DRS/A
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Confidential draft submitted on July 11, 2018

As filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission on                 , 2018

Registration No. 333-            

 

 

 

UNITED STATES

SECURITIES AND EXCHANGE COMMISSION

Washington, D.C. 20549

 

 

FORM S-1

REGISTRATION STATEMENT

UNDER

THE SECURITIES ACT OF 1933

 

 

UPWORK INC.

(Exact name of registrant as specified in its charter)

 

 

 

Delaware   7389   46-4337682

(State or other jurisdiction of

incorporation or organization)

 

(Primary Standard Industrial

Classification Code Number)

 

(I.R.S. Employer

Identification Number)

441 Logue Avenue

Mountain View, California 94043

(650) 316-7500

(Address, including zip code, and telephone number, including area code, of registrant’s principal executive offices)

 

 

Stephane Kasriel

President and Chief Executive Officer

Upwork Inc.

441 Logue Avenue

Mountain View, California 94043

(650) 316-7500

(Name, address, including zip code, and telephone number, including area code, of agent for service)

 

 

 

Gordon K. Davidson, Esq.

Jeffrey R. Vetter, Esq.

Ran D. Ben-Tzur, Esq.

Fenwick & West LLP

801 California Street

Mountain View, California 94041

(650) 988-8500

 

Brian Levey, Esq.

Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer

Upwork Inc.

441 Logue Avenue

Mountain View, California 94043

(650) 316-7500

 

Robert G. Day, Esq.

Rezwan D. Pavri, Esq.

Andrew T. Hill, Esq.

Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, P.C.

650 Page Mill Road

Palo Alto, California 94304

(650) 493-9300

 

 

Approximate date of commencement of proposed sale to the public:

As soon as practicable after the effective date of this registration statement.

If any of the securities being registered on this Form are to be offered on a delayed or continuous basis pursuant to Rule 415 under the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or Securities Act, check the following box.  ☐

If this Form is filed to register additional securities for an offering pursuant to Rule 462(b) under the Securities Act, check the following box and list the Securities Act registration statement number of the earlier effective registration statement for the same offering.  ☐

If this Form is a post-effective amendment filed pursuant to Rule 462(c) under the Securities Act, check the following box and list the Securities Act registration statement number of the earlier effective registration statement for the same offering.  ☐

If this Form is a post-effective amendment filed pursuant to Rule 462(d) under the Securities Act, check the following box and list the Securities Act registration number of the earlier effective registration statement for the same offering.  ☐

Indicate by check mark whether the registrant is a large accelerated filer, an accelerated filer, a non-accelerated filer, a smaller reporting company, or an emerging growth company. See the definitions of “large accelerated filer,” “accelerated filer,” “smaller reporting company,” and “emerging growth company” in Rule 12b-2 of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended. (Check one):

 

Large accelerated filer      Accelerated filer  
Non-accelerated filer   ☒  (Do not check if a smaller reporting company)    Smaller reporting company  
     Emerging growth company  

If an emerging growth company, indicate by check mark if the registrant has elected not to use the extended transition period for complying with any new or revised financial accounting standards provided to Section 7(a)(2)(B) of the Securities Act.  ☐

 

 

CALCULATION OF REGISTRATION FEE

 

 

Title of each class of securities

to be registered

  Proposed maximum
aggregate offering
price(1)(2)
  Amount of registration
fee

Common stock, $0.0001 par value per share

  $               $            

 

 

 

(1)   Estimated solely for the purpose of calculating the amount of the registration fee in accordance with Rule 457(o) of the Securities Act.
(2)   Includes offering price of any additional shares that the underwriters have the option to purchase.

 

 

 

The registrant hereby amends this registration statement on such date or dates as may be necessary to delay its effective date until the registrant shall file a further amendment which specifically states that this registration statement shall thereafter become effective in accordance with Section 8(a) of the Securities Act or until the registration statement shall become effective on such date as the Securities and Exchange Commission, acting pursuant to said Section 8(a), may determine.

 

 

 


Table of Contents

The information in this preliminary prospectus is not complete and may be changed. These securities may not be sold until the registration statement filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission is effective. This preliminary prospectus is not an offer to sell nor does it seek an offer to buy these securities in any jurisdiction where the offer or sale is not permitted.

 

SUBJECT TO COMPLETION, DATED                     , 2018

 

PRELIMINARY PROSPECTUS

 

LOGO

 

            Shares

Upwork Inc.

 

Common Stock

$        per share

 

 

 

This is the initial public offering of our common stock. We are selling              shares of our common stock. We currently expect the initial public offering price will be between $            and $            per share of common stock.

 

Prior to this offering, there has been no public market for our common stock. We intend to apply to list our common stock on                 under the symbol “UPWK.”

 

We are an “emerging growth company” as defined under federal securities laws and, as such, have elected to comply with certain reduced public company reporting requirements.

 

 

 

Investing in our common stock involves risks. See the section titled “Risk Factors” beginning on page 14.

 

Neither the Securities and Exchange Commission nor any other regulatory body has approved or disapproved of these securities or passed upon the adequacy or accuracy of this prospectus. Any representation to the contrary is a criminal offense.

 

 

 

     Per Share      Total  

Public Offering Price

   $                   $               

Underwriting Discount(1)

   $      $  

Proceeds to Upwork Inc. (before expenses)

   $      $  

 

(1)   

We have agreed to reimburse the underwriters for certain expenses. See the section titled “Underwriting.”

 

We have granted the underwriters the option to purchase up to an additional                  shares of common stock at the initial public offering price, less the underwriting discount.

 

The underwriters expect to deliver the shares to purchasers on or about                 , 2018 through the book-entry facilities of The Depository Trust Company.

 

 

 

Citigroup   Jefferies   RBC Capital Markets
Stifel   JMP Securities

 

 

 

                , 2018


Table of Contents

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

     Page  

Summary

     1  

Risk Factors

     14  

Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements

     50  

Market and Industry Data

     52  

Use of Proceeds

     53  

Dividend Policy

     53  

Capitalization

     54  

Dilution

     56  

Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data

     58  

Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations

     61  

Business

     83  

Management

     110  

Executive Compensation

     117  

Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions

     128  

Principal Stockholders

     129  

Description of Capital Stock

     132  

Shares Eligible for Future Sale

     138  

Material U.S. Federal Tax Consequences to Non-U.S. Holders of Our Common Stock

     140  

Underwriting

     145  

Legal Matters

     152  

Experts

     152  

Additional Information

     152  

Index to Consolidated Financial Statements

     F-1  

 

 

Neither we nor the underwriters have authorized anyone to provide any information or to make any representations other than those contained in this prospectus or in any free writing prospectuses prepared by or on behalf of us or to which we have referred you. Neither we nor the underwriters take any responsibility for, and can provide no assurance as to the reliability of, any other information that others may give you. We are offering to sell, and seeking offers to buy, shares of common stock only in jurisdictions where offers and sales are permitted. The information contained in this prospectus is accurate only as of the date of this prospectus, regardless of the time of delivery of this prospectus or of any sale of the shares of common stock.

For investors outside the United States: Neither we nor any of the underwriters have taken any action that would permit this offering or possession or distribution of this prospectus in any jurisdiction where action for that purpose is required, other than in the United States. You are required to inform yourselves about and to observe any restrictions relating to this offering and the distribution of this prospectus.

 

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SUMMARY

The following summary highlights selected information contained elsewhere in this prospectus. This summary does not contain all the information you should consider before investing in our common stock. You should carefully read this prospectus in its entirety before investing in our common stock, including the sections titled “Risk Factors,” “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and “Special Note Regarding Forward-Looking Statements,” and our consolidated financial statements and the accompanying notes included elsewhere in this prospectus.

Our Mission

Our mission is to create economic opportunities so people can have better lives.

Overview

We are changing the way work gets done by connecting businesses with great talent to work without limits.

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by gross services volume, or GSV.1 Freelancers are an increasingly sought-after, critical, and expanding segment of the global workforce. In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients in over 180 countries.

Our platform reduces inefficiencies associated with searching for, contracting and collaborating with, and paying highly-skilled freelancers for short-term and longer-term projects. As early innovators in this space, we have built an expansive and unique repository of data on our platform, which, when combined with our machine learning capabilities, enables us to better connect clients with the best freelancers for their projects. As a result, clients are able to obtain specialized talent in less time and at a lower cost compared to traditional channels.

Knowledge is a key driver of today’s global economy. As the pace of change accelerates and companies conceive and execute their digital transformation strategies, businesses increasingly need access to specialized, knowledge-based talent to compete. In addition, knowledge workers are now seeking more flexible work options, independence, and easier access to work opportunities. However, the traditional means by which businesses seek and hire talent have not kept pace with these changes. These factors ultimately have contributed to less efficient local economies as businesses struggle to find the right talent to meet their needs.

We believe these inefficiencies in the labor market have created a significant opportunity for online global marketplaces for freelance work and that businesses globally will continue to adopt freelance work. We estimate that the total global GSV opportunity for our platform was approximately $560 billion in 2017. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that, by 2025, online talent platforms could add $2.7 trillion annually, or 2%, to the global gross domestic product, or GDP.

We serve as a powerful marketing channel for freelancers to find rewarding, engaging, and flexible work. Freelancers using our platform benefit from access to quality clients and secure and timely payments while enjoying the freedom to run their own businesses, create their own schedules, and work from their preferred locations. Moreover, freelancers have real-time visibility into opportunities that are in high demand, so that they can invest their time and focus on developing sought-after skills.

Our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories, such as content marketing, customer service, data science and analytics, graphic

 

1    GSV represents the total amount that clients spend on both our marketplace offerings and our managed services offering as well as additional fees we charge to users for other services. For additional information related to how we calculate GSV, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”


 

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design, mobile development, sales, and web development. We offer a direct-to-talent approach, reducing reliance on intermediaries such as staffing firms, recruiters, and traditional agencies, while providing features that help instill trust in remote work. Our platform also enables clients to streamline workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and contracting. In addition, our platform provides access to essential functionality for remote engagements with freelancers, including communication and collaboration, time tracking, invoicing, and payment.

We believe that a key driver of our growth is our track record of creating trust and enabling freelancers and clients to successfully connect at scale on our platform. As the largest online global marketplace for highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV, we benefit from network effects that drive growth in both the number of clients posting jobs and the number of highly-skilled freelancers seeking work.

We have rapidly grown our business. GSV on our platform was $1.15 billion and $1.37 billion in 2016 and 2017, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 20%. In 2016 and 2017, our total revenue was $164.4 million and $202.6 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 23%. In 2016 and 2017, our marketplace revenue was $138.5 million and $178.0 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 29%. We have made significant investments to grow our business, including in sales and marketing, research and development, operations, and personnel. As a result, we generated net losses of $16.2 million and $4.1 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Our adjusted EBITDA was $1.3 million and $7.9 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. See the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures” for information regarding our use of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA.

Industry Background

Labor is Undergoing a Revolution

The online freelance economy represents a shift in how labor markets operate. We believe that we are still in the early stages of the online freelance economy, with a multi-industry and multi-decade global shift affecting how businesses find talent and how people want to work.

In today’s economy, knowledge is a key driver of productivity. The first and second industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries created the industrial economy and moved workers from farms to factories. The third industrial revolution of the 20th century created the knowledge economy and moved workers from factories to office buildings.

The World Economic Forum believes that the global economy is now undergoing the fourth industrial revolution, fueled by rapid technological advances. One of the defining features of the fourth industrial revolution is the transformation of how and where work gets done, as work is increasingly no longer constrained by location. In the fourth industrial revolution, instead of the worker moving to the workplace, we are seeing that work is moving to the worker—collaboration is less constrained than ever before by physical proximity and geographic borders, particularly for highly-skilled professionals.

Jobs are Overly Concentrated in Large Cities

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that the top six U.S. metropolitan areas alone were responsible for 26% of total U.S. GDP in 2016. This has led to imbalances in labor markets, with jobs becoming increasingly concentrated in those cities. Despite this concentration of jobs in metropolitan areas, workers not only have become increasingly reluctant to move into large cities, but are also leaving large cities at higher rates due to continued rising costs of living and lengthy commutes.

The Labor Market Remains Inefficient

Labor markets remain fragmented and local, and the increasing specialization of work has further reduced availability of talent in local labor markets. As a result, hiring processes can last several months, which is costly



 

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to businesses, workers, and the economy. In the United States alone, employers made an average of approximately 178,800 hires per day in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite this volume of hiring, as of January 2018, the average time taken to fill a job vacancy in the United States was over 28 working days, according to DHI Group. Increasing restrictions on immigration and insufficient availability of visas for skilled workers are expected to make it even harder to find specialized skills.

Businesses Face a Skills Gap

In addition to the increasing specialization of work, several other factors are exacerbating skills shortages. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, labor mobility has been trending downwards since the 1980s. Due to the costs of relocation, labor immobility can often result in a local skills gap or persistent regional supply-demand imbalances within skill categories. In 2018, the number of visas sought by U.S. employers for skilled workers was over twice as high as the number available, and additional restrictions on immigration may increase skills shortages. Moreover, population aging is occurring throughout the world, with many countries facing growing labor force shortages due to demographic changes. Illustrating these difficulties, according to a survey conducted by the NFIB Research Center, 88% of small businesses surveyed that were hiring, or trying to hire, reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill as of April 2018.

Businesses and Workers Desire Flexible Work

In January 2018, 59% of hiring managers indicated they were leveraging flexible talent, which includes temporary, freelance, and agency workers, up 24% from January 2017, according to the 2018 Future Workforce Report, a study we commissioned from the independent research firm Inavero. According to the same report, hiring managers anticipated work performed by flexible talent will increase by 168% in the next 10 years.

Simultaneously, knowledge workers are increasingly demanding flexible and independent work arrangements. According to economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger of Princeton University, 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category, which they define as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract company workers, and independent contractors or freelancers, and over 60% was due to the rise of independent contractors, freelancers, and contract company workers. The freelance workforce is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. labor market. From millennials to retiring baby boomers, the number of people choosing to freelance is growing. Freelancing in America: 2017, a report we co-commissioned that was conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Intelligence, concluded that by 2027, the majority of the U.S. workforce will participate in freelancing.

Technology is Enabling Remote Work

Rapid technological advancement and innovation in connectivity, communication, and collaboration solutions continue to enhance remote work capabilities and increase trust. Additionally, the global workforce is now able to access technologies and tools such as email, enterprise resource planning, and customer relationship management from anywhere with a laptop or mobile phone. With continued innovation in remote work capabilities, businesses are increasingly able to effectively connect and work with non-local talent, and the benefits of geographic proximity are diminishing. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, an estimated 11% of service jobs worldwide could be performed remotely. Illustrating the increasing amount of remote work, the number of telecommuting workers grew 115% in a decade, from approximately 1.8 million in 2005 to approximately 3.9 million in 2015, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report.

In the Accenture Technology Vision 2017 report, Accenture forecasts that in the next five years, on-demand work platforms will emerge as a primary driver of economic growth in developed and emerging economies worldwide. We believe that prevailing conventional methods for sourcing talent, finding and completing work, hiring, and making and receiving payments will be increasingly inadequate.



 

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Our Marketplace

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV. The freelancers on our platform include independent professionals and agencies of varying sizes. The clients on our platform range in size from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

We have built a proprietary platform that reduces the friction associated with searching for, contracting and collaborating with, and paying highly-skilled freelancers for short-term and longer-term projects. As early innovators in this space, we have built an expansive and unique repository of data on our platform, which, when combined with our machine learning capabilities, enables us to better connect clients with available talent for their projects. For example, we use machine learning to predict the availability, interest, and skill relevance of specific freelancers for specific projects.

Clients using our marketplace can find the right freelancers in less time and at a lower cost compared to traditional channels. In 2017, we maintained high Net Promoter Scores, or NPS, of over 60 on average from both freelancers and clients.

Scale and Liquidity

In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients, including 28% of the Fortune 500 companies as of December 31, 2017. The size and scale of our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent.

Global Reach

We help freelancers in over 180 countries connect with clients and enable freelancers to withdraw payments for their work in numerous currencies. Supported by strong network effects on our marketplace, we have been able to scale our business and our global community of users without the need for local physical presence and density.

Multi-Category

Our platform provides clients with access to highly-skilled freelancers with over 5,000 skills, across over 70 categories. In 2017, approximately 40% of clients engaged freelancers across multiple categories on our platform. Our platform had more than 20 categories that each generated over $20 million of GSV in 2017.

Unique Data Assets

Our proprietary database maintains detailed and dynamic information, including skills, feedback, and success indicators of freelancers and clients transacting on our platform. Moreover, our machine learning algorithms leverage our closed-loop transaction data on millions of completed projects. The large volume of transactions on our marketplace allows us to continually improve the effectiveness of our search algorithms and product features, providing a compelling and differentiated value proposition for both new and existing freelancers and clients.

Benefits for Highly-Skilled Freelancers

Access to Quality Clients and Work

Our marketplace provides freelancers access to quality clients and rewarding projects. Our platform features both quick, discrete projects and longer-term projects. By reducing non-billable time, including time spent searching for new clients and projects, invoicing, and collecting payments for completed projects, our platform enables freelancers to be more productive, increase their earnings, and find clients outside of their local geography.



 

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Flexibility

Our platform enables freelancers to obtain the flexibility they seek to run their own businesses, choose their own clients, determine their own pricing, create their own schedules, and work from their preferred locations.

Secure and Timely Payments

Freelancers conveniently receive payments from their clients through our platform. Funds are securely held and transferred through our escrow service, enabling trust and timely payment.

Marketing and Reputation Building

We serve as a powerful marketing channel for freelancers to increase demand for their specialized skills. Using our marketplace, freelancers receiving positive client feedback typically benefit from increased demand for their services. We also enable freelancers to be visible in search results globally and to build a business reputation and brand through their skill profiles and project history on our platform.

Insights into High-Demand Skills

We give freelancers real-time visibility into which skills are highest in demand and associated rates paid for those services. With this insight, freelancers can actively invest their time and focus on developing sought-after skills to grow their businesses and increase their earnings.

Benefits for Clients

Access to High-Quality Freelancers

Every day, an average of approximately 10,000 independent professionals and agencies apply to join our platform. We leverage machine learning to automatically accept the registrations of high-quality, in-demand talent. As of February 2017, over 80% of freelancers using our platform held a college degree or advanced degree, with 34% holding a post-graduate degree, according to an internally-conducted survey. Based on information contained in comprehensive freelancer profiles, which include skill profiles and project history on our platform, we highlight the right freelancers to the right clients.

Speed to Hire

Clients often receive proposals within minutes of posting a job, and the median time to hire was 23 hours in 2017. Our marketplace streamlines the interviewing, screening, and contracting process through proprietary search algorithms incorporating freelancers’ availability, online status, and skill profiles.

Cost Savings

Our platform offers a direct-to-talent approach, reducing the reliance on intermediaries such as staffing firms, recruiters, and traditional agencies. Clients using our platform only pay for the specific work they need. Based on client feedback, we believe that clients realize significant cost savings compared to hiring locally or using staffing firms or other intermediaries.

Streamlined Processes

Our end-to-end software platform streamlines workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and engagement. Our platform includes a proposal tracking system, collaboration and communication features, time tracking and invoicing, and two-way feedback and review systems to better manage the lifecycle of project engagements.



 

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Trust and Verification

Our technology was built to help instill trust in remote service relationships. Our platform provides insight into freelancer billing, allowing clients to verify work activity reflected on their invoices, while our collaboration and communication features foster responsiveness and transparency between freelancers and clients. Funds are securely held and released through escrow, enabling mutual trust and timely payments. Our platform also provides tools to enable users to provide both public and private feedback once the work is completed.

Unique Access to Specialized Skills

Freelancers on our platform offer over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories. Within each category, there are multiple skills. For example, skills for the mobile development category include Objective C, Swift, and Android app development. Skills on our platform dynamically evolve with the labor market, which enables clients to find freelancers in current and emerging skill areas, such as augmented reality, robotics, and blockchain. By having access to freelancers with an extensive variety of skills, clients can meet their needs for highly-skilled talent on one platform.

Our Strengths

Largest Online Global Marketplace for Highly-Skilled Freelancers

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV. Today, our platform provides clients with access to highly-skilled freelancers with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories. In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients in over 180 countries. We had over 1,400 clients that each spent over $100,000 on our platform in 2017, and no single client accounted for more than two percent of total client spend.2 We believe our size and scale demonstrate the effectiveness of our platform in connecting businesses with global talent.

Trusted Platform for Freelancers and Clients

We believe our ability to foster trust and credibility on our platform drives growth and differentiates us. We use a combination of the latest technology, data science, product features, and our skilled team to make our platform a trusted online marketplace to get work done. We build and use software to highlight relevant freelancers, facilitate security and identity verification for account ownership, and flag suspicious posts to maintain a trusted marketplace. We provide clients with tools to validate work performed by freelancers and to provide both public and private feedback once the work is completed. Our feedback system enables freelancers to build their business reputation by establishing long-term credibility with project review and client feedback. We provide escrow services so clients on our platform only pay for work that has been completed and freelancers are paid by their clients in full and on time.

Proprietary Data Drives Increasing Efficiencies

We have built an expansive and dynamic repository of data on our platform, which allows us to better enable clients to connect with the best talent for their projects. We use this data in our machine learning algorithms on our platform to provide a trusted, convenient, and effective user experience for both new and existing freelancers and clients.

Robust Platform Functionality

Our platform includes a proposal tracking system, search engine and collaboration functionality, time tracking and invoicing systems, and payments services. The robust functionality of our platform enables

 

2    Client spend represents the total amount that clients spend on both our marketplace offerings and our managed services offering. For additional information related to how we calculate client spend, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”


 

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freelancers to more easily run their businesses and clients to find and work with high-quality talent globally. As of December 31, 2017, we were actively working with more than 300 engineers, including both our employees and freelancers, to innovate and improve our platform.

Powerful Global Network Effects

We have heavily invested in building a robust platform with features and functionalities that are necessary to connect freelancers and clients at scale. We believe our platform provides a strong value proposition for both sides of our marketplace and our scale creates powerful network effects that strengthen our competitive differentiation. Clients are attracted to our unique platform due to the availability of the more than 5,000 skills that freelancers offer in over 70 categories. In turn, as more clients use and post projects on our platform, we are able to attract more freelancers. As a result, we have been able to scale our business and our global community of users without the need for local physical presence and density.

Business Model with Strong Retention Metrics

The growth in our marketplace is driven by long-term and recurring use of our platform by freelancers and clients, which leads to increased revenue visibility for us. For example, for the quarterly period ended December 31, 2017, in addition to acquiring new clients, our client spend retention was 99%.3 Furthermore, the quality of our relationship with freelancers and clients that use our platform is reflected in our NPS, which exceeded 60 on average from both freelancers and clients throughout 2017. In addition, we believe the scale of our platform incentivizes freelancers to build their business reputations and continue to use our platform.

Proven Management Team

Our company was formed when two of the earliest innovators in the space, and the largest online talent marketplaces at the time, Elance and oDesk, combined in 2014. Our management team has a strong track record of scaling and running businesses with a focus on online marketplaces, business-to-business services and software, and global payments technologies. Our President and Chief Executive Officer, Stephane Kasriel, is an active thought leader in talent engagement and the future of work, and, since 2016, has been the co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Education, Gender and Work.

Growth Strategies

Increase Spend from Existing Clients

We intend to expand our relationship with our existing clients and increase their spend on our platform by investing in building new products and premium features.

Attract New Clients Through Marketing Efforts

We intend to expand our marketing efforts to increase awareness of our platform and the benefits of using flexible and remote talent and, as a result, attract new clients.

Remain a Preferred Platform for Freelancers

We will continue to invest in new products and features to help freelancers grow their businesses by finding more work and increasing their earnings.

Further Invest in Technology

We plan to continue to improve our user experience by enhancing our software capabilities, data science, security, and technology infrastructure.

 

3    For the definition of client spend retention, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”


 

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Invest in Domestic Marketplace Capabilities Internationally

We plan to invest in building domestic-to-domestic marketplaces internationally by connecting local clients to local freelancers, similar to our U.S.-to-U.S. domestic offering, including customizing our platform to support additional languages and currencies. We believe that by tailoring our platform experience to the nuances of regional markets, we can further improve the experience of our users.

Broaden and Deepen Categories

We have successfully scaled over 20 different categories to over $20 million GSV in 2017. We intend to focus further on customizing experiences for categories through tailored features and functionalities, thus making it easier and more efficient for clients to connect with the right freelancers.

Focus on Premium Offerings

We plan to invest further in our direct sales team and expand our premium offerings. We believe there is a significant opportunity to expand existing client spend, add new enterprise clients, and cross-sell and upsell existing enterprise clients across various categories.

Risks Affecting Us

Our business is subject to numerous risks and uncertainties, including those in the section titled “Risk Factors” beginning on page 14 and elsewhere in this prospectus. These risks include the following:

 

    our growth depends on our ability to attract and retain a community of freelancers and clients, and the loss of our users could adversely impact our business;

 

    we have a history of net losses, anticipate increasing our operating expenses in the future, and may not achieve or sustain profitability;

 

    we have a limited operating history under our current platform and pricing model, which makes it difficult to evaluate our business and prospects and increases the risks associated with your investment;

 

    if the market for freelancers and the services they offer develops more slowly than we expect, our growth may slow or stall, and our operating results could be adversely affected;

 

    if we are not able to develop and release new products and services, or develop and release successful enhancements, new features, and modifications to our existing products and services, our business could be adversely affected;

 

    our operating results may fluctuate from quarter to quarter, which makes our future results difficult to predict;

 

    because we derive the substantial majority of our revenue from our marketplace offerings, with most of our marketplace revenue derived from our Upwork Standard offering, our inability to generate revenue from our marketplace offerings would adversely affect our business, operating results, financial condition, and growth prospects;

 

    we may be subject to new and existing laws and regulations, both in the United States and internationally; and

 

    we face intense competition and could lose market share to our competitors, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition, and operating results.

Corporate Information

We were incorporated in the State of Delaware in December 2013 prior to and in connection with the combination of Elance, Inc. and oDesk Corporation. In connection with the combination, we changed our name



 

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to Elance-oDesk, Inc. in March 2014, and then to Upwork Inc. in May 2015. Our principal executive offices are located at 441 Logue Avenue, Mountain View, California 94043. Our telephone number is (650) 316-7500. Our website address is www.upwork.com. The information contained on, or that can be accessed through, our website is not a part of this prospectus. Investors should not rely on any such information in deciding whether to purchase our common stock. Unless otherwise indicated, the terms “Upwork,” “we,” “us,” and “our” refer to Upwork Inc. and our consolidated subsidiaries.

Upwork, the Upwork logo, Talent Cloud, Upwork Enterprise, Elance, oDesk, Elance-oDesk, and other registered or common law trade names, trademarks, or service marks of Upwork appearing in this prospectus are the property of Upwork. This prospectus contains additional trade names, trademarks, and service marks of ours and of other companies. We do not intend our use or display of other companies’ trade names, trademarks, or service marks to imply a relationship with these other companies, or endorsement or sponsorship of us by these other companies. Other trademarks appearing in this prospectus are the property of their respective holders. Solely for convenience, our trademarks and tradenames referred to in this prospectus appear without the ® and ™ symbols, but those references are not intended to indicate, in any way, that we will not assert, to the fullest extent under applicable law, our rights, or the right of the applicable licensor, to these trademarks and tradenames.

Implications of Being an Emerging Growth Company

As a company with less than $1.07 billion in revenue during our most recently completed fiscal year, we qualify as an “emerging growth company” as defined in Section 2(a) of the Securities Act of 1933, as amended, or the Securities Act, as modified by the Jumpstart Our Business Startups Act of 2012, or the JOBS Act. As an emerging growth company, we may take advantage of specified reduced disclosure and other requirements that are otherwise applicable, in general, to public companies that are not emerging growth companies. These provisions include:

 

    an exemption from compliance with the auditor attestation requirement on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting pursuant to the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, or the Sarbanes-Oxley Act;

 

    an exemption from compliance with any requirement that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board may adopt regarding mandatory audit firm rotation or a supplement to the auditor’s report providing additional information about the audit and the financial statements;

 

    reduced disclosure about our executive compensation arrangements;

 

    exemptions from the requirements to obtain a non-binding advisory vote on executive compensation or a stockholder approval of any golden parachute arrangements; and

 

    extended transition periods for complying with new or revised accounting standards.

We will remain an emerging growth company until the earliest to occur of: (i) the last day of the fiscal year in which we have more than $1.07 billion in annual revenue; (ii) the date we qualify as a “large accelerated filer,” with at least $700 million of equity securities held by non-affiliates; (iii) the date on which we have issued, in any three-year period, more than $1.0 billion in non-convertible debt securities; and (iv) the last day of the fiscal year ending after the fifth anniversary of the completion of this offering.

We may take advantage of these exemptions until such time that we are no longer an emerging growth company. Accordingly, the information contained herein may be different than the information you receive from other public companies. Further, pursuant to Section 107 of the JOBS Act, as an emerging growth company, we have elected to take advantage of the extended transition period for complying with new or revised accounting standards until those standards would otherwise apply to private companies. As a result, our operating results and financial statements may not be comparable to the operating results and financial statements of other companies who have adopted the new or revised accounting standards. It is possible that some investors will find our common stock less attractive as a result, which may result in a less active trading market for our common stock and higher volatility in our stock price.



 

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THE OFFERING

 

Common stock offered

             shares

 

Total common stock to be outstanding after this offering

             shares

 

Option to purchase additional shares of common stock

             shares

 

Use of proceeds

We estimate that the net proceeds from the sale of shares of our common stock in this offering will be approximately $        , or approximately $         if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full, based upon an assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses.

 

  We primarily intend to use the net proceeds from this offering for working capital and other general corporate purposes. We also intend to use a portion of the net proceeds we receive from this offering to repay approximately $19.0 million of indebtedness under our loan and security agreement with Silicon Valley Bank, or our Loan Agreement. We may also use a portion of the proceeds for the acquisition of, or investment in, technologies, solutions, or businesses that complement our business. However, we do not have agreements or commitments for any acquisitions or investments outside the ordinary course of business at this time. See the section titled “Use of Proceeds” for additional information.

 

Risk factors

See the section titled “Risk Factors” and other information included in this prospectus for a discussion of some of the factors you should consider before deciding to purchase shares of our common stock.

 

Proposed              symbol

“UPWK”

The number of shares of our common stock to be outstanding after this offering is based on 95,019,402 shares of our common stock outstanding as of December 31, 2017, and excludes:

 

    23,607,746 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $3.10 per share;

 

    398,331 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a convertible preferred stock warrant outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $3.13 per share;

 

    4,068,996 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options granted after December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $5.66 per share;

 

    500,000 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a common stock warrant with an exercise price of $0.01 per share that we issued in May 2018 to the Tides Foundation in connection with establishing The Upwork Foundation initiative;

 

    45,286 shares of our common stock issued upon the exercise of a common stock warrant after December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $0.06 per share; and


 

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                     shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our equity compensation plans, consisting of (i) 3,962,024 shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2014 Equity Incentive Plan, or the 2014 Plan, as of December 31, 2017 (which number of shares is prior to the stock options to purchase shares of our common stock granted after December 31, 2017), (ii)                  shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2018 Equity Incentive Plan, or the 2018 Plan, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus, and (iii)                  shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 Employee Stock Purchase Plan, or the 2018 ESPP, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus.

On the date of this prospectus, any remaining shares available for issuance under our 2014 Plan will be added to the shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 Plan, and we will cease granting awards under the 2014 Plan. Our 2018 Plan and 2018 ESPP also provide for automatic annual increases in the number of shares reserved thereunder. See the section titled “Executive Compensation—Employee Benefit and Stock Plans” for additional information.

Unless otherwise noted, the information in this prospectus reflects and assumes the following:

 

    the automatic conversion of all shares of our convertible preferred stock outstanding as of December 31, 2017 into an aggregate of 61,279,079 shares of common stock in connection with the completion of this offering;

 

    the automatic conversion of an outstanding warrant exercisable for 398,331 shares of our convertible preferred stock as of December 31, 2017 into a warrant exercisable for the same number of shares of common stock upon the completion of this offering;

 

    the filing of our restated certificate of incorporation and the effectiveness of our restated bylaws, each of which will occur immediately prior to the completion of this offering;

 

    no exercise of outstanding stock options or warrants subsequent to December 31, 2017; and

 

    no exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares of our common stock in this offering.


 

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SUMMARY CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL AND OTHER DATA

The following tables summarize our consolidated financial data. We derived our summary consolidated statements of operations data for 2016 and 2017 and our summary consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2017 from our audited consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of the results to be expected in the future. You should read the following summary consolidated financial data in conjunction with the sections titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data,” and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” and our consolidated financial statements, the accompanying notes, and other financial information included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016     2017  
     (in thousands, except per
share data and
percentages)
 

Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:

    

Revenue:

    

Marketplace

   $ 138,484     $ 178,046  

Managed services

     25,961       24,506  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total revenue

     164,445       202,552  

Cost of revenue(1)

     62,578       65,443  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Gross profit

     101,867       137,109  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating expenses:

    

Research and development(1)

     37,902       45,604  

Sales and marketing(1)

     37,437       53,044  

General and administrative(1)

     35,446       37,334  

Provision for transaction losses

     5,550       4,250  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total operating expenses

     116,335       140,232  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss from operations

     (14,468     (3,123

Interest expense

     858       960  

Other (income) expense, net

     908       62  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss before benefit from income taxes

     (16,234     (4,145

Benefit from income taxes

     1       22  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss

   $ (16,233   $ (4,123

Premium on repurchase of redeemable convertible preferred stock

           (6,506
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss attributable to common stockholders

   $ (16,233   $ (10,629
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

   $ (0.51   $ (0.32
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Weighted-average shares used to compute net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

     32,072       32,945  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

     $ (0.04
    

 

 

 

Weighted-average shares used to compute pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

       98,072  
    

 

 

 

Other Financial and Operating Data(3):

    

Core clients(4)

     76.5       86.4  

Gross services volume (GSV)(5)

   $ 1,148,363     $ 1,373,161  

Client spend retention(6)

     85%       99%  

Adjusted EBITDA(7)

   $ 1,260     $ 7,909  


 

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(1)    Amounts include stock-based compensation expense as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016      2017  
     (in thousands)  

Cost of revenue

   $ 193      $ 290  

Research and development

     1,820        1,797  

Sales and marketing

     1,052        1,299  

General and administrative

     4,201        3,460  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

   $ 7,266      $ 6,846  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 
(2)    See Notes 2 and 11 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus for an explanation of the calculations of our net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted, and pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted.
(3)   For a discussion of limitations in the measurement of core clients, GSV, and client spend retention, see the section titled “Risk Factors—We track certain performance metrics with internal tools and do not independently verify such metrics. Certain of our performance metrics are subject to inherent challenges in measurement, and real or perceived inaccuracies in such metrics may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.”
(4)    For the definition of core clients, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(5)    For the definition of gross services volume, or GSV, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(6)    For the definition of client spend retention, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(7)    For the definition of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA, see the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures.”

 

     As of December 31, 2017  
     Actual     Pro Forma(1)      Pro Forma
As Adjusted(2)
 
     (in thousands)  

Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:

       

Cash

   $ 21,595     $ 21,595      $  

Working capital

     29,483       29,483     

Total assets

     275,189       275,189     

Other liabilities, noncurrent

     1,936       832     

Debt, current and noncurrent

     33,833       33,833     

Redeemable convertible preferred stock

     166,486           

Total stockholders’ (deficit) equity

     (31,367     136,223     

 

(1)    Reflects (i) the automatic conversion of all outstanding shares of our convertible preferred stock into an aggregate of 61,279,079 shares of common stock and (ii) the automatic conversion of an outstanding warrant exercisable for 398,331 shares of our convertible preferred stock as of December 31, 2017 into a warrant exercisable for the same number of shares of common stock upon the completion of this offering.
(2)    Reflects (i) the pro forma adjustments described in footnote (1) and the sale of                  shares of common stock in this offering at an assumed initial public offering price of $        per share, the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses and (ii) the application of such proceeds as described in the section titled “Use of Proceeds.” A $1.00 increase (decrease) in the assumed initial public offering price of $        per share, the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, would increase (decrease) each of pro forma as adjusted cash, working capital, total assets, and total stockholders’ (deficit) equity by $        million, assuming the number of shares we are offering, as set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, remains the same, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions. We may also increase or decrease the number of shares we are offering. An increase (decrease) of 1,000,000 in the number of shares we are offering would increase (decrease) each of pro forma as adjusted cash, working capital, total assets, and total stockholders’ (deficit) equity by $        million, assuming the initial public offering price per share remains the same. The pro forma as adjusted information is illustrative only, and we will adjust this information based on the actual initial public offering price, number of shares offered, and other terms of this offering determined at pricing.


 

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RISK FACTORS

Investing in our common stock involves a high degree of risk. You should consider carefully the risks and uncertainties described below, together with all of the other information in this prospectus, including “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and our consolidated financial statements and the accompanying notes included elsewhere in this prospectus before deciding whether to invest in shares of our common stock. The risks and uncertainties described below are not the only ones we face. Additional risks and uncertainties that we are unaware of or that we deem immaterial may also become important factors that adversely affect our business. If any of the following risks actually occur, our business, financial condition, operating results, and future prospects could be materially and adversely affected. In that event, the market price of our common stock could decline, and you could lose part or all of your investment.

Risks Related to our Business and Industry

Our growth depends on our ability to attract and retain a community of freelancers and clients, and the loss of our users could adversely impact our business.

The size of our community of users, including both freelancers and clients, is critical to our success. Our ability to achieve significant growth in revenue in the future will depend, in large part, upon our ability to attract new users to, and retain existing users on, our platform. Achieving growth in our community of users may require us to increasingly engage in sophisticated and costly sales and marketing efforts that may not result in additional users. We may also need to modify our pricing model to attract and retain such users. If we fail to attract new users or fail to maintain or expand existing relationships in a cost-effective manner, our revenue will grow more slowly than expected and our business could be adversely impacted.

