On the third episode of The Domain Magnate Show, we sit down with the FreeeUp’s founder, Nathan Hirsch. Know more about hiring and scaling, freelancer vs employee, and managing a remote-based company. Nathan also shares his tips and common mistakes in outsourcing.
Nathan Hirsch started in e-commerce, selling baby products on Amazon. After all his own frustrations in outsourcing and finding the right talent, he built a new marketplace connecting entrepreneurs to the top 1% of virtual assistants, freelancers, and agencies in eCommerce, digital marketing, web development and more. To date, their platform, FreeeUp has been catering 2,500+ of freelancers and thousands of clients from all over the world. Recently, their team just hit a milestone of billing 18,000 hours in a week.
Listen to Nathan’s Podcast: Outsourcing and Scaling
SKIP TO THE GOOD PARTS:
00:25 – 01:15 – Why FreeeUp has three e’s
02:30 – 04:30 – FreeeUpin numbers: hours billed, users, and revenue
04:55 – 11:10 – FreeeUp vs Upwork and other freelancer marketplaces
11:20 – 13:10 – Popular tasks that business owners outsourceand pay rates. Breaking it down to “Followers vs Doers vs Experts”
15:25 – 25:30 – Hiring on different levels: managing, establishing communication channels, setting expectations, and common mistakes
26:53 – 32:07 – Starting FreeeUp, getting the first clients and strategies in getting the word out
34:12 – 35:30 – Improvements for FreeeUp
36:35 – 38:30 – Maintaining work-life balance
40:07 – 42:00 – Best and worst employees
43:40 – 43:58 – Get a $25 credit on FreeeUp. Listen here!
44:05 – 44:34 – Advice on hiring
Introduction: This is the Domain Magnate show, where you’ll learn everything you need to know about buying, optimizing, and selling online businesses, with your host, Michael Bereslavsky.
Michael Bereslavsky 0:12 Hello podcast listener. We are here today with Nathan Hirsch, the founder of FreeeUp.com and that’s triple E. F-R-E-E-E-U-P.com. Hello Nathan.
Nathan Hirsch 0:32Hey, how you doing?
Michael Bereslavsky 0:34 So before we start, I got to ask, what’s with the name? Why do you have triple E?
Nathan Hirsch 0:40 So we try to get the one with two “E” actually, eventually, or at first, but that didn’t work out. Verizon actually owns it, but when we started FreeeUp, we were a marketplace for e-commerce sellers. I mean, we did everything e-commerce from drop shipping and customer service to Amazon listing, all that stuff. So the third “E” stood for e-commerce for the first year and then we kind of transitioned to the marketing industry and other online businesses. So we got rid of the e-commerce part and we just kept the third “E”.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:07 Oh, so the first, the first two E’s are just “free” and then the third one is for e-commerce. That makes sense.
Nathan Hirsch 1:11 Right, exactly.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:15 Nice. So where are you calling from now?
Nathan Hirsch 1:17 I’m in Orlando, Florida. It’s not too hot today, although it’s been brutally hot. I just got back from New Orleans, which was equally hot, but I’m entirely remote. I own a place in Orlando and I travel a lot.
Michael Bereslavsky 1:30 Nice. So I’m really excited to get into this because you built a really unique and runs a big outsourcing business, FreeeUp. And outsourcing, hiring, and kind of team building that’s been one of my main focus lately. So I’m really excited to dive into this and discuss some of those things.
Nathan Hirsch 1:51 Yeah, I love talking about hiring and scaling and they really go hand in hand. If you want to grow your business, you’re going to have to hire people. And the difference between people that hire really well and the difference between people that struggle is a lot of times the difference between success and failure. No matter how good of an entrepreneur you are, at some point you have to figure out how do I surround myself with talent and how do I get the most out of that talent?
Michael Bereslavsky 2:13 Yeah, absolutely. And I love to start every episode by looking into some numbers. So what numbers can you share with us about FreeeUp in terms of your revenue or members, clients, numbers, things like that? Employees?
Nathan Hirsch 2:30 Yeah, so I started at this back in 2016-ish, end just 2016. I started with $5,000 and we did about a million dollars in the first year. 5 million in the second. We did about 10 million last year, well actually around 9 million. And that’s kind of what where we’re at now. This year we’re hoping to break 13-14 million, that’d be pretty awesome. We bill over 17,000 hours a week. That doesn’t include fixed prices, which we also do weekly and monthly. We’ve got thousands of users all over the world. We’ve got about 3000 freelancers on our platform. So that’s kind of where we’re at right now.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:03 That’s very nice. So the 14 million you’re expecting this year, is that, is that your company revenue, or that like the total volume of, of transactions on the marketplace?
Nathan Hirsch 3:16 Yeah, it’s top-line revenue.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:20 Oh, so that’s the revenue that you make from the, I understand from the 15% fee, is that correct?
Nathan Hirsch 3:27 Well, no. So if we bill a client a hundred bucks an hour, we’re making $15 on that, the 15%. Topline revenue is that a hundred. So we’re making the 15% of that.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:38 Oh, okay. So that’s the total.
Nathan Hirsch 3:39 Yeah.
