- Managing Me
- Big Ideas
- Managing People
The online job-market company, Freelancer.com, has 4.3 million users, $50 million in revenue, and $645 million worth of work up for grabs to willing bidders.
Its founder and CEO, Matt Barrie, is a tough leader by his own admission. He has unbounded ambition for his company.
“We are trying to recreate a ‘country’ in software,” he says. “We have our own economy, our own workers, our population just over took that of New Zealand, we have our own financial system, and a legal system for dispute resolution.”
His approach to leading his 200 staff is, I’m tempted to say, ruthless, but Barrie doesn’t see it that way.
He wants his people to be “hungry”, to stay until the job is done, to be thinking about how to solve a work problem while in the shower. Work/life balance is not on Barrie’s agenda, and he doesn’t want staff who care about it. “You want people who are hungry,” he tells LeadingCompany. “If you hire people that are not hungry, they check out at 5.01 pm, and they wander in each morning saying, ‘where was I yesterday?’ I only want to hire people who want to work with me, then to inspire them, the super-smart, the passionate who take the initiative. I call them poor, hungry, driven.”
Barrie is in a helluva rush. “We are aggressive in terms of our competitive strategy, we think outside the box, and move extremely quickly. There are internet companies that are hitting a billion in revenue in two to three years. We’re only at $50 million. It is about hyper-growth.”
Barrie’s big leadership challenge
His biggest leadership challenge is hiring, he says. Predictable, you might think, but his problem does not stem from lack of applicants. “We hire a fraction of the people who apply,” he says. “We set a pretty high bar; we have a rigorous exam.”
The best hires are referrals. “You want the friends and peers of all the people you have hired.”
Barrie also scoops graduates from Sydney University, where he has taught for the past 12 years. He picks up the hackers from his computer and network security course, and the standout students from his technology venture creation unit.
At the executive level, hiring the best is more difficult. It is literally rocket science, in Barrie’s case. In his leaders team are rocket scientists, quantum physicist, robotics experts, mathematicians and statisticians. “It’s like a hedge fund,” he says.
Barrie want to give his executives autonomy, so he is hard on non-performers. “I am much harsher on people at the senior levels. There is not much room for error; you either perform at A+ grade, at the Harvard or Stanford grade, or you don’t cut it, and you move on. We fire quickly.”
Getting the best from the best
Once he has the right people in place, Barrie is all about autonomy – that is from the top to the bottom of his business. Everyone is CEO of something. “Everyone has to own something. You are the CEO of that little division, or that web page. You hire people smarter than you and give them responsibility. You set them on track with the vision and stand back. Some people love that, and some cannot handle it.”
Barrie rewards on merit. “There are not many companies where you can start and two years later you can be a vice president if you perform, deliver and get results, everything flows to you,” he says.
Then it is all about goal setting, from the top down. “I set goals for myself quarterly, and circulate them to my five or six division heads – growth, customer service, engineering and so on. Then they set their own goals, and then down to the next level. There are only four levels. Every single person has their own goals and everyone knows every other person’s goals. Even the customer service team in Manilla know my goals. The key is communication and transparency.
“On weekly basis, we have daily ‘stand up’ meetings about what are we doing today, what happened last night, priorities. All teams do it.”
Procrastination is a no-go zone for leaders, in Barrie’s view. “Procrastination is not very inspiring. Leadership is about making decisions, even if they are the wrong ones. You explain the assumptions behind your decisions, and then if something goes wrong, you can respond rather than just sitting on the fence.”
Doubt about hires is another leadership pitfall, Barrie has found. Almost without exception, when has had doubts, he’s been proved right. “If you are not quite sure, he is not the right guy.”
Barrie’s vision is a grand one: “It is abundantly clear to me that there is going to be a marketplace for jobs that is ongoing and be huge. That company is going to be a $20 billion, $30 billion, $40 billion market cap,” he says.
For the inspiration, he looks to others in the technology game. His favourite is a fellow grand visionary. Elon Musk, the South African who co-founded Paypal, now the world’s largest internet payment system. He also founded a space travel company, SpaceX, and electric car company, Tesla Motors.