Today, 36% of U.S. workers are in the gig economy, according to Gallup, meaning approximately 57 million of them are hired as independent workers for short-term or temporary assignments. This workforce is currently expanding three times faster than the traditional workforce in the U.S, and recent studies and trend reports indicate that the number of those pursuing a “side hustle” is predicted to continue growing. For example, Intuit CEO Brad Smith expects the gig economy to reach 43% by the year 2020.

The gig economy is “a thing” now, but it’s not exactly a new idea. Go back nearly a century ago when the word hustle entered our language, followed by the origin of side-hustle in the 1950s when baby boomers were using their skills to work for themselves. As for the resurging trend we are seeing today, some industry analysts and research firms pinpoint the return trend as having started momentum about a decade ago. It was five years even before that point when Blake Mallen, a Millennial lifestyle entrepreneur, started questioning his own career path and if what he was told he was ‘supposed to do’ was really what he was ‘meant to do.’ He noticed an increasing number of people, especially other fellow Millennials who shared the same desire to find career paths that gave them financial opportunity, workplace flexibility and freedom.

Realizing that so many others felt the same way, and having strong intuition that the trend would only increase, Mallen decided to capitalize on it with his business partner Nick Sarnicola, by building platforms designed to helped fuel the gig economy explosion. Over the next 15 years, those brands have inspired and equipped more than three hundred thousand independent solopreneurs and entrepreneurs across 16 countries to build their own business in their spare time or part-time, until they achieved the freedom to pursue their passion full time.

Vi, a global healthy lifestyle brand, was the first company Mallen co-founded in March 2005 and proved the power of the gig economy. Very early on, he and Sarnicola wanted to disrupt the direct sales industry in ways that leveraged innovative marketing and early social networking platforms to create a fun social way for people to not only start their own side gig, but turn it into a lucrative lifestyle.

“If you think about it, direct sales was the original side gig; it’s just not what people called it decades ago,” says Mallen. “Early on, people saw the industry as taboo—because it was a big shift from the traditional 9-to-5 corporate or factory job that we’d all go to school for, and work hard to get. Back when I first got started, being in direct sales wasn’t exactly what you would call “cool” for Millennials like myself who were just graduating from high school or college and wanted to find a way to financial independence while maintaining some degree of time and creative freedom. I agree with the initial perception: When I first got started, there wasn’t much that had really changed in the direct sales / network marketing industry since the good old days of ‘Avon calling’, Tupperware parties, or the Fuller Brush man knocking on your door.”

But, Mallen and Sarnicola realized that it wasn’t the business model that deterred many young people; it was the lack of innovation and any sort of ‘cool factor’. It’s why Mallen and his partners architected a new type of viral message that made them one of the very first companies in the world to lead with people “accepting a challenge” as the initial introduction to the brand. The message was then amplified by an early adoption of social media marketing practices as the Facebook platform was just beginning to build momentum.

The right message and right media strategy, together propelled the company to nearly $2 billion in cumulative revenue, with the #1 most sold meal replacement shakes in both the U.S and Canada for multiple years, and the title as the ‘#1 weight-loss and fitness challenge in North America’ at the time. The company has since gone onto expanding internationally and is now replicating the North America success throughout Europe and Latin America. Fast forward to today, where a new “challenge” seems to be announced everyday online, and one could say that the “Challenge Marketing” strategy Mallen and his team originated is one of the most impactful marketing innovations of the last decade, and a large contributor to the return of the gig economy trend.

Having already proven success in building a brand around the gig economy, Mallen has recently launched with Sarnicola a new lifestyle platform that once again caters to those looking for a fun and lucrative side hustle, but this time in an entirely new category. Currently in growth mode in North America, their new start up, Liv is a platform providing extraordinary curated life experiences to the everyday person, with

a mission to inspire people to trade in the notion of the “Bucket List” (all the things most people keep putting off until “someday”), for a “Liv List” full of moments and memories of a life fully Liv’d.

“The gig economy is booming right now, and companies like Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, Amazon, eBay, Etsy, and Fiverr are enabling people to generate a steady stream of significant income on the side—without leaving their home or their car!” says Mallen. “I think millions are pursuing independent side hustles not only because it puts them in control of their income, but it provides flexible hours, remote workplaces, new connections, and can be tied to something they’re really passionate about.”

Adds Mallen, “I just love creating! And what I love creating most are disruptive business models that can really help people and make an impact. It’s why I innovated a new Challenge Marketing strategy years ago, and why I’m so passionate about building platforms in other emerging categories like Liv that make it simpler for aspiring and thriving gig entrepreneurs to achieve the freedom and lifestyle that are possible today.”

Connect with Blake directly at and Instagram @BlakeMallen.