Freelancers have many different ways of marketing their services, securing clients, and obtaining payments from clients, including meeting and contacting prospective clients through other services, advertising to prospective clients online or offline through other methods, signing up for online or offline third-party agencies, using other online or offline platforms, signing up with staffing firms, using other payment services, or finding employment full-time or part-time through an agency or directly with a business. Clients have similarly diverse options to find and pay service providers, such as engaging and paying service providers directly, finding service providers through other online or offline platforms or through staffing firms and agencies, using other payment services, or hiring temporary, full-time, or part-time employees. For the years ended December 31, 2016 and 2017, we generated significant revenue from one client, which accounted for more than 10% of revenue for each such year, and, therefore, a decrease in revenue from this client could have an adverse effect on our operating results. Moreover, any decrease in the attractiveness of our platform or failure to retain these clients could lead to decreased traffic on our platform, diminished network effects, or result in a drop in GSV on our platform, which could adversely affect our business, revenue, financial condition, and operating results. In addition, if freelancers cease using our platform, the quality or types of services provided by freelancers that use our platform are not satisfactory to clients, or freelancers increase their fees for services more than clients are willing to pay, clients may decrease their use of, or cease using, our platform.

Users can generally decide to cease using our platform at any time. Users may stop using our platform and related services if the quality of the user experience on our platform, including our support capabilities in the event of a problem, does not meet their expectations or keep pace with the quality of the user experience generally offered by competitive products and services. Users may also choose to cease using our platform if they perceive that our pricing model is not in line with the value they derive from our platform or for other reasons. In addition, expenditures by clients may be cyclical and may reflect overall economic conditions or budgeting patterns. If users stop using our platform and services for any reason, including the foregoing reasons, our revenue and business would be adversely affected.

 

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We have a history of net losses, anticipate increasing our operating expenses in the future, and may not achieve or sustain profitability.

We have incurred net losses in each fiscal year since the combination of Elance and oDesk, including net losses of $16.2 million and $4.1 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively, and we expect to incur net losses for the foreseeable future. As of December 31, 2017, we had an accumulated deficit of $123.6 million. We expect to make significant future expenditures related to the development and expansion of our business, including enhancing our Upwork Enterprise offering and our U.S.-to-U.S. domestic offering, expanding domestic-to-domestic offerings into new geographies, and broadening and deepening the categories on our platform, and in connection with legal, accounting, and other administrative expenses related to operating as a public company. These efforts may prove more expensive than we currently anticipate, and we may not succeed in increasing our revenue sufficiently, or at all, to offset these higher expenses. While our revenue has grown in recent years, if our revenue declines or fails to grow at a rate faster than increases in our operating expenses, we will not be able to achieve and maintain profitability in future periods. As a result, we may continue to generate losses. We cannot ensure that we will achieve profitability in the future or that, if we do become profitable, we will be able to sustain profitability.

We have a limited operating history under our current platform and pricing model, which makes it difficult to evaluate our business and prospects and increases the risks associated with your investment.

We operated the Elance and oDesk platforms separately until we relaunched as Upwork in May 2015 and consolidated those platforms into a single platform. In recent years, we have also expanded our Upwork Enterprise offering, which helps enterprises and other larger businesses connect with freelancers and provides these larger clients with additional products and services. We also made significant changes to our pricing model in 2016. As a result, our platform and pricing model have not been fully proven, and we have only a limited operating history with our current pricing model to evaluate our business and future prospects, which subjects us to a number of uncertainties, including our ability to plan for and model future growth. Our historical revenue growth should not be considered indicative of our future performance. We have encountered, and will continue to encounter, risks and difficulties frequently experienced by growing companies in rapidly changing industries, including our ability to achieve market acceptance of our platform and attract and retain users, as well as increasing competition and increasing expenses as we continue to grow our business. We cannot ensure that we will be successful in addressing these and other challenges we may face in the future, and our business may be adversely affected if we do not manage these risks successfully. In addition, we may not achieve sufficient revenue to achieve or maintain positive cash flow from operations or profitability in any given period, or at all.

If the market for freelancers and the services they offer develops more slowly than we expect, our growth may slow or stall, and our operating results could be adversely affected.

The market for freelancers and the services they offer is relatively new, rapidly evolving, and unproven. Our future success will depend in large part on the continued growth and expansion of this market and the willingness of businesses to engage freelancers to provide services. It is difficult to predict the size, growth rate, and expansion of this market, the entry of products and services that are competitive to ours, the success of existing competitive products and services, or technological or other developments that will impact the overall demand for freelancers. Furthermore, many businesses may be unwilling to engage freelancers for a variety of reasons, including perceived negative connotations with outsourcing work or security concerns. If the market for freelancers and the services they offer does not achieve widespread adoption, or there is a reduction in demand for freelancer services, it could result in decreased revenue and our business could be adversely affected.

If we are not able to develop and release new products and services, or develop and release successful enhancements, new features, and modifications to our existing products and services, our business could be adversely affected.

The market for our platform is characterized by rapid technological change, frequent new product and service introductions and enhancements, changing user demands, and evolving industry standards. The

 

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introduction of products and services embodying new technologies can quickly make existing products and services obsolete and unmarketable. We invest substantial resources in researching and developing new products and services and enhancing our platform by incorporating additional features, improving functionality, and adding other improvements to meet our users’ evolving demands in our highly competitive industry. The success of any enhancements or improvements to our platform or any new products and services depends on several factors, including timely completion, competitive pricing, adequate quality testing, integration with new and existing technologies on our platform and third-party partners’ technologies, and overall market acceptance. We cannot be sure that we will succeed in developing, marketing, and delivering on a timely and cost-effective basis enhancements or new features to our platform or any new products and services that respond to continued changes in the market for talent or business services, nor can we be sure that any enhancements or new features to our platform or any new products and services will achieve market acceptance. Because further development of our platform is complex, challenging, and dependent upon an array of factors, the timetable for the release of new products and services and enhancements to existing products and services is difficult to predict, and we may not offer new products and services as rapidly as users of our platform require or expect. Any new products or services that we develop may not be introduced in a timely or cost-effective manner, may contain errors or defects, or may not achieve the broad market acceptance necessary to generate sufficient revenue. Moreover, even if we introduce new products and services, we may experience a decline in revenue from our existing products and services that is not offset by revenue from the new products or services. In addition, we may lose existing users who choose competing products or services. This could result in a temporary or permanent revenue shortfall and adversely affect our business.

Our operating results may fluctuate from quarter to quarter, which makes our future results difficult to predict.

Our quarterly operating results have fluctuated in the past and may fluctuate in the future. Additionally, we have a limited operating history with our current platform and pricing model, which makes it difficult to forecast our future results. As a result, you should not rely upon our past quarterly operating results as indicators of future performance. You should take into account the risks and uncertainties frequently encountered by companies in rapidly evolving markets. Our operating results in any given quarter can be influenced by numerous factors, many of which are unpredictable or are outside of our control, including:

 

    our ability to generate significant revenue from our Upwork Standard, Upwork Enterprise, and other premium offerings;

 

    fluctuations in revenue from our managed services offering due to our recognition of the entire GSV as revenue, including the amounts paid to freelancers;

 

    our ability to maintain and grow our community of users;

 

    the demand for and types of skills and services that are offered on our platform by freelancers;

 

    due to our tiered-pricing model for freelancer service fees, the mix in any period between freelancers that have billed larger amounts to clients on our platform, where we charge a lower rate on billings, and freelancers that have billed clients less on our platform, where we charge a higher rate on billings;

 

    spending patterns of clients, including whether those clients that use our platform frequently, or for larger projects, reduce their spend, or stop using our platform;

 

    seasonal spending patterns by clients or work patterns by freelancers and seasonality in the labor market, including the number of business days in any given quarter or local, national, or international holidays;

 

    fluctuations in the prices that freelancers charge clients on our platform;

 

    changes to our pricing model;

 

    our ability to introduce new products and services and enhance existing products and services;

 

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    our ability to generate significant revenue from new products and services;

 

    our ability to respond to competitive developments, including pricing changes and the introduction of new products and services by our competitors;

 

    the productivity of our sales force;

 

    changes in the mix of products and services that enterprise clients or other users demand;

 

    the length and complexity of our sales cycles;

 

    the episodic nature of freelance work;

 

    the cost to develop and upgrade our platform to incorporate new technologies;

 

    the impact of outages of our platform and associated reputational harm;

 

    changes to financial accounting standards and the interpretation of those standards that may affect the way we recognize and report our financial results, including changes in accounting rules governing recognition of revenue;

 

    potential costs to attract, onboard, retain, and motivate qualified talent to perform services for us;

 

    increases in, and timing of, operating expenses that we may incur to grow and expand our operations and to remain competitive;

 

    costs related to the acquisition of businesses, talent, technologies, or intellectual property, including potentially significant amortization costs and possible write-downs;

 

    security or privacy breaches, and associated remediation costs;

 

    litigation, adverse judgments, settlements, or other litigation-related costs;

 

    changes in the common law, statutory, legislative, or regulatory environment, such as with respect to privacy, wage and hour regulations, worker classification (including classification of independent contractors or similar service providers and classification of employees as exempt or non-exempt), internet regulation, payment processing, global trade, or tax requirements;

 

    fluctuations in currency exchange rates;

 

    changes in the mix of countries in which our users are located, which impacts the amount of revenue we derive from foreign exchange;

 

    the timing of stock-based compensation expense;

 

    expenses incurred in connection with The Upwork Foundation initiative; and

 

    general economic and political conditions and government regulations in the countries where we currently have significant numbers of users, or where we currently operate or may expand in the future.

The impact of one or more of the foregoing and other factors may cause our operating results to vary significantly. As such, we believe that quarter-to-quarter comparisons of our operating results may not be meaningful and should not be relied upon as an indication of future performance. If we fail to meet or exceed the expectations of investors or securities analysts, then the trading price of our common stock could fall substantially, and we could face costly lawsuits, including securities class action suits.

Because we derive the substantial majority of our revenue from our marketplace offerings, with most of our marketplace revenue derived from our Upwork Standard offering, our inability to generate revenue from our marketplace offerings would adversely affect our business, operating results, financial condition, and growth prospects.

Currently, we derive and expect to continue to derive, in the near future, the substantial majority of our revenue from our marketplace offerings, with most of our marketplace revenue derived from our Upwork

 

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Standard offering. As such, market acceptance of our marketplace offerings is critical to our continued success. Demand for our marketplace offerings is affected by a number of factors beyond our control, including the timing of development and release of new products and services by our competitors, our ability to respond to technological change and to innovate and grow, contraction in our market, and the other risks identified herein. If we are unable to continue to meet user demands, to expand the categories of services offered on our platform, or to achieve more widespread market acceptance of our marketplace offerings, our business operations, financial results, and growth prospects could be adversely affected.

We may be subject to new and existing laws and regulations, both in the United States and internationally.

We are subject to a wide variety of foreign and domestic laws. Laws, regulations, and standards governing issues such as worker classification, employment, payments, whistleblowing and worker confidentiality obligations, intellectual property, consumer protection, taxation, privacy, and data security are often complex and subject to varying interpretations, in many cases due to their lack of specificity, and, as a result, their application in practice may change or develop over time through judicial decisions or as new guidance or interpretations are provided by regulatory and governing bodies, such as federal and state administrative agencies. Many of these laws were adopted prior to the advent of the internet and mobile and related technologies and, as a result, do not contemplate or address the unique issues of the internet and related technologies. Other laws and regulations may be adopted in response to internet, mobile, and related technologies. New and existing laws and regulations (or changes in interpretation of existing laws and regulations), including those concerning worker classification, independent contractors, employment, payments, whistleblowing and worker confidentiality obligations, intellectual property, consumer protection, taxation, privacy, data security, benefits, unionizing and collective action, arbitration agreements and class action waiver provisions, terms of service, website accessibility, and background checks (such as the Fair Credit Reporting Act, 15 U.S.C. § 1681), may also be adopted, implemented, or interpreted to apply to us and other online services marketplaces. As our platform’s geographical scope expands, regulatory agencies or courts may claim that we, or our users, are subject to additional requirements, or are prohibited from conducting our business in or with certain jurisdictions, either generally or with respect to certain services. It is also possible that certain provisions in agreements with our service providers or between freelancers and clients may be found to be unenforceable or not compliant with applicable law.

Recent financial, political, and other events may increase the level of regulatory scrutiny on larger companies, technology companies in general, and companies engaged in dealings with independent contractors or payments in particular. Regulatory agencies may enact new laws or promulgate new regulations that are adverse to our business, or they may view matters or interpret laws and regulations differently than they have in the past or in a manner adverse to our business. Such regulatory scrutiny or action may create different or conflicting obligations on us from one jurisdiction to another.

Our success, or perceived success, and increased visibility may also drive some businesses that view our business model to be a threat to raise concerns about our business model to local policymakers and regulators. These businesses and their trade association groups or other organizations may take actions and employ significant resources to shape the legal and regulatory regimes in countries where we may have, or seek to have, a significant number of users in an effort to change such legal and regulatory regimes in ways intended to adversely affect or impede our business and the ability of users to utilize our platform.

As we look to expand our international footprint over time, we may become obligated to comply with additional laws and regulations of the countries or markets in which we operate or have users. If we are found to be subject to new or existing laws and regulations, contractual provisions that are designed to protect and mitigate against such risks, including terms of service, arbitration and class action waiver provisions, disclaimers of warranties, limitations of liabilities and indemnification provisions, could be deemed unenforceable as to the application of these laws and regulations by a court, arbitrator or other decision-making body. If we are unable to comply with these laws and regulations or manage the complexity of global operations and supporting an international user base successfully, our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

 

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We face intense competition and could lose market share to our competitors, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition, and operating results.

The market for freelancers and the clients that engage them is highly competitive, rapidly evolving, fragmented, and subject to changing technology, shifting needs, and frequent introductions of new products and services. We compete with a number of online and offline platforms and services domestically and internationally to attract and retain users. Our main competitors fall into the following categories:

 

    traditional contingent workforce and staffing service providers and other outsourcing providers, such as The Adecco Group, Randstad, Recruit, ManpowerGroup, and Robert Half International;

 

    online freelancer platforms that serve either a diverse range of skill categories, such as Fiverr and Freelancer.com, or specific skill categories;

 

    other online providers of products and services for individuals or businesses seeking work or to advertise their services, including personal and professional social networks, such as LinkedIn (owned by Microsoft) and GitHub, employment marketplaces, recruiting websites, and project-based deliverable providers;

 

    software and business services companies focused on talent acquisition, management, invoicing, or staffing management products and services;

 

    payment businesses, such as PayPal and Payoneer, that can facilitate payments to and from businesses and service providers;

 

    businesses that provide specialized, professional services, including consulting, accounting, marketing, and information technology services; and

 

    online and offline job boards, classified ads, and other traditional means of finding work and service providers, such as Craigslist, CareerBuilder, Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter.

In addition, well-established internet companies, such as Google, LinkedIn, and Amazon, and social media platforms, such as Facebook, have entered or may decide to enter into our market segment, and some of these companies have launched products and services that directly compete with our platform. For example, in 2016, LinkedIn launched ProFinder, its service to connect LinkedIn members with one another for freelance service relationships.

Internationally, we compete against online and offline channels and products and services in most countries. These local competitors might have greater brand recognition than us in their local country and a stronger understanding of local culture and commerce. They may also offer their products and services in local languages that we do not offer. As our business grows internationally, we may increasingly compete with these international companies. We also compete against locally-sourced service providers and traditional, offline means of finding work and procuring services, such as personal and professional networks, classified ads, recruiters, and staffing businesses.

In the future, we may also compete with companies that utilize emerging technologies, such as blockchain, augmented reality, and machine learning. Many of the companies and services that utilize these technologies in our market are still new and not yet fully mature in their capabilities or network scale. However, we may face increased competition should these companies and services succeed. These competitors may offer products and services that may, among other things, provide automated alternatives to the services that freelancers provide on our platform or change the way that businesses engage service providers so as to make our platform less attractive to users.

Many of our current and potential competitors, both online and offline, enjoy substantial competitive advantages, such as greater name recognition, longer operating histories, greater financial, technical, and other resources, and, in some cases, the ability to rapidly combine online platforms with traditional staffing and contingent worker solutions. These companies may use these advantages to offer products and services similar to ours at a lower price, develop different products and services to compete with our platform, or respond more

 

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quickly and effectively than we do to new or changing opportunities, technologies, standards, regulatory conditions, or user preferences or requirements. In addition, while we compete intensely in more established markets, we also compete in developing technology markets that are characterized by dynamic and rapid technological change, many and different business models, and frequent disruption of incumbents by innovative online and offline entrants. The barriers to entry into these markets can be low, and businesses easily can launch online or mobile platforms and applications at nominal cost by using commercially available software or partnering with various established companies in these markets. For all of these reasons, we may not be able to compete successfully against our current and future competitors.

Moreover, current and future competitors may also make strategic acquisitions or establish cooperative relationships among themselves or with others, including our current or future third-party partners. By doing so, these competitors may increase their ability to meet the needs of existing or prospective users. These developments could limit our ability to obtain revenue from existing and new users. If we are unable to compete successfully against current and future competitors, our business, operating results, and financial condition would be adversely impacted.

If we fail to develop, maintain, and enhance our brand and reputation cost-effectively, our business and financial condition may be adversely affected.

The Upwork brand did not exist before 2015, but we believe that developing, maintaining, and enhancing awareness and integrity of our brand and reputation in a cost-effective manner are important to achieving widespread acceptance and use of our platform and are important elements in attracting new users and retaining existing users. Successful promotion of our brand and our business model depends on, among other things, the effectiveness of our marketing efforts, our ability to provide a reliable, trustworthy, and useful platform at competitive prices, the perceived value of our platform, and our ability to provide quality support. In order to reach brand awareness levels of our competitors, we will need to continuously invest in marketing programs that may not be successful in achieving meaningful awareness levels. Further, brand promotion activities may not yield increased revenue, and even if they do, the increased revenue may not offset the expenses we incur in building and maintaining our brand and reputation. For example, in 2017, we increased investment in offline advertising in certain markets to increase our brand awareness, and it is not certain that these investments will have a positive impact on our brand. In order to protect our brand, we also expend substantial resources to register and defend our trademarks and to prevent others from using the same or substantially similar marks. Despite these efforts, we may not always be successful in registering and preventing misappropriation of our own marks and other intellectual property or preventing registration of confusingly similar marks, and we may suffer dilution, loss of reputation, or other harm to our brand. We also rely on our community of users in a variety of ways, including their willingness to give us feedback regarding our platform, and failure of our users to provide positive feedback on their experience on our platform could negatively impact the willingness of prospective users to use our platform. If we fail to promote and maintain our brand successfully or to maintain loyalty among our users, or if we incur substantial expenses in unsuccessful attempts to promote and maintain our brand, we may fail to attract new users or retain our existing users and our business and financial condition may be adversely affected.

There may be adverse tax, legal, and other consequences if the contractor classification or employment status of freelancers that use our platform is challenged.

Clients are generally responsible for properly classifying the freelancers they engage through our platform under the terms of our user agreement. Some clients opt to classify freelancers as employees for certain assignments, while many freelancers are classified as independent contractors.

We offer an optional service to our Upwork Enterprise clients, for which we help classify freelancers as employees of third-party staffing providers or independent contractors. For clients that subscribe to this service, subject to applicable law and the terms of the client’s agreement, we indemnify clients from misclassification risk and make warranties to the client (e.g., as to compliance with applicable laws). In addition, we offer a number of other premium services where we provide increased assistance to enable users to find each other.

 

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Third-party staffing providers employ freelancers classified as employees for clients, and failure of these staffing providers to comply with all legal and tax requirements could adversely affect our business. We also use our platform to find, classify, and engage freelancers to provide services for us or for our managed services offering. In general, were a court or administrative agency to determine that we or clients that use our platform have misclassified a service provider as an independent contractor, we and/or our users could incur tax and other liabilities for failing to properly withhold or pay taxes on the service providers’ compensation as well as potential wage and hour and other liabilities depending on the circumstances and jurisdiction. Although we maintain insurance policies covering liability for certain claims, we cannot be certain that our coverage will extend to or be adequate for liabilities actually incurred or that insurance will continue to be available to us on economically reasonable terms, or at all.

There is often uncertainty in the application of worker classification laws, and consequently there is risk to us and to users, both freelancers and clients, that independent contractors could be deemed to be misclassified under applicable law. The tests governing whether a service provider is an independent contractor or an employee are typically highly fact sensitive and vary by governing law. Laws and regulations that govern the status and misclassification of independent contractors are also subject to change as well as to divergent interpretations by various authorities, which can create uncertainty and unpredictability. A misclassification determination or allegation creates potential exposure for users and for us, including but not limited to monetary exposure arising from or relating to failure to withhold and remit taxes, unpaid wages, and wage and hour laws and requirements (such as those pertaining to minimum wage and overtime); claims for employee benefits, social security, workers’ compensation and unemployment; claims of discrimination, harassment, and retaliation under civil rights laws; claims under laws pertaining to unionizing, collective bargaining, and other concerted activity; and other claims, charges, or other proceedings under laws and regulations applicable to employers and employees, including risks relating to allegations of joint employer liability. Such claims could result in monetary damages (including but not limited to wage-based damages or restitution, compensatory damages, liquidated damages, and punitive damages), interest, fines, penalties, costs, fees (including but not limited to attorneys’ fees), criminal and other liability, assessment, or settlement. Such an allegation, claim, adverse determination, including but not limited to with respect to the freelancers that provide services to us, or the requirement for us to indemnify a client, could also harm our brand and reputation, which could adversely impact our business. While these risks are mitigated, in part, by our contractual rights of indemnification against third-party claims, such indemnification agreements could be determined to be unenforceable, could be costly to enforce or ineffective, or indemnification may otherwise prove inadequate.

Because a substantial portion of the services offered on our platform is information technology services, a decline in the market for information technology service providers could adversely affect our business.

A significant portion of the services offered by freelancers on our platform relate to information technology. If, for any reason, the market for information technology services declines, including as a result of global economic conditions, automation, increased use of artificial intelligence, or otherwise, or if need for these services slows or businesses satisfy their needs for these services through alternative means, the growth in the number of users of our platform may slow or decline and as a result our revenue and business may be adversely impacted.

Future changes to our pricing model could adversely affect our business.

We implemented a significant change to our pricing model in 2016, and we may from time to time decide to make further changes to our pricing model due to a variety of reasons, including changes to the market for our products and services, and as competitors introduce new products and services. Changes to any components of our pricing model may, among other things, result in user dissatisfaction and could lead to a loss of users on our platform and could negatively impact our operating results, financial condition, and cash flows.

Adverse or changing economic conditions may negatively impact our business.

Our business depends on the overall demand for labor and on the economic health of current and prospective clients that use our platform. Any significant weakening of the economy in the United States or

 

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Europe or of the global economy, more limited availability of credit, a reduction in business confidence and activity, decreased government spending, economic uncertainty, financial turmoil affecting the banking system or financial markets, a more limited market for independent professional service providers or information technology services, and other adverse economic or market conditions may adversely impact our business and operating results. Global economic and political events or uncertainty may cause some of our current or potential clients to curtail spending on our platform, and may ultimately result in new regulatory and cost challenges to our operations. These adverse conditions could result in reductions in revenue, longer sales cycles, slower adoption of new technologies, and increased competition. There is also risk that when overall global economic conditions are positive, our business could be negatively impacted by a decreased demand for freelancers. We cannot predict the timing, strength, or duration of any economic slowdown or any subsequent recovery generally. If the conditions in the general economy significantly deviate from present levels, our business, financial condition, and operating results could be adversely affected.

Users may circumvent our platform, which could adversely impact our business.

Our business depends on users transacting through our platform. Despite our efforts to prevent them from doing so, users may circumvent our platform and engage with or pay each other through other means to avoid the fees that we charge on our platform. The loss of revenue associated with circumvention of our platform could have an adverse impact on our business, cash flows, operating results, and financial condition.

We face payment and fraud risks that could adversely impact our business.

Requirements on our platform relating to user authentication and fraud detection are complex. If our security measures do not succeed, our business may be adversely impacted. In addition, bad actors around the world use increasingly sophisticated methods to engage in illegal activities involving personal information, such as unauthorized use of another’s identity or payment information and unauthorized acquisition or use of credit or debit card details and bank account information. This could result in any of the following, each of which could adversely impact our business:

 

    we may be, and we historically have been, held liable for the unauthorized use of a credit card holder’s card number and required by card issuers to pay a chargeback fee, and if our chargeback rate becomes excessive, credit card networks may also require us to pay fines and the California Department of Business Oversight, or the DBO, may require us to hold larger cash reserves;

 

    we may be subject to additional risk and liability exposure, including negligence, fraud, or other claims, if employees or third-party service providers, including freelancers that provide services to us, misappropriate user information for their own gain or facilitate the fraudulent use of such information;

 

    bad actors may use our platform, including our payment processing and disbursement methods, to engage in unlawful or fraudulent conduct, such as money laundering, terrorist financing, fraudulent sale of services, breaches of security, leakage of data, piracy or misuse of software and other copyrighted or trademarked content, and other misconduct;

 

    users of our website who are subjected or exposed to the unlawful or improper conduct of other users or other third parties, including law enforcement, may seek to hold us responsible for the conduct of other users and may lose confidence in our platform, decrease or cease to use our platform, seek to obtain damages and costs, or impose fines and penalties;

 

    we may be subject to additional risk if clients fail to pay freelancers for services rendered, as freelancers may seek to hold us responsible for the clients’ conduct and may lose confidence in our platform, may decrease or cease use of our platform, or seek to obtain damages and costs;

 

   

if, for example, freelancers misstate their qualifications or location, provide misinformation, perform services they are not qualified or authorized to provide, produce insufficient or defective work product, or work product with a viral or other harmful effect, clients or other third parties may seek to hold us

 

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responsible for the freelancers’ acts or omissions and may lose confidence in our platform, decrease or cease use of our platform, or seek to obtain damages and costs; and

 

    we may suffer reputational damage as a result of the occurrence of any of the above.

Despite measures we have taken to detect and reduce the risk of this kind of conduct, we do not have control over users of our platform and cannot ensure that any of our measures will stop illegal or improper uses of our platform. We also have received in the past, and may receive in the future, complaints from clients and other third parties concerning misuse of our platform. We have also brought claims against clients and other third parties for their misuse of our platform, and may be required to bring similar claims in the future. Even if these claims do not result in litigation or are resolved in our favor, these claims, and the time and resources necessary to resolve them, could divert the resources of our management and adversely affect our business and operating results.

We may be subject to escrow, payment services, and money transmitter regulations that may adversely affect our business.

Our subsidiary, Upwork Escrow Inc., is licensed as an internet escrow agent under California’s Escrow Law and is subject to regulations applicable to internet escrow agents promulgated by the DBO. As of June 30, 2018, there have been two instances in which we have received inquiries from regulatory authorities inquiring whether we are engaging in payment activities through Upwork Escrow or oDesk, which is now Upwork Global Inc., that require a license in the applicable jurisdiction. In April 2013, we received an inquiry from the Washington Department of Financial Institutions, which was favorably resolved in December 2013. In July 2013, oDesk received an inquiry from the DBO, which was favorably resolved in connection with the combination of Elance and oDesk in 2014.

Although we believe that our operations comply with existing U.S. federal and state, and international laws and regulatory requirements related to escrow, money transmission, and the handling or moving of money, the laws or regulations may change, and interpretations of existing laws and regulations may also change. As a result, Upwork Escrow or Upwork Global could be required to be licensed as an escrow agent or a money transmitter (or other similar licensee) in U.S. states or other jurisdictions or may choose to obtain such a license even if not required. Such a decision could also require Upwork Escrow or Upwork Global to register as a money services business under federal laws and regulations. It is also possible that Upwork Escrow or Upwork Global could become subject to regulatory enforcement or other proceedings in those states or other jurisdictions with escrow, money transmission, or other similar statutes or regulatory requirements related to the handling or moving of money, which could in turn have a significant impact on our business, even if we were to ultimately prevail in such proceedings. Upwork Escrow or Upwork Global may also be required to become licensed as a payment institution (or other similar license) under the European Payment Services Directive or other international laws and regulations. Any developments in the laws or regulation related to escrow, money transmission, or the handling or moving of money, or increased scrutiny of our business may lead to additional compliance costs and administrative overhead.

The application of laws and regulations related to escrow, money transmission, and the handling or moving of money is subject to significant complexity and uncertainty, particularly as they relate to new and evolving business models. If Upwork Escrow or Upwork Global is ultimately deemed to be in violation of one or more escrow or money transmitter or other similar statutes or regulatory requirements related to the handling or moving of money in any U.S. state or other jurisdiction, we may be subject to the imposition of fines, our ability to offer some or all of our services in the relevant jurisdiction may be suspended, and we may be subject to civil liability or criminal liability and our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

 

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Our sales efforts are increasingly targeted at large enterprise clients, and as a result we may encounter greater pricing, implementation, and customization challenges, and we may have to delay revenue recognition for more complicated transactions, all of which could adversely impact our business and operating results.

Our sales efforts are increasingly targeted at large enterprise clients, and as a result we face greater costs, longer sales cycles, and less predictability in completing some of our sales and in increasing spend by existing clients. For larger clients, use of our platform may require approvals by multiple departments and executive-level personnel and require us to provide greater levels of services and client education regarding the uses, benefits, security, privacy, worker classification, payments, and compliance services offered on our platform. Larger enterprises typically have longer decision-making and implementation cycles and may demand more customization, higher levels of support, a broader range of services, and greater payment flexibility. In addition, larger enterprises may require greater functionality and scalability and acceptance provisions that can lead to a delay in revenue recognition. We are often required to spend time and resources to better familiarize potential enterprise clients with the value propositions of our platform generally. Despite our efforts in familiarizing potential enterprise clients with the benefits of our platform, some potential enterprise clients may decide not to use our platform if, among other reasons, they do not feel that their procurement or compliance needs are met. It is more difficult to find sales personnel with the specific skills and technical knowledge needed to sell our Upwork Enterprise offering and other premium offerings. Even if we are able to hire qualified personnel, doing so may be costly. As a result of these factors, sales opportunities with large enterprises may require us to devote greater sales and administrative support and professional services resources to individual clients, which could increase our costs, lengthen our sales cycle, and divert our own sales and professional services resources to a smaller number of larger clients. We may spend substantial time, effort, and money in our sales efforts without being successful in producing sales or growing client spend.

Even if we reach agreement with an enterprise client to use our platform, a significant portion of the fees we typically receive from enterprise clients is contingent on the level of spend by the client. If an enterprise client does not engage freelancers on our platform or uses freelancers for projects of nominal value, our revenue from the relationship may be minimal.

We also have in the past, and may in the future, taken on additional risk for worker classification, privacy, security, work product, payments, or other services for larger clients, or agreed to other terms that are unfavorable to us in order to secure a client’s business or increase their spend. All these factors can add further risk to business conducted with these clients even after a successful sale.

Having an international community of users and engaging freelancers internationally exposes us to risks that could have an adverse effect on our business, operating results, and financial condition.

Even though we currently have a limited physical presence outside of the United States, our users have a global footprint that subjects us to the risks of being found to do business internationally. We have users on our platform located in over 180 countries, including some emerging markets where we have limited experience, where challenges can be significantly different from those we have faced in more developed markets, and where business practices may create greater internal control risks. Further, certain skills and services are offered by freelancers concentrated in countries with higher risks of instability and geopolitical uncertainty, like Russia and Ukraine. In addition, we engage freelancers located in many countries to provide services for our managed services offering and to us for internal projects. Because our website is generally accessible by users worldwide, one or more jurisdictions may claim that we or our users are required to comply with their laws. Laws outside of the United States regulating internet, payments, escrow, privacy, taxation, terms of service, website accessibility, consumer protection, intellectual property ownership, services intermediaries, labor and employment, wage and hour, worker classification, background checks, and recruiting and staffing companies, among others, which could be interpreted to apply to us, are often less favorable to us than those in the United States, giving greater rights to competitors, users, and other third parties. Compliance with international laws and regulations may be more costly than expected, may require us to change our business practices or restrict our service offerings, and the imposition of any such laws or regulations on us, our users, or third parties that we or our users utilize to

 

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provide or use our services, may adversely impact our revenue and business. In addition, we may be subject to multiple overlapping legal or regulatory regimes that impose conflicting requirements and enhanced legal risks.

Risks inherent in conducting business with an international user base and engaging freelancers globally include, but are not limited to:

 

    being deemed to conduct business or have operations in the jurisdictions where we have users and being subject to their laws and regulatory requirements;

 

    new or changed regulatory requirements;

 

    varying worker classification standards and regulations;

 

    organizing or similar activity by local unions, works councils, or similar labor organizations;

 

    tariffs, export and import restrictions, restrictions on foreign investments, sanctions, and other trade barriers or protection measures;

 

    costs of localizing services, including adding the ability for clients to pay in local currencies;

 

    lack of acceptance of localized services;

 

    difficulties in and costs of staffing, managing, and operating international operations or support functions;

 

    tax issues;

 

    weaker intellectual property protection;

 

    economic weakness or currency related challenges or crises;

 

    the burden of complying with a wide variety of laws that may be deemed to apply to us, including those relating to labor and employment matters (including but not limited to requirements with respect to works councils or similar labor organizations), consumer and data protection, privacy, network security, encryption, data residency, and taxes, as well as securing expertise in local law and related practices;

 

    our ability to adapt to sales practices and client requirements in different cultures;

 

    fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates;

 

    compliance with U.S. and foreign laws designed to combat money laundering and the financing of terrorist activities;

 

    corporate or state-sponsored espionage or cyberterrorism;

 

    macroeconomic conditions in certain foreign jurisdictions; and

 

    political instability and security risks in countries where we have users.

The risks described above may also make it difficult for us to expand our operations internationally. Analysis of, and compliance with, global laws and regulations may substantially increase our cost of doing business. We may be unable to keep current with changes in laws and regulations as they develop. Although we have implemented policies and procedures designed to analyze whether these laws apply and, if applicable, support compliance with these laws and regulations, there can be no assurance that we will always maintain compliance or that all of our employees, contractors, partners, users, and agents will comply. Any violations could result in enforcement actions, fines, civil and criminal penalties, damages, interest, costs and fees (including but not limited to legal fees), injunctions, loss of intellectual property rights, or reputational harm. If we are unable to comply with these laws and regulations or manage the complexity of global operations and supporting an international user base successfully, our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

 

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If we are unable to maintain our payment partners and bank relationships, or if our disbursement partners encounter business difficulties, our business could be adversely affected.

Our payment partners consist of payment processors and disbursement partners. We rely on banks and card processors to provide clearing, processing, and settlement functions for the funding of all transactions on our platform. We also rely on a network of disbursement partners to disburse funds to users.

Our payment partners are critical to our business. In order to maintain these relationships, we have in the past, and may in the future, be forced to agree to terms that are unfavorable to us. If we are unable to maintain our agreements with current payment partners on favorable terms, or we are unable to enter into new agreements with new payment partners, our ability to disburse transactions and our revenue and business may be adversely affected. This could occur for a number of reasons, including the following:

 

    our payment partners may be unable to effectively accommodate changing service needs, such as that which could result from rapid growth or higher volume;

 

    our payment partners could choose to terminate or not renew their agreements with us, or only be willing to renew on different or less advantageous terms;

 

    our payment partners could reduce the services provided to us, cease doing business with us, or cease doing business altogether;

 

    our payment partners could be subject to delays, limitations, or closures of their own businesses, networks, or systems, causing them to be unable to process payments or disburse funds for certain periods of time; or

 

    we may be forced to cease doing business with payment processors if card association operating rules, certification requirements and laws, regulations, or rules governing electronic funds transfers to which we are subject change or are interpreted to make it difficult or impossible for us to comply.

We have experienced growth in recent periods and expect to continue to invest in our growth for the foreseeable future. If we are unable to manage our growth effectively, our revenue and profits could be adversely affected.

We have experienced growth in a relatively short period of time. For example, our revenue grew from $164.4 million in 2016 to $202.6 million in 2017. We plan to continue to expand our operations and personnel significantly. Sustaining our growth will place significant demands on our management as well as on our administrative, operational, and financial resources. To manage our growth, we must continue to improve our operational, financial, and management information systems; expand, motivate, and effectively manage our workforce; and effectively collaborate with our third-party partners. If we are unable to manage our growth successfully without compromising our quality of service or our profit margins, or if new systems that we implement to assist in managing our growth do not produce the expected benefits, our business, operating results, financial condition, and ability to successfully market our platform and serve our users could be adversely affected.

Our recent and historical growth should not be considered indicative of our future performance. We have encountered in the past, and will encounter in the future, risks and uncertainties frequently experienced by growing companies in rapidly changing industries. If our assumptions regarding these risks and uncertainties, which we use to plan and operate our business, are incorrect or change, or if we do not address these risks successfully, our financial condition and operating results could differ materially from our expectations, our growth rates may slow, and our business would be adversely impacted.

Our revenue growth and ability to achieve and sustain profitability will depend in part on being able to expand our sales force and increase the productivity of our sales force.

We have only recently begun generating revenue from our Upwork Enterprise offering and other premium offerings. In order to increase our revenue from these offerings and achieve and sustain profitability, we must increase the size of our sales force and generate additional revenue from new and existing users.

 

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There is significant competition for sales personnel with the skills and technical knowledge that we require. Our ability to achieve significant revenue growth will depend, in large part, on our success in recruiting, training, and retaining sufficient numbers of sales and sales support personnel to support our growth. New sales personnel require significant training and can take a number of months to achieve full productivity. Our recent hires and planned hires may not become productive as quickly as we expect and if our new sales personnel do not become fully productive on the timelines that we have projected, or at all, our revenue will not increase at anticipated rates, or at all, and our ability to achieve long-term projections may be negatively impacted. We may also be unable to hire or retain a sufficient number of qualified sales personnel. Furthermore, hiring sales personnel in new markets requires additional costs that we may not recover if the sales personnel fail to achieve full productivity. If we are unable to hire and train a sufficient number of effective sales personnel, or if our sales personnel are not successful in obtaining new business or increasing sales to our existing user base, our business will be adversely affected.

