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BRW Entrepreneur Of The Year: Matt Barrie On Forging A Global Movement

Jack Delosa talks with Matt Barrie, BRW Entrepreneur of the Year, about the unprecedented opportunity of the internet, the importance of failure and why now is the best time in history to start a business. Matt Barrie is more than an entrepreneur, he is a pioneer at the forefront of a global movement that is changing the way people source employment.

“The global labor market is disrupting. There are 6.8 billion people in the world. 2 billion of them are online but just under 5 billion of them are not and they’re connecting right now at double digit and triple digit rates.” Barrie explains that his business freelancer.com is enabling a whole new class of entrepreneur in developing economies. “They’re poor, they’re hungry, they’re driven, they’re self skilling and the first thing they want when they go online is a job because the average wage right now is about $10 a day. So what we do is we connect small businesses in the west with emerging economies.

Freelancer.com offers a platform for anyone to outsource jobs online. Everything from ‘build me a website’ to ‘get to traffic to my website’ to ‘design me a logo’ right through to things as obscure as mechanical engineering and accounting.

Barrie, who was recently named BRW Entrepreneur of the Year has good reason to talk about the site with enthusiasm. “It’s typically jobs under $200 and you can generally get the job done for about 10% of what you’d pay locally.” Not only does the site offer massive cost cuts to small business owners and budding entrepreneurs, but it is spreading like wildfire in emerging economies where highly skilled people are screaming for jobs. “We’ve got a guy in India who makes a million dollars a year building $65 websites. He started from scratch and now has 80 people working for him across three design facilities.” Barrie’s ability to identify this global trend and act on it quickly, has meant he has capitalized on the uplift of a rising tide.

Freelancer is now in the top 250 websites in the world and is the biggest website to come out of Australia. In 2010 the company recorded revenue of US$23.5 million. “We’ve gone from half a million users to 2.5 million users, we’ve just completed one million projects and we’ve got people from just about every country in the world using the site including people from the Vatican and Antarctica.” Barrie’s message to people thinking about starting a business is clear. “If you’re thinking of starting a business, go and do it because there’s never been a better time.” With the direction technology is heading, the barriers to entry for internet upstarts in a lot of cases are non existent. “Most of what you need to set up a website is free and everything else like an internet connection a Google Adwords or Facebook campaign, they’re all cheap. So you can literally start a business off the back of a credit card. And if you don’t understand any of those components you can go and hire a freelancer from, for example freelancer.com” he says laughingly, “to put it all together for you.”

Barrie outlines that the ability to start with nothing or even very little and scale rapidly, is unprecedented and should be an enormously encouraging factor for would-be business owners. Not having the technical ability isn’t even a valid excuse anymore, with sites like Freelancer.com enabling people to have the technical aspects built for them on a credit card budget. Barrie’s business partner at Freelancer.com is one example of this, having started a company using freelancers to build the original technology and going on to sell the business for $400 million. Barrie sites other examples of similar growth curves in online businesses. “If you look at Zynga, Zynga was a company that started in 2007, fundamentally Zynga makes crappy Flash games. But using gamification and the ability to go viral and social using Facebook, last year this is a company that made US$850 million in revenue.” Although he believes group buying is an industry which has a shelf life, Barrie points to Groupon as another example of a rapidly growing business still in its infant years. “Groupon are only a few years old. They did US$350m last calendar year and they’re on track to be the fastest organisation in the history of man kind to reach a billion dollars in annual revenues.”

Barrie encourages people who are thinking of starting something to hurry up and fail, because that is what is going to build their success. He reflects on his previous business which even though is profitable today, Barrie considers a failure because it took 10 years of sleepless nights to become profitable. “Anyone can hold the rudder when the sea is calm but when things hit the fan, that’s when you really learn. So going through that was a great experience I just wish I did it faster, you’ve got to fail fast.” With more of the world going online, minimal barriers to entry and significant earning opportunity,

Barrie leaves us with no excuses to not put our best entrepreneurial foot forward. “The ability to be so capital efficient, bring in revenue and grow at such a curve is just unprecedented so just go out and do it.”

Jack Delosa is a Gen Y entrepreneur and investor. He is the Managing Director of two business education institutes, MBE Education and The Entourage. He has been named in the top 10 entrepreneurs under 30 in the Dynamic Business Magazine Young Guns.