Interview: Matt Berrie

In 2012, during my career as an advertising journalist, I did an interview with Matt Barrie for Adlatina, an Argentine magazine about advertising. The other day I found the english version of the interview when I went through my files and thought it might be interesting to share it here since the the interview was only published in Spanish.

matt berrie emilia åström for adlatina 2012

Matt also helped Hyper Island get some extra points in a scavenger hunt freelancer.com did at SXSW earlier that year (one of the tasks was to get an image of Matt with your teams logo).

matt berrie freelancer.com scavenger hunt hyper island

Interview with Matt Barrie – CEO at Freelancer.com (october 2012)

Matt Barrie is CEO of freelancer.com, the worlds biggest outsourcing website. Among the jobs posted on the site you can find developer jobs such as web design, software development, SEO and copywriting. The site provides a global marketplace for freelance projects facilitating the outsourcing of jobs to the countries that offers the lowest price for production but also allowing small businesses and individuals to find freelancers for even the smallest tasks.

The company, with it’s base in Australian, was founded in 2009 when Matt Barrie acquired the Swedish marketplace getafreelancer.com which at that time had 500 000 users. Today the site has 4 million users and it keeps growing all the time. Last year Matt Barrie won the Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year Award and he is aiming at making freelancer.com the Ebay of outsoursing.

When the service recently launched in South America Matt Barrie came to Buenos to give a talk a eCommerceDay august 7, an event that freelancer.com also sponsored. I had the opportunity to meet Matt and talk about the future of the internet and advertising.

You are a popular speaker at tech events all over the world, which where the most interesting insights you delivered during the talk at the eCommerceDay in Buenos Aires?

This talk was about the major trends that happen in the technology industry right now. It’s an exiting time to live right now because there are different disruptive macro trends occurring at the same time. One is that many traditional companies are shifting to becoming software companies. The major advertising company in the world today is google and that’s a software company. The biggest seller of books in the world is a software company and that’s Amazon. For communication we have Skype and so on. We are experience a re-imagination of everything. For every industry, for newspapers, stockbrokers, media and music, we can see traditional businesses transforming into software businesses.

The other thing that I talked about is that now is the time when the rest of the worlds population will come online. 5 billion people disrupting the labour market with all that it means. With this comes the rise of sites like freelancer.com that facilitates outsourcing, crowd sourcing and crowd funding. The reception for businesses that operate in this area is very positive. At the moment less than 5 % on freelancer.com come from Latin America. From Argentina we only have 17 000 users which is tiny. We plan to really aggressively expand through Latin America and Brazil. The site has only been in English up until now but now we also have it in Spanish. We also have a Spanish customer support team and a regional manager.

What are you most excited to tell people about Freelancer.com?

Here in Latin America I don’t think they have heard so much about the concept yet. You have market places like Mercado Libre but I don’t think people are really aware that freelancemarkets exists. It’s pretty exiting to let people know about it because many are very interested in working for themselves. Another thing I have seen when I’m speaking at tech conferences in Latin America is that every one are very exited. It feels like when I’m speaking in the US, like a little Silicon Valley.

Do you think Freelancer.com are disrupting the workmarket for developers worldwide by exporting jobs from the rich part of the world to the developing countries?

I don’t know if I agree that freelancer.com is disrupting the workmarket. The money still goes to professionals but it certainly has helped countries develop a lot. It’s not really displacing jobs in any way at this point. What it’s doing is that it aloud people to work in technical areas that might not be available to them in their countries yet and that is a very positive thing. I think the outsourcing business is also a very positive thing for small businesses because in the past small businesses had trouble trying to get things done. All small businesses today need a website but where do you get the web designer from and how much does that cost? When a site could cost up to a couple of thousand dollars to develop you can now get it for a few hundred. We are really just opening up a section of the market that is underserved at this point.

Freelancer.com was launched in 2009. How come did it take so many years until the site launched globally?

Things take time to grow. Why it all happens how is because it took a while to get people used to do transactions online. The internet became mainstream about 1995 but then people mainly used the internet for email and browsing. Then people started becoming comfortable buying and selling things on Ebay. Originally people where just using Ebay for hobbies but now you can buy or sell a plane or a car on Ebay.

