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Interview with freelancer.com CEO Matt Barrie

How does someone with no practical experience in online outsourcing transform a business that was barely in the top 5000 websites in the world into a site that is now in the world’s top 250, and in many developing countries the top 25?
Matt Barrie is the CEO of Freelancer.com, the world’s largest outsourcing and crowdsourcing marketplace, connecting nearly 3 million professionals from all over the world. Named BRW’s inaugural Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, Matt bought the business getafreelancer.com in 2009, changed the name to Freelancer.com and is well on the way to achieving his goal of turning the company into, ‘The eBay of jobs.’
While he admits to ‘not really’ having any prior experience with online outsourcing, Matt certainly appreciates the opportunities available via the skilled use of IT. For the last ten years, he has been an external lecturer at the Department of Electrical and Information Engineering at the University of Sydney teaching Cryptography (where he hires the country’s best hackers) and Technology Entrepreneurship (where he encourage final year engineering and computer science students to start companies).
Spark magazine spoke to Matt recently about how digital technology is bringing the business world closer together, and what it takes to succeed with that technology.
Spark: Clearly you saw huge potential in the online outsourcing market. How do you think it will affect business in the future?
Matt: As globalization allows more countries to an open, free-flowing exchange of ideas and services, and as people veer away from traditional modes of employment, online outsourcing and crowdsourcing marketplaces like Freelancer.com will empower both entrepreneurs and workers all over the world. Businesses will naturally evolve to accommodate this rising working class – corporations will put more premium on talent rather than one’s citizenship. In the future, a business owner from Australia won’t have second thoughts hiring people from across the world, as long as they are skilled enough to accomplish the job. Already we are seeing this paradigm shift slowly sweeping across different industries, and there’s no stopping this anymore. Small businesses can easily kickstart their own business off the back of their credit cards and become big in no time, with the skilled global workforce ready to give their companies a much-needed boost. The future of business is definitely going to be exciting, and only those who are afraid of change will be left behind.
Spark: Your freelancers are generally from developing countries. Is that a deliberate strategy on your part to provide income to those nations or a simple matter of economics that they charge lower rates than those in the western world?
Matt: We never influence our users – this is pure supply and demand at play. People from developing countries have lower costs of living and are highly driven.
Spark: Have you had any feedback from your freelancers as to how the income from Freelancer.com has improved their life?
Matt: A lot! I think our fan base is more fanatical than Apple, because I doubt that an Apple fan has told their CEO that the company saved his life. We have thousands of testimonials, and quite a few from people saying they were starving on the streets before they found our website. Now they have a small business, house, car and employ a small team of people.
I was in the Philippines two months ago, and one of our freelancers there noted how she got terminated from her previous job after years of employment. Now, she gets to be a hands-on mum while managing her own team of writers – and her success story all began when she discovered Freelancer.com! Freelancers in countries like these routinely make more money online than they do in their full time jobs.
Another user from that country earned almost US$300,000 ghostwriting – which is a huge salary where new grads enter the workforce and get paid about $200 a month.
Another day a Peruvian animator told us he managed to beef up his portfolio by getting clients from the US, England, and Australia. I could go on and on with how many lives the Freelancer.com platform has transformed.
Spark: What would you say to those people who disagree with outsourcing Australian jobs overseas?
Matt: I think it’s time people see the potential of tapping the skilled global workforce to boost small businesses. As the largest online crowdsourcing and outsourcing marketplace, Freelancer.com allows small businesses to stay competitive. Platforms like ours give equal opportunities not just for workers outside Australia, but also for business in the country. We are championing creativity.
Spark: Digital technology is bringing the world closer together, but many small businesses struggle with that technology (website, social media, digital marketing). In your experience, what can small business owners do to get their business up to speed?
Matt: Never stop learning. In every situation that requires decision-making, creativity is necessary. Albert Einstein defined insanity as, ‘Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ The technology industry keeps accelerating, and you need to keep adapting to stay on top of this. New strategies need to constantly be developed. It’s crazy to employ outdated techniques to kickstart your business when a slew of technological advances allow you to cost- and time-efficiently improve your production, reach your consumers faster, and boost profits. All you have to do is keep up, and educating yourself is the key. Embracing the potential of the skilled global workforce, for one, can make or break one’s business.
Spark: Spark’s readers are generally owners of small and medium-sized enterprises, so they would be very interested to know what marketing and business strategies you used to turn Freelancer.com into one of the world’s top sites?
Matt: Two of the major things we focus on are SEO and PR. A story a day gets written about us somewhere in the world today. What’s great about using these two strategies for your small business is that both are effectively free.
Spark: Can you name the five key things that you think are needed to create a successful business?
  1. Aim for the hole, not the green.
  2. Cash is king.
  3. Never spend $1 until you know how it’s going to make at least $1 back.
  4. Focus, focus, focus.
  5. Always hire people smarter than you.
By Neil Donnelly
Read the latest Spark Magazine at www.sparkmag.co

Posted on July 17, 2012

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