Our user growth and engagement on mobile devices depend upon effective operation with mobile operating systems, networks, and standards that we do not control.

Mobile devices are increasingly used for ecommerce transactions. A significant and growing portion of our users access our platform through mobile devices. There is no guarantee that popular mobile devices will continue to support our platform, or that mobile device users will use our platform rather than competing products. We are dependent on the interoperability of our platform with popular mobile operating systems that we do not control, such as Android and iOS, and any changes in such systems that degrade the functionality of our website or applications or give preferential treatment to competitors could adversely affect our platform’s usage on mobile devices. Additionally, in order to deliver high-quality mobile products, it is important that our products are designed effectively and work well with a range of mobile technologies, systems, networks, and standards that we do not control. We may not be successful in developing relationships with key participants in the mobile industry or in developing products that operate effectively with these technologies, systems, networks, or standards. In the event that it is more difficult for our users to access and use our platform on their mobile devices or users find our mobile offering does not effectively meet their needs, our competitors develop products and services that are perceived to operate more effectively on mobile devices, or if our users choose not to access or use our platform on their mobile devices or use mobile products that do not offer access to our platform, our user growth and user engagement could be adversely impacted.

If internet search engines’ methodologies or other channels that we utilize to direct traffic to our website are modified, or our search result page rankings decline for other reasons, our user growth could decline.

We depend in part on various internet search engines, such as Google and Bing, as well as other channels to direct a significant amount of traffic to our website. Our ability to maintain the number of visitors directed to our website is not entirely within our control. For example, our competitors’ search engine optimization and other efforts may result in their websites receiving a higher search result page ranking than ours, internet search engines or other channels that we utilize to direct traffic to our website could revise their methodologies in a manner that adversely impacts traffic to our website, or we may make changes to our website that adversely impact our search engine optimization rankings and traffic. As a result, links to our website may not be prominent enough to drive sufficient traffic to our website, and we may not be able to influence the results.

We may experience a decline in traffic to our website if third-party browser technologies are changed, or search engine or other channels that we utilize to direct traffic to our website change their methodologies or rules, to our disadvantage. We expect the search engines and other channels that we utilize to drive users to our website to continue to periodically change their algorithms, policies, and technologies. These changes may result in an interruption in users’ ability to access our website or impair our ability to maintain and grow the number of users who visit our website. We may also be forced to significantly increase marketing expenditures in the event that market prices for online advertising and paid-listings escalate or our organic ranking decreases. Any of these changes could have an adverse impact on our business and operating results.

 

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We rely on Amazon Web Services to deliver our platform to our users, and any disruption of service from Amazon Web Services or material change to our arrangement with Amazon Web Services could adversely affect our business.

We currently host our platform, serve our users, and support our operations using Amazon Web Services, or AWS, a provider of cloud infrastructure services. We do not have control over the operations of the facilities of AWS that we use. AWS’ facilities are vulnerable to damage or interruption from earthquakes, hurricanes, floods, fires, cyber security attacks, terrorist attacks, power losses, telecommunications failures, and similar events. The occurrence of a natural disaster or an act of terrorism, a decision to close the facilities without adequate notice, or other unanticipated problems could result in lengthy interruptions to our platform. The facilities also could be subject to break-ins, computer viruses, sabotage, intentional acts of vandalism, and other misconduct. Our platform’s continuing and uninterrupted performance is critical to our success. Users may become dissatisfied by any system failure that interrupts our ability to provide our platform to them. We may not be able to easily switch our AWS operations to another cloud or other data center provider if there are disruptions or interference with our use of AWS, and, even if we do switch our operations, other cloud and data center providers are subject to the same risks. Sustained or repeated system failures would reduce the attractiveness of our platform to users, thereby reducing revenue. Moreover, negative publicity arising from these types of disruptions could damage our reputation and may adversely impact use of our platform. We may not carry sufficient business interruption insurance to compensate us for losses that may occur as a result of any events that cause interruptions in our service.

AWS does not have an obligation to renew its agreements with us on commercially reasonable terms, or at all. If we are unable to renew our agreements on commercially reasonable terms, our agreements are prematurely terminated, or we add additional infrastructure providers, we may experience costs or downtime in connection with the transfer to, or the addition of, new data center providers. If these providers increase the cost of their services, we may have to increase the fees to use our platform, and our operating results may be adversely impacted.

If we or our third-party partners experience a security breach and unauthorized parties obtain access to our users’ data, our data, or our platform, networks, or other systems, our platform may be perceived as not being secure, our reputation may be harmed, demand for our platform may be reduced, our operations may be disrupted, we may incur significant legal liabilities, and our business could be adversely affected.

Our business involves the storage, processing, and transmission of users’ proprietary, confidential, and personal information as well as the use of third-party partners who store, process, and transmit users’ proprietary, confidential, and personal information. We also maintain certain other proprietary and confidential information relating to our business and personal information of our personnel. Any security breach or incident that we experience could result in unauthorized access to, misuse of, or unauthorized acquisition of our or our users’ data, the loss, corruption, or alteration of this data, interruptions in our operations, or damage to our computers or systems or those of our users. Any of these could expose us to claims, litigation, fines, and potential liability. An increasing number of online services have disclosed breaches of their security, some of which have involved sophisticated and highly targeted attacks on portions of their services. Because the techniques used to obtain unauthorized access, disable or degrade service, or sabotage systems change frequently and often are not foreseeable or recognized until launched against a target, we and our third-party partners may be unable to anticipate these techniques or to implement adequate preventative measures. If an actual or perceived breach of our or our third-party partners’ security occurs, public perception of the effectiveness of our security measures and brand could be harmed, and we could lose users. Data security breaches and other data security incidents may also result from non-technical means, for example, actions by employees or contractors, such as freelancers that we engage on our platform to perform services for us. Any compromise of our or our third-party partners’ security could result in a violation of applicable privacy and other laws, regulatory or other governmental investigations, enforcement actions, and legal and financial exposure, including potential contractual liability that is not always limited to the amounts covered by our insurance. Any such compromise could also result in damage to our reputation and a loss of confidence in our security measures. Any of these effects could adversely impact our business.

 

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Our and our third-party partners’ systems may be vulnerable to computer viruses and other malicious software, physical or electronic break-ins, or weakness resulting from intentional or unintentional service provider actions, and similar disruptions that could make all or portions of our website or applications unavailable for periods of time. We may need to expend significant resources to protect against, and to address issues created by, security breaches and other incidents. Security breaches and other security incidents, including any breaches of our security measures or those of parties with which we have commercial relationships (e.g., freelancers or other third-party service providers who provide development or other services to us) that result in the unauthorized access of users’ confidential, proprietary or personal information, or the belief that any of these have occurred, could damage our reputation and expose us to a risk of loss or litigation and possible liability. Significant unavailability of our platform due to attacks could cause users to cease using our platform and adversely affect our business. Although we maintain cyber liability insurance, we cannot be certain our coverage will be adequate for liabilities actually incurred or will continue to be available to us on reasonable terms, or at all.

Errors, defects, or disruptions in our platform could diminish demand, adversely impact our financial results, and subject us to liability.

Our users utilize our platform for important aspects of their businesses, and any errors, defects, or disruptions in our platform, or other performance problems with our platform could harm our brand and reputation and may damage the businesses of users. We are also reliant on third-party software and infrastructure, including the infrastructure of the internet, to provide our platform. Any failure of or disruption to this software and infrastructure could also make our platform unavailable to our users. Our platform is constantly changing with new updates, which may contain undetected errors when first introduced or released. Any errors, defects, disruptions in service, or other performance or stability problems with our platform could result in negative publicity, loss of or delay in market acceptance of our platform, loss of competitive position, our inability to timely and accurately maintain our financial records, inaccurate or delayed invoicing of clients, delay of payment to us or freelancers, or claims by users for losses sustained by them. In such an event, we may be required, or may choose, for customer relations or other reasons, to expend additional resources in order to help resolve the issue. Accordingly, any errors, defects, or disruptions in our platform could adversely impact our brand and reputation, revenue, and operating results.

Changes in laws or regulations relating to privacy or the protection or transfer of personal data, or any actual or perceived failure by us to comply with such laws and regulations or our privacy policies, could adversely affect our business.

We receive, collect, store, process, transfer, and use personal information and other user data. There are numerous federal, state, local, and international laws and regulations regarding privacy, data protection, information security, and the collection, storing, sharing, use, processing, transfer, disclosure, and protection of personal information and other content, the scope of which are changing, subject to differing interpretations, and may be inconsistent among countries, or conflict with other laws and regulations. We are also subject to the terms of our privacy policies and obligations to third parties related to privacy, data protection, and information security. We strive to comply with applicable laws, regulations, policies, and other legal obligations relating to privacy, data protection, and information security to the extent possible. However, the regulatory framework for privacy and data protection worldwide is, and is likely to remain for the foreseeable future, uncertain and complex, and it is possible that these or other actual or alleged obligations may be interpreted and applied in a manner that we do not anticipate or that is inconsistent from one jurisdiction to another and may conflict with other rules or our practices. Further, any significant change to applicable laws, regulations, or industry practices regarding the collection, use, retention, security, or disclosure of our users’ data, or their interpretation, or any changes regarding the manner in which the express or implied consent of users for the collection, use, retention, or disclosure of such data must be obtained, could increase our costs and require us to modify our services and features, possibly in a material manner, which we may be unable to complete, and may limit our ability to store and process user data or develop new services and features.

 

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We also expect that there will continue to be new laws, regulations, and industry standards concerning privacy, data protection, and information security proposed and enacted in various jurisdictions. For example, European legislators have adopted the General Data Protection Regulation, or GDPR, which became effective in May 2018, superseded current European Union data protection legislation, imposes more stringent European Union data protection requirements, and provides for significant penalties for noncompliance. The GDPR creates new compliance obligations applicable to our business and users, which could cause us to change our business practices, and increases financial penalties for noncompliance (including possible fines of up to 4% of global annual turnover for the preceding financial year or €20 million (whichever is higher) for the most serious violations). As a result, we may need to modify the way we treat such information. Further, the United Kingdom initiating a process to leave the European Union has created uncertainty with regard to the regulation of data protection in the United Kingdom. In particular, although the United Kingdom has proposed a Data Protection Bill that would be substantially consistent with the GDPR, this bill remains in the legislative process in the United Kingdom and it remains unclear whether it will be enacted or what it will provide for if enacted.

Any failure or perceived failure by us to comply with our posted privacy policies, our privacy-related obligations to users or other third parties, or any other legal obligations or regulatory requirements relating to privacy, data protection, or information security may result in governmental investigations or enforcement actions, litigation, claims, or public statements against us by consumer advocacy groups or others and could result in significant liability, cause our users to lose trust in us, and otherwise have an adverse effect on our reputation and business. Furthermore, the costs of compliance with, and other burdens imposed by, the laws, regulations, and policies that are applicable to the businesses of our users may limit the adoption and use of, and reduce the overall demand for, our platform.

Additionally, if third parties we work with violate applicable laws, regulations, or agreements, such violations may put our users’ data at risk, could result in governmental investigations or enforcement actions, fines, litigation, claims, or public statements against us by consumer advocacy groups or others and could result in significant liability, cause our users to lose trust in us, and otherwise have an adverse effect on our reputation and business. Further, public scrutiny of or complaints about technology companies or their data handling or data protection practices, even if unrelated to our business, industry, or operations, may lead to increased scrutiny of technology companies, including us, and may cause government agencies to enact additional regulatory requirements, or to modify their enforcement or investigation activities, which may increase our costs and risks.

The applicability of sales, use, and other tax laws or regulations on our business is uncertain. Adverse tax laws or regulations could be enacted or existing laws could be interpreted as applying or otherwise applied to us or users of our platform, which could subject us to additional tax liability and related interest and penalties, and adversely impact our business.

The application of federal, state, local, and international tax laws to services provided over the internet is evolving. Many of the fundamental statutes and regulations that impose these taxes were established before the adoption and growth of the internet and ecommerce. In addition, governments are increasingly looking for ways to increase revenue, which has resulted in discussions about tax reform and other legislative action to increase tax revenue, including through indirect taxes. New income, sales, use, value-added, or other tax laws, statutes, rules, regulations, or ordinances could be enacted at any time (possibly with retroactive effect), and could be applied solely or disproportionately to services provided over the internet or could otherwise affect our financial position and operating results. Many countries in the European Union, as well as a number of other countries and organizations, such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, have recently proposed or recommended changes to existing tax laws or have enacted new laws that could impact our tax obligations. In addition, tax reform legislation commonly referred to as the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, or the Tax Act, was enacted in the United States in December 2017. We continue to review the impact of these tax reforms on our business. There are many transactions that occur during the ordinary course of business for which the ultimate tax determination is uncertain.

We may also be subject to non-income taxes, such as payroll, sales, use, value-added, and goods and services taxes in the United States and various foreign jurisdictions. In certain jurisdictions, we collect and remit

 

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indirect taxes on our fees. However, tax authorities may raise questions about, challenge or disagree with our calculation, reporting, or collection of taxes and may require us to remit additional taxes and interest, and could impose associated penalties and fees. Should any new taxes become applicable, or if the taxes we pay are found to be deficient, our business could be adversely impacted. We have in the past, and may in the future, be audited by tax authorities with respect to non-income taxes and may have exposure to additional non-income tax liabilities, which could have an adverse effect on our operating results and financial condition. In addition, our future effective tax rates could be favorably or unfavorably affected by changes in tax rates, changes in the valuation of our deferred tax assets or liabilities, the effectiveness of our tax planning strategies, or changes in tax laws or their interpretation. Such changes could have an adverse impact on our financial condition.

Moreover, state, local, and foreign tax jurisdictions have differing rules and regulations governing sales, use, value-added, and other taxes, and these rules and regulations can be complex and are subject to varying interpretations and enforcement positions that may change over time. Existing tax laws, statutes, rules, regulations, or ordinances could be interpreted, changed, modified, or applied adversely to us (possibly with retroactive effect), which could require us or our users to pay additional tax amounts on prior sales and going forward, as well as require us or our users to pay fines, penalties, and interest for past amounts. Although our terms of service require our users to pay all applicable sales and other taxes and to indemnify us for any requirement by us to pay any withholding amount to the appropriate authorities, our users may be reluctant to pay back taxes and associated interest or penalties and may fail to indemnify us, we may determine that it would not be commercially feasible or cost-effective to seek reimbursement, or the indemnification obligation may be deemed unenforceable. If we are required to collect and pay back taxes and associated interest and penalties, or we are unsuccessful in collecting such amounts from our users, we could incur potentially substantial unplanned expenses, thereby adversely impacting our operating results and cash flows.

As a result of these and other factors, the ultimate amount of tax obligations owed may differ from the amounts recorded in our financial statements and any such difference may adversely impact our operating results in future periods in which we change our estimates of our tax obligations or in which the ultimate tax outcome is determined.

Failure to comply with anti-corruption, anti-money laundering, and sanctions laws, including the FCPA and similar laws associated with our activities outside of the United States, could subject us to penalties and other adverse consequences.

We have voluntarily implemented an anti-money laundering program designed to address the risk of our platform being used to facilitate money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit activity. We also have policies and procedures designed to comply with U.S. economic sanctions laws and prevent our platform from being used to facilitate business in countries, or with persons or entities, included on designated lists promulgated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls and equivalent foreign authorities. Although we have a program that we believe is reasonably designed to allow us to comply with applicable laws, rules, and regulations, we may still be subject to fines or other penalties in one or more jurisdictions levied by federal or state or local regulators, including state attorneys general, as well as those levied by foreign regulators in the event that we engage in any conduct, intentionally or not, that facilitates money laundering, terrorist financing, or other illicit activity, or that violates sanctions or otherwise constitutes sanctionable activity. In addition to fines, penalties for failing to comply with applicable rules and regulations could include criminal and civil lawsuits, forfeiture of significant assets, or other enforcement actions. We could also be required to make changes to our business practices or compliance programs as a result of regulatory scrutiny. In addition, any perceived or actual breach of compliance by us with respect to applicable laws, rules, and regulations could have a significant impact on our reputation and could cause us to lose existing users, prevent us from obtaining new users, require us to expend significant funds to remedy problems caused by violations and to avert further violations, and expose us to legal risk and potential liability.

We are subject to the United States Foreign Corrupt Practices Act of 1977, as amended, or the FCPA, the U.S. domestic bribery statute contained in 18 U.S.C. § 201, the U.S. Travel Act, the United Kingdom Bribery Act 2010, U.S. and foreign laws relating to economic sanctions, including the laws and regulations administered by

 

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the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (including the Crimea and Ukraine and Russia-related sanctions), and may be subject to other anti-bribery, anti-money laundering, and sanctions laws in countries in which we conduct activities or have users. We face significant risks if we fail to comply with the FCPA and other anti-corruption laws that prohibit companies and their agents and third-party intermediaries from authorizing, offering, or providing, directly or indirectly, improper payments or benefits to foreign government officials, political parties, and private-sector recipients for the purpose of obtaining or retaining business, directing business to any person, or securing any advantage. In many foreign countries, particularly in countries with developing economies, it may be a local custom that businesses engage in practices that are prohibited by the FCPA or other applicable laws and regulations. We may have direct or indirect interactions with officials and employees of government agencies or state-owned or affiliated entities, and we may be held liable for the corrupt or other illegal activities of these third-party intermediaries, our employees, representatives, contractors, partners, and agents, even if we do not explicitly authorize such activities. We intend to implement an anti-corruption compliance program prior to this offering, and we cannot ensure that all of our employees, users, and agents, as well as those contractors to which we outsource certain of our business operations, will not take actions in violation of our policies or agreements and applicable law, for which we may be ultimately held responsible.

Any violation of the FCPA, other applicable anti-corruption laws, and other applicable laws could result in investigations and actions by federal or state Attorneys General or foreign regulators, loss of export privileges, severe criminal or civil fines and penalties or other sanctions, forfeiture of significant assets, whistleblower complaints, and adverse media coverage, which could have an adverse effect on our reputation, business, operating results, and prospects. In addition, responding to any enforcement action may result in a significant diversion of management’s attention and resources and significant defense costs and other professional fees.

Failure to protect our intellectual property could adversely affect our business.

Our success depends in large part on our proprietary technology and data. We rely on various intellectual property rights, including patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets, as well as confidentiality provisions and contractual arrangements, to protect our proprietary rights. If we do not protect and enforce our intellectual property rights successfully, our competitive position may suffer, which could adversely impact our operating results.

Our pending patent or trademark applications may not be approved, or competitors or others may challenge the validity, enforceability, or scope of our patents, the registrability of our trademarks, or the trade secret status of our proprietary information. There can be no assurance that additional patents will be issued or that any patents that are issued will provide significant protection for our intellectual property. In addition, our patents, copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, and other intellectual property rights may not provide us a significant competitive advantage. There is no assurance that the particular forms of intellectual property protection that we seek, including business decisions about when to file patents and when and how to maintain and protect trade secrets, will be adequate to protect our business.

Moreover, recent amendments to, developing jurisprudence regarding, and possible changes to intellectual property laws and regulations, including U.S. and foreign patent law, may affect our ability to protect and enforce our intellectual property rights. In addition, the laws of some countries do not provide the same level of protection for our intellectual property as do the laws of the United States. As our global reputation grows and/or we expand our international activities, our exposure to unauthorized copying and use of our platform and proprietary information will likely increase. Despite our precautions, our intellectual property is vulnerable to unauthorized access through employee or third-party error or actions, theft, cybersecurity incidents, and other security breaches and incidents. It is possible for third parties to infringe upon or misappropriate our intellectual property, to copy our platform, and to use information that we regard as proprietary to create products and services that compete with ours. Effective intellectual property protection may not be available to us in every country in which our platform is available. In addition, many countries limit the enforceability of patents against certain third parties, including government agencies or government contractors. In these countries, patents may provide limited or no benefit. Further, certain countries impose additional conditions on the transfer of intellectual property rights from individuals to companies, which may make it more difficult for us to secure and

 

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maintain intellectual property protection in those countries. We may need to expend additional resources to defend our intellectual property rights domestically or internationally, which could be costly, time consuming, and distracting to management and could impair our business or adversely affect our domestic or international expansion. Moreover, we may not pursue or file patent applications or apply for registration of copyrights or trademarks in the United States and foreign jurisdictions in which we have a presence with respect to our potentially patentable inventions, works of authorship, and marks and logos for a variety of reasons, including the cost of procuring such rights and the uncertainty involved in obtaining adequate protection from such applications and registrations. If we cannot adequately protect and defend our intellectual property, we may not remain competitive, and our business, operating results, and financial condition may be adversely affected.

We enter into confidentiality and invention assignment or intellectual property ownership agreements with our employees and contractors and enter into confidentiality agreements with other parties. In addition, for employees of third-party staffing providers or other contractors, the employer enters into these agreements with individual workers. We cannot ensure that these agreements, or all the terms thereof, will be enforceable or compliant with applicable law, or otherwise effective in controlling access to, use of, and distribution of our proprietary information or in effectively securing exclusive ownership of intellectual property developed by our current or former employees and contractors. For example, when working with contractors, particularly those who are off-site, it may be more difficult to control use of confidential materials, increasing the risk that our source code or other confidential or trade secret information may be exposed. Further, these agreements with our employees, contractors and other parties may not prevent other parties from independently developing technologies that are substantially equivalent or superior to our platform.

We may need to spend significant resources securing and monitoring our intellectual property rights, and we may or may not be able to detect infringement by third parties. Our competitive position may be adversely impacted if we cannot detect infringement or enforce our intellectual property rights quickly or at all. In some circumstances, we may choose not to pursue enforcement because an infringer has a dominant intellectual property position or for other business reasons. In addition, competitors might avoid infringement by designing around our intellectual property rights or by developing non-infringing competing technologies. We have in the past been forced to rely on litigation, opposition, and cancellation actions, and other claims and enforcement actions, to protect our intellectual property, including to dispute registration or use of marks that may be confusingly similar to our own marks. Similar claims and other litigation may be necessary in the future to enforce and protect our intellectual property rights. Litigation brought to protect and enforce our intellectual property rights could be costly, time-consuming, and distracting to management, and could result in the impairment or loss of portions of our intellectual property. Further, our efforts to enforce our intellectual property rights may be met with defenses; counterclaims attacking the scope, validity, and enforceability of our intellectual property rights; or with counterclaims and countersuits asserting infringement by us of third-party intellectual property rights. Our failure to secure, protect, and enforce our intellectual property rights could adversely affect our brand and our business, and we could lose the opportunity to license our technology to others or to collect royalty payments based upon successful protection and assertion of our intellectual property against others.

We are vulnerable to intellectual property infringement claims and challenges to our intellectual property rights brought against us by third parties.

We operate in a highly competitive industry, and there has been considerable activity in our industry to develop and enforce intellectual property rights. Successful intellectual property infringement claims against us or our users or clients could result in monetary liability or a material disruption in the conduct of our business. We cannot be certain that aspects of our platform, content, and brand names do not or will not infringe valid patents, trademarks, copyrights, or other intellectual property rights held by third parties. We have in the past, and may in the future, be subject to legal proceedings and claims from time to time relating to the intellectual property of others in the ordinary course of our business. Our competitors have in the past, and may in the future, challenge our registration or use of our trademarks, including “Upwork,” and, if successful, such a challenge could adversely affect our business. Any intellectual property litigation to which we might become a party, or for

 

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which we are required to provide indemnification, may require us to cease selling or using products and services that incorporate the intellectual property that we allegedly infringe, make substantial payments for legal fees, settlement payments, or other costs or damages, obtain a license to sell or use the relevant technology, which may not be available on reasonable terms or at all, or redesign the allegedly infringing products and services to avoid infringement, which could be costly, time-consuming, or impossible. Any claims or litigation, regardless of merit, could cause us to incur significant expenses and, if successfully asserted against us, could require that we pay substantial damages or ongoing royalty payments, prevent us from offering aspects of our platform, or require that we comply with other unfavorable terms. Our competitors and others may now and in the future have significantly larger and more mature patent portfolios than we have. We may also be obligated to indemnify certain clients on our platform or strategic partners or others in connection with such infringement claims, or to obtain licenses from third parties or modify our platform, and each such obligation could further exhaust our resources. Some of our infringement indemnification obligations related to intellectual property are contractually capped at a very high amount or not capped at all.

Any lawsuits resulting from allegations of intellectual property infringement could subject us to significant legal costs and liability for damages and invalidate our proprietary rights. Any potential future intellectual property disputes or litigation also could force us to do one or more of the following:

 

    cease conducting certain operations in some or all jurisdictions, or stop using technology that contains the allegedly infringing intellectual property;

 

    stop using the name “Upwork” or other trademarks in some or all jurisdictions;

 

    incur significant legal expenses;

 

    pay substantial damages to the party whose intellectual property rights we may be found to be infringing;

 

    make expensive changes in our methods of doing business; or

 

    attempt to obtain a license to the relevant intellectual property from third parties, which may not be available on reasonable terms or at all.

Even if intellectual property claims do not result in litigation or are resolved in our favor, these claims, and the time and resources necessary to resolve them, could divert the resources of our management and adversely affect our business and operating results. We expect that the occurrence of infringement claims is likely to grow as the market for freelancers and the clients that engage them grows. Accordingly, our exposure to damages resulting from infringement claims could increase and this could further exhaust our financial and management resources.

Our revenue growth depends in part on the success of our strategic relationships with third parties and their continued performance.

To grow our business, we anticipate that we will need to continue to establish and maintain relationships with third parties, such as staffing providers, banks, and payment processing and disbursement providers. For example, we work with third-party staffing providers that support our employment offering for our platform and premium offerings. As our agreements with third-party partners terminate or expire, we may be unable to renew or replace these agreements on comparable terms, or at all. Moreover, we cannot guarantee that the parties with which we have strategic relationships will continue to devote the resources necessary to expand our reach, increase our distribution, and support an increased number of users and associated use cases. Further, some of our strategic partners offer, or could offer, competing products and services or also work with our competitors. As a result of these factors, many of our third-party partners may choose to develop alternative products and services in addition to, or in lieu of our platform, either on their own or in collaboration with others, including our competitors. If we are unsuccessful in establishing or maintaining our relationships with third parties, our ability to compete or to grow our total revenue could be impaired and our operating results may be adversely impacted. Even if we are successful in establishing and maintaining these relationships with third parties, we cannot ensure that these relationships will result in increased usage of our platform or increased revenue.

 

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Our ability to attract and retain users is dependent in part on ease and reliability of use and the quality of our support, and any failure to offer high-quality support could adversely impact our business, operating results, and financial condition.

Our ability to attract and retain users is dependent in part on the ease and reliability of our platform, including our ability to provide high-quality support. Our users depend on our support organization to resolve any issues relating to our platform. Our ability to provide effective support is largely dependent on our ability to attract, resource, and retain service providers who are not only qualified to support users of our platform, but are also well versed in our platform. As we seek to continue to grow our international user base, our support organization will face additional challenges, including those associated with delivering support and documentation in languages other than English. Any failure to maintain high-quality support, or a market perception that we do not maintain high-quality support, could harm our reputation, adversely affect our ability to sell our platform to existing and prospective users, and could adversely impact our business, operating results, and financial condition.

Our business depends largely on our ability to attract and retain talented employees, including senior management and key personnel. If we lose the services of Stephane Kasriel, our President and Chief Executive Officer, or other members of our senior management team, we may not be able to execute on our business strategy.

Our future success depends on our continuing ability to attract, train, assimilate, and retain highly-skilled personnel, including software engineers and sales personnel. We face intense competition for qualified individuals from numerous software and other technology companies. In addition, competition for qualified personnel, particularly software engineers, is particularly intense in the San Francisco Bay Area, where our headquarters are located. We may not be able to retain our current key employees or attract, train, assimilate, or retain other highly-skilled personnel in the future. We may incur significant costs to attract and retain highly-skilled personnel, and we may lose new employees to our competitors or other technology companies before we realize the benefit of our investment in recruiting and training them. To the extent we move into new geographies, we would need to attract and recruit skilled personnel in those areas. If we are unable to attract and retain suitably qualified individuals who are capable of meeting our growing technical, operational, and managerial requirements, on a timely basis or at all, our business may be adversely affected.

Our future success also depends in large part on the continued services of senior management and other key personnel. In particular, we are dependent on the services of Stephane Kasriel, our President and Chief Executive Officer, and our technology, platform, future vision, and strategic direction could be compromised if he were to take another position, become ill or incapacitated, or otherwise become unable to serve as our President and Chief Executive Officer. We rely on our leadership team in the areas of operations, security, marketing, sales, support, and general and administrative functions, and on individual contributors on our research and development team. Our senior management and other key personnel are all employed on an at-will basis, which means that they could terminate their employment with us at any time, for any reason, and without notice. Historically, we have maintained, and currently we maintain, a key-person life insurance policy only on our President and Chief Executive Officer. If we lose the services of senior management or other key personnel, or if we are unable to attract, train, assimilate, and retain the highly-skilled personnel we need, our business, operating results, and financial condition could be adversely affected.

Volatility or lack of appreciation in our stock price may also affect our ability to attract new talent and retain our key employees. Many of our senior personnel and other key employees have become, or will soon become, vested in a substantial amount of stock or stock options. Employees may be more likely to leave us if the shares they own, or the shares underlying their vested options, have significantly appreciated in value relative to the original purchase price of the shares or the exercise price of the options, or conversely, if the exercise price of the options that they hold are significantly above the market price of our common stock. If we are unable to retain our employees, or if we need to increase our compensation expenses to retain our employees, our business, operating results, financial condition, and cash flows could be adversely affected.

 

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Our management team has limited experience managing a public company.

Most members of our management team have limited experience managing a publicly traded company, interacting with public company investors, and complying with the increasingly complex laws pertaining to public companies. Our management team may not successfully or efficiently manage our transition to being a public company subject to significant regulatory oversight and reporting obligations under the federal securities laws and the continuous scrutiny of securities analysts and investors. These new obligations and constituents will require significant attention from our senior management and could divert their attention away from the day-to-day management of our business, which could adversely affect our business, financial condition, and operating results.

The requirements of being a public company may strain our resources, divert management’s attention and affect our ability to attract and retain additional executive management and qualified board members.

As a public company, we will be subject to the reporting requirements of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, as amended, or the Exchange Act, the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010, the listing requirements of the                 , and other applicable securities rules and regulations. Compliance with these rules and regulations will increase our legal and financial compliance costs, make some activities more difficult, time-consuming, or costly, and increase demand on our systems and resources, particularly after we are no longer an emerging growth company. The Exchange Act requires, among other things, that we file annual, quarterly, and current reports with respect to our business and operating results. The Sarbanes-Oxley Act requires, among other things, that we maintain effective disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting. In order to maintain and, if required, improve our disclosure controls and procedures and internal control over financial reporting to meet this standard, significant resources and management oversight may be required. As a result, management’s attention may be diverted from other business concerns, which could adversely affect our business and operating results. Although we have already hired additional employees to comply with these requirements, we may need to hire more employees in the future or engage outside consultants, which would increase our costs and expenses.

In addition, changing laws, regulations, and standards relating to corporate governance and public disclosure are creating uncertainty for public companies, increasing legal and financial compliance costs, and making some activities more time consuming. These laws, regulations, and standards are subject to varying interpretations, in many cases due to their lack of specificity, and, as a result, their application in practice may evolve or otherwise change over time as new guidance is provided by regulatory and governing bodies. This could result in continuing uncertainty regarding compliance matters and higher costs necessitated by ongoing revisions to disclosure and governance practices. We intend to invest resources to comply with evolving laws, regulations and standards (or changing interpretations of them), and this investment may result in increased general and administrative expenses and a diversion of management’s time and attention from revenue-generating activities to compliance activities. If our efforts to comply with new laws, regulations, and standards differ from the activities intended by regulatory or governing bodies due to ambiguities related to their application and practice, regulatory authorities may initiate legal proceedings against us, and our business may be adversely affected. We also expect that being a public company and the associated rules and regulations will make it more expensive for us to obtain director and officer liability insurance, and we may be required to accept reduced coverage or incur substantially higher costs to obtain coverage. These factors could also make it more difficult for us to attract and retain qualified members of our board of directors, particularly to serve on our audit committee, compensation committee, and nominating and governance committee, and qualified executive officers.

As a result of disclosure of information in this prospectus and in filings required of a public company, our business and financial condition will become more visible, which may result in threatened or actual litigation, including by competitors. If such claims are successful, our business and operating results could be adversely affected, and even if the claims do not result in litigation or are resolved in our favor, these claims, and the time and resources necessary to resolve them, could divert the resources of our management and adversely affect our business and operating results.

 

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In addition, as a result of our disclosure obligations as a public company, we will have reduced flexibility and will be under pressure to focus on short-term results, which may adversely affect our ability to achieve long-term profitability.

As a result of becoming a public company, we will be obligated to develop and maintain proper and effective internal control over financial reporting. We have identified a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting and if our remediation of this material weakness is not effective, or if we fail to develop and maintain an effective system of disclosure controls and internal control over financial reporting, our ability to produce timely and accurate financial statements or comply with applicable law and regulations could be impaired.

As a public company, we will be required, pursuant to Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, to furnish a report by management on, among other things, the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting commencing with our second annual report on Form 10-K. Effective internal control over financial reporting is necessary for us to provide reliable financial reports and, together with adequate disclosure controls and procedures, are designed to prevent fraud. Any failure to implement required new or improved controls, or difficulties encountered in their implementation, could cause us to fail to meet our reporting obligations. Ineffective internal controls could also cause investors to lose confidence in our reported financial information, which could have a negative effect on the trading price of our common stock.

This assessment will need to include disclosure of any material weaknesses identified by our management in our internal control over financial reporting, as well as a statement that our independent registered public accounting firm has issued an opinion on the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting, provided that our independent registered public accounting firm will not be required to attest to the effectiveness of our internal control over financial reporting until our first annual report required to be filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, or SEC, following the later of the date we are deemed to be an “accelerated filer” or a “large accelerated filer,” each as defined in the Exchange Act, or the date we are no longer an emerging growth company, as defined in the JOBS Act. We could be an emerging growth company for up to five years. An independent assessment of the effectiveness of our internal controls could detect problems that our management’s assessment might not. Undetected material weaknesses in our internal controls could lead to financial statement restatements and require us to incur the expense of remediation. We will be required to disclose changes made in our internal control and procedures on a quarterly basis. To comply with the requirements of being a public company, we may need to undertake various actions, such as implementing new internal controls and procedures and hiring accounting or internal audit staff.

In connection with the preparation of our consolidated financial statements, we identified a number of adjustments to our consolidated financial statements that resulted in a revision to previously issued financial statements. As a result of these adjustments, for the year ended December 31, 2016, net loss increased by $0.3 million and cash flows from operations decreased by $0.3 million. There was no impact to cash flows from investing or financing activities for the year ended December 31, 2016. Moreover, total assets decreased by $0.5 million and total liabilities increased by $0.7 million as of December 31, 2016. These adjustments were related to complexities involving the accounting for financial instruments and treasury activities. We identified the cause of these adjustments was due to growth in the business, which required additional qualified accounting personnel with an appropriate level of experience, and additional controls in the period-end financial reporting process commensurate with the complexity of the business. Accordingly, we have determined that this control deficiency constituted a material weakness in our internal control over financial reporting. A material weakness is a deficiency or combination of deficiencies in our internal control over financial reporting such that there is a reasonable possibility that a material misstatement of our consolidated financial statements would not be prevented or detected on a timely basis. This deficiency could result in additional misstatements to our consolidated financial statements that would be material and would not be prevented or detected on a timely basis.

We have begun evaluating and implementing additional procedures in order to remediate this material weakness, however, we cannot assure you that these or other measures will fully remediate the material weakness in a timely manner. As part of our remediation plan to address the material weakness identified above, we hired a

 

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new Chief Financial Officer in October 2017. In addition, as of July 2018, we hired five additional accounting and finance employees with the specific technical accounting and financial reporting experience necessary for a public company, including a senior director of technical accounting, a senior manager of accounting operations, and additional treasury analysts. We have hired these personnel after considering the appropriateness of each individual’s experience and believe that these personnel are qualified to serve in their current respective roles. We will continue to assess the adequacy of our accounting and finance personnel and resources, and will add additional personnel, as well as adjust our resources, as necessary, commensurate with any increase in the size and complexity of our business. We also increased the depth and level of review procedures with regard to financial reporting and internal control procedures. Despite this, there was insufficient time to remediate this material weakness. If we are unable to remediate the material weakness, or otherwise maintain effective internal control over financial reporting, we may not be able to report our financial results accurately, prevent fraud or file our periodic reports in a timely manner. If our remediation of this material weakness is not effective, or if we experience additional material weaknesses or otherwise fail to maintain an effective system of internal controls in the future, we may not be able to accurately or timely report our financial condition or results of operations, which may adversely affect investor confidence in us and, as a result, the value of our common stock. We cannot assure you that all of our existing material weaknesses have been identified, or that we will not in the future identify additional material weaknesses.

We are in the early stages of the costly and challenging process of compiling the system and processing documentation necessary to perform the evaluation needed to comply with Section 404. We may not be able to complete our evaluation, testing, and any required remediation in a timely fashion. During the evaluation and testing process, if we identify material weaknesses in our internal control over financial reporting, we will be unable to assert that our internal control over financial reporting is effective.

If we are unable to assert that our internal control over financial reporting is effective, or if our independent registered public accounting firm is unable to express an opinion on the effectiveness of our internal control, including as a result of the material weakness described above, we could lose investor confidence in the accuracy and completeness of our financial reports, which would cause the price of our common stock to decline, and we may be subject to investigation or sanctions by the SEC. In addition, if we are unable to continue to meet these requirements, we may not be able to remain listed on                 .

