Websites for freelancers abound on the Internet. From oDesk to Elance to Guru, there’s something for everybody, it seems. And each has its own way of doing business. With the Sydney, Australia–based Freelancer.com, for example, an employer pays a contractor only when he’s satisfied with the work the contractor has done. That could explain why Freelancer.com is the largest outsourcing and crowdsourcing company currently on the Web, with close to three million users worldwide and earning in excess of $100 million in annual revenues. The top employers are in the United States, United Kingdom, India, Canada and Australia.
Sramana Mitra: Hi, Matt. To start off, let’s get some context about you personally and also about the company, Freelancer.com, and what you do and what’s the scale of the company, and so on?
Matt Barrie: I’m the chief executive [at Freelancer.com]. My background is pretty much in engineering. I got my master’s from Stanford in electrical engineering in the height of the dot-com boom, 1997 and 1998. I got my undergraduate degree in engineering and computer science from Sydney, Australia. After the boom, I worked in the Valley for a bit for a couple of startups. I went back to Australia around 2000 and worked very briefly in venture capital, before discovering that I really wanted to be starting companies. I think it was too early in my career to be a VC. I started a bunch of technology companies, the last one being a semi-conductor company called Sensory Networks. I ran that for about six years. The company is still going. It’s just one of those companies with an extremely long sales cycle, because you’ve got an annual product cycle. It’s going to be up to two years or more before you actually get a design. Then you’ve got to build the product and [begin] marketing, distribution and sales, and maybe a few years later you get volume. So, I decided to try and go do something new.
It’s interesting how this company came around. What I did was I did a bit of a rollup of a part of the outsourcing/crowdsourcing space. I stumbled upon a Swedish site called GetAFreelancer.com with about half a million users or so on it. It focused very much on the volume end of the market. What we’re talking here are $200 projects or less. I was so impressed when I used the service that I bought the website. At the time, the guy running it was living on a fish farm. He had no employees. He had one customer support person in the Philippines. But he had some traction, so I took that as a base. There’s a lot of improvements I made to the business model. Revenues exploded from there. Then I used that cash flow to acquire about 10 small players in the space. These are companies like Lime Exchange, which was a New York–based marketplace that was affiliated with the Lime Lab group. I bought a marketplace up in the UK. I bought one in Germany, and so on.
SM: These were all freelancer marketplaces?
MB: Yes. They’re all small marketplaces. We’re talking about user bases of about 20,000 to 200,000 or maybe 300,000 users. They’re all quite small acquisitions. They’re good value picks. Put them all together, I rebranded the company to Freelancer.com, and I bought all the freelancer domain names, freelancer.co.uk, freelancer.co.au, and so on, which cost a good bit of money. I put a bunch of engineering and marketing resources behind the company. At the time – this is about almost two and a half years ago – the first site was about 5,000th-biggest website in the world, had about half a million users. That’s according to Alexa, which tracks rankings. Today, we have close to three million users on the site. We have ranked in the top 200. We also rank around the top 300 websites worldwide, according to Alexa. We’ve paid out globally over $100 million in actual payouts to freelancers from around the world. We’ve done about 1.25 million projects.