Paul: Welcome to another episode of The App Guy Podcast. I am your host, this is Paul Kemp. This is the show that inspires you by getting interviews with founders, with business owners to help you build your own business. Today I have got a great guest, because we're going to learn a lot about what he is doing with Freeeup.com, his name is Nathan Hirsch, he is the owner and the founder of Freeeup. Nathan, welcome to The App Guy Podcast.
Nathan: Thank you for having me.
Paul: Thanks for coming on. So let's talk about what you're doing; you're basically helping by providing remote workers who do a lot of stuff. Can you talk me through what Freeeup is doing?
Nathan: Definitely. So there are a lot of websites out there where you can hire remote workers, find different freelancers or temporary contractors, but a lot of my clients have had bad experiences hiring workers in the past, or they're hiring people for the first time, or they just don't have the time to go through and interview all these different applicants and make a good decision or a bad decision that sets them back. So what we developed was a hands-on approach to doing this. Our clients come to us and they don't want to spend time on the frontend, and they also want to have some kind of insurance on the backend. On the frontend, we do all the interviews ourselves. We get about a hundred applicants a week, we have a strict interview process, we have communication guidelines from my past experience dealing with clients to make sure that when we give a worker to the client they're good to go and that the client is going to have a good experience. In the backend, we also protect our clients because our workers don't quit very often - but it is real life, it could happen, so we have replacement workers ready to go, we cover all re-training costs if a worker ever leaves, and along that entire process from the time a worker is hired, trained, starts working, we're very hands-on; we're there to support the client to get involved if there's any miscommunication, so we have a very hands-on approach to help businesses hire workers and expand their company.
Paul: In a nutshell, I do think that everyone listening has probably heard of Elance or oDesk which is now Upwork, but you're better because if you don't want the headache of doing all the interviews yourself, getting a hundred applicants yourself to have to sift through, we basically can go to your site and then have trust that there's a thorough interview process. Is that right?
Nathan: Exactly. And you can go on these different sites if you have time, and post jobs and get all these applicants and go through them one by one, or if you don't have the time you can go to Freeeup and sign up as a client, be like "Nate, I need this worker with these skills, that can work these hours, that has this background." We're usually pretty quick, within 24 hours of getting you that worker from our team so you can hit the ground running right away.
Paul: So let's talk about who's hiring you, because we could have a lot of people listening who are potentially suitable as clients for hiring you. What types of companies tend to hire you?
Nathan: Sure, so our main focus originally was eCommerce just because that's my background. I run an Amazon store that does about 5-8 million dollars in sales a year, I've been doing that for six years, so that's my personal background and how we got started. But I do have a lot of clients that we've kind of expanded into different categories, from real estate to random marketing companies, to consulting companies, to even lawyers, and now we're kind of focusing on different targets: developers, different companies that do very unique things in small niches that aren't the mainstream eCommerce.
Paul: Right, okay. I'll tell you what, since you've touched on your background there, that is pretty phenomenal - 8 million dollars in sales per year... How did you get that started?
Nathan: Sure, so it's actually a funny story. When I was in college, about 20 years old, I really wanted to be an entrepreneur. I really wanted to start my own company; I don't really like working for other people, I had different internships in the past, so I actually started off by selling books. I would go to the dumpster... My grandfather would drive me to the dump and they had these books that people were recycling or throwing away, so I would pick them up, sell them online, make a little bit of money. I then got into selling textbooks. Instead of people selling back to the bookstore at my college, they would go to me and I would have my dorm room just full of textbooks that I would buy back and then resell on Amazon. It was all about timing - you would buy them at the end of the semester, hold on to them and resell them at the beginning of the next semester. That kind of got me involved in Amazon.com, where I started contacting different vendors, different manufacturers to sell their products, and it kind of blew up out of nowhere. Before I knew it, I was running a million-dollar business out of my dorm room, hiring my friends, making a lot of hiring decisions that were both good and bad, but also learning a lot. As the business grew, I had that need for remote workers. Whenever you're an entrepreneur, you just run out of hours in the day, so a friend of mine turned me on to oDesk and I was determined to build this remote army of workers, so I ended up doing a lot of hiring, hiring over 50 different remote workers to do everything from customer care, data entry, and through that you go through a lot of growing pains. Anyone who's hired international workers for the first time knows that there's a communication gap; you might not know exactly what you're looking for, but that kind of gave me the idea to help other people get through that process a lot simpler. Because we spent a lot of time interviewing, a lot of time making good decisions, bad hires or whatever it was, and really coming up with a foolproof process to vet workers and to make sure that people follow our communication guidelines, which is very similar to other clients' expectations, and a lot of people around the world don't have those same expectations, so we were able to lay it out clearly. So that's kind of how I got involved in becoming a hiring expert, and now I'm really focused on Freeeup.com, to help other businesses do the same thing.