If our estimates or judgments relating to our critical accounting policies prove to be incorrect or financial reporting standards or interpretations change, our operating results could be adversely affected.

The preparation of financial statements in conformity with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States, or U.S. GAAP, requires management to make estimates, judgments, and assumptions that affect the amounts reported in our consolidated financial statements and accompanying notes. We base our estimates on historical experience and on various other assumptions that we believe to be reasonable under the circumstances, as provided in “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations.” The results of these estimates form the basis for making judgments about the carrying values of assets, liabilities, and equity as of the date of the financial statements, and the amount of revenue and expenses, during the periods presented, that are not readily apparent from other sources. Significant assumptions and estimates used in preparing our consolidated financial statements include those related to determination of revenue recognition, the useful lives of assets, assessment of the recoverability of long-lived assets, goodwill impairment, allowance for doubtful accounts, reserves relating to transaction losses, the valuation of warrants, stock-based compensation, and accounting for income taxes. Our operating results may be adversely affected if our assumptions change or if actual circumstances differ from those in our assumptions, which could cause our operating results to fall below the expectations of industry or financial analysts and investors, resulting in a decline in the trading price of our common stock.

Additionally, we regularly monitor our compliance with applicable financial reporting standards and review new pronouncements and drafts thereof that are relevant to us. As a result of new standards, changes to existing standards, and changes in interpretation, we might be required to change our accounting policies, alter our operational policies and implement new or enhance existing systems so that they reflect new or amended financial reporting standards, or we may be required to restate our published financial statements. Such changes

 

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to existing standards or changes in their interpretation may have an adverse effect on our reputation, business, financial position, and profit, or cause an adverse deviation from our revenue and operating profit target, which may negatively impact our financial results.

Our corporate structure and intercompany arrangements are subject to the tax laws of various jurisdictions, and we could be obligated to pay additional taxes, which could adversely impact our operating results.

We may expand the geographic scope of our operations and staff to support our global user base. Our corporate structure and associated transfer pricing policies contemplate future growth into international markets, and consider the functions, risks, and assets of the various entities involved in the intercompany transactions. The amount of taxes we pay in different jurisdictions may depend on the application of the tax laws of the various jurisdictions, including the United States, to our international business activities, changes in tax rates, new or revised tax laws or interpretations of existing tax laws and policies, and our ability to operate our business in a manner consistent with our corporate structure and intercompany arrangements. The taxing authorities of the jurisdictions in which we operate may challenge our methodologies for pricing intercompany transactions pursuant to the intercompany arrangements or disagree with our determinations as to the income and expenses attributable to specific jurisdictions. If such a challenge or disagreement were to occur, and our position was not sustained, we could be required to pay additional taxes, interest and penalties, which could result in one-time tax charges, higher effective tax rates, reduced cash flows and lower overall profitability of our operations. Our financial statements could fail to reflect adequate reserves to cover such a contingency.

U.S. federal income tax reform could adversely affect us.

In December 2017, the Tax Act was enacted, which significantly reforms the Internal Revenue Code of 1986, as amended, or the Internal Revenue Code. The Tax Act, among other things, includes changes to U.S. federal tax rates, imposes significant additional limitations on the deductibility of interest and the use of net operating losses generated in tax years beginning after December 31, 2017, allows for the expensing of capital expenditures, and puts into effect the migration from a “worldwide” system of taxation to a territorial system. The Tax Act could have material adverse impacts on our business, cash flows, operating results or financial conditions, and we continue to examine the impact such reform may have.

Our ability to use our net operating loss carryforwards and certain other tax attributes may be limited.

As of December 31, 2017, we had net operating loss carryforwards for U.S. federal income tax purposes and state income tax purposes of $172.9 million and $38.5 million, respectively, available to offset future taxable income. If not utilized, the federal net operating loss carryforward amounts will begin to expire in 2019, and the state net operating loss carryforward amounts will being to expire in 2028. Realization of these net operating loss carryforwards depends on future income, and there is a risk that our existing carryforwards could expire unused and be unavailable to offset future income tax liabilities, which could materially and adversely affect our operating results.

In addition, under Sections 382 and 383 of the Internal Revenue Code, if a corporation undergoes an “ownership change,” generally defined as a greater than 50% change (by value) in its equity ownership over a three-year period, the corporation’s ability to use its pre-change net operating loss carryforwards and other pre-change tax attributes, such as research tax credits, to offset its post-change income may be limited. In addition, we may experience ownership changes in the future as a result of subsequent shifts in our stock ownership. As a result, if we earn net taxable income, our ability to use our pre-change net operating loss carry-forwards and other tax attributes to offset U.S. federal taxable income may be subject to limitations, which could potentially result in increased future tax liability to us.

We have not yet determined the consequences to our business of the Tax Act, which could have a material impact on the value of our deferred tax assets and could increase our future U.S. tax expense. For more information, see Note 12 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements. However, we anticipate that any adjustment to provisional amounts recorded would be fully offset by a corresponding change to our valuation allowance.

 

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Our platform contains open source software components, and failure to comply with the terms of the underlying licenses could restrict our ability to market or operate our platform.

Our platform incorporates certain open source software. An open source license typically permits the use, modification, and distribution of software in source code form subject to certain conditions. Some open source licenses contain conditions that any person who distributes a modification or derivative work of software that was subject to an open source license make the modified version subject to the same open source license. Distributing software that is subject to this kind of open source license can lead to a requirement that certain aspects of our platform be distributed or made available in source code form. Although we do not believe that we have used open source software in a manner that might condition its use on our distribution of any portion of our platform in source code form, the interpretation of open source licenses is legally complex and, despite our efforts, it is possible that we may be liable for copyright infringement, breach of contract or other claims if our use of open source software is adjudged to not comply with the applicable open source licenses.

Moreover, we cannot ensure that our processes for controlling our use of open source software in our platform will be effective. If we have not complied with the terms of an applicable open source software license, we may need to seek licenses from third parties to continue offering our platform and the terms on which such licenses are available may not be economically feasible, to re-engineer our platform to remove or replace the open source software, to discontinue the sale of our platform if re-engineering could not be accomplished on a timely basis, to pay monetary damages, or to make available the source code for aspects of our proprietary technology, any of which could adversely affect our business, operating results, and financial condition.

In addition to risks related to license requirements, use of open source software can involve greater risks than those associated with use of third-party commercial software, as open source licensors generally do not provide warranties, assurances of title, performance, or non-infringement, or controls on the origin of the software. There is typically no support available for open source software, and we cannot ensure that the authors of such open source software will implement or push updates to address security risks or will not abandon further development and maintenance. Many of the risks associated with the use of open source software, such as the lack of warranties or assurances of title or performance, cannot be eliminated, and could, if not properly addressed, negatively affect our business. We have established processes to help alleviate these risks, including a review process for screening requests from our development organizations for the use of open source software, but we cannot be sure that all open source software is identified or submitted for approval prior to use in our platform.

Clients may fail to pay their invoices, necessitating action by us to compel payment.

In connection with our Upwork Enterprise offering, we advance payments to freelancers for invoiced services on behalf of the client and subsequently invoice the client for such services. In addition, in certain instances, we will advance payment on a freelancer invoice if the client issues a chargeback or their payment method is declined and the freelancer assigns us the right to recover any funds from the client. If a client fails to pay for these services rendered by a freelancer, we may be adversely affected both from the inability to collect amounts due and the cost of enforcing the applicable enterprise agreement or our terms of service, including through litigation. Furthermore, some clients may seek bankruptcy protection or other similar relief and fail to pay amounts due, or pay those amounts more slowly, either of which could adversely affect our operating results, financial position, and cash flow.

Our business model may subject us to disputes between users of our platform.

Our business model involves connecting freelancers and clients that contract directly through our platform. Freelancers and clients are free to negotiate any contract terms they choose, but we also provide optional service contract terms that they can use. It is possible that disputes may arise between freelancers and clients with regard to their contract terms, or otherwise, including with respect to service standards, payment, confidentiality, work product, and intellectual property ownership and infringement. If either party believes the contract terms were not met, our standard terms provide a mechanism for the parties to request assistance from us, and, for some

 

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contracts, if that is unsuccessful, they may choose to resolve the dispute with the help of a third-party arbitrator. Whether or not freelancers and clients decide to seek assistance from us, if these disputes are not resolved amicably, the parties might escalate to formal proceedings, such as by filing claims with a court or arbitral authority. Given our role in facilitating and supporting these arrangements, it is possible that claims will be brought against us directly as a result of these disputes, or that freelancers or clients may bring us into any claims filed against each other. We include language in our user agreements disclaiming responsibility or liability for any disputes between users (except with respect to the specified dispute assistance program); however, we cannot guarantee that these terms will, in all circumstances, be effective in preventing or limiting our involvement in user disputes. Even if these claims do not result in litigation or are resolved in our favor, these claims, and the time and resources necessary to resolve them, could divert the resources of our management and adversely affect our business and operating results.

We track certain performance metrics with internal tools and do not independently verify such metrics. Certain of our performance metrics are subject to inherent challenges in measurement, and real or perceived inaccuracies in such metrics may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.

We track certain performance metrics, including GSV, the number of core clients, and client spend retention, with internal tools, which are not independently verified by any third-party. Our internal tools have a number of limitations and our methodologies for tracking these metrics may change over time, which could result in unexpected changes to our metrics, including the metrics we report. If the internal tools we use to track these metrics undercount or over count performance or contain algorithm or other technical errors, the data we report may not be accurate. In addition, limitations or errors with respect to how we measure data (or the data that we measure) may affect our understanding of certain details of our business, which could affect our longer term strategies. If our performance metrics are not accurate representations of our business, user base, or traffic levels; if we discover material inaccuracies in our metrics; or if the metrics we rely on to track our performance do not provide an accurate measurement of our business, our reputation may be harmed, and our operating and financial results could be adversely affected.

We may be unable to integrate acquired businesses and technologies successfully or to achieve the expected benefits of such acquisitions. We may acquire or invest in additional companies, which may divert our management’s attention, result in additional dilution to our stockholders, and consume resources that are necessary to sustain our business.

Our business strategy may, from time to time, include acquiring other complementary products, technologies, or businesses. An acquisition, investment, or business relationship may result in unforeseen operating difficulties and expenditures. In particular, we may encounter difficulties assimilating or integrating the businesses, technologies, products, services, personnel, or operations of the acquired companies particularly if the key personnel of the acquired companies choose not to work for us, if an acquired company’s software is not easily adapted to work with ours, or otherwise. Acquisitions may also disrupt our business, divert our resources, and require significant management attention that would otherwise be available for the development of our business. Moreover, the anticipated benefits of any acquisition, investment, or business relationship may not be realized or we may be exposed to unknown liabilities.

We may in the future seek to acquire or invest in additional businesses, products, technologies, or other assets. We also may enter into relationships with other businesses to expand our platform or our ability to provide our platform in foreign jurisdictions, which could involve preferred or exclusive licenses, additional channels of distribution, discount pricing, or investments in other companies. Negotiating these transactions can be time consuming, difficult, and expensive, and our ability to close these transactions may often be subject to approvals that are beyond our control. Consequently, these transactions, even if undertaken and announced, may not close. For one or more of those transactions, we may:

 

    issue additional equity securities that would dilute our stockholders’ ownership interest;

 

    use cash that we may need in the future to operate our business;

 

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    incur debt on terms unfavorable to us or that we are unable to repay;

 

    incur expenses or substantial liabilities;

 

    encounter difficulties retaining key employees of the acquired company or integrating diverse software codes or business cultures;

 

    encounter difficulties in assimilating acquired operations and development cultures;

 

    encounter diversion of management’s attention to other business concerns; and

 

    become subject to adverse tax consequences, substantial depreciation, or deferred compensation charges.

Any of these risks could adversely impact our business and operating results.

We may be required to comply with governmental export control laws and regulations. Our failure to comply with these laws and regulations could have an adverse effect on our business and operating results.

We may be subject to U.S. export controls and sanctions regulations that prohibit the shipment or provision of certain products and services to certain countries, governments, and persons targeted by U.S. sanctions. While we take precautions to prevent aspects of our platform from being exported in violation of these laws, including implementing internet protocol address blocking, we cannot guarantee that the precautions we take will prevent violations of export control and sanctions laws. If we are found to be in violation of U.S. sanctions or export control laws, it could result in substantial fines and penalties for us and for the individuals working for us.

In addition, various countries regulate the import and export of certain encryption and other technology, including imposing import and export permitting and licensing requirements, and have enacted laws that could limit our ability to distribute aspects of our platform or could limit our users’ ability to access our platform in those countries. Changes in our platform, or future changes in export and import regulations may prevent our international users from utilizing our platform or, in some cases, prevent the export or import of our platform to certain countries, governments, or persons altogether. Any change in export or import regulations, economic sanctions or related legislation, or change in the countries, governments, persons, or technologies targeted by such regulations, could result in decreased use of our platform by existing or potential users with international operations. Any decreased use of our platform or limitation on our ability to export or sell our products would likely adversely affect our business, operating results, and financial results.

Our Loan Agreement provides our lender with a first-priority lien against substantially all of our assets (excluding our intellectual property), and contains financial covenants and other restrictions on our actions, which could limit our operational flexibility and otherwise adversely affect our financial condition.

Our Loan Agreement restricts our ability to, among other things:    

 

    incur additional indebtedness;

 

    sell certain assets;

 

    declare dividends or make certain distributions; and

 

    undergo a merger or consolidation or other transactions.

In addition, the interest rates we pay under our Loan Agreement are derived from the prime rate, which has increased recently, and may increase in the future. Interest rate increases will result in us having to make higher interest payments and reduce the amount of working capital available to us. Our Loan Agreement also prohibits us from falling below an adjusted quick ratio and below certain quarterly EBITDA thresholds. Our ability to comply with these EBITDA thresholds and other covenants is dependent upon our future business performance.

Our failure to comply with the covenants or payment requirements, or the occurrence of other events specified in our Loan Agreement, could result in an event of default under the credit agreement, which would give our lender the right to terminate their commitments to provide additional loans under the credit agreement

 

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and to declare all borrowings outstanding, together with accrued and unpaid interest and fees, to be immediately due and payable. In addition, we have granted our lender first-priority liens against substantially all of our assets, as collateral, excluding our intellectual property (but including proceeds therefrom) and the funds and assets held by Upwork Escrow. We have also agreed to a negative pledge on our intellectual property. Failure to comply with the covenants or other restrictions in the credit agreement could result in a default. If the debt under our credit agreement was to be accelerated, we may not have sufficient cash on hand or be able to sell sufficient collateral to repay it, which would have an immediate adverse effect on our business and operating results. This could potentially cause us to cease operations and result in a complete loss of your investment in our common stock.

We may require additional capital to fund our business and support our growth, and any inability to generate or obtain such capital may adversely affect our operating results and financial condition.

In order to support our growth and respond to business challenges, such as developing new features or enhancements to our platform, acquiring new technologies, and improving our infrastructure, we have made significant financial investments in our business and we intend to continue to make such investments. As a result, we may need to engage in equity or debt financings to provide the funds required for these investments and other business endeavors. If we raise additional funds through equity or convertible debt issuances, our existing stockholders may suffer significant dilution and these securities could have rights, preferences, and privileges that are superior to that of holders of our common stock. If we obtain additional funds through debt financing, we may not be able to obtain such financing on terms favorable to us. Such terms may involve restrictive covenants making it difficult to engage in capital raising activities and pursue business opportunities, including potential acquisitions. If we are unable to obtain adequate financing or financing on terms satisfactory to us when we require it, our ability to continue to support our business growth and to respond to business challenges could be significantly impaired and our business may be adversely affected, requiring us to delay, reduce, or eliminate some or all of our operations.

We are an emerging growth company, and we cannot be certain that the reduced disclosure requirements applicable to emerging growth companies will not make our common stock less attractive to investors.

We are an emerging growth company, as defined in the JOBS Act, and, for so long as we continue to be an emerging growth company, we may take advantage of certain exemptions from various reporting requirements that are applicable to other public companies that are not emerging growth companies including, but not limited to, not being required to comply with the auditor attestation requirements of Section 404 of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, reduced disclosure obligations regarding executive compensation in our periodic reports and proxy statements, and exemptions from the requirements of holding a non-binding advisory vote on executive compensation and stockholder approval of any golden parachute payments not previously approved.

We will remain an emerging growth company until the earliest of: (i) the last day of the fiscal year following the fifth anniversary of this offering; (ii) the last day of the first fiscal year in which our annual gross revenue is $1.07 billion or more; (iii) the date on which we have, during the previous rolling three-year period, issued more than $1.0 billion in non-convertible debt securities; or (iv) the last day of the fiscal year in which the market value of our common stock that is held by non-affiliates exceeds $700.0 million as of the last day of our then most recently completed second fiscal quarter.

We cannot predict if investors will find our common stock less attractive or our company less comparable to certain other public companies because we will rely on these exemptions. For example, if we do not adopt a new or revised accounting standard, our future operating results may not be as comparable to the operating results of certain other companies in our industry that adopted such standards. If some investors find our common stock less attractive as a result, there may be a less active trading market for our common stock and our stock price may be more volatile.

 

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Our reported financial results may be adversely affected by changes in U.S. GAAP.

U.S. GAAP is subject to interpretation by the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, the SEC, and various bodies formed to promulgate and interpret appropriate accounting principles. A change in these principles or interpretations could have a significant effect on our reported financial results, and could affect the reporting of transactions completed before the announcement of a change.

In particular, in May 2014, the FASB issued ASC 606, which supersedes the revenue recognition requirements in ASC 605, Revenue Recognition. The core principle of ASC 606 is that an entity should recognize revenue to depict the transfer of promised goods or services to customers in an amount that reflects the consideration to which the entity expects to be entitled in exchange for those goods or services. As an “emerging growth company,” we are allowed under the JOBS Act to delay adoption of new or revised accounting pronouncements applicable to public companies until such pronouncements are made applicable to private companies. We have elected to take advantage of this extended transition period under the JOBS Act with respect to ASC 606, which will result in ASC 606 becoming effective for us for the year ending December 31, 2019. Any difficulties in implementing these pronouncements could cause us to fail to meet our financial reporting obligations, which could result in regulatory discipline and harm investors’ confidence in us.

We are evaluating ASC 606 and have not determined the impact it may have on our financial reporting. If, for example, we were required to recognize revenue differently with respect to our subscriptions or professional services, the differential revenue recognition may cause variability in our reported operating results due to periodic or long-term changes in the mix among our subscription offerings.

As an “emerging growth company,” we are allowed under the JOBS Act to delay adoption of new or revised accounting pronouncements applicable to public companies until such pronouncements are made applicable to private companies. We have elected to take advantage of this extended transition period under the JOBS Act. Any difficulties in implementing these pronouncements could cause us to fail to meet our financial reporting obligations, which could result in regulatory discipline and harm investors’ confidence in us.

If currency exchange rates fluctuate substantially in the future, the results of our operations, which are reported in U.S. dollars, could be adversely affected.

As we expand our international footprint, we become more exposed to the effects of fluctuations in currency exchange rates. Although we expect an increasing number of sales contracts to be denominated in currencies other than the U.S. dollar in the future, all of our sales contracts have historically been denominated in U.S. dollars. However, we offer clients the option to settle invoices denominated in U.S. dollars in Euro, the British Pound, the Australian dollar, or the Canadian dollar, and therefore, our revenue is subject to foreign currency risk. While we currently use derivative instruments to hedge certain exposures to fluctuations in foreign currency exchange rates, the use of such hedging activities may not offset any, or more than a portion, of the adverse financial effects of unfavorable movements in foreign exchange rates over the limited time the hedges are in place. Moreover, a strengthening of the U.S. dollar could increase the real cost of transacting on our platform to clients located outside of the United States and could result in a loss of such clients, which could adversely affect our business, operating results, financial condition, and cash flows.

We may be adversely affected by natural disasters and other catastrophic events, and by man-made problems such as terrorism, that could disrupt our business operations and our business continuity and disaster recovery plans may not adequately protect us from a serious disaster.

A significant natural disaster, such as an earthquake, blizzard, hurricane, fire or flood, or other catastrophic events, such as a power loss or telecommunications failure, could have a material adverse impact on our business, financial condition, and operating results. In the event of natural disaster or other catastrophic event, we may be unable to continue our operations and may endure system interruptions, reputational harm, delays in development of our platform, lengthy interruptions in service, breaches of data security, and loss of critical data, all of which could have an adverse effect on our future operating results. Our corporate headquarters are located in the San Francisco Bay Area, a region known for seismic activity and potentially subject to catastrophic fires.

 

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In addition, natural disasters and other catastrophic events could affect our partners’ ability to perform services for users on a timely basis. In the event any such partners’ information technology systems or service abilities are hindered by any of the events discussed above, our ability to provide marketplace and other services may be impaired, resulting in missing financial targets for a particular quarter or year, or longer period. Further, if a natural disaster or other catastrophic event occurs in a region from which we derive a significant portion of our revenue, users in that region may delay or forego use of our marketplace or other services, which may adversely impact our operating results. In addition, acts of terrorism, civil disorder, or military conflict could cause disruptions in our business or the business and activity of our partners, users, or the economy as a whole. These disruptions may be more severe than in the case of natural disasters. All of the aforementioned risks may be augmented if our or our partners’ business continuity and disaster recovery plans prove to be inadequate. To the extent that any of the above results in delays or reductions in marketplace availability, activities or other services, our business, financial condition and operating results would be adversely affected.

Risks Related to this Offering and Ownership of Our Common Stock

There has been no prior public market for our common stock, the stock price of our common stock may be volatile or may decline regardless of our operating performance, and you may not be able to resell your shares at or above the initial public offering price.

There has been no public market for our common stock prior to this offering. The initial public offering price for our common stock will be determined through negotiations between the underwriters and us, and may vary from the market price of our common stock following this offering. The market prices of the securities of newly public companies such as ours have historically been highly volatile. The market price of our common stock may fluctuate significantly in response to numerous factors, many of which are beyond our control, including:

 

    overall performance of the equity markets;

 

    actual or anticipated fluctuations in our revenue and other operating results;

 

    changes in the financial projections we may provide to the public or our failure to meet these projections;

 

    failure of securities analysts to initiate or maintain coverage of us, changes in financial estimates by any securities analysts who follow our company, or our failure to meet these estimates or the expectations of investors;

 

    recruitment or departure of key personnel;

 

    the economy as a whole and market conditions in our industry;

 

    negative publicity related to the real or perceived quality of our platform, as well as the failure to timely launch new products and services that gain market acceptance;

 

    rumors and market speculation involving us or other companies in our industry;

 

    announcements by us or our competitors of new products or services, commercial relationships, or significant technical innovations;

 

    acquisitions, strategic partnerships, joint ventures, or capital commitments;

 

    new laws or regulations or new interpretations of existing laws or regulations applicable to our business;

 

    lawsuits threatened or filed against us, litigation involving our industry, or both;

 

    developments or disputes concerning our or other parties’ products, services or intellectual property rights;

 

    changes in accounting standards, policies, guidelines, interpretations, or principles;

 

    other events or factors, including those resulting from war, incidents of terrorism, or responses to these events;

 

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    the expiration of contractual lock-up or market stand-off agreements; and

 

    sales of shares of our common stock by us or our stockholders.

In addition, the stock markets have experienced extreme price and volume fluctuations that have affected and continue to affect the market prices of equity securities of many companies. Stock prices of many companies, and technology companies in particular, have fluctuated in a manner unrelated or disproportionate to the operating performance of those companies. In the past, stockholders have instituted securities class action litigation following periods of market volatility. If we were to become involved in securities litigation, it could subject us to substantial costs, divert resources and the attention of management from our business, and adversely affect our business.

Sales of substantial amounts of our common stock in the public markets, particularly sales by our directors, executive officers, and significant stockholders, or the perception that these sales could occur, could cause the market price of our common stock to decline and may make it more difficult for you to sell your common stock at a time and price that you deem appropriate.

Sales of a substantial number of shares of our common stock into the public market, particularly sales by our directors, executive officers, and principal stockholders, or the perception that these sales might occur, could cause the market price of our common stock to decline and may make it more difficult for you to sell your common stock at a time and price that you deem appropriate.

All of the shares of common stock sold in this offering will be freely tradable without restrictions or further registration under the Securities Act, except for any shares held by our affiliates as defined in Rule 144 under the Securities Act.

Subject to certain exceptions, we, all of our directors and executive officers, and substantially all of the holders of our common stock, or securities exercisable for or convertible into our common stock outstanding immediately prior to this offering, are subject to market stand-off agreements with us or have entered into lock-up agreements with the underwriters under which they have agreed, subject to specific exceptions described in the section titled “Underwriting,” not to offer, sell, or agree to sell, directly or indirectly, any shares of common stock without the permission of each of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and Jefferies LLC on behalf of the underwriters, for a period of 180 days from the date of this prospectus. These agreements are subject to certain customary exceptions. When the lock-up period expires, we and our securityholders subject to a lock-up agreement or market stand-off agreement will be able to sell our shares in the public market. In addition, the underwriters may, in their sole discretion, release all or some portion of the shares subject to lock-up agreements prior to the expiration of the lock-up period. See the section titled “Shares Eligible for Future Sale” for more information. Sales of a substantial number of such shares upon expiration of the lock-up and market stand-off agreements, or the perception that such sales may occur, or early release of these agreements, could cause our market price to fall or make it more difficult for you to sell your common stock at a time and price that you deem appropriate.

In addition, as of December 31, 2017, we had stock options outstanding that, if fully exercised, would result in the issuance of 23,607,746 shares of common stock. We also granted options to purchase 4,068,996 shares of our common stock after December 31, 2017. All of the shares of common stock issuable upon the exercise or settlement of stock options, and the shares reserved for future issuance under our equity incentive plans, will be registered for public resale under the Securities Act. Accordingly, these shares will be able to be freely sold in the public market upon issuance subject to existing lock-up or market stand-off agreements and applicable vesting requirements.

Immediately following this offering, the holders of 58,626,657 shares of our common stock, as of December 31, 2017, have rights, subject to some conditions, to require us to file registration statements for the public resale of the common stock issuable upon conversion of such shares or to include such shares in registration statements that we may file for us or other stockholders.

We may also issue our shares of common stock or securities convertible into shares of our common stock from time to time in connection with a financing, acquisition, investments, or otherwise. We also expect to grant

 

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equity awards to employees, directors, and consultants under our equity incentive plans. Any such issuance could result in substantial dilution to our existing stockholders and cause the market price of our common stock to decline.

The concentration of our stock ownership with insiders will likely limit your ability to influence corporate matters, including the ability to influence the outcome of director elections and other matters requiring stockholder approval.

We anticipate that our executive officers, directors, current 5% or greater stockholders and affiliated entities will together beneficially own approximately         % of our common stock outstanding after this offering (or         % if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full). As a result, these stockholders, acting together, will have control over most matters that require approval by our stockholders, including the election of directors and approval of significant corporate transactions. Corporate action might be taken even if other stockholders, including those who purchase shares in this offering, oppose them. This concentration of ownership might also have the effect of delaying or preventing a change of control of us that other stockholders may view as beneficial.

If securities or industry analysts do not publish research, or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research, about our business, the price of our common stock and trading volume could decline.

The trading market for our common stock will depend in part on the research and reports that securities or industry analysts publish about us or our business. Securities and industry analysts do not currently, and may never, publish research on our company. If few securities analysts commence coverage of us, or if industry analysts cease coverage of us, the trading price for our common stock would be negatively affected. If one or more of the analysts who cover us downgrade our common stock or publish inaccurate or unfavorable research about our business, the price of our common stock would likely decline. If one or more of these analysts cease coverage of us or fail to publish reports on us regularly, demand for our common stock could decrease, which might cause our common stock price and trading volume to decline.

Even if our stock is actively covered by analysts, we do not have any control over the analysts or the measures that analysts or investors may rely upon to forecast our future results.

An active public trading market may not develop or be sustained following this offering.

Prior to this offering, there has been no public market for our common stock. We have applied to list our common stock on                 , however, an active trading market may not develop following the completion of this offering or, if developed, may not be sustained. The lack of an active market may impair your ability to sell your shares at the time you wish to sell them or at a price that you consider reasonable. The lack of an active market may also reduce the market price of your shares of common stock. An inactive market may also impair our ability to raise capital by selling shares and may impair our ability to acquire other companies or technologies by using our shares as consideration. We cannot predict the prices at which our common stock will trade. The initial public offering price of our common stock will be determined by negotiations between us, the underwriters, and may not bear any relationship to the market price at which our common stock will trade after this offering or to any other established criteria of the value of our business and prospects.

Because the initial public offering price of our common stock will be substantially higher than the pro forma net tangible book value per share of our outstanding common stock following this offering, new investors will experience immediate and substantial dilution.

The initial public offering price is substantially higher than the pro forma net tangible book value per share of our common stock immediately following this offering based on the total value of our tangible assets less our total liabilities. Therefore, if you purchase shares of our common stock in this offering, based on the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, and the issuance of                  shares of common stock in this offering, you will experience immediate dilution of $            per share, the difference between the

 

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price per share you pay for our common stock and its pro forma net tangible book value per share as of December 31, 2017. Furthermore, if the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares, if outstanding stock options are exercised, if we issue awards to our employees under our equity incentive plans, or if we otherwise issue additional shares of our common stock, you could experience further dilution. See the section titled “Dilution” for additional information.

We will have broad discretion in the use of the net proceeds to us from this offering and may not use them effectively.

We will have broad discretion in the application of the net proceeds to us from this offering, including for any of the purposes described in the section titled “Use of Proceeds,” and you will not have the opportunity as part of your investment decision to assess whether the net proceeds are being used appropriately. Because of the number and variability of factors that will determine our use of the net proceeds from this offering, their ultimate use may vary substantially from their currently intended use. If we do not use the net proceeds that we receive in this offering effectively, our business, financial condition, operating results, and prospects could be adversely affected, and the market price of our common stock could decline. Pending their use, we may invest the net proceeds from this offering in short-term, investment-grade interest-bearing securities, such as money market accounts, certificates of deposit, commercial paper, and guaranteed obligations of the U.S. government that may not generate a high yield for our stockholders. These investments may not yield a favorable return to our investors.

We do not intend to pay dividends for the foreseeable future.

We have never declared or paid any cash dividends on our common stock and do not intend to pay any cash dividends in the foreseeable future. Additionally, our ability to pay dividends on our common stock is limited by restrictions under the terms of our credit agreement. We anticipate that for the foreseeable future we will retain all of our future earnings for use in the development of our business and for general corporate purposes. Any determination to pay dividends in the future will be at the discretion of our board of directors. Accordingly, investors must rely on sales of their common stock after price appreciation, which may never occur, as the only way to realize any future gains on their investments.

Provisions in our charter documents and under Delaware law could make an acquisition of our company more difficult, limit attempts by our stockholders to replace or remove our current management, limit our stockholders’ ability to obtain a favorable judicial forum for disputes with us or our directors, officers, or employees, and limit the market price of our common stock.

Provisions in our restated certificate of incorporation and restated bylaws that will be in effect immediately following the completion of this offering may have the effect of delaying or preventing a change of control or changes in our management. Our restated certificate of incorporation and restated bylaws include provisions that:

 

    provide that our board of directors will be classified into three classes of directors with staggered three-year terms;

 

    permit the board of directors to establish the number of directors and fill any vacancies and newly-created directorships;

 

    require super-majority voting to amend some provisions in our restated certificate of incorporation and restated bylaws;

 

    authorize the issuance of “blank check” preferred stock that our board of directors could use to implement a stockholder rights plan;

 

    provide that only the chairman of our board of directors, our chief executive officer, president, lead independent director, or a majority of our board of directors will be authorized to call a special meeting of stockholders;

 

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    prohibit stockholder action by written consent, which requires all stockholder actions to be taken at a meeting of our stockholders;

 

    provide that the board of directors is expressly authorized to make, alter, or repeal our bylaws; and

 

    establish advance notice requirements for nominations for election to our board of directors or for proposing matters that can be acted upon by stockholders at annual stockholder meetings.

In addition, our restated bylaws will provide that the Court of Chancery of the State of Delaware will be the exclusive forum for any derivative action or proceeding brought on our behalf, any action asserting a breach of fiduciary duty, any action asserting a claim against us arising pursuant to the Delaware General Corporation Law, or DGCL, our restated certificate of incorporation, or our restated bylaws, or any action asserting a claim against us that is governed by the internal affairs doctrine. Our restated bylaws will also provide that the federal district courts of the United States will be the exclusive forum for resolving any complaint asserting a cause of action arising under the Securities Act. Any person or entity purchasing or otherwise acquiring any interest in any of our securities shall be deemed to have notice of and consented to this provision.

These choice of forum provisions may limit a stockholder’s ability to bring a claim in a judicial forum that it finds favorable for disputes with us or any of our directors, officers, or other employees, which may discourage lawsuits against us and our directors, officers, and other employees. If a court were to find the choice of forum provision contained in our restated bylaws to be inapplicable or unenforceable in an action, we may incur additional costs associated with resolving such action in other jurisdictions, which could adversely impact our business, operating results, and financial condition.

Moreover, Section 203 of the DGCL may discourage, delay, or prevent a change of control of our company. Section 203 imposes certain restrictions on mergers, business combinations, and other transactions between us and holders of 15% or more of our common stock. See the section titled “Description of Capital Stock” for additional information.

 

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SPECIAL NOTE REGARDING FORWARD-LOOKING STATEMENTS

This prospectus contains forward-looking statements. All statements contained in this prospectus other than statements of historical fact, including statements regarding our future operating results and financial position, our business strategy and plans, market growth, and our objectives for future operations, are forward-looking statements. The words “believe,” “may,” “will,” “potentially,” “estimate,” “continue,” “anticipate,” “intend,” “could,” “would,” “project,” “target,” “plan,” “expect,” and similar expressions are intended to identify forward-looking statements.

Forward-looking statements contained in this prospectus include, but are not limited to, statements about:

 

    our future financial performance, including our expectations regarding our total revenue, cost of revenue, gross profit or gross margin, operating expenses including changes in operating expenses and our ability to achieve and maintain future profitability;

 

    our business plan and our ability to effectively manage our growth;

 

    the widespread adoption of online global marketplaces for freelance work;

 

    our total market opportunity;

 

    anticipated trends, growth rates, and challenges in our business and in the markets in which we operate;

 

    market acceptance of our platform and our ability to increase adoption of our platform;

 

    beliefs and objectives for future operations;

 

    our ability to further attract, retain, and expand a community of users;

 

    our ability to timely and effectively scale and adapt our platform;

 

    our ability to develop new products and services and bring them to market in a timely manner and make enhancements to our platform;

 

    our expectations concerning relationships with third parties;

 

    our ability to maintain, protect, and enhance our intellectual property;

 

    our ability to continue to expand internationally;

 

    the effects of increased competition in our markets and our ability to compete effectively;

 

    future acquisitions or investments in complementary companies, products, services, or technologies;

 

    our ability to stay in compliance with laws and regulations that currently apply or become applicable to our business both in the United States and internationally;

 

    economic and industry trends, projected growth, or trend analysis;

 

    the attraction and retention of qualified service providers;

 

    the estimates and methodologies used in preparing our consolidated financial statements and determining stock option exercise prices; and

 

    the future market prices of our common stock.

These forward-looking statements are subject to a number of risks, uncertainties, and assumptions, including those described in the section titled “Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this prospectus. Moreover, we operate in a very competitive and rapidly changing environment, and new risks emerge from time to time. It is not possible for our management to predict all risks, nor can we assess the impact of all factors on our business or the extent to which any factor, or combination of factors, may cause actual results to differ materially from those contained in any forward-looking statements we may make. In light of these risks, uncertainties, and assumptions, the forward-looking events and circumstances discussed in this prospectus may not occur and actual results could differ materially and adversely from those anticipated or implied in the forward-looking statements.

 

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You should not rely upon forward-looking statements as predictions of future events. The events and circumstances reflected in the forward-looking statements may not be achieved or occur. We undertake no obligation to update any of these forward-looking statements for any reason after the date of this prospectus or to conform these statements to actual results or to changes in our expectations, except as required by law.

You should read this prospectus and the documents that we reference in this prospectus and have filed with the SEC as exhibits to the registration statement of which this prospectus is a part with the understanding that our actual future results, performance, and events and circumstances may be materially different from what we expect.

 

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MARKET AND INDUSTRY DATA

Unless otherwise indicated, information contained in this prospectus concerning our industry and the markets in which we operate, including our general expectations and market position, market opportunity, and market size, is based on information from various sources, as well as assumptions that we have made that are based on those data and other similar sources and on our knowledge of the markets for our platform. This information involves important assumptions and limitations, is inherently imprecise, and you are cautioned not to give undue weight to such estimates. In addition, projections, assumptions, and estimates of our future performance and the future performance of the industry in which we operate is necessarily subject to a high degree of uncertainty and risk due to a variety of factors, including those described in the section titled “Risk Factors” and elsewhere in this prospectus. These and other factors could cause results to differ materially from those expressed in the estimates made by the independent parties and by us. The information contained on, or that can be accessed through, any website listed below is not a part of this prospectus.

This prospectus contains statistical data, estimates, and forecasts that are based on publications or reports generated by third parties, including reports that we commissioned, or other publicly available information, as well as other information based on our internal sources.

The source of, and selected additional information contained in, the independent industry and other publications related to the information so identified are provided below. The information contained on, or that can be accessed through, the websites listed below are not part of this prospectus.

 

    Accenture, Technology Vision 2017, 2017.

 

    Bureau of Economic Analysis, U.S. Department of Commerce, Gross Domestic Product by Metropolitan Area, 2016.

 

    Bureau of Labor Statistics, Job Openings and Labor Turnover Survey, 2017.

