Career Path: CEO talks the 1990s gig economy | Crain's Dallas

Career Path: CEO talks the 1990s gig economy

Kim Houlne, CEO of Working Solutions, started the original gig economy in 1996 so people could work from home. | Photo courtesy of Working Solutions.

Kim Houlne jumped into the gig economy craze more than two decades ago, long before anyone had heard of side hustles.

Today, when people think of the gig economy, they think of apps like rideshare giant Uber or grocery delivery services like Shipt.

But there’s a whole other side to the gig economy that provides crucial services to major corporations.

Houlne is the CEO of Working Solutions, a Plano-based company that’s been providing an on-demand workforce since 1996. She taps a network of 100,000 contractors nationwide with a wide range of skillsets that her clients can call on when they need them.

These self-employed contractors get the benefits of working from home and marketing their skills to a wide variety of corporations. Her clients, the companies, can expand their workforces quickly to meet sudden demand spikes, handle the holiday rush or to finish a big project.

“We say, ‘On demand in your brand,”’ Houlne said. “Companies have a need for a quick on-demand solution. Oftentimes, they can’t predict their volume.”  This symbiotic relationship shows a totally different side to the gig economy.

The early days:

In the mid-1990s, I was living in Omaha, Nebraska but commuting by plane to Seattle to complete a project. I continued doing this when I got pregnant but after a while it just wasn’t feasible.

I wanted to finish the project but that meant working from home. Luckily, Omaha was also home to the Strategic Air Command so it had better access to broadband internet than most areas in the country at that time.

I joined the burgeoning telecommuting trend. And I saw the opportunity for something big here as hundreds of people wanted to work in a flexible environment and not be accountable to any bosses.

In 1996, I founded Working Solutions where I would build virtual teams who could provide tech support, marketing services, customer service or sales to a corporation.

Demand increased as the word spread. These were people who could get a job but were looking for an alternative to the traditional workspace. They wanted flexibility. 

There was no cloud computing at the time so much of the work had to be done via spreadsheets being emailed back and forth. It was primitive compared to what’s possible today.

One of my first big clients was the city of St. Louis, who needed consultants to determine whether an area could be revitalized. Some were local. Others not. But they all worked together as a team to get the job done.

Important part of the economy:

I moved Working Solutions to Plano 19 years ago and today have about 100 people on staff and a network of more than 100,000 people. I typically use several thousand contractors in a given month for different projects or unforeseen circumstances.

When a concert gets canceled or a drug company has a major recall, companies get flooded with phone calls. Oftentimes, they reach out to us. Most recently, Working Solutions provided on-demand workforces to companies that had their operations interrupted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

We started preparing for Irma and Harvey before they hit because we knew clients in those areas would be affected. They could route their calls to our agents who are located around the country and weren’t affected by the hurricane.

Today’s technology allows workers to login through Citrix to access client servers securely. The private information is masked so no private information can be obtained from the person working at home. Our contract employees take on the brand of the company.

September 15, 2017 - 3:35pm