There's a "gig economy" growing, and it's only a matter of time before more New Zealanders are a part of it. So says Ryan Mulcock, a New York-based Kiwi fronting an on-demand staffing company.

Mulcock, 31, runs his start-up recruitment firm Outfit like a talent agency - "the American way" - casting waiters, cleaners and baristas, among others, to work at luxury events.

Feilding-born Mulcock moved to New York 10 years ago, where he worked in TV production and event planning. At the time he was juggling unpaid internships and signed to "talent agency" Top Shelf to work as a server at star-studded parties in the evenings.

He later went on to be a director of special projects at Lionsgate for Tribeca Shortlist, a joint venture between Tribeca Film Festival and Lionsgate, and an event producer for Saatchi and Saatchi.


"It was definitely by necessity that I had to be working these events because my internships in television were not paying, so I had to make ends meet, but I thought 'this is such a great thing'," Mulcock says.

"I was doing gigs for Armani where they fit me for a suit and I'd get out on the floor and meet people. I did events at Julian Schnabel's house, Patti Smith's house - amazing, amazing insight and I thought: 'Why is no one catching on to this, it's a fantastic opportunity but it's just not marketed in the right way'."

Outfit books hospitality and retail staff according to a brand's requirements, in the same way that like talent scouts would book models or actors.

The Chelsea, New York-based company, which launched in June last year, is working with a number of global players such as Sony, Coach and MoMa - the Museum of Modern Art. It has a database of 200 staff, eight ongoing clients, and so far has supplied workers for 40 events.

"If you treat your talent like gold, they will shine", is Mulcock's unofficial business motto, adopted from a colleague during his time working at TVNZ.

"When you make people feel empowered and you make them feel like they are part of the party, that's when they'll perform for you, and that's really my [motto] - it's a New Zealand mentality, making [people] feel good about what they do."

In the US, 35 per cent of the workforce is freelance. Research shows 81 per cent of traditional workers are willing to do extra work outside of their nine-to-five jobs and 43 per cent of US millennials spend days off thinking about or doing work.

Some US$200 million ($274m) is spent annually on event staffing in New York, and Mulcock is hoping to win a share of that. So far he has made sales of US$90,000 ($122,830) while his business was in a testing phase.


The "gig economy" refers to the systems or software that allow workers to do a range of jobs for different employers, and work for short spells between different companies. For some people, it's a chance to choose their own jobs and hours. For others, it's more exploitative, with little workplace protection.

With the Me Too anti-harassment movement gaining momentum in Hollywood and the rest of the US, businesses which require staff based on physical criteria are at risk of being labelled as offensive.

But Mulcock says his business is about making people feel empowered and in control of their futures. "If I can say ... 'Lion's Gate wants you five to seven, $300', the whole wanting you element is not in existence [elsewhere]. Making people feel good about being wanted and being part of the party is a unique selling point for us.

"We give talent the tools to choose who they work for based on ratings from other talent, and clients can do the same. We are enabling people to speak up by providing a platform fuelled by transparency. Our talent and clients are only as good as their last gig and their feedback and ratings will reflect that.

"As for talent matching brands - in the end, it is all about experience, expertise and ratings. Often, the more established the brand, the more stringent their search criteria so we have created Outfit to aid that talent search."

New Zealand has the market to bring the business here, he says.

When you make people feel empowered and you make them feel like they are part of the party, that's when they shine for you.

"People are looking for other ways to generate income and the standard work model isn't as we know it. Picking up gigs, freelancing ... that's really shifting the way that people are wanting to work, working from home, working remotely, it all bundles into this shift-gig economy," he says.

"This is the way the market is going. People are wanting to take control, not be beholden to a single employer and really find a way to work that works for them."

He likens his business to Uber, and the way that business began.

"Uber didn't really attract taxi drivers when it launched; it attracted people who had cars who wanted to make a bit of extra money. Uber bought a whole other realm of talent into the workforce; we're doing the same thing."

Long term, Mulcock says Outfit has huge potential. "My idea is to take it worldwide. If you think about Vector Arena, the World of Wearable Art, all of these things where you need human resources and you want people who you can - at the click of a button - book, read their ratings, read their credentials."

In New York, says Mulcock, it typically takes three weeks to get paid by cheque and a standard agent takes 30 per cent of the amount earned. Through its app, Outfit can pay straight away, and it takes its payment from the client, rather than the worker.

"The wider scope for the company is to have a platform that automates talent agency models whatever they may be. Whether it's for construction workers on demand, photographers on demand, massage therapists, etc, the platform that we have created is proprietary and unique in that way," Mulcock says.

"We want to make the talent feel like their own agent."