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Matt Barrie

matt-barrie-100aMatt Barrie, the founder of Freelancer.com, wants his site to be “the eBay of jobs” and in the top 20 websites in the world.

He tells us why you can’t be a top chief executive in a technology company without an engineering background, how he doesn’t have a sales team and talks about getting rid of the humans in his business.

Freelancer.com

Age: 38

Matt Barrie, Freelancer.com

Based: Sydney

How did you come up with Freelancer.com?

I used the website GetAFreelancer.com back in 2007, 2008 and I liked it so much that I bought the company.

There were a lot of problems with the site at the time, but then after starting to fix them up, getting some engineers behind it and marketing resources and communications and then revenue exploded. I then acquired about a dozen of the small competitors in the space. And, in fact two weeks ago, we just bought the largest domestic marketplace in Canada, and the fifth largest marketplace in the world, which is called ScriptLance.

There's not many competitors left that are big in size, but you know, we're killing it. We've gone from the top 5000th website in the world three years ago to now 250th spot. We hit 199 at one point. Things are really flying at the moment.

What was the niche that you saw?

Well, no one had done an eBay for jobs. So it's not actually a niche, it's actually a category killer and I was just frankly surprised that no one had done it before. When I looked into it, there were some companies that were having a go at it, but weren't really aggressive enough, and they didn't really have enough technical skills behind them to actually execute it properly.

And so I thought the time was certainly right. Timing's got a lot to do with it. The global financial crisis moved the industry massively because there are a lot of people in the US who are out of work.   Some were going and looking for jobs, but they had a lot of spare time on their hands and they were saying to themselves, 'Well, I've always wanted to set that website up, or I've always thought about starting my own company, or I want to help my wife, she wants a website set up for an iPhone app' or what have you. So they had a lot of spare time to basically go out there and launch all these side projects.

At the same time, small businesses were looking to cut back on hiring full-time in costs, but still had all these ideas. You know, small business owners are as entrepreneurial as anyone; they get ideas all the time and might get frustrated because they don't know how to execute on them. The time was really right for them to have a website they can go to where they can have a lot of control and a lot of the cost and the time is removed. And so it was really a lot about timing as well, when we acquired the business it was really the right place, right time. If I was six months too late, I wouldn't have been able to buy the first business, because it would have been bought by someone else. And certainly I know a year before that, six months before that, to an extent the market wasn't really ready.

The oldest one of the websites we bought was 2001. So there is quite a lot of history in the user base. But, really, in the time I got going, and I was out there trying to get the first site together, people would just assume that this is madness. They would say ‘Why would you send a website design project to someone in Bangladesh? I’ve never heard of the country. Do they speak English? Where are they from? What do I have to spend? Will the quality be any good,’ you know all this sort of stuff.

Now, of course, it's obvious. People see this as the smart way to do things, 'Oh my god, this is a great idea', but three years ago, the general public were very confused about whether you could actually send a project to India to get it done, and now they're realising, ‘Oh my god, you can actually send an astrophysics project or an aerospace engineering project to India and they get done really.’

How did you go about making those acquisitions?

Well, the first one I raised a little bit of money to buy the first business, and then the rest I bought with the cashflow.

How much did you have to raise for the first acquisition?

We don't disclose that.

Did you do that all yourself or with partners?

It was all by myself. It was the hardest thing that I'd ever done pretty much. Because you wake up in the morning and sometimes you think 'Am I mad?' and you don't really think to say 'This is great', and your friends are kind of like, 'What's Matt doing now, isn't it strange?' and your Mum's like, 'When are you going to get a real job?'.

What was your biggest contract and how did you get it?

Well, we have thousands and thousands of contracts so it's not really a case of having a big contract. It's a case of having lots and lots and lots of transactions occurring. To date we have $52 million dollars in turnover, and that's in $200 transactions – so there's a lot of transactions. We've done 2.3 million projects so far through the site.

Do you have a sales team?

No. Zero.

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Cara Waters

SmartCompany editor

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Cara Waters is the editor of SmartCompany. Previously, Cara was a senior reporter at the Financial Times website FT Adviser in London and she also worked for The Sunday Times in London.