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What’s the value of a domain name? Ask Philippine freelance portal Raket.ph

Freelancer directory Raket.ph has one major unfair advantage: its domain name. Though it doesn’t have a perfect translation into English, the Tagalog word raket could be approximated as “sideline,” which is of course perfect for a site that aims to showcase the work of freelancers so that they can get hired by Filipinos in need of on-demand work.

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Raket.ph CEO Lyle Jover was surprised the domain was even available. “All I can say that we we’re just very lucky getting this domain,” he shares. “There used to be another owner but I guess things went the other way for them.”

According to Jover, the original owner of the Raket.ph domain had tried to put up a job search website like Jobstreet. However, it seems he and his team, which includes CTO Bryan Martinez and business and development director Jp Menjares, have put it to better use. It helps in the fact that Raket.ph is instantly recognizable to most Filipinos, much in the same way that what Freelancer.com offers would be obvious to any English speaking person.

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The Raket.ph team (l-r): Jp Menjares, Lyle Jover, and Bryan Martinez

Freelancer, incidentally, is one of the sites that Jover hopes to challenge, along with Elance-oDesk. He thinks the Raket.ph model – that of having employers find the exact freelancer they need through a searchable directory, rather than having freelancers bid on posted projects – better suits Filipino culture. But just how much can Raket.ph’s branding help them take on the goliaths of the online job world?

“Brand recall is like a double-edged sword when it comes to word of mouth,” Jover says. “If they can’t remember your company’s name, the story ends with ‘Yeah, but I forgot the name – I’ll tell you once I remember’ which more often than not ends there. You don’t get a second chance with word of mouth.”

Luckily, this does not seem to happen with Raket.ph. “We have never heard anybody asking ‘What was your site’s name again?’”

Transforming a media whirlwind into regular users

This brand recognition extends to media people in the Philippines in search of the next big story. “They immediately get that this has something to do with short-term jobs or the Filipino term rakets,” Jover says. “We don’t have to explain anything except for the new concept that we are introducing.”

Jover and the Raket.ph team have been media darlings, having been featured in print, digital, radio, and television since they launched in May of this year. Of course, media attention is important only inasmuch as it drives new users to the site, and by this measure, Raket.ph has been quite successful.

In a little over three months, Raket.ph has acquired over 5,000 users and are growing at a rate of 50 new users per day. Raket.ph has gotten such unexpected levels of traffic to the site that the team has had to upgrade their servers twice.

Still, Jover counts the most important metric as the number of interactions between freelancers and the people looking to hire them, since the goal of the site is to get them more part-time jobs and projects. On a week to week basis, they are averaging about 300 interactions, or inquiries, between the two groups.

The top five kinds of freelancers they have on the site are graphic artists, developers, photographers, event organizers, and accountants – but they have people for almost every service you can think of (yes, even electricians!), and the Raket.ph team is careful to listen to everyone’s feedback.

For example, one person was complaining that they had to wait for the freelancer to reply via the internet, when it would be faster to contact them directly via mobile. Raket.ph thus added contact options for mobile, Skype, and Viber, though Jover notes that “while these improve the accessibility of freelancers, they remain optional due to privacy concerns.”

The Raket.ph team is also turning to the freelancers registered on the site – who Jover refers to as “Raketeers” – for help as they try to scale. This is in part due to budget constraints – Jover and his team are bootstrapping, so they have extremely limited funds available for marketing.

While this seems very meta, the strategy makes sense if you really think about it. The people who got on board with Raket.ph at this point are early adopters, so they see the value in what the company is trying to accomplish. Naturally, they would want to see the platform succeed.

As an example, Jover has found bloggers through Raket.ph to help populate the site’s own blog with articles relevant to freelancers, some of which are very general (i.e. how to write a resume) and some of which are niche, i.e. what you need to be a model. They are of course better ambassadors of how it takes to succeed as a Raketeer than a random writer pulled off the street would have been.

The future of Raket.ph

Despite their early traction, Jover and his team are not focused on monetizing the platform. He has found this orientation to be at odds with the startup culture as a whole, which often prizes sky-high projections of profits.

For example, Raket.ph won pitching event Launchpad in the second quarter of this year and Jover hopes that it’ll be the springboard to possibly landing an angel investor. He admits that these events are often too preoccupied with the earning potential of a startup – even when this is all castle-in-the-sky dreaming, anyway.

“We had to think of other ways to generate revenue so that we would have a chance of winning these business pitches,” Jover shares. “At the same time, we also have to be careful not to compromise our function and user experience just because of economics.”

Though they’re trying to be protective of Raket.ph, Jover is still not exactly sure what he’s being protective of. “We believe that we don’t know what Raket.ph is yet,” Jover says. “We can describe it, yes, but at this early point, we don’t know how to answer the ‘What?’” Despite this uncertainty of what Raket.ph will eventually be – to say nothing of how it will earn money – Jover is sure of one thing: The site is free and will always remain free for its users.

At this point, Jover is most likely considering a freemium model, one in which paying members will receive premium benefits, such as having their profile highlighted in some way. Still, this is not at the top of Jover’s list. To him and to his co-founders, who he built the initial version of the site in just three weeks, Raket.ph is not just another slick tech website. It can bring genuine value to the lives of Filipinos across the country, Jover feels, no matter what their calling is.

“We wanted to give opportunities to those who usually have none since we observed most Filipinos favor a stable job and forgo their passion just to make ends meet,” Jover says. “Raket.ph can be the place that helps them reconnect with their passion.”

Editing by Jeff Quigley

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