Michael Bereslavsky 3:40 Sounds good. So you guys are profitable, right?
Nathan Hirsch 3:43 We, yes, we are. I mean we have very little expenses. We’re entirely remote. We have no office. We only hire people from our own platform. We have no US employees. It’s me and my business partner, Connor. All the day to day operations is run by virtual assistants that we got on our platform. The billing, the customer service, the recruitment, the success team, all that stuff. And all the higher-level stuff, the Facebook ads, the Instagram, all that is all freelancers we got on our platform that we’re just one of many of their clients. And they’re doing certain tasks for us. And we have our software…
Michael Bereslavsky 4:15 That’s great.
Nathan Hirsch 4:16 Yeah. Thank you. We have our software that we built, that we invested money into that handles everything from the billing to the affiliates to the tickets and the support and all that. So we use that and outside of that, there’s very little overhead in the business.
Michael Bereslavsky 4:28 That’s a really great setup. So you don’t actually have to go and hire people, you just have them on your platform. You just pick the best one, right?
Nathan Hirsch 4:35 Exactly. We get to kind of pick the 1% of the 1%
Michael Bereslavsky 4:39 Yeah, that’s perfect. So before we get people into it, explain to us a little bit how it works. How is FreeeUp different from outsourcing companies, so, from freelance marketplaces like Upwork?
Nathan Hirsch 4:54 Yeah, so there are four things that make us different. First of all the pre-vetting, I mean anyone can go on Upwork, Fiverr, post your job or apply and or offer services on that platform. With us, we get thousands of applicants every week. These are virtual assistants, freelancers, agencies from all over the world. We spend a lot of time vetting them for skill, attitude and communication and only the top 1% get on our platform as service providers. So it’s tough to get in. We spend a lot of time screening. Next is our process. So I know a lot of people are used to marketplaces where you post a job, you get a hundred applicants, you have to interview them one by one or you have to browse through thousands. With us, there’s no browsing. Whenever you want to freelancer, you just click the request a freelancer right inside your account. You tell us what you’re looking for. Give us as much information as possible. It takes a few minutes and from there we introduce you to one person by default.
Nathan Hirsch 5:46 We normally send one because people don’t want to meet 20 that’s not why they come to us. But if you say, Hey, send me three 75 whatever it is, we’re happy to do it. And then you can interview them, meet with them, make sure you like them. So it’s a pretty fast and efficient process. On the back end, I would put our support against anyone out. We have 24 seven support, people that monitor my Skype’s, my emails. We’re always there to make sure that you have a good experience and we’re there if who have even the smallest issue. And then last is our no turnover guarantee. I always used to hate when I would hire someone on another platform and I’d invest time and money and energy into them, only to have them quit. Well, if that happens on our platform, which rarely happens, but of course it’s real life. If it does, we cover replacement costs and get you a new person right away. So that’s really how we’re different, the pre-vetting, the speed, the customer service, and the protection.
Michael Bereslavsky 6:39 So that’s perfect, you only offer, you only suggest to just one person because the biggest problem of using the freelance sites is you have like 50 people applied to your job and then you have to review everyone and interview them. And here you just suggest one person. And do most people just hire at one person or like what’s, what’s the statistics?
Nathan Hirsch 7:00 Yeah, it’s really all over the place. I mean, a lot of people do, they let, they like the one person or if they, if they talk to that person and they want another option, maybe they request a second one. But we also have clients who, they have their own vetting process and they want to put people through that and they’ll say, hey Nate, send me 10 people or send me three and I want to meet three and interview three and then pick one or hire two for trial tasks and then pick one from there. So you really have the flexibility to use our marketplace, use our platform however you want. But I think a lot of people like that, like you said, that they’re not getting overwhelmed with applicants and they’re really in control of that process. And we’re making sure that every applicant that we send you is an actual fit for your job.
Michael Bereslavsky 7:43 Yeah, that’s perfect. And you did mention that you have the 1% percent of the best, the best applicants. So how do you, how do you sort them, how they filter them? How they figured out who are the best ones?
Nathan Hirsch 7:55 Yeah. So we vet them for skill, attitude, and communication. So for skill, we don’t need everyone to be a 10 out of 10, right? There’s a time and a place for people that are 10 out of tens, eight out of 10, five out of 10, three out of 10. What we care about is that your price accordingly and that you’re honest about what you can and cannot do. And if you get on our platform and you’re taking on requests that you can’t do at a high level, we’re not in place to experiment on our client base. So we’re quick to remove you. So tough to get in with skill. We put them through skill tests. Once you’re on, we’d hold people to those expectations. For attitude, we want people who are passionate about what they do. If I hate bookkeeping and I hire a bookkeeper, they need to love bookkeeping as much as I love being an entrepreneur, those are the types of people that we want to work with.
Nathan Hirsch 8:41 We also know that not every client is rainbows and butterflies, right? There’s going to be difficult clients out there and as a freelancer, you have to be able to handle difficult clients. If every time a client becomes a little bit difficult that my team or I have to get involved, that doesn’t work for us. So we need people that can be the bigger person, that can act professionally, that can do things to protect themselves, and treat clients at a very high level of customer service just like if I was dealing with the client myself. We also want people who can take feedback and not take it personally. I think you’ve probably worked with someone who can’t take feedback. It’s frustrating, it’s annoying. So we look for all of that in the attitude and just like with skill, it’s tough to get in. We do one on one interviews and once you’re in, if you show signs of a bad attitude, we’re very quick to kick you out.
