Changing the World
This article originally appeared in Outsource Magazine Issue #24 Summer 2011
Matt Barrie is the CEO of Freelancer.com, connecting buyers of products and services with individuals around the world willing to provide them, via a model which has proved so successful it’s already one of the 300 most-visited sites on the internet. We spoke with Matt about the journey so far – and what’s next…
outsource: Matt, let’s start at the beginning: tell us about how Freelancer.com got started and how you’ve grown the project to where it is today?
Matt Barrie: Freelancer.com was born out of a roll-up of a number of online outsourcing marketplaces, the first of which was a Swedish website called GetAFreelancer.com which started back in 2004. In 2009 I bought this site, which at the time had about half a million users on it. Since that time I’ve bought about a dozen sites and rebranded the company as Freelancer.com.
Today we’re the largest online outsourcing marketplace in the world with over 2.5 million users from just about every country in the world, and over the weekend we just surpassed one million projects! We’re in the top 300 websites globally.
o: The potential impact of this model worldwide is significant – what do you see as being the main implications of Freelancer.com’s success for both established and emerging economies?
MB: For the western world, we provide the digital workforce that will power small businesses into the future. We think we provide an incredible resource to increase productivity for both SMEs and individuals. Just about everyone wants to start their own business, yet very few people are actually doing this. Using freelancers you can now get just about any job you can possibly think of done, any time of day for up to 90 per cent cheaper than going locally. Someone wrote me an email the other day telling me that he was quoted over £20,000 to start his business up. After hearing about us on the radio, he jumped on our site and within three weeks had a logo, business cards and website built for only £500!
For the developing world, we provide technical jobs that are desperately needed, at fantastic rates of pay. We are huge in many parts of the developing world: for example in Bangladesh, we rank about 20th for web traffic, beating Microsoft, Bing, Amazon and Apple!
o: It seems that there are some potentially extraordinary social benefits to be derived here as well as the obvious commercial ones. Do you find those considerations increasingly entering into your strategic planning as the project gets more influential?
MB: Absolutely. The internet is in the middle of delivering its next tectonic shift to society. There are 6.8 billion people in the world but only two billion are on the internet. It’s hard to believe, but over 70 per cent of the world’s population is not connected. The rest of the world is connecting right now at double- and triple-digit rates. They are poor, hungry, driven, self-skilling and motivated. And they’re on $10 a day or less. The internet is the great leveller. The ability for a platform like us to deliver a £30 job instantaneously from a corner store in Leeds to the most remote parts of the world has the ability to deliver tremendous social change, while at the same time boosting productivity in the west. Everyone wins.
o: There is a huge diversity of activity being sought and carried out on the site – can you give some examples of the more unusual things people are doing?
MB: We are continually amazed by the types of jobs that our users are outsourcing through the site. We’ve had some extremely sophisticated work take place, such as architectural renderings for big hotels and chemical engineering for paint formulas. There is even a guy trying to outsource a jetpack design right now. We’ve also had some downright strange work get done, such as the Las Vegas rapper who outsourced getting a record deal or the kid who tried to get someone to throw a stink bomb at his friend’s house.
o: And what about the things that can’t be outsourced in this way? Would, for example, this model have relevance for the kind of larger-scale process outsourcing carried out by global organisations?
MB: Just about every industry now is digitised. If you design a house these days, you use a software package to create a file which you can give a builder. If you design a part, you use a CAD/CAM packet to create a file that you load into a machine. If you do financial research, it’s an Excel file; copywriting, it’s a text file or word document.
So chances are that just about any job you can think of you can now outsource online to someone on the other side of the world. We’re constantly surprised about what we see. A Californian electric car company got their drive train assembly designed through our site. I’ve seen someone get a paint coating developed for an industrial process. Hydrogen engine research for a small US R&D firm.
In time I see potential for providing a solution for large businesses, but for now we’re playing in the high volume, small project end of the space. Large businesses are using us, but not through any corporate sanctioned strategy; instead its individual contributors in the company making their life easier. I saw a brochure being designed for a big US bank the other day, for example. Most likely they did this because the graphic design department couldn’t get the job done fast enough.
o: Finally, what do you see as being your ambitions for the next few years?
MB: We want to be the next eBay.