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Cyberpreneur: Anyone can start a business

The power of the internet to harness freelance workers from around the globe is creating opportunities for the web-savvy young generation to escape the jobs crisis, says pioneering cyberpreneur Matt Barrie.

The founder of website Freelancer, the "eBay for jobs" which connects small businesses and entrepreneurs in the West with 3.4 million freelancers in developing countries, is urging young people to follow the trail of Scotland's Pete Cashmore, founder of news blog Mashable, and the new breed of internet millionaires.

Speaking in Edinburgh this week, Mr Barrie said: "If you have got an idea for any sort of business, you can start it off the back of a credit card."

Mr Barrie, who in five years has built a business now perceived as revolutionising the jobs market and which is valued at $100 million-$250m (£62m-£154m), told The Herald: "Scotland is at the forefront as a small business workforce, with 19,000 more people deciding to start their own business last year. Every business today is now an internet business. We want people to be thinking about creating jobs, not taking jobs."

Mr Barrie started Freelancer when he realised that skilled and semi-skilled workers in Vietnam or the Philippines could offer entrepreneurs like himself support services at a fraction of the cost at home.

He said: "I thought why isn't there an eBay for jobs? This is a massive multi-billion-dollar potential market opportunity."

Website design and search engine optimisation, for instance, are suddenly affordable. "An entrepreneur is not going to pay £5000 for a website, but if he can get it for £100 he will do it," Mr Barrie said.

"Writing software, finding a product in China, it is literally affordable for a teenager – school kids are jumping online and starting their own businesses. Even though initially these might be micro-businesses, they are revenue streams, and there are lots of people who started businesses with $60 or $100 and have built them into hundred-million-dollar businesses."

He added: "There are two billion people on the internet – if you have got a product that has some affinity to the market, it can take off at a tremendous rate. This is why people are starting businesses off a credit card instead of trying to attract traditional funding."

The role models are the likes of Zynga, whose Cityville simulation game attracted 100 million users in 45 days, plus Pinterest, the 16th busiest global website after only two years, and Mashable, founded by Mr Cashmore in Aberdeen in 2005 and which now has 2.7 million Twitter followers.

Mr Barrie said: "In the case of Apple, it took nine years to build $1 billion of revenue, Google five years, now the new technology companies are doing it in two years."

He points out that internet technology has disrupted industries from retail to media, music and stockbroking, adding: "Every industry is becoming basically a software business. The thing it is doing now is disrupting global labour markets."

Sydney-born Mr Barrie, Ernst & Young Technology Entrepreneur of the Year in 2011, studied as an engineer in the US at the time of the dotcom boom. "The guy who sat next to me started Paypal," he says. "We are now in the second dotcom boom.

"There were only 50 million people on the internet in 1997, now there are two billion and by 2020 there will be four to five billion. Most of them are poor, living on $8 a day, and the first thing they want to do - is to get a job.

"If you are living in remotest Africa you may not have any money to buy or sell on eBay but you could jump on our website and start with something simple like data entry."

Suppliers are ranked ebay-style for reputation and track record, and the biggest western demand is for website and graphic design. Mr Barrie observed: "If you get your [website] design right, it can make ten times the difference in revenues."

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