Freelancer's user base just surpassed Australia's population, and Matt Barrie sees it as a nation in itself

Matt Barrie / Supplied

Australian labour exchange platform Freelancer this week celebrated reaching 24.64 million users — making it a community larger than the nation that produced it.

The milestone takes the size of the company’s ecosystem past the population of Australia, which has a population of just over 24.5 million people according to official government estimates.

Freelancer was established in Sydney in only 2009.

Founder and chief executive Matt Barrie told Business Insider he had shaped the Freelancer platform to be a nation in its own right.

“We actually think of Freelancer as the first country in software — a virtual country,” he said.

“We have an economy, a GDP, we have employers hiring people, workers, a rudimentary financial system where payments are made to the freelancers, a legal system – dispute resolution and arbitration.”

Barrie said that in terms of “GDP” — or the value of work facilitated through the platform — if Freelancer was a country it would rank 185 out of 187 nations in the world.

“While we’re 25 million people and not generating anywhere near the GDP that Australia’s generating, it is rising rapidly. And we are a virtual and frictionless marketplace – we don’t have the constraints that a real economy has, in terms of geographic location or natural resources, etc.”

While slowing growth maybe a concern for a system with so many users already registered, Barrie sees limitless potential because the business solves a universal need that can be filled by anyone in the world.

The first 25 million users consist heavily of employers and freelancers from the western world – areas such as Australia, the USA and Europe. But Barrie sees future potential in giving workers from developing nations a chance to earn better wages for their skills than in the physical world.

“There is a long way to go. We think anyone with a Facebook account that’s working age or higher can potentially use Freelancer,” he said.

“You’ve got global marketplaces for products like Amazon, eBay and Alibaba, which are substantial companies with scale… so you can have a global marketplaces for services — just like you have global marketplaces of products – of which we’re the world leader currently.”

Freelancer posted a record $52.75 million in revenue for the 2016 calendar year, which was up 37%, while posting a net loss of $1.173 million, an improvement from the previous year’s $2.8 million. The business generated a positive operating cashflow of $4.5 million.

Despite the positive financial numbers and the ever-burgeoning pool of users, the ASX-listed company has seen a steady decline in its share price, going from $1.50 last October to now 76 cents.

Among the barriers to its plans for global domination are the recent rise of new Australian skills marketplaces like Expert 360 and Airtasker.

Barrie is not worried, arguing tech share prices have been broadly in retreat.

“We’re a strong growth story. We have a massive market, we have no net debt, and we’re cash flow positive. I think we’re in a great place.”

Freelancer has diversified by buying up companies like Escrow.com, Warrior Forum and running the startup conference StartCon.

The original platform continues to attract high-profile partners like NASA, which Barrie said would be posting three more challenges in the near future, encouraged by its past successes in getting tasks completed.

“We’ll be looking at solving some complex problems like protecting astronauts at the space station on extra-terrestrial missions from things like radiation. So no matter how simple or how complex your project is, you can now get it done on Freelancer.”

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