New Albany entrepreneur graduates from Founder Institute
New Albany native Sam Malik and his Co-Founder John Bentley met just months before launching their digital platform Meelance. Now they’ve graduated from Cincinnati’s Founder Institute and have big plans.
“My Co-Founder and CTO John Bentley and I met in the Founder Institute, an international startup accelerator program with a chapter in Cincinnati,” Malik said. “65 companies applied to the cohort, 35 were accepted, and out of those 35, only 8 made it through the 5-month program to graduation. John and I entered the Institute with separate ideas that ended up merging to form Meelance.”
Meelance is a marketplace platform that matches freelancers to businesses looking to grow and create a professional image for themselves.
“Our vision is to make Meelance the go-to platform for such needs,” Malik said. “By combining automated project management with top-notch, trusted freelance specialists, we provide agency-quality services such as graphic design, web development, and digital marketing – all for the cost of hiring a freelancer.”
Malik is impressive for his age. A 2016 New Albany High School graduate and valedictorian of his class, he has received numerous awards and previously served as Co-Executive Director of TEDxNewAlbany and Director of Marketing and Outreach at Solar New Albany.
Before Meelance, Malik started a solo branding and marketing consulting firm, Malik Media, which he still operates. Malik Media serves graphic design, web design, digital marketing, photography, and videography to small- to medium-size businesses and startups.
Getting to know Sam Malik and Meelance
What makes Meelance stand out from its competitors?
There are a few major problems with existing freelance platforms such as Upwork or Freelancer, all of which we are tackling with Meelance. First, we noticed that many service buyers do not know how to define their needs to a freelancer. For example, they may post a project that says “I need graphic design, and my budget is $300.” A graphic designer is then left with an ambiguous request that is difficult to accurately quote. To solve this, we’ve created a streamlined Service Request Process that asks clients the right questions to turn their goals into a simple blueprint that a freelancer can understand and follow—essentially breaking the communication barrier between business-person and freelancer.
We also noticed that service buyers get inundated with hundreds of bids when they post projects, and they often lack the hiring experience to know how to determine who is truly qualified to work with them. And likewise, in order for freelancers to even compete in such a competitive market, they have to write hundreds of proposals, rarely even landing a single job.
With Meelance, we’ve created a Matchmaking System that provides each company with a shortlist of 3-5 vetted freelance specialists that are most qualified for their needs– based on industry experience, work style preferences, past project success, personal passions/interests, and other key factors. This way, service buyers waste no time sorting through proposals, and freelancers eliminate the opportunity cost of time wasted writing hundreds of bids.
And finally, we constantly hear both freelancers and service buyers complaining that it is difficult to stay organized on Upwork or Freelancer and that they fear leaving a transaction without receiving the compensation or deliverables that were agreed upon up front. On Meelance, we provide our users with project management tools that break each project into pre-funded milestones and make it easier to assign deadlines, manage tasks, make payments, provide feedback, and transfer deliverables.
Where does the Meelance team work?
During the week, we work out of Cintrifuse, an incubator and coworking space in downtown Cincinnati. During the weekend, I typically work out of Innovate New Albany.
How did the Meelance team come together?
John and I entered the Institute with separate ideas that ended up merging to form Meelance. It turns out that John and I had both done freelance work in the past—he as a developer and I as a designer—and we both felt that freelancers such as ourselves, as well as our clients, were being left frustrated and underserved on existing platforms.
Given John’s skill set in web and software development and mine in design and branding, combined with our mutual passion for empowering freelancers and small businesses, we felt like we were the perfect duo to create a solution to fill this void.
Aside from John and I, we have a very talented Board of Advisors: Eric Fulkert, CEO of CampusSuite and COO of Soundstr (two thriving Cincinnati startups); Scott Tibbs, a senior digital marketer who has worked for Procter & Gamble, Kao Brands, and now Luxottica; and Neil Collins, the onsite leader of Innovate New Albany as well as a former senior marketer at IGS Energy, Bausch & Lomb, GSK, and Borden Foods.
What are your plans for Meelance after graduating from the Founder Institute?
Now that we’ve graduated Founder Institute, we are building out our Alpha platform, which is currently live at meelance.co. We are initially focusing on logo design and brand kits, and we are offering discounted services to our initial customers who are providing great feedback on the user experience.
We are continually seeking out businesses that are in need of high-quality design and branding work for fair prices. We are also laying out our marketing strategy and tech development plan for the next 3-6 months, as well as plans for approaching angel investors.
What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Last year, I heard Demetrius Curry, CEO of College Ease, a company that helps high school students get into college, speaking at an event. He was known for always wearing a suit, and a lot of people would ask him why he always does. He went on to explain that one of the first things his mentor told him when he went from being homeless to starting a company was, “Dress as if. Act as if.” “So I do. Every day,” he explained.
This advice resonated with me. As a 19-year-old entrepreneur, it is easy to feel like an underdog. So whenever I step out of my comfort zone and feel nervous as a young entrepreneur, especially when meeting with or pitching to my superiors, those words repeat in my head. I remind myself that age is just a number. I think about what I want to be and who I want to be, and I act the part.
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