Apr 2 2014, 7:11am CDT | by Forbes
Almost two-thirds of the global population – five billion people – have yet to access the internet. They live on $10 a day. They want to earn $10 an hour.
Selling services online will be their best route out of poverty, according to Freelancer.com’s Matt Barrie. His company now has more than 10 million registered users – the largest such site in the world – with more than four million projects completed.
Any time, any place
“Today, all the white collar jobs are done on computers, so anyone, anywhere, can do a job for you.”
The majority of Freelancer.com’s projects are posted from the US and Europe, while most of those performing the work are in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia and the Philippines.
Altogether the company operates 40 regional websites, supporting 32 languages and 19 currencies, with jobs divided into 650 categories. Its most recent accounts show a market cap of A$650 million (US$600 million), revenue up 77% on the previous year and 350 direct employees.
Much of the growth has been fuelled by 11 acquisitions, as Barrie, aged 40, has “rolled up the space” to become global market leader, at least by user numbers.
With his shaved head and focused gaze, he has a contact sportsman’s approach to business: ready to take out the opposition.
Winner takes all
“We want to be in every country, every language, every currency where people work on computers. The online marketplace trend is towards ‘winner takes all’, so we need to get big quickly.”
A typical Freelancer.com user is looking for a website designer, with good functionality, speed and attractive graphics, along with an SEO service. A few years ago (and still to this day, if you use US or Western European companies) this would cost upwards of $5,000.
Through Freelancer.com, it can be just a few hundred dollars. “We have guys in Asia making US$1 million a year, with 110 workers churning out US$200 websites,” he says.
As a child Barrie spent a couple of years in Indonesia, before returning to his native Australia. After college in Sydney and then grad school in electronic engineering at Stanford, he spotted the market opportunity for small businesses and entrepreneurs to outsource their services.
“It’s only in the last three years that homes in Indonesia have had ADSL links,” says Barrie. “We’re enabling people to get technology jobs which are desperately needed; they bring prosperity to them and their families.”
Barrie enjoys being at the centre of such a disruptive technology: small businesses in the west to improve their profit margins, while living standards and economic prospects rise in emerging nations.
Solutions for emerging economies
“Developing countries like Malaysia believe that micro working online is the solution for the bottom 20% of earners. We have contracts with the Malaysian government, teaching people to use websites and learning trades.”
In November 2013 Freelancer.com listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX), where it debuted at A$0.50 and quickly shot up to more than A$2.60, briefly valuing the company at more than A$1 billion.
Today its shares trade at around A$1.50, still valuing the company far above the A$400 million (US$380 million) that Japanese rival Recruiter offered last year.
Barrie knows that, so long as these billions of people continue to get online (numbers have tripled in the past decade), small businesses and entrepreneurs become more confident at outsourcing to emerging economies, and workers continue to educate themselves online, his business model can only grow.
He’s already won Australian Entrepreneur of the Year and was picked by LinkedIn as one of the world’s most influential business thinkers.
So watch out for Matt Barrie. Five billion people are lining up to prove him right.
Source: Small Business Labs
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