 

    DHI Group, Inc., Measure of National Mean Vacancy Duration, March 2018.

 

    Edelman Intelligence, Freelancing in America: 2017 (commissioned by Upwork and Freelancers Union), October 2017.

 

    Federal Reserve, Declining Migration Within the US: The Role of the Labor Market, 2013.

 

    Global Workplace Analytics, Flexjobs, 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce, 2017.

 

    Inavero and Upwork Inc., 2018 Future Workforce Report (commissioned by Upwork), February 2018.

 

    McKinsey Global Institute, A Labor Market that Works: Connecting Talent with Opportunity in the Digital Age, June 2015. This report can be found at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/connecting-talent-with-opportunity-in-the-digital-age.

 

    McKinsey Global Institute, Independent Work: Choice, Necessity, and the Gig Economy, October 2016. This report can be found at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/independent-work-choice-necessity-and-the-gig-economy.

 

    McKinsey Global Institute, The Emerging Global Labor Market: Part 1—The Demand for Offshore Talent in Services, June 2005. This report can be found at: https://www.mckinsey.com/featured-insights/employment-and-growth/the-emerging-global-labor-market-demand-for-offshore-talent.

 

    The NFIB Research Foundation, Small Business Economic Trends, © NFIB Research Center, April 2018.

 

    Oxford Internet Institute, Online Labour Index, 2017.

 

    United States Census Bureau, How Do We Know? Working at Home is on the Rise, June 2013.

 

    World Economic Forum, Center for the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

 

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USE OF PROCEEDS

We estimate that the net proceeds from our sale of              shares of common stock in this offering at an assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses, will be approximately $         million, or $         million if the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares is exercised in full.

A $1.00 increase (decrease) in the assumed initial public offering price of $ per share would increase (decrease) the net proceeds to us from this offering by approximately $         million, assuming the number of shares of our common stock offered by us remains the same and after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions. Similarly, each increase (decrease) of 1,000,000 shares in the number of shares of our common stock offered would increase (decrease) the net proceeds from this offering by approximately $         million, assuming that the assumed initial public offering price of $         remains the same, and after deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses.

The principal purposes of this offering are to create a public market for our common stock, increase our visibility in the marketplace, obtain additional capital, and increase our capitalization and financial flexibility. We currently intend to use the net proceeds we receive from this offering primarily for working capital and other general corporate purposes, which may include product development, general and administrative matters, and capital expenditures. We also intend to use a portion of the net proceeds we receive from this offering to repay approximately $19.0 million of indebtedness under our Loan Agreement. We may also use a portion of the net proceeds for the acquisition of, or investment in, technologies, solutions, or businesses that complement our business. However, we do not have agreements or commitments for any acquisitions or investments outside the ordinary course of business at this time.

The approximately $19.0 million of indebtedness that we intend to repay outstanding under our Loan Agreement is comprised of $9.0 million under a term loan and $10.0 million under a revolving line of credit. The $9.0 million under the term loan is scheduled to mature in September 2022, and interest on such borrowings accrues at a fixed per annum rate equal to the prime rate plus 5.25%. The $10.0 million under the term revolving line of credit is scheduled to mature in March 2020, and interest on such borrowings accrues at a fixed per annum rate equal to the prime rate. See the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Term and Revolving Loans.”

We will have broad discretion over the uses of the net proceeds of this offering. Pending these uses, we intend to invest the net proceeds from this offering in short-term, investment-grade interest-bearing securities, such as money market accounts, certificates of deposit, commercial paper, and guaranteed obligations of the U.S. government.

DIVIDEND POLICY

We have never declared or paid cash dividends on our capital stock. We currently intend to retain all available funds and any future earnings for use in the operation of our business and do not anticipate paying any dividends on our capital stock in the foreseeable future. Any future determination to declare dividends will be made at the discretion of our board of directors and will depend on our financial condition, operating results, capital requirements, general business conditions, and other factors that our board of directors may deem relevant. In addition, our Loan Agreement contains restrictions on our ability to pay cash dividends on our capital stock.

 

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CAPITALIZATION

The following table sets forth our cash and capitalization as of December 31, 2017, on:

 

    an actual basis;

 

    a pro forma basis, which reflects (i) the automatic conversion of all outstanding shares of our convertible preferred stock as of December 31, 2017 into 61,279,079 shares of our common stock, (ii) the automatic conversion of an outstanding warrant exercisable for 398,331 shares of our convertible preferred stock as of December 31, 2017 into a warrant exercisable for the same number of shares of common stock upon the completion of this offering, and (iii) the filing and effectiveness of our restated certificate of incorporation; and

 

    a pro forma as adjusted basis, which reflects (i) all adjustments included in the pro forma column, (ii) the sale of              shares of our common stock in this offering at an assumed initial public offering price of $        per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the front cover of this prospectus, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses and (iii) the application of such proceeds as described in the section titled “Use of Proceeds.”

You should read this table together with our consolidated financial statements and related notes, “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data,” and “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations,” each included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

    As of December 31, 2017  
    Actual     Pro Forma     Pro Forma as
Adjusted(1)
 
   

(in thousands, except share and

per share data)

 

Cash

  $ 21,595     $ 21,595     $  
 

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Debt, current and non-current

  $ 33,833     $ 33,833     $  

Redeemable convertible preferred stock warrant liability

    1,104          

Redeemable convertible preferred stock, $0.0001 par value per share; 76,141,345 shares authorized, 61,279,079 shares issued and outstanding, actual; no shares authorized, issued, and outstanding, pro forma and pro forma as adjusted

    166,486          

Stockholders’ (deficit) equity:

     

Preferred stock, $0.0001 par value per share; no shares authorized, issued, and outstanding, actual;                  shares authorized, no shares issued and outstanding, pro forma and pro forma as adjusted

             

Common stock, $0.0001 par value per share; 150,000,000 shares authorized, 33,740,323 shares issued and outstanding, actual;              shares authorized, 95,019,402 shares issued and outstanding, pro forma;              shares authorized,              shares issued and outstanding, pro forma as adjusted

    3       9    

Additional paid-in capital

    92,222       259,806    

Accumulated deficit

    (123,592     (123,592  
 

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total stockholders’ (deficit) equity

    (31,367     136,223    
 

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total capitalization

  $ 170,056     $ 170,056     $  
 

 

 

   

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

(1)   

The pro forma as adjusted information presented is illustrative only and will be adjusted based on the actual public offering price and other terms of this offering determined at pricing. Each $1.00 increase (decrease) in the assumed initial public offering price of $             per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, would increase (decrease) our pro forma as adjusted cash, additional paid-in capital, total stockholders’ (deficit) equity, and total capitalization by $         million, assuming that the number of shares offered by us, as set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, remains the same and after deducting

 

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  the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions. Similarly, each increase (decrease) of 1,000,000 shares in the number of shares of our common stock offered by us would increase (decrease) the amount of our pro forma as adjusted cash, additional paid-in capital, total stockholders’ (deficit) equity, and total capitalization by $         million, assuming that the assumed initial public offering price remains the same, after deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions. If the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares is exercised in full, the pro forma as adjusted amount of each of cash, additional paid-in capital, total stockholders’ (deficit) equity, and total capitalization would increase by $         million, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions, and we would have              shares of our common stock issued and outstanding, pro forma as adjusted.

The number of shares of our common stock to be outstanding after this offering is based on 95,019,402 shares of our common stock outstanding as of December 31, 2017, and excludes:

 

    23,607,746 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $3.10 per share;

 

    398,331 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a convertible preferred stock warrant outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $3.13 per share;

 

    4,068,996 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options granted after December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $5.66 per share;

 

    500,000 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a common stock warrant with an exercise price of $0.01 per share that we issued in May 2018 to the Tides Foundation in connection with establishing The Upwork Foundation initiative;

 

    45,286 shares of our common stock issued upon the exercise of a common stock warrant after December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $0.06 per share; and

 

                 shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our equity compensation plans, consisting of (i) 3,962,024 shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2014 Plan, as of December 31, 2017 (which number of shares is prior to the stock options to purchase shares of our common stock granted after December 31, 2017), (ii)              shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2018 Plan, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus, and (iii)              shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 ESPP, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus.

On the date of this prospectus, any remaining shares available for issuance under our 2014 Plan will be added to the shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 Plan, and we will cease granting awards under the 2014 Plan. Our 2018 Plan and 2018 ESPP also provide for automatic annual increases in the number of shares reserved thereunder. See the section titled “Executive Compensation—Employee Benefit and Stock Plans” for additional information.

 

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DILUTION

If you invest in our common stock, your interest will be diluted to the extent of the difference between the amount per share paid by purchasers of shares of common stock in this initial public offering and the pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share of common stock immediately after this offering.

As of December 31, 2017, our pro forma net tangible book value was $         million, or $         per share of common stock. Our pro forma net tangible book value per share represents the amount of our total tangible assets reduced by the amount of our total liabilities and divided by the total number of shares of our common stock outstanding as of December 31, 2017, after giving effect to (i) the automatic conversion of all outstanding shares of our convertible preferred stock into 61,279,079 shares of our common stock, (ii) the automatic conversion of an outstanding warrant exercisable for 398,331 shares of our convertible preferred stock as of December 31, 2017 into a warrant exercisable for the same number of shares of common stock upon completion of this offering, and (iii) the filing and effectiveness of our restated certificate of incorporation.

After giving effect to our sale in this offering of          shares of our common stock, at an assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, after deducting estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses, our pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value as of December 31, 2017 would have been $         million, or $         per share. This represents an immediate increase in pro forma net tangible book value of $         per share to our existing stockholders and an immediate dilution of $         per share to investors purchasing common stock in this offering at the assumed initial public offering price.

The following table illustrates this dilution on a per share basis to new investors:

 

Assumed initial public offering price per share

      $               

Pro forma net tangible book value per share as of December 31, 2017, before giving effect to this offering

   $                  

Increase in pro forma net tangible book value per share attributable to new investors in this offering

     
  

 

 

    

Pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share

     
     

 

 

 

Dilution in pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share to new investors in this offering

      $               
     

 

 

 

A $1.00 increase (decrease) in the assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range reflected on the cover page of this prospectus, would increase (decrease) our pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share after this offering by $         per share and would increase (decrease) the dilution per share to new investors in this offering by $         per share, assuming the number of shares of common stock offered by us, as set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, remains the same and after deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions. Similarly, each increase (decrease) of 1,000,000 shares in the number of shares of common stock offered would increase (decrease) the pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share after this offering by $         per share and would increase (decrease) the dilution to new investors by $         per share, assuming the assumed initial public offering price, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, remains the same and after deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions.

If the underwriters exercise their option to purchase additional shares in full, the pro forma as adjusted net tangible book value per share of our common stock after giving effect to this offering would be $         per share, and the dilution in pro forma net tangible book value per share to investors in this offering would be $         per share.

The following table summarizes, on a pro forma as adjusted basis as of December 31, 2017, after giving effect to the pro forma adjustments described above, the difference between existing stockholders and new investors purchasing shares of common stock in this offering with respect to the number of shares purchased from us, the total consideration paid to us, and the average price per share paid by our existing stockholders or to

 

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be paid by investors purchasing shares in this offering at an assumed offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, before deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions and estimated offering expenses payable by us:

 

     Shares Purchased      Total Consideration      Average Price
Per Share
 
     Number      Percent      Amount      Percent     

Existing stockholders

            %      $            %      $  

New public investors

              
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

Total

        100%      $        100%     
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

A $1.00 increase (decrease) in the assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, which is the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, would increase (decrease) total consideration paid by new investors and total consideration paid by all stockholders by approximately $         million, assuming that the number of shares offered by us, as set forth on the cover page of this prospectus remains the same and after deducting the estimated underwriting discounts and commissions.

Except as otherwise indicated, the above discussion and tables assume no exercise of the underwriters’ option to purchase additional shares of our common stock. If the underwriters exercise their option in full to purchase additional shares, our existing stockholders would own     % and our new investors would own     % of the total number of shares of our common stock outstanding after this offering.

In addition, to the extent we issue any additional stock options or any outstanding stock options or warrants are exercised, or we issue any other securities or convertible debt in the future, investors will experience further dilution.

The number of shares of our common stock to be outstanding after this offering is based on 95,019,402 shares of our common stock outstanding as of December 31, 2017, and excludes:

 

    23,607,746 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $3.10 per share;

 

    398,331 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a convertible preferred stock warrant outstanding as of December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $3.13 per share;

 

    4,068,996 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of stock options granted after December 31, 2017, with a weighted-average exercise price of $5.66 per share;

 

    500,000 shares of our common stock issuable upon the exercise of a common stock warrant with an exercise price of $0.01 per share that we issued in May 2018 to the Tides Foundation in connection with establishing The Upwork Foundation initiative;

 

    45,286 shares of our common stock issued upon the exercise of a common stock warrant after December 31, 2017, with an exercise price of $0.06 per share; and

 

                 shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our equity compensation plans, consisting of (i) 3,962,024 shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2014 Plan, as of December 31, 2017 (which number of shares is prior to the stock options to purchase shares of our common stock granted after December 31, 2017), (ii)              shares of our common stock reserved for future issuance under our 2018 Plan, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus, and (iii)              shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 ESPP, which will become effective on the date of this prospectus.

On the date of this prospectus, any remaining shares available for issuance under our 2014 Plan will be added to the shares of our common stock reserved for issuance under our 2018 Plan, and we will cease granting awards under the 2014 Plan. Our 2018 Plan and 2018 ESPP also provide for automatic annual increases in the number of shares reserved thereunder. See the section titled “Executive Compensation—Employee Benefit and Stock Plans” for additional information.

 

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SELECTED CONSOLIDATED FINANCIAL AND OTHER DATA

The following tables present selected historical consolidated financial and other data for our business. We derived the selected consolidated statements of operations data for 2016 and 2017 and the consolidated balance sheet data as of December 31, 2016 and 2017 from our audited consolidated financial statements that are included elsewhere in this prospectus. Our historical results are not necessarily indicative of the results that may be expected for any other period in the future. You should read this information in conjunction with the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations” and our consolidated financial statements, the accompanying notes, and other financial information included elsewhere in this prospectus.

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016     2017  
     (in thousands, except
per share data and
percentages)
 

Consolidated Statements of Operations Data:

    

Revenue:

    

Marketplace

   $ 138,484     $ 178,046  

Managed services

     25,961       24,506  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total revenue

     164,445       202,552  

Cost of revenue(1)

     62,578       65,443  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Gross profit

     101,867       137,109  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating expenses:

    

Research and development(1)

     37,902       45,604  

Sales and marketing(1)

     37,437       53,044  

General and administrative(1)

     35,446       37,334  

Provision for transaction losses

     5,550       4,250  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total operating expenses

     116,335       140,232  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss from operations

     (14,468     (3,123

Interest expense

     858       960  

Other (income) expense, net

     908       62  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss before benefit from income taxes

     (16,234     (4,145

Benefit from income taxes

     1       22  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss

   $ (16,233   $ (4,123

Premium on repurchase of redeemable convertible preferred stock

           (6,506
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss attributable to common stockholders

   $ (16,233   $ (10,629
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

   $ (0.51   $ (0.32
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Weighted-average shares used to compute net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

     32,072       32,945  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

     $ (0.04
    

 

 

 

Weighted-average shares used to compute pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted(2)

       98,072  
    

 

 

 

Other Financial and Operating Data(3):

    

Core clients(4)

     76.5       86.4  

Gross services volume (GSV)(5)

   $ 1,148,363     $ 1,373,161  

Client spend retention(6)

     85%       99%  

Adjusted EBITDA(7)

   $ 1,260     $ 7,909  

 

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(1)    Amounts include stock-based compensation expense as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016      2017  
     (in thousands)  

Cost of revenue

   $ 193      $ 290  

Research and development

     1,820        1,797  

Sales and marketing

     1,052        1,299  

General and administrative

     4,201        3,460  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

   $ 7,266      $ 6,846  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(2)    See Notes 2 and 11 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus for an explanation of the calculations of our net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted, and pro forma net loss per share attributable to common stockholders, basic and diluted.
(3)   For a discussion of limitations in the measurement of core clients, GSV, and client spend retention, see the section titled “Risk Factors—We track certain performance metrics with internal tools and do not independently verify such metrics. Certain of our performance metrics are subject to inherent challenges in measurement, and real or perceived inaccuracies in such metrics may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.”
(4)    For the definition of core clients, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(5)    For the definition of GSV, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(6)    For the definition of client spend retention, see the section titled “Management’s Discussion and Analysis of Financial Condition and Results of Operations—Key Financial and Operational Metrics.”
(7)    For the definition of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA, see the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures.”

 

     As of December 31,  
     2016     2017  
     (in thousands)  

Consolidated Balance Sheet Data:

    

Cash

   $ 27,326     $ 21,595  

Working capital

     31,205       29,483  

Total assets

     249,600       275,189  

Debt, current and noncurrent

     16,962       33,833  

Redeemable convertible preferred stock

     178,785       166,486  

Total stockholders’ deficit

     (30,131     (31,367

Non-GAAP Financial Measures

In addition to our results determined in accordance with U.S. GAAP, adjusted EBITDA is a non-GAAP measure that we believe is useful in evaluating our operating performance.

We define adjusted EBITDA as net loss adjusted for stock-based compensation expense, depreciation and amortization, interest expense, other (income) expense, net, and benefit from income taxes.

 

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The following table presents a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA, the most directly comparable financial measure prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP, for each of the periods indicated:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
           2016                2017      
     (in thousands)  

Net loss

   $ (16,233    $ (4,123

Add back (deduct):

     

Stock-based compensation expense

     7,266        6,846  

Depreciation and amortization

     8,462        4,186  

Interest expense

     858        960  

Other (income) expense, net

     908        62  

Benefit from income taxes

     (1      (22
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Adjusted EBITDA

   $ 1,260      $ 7,909  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

We use adjusted EBITDA as a measure of operational efficiency. We believe that this non-GAAP financial measure is useful to investors for period to period comparisons of our business and in understanding and evaluating our operating results for the following reasons:

 

    adjusted EBITDA is widely used by investors and securities analysts to measure a company’s operating performance without regard to items such as stock-based compensation expense, depreciation and amortization, interest expense, other expense, net, and benefit from income taxes that can vary substantially from company to company depending upon their financing, capital structures, and the method by which assets were acquired;

 

    our management uses adjusted EBITDA in conjunction with financial measures prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP for planning purposes, including the preparation of our annual operating budget, as a measure of our core operating results and the effectiveness of our business strategy, and in evaluating our financial performance; and

 

    adjusted EBITDA provides consistency and comparability with our past financial performance, facilitates period-to-period comparisons of our core operating results, and also facilitates comparisons with other peer companies, many of which use similar non-GAAP financial measures to supplement their GAAP results.

Our use of adjusted EBITDA has limitations as an analytical tool, and you should not consider it in isolation or as a substitute for analysis of our financial results as reported under U.S. GAAP. Some of these limitations are as follows:

 

    adjusted EBITDA excludes stock-based compensation expense, which has recently been, and will continue to be for the foreseeable future, a significant recurring expense for our business and an important part of our compensation strategy;

 

    although depreciation and amortization expense are non-cash charges, the assets being depreciated and amortized may have to be replaced in the future, and adjusted EBITDA does not reflect cash capital expenditure requirements for such replacements or for new capital expenditure requirements;

 

    adjusted EBITDA does not reflect: (a) changes in, or cash requirements for, our working capital needs; (b) interest expense, or the cash requirements necessary to service interest or principal payments on our debt, which reduces cash available to us; or (c) tax payments that may represent a reduction in cash available to us; and

 

    other companies, including companies in our industry, may calculate adjusted EBITDA or similarly titled measures differently, which reduces the usefulness of this measure for comparative purposes.

Because of these and other limitations, you should consider adjusted EBITDA along with other financial performance measures, including net loss and our other financial results prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP.

 

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MANAGEMENT’S DISCUSSION AND ANALYSIS OF FINANCIAL CONDITION AND RESULTS OF OPERATIONS

The following discussion and analysis of our financial condition and results of operations should be read in conjunction with the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data” and the consolidated financial statements and related notes thereto included elsewhere in this prospectus. This discussion contains forward-looking statements that involve risks and uncertainties. Our actual results could differ materially from those discussed below. Factors that could cause or contribute to such differences include, but are not limited to, those identified below and those discussed in the section titled “Risk Factors” included elsewhere in this prospectus.

Overview

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV. Freelancers are an increasingly sought-after, critical, and expanding segment of the global workforce. In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients in over 180 countries. We define freelancers as users of our platform that advertise and provide services to clients through our platform, and we define clients as users of our platform that work with freelancers through our platform. The freelancers on our platform include independent professionals and agencies of varying sizes. The clients on our platform range in size from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

Our platform reduces inefficiencies associated with searching for, contracting and collaborating with, and paying highly-skilled freelancers for short-term and longer-term projects. As early innovators in this space, we have built an expansive and unique repository of data on our platform, which, when combined with our machine learning capabilities, enables us to better connect clients with the best freelancers for their projects. As a result, clients are able to obtain specialized talent in less time and at a lower cost compared to traditional channels.

Our company was formed when two of the earliest innovators in driving the adoption of online work and the largest online talent marketplaces at the time, Elance and oDesk, combined in 2014. Since the combination, we have continued to innovate our offerings and achieved key business milestones that have driven our GSV, revenue, core client growth, and freelancer growth. Highlights of our history, innovation, and operational achievements include:

 

    In 1998 and 2003, Elance and oDesk, respectively, were founded as online talent marketplaces.

 

    In 2010, oDesk surpassed $100.0 million in annual GSV.

 

    In 2011, Elance surpassed $100.0 million in annual GSV.

 

    In 2014, our company was formed when Elance and oDesk combined.

 

    In 2015:

 

    We relaunched as “Upwork,” and we began integrating the Elance and oDesk platforms.

 

    We surpassed $1.0 billion in annual GSV.

 

    In 2016:

 

    We began operating under a single platform following completion of the integration.

 

    We launched our Upwork Enterprise offering and started building our enterprise sales team.

 

    We changed our pricing model to a tiered service fee for freelancers and introduced client fees.

 

    We achieved positive adjusted EBITDA.

 

    In 2017:

 

    We launched our U.S.-to-U.S. domestic offering.

 

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    We surpassed $1.3 billion in annual GSV.

 

    As of December 31, 2017, we had surpassed $6.5 billion in cumulative GSV (including GSV from Elance and oDesk).

We serve as a powerful marketing channel for freelancers to find rewarding, engaging, and flexible work. Freelancers using our platform benefit from access to quality clients and secure and timely payments while enjoying the freedom to run their own businesses, create their own schedules, and work from their preferred locations. Moreover, freelancers have real-time visibility into opportunities that are highest in demand, so that they can invest their time and focus on developing sought-after skills.

Our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories, such as content marketing, customer service, data science and analytics, graphic design, mobile development, sales, and web development. We offer a direct-to-talent approach, reducing reliance on intermediaries such as staffing firms, recruiters, and traditional agencies while providing features that help instill trust in remote work. Our platform also enables clients to streamline workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and engagement. In addition, our platform provides access to essential functionality for remote engagements, including communication and collaboration, time tracking, invoicing, and payments.

In 2016 and 2017, GSV on our platform was $1.15 billion and $1.37 billion, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 20%. In 2016 and 2017, our total revenue was $164.4 million and $202.6 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 23%. In 2016 and 2017, our marketplace revenue was $138.5 million and $178.0 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 29%. We have made significant investments to grow our business, including in sales and marketing, research and development, operations, and personnel. As a result, we generated net losses of $16.2 million and $4.1 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. In 2016 and 2017, our adjusted EBITDA was $1.3 million and $7.9 million, respectively. See the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures” for information regarding our use of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA.

Our Business Model

 

LOGO

As a marketplace, we seek to attract and retain users by providing a platform that facilitates contracting and payment for projects. Our platform allows freelancers to run their businesses seamlessly and allows clients to find and work with high-quality talent on a global basis. We generate a majority of our revenue from fees charged to freelancers. For our Upwork Standard offering, clients engage freelancers under contracts that both parties agree to on our platform. The pricing negotiated between freelancers and clients is agreed upon in U.S. dollars. There are two types of contracts: hourly and fixed price.

We also generate revenue through fees charged to clients for transacting payments through our platform as well as foreign currency exchange, and premium offerings, such as Upwork Enterprise, Upwork Pro, and Upwork Payroll.

Our Upwork Enterprise and other premium offerings, which are primarily designed for larger clients, include access to additional product features, premium access to top talent, professional services, custom

 

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reporting, and invoicing on a monthly basis. For the Upwork Enterprise offering, we charge a monthly or annual subscription fee and a client service fee calculated as a percentage of the client’s spend on freelancer services. Additionally, Upwork Enterprise clients can opt to subscribe to an offering that includes worker classification services for an additional fee. Upwork Enterprise clients may also choose to use our platform to engage freelancers that were not sourced through our platform for a lower fee percentage.

In addition, we provide a managed services offering where we engage freelancers to complete projects, directly invoice the client, and assume responsibility for work performed by the freelancers. Under U.S. GAAP, we are deemed to be the principal in these managed services arrangements, and, therefore, recognize the entire GSV of managed services projects, including the amounts paid to freelancers, as managed services revenue. Our managed services revenue decreased in 2017 as compared to 2016 as we focused our efforts on our marketplace offerings, and our client using the managed services offering used less of these services.

In 2017, approximately 80% of our GSV was generated from clients with fewer than 100 employees, with the balance generated from businesses with 100 or more employees. More than 1,400 clients each spent over $100,000 for freelancer services on our platform in 2017.

As a global platform that connects freelancers and clients regardless of their location, our GSV originates from around the world. In 2017, our GSV was $1.37 billion. Approximately 19% of our GSV in 2017 was generated from U.S. freelancers, our largest freelancer geography. Some of our other largest freelancer geographies include India and the Philippines. Approximately 67% of our GSV in 2017 was generated from U.S. clients, with clients in no other country representing more than 10% of our GSV. We believe U.S. clients will continue to drive growth by engaging freelancers globally, particularly freelancers in the United States where there are various efficiencies associated with same-country engagements, such as cultural and contractual norms, time zones, and language.

Key Financial and Operational Metrics

We monitor the following key financial and operational metrics to evaluate our business, measure our performance, identify trends affecting our business, formulate business plans, and make strategic decisions:

 

     As of or for the Year Ended
December 31,
 
             2016                      2017          
     (in thousands, except percentages)  

Core clients

     76.5        86.4  

Gross services volume (GSV)

   $ 1,148,363      $ 1,373,161  

Client spend retention

     85%        99%  

Marketplace revenue

   $ 138,484      $ 178,046  

Adjusted EBITDA

   $ 1,260      $ 7,909  

We believe these key financial and operational metrics are useful to evaluate period-over-period comparisons of our business and in understanding our operating results. The number of core clients in any given period drives both GSV, which represents the amount of business transacted through our platform, and client spend retention. Client spend retention impacts the growth rate of GSV. We believe our marketplace revenue, which represents a majority of our revenue, will grow as GSV grows, although they could grow at different rates. For a discussion of limitations in the measurement of core clients, GSV, and client spend retention, see “Risk Factors—We track certain performance metrics with internal tools and do not independently verify such metrics. Certain of our performance metrics are subject to inherent challenges in measurement, and real or perceived inaccuracies in such metrics may harm our reputation and negatively affect our business.”

Core Clients

We define a core client as a client that has spent in the aggregate at least $5,000 since it began using our platform and also had spend activity during the twelve months preceding the date of measurement. This includes

 

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the total amount spent by the client on both the Elance and oDesk platforms for the periods prior to the consolidation of the two platforms. We believe $5,000 is an important spend milestone as it indicates that the client is actively using our platform. Historically, these core clients have been more likely to continue using our platform, and, for 2017, represented approximately 80% of our GSV. We believe that the number of core clients is a key indicator of our growth and the overall health of our business because core clients are a primary driver of GSV, and, therefore, marketplace revenue.

Following the combination of Elance and oDesk in 2014, we enhanced and refreshed the oDesk legacy platform and, in May 2015, relaunched it as the Upwork platform. In August 2015, we began enabling clients, freelancers, and their projects to migrate from the Elance platform to the new Upwork platform. This migration to the consolidated Upwork platform resulted in a short-term negative impact on growth of core clients as some users did not transition to the Upwork platform. The chart below shows the reduced growth rate of the number of core clients between 2015 and 2016. We believe, however, this one-time platform consolidation resulted in a larger, more liquid marketplace, including access to more jobs for freelancers and skills and expertise for clients, and provided us with significant cost efficiencies.

 

 

LOGO

Gross Services Volume

Gross services volume, or GSV, includes both client spend and additional fees charged for other services. Client spend—the total amount that clients spend on both our marketplace offerings and our managed services offering—is the primary component of our GSV. GSV also includes additional fees charged by us for other services, such as freelancer withdrawals and foreign currency exchange.

GSV is an important metric because it represents the amount of business transacted through our platform. Growth in the number of core clients and increased client spend retention are the primary drivers of GSV growth. In addition, our marketplace revenue is primarily comprised of the service fees paid by freelancers as a percentage of the total amount freelancers charge clients for services accessed through our platform. Therefore, marketplace revenue is correlated to GSV, and we believe that our marketplace revenue will grow as GSV grows, although they could grow at different rates. For example, in 2016 and 2017, GSV on our platform was $1.15 billion and $1.37 billion, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 20%, while marketplace revenue was $138.5 million and $178.1 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 29%. We expect our GSV growth rates to fluctuate between periods due to a number of factors, including the volume and characteristics of projects that are posted by clients on our platform, such as size, duration, pricing, and the factors described below under the section titled “—Factors Affecting our Performance.”

 

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Client Spend Retention

We calculate client spend retention by dividing our recurring client spend by our base client spend. We define base client spend as the aggregate client spend from all clients during the four quarters ended one year prior to the date of measurement. We define our recurring client spend as the aggregate client spend during the four quarters ended on the date of measurement from the same clients included in our measure of base client spend. Our business is recurring in nature even though clients are not contractually required to spend on a recurring basis. As shown in the chart below, we experienced a decrease in client spend retention during 2015 and 2016 due to some users not transitioning from the Elance platform to the Upwork platform following the one-time platform consolidation, which commenced in August 2015. For the quarter ended December 31, 2017, our client spend retention returned to pre-consolidation levels. We believe that client spend retention is a key indicator of the value of our platform and the overall health of our business because it impacts the growth rate of GSV and, therefore, our revenue.

 

 

LOGO

Marketplace Revenue

Marketplace revenue, which represents the majority of our revenue, consists of revenue derived from our Upwork Standard, Upwork Enterprise, and other premium offerings. We generate marketplace revenue from both freelancers and clients. Our marketplace revenue is primarily comprised of the service fees paid by freelancers as a percentage of the total amount freelancers charge clients for services accessed through our platform. In addition, we generate marketplace revenue from our Upwork Standard offering by charging clients a payment processing and administration fee. We also generate marketplace revenue for other services, such as foreign currency exchange and premium offerings. Marketplace revenue is an important metric because it is the primary driver of our business model, and we believe it provides greater comparability to other online marketplaces. The growth rate of marketplace revenue fluctuates in relation to the growth rate of GSV. Therefore, marketplace revenue is correlated to GSV, and we believe that our marketplace revenue will grow as GSV grows, although they could grow at different rates.

Adjusted EBITDA

We define adjusted EBITDA as net loss adjusted for stock-based compensation expense, depreciation and amortization, interest expense, other (income) expense, net, and benefit from income taxes. See the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures” for information on our use of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA.

 

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Factors Affecting Our Performance

Adoption of Freelance Work

We believe that the inefficiencies in the labor market have created a significant opportunity for online global marketplaces for freelance work, and that as a result of challenges facing the labor market, we have a large market opportunity. However, any acceleration, or slowing, of the growth in the market for freelancers could affect our operating and financial performance, and our success will continue to depend on the willingness of businesses to engage freelancers. In addition, fluctuations in macroeconomic conditions could impact the overall demand for freelancers. While the impacts to our business of a macroeconomic downturn are uncertain, we believe such a downturn may increase the pace at which freelance work is adopted as businesses may turn to faster, project-based, more cost-effective, and less restrictive ways of addressing their talent needs. Alternatively, businesses may elect to focus on utilizing their existing employees to a greater degree as they adjust to macroeconomic conditions.

Retention and Growth of Client Spend

Our growth has been driven in significant part by retaining client spend from existing clients as we grow our client base. As illustrated in the first chart below, we have been able to retain client spend over long periods of time with clients in historical cohorts continuing to spend on our platform. We identify a cohort of clients based on the period in which the client first spends on our platform. In 2017, almost 50% of client spend was from clients that had used our platform for longer than three years. Additionally, over time we generally have been able to grow total client spend. Additionally, each new annual cohort spend has exceeded the prior year’s new cohort spend, except for 2015, which was impacted by the Elance migration. For example, in 2014, client spend from new clients was $210.4 million, and in 2016 and 2017, client spend from new clients was $222.4 million and $237.9 million, respectively.

 

 

 

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The next chart illustrates the performance of our client cohorts in the eight sequential quarters ended December 31, 2017. As illustrated in the chart, in their fourth quarter on our platform, these client cohorts spent approximately 70% of what they spent in their first quarter on our platform, and maintained approximately that same level of spend in subsequent quarters thereafter. While we have many clients join our platform on a non-recurring basis, the clients that have recurring spend tend to increase their spend with us over time.

 

 

LOGO

Investments in Growth

We intend to continue to make focused investments to grow our revenue and scale operations to support that growth. We plan to invest in marketing to increase our brand awareness through both online and offline channels. We also plan to invest in enhancing our U.S.-to-U.S. domestic offering, building other domestic-to-domestic marketplaces internationally on our platform, broadening and deepening the categories on our platform, and expanding our Upwork Enterprise offering. We are undertaking such investments to capitalize on the increasing adoption by businesses of freelancers, but as cost of revenue, operating expenses, and capital expenditures fluctuate over time, we may experience short-term, negative impacts to our operating results and cash flows.

Components of Our Results of Operations

Revenue

Marketplace Revenue. Marketplace revenue is generated from our Upwork Standard, Upwork Enterprise, and other premium offerings. Under our Upwork Standard offering, we generate revenue from both freelancers and clients. Marketplace revenue, which represents the majority of our total revenue, is primarily comprised of the service fees paid by freelancers as a percentage of the total amount that freelancers charge clients for services accessed through our platform. For our Upwork Standard offering, we have a tiered freelancer service fee schedule based on cumulative billings by the freelancer to each client. Freelancers on our Upwork Standard offering typically pay us 20% of the first $500, 10% for the next $9,500, and then 5% for any amount over $10,000 they bill to each client through our platform. Prior to June 2016, we typically charged a flat 10% fee to freelancers. We also generate revenue from freelancers through withdrawal and other fees, which are currently immaterial.

In addition, we generate marketplace revenue from our Upwork Standard offering by charging clients a payment processing and administration fee, which we introduced in June 2016. Clients using our Upwork Standard offering pay either 2.75% of their client spend or a flat fee of $25 per month for unlimited payment transactions with qualifying payment methods. We also generate revenue from foreign currency exchange fees from clients, which are currently immaterial.

Our Upwork Enterprise offering and other premium offerings, which are designed for larger clients, include access to additional product features, premium access to top talent, professional services, custom reporting, and

 

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invoicing on a monthly basis. For our Upwork Enterprise offering, we charge clients a monthly or annual subscription fee and a service fee calculated as a percentage of the client’s spend on freelancer services, in addition to the service fees paid by freelancers. Additionally, Upwork Enterprise clients can also subscribe to a compliance offering that includes worker classification services for an additional fee. Upwork Enterprise clients may also choose to use our platform to engage freelancers that were not sourced through our platform for a lower fee percentage.

One of our premium offerings, Upwork Payroll, is offered to clients whose freelancers are classified as employees for engagements on our online marketplace. The client enters into an Upwork Payroll agreement with us, and we separately contract with unrelated third-party staffing providers who provide employment services to such clients. Revenue from Upwork Payroll is currently immaterial.

Managed Services Revenue. Through our managed services offering, we are responsible for providing services and engaging freelancers directly or as employees of third-party staffing providers to perform services on our behalf. The freelancers delivering managed services include independent professionals and agencies of varying sizes. Under U.S. GAAP, we are deemed to be the principal in these managed services arrangements, and therefore, recognize the entire GSV of managed services projects as managed services revenue, as compared to recognizing only the percentage of the client spend that we receive, as we do with our marketplace offerings.

Cost of Revenue and Gross Profit

Cost of Revenue. Cost of revenue consists primarily of the cost of payment processing fees, amounts paid to freelancers to deliver services for the client under our managed services offering, personnel-related costs for our services and support personnel, third-party hosting fees for our use of AWS, and the amortization expense associated with acquired intangibles and capitalized internal-use software and platform development. We define personnel-related costs as salaries, bonuses, benefits, travel and entertainment, and stock-based compensation costs for employees and the costs related to other service providers we engage.

We expect cost of revenue to increase in absolute dollars in future periods due to higher payment processing fees, third-party hosting fees, and personnel-related costs in order to support additional transaction volume on our platform. Amounts paid to freelancers to deliver services under our managed services offering are tied to the volume of managed services used by our client. The level and timing of all of these items could fluctuate and affect our cost of revenue in the future.

Gross Profit and Gross Margin. Our gross profit and gross margin may fluctuate from period to period. Such fluctuations may be influenced by our revenue, timing and amount of investments to expand hosting capacity, our continued investments in our services and support teams, the timing and amount of services freelancers deliver for clients under our managed services offering, and the amortization expense associated with acquired intangibles and capitalized internal-use software and platform development cost. In addition, gross margin will be impacted by fluctuations in our revenue mix between marketplace revenue and our managed services revenue.

