After job searches, jobs themselves go online
By Sid Astbury Dec 14, 2011, 6:43 GMT
Sydney - Want a web designer or a lion tamer, a fresh logo for a pornography channel or an undergraduate essay on artificial intelligence?
The promise from Sydney-based Matt Barrie is that his Freelancer.com website can source skills at a knock-down price or get a tricky job done in double-quick time.
'Our user base is now larger than the entire population of Mongolia,' Barrie said.
In fact, some of the 1.3 million job sheets successfully completed through the site may well have been fulfilled in Mongolia.
Barrie is unabashed about Freelancer and rivals like oDesk and Elance making money out of the imbalance in prices in different markets, particularly buyers in the rich world and sellers in the developing world.
He said of Freelancer: 'It connects small businesses and individuals from the West with freelancers in the developing world. In the West, it empowers small business owners with a digital workforce to get jobs done. In the developing world, it empowers entrepreneurs to start service organisations, providing a platform to find work and promote themselves internationally.'
Big firms have always been able to take advantage of cheaper production platforms abroad; outsourcing websites extend that advantage to small firms and even to individuals.
The business itself is not new, as testified by the Sydney University campus message board where unknown suppliers offer to write essays on any subject for lazy or incompetent students.
Some of these advertisers will subcontract the actual work to academics in India and other English-speaking countries.
What outsourcing sites do is capture the globalization of small business, bring quality control to it and ensure payment is safe.
In the two years that Barrie has been head of Freelancer it has grown from a client base of 500,000 to 3 million.
Along with that growth has come competition from 'category killers' like graphic design specialist 99designs. The Melbourne-based company, which this year scored 35 million US dollars from private investors, has over 100,000 designers on its books and an office in San Francisco.
A typical client is Central Oxford Osteopathy, a medical practice in the British university town that used 99designs to run a contest that saw 24 designers putting in 125 bids to design a new logo.
Another specialist is LiveOps, a California company focused on providing call centre services from people working in their own homes.
What is driving the internet-based outsourcing business is that, as in home shopping, people around the world are much now happier with the security of payment systems.
Some sites have followed the eBay practice of allowing buyers to rate sellers and so discourage fly-by-night operators.
Barrie sees outsourcing websites - some call them crowdsourcing websites - not only playing an arbitrage game between rich and poor countries but also a response to the demand in the West for an alternative to full-time work in somebody else's office.
LiveOps, for example, has recruited over 20,000 freelancers in the United States. Some of this work may previously have gone abroad.