Matt Barrie, Chief Executive of Freelancer.com, the world's largest freelancing marketplace, in conversation with People Matters shared insights on how can the gig workforce ensure sustainability of the gig economy, how employers can engage gig workers and the story behind the launch of Freelancer.com.
In addition to being CEO of Freelancer.com and Escrow.com, global leader in secure online payments, Matt previously founded and was CEO of Sensory Networks Inc., a vendor of high performance network security processors which sold to Intel Corporation in 2013.
An award winning technology entrepreneur and the co-author of over 20 US patent applications, Matt has also been Adjunct Associate Professor in Electrical and Information Engineering at a leading university in Australia where he taught Cryptography and Technology Venture Creation.
Here are the excerpts of the interview with Matt.
What triggered the idea to launch Freelancer.com? What is the story behind the launch of the organization?
Freelancer.com was founded in 2009. I had previously started a few companies and was looking for a new idea to work on and I came across this new opportunity for a whole new business.
In a nutshell, my mother wanted to get some data entry done, with thousands of entries into a spreadsheet, and I was trying to get someone to do it locally. I expected to pay about $2 an entry, so about $2,000 for a thousand entries. However, nobody wanted to do it. In frustration, I went online and incidentally stumbled across GetAFreelancer.com, posted a job and came back a few hours later with 70 people wanting to do the job from different countries and cities.
I was trying to get someone to do the job locally (and couldn't even get them to do it), and I ended up getting a team of people in Vietnam to do it instead. They did the job perfectly in 3 days, and I only had to pay them $100 after the job was done. I realized that this was a game-changing opportunity.
I researched the industry to find out what was going on, and decided I wanted to get into this space. While writing the business plan I came across some of the entrenched competitors in the space that had raised millions and had years of head start. I realized pretty quickly that it would be very hard to start from scratch, given the positioning of the competition and the difficulty and time required to establish initial liquidity in a marketplace.
I then bought an existing marketplace GetAFreelancer.com and further developed it into Freelancer.com, tuned the business model and proceeded to acquire other similar websites/domains and competitors in order to accelerate the growth of the business. Through years, Freelancer has acquired several other crowdsourcing marketplaces like LimeExchange, Scriptlance.com, Freelancer.de, Freelancer.co.uk, vWorker and others.
How open was the market and employers to the concept in the initial years compared to the present day? What changes have you observed in the outlook of the industry at large when it comes to hiring gig workers?
The market and employers today are more open with the concept of freelancing compared to the initial years. As of today, we are the world’s largest freelancing and crowdsourcing marketplace by total number of users and jobs posted with almost 40-million global users and more than 16 million jobs in over 1,450 areas as diverse as website development, logo design, astrophysics, aerospace and engineering.
Employers are finally able to build or market their product, and the freelancers have found flexible work options.
Freelance workers are no longer limited to locally available jobs. This turned out to be an opportunity for them to even start their own service-based business and achieve lifestyle goals. The internet has made it easy for people to learn multiple skills which they can earn from on our marketplace. Many of our users have successfully completed projects that have nothing to do with their educational background.
More and more companies have teams working from different parts of the world. It’s common to hear of small businesses that have teams of 3 - 5 remotely collaborating from different countries. For the past few years, corporate companies have started feeling empowered by freelancing and crowdsourcing projects. Large organizations are now able to flexibly scale their workforce in real-time with tailor-made features that provide transparency, control, talent management and compliance, together with the ability to scale adoption across the organization.
What do gig workers need to do to ensure sustainability and growth of the gig economy in the long-term?
- Make a good impression: As early as bidding on projects, make yourself stand out from the rest. Present yourself professionally, and tailor your proposal to what the project requires. State what you will provide, how much it will cost, and how long it will take you to deliver.
- Propose Milestones: Work out Milestone Payments in parts, especially if the project involved will require a lot of work.
- Background check: Employers consider several factors when deciding who to work with, so it is only fair for you to do the same to them. See the ‘about the employer’ sections of projects and contests for a general idea about their accounts, payments, and reviews.
- Do not bite off more than you can chew: As tempting as it is to accept more projects in order to earn more, compromising quality just to finish the workload that you accepted can reflect on employer feedback, which can hurt your reputation on the site.
- Go the extra mile: If trying to give your best in all your projects becomes habitual, it will eventually be synonymous to your brand. Employers will keep coming back to you, and your client base will be a lot bigger without you realizing it.
How can employers improve engagement and career prospects for the gig economy?
- Start by knowing what you need: While a good freelancer may be able to fill in some gaps on a project description, your best bet in getting quality bids is to know what you’re looking for. If you aren’t sure exactly what to ask for, do a little research before you post.
- Create a descriptive project name /Provide a detailed description: Your description should answer as many potential questions as possible. Think about what will be required of the provider you hire and be as clear as possible.
- Consider your budget selection carefully: Too low budget may eliminate some of the better candidates for your project. Setting the budget too high may leave the door open for some price gouging, but this is usually fairly easy to spot. No matter what, though, don’t set a budget higher than what you’re willing to pay just to attract more experienced freelancers.
- If you have examples of what you need, upload them: Don’t borrow content from websites, articles, programming code, or other sources as your examples, unless you own the rights to the source. Doing so may constitute a copyright infringement.
- Allow enough time for bidding: If your project isn't urgent, don’t rush freelancers to bid. Remember that the top professionals are usually the busiest, so you might eliminate some of the top freelancers if you set the bidding time too short.
Can you share details around which regions are majority of the gig workers concentrated in? Also, employers from which geographies and industries display greater openness and acceptance of hiring gig workers?
Regions with majority of the gig workers on Freelancer.com based on the total number of users are India, United States, China, Pakistan and Indonesia.
Regions with employers displaying greater openness and acceptance of hiring gig workers on Freelancer.com based on the total number of users include the United States (U.S.), India, United Kingdom (U.K.), Australia and Canada.
What does the year 2020 look like for the gig economy?
Large and small businesses are still hiring but not always in traditional ways. Forward thinking, innovative companies - especially those looking to streamline and scale - are increasingly looking to crowdsourcing markets to build an elastic labour force that’s on demand, high quality, speedy, and often filling gaps in niche skills requirements.
Based on Freelancer.com’s Fast 50 Report for Q3-2019, the demand from data analytics indicates more savvy businesses are seeking these highly specialized freelancers to help determine business decisions that increase revenue, improve operations, respond to emerging market trends and gain a competitive edge, while virtual assistants are streamlining processes and creating efficiencies and cost savings.
In the future, or starting from now, every business is going to have a local, physical workforce, and they’re going to have a virtual workforce.