When the pandemic first gripped Ireland, marketing consultant Úna Herlihy began pulling together a list of names of people she knew in her industry who were struggling to find work or or had lost their jobs.

Herlihy curated the list on LinkedIn, but as the list grew due to the gig economy drying up, she asked her long-time friend and former colleague Peter McPartlin to help her manage it.

“Last year, Úna came to me and said would you give us a hand with this list I’ve started on LinkedIn. It kind of mushroomed from there,” says McPartlin.

What started as a social initiative on LinkedIn turned into more of a passion project that both Herlihy and McPartlin began devoting a large portion of their time to it and eventually turned it into a business enterprise which launched on July 4, 2020. The Indie List was born.

The company now has 480 freelancers currently using its service.

“We have everybody from freelance web designers to journalists, e-commerce strategists and then more traditional advertising roles,” says McPartlin, a former chief executive of Today FM.

“So, they would have been the people who signed up originally because, again, we would know a lot of those people. They were the ones who were on the original list that Una had on LinkedIn. So creative people, client managers, people like copywriters and photographers and so on, but they now represent a third of the list. The rest of the list is a much broader spread of marketing and digital services.

“It’s been great in the sense of getting people work who have been badly hit, like everybody else, from Covid-19 and its effect on business.

Herlihy and McPartlin worked in the creative agency BBDO together before moving onto different areas. McPartlin was CEO of Today FM before branching off to do freelance and contract work and was well used to the uncertainty that the freelance and self employed environment can create.

“Both of us made our careers in advertising and the media industry. You want to see people in the industry surviving and thriving and people within it finding jobs and so on. But we we’re just hearing some horror stories of people losing work and companies letting people go and so on,” says McPartlin.

“I’d say since the beginning, particularly of this year, we’ve just seen a big upsurge in demand.”

An industry in crisis

Research by The Indie List revealed that 70 per cent of freelancers who participated had work completely cancelled on them last year.

“The gig economy and freelance economy or a contract economy or whatever you want to call it is part and parcel of the way in which the workforce is structured. But there is no real structure around for the thousands of freelance and casual workers,” says McPartlin.

“We’re a niche service where we only represent one particular sector within a very, very large workforce of casual workers are freelance workers. And generally, when you look outside the sector that we’re in, the pay is very low sector and there are little or no safety nets from large companies or the state for that matter.”

The Indie List recently agreed a deal with an American company called Shortlist where which provides software that would allow The Indie List freelancers to put up more information and visuals on their Indie List profiles.

“This will turn it more into a community. So probably not unlike Slack in that sense, but kind of a Slack for freelancers. A Slack for Indie Listers,” says McPartlin.


With any start-up, there were teething problems, but the pair were quick to realise what was going wrong for them in the early days.

“We ended up giving money back to people because our pricing structure was absolutely crazy. We had a stupid thing where we’d charge you €150 to find somebody and then we’ll take that off the freelancer cost at the end as well,” says McPartlin.

This ended up costing the company money and they quickly decided to change the business model, according to McPartlin.

The Indie List now charges a client €250 to find the right freelancer for that particular client. The client prepares a brief stating what they need from a freelancer, with McPartlin and Herlihy then looking at their list to see who would be an appropriate fit. After matching the freelancer with the client, the freelancer has a virtual meeting with the client where they agree on a rate for the service provided. The Indie List then marks up whatever is agreed between the client and freelancer.

“So, if you’re charging clients €500 for a particular article or development of a website, then we’ll mark that up by 10 per cent,” explains McPartlin.

The Indie List clients include The National Lottery, 123.ie, KBC, Elvery’s, The Independent.ie and The Daily Mail.

“There’s no big HR recruitment fees, payroll costs. It’s based on a particular project and the scope of work,” says McPartlin.

The Indie List is not devoid of competition. With the emergence of the gig economy, businesses have been set up all over the world to help freelancers and contractors find work – Fiverr being one of the more popular companies.

“We’re not close to doing an IPO, but at least it hasn’t lost any money and we’ve made a few bob along the way.”

Peter McPartlin

“We didn’t know any of these until we got into the space – probably lucky we didn’t because we might have thought twice about it and said, look, we’re wasting our time. Other people have this mapped off,” says McPartlin.

“But I think there’s beauty in offering a much more personal service. And that’s what we found. All of those big companies they’re turning over billions. But I think what’s happened is that they’ve ended up commoditising freelance work. If you want your logo designed for €50, there’ll be somebody in India that will do it for €40 and then there’ll be somebody in Indonesia who’ll do it for €20.

“There has to be a value attached to expertise and talent and work but that’s not happening at that kind of top platform level. So, let’s say companies like Upwork and Fiverr and so on.”

McPartlin and Herlihy decided to bootstrap the business as the costs are relatively low – the only employees are themselves and they can work remotely. They invested €20,000 into the business to date.

“We’re not paying ourselves but we’re very happy with the business. I won’t get into the numbers in terms of how much earnings we’ve made. It’s not huge, but certainly, it gives us a huge amount of confidence. But what we’ve done with the money is now put it back into the platform and into the technology behind the platform itself,” says McPartlin.

“We’re not close to doing an IPO, but at least it hasn’t lost any money and we’ve made a few bob along the way,” he adds.

Problems in the media

Although McPartlin is now working in the start-up space, he is an advertising and media veteran with experience in various radio stations and working on strategies and campaigns for many of the country’s best-known brands.

He has identified three major issues facing the media in Ireland right now. The first one is funding and how can the media safeguard future funding of what would be regarded as non-commercial public service media or public service content.

Co-founders of The Indie List Úna Herlihy and Peter McPartlin.

The Irish Times Group has called for some state-funded supports for journalism recently which has led to much debate predominantly over social media.

“I think it has to be really, really ring-fenced of what that entails and also how it’s administered as well. I know people have been looking at the Sound and Vision funding in radio as a particular model to do that and that seems sensible,” says McPartlin.

“Based on my experience in Sound and Vision from working in the radio station side of things, it is a valuable piece of funding, but it is relatively small and I’m not sure how it would work. How do you determine whether a piece of journalism that is produced by The Currency is worthy of financial support versus something that’s produced by The Connacht Tribune,” he says.

His second point on the issues facing the media now is on the protection of the output, whether that’s journalism, creativity or social content that doesn’t generate advertising money but is uniquely Irish. 

“How can that survive and thrive in a world that’s becoming more dominated by the streaming giants, Netflix, Amazon, Disney, Spotify,” he says.

Lastly, data protection and privacy should be major focus points in the media in order for it to thrive, according to McPartlin.

“These big platforms do a lot of good stuff and we depend on their tools, but they control so much of the media market here and get kind of get a free pass. They have 80 per cent of the online ad revenue, 50 per cent of the total ad revenue. Outside of publications and publishers where you’re depending on subscriptions, most media in this country depend at least 50 per cent on advertising revenue. But most of that is now going towards Google and Facebook,” says McPartlin.

“Where is that going to lead? I think more and more newspapers, radio stations, magazines, websites, will just start disappearing because they just won’t be able to survive,” he adds.