphic designer on oDesk.

I have logged more than a thousand hours for my clients from several countries like USA, Canada, Saudi Arabia… My clients are happy with my work and I have much appreciation from them. I left my call center job a year ago. Now I work full-time on oDesk and run my family very smoothly. I can buy gifts for my mother on special occasions and even when there is no occasion at all! I love to see her smile when she is surprised and happy. Now there are many vacations in my life! Wherever I go, I go with my laptop and wireless internet connection. My office is everywhere. Now I am independent, confident and happy.

This is why I work for oDesk. This is why I can tell people to try online work — whether as a contractor or client — and not feel like I’m giving a sales pitch. It’s easy to give earnings and financial impact as the drivers of oDesk’s viral growth, but you can see from the story above that it’s much more than that. When your opportunities expand from what’s nearby to what’s anywhere in the world, magical things happen.

Success is what happens when 1) you are in the right place at the right time, 2) you’re smart enough to recognize the opportunity in front of you, and 3) skilled enough to execute on the opportunity. Watching the professionals in Bangladesh pull these three things together and hearing their personal stories has been an extraordinary experience.

Matt Cooper

Vice President of International & Enterprise

Matt Cooper, oDesk’s Vice President of International & Enterprise, has more than a decade of executive operating experience in both start-ups and Fortune 500 companies. Previously, as a member of the executive team at Accolo, Inc., a recruiting services and technology firm, he grew the business from one employee into one of the top 50 companies on the Inc 500 list. He also co-founded a… read more

  • Limon

    Love oDesk !

  • Dipu Islam

    Please help me. I am Bangladeshi odesk contractor. I have an account my user id – dipui-slam. I has not been login in my account at this time because that odesk change my account password and email address. I was submit a ticket about this problem from my email address. But do not response me from odesk support.

    Please help me.

  • Al kafi

    Realy ilike oDesk and there working online place.

  • abdul alim

    somebody from Bangladesh please advise me on how to get work from odesk. i have an account and got few tests on odesk making good score. but still did not get any job. my odesk id is ‘alimdesk’ and email address: waiting for a good support from one good friend. thanks

  • mikhael

    Bangladeshi Software Developers/Engineers and other freelancers will finally rise like altogether “A Shining Star” overcoming hundreds of thousands of obstacles and problems ;and no doubt the rising medium will the “”. Allah bless Bangladeshi freelancers and Bless be upon the personnel of oDesk who helped this country to rise.Amen
    This is just a greetings and a good wish for both of them.

  • Ali Reza Rose

    A special thanks to Mr. Matt Cooper for visiting my homeland. Yes, I know the behind story of Bangladesh IT services revolution. Some great, responsible, reliable, quick learner person help to various task from many employer all over the world with full satisfaction.
    I know some of them, who changed their lifestyle; now they slept on Bangladesh day time and at night they work for their employer. What a behavioral change they made!
    It’s tough to takeover India. But, I hope we could gain the second place on oDesk shortly.
    Thanks again to Matt Cooper along all oDesk Executive-Entrepreneur for the revolution. :)

  • Gazi Md. Golam Sadek

    I missed the conference but really appreciate Matt’s approach for Bangladesh. If o Desk organizes some training for specially Bangladeshis that will be great.

  • Mustaafizur Rahman

    I love my BANGLADESH is on oDesk.

  • Reev

    Hi Im pleased about this information . I have a account of odesk. I ‘ll see a great opportunity are waiting for Bangladeshi can do work. thank you.

  • Reev

    I like this and great opportunity for Bangladesh. Im a Bangladeshi people of odesk account..
    thank you.

  • Mamun Srizon

    Just waiting to be #1 and I believe that, we are very close :)

  • Cherry

    Her story is not that different from mine. It’s very difficult to market your English skills to local media outlets if you have no formal journalism degree, but apparently not in oDesk. I may have only been self-taught in writing, but real-world clients from all over the world appreciate my talent, which the local economy has little need of. Modesty aside, I earn more than twice and sometimes thrice than people who hold office 40 hours a day. Now, I’m thinking of expanding into article writing management rather than writing articles myself.

  • Md Mohibullah

    go to add+earn

  • Asiful Hasan

    It’s great to hear so much good. I think from my side that it will be a short time when 20% odesk hours will be done by Bangladeshi Freelancers. For this to happen, one thing needs to change. And that is payment system.

    BD freelancers are looking for a simple & fast payment process to work more efficiently.

    I hope that process will be resolved soon.

  • Shaer Hassan

    Excellent insight, Matt. Can’t agree more on the three factors that spurred success of Odesk in Bangladesh. Also liked your closing remark on success.

    However, regarding the technology leap analogy — missing the train of BPO but availing the online freelancing — I have doubt. Maybe both of them are here for a long time, one won’t necessarily replace other. But I appreciate your perspective.

  • Saidur Rahman Sajda

    nice & i live oDesk. :)

  • Md Rabiul Islam

    I am very happy being a part of Odesk. Thanks goes to Odesk team for their such type of thinking of outsourcing. But Matt, It is a matter of great sorrow that still now we Bangladeshi don’t get the facility of Paypal. Hope we get the facility soon.

    • Altaf

      Dear Islam Bhai, I am searching the contact address or contact number of Odesk Bangladesh office. I will be very happy, if you can help me about this. Thank you so much in advance for your great help.

  • md.monjur hossain

    Its really incoureges our youth who are involve in freelancing profession after some days the number 1 place will be take Bangladesh Inshaallah.Take care everyone.

  • Md khorshed Alam

    Mr Matt cooper is absolutely right . His speech will inspire our young generation to engage themselves with this online platform.

  • Delowar Masud

    Hundreds of thousands of young people are getting ready to work in Inline Market place.If they have the opportunity ,both parties will be benefited.It will be an Win-Win position.

  • TChowdhury

    I don

  • Foyzul Karim

    Thanks Matt for the speech. A lot more to come from Bangladeshi Young stars. :)
    Now people from BBA and ARTS are also participating in oDesk works which makes increasing the growth rate of Bangladeshi percentage. :)

  • palash

    Thank you for your great observation about Bangladesh.

  • Faysal


  • farid

    How can i work with u?I want to work in O Desk.But I can’t know why i started here.some where help me?to do work.can u help me i pleased with u.

  • Emrazina

    Thank you! :)

  • Nafisa Habib

    Really very happy to be a part of oDesk..

    • Md Fakrul Islam

      I also very happy with oDesk.

      • Nazmul Haque

        nice carry on, odesk is awesome in online market pales

  • Mh Mehedi

    Passed a great time with matt at Dhaka. I was there and the three things is absolutely right man !!
    We Bangladeshis has one more important thing that is “HELPFUL”…

    • Curious

      Thanks Matt. That was very thoughtful and inspiring. I appreciate your observation that you spotted the huge potential among us.

      Thanks again.