TopTal Review – The Divided Future of Outsourcing

Despite what people might say about UpWork, 99designs, Fiver or any other freelance marketplace… the current outsourcing model isn’t broken.

Each platform certainly has their flaws, but both businesses and freelancers can certainly navigate around them. I’ve talked about this before on my in-depth post on UpWork:

It’s not like these companies started with the sole intention of attracting subpar freelancers. But that’s what tends to happen when a marketplace is driven by price, instead of value. The problems don’t lie within the platforms per se, but rather within the freelancers and businesses, and how they choose to use the platform. For businesses, if you know how to sift through the majority of unqualified applicants you could uncover the goldmine of talented freelancers at competitive prices… For freelancers, realize that and Upwork are just one source of leads. Think about referrals, SEO, PPC, social media and even other platforms.

Price vs Value

Let’s go through a scenario I’ve seen time and time again, a business needs to hire a SEO consultant, which is a popular thing for businesses to outsource.

It doesn’t matter if they’re local, or if they’re overseas. It doesn’t matter if they’re $10, or $100 an hour. You don’t want to pay someone to twiddle their thumbs, if you’re looking for SEO, you want results.

Unfortunately most businesses haven’t been able to separate talent from snake oil, falling for the promise of a first page result for pennies on the dollar. This is such a common scenario that Google has had to warn businesses of their tactics.

Even sadder, I’ve seen some businesses just continue to make the same mistake over and over again.

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. – Albert Einstein

Now some businesses eventually understand the value of good talent, but I’ve seen first hand that it’s a lesson that they’ve had to learn… the hard way.

What’s this have to do with TopTal?


TopTal is a value-added marketplace that focuses on the top 3% of talent, with designers, developers and now they’ve recently added finance experts.

But UpWork isn’t broken. The same freelancers that are on TopTal are on UpWork as well.

That might seem counterintuitive when you’re reading a post about TopTal, as review posts for premium things tend to be positive in nature. And really, this is no different. My point is that the OG’s, Elance and oDesk (now merged into the behemoth that is UpWork) didn’t start with the intention connecting unskilled labor with clueless businesses… but that’s what happens when a marketplace is driven by price, instead of value.

Evolution of Craigslist

This is the evolution of Craigslist. A few years old and could use an update with even more companies that are disrupting this area, but nonetheless this graphic is still very relevant.

You see, Craigslist, like UpWork, is a two-sided marketplace. Buyers and sellers. Like the chicken and the egg, you can’t have one without the other.

Like UpWork, Craigslist isn’t broken either. It’s still the go-to classifieds for buying and selling here in the USA.

But we’ve seen a lot of companies evolve out of specific verticals from Craigslist.

Let’s take AirBnB as an example. Now valuated at $31 Billion. It grew from a single category on Craigslist. Heck, they even used Craigslist to grow. They did it in a somewhat sketchy way, but hey, you can’t knock the hustle of fledging startup.

Finding a Developer

Whenever someone asks me where they can find a developer the answer is always it depends. Every situation is unique, but there are a lot of common scenarios:

  • Non-tech business: A lot of people that think they need an expensive developer, actually don’t. It really depends what you need the website to do, if you’re just displaying information, you just need a simple website template. Our guide on How to Launch and Create a Website under $100 goes into a bit more detail on that. Examples of this are most local businesses; restaurants, services, etc. At scale, it might be a little different but for the most part I’d start with a simple website because it’s cheap and if the framework becomes too limiting, that that’s the time to reassess. People who know they need a web/mobile application of some sort, or a tech startup… you’re going to want to start looking at building from scratch.     
  • A business looking for local talent: Clearly TopTal, or any other online freelance marketplace isn’t for you. Try local job boards for regular work, or for contract positions try or find Facebook tech groups in your area to connect with local developers.
  • The Solo-Founder: This is the boat most will find themselves in. Unless you have a lot of personal or venture funding, I don’t think TopTal is the best option for you. Hypothetically speaking, if you have $10,000 for a business, there are better returns than an app. A lot of people think, “If you build it, they will come” and that simply doesn’t work in business. Even marketplaces that were viral in nature, such as Fiverr, still scaled with marketing. If you’re a solo-founder, you’re going to have to find a way to make it work. If you’re hiring, you’ll have to cut down on billable hours, become familiar with communicating with developer, create a mockup in Photoshop or Balsamiq, etc. If you’re dead set on hiring a developer, I’d look at the $20-50/hr range on UpWork and start with milestones as detailed in this guide on How to Hire a Freelancer. Realistically though, if you’re going down the high-risk, high-reward tech startup route, I’d recommend finding a developer you can partner with. Paul Graham, Founder of the most well known startup incubator in Y Combinatorhe listed Single Founder as the #1 mistake that kills a startup, “What’s wrong with having one founder? To start with, it’s a vote of no confidence. It probably means the founder couldn’t talk any of his friends into starting the company with him. That’s pretty alarming, because his friends are the ones who know him best.”
  • Tech companies, or companies that are scaling: Web or app development is one of those things that pays to get done right the first time. TopTal comes at a premium at $60-95/hr, but they’ve done the vetting for you. And best of all, it comes with a no risk trial. I’ve seen first hand from working with them that they really do only retain the top 3% of talent. For best results, you should be experienced with project management, or have someone within the company who is. Or better yet, you already have a lead developer that can manage the project. They’re trusted by some of the biggest companies in the world; Google, HP, the aforementioned AirBnB, and the list goes on. TopTal is clearly a really good option, it really just depends on if your company can afford it. And often times, you’ll save a lot of time and money by getting the project done right the first time.

Like AirBnB evolved from the temporary housing category on Craigslist, TopTal was built based on the frustration that businesses were having with finding developers on UpWork or similar platforms. And the no risk trial really means that they stand behind their vetting process for developers. To me, it’s a no-brainer if you have the budget.

It’s like how I felt about 99designs, you either get a logo that you like or your money back. It’s simple. You might pay a little more in price (compared to something like Fiverr anyway) , but the value is that you’re guaranteed to get something you like… and some would call that priceless.

Like that old adage goes, “If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.”

There are things you can outsource for dirt cheap, I talked about them in our post on the most popular things to outsource. You need an audio transcription? Fiverr can take care of you for $5. Voiceover? Same thing. You have recurring simple tasks? A virtual assistant can help you out. But when it comes to things that require even rudimentary cognitive skill, like marketing, or software development, etc… It pays to hire good talent.



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