Don’t call me Uber: Why disability support startup Hireup is ditching the gig economy model


Jordan O'Reilly, Hireup co-founder and CEO. Source: Supplied.

Jordan O’Reilly’s online disability support provider has won national awards, saved clients millions, and is growing like crazy. But one thing he’s adamant it’s not is the ‘Uber of disability’.

This applies to being the ‘Tinder for disability support’ or any other comparison to global ‘gig economy’ pioneers too, with the founder lamenting the business community’s “limited vocabulary” when it comes to describing emerging business models.

“Emerging models don’t have a sophisticated vocabulary for describing them, and its comparison to other companies often doesn’t help people understand how we work,” O’Reilly tells SmartCompany.

“I know that the vocab is still evolving, but we’re worlds away from being just another Uber of the world.”

The business in question is Hireup, founded by O’Reilly and his sister Laura in 2015 after an experience with a close family member opened their eyes to the shortcomings in the homecare and disability support sector.

“We got a window into what the experience is like for people with disabilities and saw that it left a lot to be desired. It’s been the same model for the last however many years, and it was only sometimes working,” he says.

The two took the most issue with the “revolving door” of disability workers who would tend to their family member, which O’Reilly said was a “disempowering experience” for both him and his family member, leaving he and his sister with a determination to change the model.

Today, Hireup acts as an online platform for both carers and people with disabilities, allowing those who need support to hire and manage workers, and those who provide support to find work and help out in an easy manner.

Peer-to-peer and pseudo-on-demand, the platform launched in Victoria just last week, already operating in NSW, ACT, and Queensland before that. To date, O’Reilly says Hireup has facilitated over 1.5 million hours of support, with over 50,000 registered users.

In addition, the comparison to companies such as Uber is even more galling for Hireup due to the company’s commitment to paying workers as employees rather than contractors — a rarity for companies in the on-demand space.

“We use an employment-based model and employ all workers properly. We pay super, tax, award rates, and we treat them like you’d treat employees in any traditional business,” the 30-year-old founder says.

“I don’t think of Hireup as a gig economy business, more as a traditional business with different worker relationships. We’re just much more efficient.”

Award abundance

Despite only existing for three years, Hireup and O’Reilly have been recognised by a number of prestigious business awards, recently including Ernst & Young’s Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year and Google’s Impact Challenge winner, for which it nabbed a $1 million grant from the tech giant.

The business has also taken home accolades as the top business in the Deloitte Tech Fast 50 in 2017, and Westpac’s Businesses of Tomorrow award.

O’Reilly, like any good startup founder, says the awards are “very humbling”, but also attributes some of the business’ significant recent growth with the recognition and validation the awards have provided.

“The exposure the awards have generated and the networks they built equalled a momentum which allowed us to communicate more broadly and tell more people about what we’re doing,” he says

At the end of 2017, O’Reilly says he almost couldn’t believe Hireup’s three-year revenue growth, which is over 7,700%.

Despite that disbelief, he says the company’s been continuing on the same trajectory ever since then.

“That momentum is what we need to head towards our ambition of being the number one provider of homecare and support in Australia,” he says.

Improving on the NDIS

However, Hireup may have a touch of competition when it comes to that goal, with the new National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) beginning its rollout two years ago.

O’Reilly calls the NDIS the “most significant social reform since Medicare”, and believes it and Hireup shares many core values and beliefs.

That being said, Hireup prides itself on being cheaper than the NDIS by about 15% on average, and the founder says the business has saved clients over $11 million compared to what they would have spent on the NDIS’ plan.

Overall, O’Reilly thinks the NDIS is a fantastic initiative but also notes the $22 billion rollout is a “colossal undertaking”, which has led to some people being left in the lurch during the transition.

“That’s always really disappointing to see, but what I usually see every day is a system working well for people and helping them achieve their goals,” he says.

Looking to the future, O’Reilly hopes to keep growing the business at its impressive clip and letting more people know the platform is open for business. Though operating in a socially-focused industry, the business is not a social enterprise, with the founder describing Hireup as “for profit and for purpose”.

“My sister and I started a charity a few years before starting Hireup, so we knew if we wanted to make a difference we needed to run it as more of a business,” he says.

“It’s been a fantastic journey so far, and we’re pioneering this space of using business for social good.”

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