Operating Expenses

Research and Development. Research and development expense primarily consists of personnel-related costs and third-party hosting costs related to development. Research and development costs are expensed as incurred, except to the extent that such costs are associated with internal-use software and platform development that qualifies for capitalization. We believe continued investments in research and development are important to attain our strategic objectives and expect research and development expense to increase in absolute dollars, but this expense may vary as a percentage of total revenue, for the foreseeable future.

Sales and Marketing. Sales and marketing expense consists primarily of expenses related to personnel-related costs, including sales commissions, which we expense as they are incurred, and advertising and marketing activities. In 2017, we increased our marketing expenditures by investing in outdoor and radio advertising to drive greater brand awareness. Further, to grow our Upwork Enterprise offering, we hired additional sales

 

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personnel in 2017, with many of them starting late in the year. We intend to continue to invest in our sales and marketing capabilities in the future and expect this expense to increase in absolute dollars in future periods. Sales and marketing expense as a percentage of total revenue may fluctuate from period to period based on total revenue levels and the timing of our investments in our sales and marketing functions as these investments may vary in scope and scale over future periods.

General and Administrative. General and administrative expense consists primarily of personnel-related costs for our executive, finance, legal, human resources, and operations functions. General and administrative expense also includes outside consulting, legal, and accounting services, and insurance.

We expect to invest in corporate infrastructure and incur additional expenses associated with transitioning to and operating as a public company, including increased legal and accounting costs, investor relations costs, higher insurance premiums, and compliance costs. As a result, we expect general and administrative expense to increase in absolute dollars in future periods, but this expense may vary as a percentage of total revenue.

Provision for Transaction Losses. Provision for transaction losses consists primarily of losses resulting from fraud and bad debt expense associated with our trade and client receivables balance and transaction losses associated with chargebacks. Provisions for these items represent estimates of losses based on our actual historical incurred losses and other factors. As result, we expect provision for transaction losses to vary in future periods.

Interest Expense

Interest expense consists of interest on our outstanding borrowings.

Other (Income) Expense, Net

Other (income) expense, net consists primarily of gains and losses from foreign currency exchange transactions and expenses resulting from the revaluation of our warrant liability. Our warrant liability will be converted to additional paid-in capital upon the completion of this offering.

Benefit from Income Taxes

We account for income taxes in accordance with the liability method. Under the liability method, deferred assets and liabilities are recognized based upon anticipated future tax consequences attributable to differences between financial statement carrying amounts of assets and liabilities and their respective tax bases. The provision for income taxes is comprised of the current tax liability and the change in deferred tax assets and liabilities. We establish a valuation allowance to the extent that it is more likely than not that deferred tax assets will not be recoverable against future taxable income.

Deferred tax assets and liabilities are measured using the enacted tax rates that will be in effect for the years in which those tax assets are expected to be realized or settled. We regularly assess the likelihood that deferred tax assets will be realized from recoverable income taxes or recovered from future taxable income based on the realization criteria set forth in the relevant authoritative guidance. To the extent that we believe any amounts are less likely than not to be realized, we record a valuation allowance to reduce our deferred tax assets. The realization of deferred tax assets is dependent upon future earnings, if any, the timing and amount of which are uncertain. Accordingly, the net deferred tax assets have been fully offset by a valuation allowance. If we subsequently realize deferred tax assets that were previously determined to be unrealizable, the respective valuation allowance would be reversed, resulting in an adjustment to earnings in the period such determination is made.

In addition, the calculation of tax liabilities involves dealing with uncertainties in the application of complex tax regulations. We recognize potential liabilities based on an estimate of whether, and the extent to which, additional taxes will be due. We account for uncertain tax positions in accordance with the relevant guidance, which prescribes a recognition threshold and measurement approach for uncertain tax positions taken or expected to be taken in our income tax return, and also provides guidance on recognition, classification, interest and

 

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penalties, accounting in interim periods, disclosure, and transition. The guidance utilizes a two-step approach for evaluation of uncertain tax positions. The first step is to determine if the weight of available evidence indicates a tax position is more likely than not to be sustained upon audit. The second step is to measure the tax benefit as the largest amount, which is more likely than not to be realized on ultimate settlement. A liability is reported for unrecognized tax benefits resulting from uncertain tax positions taken or expected to be taken in a tax return. Any interest and penalties related to unrecognized tax benefits are recorded as income tax expense.

Results of Operations

The following tables set forth our consolidated results of operations in dollars and as a percentage of total revenue for the periods presented:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016     2017  
     (in thousands)  

Revenue:

    

Marketplace

   $ 138,484     $ 178,046  

Managed services

     25,961       24,506  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total revenue

     164,445       202,552  

Cost of revenue(1)

     62,578       65,443  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Gross profit

     101,867       137,109  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating expenses:

    

Research and development(1)

     37,902       45,604  

Sales and marketing(1)

     37,437       53,044  

General and administrative(1)

     35,446       37,334  

Provision for transaction losses

     5,550       4,250  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total operating expenses

     116,335       140,232  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss from operations

     (14,468     (3,123

Interest expense

     858       960  

Other (income) expense, net

     908       62  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss before benefit from income taxes

     (16,234     (4,145

Benefit from income taxes

     1       22  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss

   $ (16,233   $ (4,123
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

 

(1)    Includes stock-based compensation expense as follows:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016      2017  
     (in thousands)  

Cost of revenue

   $ 193      $ 290  

Research and development

     1,820        1,797  

Sales and marketing

     1,052        1,299  

General and administrative

     4,201        3,460  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total

   $ 7,266      $ 6,846  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

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     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016     2017  
     (as percentage of total
revenue)
 

Revenue:

    

Marketplace

     84%       88%  

Managed services

     16       12  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total revenue

     100       100  

Cost of revenue

     38       32  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Gross profit

     62       68  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Operating expenses:

    

Research and development

     23       23  

Sales and marketing

     23       26  

General and administrative

     22       18  

Provision for transaction losses

     3       2  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Total operating expenses

     71       69  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss from operations

     (9     (1

Interest expense

     1       1  

Other (income) expense, net

            
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Loss before benefit from income taxes

     (10     (2

Benefit from income taxes

            
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Net loss

     (10)%       (2)%  
  

 

 

   

 

 

 

Comparison of the Years Ended December 31, 2016 and 2017

Revenue

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Marketplace

   $ 138,484      $ 178,046      $ 39,562        29%  

Percentage of total revenue

     84%        88%        

Managed services

   $ 25,961      $ 24,506      $ (1,455)        (6)%  

Percentage of total revenue

     16%        12%        
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

Total revenue

   $ 164,445      $ 202,552      $ 38,107        23%  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

Total revenue increased by $38.1 million, or 23%, to $202.6 million in 2017 as compared to 2016.

Marketplace revenue represented 88% of total revenue in 2017, an increase of $39.6 million, or 29%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. Marketplace revenue increased primarily due to an increase in GSV. GSV grew by 20%, primarily driven by a 13% increase in the number of core clients, and higher client spend retention, which increased from 85% for the year ended December 31, 2016 to 99% for the year ended December 31, 2017. These increases were due to investments in marketing to acquire new clients and drive brand awareness and research and development to build new product features. Marketplace revenue also grew, to a lesser extent, due to the Upwork Standard pricing model change implemented in the second quarter of 2016.

We changed our pricing model in the second quarter of 2016 to implement a tiered freelancer service fee based on cumulative billings by the freelancer to each client. Previously, we had charged freelancers a flat 10% fee. Additionally, we introduced a client payment processing and administration fee. The goal of the pricing change was to encourage longer-term relationships between freelancers and clients on our platform, allowing us to attract more projects, and align client incentives with our incentives to use lower cost payment methods.

 

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Managed services revenue represented 12% of total revenue in 2017 as compared to 16% in 2016. The decrease of $1.5 million, or 6%, was primarily due to a decline in the amount of freelancer services used by the client using our managed services offering.

Cost of Revenue and Gross Margin

 

     Year Ended December 31,               
     2016      2017      $ Change     % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Cost of revenue

   $ 62,578      $ 65,443      $ 2,865       5%  

Components of cost of revenue:

          

Costs of freelancer services to deliver managed services

     21,051        19,986        (1,065     (5)%  

Other components of cost of revenue

     41,527        45,457        3,930       10%  

Total gross margin

     62%        68%       

Cost of revenue increased by $2.9 million, or 5%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases of $3.6 million in payment processing fees as a result of an increase in client spend on our platform, $0.9 million in third-party hosting as a result of our transition to AWS and increased transaction volume on our platform, and $2.9 million in personnel-related costs from an increase in personnel to support our growth, partially offset by a decrease of $2.6 million in amortization of intangibles that related to developed technology and $0.5 million in amortization that related to capitalized internal-use software and platform development. Costs of freelancer services to deliver managed services decreased by $1.1 million, or 5%, due to a decline in the amount of freelancer services used by the client using our managed services offering. In general, the cost of freelancer services to deliver managed services is directly correlated to our managed services revenue.

Total gross margin improved from 62% in 2016 to 68% in 2017 primarily driven by the introduction of the payment processing and administration fee to clients in June 2016.

Research and Development

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Research and development

   $ 37,902      $ 45,604      $ 7,702        20%  

Percentage of total revenue

     23%        23%        

Research and development expense increased by $7.7 million, or 20%, in 2017 as compared to 2016 and was consistent as a percentage of total revenue at 23%. The increase was primarily due to an increase in personnel-related costs, driven by development of new products and features.

Sales and Marketing

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Sales and marketing

   $ 37,437      $ 53,044      $ 15,607        42%  

Percentage of total revenue

     23%        26%        

Sales and marketing expense increased by $15.6 million, or 42%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases of $8.5 million in personnel-related costs to build out our enterprise sales team, including sales commissions that we expense as incurred, and $6.2 million in marketing and advertising costs associated with online and local marketing programs to drive brand awareness and attract new users.

 

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General and Administrative

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

General and administrative

   $ 35,446      $ 37,334      $ 1,888        5%  

Percentage of total revenue

     22%        18%        

General and administrative expense increased $1.9 million, or 5%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. This increase was primarily due to increases of $2.8 million of personnel-related costs and $0.5 million in audit and accounting-related costs in preparation to become a public company, partially offset by a $1.1 million legal settlement resulting from a trademark dispute accrued in 2016.

Provision for Transaction Losses

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Provision for transaction losses

   $ 5,550      $ 4,250      $ (1,300)        (23)%  

Percentage of total revenue

     3%        2%        

Provision for transaction losses decreased $1.3 million, or 23%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. This decrease was primarily due to improvements in managing transaction losses and chargebacks for fraud on our platform and bad debt expense associated with our trade and client receivables as we improved on collections from enterprise clients.

Interest Expense and Other (Income) Expense, Net

 

     Year Ended December 31,                
     2016      2017      $ Change      % Change  
     (dollars in thousands)  

Interest expense

   $ 858      $ 960      $ 102        12%  

Other (income) expense, net

     908        62        (846)        (93)%  

Interest expense increased $0.1 million, or 12%, in 2017 as compared to 2016. This increase was due to a higher amount of outstanding borrowings in 2017 as compared to 2016, offset by a lower interest rate.

Other (income) expense, net decreased $0.8 million, or 93%, in 2017 compared to 2016. This decrease was primarily due to a decrease of $0.5 million in net losses from foreign currency transactions and a decrease of $0.3 million in prepayment fees paid to a lender.

Liquidity and Capital Resources

We have financed our operations and capital expenditures primarily through sales of convertible preferred stock, bank borrowings, and utilization of cash generated from operations in the period in which we generated cash flows from operations. As of December 31, 2017, we had $21.6 million in cash.

We believe our existing cash, cash flow from operations, and amounts available for borrowing under the Loan Agreement will be sufficient to meet our working capital requirements for at least the next 12 months. To the extent existing cash, cash from operations, and amounts available for borrowing under the Loan Agreement are insufficient to fund future activities, we may need to raise additional funds. In the future, we may attempt to raise additional capital through the sale of equity securities or through equity-linked or debt financing arrangements. If we raise additional funds by issuing equity or equity-linked securities, the ownership of our existing stockholders will be diluted. If we raise additional financing by the incurrence of additional indebtedness, we may be subject to increased fixed payment obligations and could also be subject to additional restrictive covenants, such as limitations on our ability to incur additional debt, and other operating restrictions

 

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that could adversely impact our ability to conduct our business. Any future indebtedness we incur may result in terms that could be unfavorable to equity investors. There can be no assurances that we will be able to raise additional capital. The inability to raise capital would adversely affect our ability to achieve our business objectives.

Escrow Funding Requirements

We offer escrow services to users of our platform. As such, we are licensed as an internet escrow agent and are therefore required to hold our users’ escrowed cash and in-transit cash in trust as an asset and record a corresponding liability of escrow funds on behalf of freelancers and clients on our balance sheet. Escrow regulations require us to fund the trust with our parent company’s operating cash if there is ever a shortage due to the timing of cash receipts from clients for completed hourly billings. Freelancers submit their billings for hourly contracts to their clients on a weekly basis every Sunday and the aggregate amount of such billings is added to escrow funds payable to freelancers on the same day. As of Sunday each week, we have not yet collected funds for hourly billings from clients as these funds are in transit. Therefore, every Sunday we fund any shortage of cash in trust with our own operating cash and collect this cash shortage from clients within the next several days. As a result, we expect our total cash and cash flows from operating activities to be impacted when a quarter ends on a Sunday, as occurred on December 31, 2017 and will occur on September 30, 2018, March 31, 2019, and June 30, 2019. As of December 31, 2017, funds held in escrow, including funds in transit, were $87.2 million and we used $13.4 million of our cash on December 31, 2017 to temporarily fund that one week of hourly billings.

Term and Revolving Loans

Loan Agreement. In September 2017, we entered into the Loan Agreement, which was amended in November 2017. The aggregate amount of the facility is up to $49.0 million, consisting of a term loan of $15.0 million, or the first term loan, a term loan of $9.0 million, or the second term loan, and a revolving line of credit of up to $25.0 million based on eligible accounts receivable. Contemporaneously, we used the proceeds of the term loan to pay off our outstanding borrowings under a prior loan and security agreement in the then- principal amount of $14.0 million. The first term loan, second term loan, and revolving line of credit mature in March 2022, September 2022, and March 2020, respectively. The first term loan bears interest at the prime rate plus a spread of 0.25% per annum and has a repayment term of 18 months of interest-only payments ending in March 2019 followed by 36 equal monthly installments of principal plus interest. The second term loan bears interest at the prime rate plus a spread of 5.25% per annum and has a repayment term of 11 months of interest-only payments ending in October 2018, followed by 47 equal monthly installments of principal plus interest. If we achieve trailing six-month EBITDA of $1.0 million for the period ending September 30, 2018, the interest-only repayment period will be extended to March 2019, followed by 42 equal monthly installments of principal plus interest. The revolving line of credit bears interest at the prime rate with accrued interest due monthly. In November 2017, we borrowed $19.0 million under the Loan Agreement, which we used to repurchase shares of our capital stock from a then-existing stockholder. As of December 31, 2017, we had $24.0 million outstanding pursuant to the term loans and $10.0 million outstanding pursuant to the revolving line of credit under the Loan Agreement.

Our obligations under the Loan Agreement are secured by substantially all of our assets excluding our intellectual property (but including proceeds therefrom) and the funds and assets held by Upwork Escrow. The Loan Agreement contains affirmative covenants, including financial covenants that, among other things, require us to maintain an adjusted quick ratio of not less than 1.3 and achieve certain EBITDA targets. The Loan Agreement also contains certain non-financial covenants. We were in compliance with the covenants under the Loan Agreement as of December 31, 2017.

 

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Cash Flows

The following table summarizes our cash flows for the periods presented:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
         2016              2017      
     (in thousands)  

Net cash provided by (used in) operating activities

   $ 3,148      $ (4,001 )(1) 

Net cash used in investing activities

     (475      (2,111

Net cash provided by financing activities

     5,232        381  
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

Net increase (decrease) in cash

   $ 7,905      $ (5,731
  

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(1)    We used $13.4 million on December 31, 2017 to temporarily fund the trust account associated with our escrow services. See the section titled “—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Escrow Funding Requirements.”

Operating Activities

Our largest source of operating cash is revenue generated from our platform. Our primary uses of cash from operating activities are for personnel-related expenditures and third-party hosting costs. In addition, because we are licensed as an internet escrow agent, our total cash and cash provided by (used in) operating activities may be impacted by the timing of the end of our fiscal quarter as discussed in the section titled “—Liquidity and Capital Resources—Escrow Funding Requirements.”

Net cash used in operating activities during 2017 was $4.0 million, which resulted from a net loss of $4.1 million and net cash outflows of $15.4 million from changes in operating assets and liabilities, offset by non-cash charges of $6.8 million for stock-based compensation, $4.3 million for provision for transaction losses, and $4.2 million for depreciation and amortization. The net cash outflows from changes in operating assets and liabilities were primarily the result of increases of $8.9 million in trade and client receivables and $0.5 million in prepaid expenses and other assets and a decrease of $6.1 million in accrued expenses and other liabilities. The increase in trade and client receivables was primarily because the last calendar day of 2017 (i.e., December 31, 2017) fell on a Sunday, requiring us to fund the shortage of cash in the trust until we collect this from clients over the next few days, and an increase in our accounts receivables for our Upwork Enterprise clients, who pay us on net terms. Due to the growth in revenue and the number of transactions on our platform, coupled with fluctuations of the timing of cash receipts from clients, our trade and client receivables may fluctuate in the future. The decrease in accrued expenses and other liabilities was primarily due to fluctuations in timing of cash payments.

Net cash provided by operating activities during 2016 was $3.1 million, which resulted from non-cash charges of $8.5 million for depreciation and amortization, $7.3 million for stock-based compensation, and $5.6 million for provision for transaction losses, partially offset by a net loss of $16.2 million and net cash outflows of $2.1 million from changes in operating assets and liabilities. The net cash outflows from changes in operating assets and liabilities were primarily the result of increases of $8.3 million in trade and client receivables and $0.5 million in prepaid expenses and other assets and a decrease of $0.6 million in accounts payable, partially offset by increases of $7.1 million in accrued expenses and other liabilities and $0.2 million in deferred revenue. The increase in trade and client receivables and deferred revenue was primarily due to growth in revenue and the number of transactions on our platform as well as the timing of cash receipts from clients. The decrease in accounts payable and the increase in accrued expenses and other liabilities was primarily due to the timing of cash payments and increased activities to support overall business growth.

Investing Activities

Net cash used in investing activities during 2017 was $2.1 million, which resulted from purchases of property equipment of $1.8 million and capitalized internal-use software and platform development costs of $0.5 million, partially offset by a decrease of $0.2 million in restricted cash related to cash collateral for letters of credit issued in conjunction with operating leases and foreign currency forward contracts.

 

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Net cash used in investing activities during 2016 was $0.5 million, which resulted from purchases of property equipment of $0.9 million, partially offset by a decrease of $0.4 million in restricted cash related to the refund of a security deposit for new office space.

Financing Activities

Net cash provided by financing activities during 2017 was $0.4 million primarily due to proceeds from the exercise of stock options, proceeds from borrowings of $33.8 million, net of borrowing costs, under the Loan Agreement and $2.8 million from the exercise of stock options and a convertible preferred stock warrant, offset by the repayment of $17.0 million in borrowings under a prior loan and security agreement, and a repurchase by us of convertible preferred stock for $19.2 million.

Net cash provided by financing activities during 2016 was $5.2 million primarily due to net proceeds from borrowings of $17.0 million under a prior loan and security agreement, partially offset by the repayment of $12.0 million in borrowings under an earlier loan and security agreement.

Obligations and Other Commitments

Our principal commitments consist of obligations under our non-cancelable operating leases for office space and the Loan Agreement. The following table summarizes our contractual obligations as of December 31, 2017:

 

     Payments due by period  
     Total      Less than
1 Year
     1 - 3 Years      3 - 5 Years      More Than
5 Years
 
     (in thousands)  

Leases(1)

   $ 6,320      $ 3,892      $ 2,428      $      $  

Debt principal

     34,000        10,383        13,346        10,271         
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

Total contractual obligations

   $ 40,320      $ 14,275      $ 15,774      $ 10,271      $  
  

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

    

 

 

 

 

(1)   Represents minimum operating lease payments under operating leases for office facilities, excluding potential lease renewals, net of tenant improvement allowances.

In the ordinary course of business, we enter into contracts and agreements that contain a variety of representations and warranties and provide for indemnification. In addition, we have entered into indemnification agreements with our directors and executive officers and certain employees that require us, among other things, to indemnify them against certain liabilities that may arise by reason of their status or service as our directors, executive officers, or employees. The terms of such obligations may vary. To date, we have not paid any material claims or been required to defend any actions related to our indemnification obligations.

As of December 31, 2017, we had accrued liabilities related to uncertain non-income tax positions based on management’s best estimate of its liability, which are reflected on our consolidated balance sheet. We could be subject to examination in various jurisdictions related to income and non-income tax matters. The resolution of these types of matters, giving recognition to the recorded reserve, could have an adverse impact on our business.

Off-Balance Sheet Arrangements

As of December 31, 2017, we did not have any relationships with other entities or financial partnerships such as entities often referred to as structured finance or special purpose entities that have been established for the purpose of facilitating off-balance sheet arrangements or other contractually narrow or limited purposes.

Quantitative and Qualitative Disclosures about Market Risk

We have operations both within the United States and internationally, and we are exposed to market risks in the ordinary course of our business. These risks primarily include interest rate and foreign currency exchange rates.

 

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Interest Rate Risk

The primary objective of our investment activities is to preserve principal while maximizing income without significantly increasing risk. We do not make investments for trading or speculative purposes. Because our cash has a relatively short maturity, our portfolio’s fair value is relatively insensitive to interest rate changes. Borrowings under our Loan Agreement have variable interest rates. We had $34.0 million of principal outstanding under our Loan Agreement as of December 31, 2017. We do not believe that a hypothetical increase or decrease in interest rates of 100 basis points would have a material impact on our operating results or financial condition.

Foreign Currency Risk

Our operating results and cash flows are subject to fluctuations due to changes in foreign currency exchange rates. In addition to the U.S. dollar, we offer clients the option to settle the invoices denominated in the U.S. dollar in Euro, the British Pound, the Australian dollar, or the Canadian dollar. When clients make payments in one of these currencies, we are exposed to foreign currency risk during the period between when payment is made and when the payment amounts settle. To mitigate this risk, we have entered into forward contracts. As such, the impact of foreign currency exchange rate fluctuations to our operating results have been insignificant to date.

Critical Accounting Policies and Estimates

Our consolidated financial statements are prepared in accordance with U.S. GAAP. The preparation of the consolidated financial statements requires us to make estimates and assumptions that affect the reported amounts of assets, liabilities, revenue, expenses, and related disclosures. We evaluate our estimates and assumptions on an ongoing basis using historical experience and other factors and adjust those estimates and assumptions when facts and circumstances dictate. Actual results could materially differ from these estimates and assumptions.

We believe estimates and assumptions associated with the evaluation of revenue recognition criteria, including the determination of revenue reporting as gross versus net in our revenue arrangements, internal-use software and platform development costs, fair values of stock-based awards, and income taxes have the greatest potential impact on our consolidated financial statements. Therefore, we consider these to be our critical accounting policies and estimates.

Revenue Recognition

We primarily generate revenue from freelancers and clients from marketplace and managed services offerings.

We recognize revenue in accordance with ASC 605, Revenue Recognition, and related authoritative guidance. Under ASC 605, revenue is recognized when the following criteria are met: (i) persuasive evidence of an arrangement exists; (ii) fees are fixed or determinable; (iii) the collection of the fees is reasonably assured; and (iv) services have been rendered.

We report revenue in conformity with ASC 605-45, Revenue Recognition-Principal Agent Considerations. The determination of whether we are the principal or agent, and therefore whether to report revenue on a gross basis for the amount billed or on a net basis for the amount earned from each transaction, requires us to evaluate a number of indicators. We evaluate each separate unit of account for gross versus net as required.

We also report revenue in conformity with ASC 605-50, Customer Payments and Incentives. The determination of whether we should characterize consideration paid to customers as costs or a reduction to revenue requires us to evaluate whether the consideration paid has an identifiable separable benefit to us and is at fair value.

Marketplace

Our marketplace revenue is derived from both our Upwork Standard offering and our Upwork Enterprise and other premium offerings.

 

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Upwork Standard

We earn fees from freelancers under our Upwork Standard offering as follows:

Service Fees. We provide freelancers access to our platform to perform specified services agreed between freelancers and clients. Freelancers charge clients on an hourly or a milestone basis for services accessed through our platform, which we refer to as freelancer billings. We charge freelancers a service fee as a percentage of freelancer billings using a tiered service fee model based on cumulative lifetime billings by the freelancer to each client. For service fees charged to freelancers, we recognize revenue on a net basis, as an agent, for providing access to our platform as we take no responsibility for the freelancer services, and therefore we are not considered the primary obligor for the freelancer services. We recognize the service fee as services are rendered.

Withdrawal Fees. We generate revenue from withdrawal fees from freelancers when the freelancers withdraw funds from their cash balances held with us. We charge a flat withdrawal fee for each withdrawal transaction and recognize that fee as it is earned for each transaction.

Membership and Connects Fees. We generate revenue from membership and connects fees from freelancers that are charged these fees in order to access additional features on our platform. Membership fees are recognized over the period of the membership, which is generally monthly, and connects fees are recognized as services are rendered.

We earn fees from clients under our Upwork Standard offering as follows:

Client Payment Processing and Administration Fee. We generate revenue from clients for payment processing fees at the time the client is charged for the amounts due from the client. We charge a fee per transaction or a flat monthly payment processing fee. Per-transaction payment processing fees are recognized when the client is charged for the amount due and fees charged on a monthly basis are recognized over the month that payment processing services are provided. For client payment processing fees, we earn revenue on a gross basis as a principal and not net of the third-party payment processing costs incurred because we are considered the primary obligor for payment processing and administration services and have the latitude to set the price with clients separate and apart from the fees we pay our third-party payment processors.

Foreign Currency Exchange and Upwork Payroll Service Fees. We generate revenue from foreign currency exchange fees from clients by charging a fixed mark-up above quoted foreign currency exchange rates when we collect amounts denominated in foreign currency. We generate revenue from Upwork Payroll service fees from clients paying for freelancer services when freelancers are classified as employees and are employed by third-party staffing providers.

Upwork Enterprise and Other Premium Offerings

We earn fees from freelancers under Upwork Enterprise and other premium offerings as follows:

Service Fees. We provide freelancers access to our platform to perform freelancer services for clients. We charge freelancers a service fee as a percentage of the total freelancer billings. We earn service fees based on a fixed percentage fee. For service fees charged to freelancers, we recognize revenue on a net basis, as an agent, for providing access to our platform as we take no responsibility for the freelancer services, and therefore we are not considered the primary obligor for the freelancer services. We recognize the service fee as services are rendered.

We earn fees from clients under Upwork Enterprise and other premium offerings as follows:

Client Service Fees. We offer clients access to our platform to source freelancers in exchange for a client service fee calculated as a percentage of the freelancer billings. We recognize the client service fees as services are rendered by the freelancers.

Enterprise Compliance Service Fees. We generate revenue from enterprise compliance service fees from clients under a compliance agreement with us to determine whether a freelancer should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor based on the scope of freelancer services agreed between the client and freelancer and other factors. We charge enterprise compliance service fees as a percentage of freelancer billings. We recognize revenue as services are rendered.

 

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Subscription Fees. We generate revenue from monthly or annual subscription fees for subscription services that include additional service features, premium access to top talent, professional services, custom reporting, and invoicing. The revenue attribution is consistent with membership fees for our Upwork Standard offering.

Revenue Sharing Arrangements. For our Upwork Standard, Upwork Enterprise, and other premium offerings, we generate a revenue share as a percentage of the fees charged by certain financial institutions to the freelancers. We recognize revenue from these arrangements as they are earned, which is generally monthly based on the contractual terms.

Managed Services

Under a managed services arrangement, we are responsible for providing services and engaging freelancers directly or as employees of third-party staffing providers to perform the services on our behalf. We recognize revenue on a gross basis for amounts charged to the client based on our determination that we are deemed to be the primary obligor as we take responsibility and risk for these services completed for the client. We determine pricing for these services and then identify and engage these freelancers or third-party staffing providers to fulfill the service obligation to the client. Revenue for these services is recognized as these services are rendered.

See Note 2 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements for a further description of our revenue recognition policies.

Multiple-Element Arrangements

Some of our offerings consist of multiple elements, which can include a mix of service fees along with other services, including subscription services, Upwork Payroll services, compliance services, and payment processing services. Where neither vendor-specific objective evidence nor third-party evidence of selling price exists, we are required to use our best estimate of selling price to allocate arrangement consideration on a relative basis to each element. At the inception of arrangements, which do not include subscription services, as there is no fixed consideration to be allocated, a relative fair value allocation is not required. In the instance the multiple element arrangement includes subscription services, the only fixed consideration relates to the subscription services, which is a separate unit of accounting, and the fixed consideration is allocated only to the subscription services at inception as all other fees in the arrangement are contingent on certain activities being performed.

Internal-Use Software and Platform Development Costs

We capitalize certain internal-use software and platform development costs associated with creating and enhancing internal-use software related to our software platform and technology infrastructure. These costs include personnel and related employee benefits expenses for employees who are directly associated with and who devote time to software projects, and external direct costs of materials and services consumed in developing or obtaining the software. Software development costs that do not meet the criteria for capitalization are expensed as incurred and recorded in research and development expenses in our consolidated statements of operations.

Software development activities generally consist of three stages: (i) the planning stage; (ii) the application and infrastructure development stage; and (iii) the post-implementation stage. Costs incurred in the planning and post-implementation stages of software development, including costs associated with the post configuration training and repairs and maintenance of the developed technologies, are expensed as incurred. We capitalize costs associated with software developed for internal use when both the preliminary project stage is completed and management has authorized further funding for the completion of the project. Costs incurred in the application and infrastructure development stages, including significant enhancements and upgrades, are capitalized. Capitalization ends once a project is substantially complete and the software and technologies are ready for their intended purpose. Internal-use software and platform development costs are amortized using a straight-line method over the estimated useful life of two years, commencing when the software is ready for its intended use. Amortization expenses of the capitalized internal-use software and platform development costs are included in cost of revenue.

 

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Stock-Based Compensation

We account for stock-based compensation expense under the fair value recognition and measurement provision in accordance with the applicable standards, which require all stock-based awards granted to employees to be measured based on the grant date fair value and amortized over the respective period during which the employee is required to provide service in order for the award to vest. We calculate the fair value of stock options on the date of grant using the Black-Scholes option-pricing model for stock options, which is impacted by the fair value of our common stock, as well as changes in assumptions regarding a number of highly complex and subjective variables. These variables include, but are not limited to, the expected common stock price volatility over the term of the option awards, the expected term of the awards, risk-free interest rates and the expected dividend yield.

We recognize stock-based compensation for stock-based awards on a straight-line basis over the period during which a service provider is required to provide services in exchange for the award (generally the vesting period). Stock-based compensation expense was recognized only for those awards expected to vest. The estimation of stock-based awards that will ultimately vest requires judgment, and to the extent actual results or updated estimates differ from original estimates. We considered many factors when estimating expected forfeitures, including types of awards, employee level, and historical experience.

The estimated grant-date fair value of our equity-based awards issued to service providers was calculated using the Black-Scholes option-pricing model, based on the following assumptions:

 

     Year Ended December 31,  
     2016      2017  

Dividend yield

             

Expected term (in years)

     6.08        5.3 - 6.3  

Risk-free interest rate

     1.2% - 2.1%        1.9% - 2.2%  

Expected volatility

     42% - 45%        39% - 43%  

Dividend Yield. The expected dividend is zero as we have never declared dividends and have no current plans to do so in the foreseeable future.

Expected Term. The expected term represents the period that our stock-based awards are expected to be outstanding. We estimate expected term using historical data on employee exercises and post-vesting employment termination behavior taking into account the contractual life of the award.

Risk-Free Interest Rate. The risk-free interest rate is based on the U.S. Treasury yield curve in effect at the time of grant for zero-coupon U.S. Treasury notes with maturities approximately equal to the stock option’s expected term.

Expected Volatility. Since we do not have a trading history of our common stock, the expected volatility was derived from the average historical stock volatilities of several unrelated public companies within our industry that we consider to be comparable to our business over a period equivalent to the expected term of the stock option grants. We intend to continue to consistently apply this process using the same or similar companies to estimate the expected volatility until sufficient historical information regarding the volatility of the share price of our common stock becomes available.

We also grant stock-based awards to non-employees. We believe that for stock options issued to non-employees, the fair value of the stock option is more reliably measurable than the fair value of the services rendered. Therefore, we estimate the fair value of non-employee stock options using a Black-Scholes valuation model with appropriate assumptions. The estimated fair value of non-employee stock options is re-measured over the vesting period, and the expense is recognized on a straight-line basis over the period during which the award vests.

Common Stock Valuations

In the absence of a public trading market, the fair value of our common stock was determined by our board of directors, with input from management, taking into account our most recent valuations from an independent

 

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third-party valuation specialist. Our board of directors intended all stock options granted to have an exercise price per share not less than the per share fair value of our common stock on the date of grant. The valuations of our common stock were determined in accordance with the guidelines outlined in the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants Practice Aid, Valuation of Privately-Held-Company Equity Securities Issued as Compensation. The assumptions we use in the valuation models were based on future expectations combined with management judgment, and considered numerous objective and subjective factors to determine the fair value of our common stock as of the date of each option grant, including the following factors:

 

    contemporaneous valuations performed at periodic intervals by unrelated third-party specialists;

 

    the liquidation preferences, rights, preferences, and privileges of our convertible preferred stock relative to the common stock;

 

    our actual operating and financial performance;

 

    current business conditions and projections;

 

    our stage of development;

 

    the likelihood and timing of achieving a liquidity event for the shares of common stock underlying the stock options, such as an initial public offering or sale of our company, given prevailing market conditions;

 

    any adjustment necessary to recognize a lack of marketability of the common stock underlying the granted options;

 

    the market performance of comparable publicly-traded companies; and

 

    the U.S. and global capital market conditions.

In valuing our common stock at various dates in 2016 and 2017, our board of directors determined the equity value of our business using various valuation methods including combinations of income and market approaches with input from management. The income approach estimates value based on the expectation of future cash flows that a company will generate. These future cash flows are discounted to their present values using a discount rate derived from an analysis of the cost of capital of comparable publicly traded companies in our industry or similar lines of business as of each valuation date and is adjusted to reflect the risks inherent in our cash flows.

The market approach estimates value considering an analysis of guideline public companies. The guideline public companies method estimates value by applying a representative revenue multiple from a peer group of companies in similar lines of business to our forecasted revenue. To determine our peer group of companies, we considered public marketplace companies, software, and recruitment service companies and selected those that represent similar, but alternative investment opportunities. From time to time, we updated the set of comparable companies as new or more relevant information became available. This approach involves the identification of relevant transactions, and determining relevant multiplies to apply to our revenue.

The equity values implied by the income and market approaches reasonably approximated each other as of each valuation date.

Once we determined an equity value, we used a combination of approaches to allocate the equity value to each class of our stock. We used the option pricing method, or OPM. The OPM allocates values to each equity class by creating a series of call options on our equity value, with exercise prices based on the liquidation preferences, participation rights, and exercise prices of the equity instruments.

In addition, we also considered an appropriate discount adjustment to recognize the lack of marketability and liquidity due to the fact that stockholders of private companies do not have access to trading markets similar to those enjoyed by stockholders of public companies. The discount for marketability was determined using a protective put option model, in which a put option is used as a proxy for measuring discounts for lack of marketability of securities.

 

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Application of these approaches involves the use of estimates, judgment, and assumptions that are highly complex and subjective, such as those regarding our expected future revenue, expenses, and future cash flows, discount rates, market multiples, the selection of comparable companies, and the probability of possible future events. Changes in any or all of these estimates and assumptions or the relationships between those assumptions impact our valuations as of each valuation date and may have a material impact on the valuation of our common stock.

For valuations after the completion of this offering, our board of directors will determine the fair value of each share of underlying common stock based on the closing price of our common stock as reported on the date of grant. Future expense amounts for any particular period could be affected by changes in our assumptions or market conditions.

Based upon the assumed initial public offering price of $         per share, the midpoint of the price range set forth on the cover page of this prospectus, the aggregate intrinsic value of stock options outstanding as of December 31, 2017 was $         million, of which $         million related to vested stock options and $         million related to unvested stock options.

Income Taxes

We utilize the asset and liability method under which deferred tax assets and liabilities arise from the temporary differences between the tax basis of an asset or liability and its reported amount in the consolidated financial statements, as well as from net operating loss and tax credit carryforwards. Deferred tax amounts are determined by using the tax rates expected to be in effect when the taxes will actually be paid or refunds received, as provided for under currently enacted tax law. A valuation allowance is established when necessary to reduce deferred tax assets to the amount expected to be realized.

We regularly review our tax positions and benefits to be realized. We recognize tax liabilities based upon our estimate of whether, and the extent to which, additional taxes will be due when such estimates are more likely than not to be sustained. An uncertain income tax position will be recognized only if it is more likely than not to be sustained. We recognize interest and penalties related to income tax matters as income tax expense.

Recent Accounting Pronouncements

See Note 2 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements included elsewhere in this prospectus for recently issued accounting pronouncements not yet adopted as of the date of this prospectus.

 

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BUSINESS

Our Mission

Our mission is to create economic opportunities so people can have better lives.

Overview

We are changing the way work gets done by connecting businesses with great talent to work without limits.

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV. Freelancers are an increasingly sought-after, critical, and expanding segment of the global workforce. In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients in over 180 countries.

Our platform reduces inefficiencies associated with searching for, contracting and collaborating with, and paying highly-skilled freelancers for short-term and longer-term projects. As early innovators in this space, we have built an expansive and unique repository of data on our platform, which, when combined with our machine learning capabilities, enables us to better connect clients with the best freelancers for their projects. As a result, clients are able to obtain specialized talent in less time and at a lower cost compared to traditional channels.