After that all the pacified sites went online, like real estate. The next thing was the big trend in offshoring. It all started with American Express placing their customer support in India. If you go to an accounting firm in Sweden for example, you might find that the accountants are not doing their own tax return. They probably send it to their facility in India and when it comes back it just gets checked for quality. This has happened for well over a decade. And it has been spreading from big businesses to middle sized businesses, down to small businesses, and now to consumers and individuals. Nowadays you can outsource projects for 30 dollars. Its the natural progression of technology and we are getting more used to use the internet but there is obviously a long way to go as well.

To get more people to sign up at freelancer.com you launched a big scavenger hunt on SXSW this year. The site also have gamification features built into the design and you are regularly posting competitions on the Facebook page. Was this strategy of using gamification to drive growth developed with an agency or did you come up with the idea yourselves?

We actually started working with this last year already. There is a very good talk on YouTube from Dice 2010, which is a gaming conference, with a guy called Jesse Shell. He is a professor in games and he gave a talk on the future of gamification and how everything will be a game, the game apocalypse. It’s pretty inspiring. It’s a good way to give back to users who uses the site a lot through benefits and rewards.

It is also a good thing from a marketing perspective, you can customize the behaviour of the users on the site by tweaking different things. For example, at freelancer.com you get points for posting a project. If we want more projects on the site we give more points for posting projects. If we want people to take more exams to learn about how to use the site we give out more points for that. You can basically tailor the users behaviour down to the micro level. The feedback from the users are very positive. Gamificaton makes it fun to work, work can sometimes get boring and this makes it a little bit more enjoyable.

As you mentioned earlier many traditional businesses are now turning into software companies. Advertising agencies are also shifting their focus more towards the production of software. What other opportunities do you see for advertising agencies from a digital perspective?

I think there are a lot of opportunities. I think one of the reasons why advertising has experienced such a change through the digitalization of businesses is that earlier a way to measure the impact of advertising it didn’t exist. Today you can actually measure how many clicks the money you spend generates and advertising is becoming a science around analytics. At freelacer.com we have 300 graphs where we can see how traffic in real time turn into sign ups, to projects, payments and biddings. There is a huge opportunity in the advertising industry to think about developing more technology around advertising and go deeper. If you put a billboard in a highway you are not quite sure how sales you get from these campaigns because you cant really measure the impact. Advertising can’t get away with things we can’t measure anymore. Physical media for advertising will catch up with the internet.

What other important changes should we pay attention to?

I think everyone should aim to understand technology more. High schools should start teaching computer science and programming. We teach foreign languages, we don’t we also teach computer languages? And technology is accelerating every day. I think whats going to happen is that if the population of a country is not technologically literate the country be left behind. If you look at my examples before I said the biggest advertising company is a software company and it’s Google. These where all American countries. The countries that has the best educated workforce are the ones who will benefit in the future.

How do you stay up to date with technology?

I read a lot of technology news, hacker news, Tech Crunch, and Reddit. Thats where I spend a lot of my time online reading and seeing what other people are doing. Speaking at events is also something I like doing, it gives me an opportunity to socialize and meet entrepreneurs. I also teach entrepreneurship at university. Through my students I’m learning about new industries, new strategies, and so on. Many students are starting their own companies, I help them get going which is very interesting as well. I also hire a lot of them. One of my former students is actually running internationally strategy at the moment for us and he’s got all sorts of interesting ideas.

What do you think is the most important thing we can learn from young people?

Young people are not burden with all the things they have done in their past. They are exited about the future and they can change the rules pretty easily because maybe they don’t know the rules. When you are young it is great to start a company because you need to have a certain amount of naivety. If you have all this experience and knowledge about an industry you will start to say that it’s to hard and it’s not the right way of doing things instead of just do it.

What tips do you have for entrepreneurs that wants to succeed online?

There’s a whole bunch of recourses online that you can access for free. Obviously the news are good to read to stay updated on what people are doing. The great thing is that nowadays there is so much information out there to help and assist you. When I did my first company there was nothing. You had to come up with everything as you went. When I got started first year after uni I didn’t know what a contract was or how to sell anything, I learned primarily from trial and error. Learning from failure is the best way to learn. If you are on a boat, anyone can hold the rodder if the sea is calm, but you need experience to manoeuvre in hard weather.

Also, when you are young being an entrepreneur has no downside because if you are young you don’t have anything, no kids and no money. What is the worst that could happen to you? You spend three years starting your own company and then you are back where you began but at least you got some fantastic experience. So the risk is really low.

What is your big plan after freelancer.com?

We still have a lot of work left to do. We now have 4 million users, if you look at Facebook they have 100 million users. So you can still add a 0 to that number. I’ll be there for a while.