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Upwork Success Story

Quick facts:


Santa Clara, California

Operates in:

United States, with freelancers in 180 countries


$1.43B (November 11, 2019)

Equity granted to:

100% of the workforce, 90% enrollment in ESPP

Number of employees:


The power of teamwork: How Upwork navigated their IPO in collaboration with Shareworks

As the largest global freelancing website, Upwork matches professionals to businesses seeking specialized talent across 180 countries. Every year, millions of jobs are posted on Upwork – whose mission is to create economic opportunities so people have better lives. So, it’s fair to say that Upwork knows a thing or two about building strong teams. 

That was the knowledge the company drew on when they began looking for help with their equity plan management. Ultimately, it was also what led them to choose Shareworks by Morgan Stanley. 


A seamless transition from private to public

“We began looking for an equity administration solution that could support both private and public companies while we were still private,” explains Junko Swain, Chief Accounting Officer at Upwork. “At the time, we were using a tool that didn’t support private companies, so we had to supplement it by maintaining a cap table in Excel. That meant we were creating manual reports and I was always worried about the accuracy of the data.”

Shareworks by Morgan Stanley helped resolve that problem. The platform, which offers different editions geared specifically to both private and public companies, is designed to scale as businesses grow. So, when Upwork launched their initial public offering (IPO) in October 2018, there was no disruption to the employee experience with their equity rewards.

"What makes the Shareworks team different is that they care about their customers"

“A lot of hard work went on behind the scenes throughout the IPO process, but none of our employees experienced any confusion about continuing to use the Shareworks platform,” Swain says. “From an employee standpoint, the transition was seamless.”

In going public, Upwork moved from granting options to granting restricted stock units (RSUs). They also launched an employee stock purchase plan (ESPP) which is offered to 100% of their workforce. Today, over 90% of Upwork’s employees participate in the ESPP – an enrollment rate that makes the company very proud.

Growing together

Upwork now also enjoys a range of functionality they didn’t have in the past. Instead of printing hard copies of their grant documents for participants to sign, the company uses Shareworks by Morgan Stanley for all their employee stock needs. Staff can easily review their portfolios, make trades and receive all communications in their Shareworks accounts – which can be accessed from anywhere in the world on their desktops or mobile app. The system also automatically notifies insiders of the pre-clearance processes they need to follow before they sell their shares, simplifying both plan management and administration.

“It’s an end-to-end comprehensive solution, from onboarding new participants to granting agreements to generating fully transparent reports,” Swain notes. “Participants can easily login to the system, view their participation percentage, change their contribution levels, exercise their shares and track their portfolio performance. Plus, from an administrative perspective, we have full confidence in the accuracy of our data.”

Yet for Upwork, the real advantage of working with Shareworks by Morgan Stanley comes down to the extraordinary teamwork the companies enjoy. “What makes the Shareworks team different is that they care about their customers,” Swain stresses. “The Shareworks by Morgan Stanley team worked as an extension of our team and, in return, they treated us as not as an external customer, but as teammates. Their people were so talented, I wanted to keep them!”


The testimonial may not be representative of the experience of other customers. The testimonial is no guarantee of future performance or success. Neither Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC nor Solium Financial Services LLC paid a fee in exchange for the testimonial. Shareworks by Morgan Stanley is not an investment advisory service. This communication is not intended to advertise any investment advisory services.

Shareworks by Morgan Stanley services for public companies are provided by Solium Financial Services LLC and Morgan Stanley Smith Barney LLC, members SIPC, and their affiliates, all wholly-owned subsidiaries of Morgan Stanley. Shareworks by Morgan Stanley fund transfer services for private companies are provided by Solium Financial Services LLC.

CRC 2958926 (03/20)