Our Work
Why Us
Book a demo

Upwork IPO: Journey of a $1.5 Billion Unicorn | What Next?

Team Superside
Team Superside
7 min read
How much is Upwork really worth


  • Upwork Journey to IPO
  • How Big is Upwork?
  • How Much is Upwork Worth?
  • IPO Aftermath
  • Estimated Valuation
  • Conclusion

Upwork’s IPO Journey - The Beginning of Freelance Disruption

Now that it's no longer a secret that Upwork decided to go public, a number of questions, presumptions and debates have arisen. Some of the most pertinent questions revolve around the magnitude of the Upwork IPO filing and how this will affect the freelance industry.

To address the questions and presumptions of the Upwork IPO journey, Superside collected data from various sources, including PR releases and online and publicly-available sources, and carried out a deep analysis using statistical methods. We managed to generate interesting estimates about the Upwork valuation—data that is not available anywhere else.

Here's What Upwork's CEO Thinks

How Big is Upwork?

Let's look at some of the commonly googled stats about Upwork that you might not have known!

How Much is Upwork Worth?Is it the Next Unicorn?

With the news of the Upwork IPO filing, people are already wondering if this will be the next big unicorn, following in the footsteps of Spotify Technology SA and Dropbox, Inc.

According to some speculations, what happens after the transition is what matters. Things may get difficult for Upwork when it gets caught not only between clients and freelancers but also between investors and freelancers. Others see this as immense potential.

Here is an in-depth analysis made by Superside and unavailable anywhere else, generating interesting estimates about the Upwork valuation.

IPO Aftermath – Will it be a Success?

According to Superside CEO & Founder, Fredrik Thomassen

It will be uplifiting for the industry

  • The IPO could lead to increased growth in the entire B2B Human Cloud industry due to increased media exposure or increased confidence among slowly adopting BigCos.
  • It will also most likely determine UpWork's ability to raise more capital and debt to drive growth, which is good for everyone.
  • UpWork could also consolidate the space by buying smaller players. Combined with faster growth, the IPO might contribute to more market power for UpWork.
  • More market power could, in turn, lead to UpWork increasing their commissions. While a possible increased commission is bad for UpWork's existing freelancers, it would allow UpWork to invest more in growth and tech, which would allow more freelancers to make a living using the platform. The net welfare effect is, therefore, a bit unclear.

But, not a VC-Style Homerun

If we measure success by looking at the 2014 investors (Benchmark, T. Rowe Price, FirstMark, Sigma West, NEA, and Stripes Group), the IPO could be good from a private equity-standpoint, but it won't be a VC-style homerun.

Comparison to Freelancer.com

Freelancer is currently trading at an AU$252 million market cap (or US$186 million). In the first half of 2018 they collected AU$24.7 million in commission, or around AU$50 million in commission for the full-year, according to their H1 2018 report. This means their market cap/commission ratio is around five, including escrow.


UpWork announced numbers for the first time in a long while in a 2018 press release. According to the statement,

  • They are now doing US$1.5 billion annualized gross services volume run-rate.
  • UpWork's commission is currently somewhere between 12-15 percent (based on our estimates of the impact of their new sliding scale commission structure, including their new payment fee of 2.75 percent), and we believe it should be around 13 percent.
  • This means that UpWork's 2018 commission should be around US$200 million, excluding some income from UpWork Pro and UpWork Enterprise.
  • If they get the same commission multiple as publicly traded Freelancer, then that would value UpWork at around US$1 billion (5 x US$200 million).

UpWork raised US$30 million from investors in 2014, at a valuation of US$850 million. At the time, they were doing US$930 million in gross services volume, and likely close to US$90 million in commissions or around 9.5 times the commission multiple (US$850 million / 90 million).

Doubling commissions in four years is certainly faster than Freelancer, but it is not amazing for a venture-backed company burning money. T. Rowe Price took some write-offs on their UpWork investment in 2015 amid a lot of fuzz around integrating Elance and oDesk after the merger. T. Rowe’s Horizon fund, who owns the UpWork shares, does not share anything in their 2016-2018 reporting about UpWork, and it is unclear how they price it today.


In any case, it seems unlikely that the public market pricing of UpWork will have a lower multiple than Freelancer given their higher growth. There are some other properties of UpWork that make it more attractive than Freelancer such as:

  • Being the most likely market leader
  • US location/listing
  • Much stronger platform tech which means they may be able to defend their 2014 valuation multiple of 9.5 times which would value UpWork at US$1.9 billion.

A price in the US$1-1.9 billion range seems likely. The late-2014 investors will make between 94 - 97 percent rate of return on the investment. With UpWork’s total capital of US$170 million, early investors and employees should get a good return.


Published: Sep 6, 2018
Team Superside
Written by
Team Superside
Team Superside is comprised of writers from all over the globe. We love making stuff, telling stories and sharing fun, nerdy ideas with the world.

Join our community of 5,000 strong and receive the best design and marketing content, biweekly

No charge. Unsubscribe anytime

Continue reading

iOS 13 Update Advertising on Facebook

How Apple’s iOS 14 Update Changes Advertising on Facebook

Hint: great creative is will be the name of the game. The Apple iOS 14 update doesn't need to be all doom and gloom for advertisers—we've got tips for success!

Branding package outline and tips

What’s Included in a Branding Package?

Whether you're refreshing an existing brand or starting from scratch, you need a branding package. We cover what a brand package includes, plus premium add-ons.

How to write a design brief

How to Write a Design Brief (+ Free Template)

Learn about what to include in a design brief, along with some tips on how to properly write one. Or, just access our free design brief template!

Hassle-free design starts here

Superside is an always-on design company that makes design frictionless and hassle-free for marketing, sales, creative and product design teams. This means top quality designs at lightning fast speeds, improved velocity and go-to-market and completely secure and confidential file sharing and collaboration.

In this one-on-one live demo, you’ll see:
- How Superside works
- A first look at the Superside platform
- The most suitable subscription plan for you

Get ready to join 140+ scale-ups and enterprise teams doing good design at scale with Superside’s dedicated team model.
Want to start a design project instead? No problem, get started here

Book a call with us

First name
Last name
Company name
Company size
Phone number
We need your phone number for the demo. We'll never use it for any other purposes.
Book a demo



Book a demo
Superside is a revolutionary way for businesses to get good design done at scale.
Trusted by scale-ups and enterprise teams, Superside makes design hassle-free for Marketing, Sales, Creative and Product Design teams by combining top designers and project managers from all over the world, with purpose-built technology and the rigour of designops. Since inception, Superside has been a fully remote and distributed company based in Palo Alto, California, with 180+ employees working across 50+ countries and 19 timezones.
Privacy Policy