Knowledge is a key driver of today’s global economy. As the pace of change accelerates and companies conceive and execute their digital transformation strategies, businesses increasingly need access to specialized, knowledge-based talent to compete. In addition, knowledge workers are now seeking more flexible work options, independence, and easier access to work opportunities. However, the traditional means by which businesses seek and hire talent have not kept pace with these changes. These factors ultimately have contributed to less efficient local economies as businesses struggle to find the right talent to meet their needs.

We believe these inefficiencies in the labor market have created a significant opportunity for online global marketplaces for freelance work and that businesses globally will continue to adopt freelance work. We estimate that the total global GSV opportunity for our platform was approximately $560 billion in 2017. McKinsey Global Institute estimates that, by 2025, online talent platforms could add $2.7 trillion annually, or 2%, to global GDP.

We serve as a powerful marketing channel for freelancers to find rewarding, engaging, and flexible work. Freelancers using our platform benefit from access to quality clients and secure and timely payments while enjoying the freedom to run their own businesses, create their own schedules, and work from their preferred locations. Moreover, freelancers have real-time visibility into opportunities that are in high demand, so that they can invest their time and focus on developing sought-after skills.

Our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories, such as content marketing, customer service, data science and analytics, graphic design, mobile development, sales, and web development. We offer a direct-to-talent approach, reducing reliance on intermediaries such as staffing firms, recruiters, and traditional agencies, while providing features that help instill trust in remote work. Our platform also enables clients to streamline workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and contracting. In addition, our platform provides access to essential functionality for remote engagements with freelancers, including communication and collaboration, time tracking, invoicing, and payment.

We believe that a key driver of our growth is our track record of creating trust and enabling freelancers and clients to successfully connect at scale on our platform. As the largest online global marketplace for highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV, we benefit from network effects that drive growth in both the number of clients posting jobs and the number of highly-skilled freelancers seeking work.

We have rapidly grown our business. GSV on our platform was $1.15 billion and $1.37 billion in 2016 and 2017, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 20%. In 2016 and 2017, our total revenue was $164.4 million and $202.6 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate of 23%. In 2016 and 2017, our marketplace revenue was $138.5 million and $178.0 million, respectively, representing an annual growth rate

 

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of 29%. We have made significant investments to grow our business, including in sales and marketing, research and development, operations, and personnel. As a result, we generated net losses of $16.2 million and $4.1 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. Our adjusted EBITDA was $1.3 million and $7.9 million in 2016 and 2017, respectively. See the section titled “Selected Consolidated Financial and Other Data—Non-GAAP Financial Measures” for information regarding our use of adjusted EBITDA and a reconciliation of net loss to adjusted EBITDA.

Industry Background

Every day, millions of businesses search for the talent they need to compete in an increasingly global and digital economy. Global competitive pressures are pushing companies to be more innovative and flexible in filling the skills gap and scaling their workforces rapidly. Increasing connectivity, rising educational levels domestically and around the world, and shifting career trajectory expectations are bringing diverse talent to the market. However, to access these skills, companies need to shift the way they search for, and engage with, talent.

We believe that the following trends will increasingly change the way businesses and talent think about hiring, seeking work, how and where work gets done, and even what it means to work:

Labor is Undergoing a Revolution

The online freelance economy represents a shift in how labor markets operate. We believe we are still in the early stages of the online freelance economy, with a multi-industry and multi-decade global shift affecting how businesses find talent and how people want to work.

In today’s economy, knowledge is a key driver of productivity. The first and second industrial revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries created the industrial economy and moved workers from farms to factories. The third industrial revolution of the 20th century created the knowledge economy and moved workers from factories to office buildings.

The World Economic Forum believes that the global economy is now undergoing the fourth industrial revolution, fueled by rapid technological advances. One of the defining features of the fourth industrial revolution is the transformation of how and where work gets done, as work is increasingly no longer constrained by location. In the fourth industrial revolution, instead of the worker moving to the workplace, we are seeing that work is moving to the worker—collaboration is less constrained than ever before by physical proximity and geographic borders, particularly for highly-skilled professionals.

Jobs are Overly Concentrated in Large Cities

Data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that the top six U.S. metropolitan areas alone were responsible for 26% of total U.S. GDP in 2016. This has led to imbalances in labor markets, with jobs becoming increasingly concentrated in those cities. Despite this concentration of jobs in metropolitan areas, workers not only have become increasingly reluctant to move into large cities, but are also leaving large cities at higher rates due to continued rising costs of living and lengthy commutes.

The Labor Market Remains Inefficient

Labor markets remain fragmented and local, and the increasing specialization of work has further reduced availability of talent in local labor markets. As a result, hiring processes can last several months, which is costly to businesses, workers, and the economy. In the United States alone, employers made an average of approximately 178,800 hires per day in 2017, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Despite this volume of hiring, as of January 2018, the average time taken to fill a job vacancy in the United States was over 28 working days, according to DHI Group. Increasing restrictions on immigration and insufficient availability of visas for skilled workers are expected to make it even harder to find specialized skills.

Businesses Face a Skills Gap

In addition to the increasing specialization of work, several other factors are exacerbating skills shortages. According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, labor mobility has been trending

 

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downwards since the 1980s. Due to the costs of relocation, labor immobility can often result in a local skills gap or persistent regional supply-demand imbalances within skill categories. In 2018, the number of visas sought by U.S. employers for skilled workers was over twice as high as the number available, and additional restrictions on immigration may increase skills shortages. Moreover, population aging is occurring throughout the world, with many countries facing growing labor force shortages due to demographic changes. Illustrating these difficulties, according to a survey conducted by the NFIB Research Center, 88% of small businesses surveyed that were hiring, or trying to hire, reported few or no qualified applicants for the positions they were trying to fill as of April 2018.

Businesses and Workers Desire Flexible Work

In January 2018, 59% of hiring managers indicated they were leveraging flexible talent, which includes temporary, freelance, and agency workers, up 24% from January 2017, according to the 2018 Future Workforce Report, a study we commissioned from the independent research firm Inavero. According to the same report, hiring managers anticipated work performed by flexible talent will increase by 168% in the next 10 years.

Simultaneously, knowledge workers are increasingly demanding flexible and independent work arrangements. According to economists Lawrence Katz of Harvard University and Alan Krueger of Princeton University, 94% of net job growth in the past decade was in the alternative work category, which they define as temporary help agency workers, on-call workers, contract company workers, and independent contractors or freelancers and over 60% was due to the rise of independent contractors, freelancers, and contract company workers. The freelance workforce is one of the fastest-growing segments of the U.S. labor market. From millennials to retiring baby boomers, the number of people choosing to freelance is growing. Freelancing in America: 2017, a report we co-commissioned that was conducted by the independent research firm Edelman Intelligence, concluded that by 2027, the majority of the U.S. workforce will participate in freelancing.

Technology is Enabling Remote Work

Rapid technological advancement and innovation in connectivity, communication, and collaboration solutions continue to enhance remote work capabilities and increases trust. Additionally, the global workforce is now able to access technologies and tools such as email, enterprise resource planning, and customer relationship management from anywhere with a laptop or mobile phone. With continued innovation in remote work capabilities, businesses are increasingly able to effectively connect and work with non-local talent, and the benefits of geographic proximity are diminishing. Illustrating the increasing amount of remote work, the number of telecommuting workers grew 115% in a decade, from approximately 1.8 million in 2005 to approximately 3.9 million in 2015, according to the 2017 State of Telecommuting in the U.S. Employee Workforce report.

In the Accenture Technology Vision 2017 report, Accenture forecasts that in the next five years, on-demand work platforms will emerge as a primary driver of economic growth in developed and emerging economies worldwide. We believe that prevailing conventional methods for sourcing talent, finding and completing work, hiring, and making and receiving payments will be increasingly inadequate.

Our Market Opportunity

We believe that inefficiencies in the labor market have created a significant opportunity for online global marketplaces for freelance work and that businesses globally will continue to adopt freelance work. We estimate that the total global GSV opportunity for our platform was approximately $560 billion in 2017.

We calculate the total global GSV opportunity for our platform by multiplying the number of global workers that could adopt our platform by the average GSV generated per freelancer on our platform in 2017. According to a McKinsey Global Institute report, an estimated 11% of the 1.46 billion service jobs worldwide, or 161 million jobs, could be performed remotely. Multiplying this figure by the average GSV generated per freelancer on our platform of approximately $3,500 in 2017 represents our estimated total global GSV opportunity.

Given the nascent nature of the online freelance economy, we believe many freelancers are leveraging our platform on an experimental basis for only a portion of their business. As of 2016, only 15% of independent

 

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earners had used a digital platform to find work, according to a survey conducted by McKinsey Global Institute. We believe that project-based work will continue to migrate online. From July 1, 2016 to June 30, 2017, temporary and project-based work done online grew approximately 26% according to the Oxford Internet Institute’s Online Labour Index. We expect our market opportunity and economic impact to expand with the further growth of the knowledge economy and the increasing demand for our online talent marketplace.

Our Marketplace

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers as measured by GSV. The freelancers on our platform include independent professionals and agencies of varying sizes. The clients on our platform range in size from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies.

We have built a proprietary platform that reduces the friction associated with searching for, contracting and collaborating with, and paying highly-skilled freelancers for short-term and longer-term projects. As early innovators in this space, we have built an expansive and unique repository of data on our platform, which, when combined with our machine learning capabilities, enables us to better connect clients with available talent for their projects. For example, we use machine learning to predict the availability, interest, and skill relevance of specific freelancers for specific projects.

Clients using our marketplace can find the right freelancers in less time and at a lower cost compared to traditional channels. In 2017, we maintained high NPS of over 60 on average from both freelancers and clients.4

Scale and Liquidity

In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients, including 28% of the Fortune 500 companies as of December 31, 2017. The size and scale of our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent.

Global Reach

We help freelancers in over 180 countries connect with clients and enable freelancers to withdraw payments for their work in numerous currencies. Supported by strong network effects on our marketplace, we have been able to scale our business and our global community of users without the need for local physical presence and density.

Multi-Category

Our platform provides clients with access to highly-skilled freelancers with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories. In 2017, approximately 40% of clients engaged freelancers across multiple categories on our platform. Our platform had more than 20 categories that each generated over $20 million of GSV in 2017, such as:

 

Accounting    Personal and Virtual Assistance
Business Support    Sales
Content Marketing    Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
Copy Editing    Software Development
Customer Service    Translation
Data Science and Analytics    Video and Film
eCommerce Development    Visual Arts
Graphic Design    Web Development
IT Services    Web and Mobile Design
Mobile Development    Web Research

 

4    NPS is a measure of client and freelancer satisfaction on a scale ranging from negative 100 to 100 based on the standard question: “On a scale of 0 to 10, with 10 being extremely likely, how likely are you to recommend Upwork to a friend or colleague?” NPS is based on users that respond to the survey question after completing a project and users who respond to the survey question once every 60 days. NPS is calculated by using the standard methodology of subtracting the percentage of users that respond that they are not likely to recommend us from the percentage of users that respond that they are extremely likely to recommend us.

 

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Unique Data Assets

Our proprietary database maintains detailed and dynamic information, including skills, feedback, and success indicators of freelancers and clients transacting on our platform. Moreover, our machine learning algorithms leverage our closed-loop transaction data on millions of completed projects. The large volume of transactions on our marketplace allows us to continually improve the effectiveness of our search algorithms and product features, providing a compelling and differentiated value proposition for both new and existing freelancers and clients.

Benefits for Highly-Skilled Freelancers

Access to Quality Clients and Work

Our marketplace provides freelancers access to quality clients and rewarding projects. Our platform features both quick, discrete projects and longer-term projects. By reducing non-billable time, including time spent searching for new clients and projects, invoicing, and collecting payments for completed projects, our platform enables freelancers to be more productive, increase their earnings, and find clients outside of their local geography.

Flexibility

Our platform enables freelancers to obtain the flexibility they seek to run their own businesses, choose their own clients, determine their own pricing, create their own schedules, and work from their preferred locations.

Secure and Timely Payments

Freelancers conveniently receive payments from their clients through our platform. Funds are securely held and transferred through our escrow service, enabling trust and timely payment.

Marketing and Reputation Building

We serve as a powerful marketing channel for freelancers to increase demand for their specialized skills. Using our marketplace, freelancers receiving positive client feedback typically benefit from increased demand for their services. We also enable freelancers to be visible in search results globally and to build a business reputation and brand through their skill profiles and project history on our platform.

Insights into High-Demand Skills

We give freelancers real-time visibility into which skills are highest in demand and associated rates paid for those services. With this insight, freelancers can actively invest their time and focus on developing sought-after skills to grow their businesses and increase their earnings.

Benefits for Clients

Access to High-Quality Freelancers

Every day, an average of approximately 10,000 independent professionals and agencies apply to join our platform. We leverage machine learning to automatically accept the registrations of high-quality, in-demand talent. As of February 2017, over 80% of freelancers using our platform held a college degree or advanced degree, with 34% holding a post-graduate degree, according to an internally-conducted survey. Based on information contained in comprehensive freelancer profiles, which include skill profiles and project history on our platform, we highlight the right freelancers to the right clients.

Speed to Hire

Clients often receive proposals within minutes of posting a job, and the median time to hire was 23 hours in 2017. Our marketplace streamlines the interviewing, screening, and contracting process through proprietary search algorithms incorporating freelancers’ availability, online status, and skill profiles.

 

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Cost Savings

Our platform offers a direct-to-talent approach, reducing the reliance on intermediaries such as staffing firms, recruiters, and traditional agencies. Clients using our platform only pay for the specific work they need. Based on client feedback, we believe that clients realize significant cost savings compared to hiring locally or using staffing firms or other intermediaries.

Streamlined Processes

Our end-to-end software platform streamlines workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and engagement. Our platform includes a proposal tracking system, collaboration and communication features, time tracking and invoicing, and two-way feedback and review systems to better manage the lifecycle of project engagements.

Trust and Verification

Our technology was built to help instill trust in remote service relationships. Our platform provides insight into freelancer billing, allowing clients to verify work activity reflected on their invoices, while our collaboration and communication features foster responsiveness and transparency between freelancers and clients. Funds are securely held and released through escrow, enabling mutual trust and timely payments. Our platform also provides tools to enable users to provide both public and private feedback once the work is completed.

Unique Access to Specialized Skills

Freelancers on our platform offer over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories. Within each category, there are multiple skills. For example, skills for the mobile development category include Objective C, Swift, and Android app development. Skills on our platform dynamically evolve with the labor market, which enables clients to find freelancers in current and emerging skill areas, such as augmented reality, robotics, and blockchain. By having access to freelancers with an extensive variety of skills, clients can meet their needs for highly-skilled talent on one platform.

Our Strengths

Largest Online Global Marketplace for Highly-Skilled Freelancers

We operate the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers, as measured by GSV. Today, our platform provides clients with access to highly-skilled freelancers with over 5,000 skills across over 70 categories. In 2017, our platform enabled $1.37 billion of GSV across 1.8 million projects between approximately 375,000 freelancers and 450,000 clients in over 180 countries. We had over 1,400 clients that spent over $100,000 on our platform in 2017, and no single client accounted for more than two percent of total client spend. We believe our size and scale demonstrate the effectiveness of our platform in connecting businesses with global talent.

Trusted Platform for Freelancers and Clients

We believe our ability to foster trust and credibility on our platform drives growth and differentiates us. We use a combination of the latest technology, data science, product features, and our skilled team to make our platform a trusted online marketplace to get work done. We build and use software to highlight relevant freelancers, facilitate security and identity verification for account ownership, and flag suspicious posts to maintain a trusted marketplace. We provide clients with tools to validate work performed by freelancers and to provide both public and private feedback once the work is completed. Our feedback system enables freelancers to build their business reputation by establishing long-term credibility with project review and client feedback. We provide escrow services so clients on our platform only pay for work that has been completed and freelancers are paid by their clients in full and on time.

Proprietary Data Drives Increasing Efficiencies

We have built an expansive and dynamic repository of data on our platform, which allows us to better enable clients to connect with the best talent for their projects. We use this data in our machine learning

 

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algorithms on our platform to provide a trusted, convenient, and effective user experience for both new and existing freelancers and clients. An example of how we use machine learning is to highlight the right freelancers to the right clients and the right projects to freelancers to optimize searching on our platform. For freelancers, our machine learning algorithms leverage historical data to predict whether they match the job skill requirements and are interested in and available to undertake a particular project. For clients, we use our historical job post data to infer what the job post means and highlight potential freelancers with relevant skills based on prior project and payment history. We can factor in historical preferences such as the expertise, location, and price charged by prior freelancers engaged by the client for similar projects. We believe that this capability is difficult to replicate because of the large amounts of data needed for machine learning algorithms to understand how users act and the outcomes of these projects. Further, our data enables us to be more effective at detecting and reducing fraud and other malicious activity on our platform both rapidly and at scale.

Robust Platform Functionality

Our platform includes a proposal tracking system, search engine and collaboration functionality, time tracking and invoicing systems, and payments services. The robust functionality of our platform enables freelancers to more easily run their businesses and clients to find and work with high-quality talent globally. As of December 31, 2017, we were actively working with more than 300 engineers, including both our employees and freelancers, to innovate and improve our platform.

Powerful Global Network Effects

We have invested in building a robust platform with features and functionalities that are necessary to connect freelancers and clients at scale. We believe our platform provides a strong value proposition for both sides of our marketplace and our scale creates powerful network effects that strengthen our competitive differentiation. Clients are attracted to our unique platform due to the availability of the more than 5,000 skills that freelancers offer in over 70 categories. In turn, as more clients use and post projects on our platform, we are able to attract more freelancers. As a result, we have been able to scale our business and our global community of users without the need for local physical presence and density.

Business Model with Strong Retention Metrics

The growth in our marketplace is driven by long-term and recurring use of our platform by freelancers and clients, which leads to increased revenue visibility for us. For example, for the quarterly period ended December 31, 2017, in addition to acquiring new clients, our client spend retention was 99%. Furthermore, the quality of our relationship with freelancers and clients that use our platform is reflected in our NPS, which exceeded 60 on average from both freelancers and clients throughout 2017. In addition, we believe the scale of our platform incentivizes freelancers to build their business reputations and continue to use our platform.

Proven Management Team

Our company was formed when two of the earliest innovators in the space, and the largest online talent marketplaces at the time, Elance and oDesk, combined in 2014. Our management team has a strong track record of scaling and running profitable businesses with a focus on online marketplaces, business-to-business services and software, and global payments technologies. Our President and Chief Executive Officer, Stephane Kasriel, is an active thought leader in talent engagement and the future of work, and, since 2016, has been the co-chair of the World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Education, Gender and Work.

Growth Strategies

We intend to continue actively pursuing opportunities to expand and solidify our market position, including the following:

Increase Spend from Existing Clients

We intend to expand our relationship with our existing clients and increase their spend on our platform by investing in building new products and premium features.

 

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Attract New Clients Through Marketing Efforts

We intend to expand our marketing efforts to increase awareness of our platform and the benefits of using flexible and remote talent and, as a result, attract new clients.

Remain a Preferred Platform for Freelancers

We will continue to invest in new products and features to help freelancers grow their businesses by finding more work and increasing their earnings.

Further Invest in Technology

We plan to continue to improve our user experience by enhancing our software capabilities, data science, security, and technology infrastructure.

Invest in Domestic Marketplace Capabilities Internationally

We plan to invest in building domestic-to-domestic marketplaces internationally by connecting local clients to local freelancers, similar to our U.S.-to-U.S. domestic offering, including customizing our platform to support additional languages and currencies. We believe that by tailoring our platform experience to the nuances of regional markets, we can further improve the experience of our users.

Broaden and Deepen Categories

We have successfully scaled over 20 different categories to over $20 million GSV in 2017. We intend to focus further on customizing experiences for categories through tailored features and functionalities, thus making it easier and more efficient for clients to connect with the right freelancers.

Focus on Premium Offerings

We plan to invest further in our direct sales team and expand our premium offerings. We believe there is a significant opportunity to expand existing client spend, add new enterprise clients, and cross-sell and upsell existing enterprise clients across various categories.

Our Products

We have marketplace offerings and a managed services offering. Our marketplace offerings include our Upwork Standard, Upwork Enterprise, Upwork Pro, and Upwork Payroll offerings.

Upwork Standard

Our Upwork Standard offering provides clients with access to freelance talent with verified work history on our platform and client feedback, the ability to instantly match with the right freelancers, and built-in collaboration features.

Upwork Enterprise

Our Upwork Enterprise offering, which is designed for larger clients, includes access to additional product features, premium access to top talent, professional services, custom reporting, and invoicing on a monthly basis.

Upwork Pro

Our Upwork Pro offering provides additional services to clients including job post and search assistance.

Upwork Payroll

Our Upwork Payroll service is offered to clients whose freelancers are classified as employees for engagements on our online marketplace. With Upwork Payroll, third-party staffing providers provide employment services on behalf of clients.

 

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Managed Services Offering

Through our managed services offering, we engage freelancers to complete projects, directly invoice the client, and assume responsibility for work performed by freelancers.

Our Platform

Our platform provides clients with fast, secure, and efficient access to high-quality talent with more than 5,000 skills across over 70 categories, such as content marketing, customer service, data science and analytics, graphic design, mobile development, sales, and web development. Freelancers on our platform benefit from access to high-quality clients, rewarding work, and secure and timely payments while enjoying the flexibility to run their own businesses, create their own schedules and work from their preferred locations. Our end-to-end software platform streamlines workflows, such as talent sourcing, outreach, and engagement for clients.

Our platform is accessible through our website and mobile applications for iOS and Android. We also provide a desktop application that runs on Windows, Mac, and Linux.

Freelancer Features and Functionalities

 

 

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Freelancers apply to join our platform and then market their professional skills, experience, and portfolio. As they complete projects for clients on our platform, they build their business reputation with feedback and project history data visible on their profiles.

We enable freelancers to grow their businesses by seamlessly offering:

Targeted Profiles

Freelancers create a profile that typically includes a description of their skills and experience, the type of services they offer, the hourly rate they charge, their current availability, and other pertinent details, such as third-party certifications, writing samples, or portfolios of their work. This profile is the way that freelancers market their businesses on our platform. Based on the profile, we use predictive analytics to only accept the registrations of in-demand freelancers most likely to find success on our platform.

 

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Example Freelancer Profile

 

 

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Validated Expertise

Freelancers have the opportunity to take over 300 skill tests to demonstrate their capabilities for their profiles. Additionally, they can link third-party certifications, work portfolios, or other samples of their work. Freelancers’ profiles also include data from their work history on our platform, including client feedback, number of hours billed, projects completed, and amount earned. This validated expertise is a critical factor to build trust, giving clients confidence in hiring freelancers for their next project.

Ideal Projects

Job Feed. After a freelancer’s registration is accepted, our platform immediately highlights relevant project postings through a job feed to enable the freelancer to find work efficiently. Freelancers can choose the projects that fit their skills and interests.

Search. Our robust search functionality enables freelancers to perform keyword searches and deploy advanced filters to find projects that meet their exact criteria, such as specifying project types and skills needed, client ratings, client geographies, and whether they prefer hourly or fixed price projects.

 

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Example Job Feed, Job Details View, and Proposal Submission Workflow

 

 

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Job Search and Job Feed

 

 

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Easy Bidding

Submit Proposals. Once freelancers find a project they are interested in, they submit a proposal to the client, including proposed pricing terms.

Respond to Invites and Interviews. Our platform allows freelancers and their prospective clients to safely communicate project details, timelines, and deliverables prior to entering into a contract.

Secure Contracts

Upwork Standard clients contract with freelancers directly through our platform. There are two types of contracts: hourly and fixed price. Hourly contracts are billed automatically on a weekly basis. Fixed price contracts require the client to deposit funds that are held in escrow for each agreed upon deliverable or milestone. The client and freelancer are free to negotiate any other contract terms they choose, but we also provide optional service contract terms that they can incorporate, which include provisions assigning the intellectual property rights for work that has been paid for to the client.

Efficient Collaboration

Once a freelancer accepts a contract offer from a client, the contract is created and work can begin.

Freelancers are able to seamlessly communicate and collaborate on projects with clients using features of our platform including chat, voice call, video conference, and file sharing—all designed to enable more productivity, higher engagement, and increased success on our platform.

 

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Our Collaboration Platform

 

 

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Fast Payments

Freelancers on our platform get paid faster than through traditional arrangements where they often get paid 30 or more days after the date of the invoice. On our platform, freelancers are paid within 10 days from the date the client is invoiced for hourly contracts and five days after the client releases a milestone or final payment for fixed price jobs.

Time Tracking. For hourly contracts, freelancers can choose to use our Hourly Time Tracker to, with a push of a button, log time and automatically bill their clients. Clients can review the time invoiced by freelancers and associated screenshots of completed work using the Upwork Work Diary. Fixed price contracts are invoiced once the deliverable or milestone is completed.

 

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Freelancers Track Time for Automated Invoicing Using the Hourly Time Tracker

 

 

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Clients Can Review Screenshots of Hourly Work Completed Using the Upwork Work Diary

 

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Fixed Price Billing. Once a milestone has been completed, the freelancer submits the work to the client through our platform, and initiates a request for review and payment. The client either accepts the work, which releases the funds from escrow, or requests changes. If either party feels the contract terms were not met, they may escalate the issue and request assistance from us, and if that is unsuccessful, they may choose to resolve the dispute with the help of a third-party arbitrator.

Withdrawing Funds

Freelancers can withdraw funds in numerous different currencies through our integration with third-party payment providers. With our weekly billing cycle, freelancers get paid more reliably and faster than through traditional channels.

 

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Freelancers Can View Earnings, Schedule Upcoming Withdrawals, or Initiate Immediate Withdrawals

 

 

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Reputation-Building

Upon contract completion, each party is asked to leave feedback about the other party. Client feedback contributes to the freelancer’s overall success score reflecting client satisfaction, which we call a Job Success Score, or JSS. Feedback is an important component of the freelancer profile as it builds trust and facilitates matching by communicating not just ratings from clients, but also information from clients about freelancers’ strengths and demonstrated abilities.

Repeat Business

After a freelancer completes a project for a client, the freelancer can propose additional projects or milestones to their client. Additionally, the client can contract again with any freelancer that they have a previous relationship with through an easy contracting flow for repeat business. Clients often build a bench of preferred freelancers that they contract again for project needs.

Client Features and Functionalities

 

 

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Register and Onboard

Clients register on our platform and have the opportunity to invite service providers that are not already on our platform to join our platform. By bringing their service providers onto our platform, clients can benefit from consolidated invoicing and billing, reporting, and budget management across all freelancers and other vendor talent.

Find Quality Freelancers

Posting Jobs. Clients complete a job posting that includes their project description, budget, timeframe, specific skill requirements, and any additional details they add. For an additional fee, clients may also make their job “featured,” which gives their posting extra visibility in the search function. After the job post is complete, our platform highlights relevant freelancers so the client can invite them to submit a proposal.

Clients Specify Project Requirements Through Job Posts

 

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Searching for Freelancers. To find new talent, we enable clients to search the marketplace for freelancers using customized filters, such as geography, experience level, and hourly rate. Our machine learning search algorithms leverage a broad array of proprietary data to enable clients to find the freelancers that best match their needs.

Freelancer Search

 

 

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Evaluate Proposals

Proposal Tracking System

 

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Contract Securely

Clients contract with freelancers directly through our platform. Once freelancers are identified or have submitted a proposal to a job—most jobs get proposals within minutes—clients can interview them and extend an offer detailing the proposed contractual terms. The freelancer may propose changes to the offer before accepting the contract.

In addition to contracting with freelancers directly, clients can also enroll in our Upwork Payroll services to receive services from freelancers they find on our platform that are hired by our vetted third-party employment providers as employees.

Automate Payments. Upwork Standard clients participate in automated payments for hourly contracts, thereby lowering administrative burden for themselves and their freelancers. For hourly contracts, unless a dispute is filed, the invoiced funds are automatically charged to the client’s pre-selected payment method. Clients may pay by credit card in five currencies (U.S. dollar, Euro, British Pound, Australian dollar, or Canadian dollar), electronically through the Automated Clearing House, by wire, or through third-party payment providers in USD. For fixed price contracts, clients fund escrow upon creation of a milestone and the escrow funds are released to the freelancer upon milestone approval.

Provide Ratings. Upon contract completion, both parties are asked to leave feedback about the other party.

 

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Re-engage Preferred Talent

Clients can offer a contract—including scope of work and hourly bill rate or fixed price project amount—to any freelancer on our platform at any time. This “Direct hire” functionality—a streamlined offer and acceptance flow—is used extensively by clients seeking to re-engage a freelancer they worked with previously for a new project.

Upwork Enterprise Offering

 

 

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Private Portal

Adoption of our Upwork Enterprise offering is facilitated by our single-sign-on feature and company-customized homepages that orient new users and educate them on the specifics of their company’s talent program with our platform. This portal provides resources to help users get started, including easy ways to contact our premium talent services team.

Example Private Portal for an Enterprise Client

 

 

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Talent Clouds

Our Talent Cloud functionality enables enterprise users to access pre-qualified, pre-defined freelancer talent pools that meet the unique needs of the enterprise business. Upwork Enterprise users or our own talent services representatives can organize and access groups of freelancers with specific skills or experience using Talent Clouds.

 

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Example Talent Cloud

 

 

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Enhanced Talent Services

Talent services representatives assist in understanding client needs and help clients use our platform to find the right freelancers for their projects. Upwork Enterprise clients also receive enhanced customer support services to enable efficient engagement of anywhere from tens to thousands of freelancers. Moreover, users of our Upwork Enterprise offering have access to a custom dashboard and workflow to ensure freelancers meet obligations unique to the enterprise, such as completion of client required vetting steps, agreements, and background checks, before such freelancers start working on projects for clients.

Compliance Services

Robust compliance services are available to determine correct worker classification through a technology-enabled classification evaluation. Our classification process was created with the help of legal experts and leverages our data and state-of-the-art client and freelancer questionnaires, along with review of each engagement request by a compliance specialist.

Multi-Tier Permissions

We enable multi-tier permissions and access controls to meet the needs of more complex businesses that require a wider array of user types and access levels than typical marketplace clients. Enterprise clients can use our purchase order approval workflows to ensure they have sufficient budget and can track their spend against purchase orders.

 

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Rich Reporting & Term Billing

We provide robust reporting tools so that all spend can be tracked, giving clients dynamic visibility into budget and spend. Differentiated reporting enables deeper insights into spend, while term billing enables business to pay the way they are accustomed to. Our Upwork Enterprise offering provides consolidated invoicing to clients on a monthly basis.

Internal Company Feedback

Upwork Enterprise clients can provide feedback on a freelancer that is accessible only to people within their organization. Additionally, clients can view and share freelancer feedback specific to the client’s organization before selecting the freelancer.

Trust and Safety

We focus on making our platform the most trusted to get work done by striving to ensure that it is professional, users are unique and accurately represented, and the matching process results in good outcomes for both parties. We perform a broad spectrum of activities to support these goals, including:

Preventing and Detecting Suspect Activity

We use state-of-the-art systems designed to detect and prevent suspect content and conduct on our platform. Our systems include security models that flag suspicious activity, tools that scan site content, and entire teams dedicated to second-level review and investigation who can, if necessary, remove jobs and profiles. In addition, to investigate identity when necessary, we use a range of methods such as third-party identification verification service providers, internal manual identification verification processes, webcam conferencing, and document collection and review.

Feedback System

A key feature fostering trust between freelancers and clients is our two-way feedback process, allowing both parties to give feedback on each other. This process gives our users a point of reference through which they can evaluate counterparties prior to entering into a contract.

 

    Freelancers. Client feedback for freelancers is captured in three ways: 5-star feedback that is displayed publicly, feedback provided privately to us, and the JSS. The JSS incorporates both private and public feedback and other important factors indicating client satisfaction, such as job spend and repeat business. The JSS helps top freelancers differentiate themselves on our platform.

 

    Clients. Freelancers can give clients both public and private feedback after the completion of a project, allowing the freelancers to provide candid feedback on their experience with the client. Clients are scored and reviewed through public comments, providing a benchmark for freelancers and helping to ensure that the best clients are easily identifiable.

Escrow Services

We are licensed as an internet escrow agent by the DBO. Pursuant to the DBO’s regulations, all customer funds are held in our escrow account and are released only according to escrow instructions that have been agreed upon by freelancers and clients. For fixed price contracts, the client deposits funds that are held in escrow, in whole or by milestone, before the freelancer starts to work. The escrow funds are then released to the freelancer upon completion of a project or a milestone. For hourly contracts, the client receives an invoice on a weekly basis and has several days to review the invoice. Funds are released to the freelancer after the review period unless the client files a dispute. In the case of any dispute between freelancers and clients over funds held in escrow, we have a dedicated team focused on facilitating a resolution between them.

 

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Compliance Operations

We have voluntarily implemented an anti-money laundering, or AML, program designed to prevent our platform from being used to facilitate money laundering, terrorist financing, and other illicit activity. Our AML program includes know your customer procedures, which involve customer identity verification and enhanced due diligence. Moreover, we have screening systems and processes in place designed to ensure that we do not do business in countries, or with persons or entities, included on lists promulgated by the U.S. Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Controls.

Clients on Our Platform

Our platform enables businesses of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, to find the talent they need when they need it. In 2017, approximately 450,000 clients worked with freelancers on our platform.

Freelancers on Our Platform

Freelancers on our platform include independent professionals and agencies of varying sizes. In 2017, approximately 375,000 freelancers completed projects through our platform, and every day approximately 10,000 independent professionals and agencies apply to join our platform.

Research and Development

We invest substantial resources in research and development to enhance our platform, develop new products and features, and improve our infrastructure. We believe that our differentiated technology and intellectual property will help us maintain our position as the largest online global marketplace that enables businesses to find and work with highly-skilled freelancers. Our research and development expenses were $37.9 million and $45.6 million for 2016 and 2017, respectively.

Sales and Marketing

Our sales and marketing organizations work closely together to increase awareness, generate client demand, build a strong sales pipeline, and grow account relationships across businesses of all sizes, from small businesses to Fortune 500 companies, to accelerate GSV growth.

Marketing

A majority of our client and freelancer registrations come through direct and non-paid channels. In 2017, more than 80% of our attributed client registrations and a vast majority of our new freelancer registrations came from direct navigation to our website and mobile applications, unpaid search results, and free referrals.

Our marketing strategy starts with driving cost-effective awareness of our brand and the benefits of hiring remote talent. We draw insights and trends from our platform to drive broad public relations coverage. We also help shape influential conversations around the future of work through major media outlets to drive awareness of remote work.

The majority of our marketing activities are focused on our Upwork Standard offering, which enjoys high NPS scores that generate significant word of mouth. We increase our new client pipeline with a variety of digital, direct mail, and event marketing programs. We deploy email and lifecycle marketing initiatives to retain, cross-sell, and upsell existing clients. We have recently begun testing with offline advertising in a small number of metropolitan markets to increase brand awareness.

We complement our Upwork Standard strategy with focused outbound programs targeting enterprise organizations with existing adoption of our platform. Once prospects are identified, we work closely with our enterprise sales team to broaden adoption of our platform into wider-scale deployments.

 

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Enterprise Sales

Our enterprise sales team is currently focused on acquiring and growing clients with workforces of more than 100 employees. Our enterprise sales team helps new and existing clients build and execute awareness campaigns through workshops, webinars, and marketing events that drive additional spend through our platform. This land-and-expand strategy helps customers ramp their usage of our platform driving more value, awareness, and adoption over time.

Our Technology

We utilize a flexible systems architecture to allow us to scale easily as our platform usage increases and to provide a consistent and robust user experience. We host our platform on AWS servers.

The core elements of our technology are:

Reliability

Our infrastructure is designed to provide high reliability and robust platform performance. There are three components to our reliability strategy:

Services-Oriented Architecture. We have focused on building a services-oriented architecture that is designed to independently scale, or failover, as needed, leveraging the AWS platform. As a result, since integrating with AWS, we believe we are more resilient to unexpected surges in traffic, or to new code changes that we may introduce.

Isolation as a Design Philosophy. Leveraging the philosophy of domain-driven design, we have divided our platform into multiple sections to reduce the likelihood that a failure in any one section of our platform would negatively impact other sections of our platform.

Self-Monitoring and Self-Healing. Our platform is designed to continuously monitor its own health and act appropriately, particularly during our deployment of new code.

Security

Our platform is designed to help ensure security and protect our users’ information and identity.

We have implemented comprehensive trust and safety processes to help prevent and detect suspicious behavior on our platform. Over the years of developing our platform, we have developed and refined specific pattern-matching algorithms to detect unusual behavior on our platform. To operate at scale, we have automated several risk mitigation strategies.

Another component of our security strategy is to leverage third parties who provide value-added user verification services. Augmenting our knowledge of user identity through these third-party services improves our ability to better detect and verify suspicious activity on our platform.

All access to the site is encrypted using industry-standard transport layer security technology. When users enter sensitive information, such as tax identification numbers, we encrypt the transmission of that information using secure socket layer technology. We also use HTTP strict transport security to add an additional layer of protection for our users. For servers that store personally identifiable information, the data is encrypted. In order to make secure payments through our platform, we are also Payment Card Industry Data Security Standard certified, which means we have demonstrated compliance with the Payment Card Industry security standards required for businesses that complete credit card or debit card transactions.

Our users may elect to further secure their account credentials through two-factor authentication that requires them to authenticate on a second device.

Machine Learning Predictive Capabilities

We leverage historical data to create a continuously improving experience for freelancers and clients. Our platform contains a large repository of closed-loop data for the entire lifecycle of work starting from when clients

 

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post projects, to when freelancers and clients match, how they communicate, how and when payment is transferred, and finally feedback.

Utilizing machine learning capabilities to predict future behavior based on many years of historical use cases, we are able to leverage this data analysis to create stronger user experiences.

