Elance, oDesk merge

The two largest freelance job finder sites have merged. Elance took in oDesk in a deal worth an undisclosed amount of money, but which will see the Elance CEO Fabio Rosati take the helm of both companies as oDesk CEO Gary Swart moves into a strategic advisory position. The companies will largely remain separate in visible operations, having what they describe as “separate but synergistic” missions.

The two will share technology and data centers, along with other cost-saving combinations, but will continue to operate as separate freelancer sites with different approaches to connecting providers with jobs.

The two combined will mean about two million businesses hiring from a pool of about eight million freelancers, making it by far the largest company of its kind.

Both companies are still private entities, though oDesk has hinted at going public in the past. So why merge? Swart noted that the two competitors have been on panels and met at industry events for years. They are just a few exits off Highway 101 from each other, in California. “The more we got together over the past couple years the more we realized that, though competitors, these are decent people,” Swart said. “We’re on the same mission. We’ve made $2 billion combined to date of a $422 billion global staffing opportunity.”

The merger means that the two companies can not only pool resources easily, but also have a stronger portfolio for going IPO. Where oDesk has raised about $44 million in venture investment, Elance has had nearly $90 million and both are said to be on solid financial footing.

It will be interesting to see how this affects the freelance community who use the sites. Especially over time as the two sites become more and more intertwined, as will inevitably happen.

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