Paul: So we have people listening who have made changes in their life, Nate, and I'm thinking that there's actually probably a few people listening in a dorm room. Any advice to those listening who are tempted by your lifestyle - is it worth it if they try to emulate what you've done and the path you have chosen?
Nathan: It's worth it if you like to work. It takes up a lot of hours. For me it's a passion, I enjoy doing it, but my advice would be to try a lot of different things. You never know what you're going to get into, what's going to stick, what you're going to think of in terms of a business idea. So try out a lot of different things; you have plenty of time when you're young, it's a time to take chances and take risks, and if you find something that you're passionate about, that you would rather do than a standard 9 to 5 job, then it's absolutely worth it. Just be prepared for a lot of ups and downs, and make sure that you're emotionally stable and ready for the challenge.
Paul: I love that, that was great. So let's then switch gears back to the Freeeup.com. I think there's a lot of people listening who are part of the appster tribe who have had the same pains that I've had, where you do have people let you down, you get a lot of bad staff through these companies, these platforms. What should we be looking out for as a great person to work with? What are the questions to ask when appointing someone remotely?
Nathan: Sure. So my biggest thing is I want to hire workaholics. I want people who love to work, who have a lot of free time to work, who are very passionate about my clients' businesses, who treat my clients' businesses as their own. Those are my targets. If I find someone who has an extra five hours a week because they have another job and a large family that they have to provide for and this is just a side gig, for me that's not good enough. I want someone who's committed to whatever job they take, is really passionate about it and is looking to be there long-term and to help it grow along with the business owner.
Paul: Right. You know, Nate, a lot of people I guess have the ability to so grow their own network, their own personal branding; you've done a lot of stuff with marketing and growing successful companies - what could we be doing through, say, social media and other outlets to grow our own personal brands, our own businesses through content marketing?
Nathan: Definitely. So whenever someone comes to me looking for marketing, I recommend three different things. I recommend hiring a content writer, because if you're like me and you have a hundred things to do every week, you just run out of time to write content, and content is very important. You want to get your ideas, your opinions on paper so other people can read it, whether it's blog posts, guest blog posts, different PR stuff, so hiring someone who's a very good writer, that can take your ideas and your notes and turn it into great content. Then hiring a social media person, someone with a lot of experience, running different Instagram, Facebook campaigns, advertising campaigns through them, and they kind of go hand in hand. Because the best kind of Facebook campaigns come with original content and not just articles copied from other places. And then the last thing is some type of lead generation person. This can almost be like your day-to-day VA, but they should have some kind of lead generation background. That's actually how I found you, by reaching out to different podcasts, different people in the industry, doing a lot of LinkedIn networking and trying to get your name out there, trying to get your content out there, and really just diversifying who you're contacting. Because I could spend all day sending different e-mails out and contacting different people, but I just don't have time for that, so having someone do it on your behalf can really give you a heads up.
Paul: Alright. Actually the way you do it the is that the staff would tap into your e-mail and send it as if it's communication from yourself.
Nathan: Exactly. And I'll make sure that I proofread any content or any e-mails that are representing me, but at the same time yes, that's how we do it.
Paul: This is great stuff, because I guarantee there's a lot of people listening to this who don't do this and try to do everything themselves, and that could be a recipe for disaster in a way, because what they're doing is they're not allowing the focus on their own time.
Nathan: Exactly. And off of that, what I always recommend doing is writing down a list of everything you do on a week-to-week basis and everything that you want to do on a week-to-week basis, and put it in priority from easiest to hardest, and then also circle the things that you either enjoy doing, or the things you're good at, or the things that you can do better than everyone else. And everything else on that list, you should try to find someone better than you, or try to find an assistant that can do it for you so that you can focus on expanding your company with the things that you're good at, with the things you specialize at, and you can have assistants that help you do the other things. You'll find a lot of times that if you background isn't social media for example, if you hire a social media expert you're going to get a lot more out of it than if you do it yourself.