During the search process, we leverage our proprietary data to help freelancers and clients efficiently connect. We leverage machine learning to balance supply and demand within the marketplace as well. Freelancers receive data on market rates based on similar jobs when submitting proposals. When clients post jobs, similar rate resources also appear within the system. Upon registration, our machine learning algorithms assess a freelancer’s potential to be successful on our platform based on the current supply and demand in addition to the skills in the freelancer’s profile.

Scalability

Our cloud-based platform has been designed to scale with increased usage and support sudden traffic spikes by easily and cost-effectively bringing additional capacity online as required.

Culture and Team

Our mission—to create economic opportunities so people can have better lives—is integral to our culture, and how we hire, build products, and lead our industry. We practice a “work without limits” model that includes a distributed team of on-site and remote employees, and we also engage freelancers all over the world for our own specialized projects. We believe this results in a team that is continually engaged and passionate about the positive impact of our platform.

Our values are to:

 

    Inspire a boundless future of work;

 

    Put our community first;

 

    Have a bias toward action; and

 

    Build amazing teams.

As of December 31, 2017, we had 355 employees, and, in 2017, we engaged over 1,000 freelancers to provide services to us on a variety of internal projects. None of our employees is represented by a labor union or covered by a collective bargaining agreement. We believe the positive relationship between us and our employees and our unique, strong culture differentiates us and is a key driver of business success.

The Upwork Foundation Initiative

In April 2018, we established The Upwork Foundation initiative. The objective of The Upwork Foundation initiative is to further our mission of creating economic opportunities to make people’s lives better by supporting:

 

    those who may not otherwise fully benefit from the changing nature of work, including through organizations focused on skill development in underserved communities;

 

    non-profit organizations to increase their social impact by using our platform; and

 

    our employees in volunteering in their local communities.

The initiative will include a donor-advised fund created through the Tides Foundation. We believe that building a sustainable program for charitable donations fosters employee morale, enhances our community presence, and strengthens our brand. In May 2018, we issued a warrant to purchase 500,000 shares of our common stock to the Tides Foundation at an exercise price of $0.01 per share. This warrant is exercisable as to 1/10th of the shares on each anniversary of the effective date of this offering. Upon the exercise and sale of these shares, we will instruct the Tides Foundation to donate the proceeds from such sale in accordance with our direction.

 

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In addition to the creation of The Upwork Foundation initiative, we have signed on to the Pledge 1% campaign, which publicly acknowledges our intent to give back and increase social impact. To fulfill our intent under this campaign, in addition to granting the warrant to the Tides Foundation, we will also implement programs allowing our employees to donate their time to volunteer programs and will be undertaking certain product initiatives designed to benefit nonprofit organizations. We believe this further displays to our employees and other stakeholders our commitment to further our mission across many communities. At this time, we do not plan to grant additional equity or donate profits in order to fulfill our intent under this campaign.

Competition

The market for freelancers and the clients that engage them is highly competitive, rapidly evolving, fragmented, and subject to changing technology, shifting needs, and frequent introductions of new products and services. We compete with a number of online and offline platforms and services domestically and internationally to attract and retain users. Our main competitors fall into the following categories:

 

    traditional contingent workforce and staffing service providers and other outsourcing providers, such as The Adecco Group, Randstad, Recruit, ManpowerGroup, and Robert Half International;

 

    online freelancer platforms that serve either a diverse range of skill categories, such as Fiverr and Freelancer.com, or specific skill categories;

 

    other online providers of products and services for individuals or businesses seeking work or to advertise their services, including personal and professional social networks, such as LinkedIn and GitHub, employment marketplaces, recruiting websites, and project-based deliverable providers;

 

    software and business services companies focused on talent acquisition, management, invoicing, or staffing management products and services;

 

    payment businesses, such as PayPal and Payoneer, that can facilitate payments to and from users;

 

    businesses that provide specialized, professional services, including consulting, accounting, marketing, and information technology services; and

 

    online and offline job boards, classified ads, and other traditional means of finding work and service providers, such as Craigslist, CareerBuilder, Indeed, Monster, and ZipRecruiter.

In addition, well-established internet companies, such as Google, LinkedIn, and Amazon, and social media platforms, such as Facebook, have entered or may decide to enter into our market, and some of these companies have launched products and services that directly compete with our platform. For example, in 2016, LinkedIn launched ProFinder, its service to connect LinkedIn members with one another for service relationships. In the future, we may also compete with companies that utilize emerging technologies, such as blockchain or artificial intelligence.

We believe the principal competitive factors in our market include:

 

    platform features and functionality;

 

    size and engagement of user base;

 

    breadth of skill categories offered by freelancers;

 

    uniqueness, size, and scope of data assets;

 

    ease of use;

 

    vision for the market;

 

    brand awareness and reputation;

 

    level of user satisfaction;

 

    relationships with third-party partners;

 

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    strength of sales and marketing efforts;

 

    ability to innovate and develop new or improved products and services; and

 

    pricing.

We believe that we compete favorably with respect to these factors.

Intellectual Property

The protection of our technology and intellectual property is an important aspect of our business. We rely upon a combination of patents, trademarks, trade secrets, copyrights, confidentiality procedures, contractual commitments, and other legal rights to establish and protect our intellectual property. We generally enter into confidentiality agreements and invention or work product assignment agreements with our employees and consultants to control access to, and clarify ownership of, our software, documentation, and other proprietary information.

As of December 31, 2017, we held 13 issued U.S. patents and had 13 U.S. patent applications pending. We also held one issued patent in a foreign jurisdiction. As of December 31, 2017, we held 11 registered trademarks in the United States, including Upwork, Elance, and oDesk and also held 106 registered trademarks in foreign jurisdictions. We continually review our development efforts to assess the existence and patentability of new intellectual property.

Despite our efforts to protect our proprietary rights, unauthorized parties may attempt to copy or obtain and use our technology to develop products and services with the same functionality as ours. Policing unauthorized use of our technology is difficult. Our competitors could also independently develop technologies like ours, and our intellectual property rights may not be broad enough for us to prevent competitors from selling products and services incorporating those technologies. In addition, we may, in the future, be subject to claims that we are infringing, misappropriating, or otherwise violating the intellectual property rights of others.

Government Regulation

We are subject to a number of U.S. federal and state and foreign laws and regulations that are applicable to internet companies and businesses that operate online marketplaces connecting businesses with freelancers. These laws and regulations may involve worker classification, employment, data protection, online payment services, content regulation, intellectual property, taxation, consumer protection, background checks, payment services, money transmitter regulations, or other subjects. Moreover, we provide escrow services to our users and are therefore licensed as an internet escrow agent by the DBO. Many of the laws and regulations that are or may be applicable to our business are still evolving and being tested in courts and could be interpreted in ways that could adversely impact our business. In addition, the application and interpretation of these laws and regulations often are uncertain, particularly in the industry in which we operate.

Facilities

Our corporate headquarters are located in Mountain View, California, where we occupy facilities totaling approximately 32,000 square feet under a lease that expires in April 2019. We use these facilities for administration, sales and marketing, technology and development, engineering, and customer support.

We also lease offices in San Francisco and Chicago and rent working space in Colorado, Georgia, and Norway.

We intend to procure additional space as we add employees and expand geographically. We believe that our facilities are adequate to meet our needs for the immediate future, and that, should it be needed, suitable additional space will be available to accommodate any such expansion of our operations.

Legal Proceedings

We are not a party to any material pending legal proceedings. From time to time, we may be subject to legal proceedings and claims arising in the ordinary course of business.

 

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MANAGEMENT

Executive Officers and Directors

The following table provides information regarding our executive officers, key employees, and directors as of June 30, 2018:

 

Name

   Age     

Position(s)

Executive Officers:

     

Stephane Kasriel

     43      President, Chief Executive Officer, and Director

Brian Kinion

     51      Chief Financial Officer

Hayden Brown

     36      Senior Vice President, Product and Design

Han-Shen Yuan

     43      Senior Vice President, Engineering

Key Employees:

     

Eric Gilpin

     39      Senior Vice President, Sales

Zoë Harte

     43      Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Talent Innovation

Efstratios Karamanlakis

     52      Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer

Brian Levey

     50      Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer and Secretary

Rich Pearson

     50      Senior Vice President, Marketing

Elizabeth Tse

     50      Senior Vice President, Operations

Non-Employee Directors:

     

Thomas Layton(1)

     55      Executive Chairman

Gregory C. Gretsch(2)(3)

     51      Director

Kevin Harvey(3)

     53      Director

Daniel Marriott(1)(2)

     49      Director

Elizabeth Nelson(1)(2)

     57      Director

 

(1)    Member of the nominating and governance committee.
(2)    Member of the audit committee.
(3)    Member of the compensation committee.

Executive Officers

Stephane Kasriel has served as our President and Chief Executive Officer and a member of our board of directors since April 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Kasriel served as our Senior Vice President, Product and Engineering since our inception in March 2014, as Vice President of Engineering and Product of oDesk from October 2013 to March 2014, and as Vice President of Product of oDesk from June 2012 to October 2013. Mr. Kasriel has also served as Co-Chair of the Global Future Council on Education, Gender, and Work for the World Economic Forum since September 2016. Previously, Mr. Kasriel served in various leadership roles for eBay Inc., an ecommerce corporation, including as the Global Head of Consumer Products from 2008 to 2010, Country Manager of PayPal France from 2006 to 2008, and Global Head of Mobile Business Development from 2011 to 2012. In addition, Mr. Kasriel was the Chief Operating Officer of Work4 Labs, Inc., a talent acquisition platform, in 2012 and Vice President of Global Sales and Business Development of Zong, Inc., a mobile payment service, which was acquired by eBay, from 2010 to 2011. Mr. Kasriel was also the founder of Fireclick, Inc., a web analytics company, and a co-founder of iFeelGoods, a digital rewards platform company. Mr. Kasriel holds a Diplôme d’Ingénieur from Ecole Polytechnique, an M.S. in Computer Science from Stanford University, and an M.B.A. from INSEAD.

Our board of directors believes that Mr. Kasriel possesses specific attributes that qualify him to serve as a director, including the historical knowledge, operational expertise, and continuity that he brings to our board of directors as our President and Chief Executive Officer.

Brian Kinion has served as our Chief Financial Officer since October 2017. Before joining us, Mr. Kinion served as the Chief Financial Officer of Marketo, Inc., a marketing automation platform software company, from

 

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March 2016 to April 2017, and, prior to that, he served as Group Vice President of Finance from November 2014 to March 2016 and as Vice President of Finance from July 2013 to November 2014. From 2007 to June 2013, Mr. Kinion served in several roles at SAP SuccessFactors, Inc., a cloud-based human capital management software company, including as Vice President and Global Controller of Cloud Revenue Operations, Vice President of Finance in Global Systems and Acquisition Integration, and Vice President and Global Controller. Mr. Kinion also currently serves on the board of directors of Marin Software Incorporated. Mr. Kinion holds a B.S. in Accounting and an M.B.A. with a finance concentration from St. Mary’s College of California.

Hayden Brown has served as our Senior Vice President, Product and Design since January 2016. Ms. Brown previously served as our Vice President, Head of Product, from January 2015 to January 2016 and as our Vice President and Senior Director Marketplace, since our inception in March 2014. Prior to that, Ms. Brown served in numerous product leadership roles, starting when she joined oDesk as a Director of Marketplace in December 2011. Prior to joining us, Ms. Brown was Vice President of Corporate Development at LivePerson, Inc., an online messaging, marketing, and analytics company, from September 2010 to November 2011. Ms. Brown also worked for Microsoft Corporation, a technology company, as Director of Corporate Strategy and M&A from January 2010 to September 2010 and as Senior Strategy Manager from June 2007 to January 2010. Ms. Brown began her career as a Business Analyst at McKinsey & Company, a business management consulting firm, in their New York office. Ms. Brown holds an A.B. in Politics from Princeton University.

Han-Shen Yuan has served as our Senior Vice President, Engineering since June 2015. Mr. Yuan also operates Post-PC Labs, LLC, a computer software development business that he founded in May 2012. Before joining our company, Mr. Yuan served in several roles at eBay, including Senior Director of Engineering and Group Chief Technology Officer of Core Product and Technology at eBay Enterprise from February 2015 to April 2015, Senior Director of Engineering, Innovation and New Ventures from December 2012 to February 2015, and Director of Engineering for Mobile and Platform Business Solutions from March 2009 to March 2011. From March 2011 to May 2012, Mr. Yuan served as Director of Engineering for iOS and Android at Netflix Inc., a streaming media and video-on-demand entertainment company. Mr. Yuan holds a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research with a minor in Computer Science and an M.S. in Industrial Engineering and Operations Research from the University of California at Berkeley.

Key Employees

Eric Gilpin has served as our Senior Vice President, Sales since April 2016. Prior to joining us, Mr. Gilpin served in a variety of roles for CareerBuilder, LLC, a human capital software provider and online employment website, including as President of Vertical Sales from September 2014 to March 2016, President of Staffing and Recruiting from November 2009 to September 2014, and Director of National Accounts from April 2004 to November 2009. Mr. Gilpin holds an M.B.A. from the Southern Methodist University’s Cox School of Business.

Zoë Harte has served as our Senior Vice President, Human Resources and Talent Innovation since September 2017. She previously served in roles as our Vice President and Head of Human Resources from March 2014 to August 2017 and as Head of Human Resources at oDesk from April 2013 to March 2014. Ms. Harte also worked at Rovi Corporation, a digital entertainment company, in senior HR roles from 2008 to 2012. Prior to Rovi, Ms. Harte spent nine years at Yahoo! in a progression of HR and Customer Care leadership roles. Ms. Harte holds a B.A. in Religion and Women’s Studies from Earlham College and an M.A. in theology from University of Exeter.

Efstratios Karamanlakis is one of the co-founders of oDesk and has served as Senior Vice President and our Chief Technology Officer since April 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Karamanlakis served as our Vice President of Development since our inception in March 2014 and as Vice President of Development for oDesk from January 2003 to March 2014. Before co-founding oDesk, Mr. Karamanlakis served as Technical Director at Postscriptum Communication Informatics Ltd., a digital strategy consulting firm, and as Director of R&D at L-Cube Information Systems. Mr. Karamanlakis holds a B.S. in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science from the National Technical University of Athens, Greece.

Brian Levey has served as our Chief Business Affairs and Legal Officer and Secretary since October 2017. Prior to that, Mr. Levey served as our Chief Financial Officer from June 2015 to October 2017, as well as our

 

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General Counsel and Secretary, since our inception in March 2014. Mr. Levey served as Vice President, General Counsel and Secretary of oDesk from June 2013 to March 2014. Prior to joining us, Mr. Levey served in a variety of roles at eBay Inc., including as Vice President, Deputy General Counsel and Assistant Secretary from 2006 to 2013, and, from 2000 to 2006, he served in increasingly senior legal roles at eBay. He also previously served as Vice President, Legal at Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios. Mr. Levey began his legal career with Latham & Watkins LLP. Mr. Levey holds an A.B. in Economics from Stanford University and a J.D. from Stanford Law School.

Rich Pearson has served as our Senior Vice President, Marketing since May 2015. Prior to that, Mr. Pearson served as our Senior Vice President, Categories and International from March 2014 to April 2015 and as Chief Marketing Officer of Elance from May 2012 to March 2014. Prior to joining us, Mr. Pearson served as the Vice President of Marketing at Posterous, Inc., a micro-blogging platform, from June 2010 through its acquisition by Twitter, Inc. in March 2012. Prior to that, Mr. Pearson held senior marketing positions at a variety of organizations. Mr. Pearson holds a B.S. in Business Administration from the University of California at Berkeley and an M.B.A. from the Walter A. Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley.

Elizabeth Tse has served as our Senior Vice President, Operations since our inception in March 2014 and as Vice President, Operations of Elance from January 2013 to March 2014. Before joining us, Ms. Tse was Chief Operating Officer at Samasource, a non-profit organization, from November 2011 to October 2012. Ms. Tse also worked at Zuora, Inc., an enterprise software company, as Vice President of Customer Operations from August 2009 to November 2011. Before joining Zuora, Ms. Tse was the Vice President for Global Billing, Payments, and Collections at eBay. Ms. Tse holds a B.A. in Psychology from Yale University and an M.B.A. from Cornell University.

Non-Employee Directors

Thomas Layton has served as a member of our board of directors and Executive Chairman since our inception in March 2014. Prior to that, Mr. Layton served as a member of the board of directors of oDesk from May 2006 to March 2014 and as Executive Chairman from December 2011 to March 2014. Mr. Layton is currently a Lecturer at Stanford Graduate School of Business and a Board Partner at Social Capital LP, a venture capital firm. Mr. Layton currently serves on the board of directors of several private companies. Previously, Mr. Layton served in various leadership roles, including as the Chief Executive Officer of OpenTable, Inc., an online restaurant reservation company, from 2001 to 2007 and as the Chief Executive Officer of Metaweb Technologies, Inc., a data infrastructure company, from 2007 to 2010. Mr. Layton holds a B.S. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and an M.B.A. from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. We believe that Mr. Layton should serve as a member of our board of directors based on his extensive leadership experience. He also brings historical knowledge, operational expertise, and continuity to our board of directors.

Gregory C. Gretsch has served as a member of our board of directors since our inception in March 2014 and as a member of the board of directors of oDesk from 2004 to March 2014. Mr. Gretsch is a founding partner and has served as Managing Director of Jackson Square Ventures, a venture capital firm, since 2011. Mr. Gretsch also serves on the board of directors of several private companies, and he served as a director of Responsys, Inc. from 2001 to 2014. Mr. Gretsch has also served as a managing director at Sigma Partners, a venture capital firm, since 2001. Mr. Gretsch holds a B.B.A. in Management Information Systems from the University of Georgia. We believe that Mr. Gretsch should serve as a member of our board of directors based on his significant experience in the venture capital industry analyzing, investing in, and serving on the boards of directors of other technology companies and his management and leadership experience as a former founder and executive of several startup technology companies.

Kevin Harvey has served as a member of our board of directors since our inception in March 2014. Prior to that, Mr. Harvey served as a member of the board of directors of oDesk from August 2006 to March 2014. Mr. Harvey is a founder and general partner of Benchmark Capital, a venture capital firm, which he joined in 1995. Mr. Harvey currently serves on the board of directors of Proofpoint, Inc. Before founding Benchmark, Mr. Harvey was founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of Approach Software Corp., a server database

 

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company. Before founding Approach Software, Mr. Harvey founded Styleware, Inc., a software company. Mr. Harvey holds a B.S. in Engineering from Rice University. We believe that Mr. Harvey should serve as a member of our board of directors based on his significant experience investing in and serving on the boards of directors of other technology companies as well as his management and leadership experience as a former founder and executive of multiple startup technology companies.

Daniel Marriott has served as a member of our board of directors since our inception in March 2014 and a member of the board of directors of Elance from January 2012 to March 2014. Mr. Marriott has been the Managing Partner of Stripes Group, a private equity and venture capital firm, since 2008, and he currently serves on the board of directors of several private companies. Between 1997 and 2008, Mr. Marriott served in a variety of executive roles under the umbrella of IAC/InterActiveCorp, a media and internet holding company, including Senior Vice President of Corporate and Interactive Development; founding CEO of Pronto, Inc., an online shopping and price comparison company; President of Citysearch; and Executive Vice President of Corporate Development of Ticketmaster, Inc., an event ticketing agency. Mr. Marriott holds a B.S. in Agricultural Economics and an M.B.A. from the University of Illinois. We believe that Mr. Marriott should serve as a member of our board of directors based on his significant experience investing in and serving on the boards of directors of other technology companies.

Elizabeth Nelson has served as a member of our board of directors since February 2015. Ms. Nelson currently serves on the boards of Nokia Corporation, Zendesk Inc., and several private companies. Ms. Nelson’s public company board service includes serving as a director of Pandora Media, Inc. from July 2013 to June 2017, Ancestry.com Inc. from 2009 to 2012, SuccessFactors, Inc. from 2007 to 2012, Autodesk, Inc. from 2007 to 2010, CNET Networks, Inc. from 2003 to 2008, and Brightcove Inc. from 2010 to 2014. From 1996 to 2005, Ms. Nelson served as the Executive Vice President and Chief Financial Officer of Macromedia, Inc., where she also served as a director from January 2005 to December 2005. Ms. Nelson holds a B.S in Foreign Service from Georgetown University and an M.B.A. in Finance from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. We believe that Ms. Nelson should serve as a member of our board of directors due to her financial, accounting, and operational expertise from prior experience as an executive and director for numerous public and private technology companies.

Corporate Governance

Appointment of Officers

Our executive officers are appointed by, and serve at the discretion of, our board of directors. There are no family relationships between any of our directors or executive officers.

Board Composition

Our board of directors currently consists of six members, with one vacancy. Pursuant to our amended and restated certificate of incorporation as in effect prior to the completion of this offering and our amended and restated voting agreement, Stephane Kasriel, Thomas Layton, Elizabeth Nelson, Gregory C. Gretsch, Kevin Harvey, and Daniel Marriott have been designated to serve as members of our board of directors. Pursuant to our amended and restated certificate of incorporation and amended and restated voting agreement, Messrs. Gretsch and Harvey were each elected by the holders of a majority of our capital stock, voting together as a single class on an as-converted basis (excluding our Series B-2 convertible preferred stock), as the designees of the holders of a majority of our capital stock held by the former shareholders of oDesk; Mr. Marriott and Ms. Nelson were each elected by the holders of a majority of our capital stock, voting together as a single class on an as-converted basis (excluding our Series B-2 convertible preferred stock), as the designees of the holders of a majority of our capital stock held by the former stockholders of Elance; and Messrs. Kasriel and Layton were each elected as our current Chief Executive Officer and Executive Chairman, respectively, by the holders of a majority of our capital stock, voting together as a single class on an as-converted basis (excluding our Series B-2 convertible preferred stock).

The amended and restated voting agreement and the provisions of our amended and restated certificate of incorporation by which all of our current directors were elected will terminate, and no contractual obligations

 

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regarding the election of our directors will remain, following the completion of this offering. Each of our current directors will continue to serve until the election and qualification of his or her successor, or his or her earlier death, resignation, or removal.

Classified Board of Directors

Upon the completion of this offering, our board of directors will consist of six members and be divided into three classes of directors that will serve staggered three-year terms. At each annual meeting of stockholders, a class of directors will be elected for a three-year term to succeed the same class whose term is then expiring. As a result, only one class of directors will be elected at each annual meeting of our stockholders, with the other classes continuing for the remainder of their respective three-year terms. Our directors will be divided among the three classes as follows:

 

    the Class I directors will be                  and                 , and their terms will expire at the first annual meeting of stockholders to be held after the completion of this offering;

 

    the Class II directors will be                  and                 , and their terms will expire at the second annual meeting of stockholders to be held after the completion of this offering; and

 

    the Class III directors will be                  and                 , and their terms will expire at the third annual meeting of stockholders to be held after the completion of this offering.

Each director’s term continues until the election and qualification of his or her successor, or his or her earlier death, resignation, or removal. Our restated certificate of incorporation and restated bylaws to be in effect upon the completion of this offering will authorize only our board of directors to fill vacancies on our board of directors. Any increase or decrease in the number of directors will be distributed among the three classes so that, as nearly as possible, each class will consist of one-third of the directors. This classification of our board of directors may have the effect of delaying or preventing changes in control of our company. See the section titled “Description of Capital Stock—Anti-Takeover Provisions.”

Director Independence

In connection with this offering, we intend to list our common stock on the            . Under the rules of the                 , independent directors must comprise a majority of a listed company’s board of directors within a specified period after the completion of this offering. In addition, the rules of the            require that, subject to specified exceptions, each member of a listed company’s audit, compensation, and nominating and governance committees be independent. Under the rules of the                 , a director will only qualify as an “independent director” if, in the opinion of that company’s board of directors, that person does not have a relationship that would interfere with the exercise of independent judgment in carrying out the responsibilities of a director.

Additionally, compensation committee members must not have a relationship with us that is material to the director’s ability to be independent from management in connection with the duties of a compensation committee member.

Audit committee members must also satisfy the independence criteria set forth in Rule 10A-3 under the Exchange Act. In order to be considered independent for purposes of Rule 10A-3, a member of an audit committee of a listed company may not, other than in his or her capacity as a member of the audit committee, the board of directors or any other board committee: accept, directly or indirectly, any consulting, advisory, or other compensatory fee from the listed company or any of its subsidiaries; or be an affiliated person of the listed company or any of its subsidiaries. We intend to satisfy the audit committee independence requirements of Rule 10A-3 as of the completion of this offering.

Our board of directors has undertaken a review of the independence of each director and considered whether each director has a material relationship with us that could compromise his or her ability to exercise independent judgment in carrying out his or her responsibilities. As a result of this review, our board of directors determined that Messrs. Layton, Gretsch, Harvey, and Marriott and Ms. Nelson are “independent directors” as defined under

 

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the applicable rules and regulations of the SEC and the listing requirements and rules of the                    . In making these determinations, our board of directors reviewed and discussed information provided by the directors and by us with regard to each director’s business and personal activities and relationships as they may relate to us and our management, including the beneficial ownership of our common stock by each non-employee director and the transactions involving them described in the section titled “Certain Relationships and Related Party Transactions.”

Committees of the Board of Directors

Our board of directors has an audit committee, a compensation committee, and a nominating and governance committee, each of which, pursuant to its respective charter, will have the composition and responsibilities described below upon the completion of this offering. Following the completion of this offering, copies of the charters for each committee will be available on the investor relations portion of our website. Members serve on these committees until their resignation or until otherwise determined by our board of directors.

Audit Committee

Our audit committee is composed of Ms. Nelson and Messrs. Gretsch and Marriott. Ms. Nelson is the chair of our audit committee. The members of our audit committee meet the independence requirements under                  and SEC rules. Each member of our audit committee is financially literate. In addition, our board of directors has determined that            is an “audit committee financial expert” as that term is defined in Item 407(d)(5)(ii) of Regulation S-K promulgated under the Securities Act. This designation does not, however, impose on him or her any supplemental duties, obligations, or liabilities beyond those that are generally applicable to the other members of our audit committee and board of directors. Our audit committee’s principal functions are to assist our board of directors in its oversight of:

 

    selecting a firm to serve as our independent registered public accounting firm to audit our financial statements;

 

    ensuring the independence of the independent registered public accounting firm;

 

    discussing the scope and results of the audit with the independent registered public accounting firm, and reviewing, with management and that firm, our interim and year-end operating results;

 

    establishing procedures for employees to anonymously submit concerns about questionable accounting or audit matters;

 

    considering the adequacy of our internal controls and internal audit function;

 

    reviewing related-party transactions that are material or otherwise implicate disclosure requirements; and

 

    approving, or as permitted, pre-approving all audit and non-audit services to be performed by the independent registered public accounting firm.

Compensation Committee

Our compensation committee is composed of Messrs. Gretsch and Harvey. Mr. Gretsch is the chair of our compensation committee. The members of our compensation committee meet the independence requirements under                  and SEC rules. Each member of this committee is also a “non-employee director” within the meaning of Rule 16b-3 under the Exchange Act. Our compensation committee is responsible for, among other things:

 

    reviewing and approving, or recommending that our board of directors approve, the compensation of our executive officers;

 

    reviewing and recommending to our board of directors the compensation of our directors;

 

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    reviewing and recommending to our board of directors the terms of any compensatory agreements with our executive officers;

 

    administering our stock and equity incentive plans;

 

    reviewing and approving, or making recommendations to our board of directors with respect to, incentive compensation and equity plans; and

 

    establishing our overall compensation philosophy.

Nominating and Governance Committee

Our nominating and governance committee is composed of Ms. Nelson and Messrs. Layton and Marriott. The members of our nominating and governance committee meet the independence requirements under                  and SEC rules. Mr. Layton is the chair of our nominating and governance committee. Our nominating and governance committee’s principal functions include:

 

    identifying and recommending candidates for membership on our board of directors;

 

    recommending directors to serve on board committees;

 

    reviewing and recommending to our board of directors any changes to our corporate governance principles;

 

    reviewing proposed waivers of the code of conduct for directors and executive officers;

 

    overseeing the process of evaluating the performance of our board of directors; and

 

    advising our board of directors on corporate governance matters.

Compensation Committee Interlocks and Insider Participation

None of the members of the compensation committee is currently, or has been at any time, one of our officers or employees. None of our executive officers has served as a member of the board of directors, or as a member of the compensation or similar committee, of any entity that has one or more executive officers who served on our board or compensation committee during 2017.

Director Compensation

In 2017, no compensation was paid to our non-employee members of our board of directors. All compensation paid to Mr. Kasriel, our only employee director, is set forth below in the section titled “Executive Compensation—2017 Summary Compensation Table.” No compensation was paid to Mr. Kasriel in his capacity as a director in 2017.

As of December 31, 2017, Elizabeth Nelson held an outstanding option to purchase 340,000 shares of common stock. The shares subject to the stock option vest at a rate of one forty-eighth of the total shares subject to the stock option per month. As of December 31, 2017, 233,750 shares subject to the stock option were vested and 106,250 were unvested.

Before this offering, we did not have a formal policy to provide any cash or equity compensation to our non- employee directors for their service on our board of directors or committees of our board of directors.

 

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EXECUTIVE COMPENSATION

The following tables and accompanying narrative set forth information about the 2017 compensation provided to our principal executive officer and the two most highly-compensated executive officers (other than our principal executive officer) who were serving as executive officers as of December 31, 2017. These executive officers were Stephane Kasriel, our President and Chief Executive Officer, Brian Kinion, our Chief Financial Officer, and Hayden Brown, our Senior Vice President, Product and Design, and we refer to them in this section as our “named executive officers.”

2017 Summary Compensation Table

The following table presents summary information regarding the total compensation for services rendered in all capacities that was awarded to, earned by, or paid to our named executive officers for 2017.

 

Name and Principal Position

   Salary ($)      Bonus ($)     Option
Awards ($)(1)
     Non-Equity
Incentive  Plan
Compensation
($)(2)
     All Other
Compensation

($)
    Total
($)
 

Stephane Kasriel,

President and Chief Executive Officer

   $ 473,583      $     $      $ 164,651      $ 7,362 (3)    $ 645,596  

Brian Kinion,

Chief Financial Officer(4)

     58,160              1,929,311        16,850        1,119 (5)      2,005,440  

Hayden Brown,

Senior Vice President, Product and Design(6)

     239,797        10,196 (7)      1,097,906        69,475        56,386 (8)      1,473,760  

 

(1)    Amounts represent the aggregate grant date fair value of the stock options awarded to the named executive officer during 2017 in accordance with FASB Accounting Standards Codification Topic 718. The assumptions used in calculating the grant date fair value of the stock options reported in the Option Awards column are set forth in Note 2 of the notes to our consolidated financial statements included in this prospectus. Such grant-date fair market value does not take into account any estimated forfeitures related to service-vesting conditions.
(2)    The amounts reported in the column represent incentive cash bonuses earned pursuant to our 2017 performance bonus plan. For additional information, see the section titled “—Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation.”
(3)    The amount reported represents (i) our matching contribution of $5,000 on Mr. Kasriel’s behalf under our 401(k) plan and (ii) $2,362 paid to our disability insurance plan.
(4)    Mr. Kinion was hired as our Chief Financial Officer in October 2017. His annualized base salary as of December 31, 2017 was $335,000.
(5)    The amount reported represents our matching contribution of $1,119 on Mr. Kinion’s behalf under our 401(k) plan.
(6)    Ms. Brown took a leave of absence for a portion of 2017. Her annualized base salary as of December 31, 2017 was $302,000.
(7)    The amount reported represents a spot bonus paid by us to Ms. Brown.
(8)    The amount reported represents (i) our matching contribution of $5,000 on Ms. Brown’s behalf under our 401(k) plan, (ii) $1,898 paid to our disability insurance plan, and (iii) $49,488 paid by us to Ms. Brown during a leave of absence.

In July 2018, we granted to Mr. Kasriel an option to purchase 1,860,000 shares of our common stock at an exercise price of $6.61 per share. Subject to the completion of this offering before January 2019, the stock option vests upon the satisfaction time-based requirements and achievement of certain GSV and adjusted EBITDA milestones.

Equity Compensation

From time to time, we grant equity awards in the form of stock options to our named executive officers, which are generally subject to vesting based on each named executive officer’s continued service with us. Each of our named executive officers currently holds outstanding options to purchase shares of our common stock that were granted under the oDesk 2004 Stock Plan, or the 2004 Plan, or our 2014 Plan, as set forth in the table below titled “2017 Outstanding Equity Awards at Fiscal Year-End.”

 

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Non-Equity Incentive Plan Compensation

During 2017, each of our named executive officers earned cash bonuses based on his or her participation in our 2017 performance bonus plan. Under our 2017 performance bonus plan, our named executive officers were eligible to earn bonuses based on our GSV and EBITDA metrics. In addition, for performance above the GSV target, our board of directors, in its sole discretion, established an additional bonus pool, which was paid to certain non-executive service providers. For 2017, the target bonus amount for Mr. Kasriel was 30% of his salary for the year, and the target bonus amounts for Mr. Kinion and Ms. Brown were 25% of each of their respective salary for the year.

Offer Letters

We have entered into offer letters with each of our named executive officers. In addition, each of our named executive officers has executed our form of standard employee invention assignment and confidentiality agreement. Any potential payments and benefits due upon a termination of employment or a change of control of us are further described in the section titled “Potential Payments upon Termination or Change of Control.”

Stephane Kasriel

In May 2018, we entered into an amended and restated offer letter with Mr. Kasriel, our President and Chief Executive Officer. The amended and restated offer letter provides for an annualized base salary of $480,000 and a target bonus eligibility of 56.25% of the regular salary payments earned during 2018, exclusive of any other earnings, such as bonus, premium, or pay during leave. Mr. Kasriel is an at-will employee and does not have a fixed employment term. He is eligible to participate in our annual performance bonus plan and employee benefit plans, including health insurance, that we offer to our employees.

Brian Kinion

In May 2018, we entered into an amended and restated offer letter with Mr. Kinion, our Chief Financial Officer. The amended and restated offer letter provides for an annualized base salary of $350,000 and a target bonus eligibility of 40% of the regular salary payments earned during 2018, exclusive of any other earnings, such as bonus, premium, or pay during leave. Mr. Kinion is an at-will employee and does not have a fixed employment term. He is eligible to participate in our annual performance bonus plan and employee benefit plans, including health insurance, that we offer to our employees.

Hayden Brown

In May 2018, we entered into an amended and restated offer letter with Ms. Brown, our Senior Vice President, Product, and Design. The amended and restated offer letter provides for an annualized base salary of $345,000 and a target bonus eligibility of 30% of the regular salary payments earned during 2018, exclusive of any other earnings, such as bonus, premium, or pay during leave. Ms. Brown is an at-will employee and does not have a fixed employment term. She is eligible to participate in our annual performance bonus plan and employee benefit plans, including health insurance, that we offer to our employees.

Potential Payments upon Termination or Change of Control

In May 2018, we entered into change in control and severance agreements with each of our executive officers, including our named executive officers, which provide for the following benefits if the executive is terminated by us without cause or, with respect to our President and Chief Executive Officer only, by the executive officer for good reason (as such terms are defined in the change in control and severance agreement) outside of a change in control (as such term is defined in the change in control and severance agreement) in exchange for a customary release of claims: (i) a lump sum severance payment of six months base salary for our executive officers (twelve months for our President and Chief Executive Officer), (ii) payment of premiums for continued medical benefits for up to six months (twelve months for our President and Chief Executive Officer), and (iii) in the case of our President and Chief Executive Officer only, 50% acceleration of any then-unvested equity awards (excluding equity awards that vest, in whole or in part, upon satisfaction of performance criteria).

 

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If the executive officer’s employment is terminated by us without cause or by the executive for good reason within the three months preceding a change in control (but after a legally binding and definitive agreement for a potential change of control has been executed) or within the twelve months following a change in control, the change in control and severance agreements provide the following benefits in exchange for a customary release of claims: (i) a lump sum severance payment of twelve months base salary for our executive officers (eighteen months for our President and Chief Executive Officer), (ii) a lump sum payment equal to the executive officer’s then-current target bonus opportunity on a pro-rated basis, (iii) 100% acceleration of any then-unvested equity awards (excluding equity awards that vest, in whole or in part, upon satisfaction of performance criteria), and (iv) payment of premiums for continued medical benefits for up to twelve months (eighteen months for our President and Chief Executive Officer). Each change in control and severance agreement is in effect for three years, with automatic renewals for new three-year periods unless notice is given by us to the executive officer three months prior to expiration.

The benefits under the change in control and severance agreements supersede all other cash severance and vesting acceleration arrangements (excluding equity awards that vest, in whole or in part, upon satisfaction of performance criteria, which will be governed by the terms of the applicable performance based equity awards).

2017 Outstanding Equity Awards at Fiscal Year-End

The following table presents, for each of our named executive officers, information regarding outstanding stock options as of December 31, 2017.

 

    Option Awards  

Name

  Number of Securities
Underlying Unexercised
Options
Exercisable  (#)(1)
    Number of
Securities
Underlying
Unexercised
Options
Unexercisable (#)(1)
    Option
Exercise

Price ($)
    Option
Expiration
Date
 

Stephane Kasriel

    18,450 (2)            2.76       4/6/2024  
    517,733 (3)      275,008       2.76       4/6/2024  
    831 (2)            2.76       6/23/2024  
    595,432 (2)(4)            3.04       6/24/2022  
    18,450 (2)(4)            3.04       10/30/2023  
    1,637,508 (5)      1,432,816       3.58       4/22/2025  
    333,333 (6)      666,667       3.23       4/19/2026  

Brian Kinion

          1,200,000 (7)      3.68       10/29/2027  

Hayden Brown

    46,125 (2)(4)            1.52       12/14/2021  
    82,604 (8)      41,249       2.76       4/6/2024  
    20,965 (2)(4)            3.04       7/24/2023  
    15,000