Paul: Yes, I've unfortunately had the problem in the past of just having to google and youtube, and thinking you can do it yourself because the information is there, and then trying to research it, spending lots and lots of time doing it. So we're learning a huge amount from you, and I guess this is a show for app entrepreneurs, people in the mobile space; what I was going to ask is have you seen in your experience, in all the years that you've been doing this, has there been a shift towards mobile in the stuff that you're seeing?
Nathan: There's definitely been a shift, just in terms... Because I deal with a lot of eCommerce, so a lot of eCommerce people are buying online, buying through different apps, and I have clients that will sell through those apps, whether it's Amazon.com or other ones. So there definitely is a shift. Me personally, I don't deal with app development, it's just not my background, but I'm interested in working with future clients that do build apps as their source of business, and kind of helping them, be their support around this so that they can focus on what they're good at, which is building the apps, and my team can handle the other stuff.
Paul: Just out of curiosity, have you worked with many podcasters?
Nathan: I'm trying to think... I have about 120 clients right now. I do have one, I have one guy, the Marketologist, who does different podcasts, and I do a lot with him with social media and stuff like that, but it's definitely something we're interested in doing. Anytime you're dealing with someone who's an expert either at marketing or consulting - and we deal with a lot of different consultants - there is definitely a need to have those virtual assistants in place.
Paul: Nathan, I was just kind of getting around to wondering, from your perspective, I think the way you have gone about sharing what you've built is amazing. The fact that you have grown this huge eCommerce platform and now you're actually solving a need that you had yourself - I'm guessing that you funded all this stuff from your own revenue, from your own business. Is that the best thing to do, do you think? Rather than take money from VCs?
Nathan: So I'm a big fan of staying out of debt and bootstrapping. Both of my businesses were bootstrapping; my original Amazon business, I started with 20 dollars, and this business the same thing - I didn't really put much money into it. So I'm a big fan of it, if you can do it. It's obviously not possible, depending on how much initial investment is needed to get off the ground, especially when you're dealing with app work, but I always recommend bootstrapping if you can, using your own funds if you can, because businesses are up and down. It really takes a little while before you see whether a business will be successful or not, whether it gains any traction. So before you make a huge investment that can put you in debt for the rest of your life, you want to get some kind of clarity whether that business is going to be successful, and what the opportunity and potential is. So for me, you always bootstrap until you can't bootstrap anymore, and the same thing goes for if you're going to get funding. If you're making a lot of money and you're growing at a rapid pace, and you can get by with bootstrapping without taking additional funding, without giving away your equity, to me that's always a way to go until you can't do it anymore, or until you get so big that the funding leads to something like going public or something bigger.
Paul: Right. Absolutely fascinating advice. So finally then, before we say goodbye to you Nathan, I'm curious, as you've grown your eCommerce business and you're growing this outlet now, I'm going to suggest that those of the appster tribe listening to your advice, what would be the biggest single thing that you could advise them at this stage as they're starting out? What would you suggest?
Nathan: My biggest advice is to value your time. You only have a certain amount of time in a week; you don't want to live your entire life just working a hundred hours a week, you have to allow time for friends, family, whatever it is that you enjoy doing outside of work. But know how much time you have a week to work and value that time. Make sure you're maximizing that time, make sure you're spending that time on things that expand and grow your company, rather than doing day-to-day or repetitive operations, and make sure you build a great team around you that can really allow you to do that. That's how the most successful entrepreneurs will grow, and grow quickly.
Paul: That is great advice. And of course, anyone who is interested in connecting with you can go to theappguy.co, it's episode 466 and there will be show notes with links to you. But in the meantime, how best can people reach out to you and connect?
Nathan: Sure, so they're welcome to go to our website at Freeeup.com, or you can e-mail me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org
Paul: Wonderful, Nate, and also I'm guessing that it's not just clients who may be excited about this, but also that you have an interview process as well for remote staff. Is that the same thing that they should do - go through your interview process?
Nathan: Sure. You can apply online or you can e-mail email@example.com
Paul: Wonderful. Nathan, thanks for this conversation, it was great, and for coming on to The App Guy Podcast, and all the best with the wonderful journey that you seem to be on.
Nathan: Awesome. I really appreciate your time, thank you.