Nathan Hirsch 9:28 And then lastly is communication. Communication is everything, right? I mean it doesn’t matter if someone has a great attitude and a good skillset. If they can’t communicate, nothing else really matters. So we have 15 pages of communication best practices that freelancers have to memorize and get tested on before they get on our platform. And then from there, we hold people to those expectations and once they’re on it, they have to respond within a business day, stuff like that. And clients can let us know if they’re running into issues and we’re quick to remove them from our platform.
Michael Bereslavsky 10:05 Fifteen pages on communication. What? What’s that about, like, does it just cover communication between client and freelancer?
Nathan Hirsch 10:42 At the same time, we’ve been doing this for a while, we work with a lot of freelancers. We know what works, we know it doesn’t work. We know how to protect clients, how to protect freelancers. So we put together these best practices and it comes down to, listen, you don’t have to follow the best practices if you have a better way. If you have your own way and it works, that’s totally fine. But if we run into issues and you’re getting client complaints and you’re not following the best practices, there’s only so much we can do.
Michael Bereslavsky 11:08 Yeah, absolutely. So what are some of the most popular tasks or positions that people usually hire for? And what would be kind of the common prices?
Nathan Hirsch 11:20 My least favorite question, only because…
Michael Bereslavsky 11:21 Really?
Nathan Hirsch 11:25 Well, we get so many requests. Like yesterday we got 60 plus requests and they were all over the place. There was no rhyme or no reason. People needed graphic designers, Amazon lifters, virtual assistants, customer service, bookkeepers. It’s really all over the place from, this is what I like to do. I like to break it down into three different levels. You’ve got the followers, the doers, and the experts. So the followers, think five to 10 bucks an hour, non-US. They’re there to follow your systems, your processes. They have years of experience because we’re not a marketplace for newbies, but at the end of the day they’re followers.
Nathan Hirsch 12:00 Think lead generation, think customer service. Think executive assistant. I can get you someone with five years of customer experience, but the way that you do customer service could be different than the way that I do, so you have to show them how you want it done. Then you’ve got the doers, the specialists, they spend eight to 10 hours a day doing the same task. They are graphic designers, writers, bookkeepers. You’re not teaching a graphic designer how to be a graphic designer, but they’re not consulting with you either. They’re the doers. And then you’ve got the experts, the 20 and up. The consultants, the high-level freelancers, the agencies on our platform, we have an agency program. They’re bringing their own systems, their own processes, their own strategy to the table. They can consult, they can project manage, they can execute a high-level game plan. So that could be digital marketing or e-commerce Amazon experts or it could be conversion optimization. I’m hiring someone right now to do the UI and UX on our software. So it just depends whether you’re looking for a net follower to help you get hours back in the day, the doer to help take projects off your plate, or the experts to come in and execute a strategy on something that you’re not good at.
Michael Bereslavsky 13:09 I like that. That’s, that’s actually quite new. I’ve never seen that before. By the way, I like how you define that as followers, doers and experts. I think it’s the biggest, one of the biggest problems probably is that people hire followers and they often expect them to be, you know, to be experts or to be doers. And I think that’s a really important distinction. That’s, that’s really, that’s really great for, especially for, kind of beginner employers who don’t yet have as much experience in managing employees. And that’s really great for them to see and understand what kind of person they want to hire.
Nathan Hirsch 13:48 Yeah. And quick clarification, we don’t provide employees, we provide virtual assistants, freelancers, and agencies. And keep in mind, these are real people, right? They don’t always fit into perfect levels, but the levels are important from the mindset of the client, the mindset of the entrepreneur. So you know exactly what you want. Do you need that follower, do you need that doer, or do you need that expert? When you have that clarity, it leads to a lot of better hiring decisions.
Michael Bereslavsky 14:14 And is it typically part-time or short term projects, or long-term or full-time projects?
Nathan Hirsch 14:20 Yeah. So there’s no minimum, there’s no maximum. Again, it really depends on the client. You’re welcome to use our platform however you want. We have clients who will hire 10 customer service reps in the Philippines and they’ve had them for three-plus years. And then you’ve got someone else who will hire someone to build a website and never talked to them again afterward. And other people might hire a graphic designer and go to them on and off for the year with different work or hire someone for two, three-month projects. I mean you have the flexibility to hire people however you want.
Michael Bereslavsky 14:50 So I’d love to discuss hiring on different levels. If you considering an employer or considering someone, a business owner who wants to hire, first, someone who wants to hire their first-ever VA, their first-ever employee, what would be some the most common mistakes that people usually make? Or what, what is the advice that you would give them if this is the absolute first hire and you know, they just have a new business with a kind of starting up and now making revenue and they feel like they have more work than they can handle.
Nathan Hirsch 15:23 Yeah. Good question. So I have 40 VA’s, right? I didn’t just wake up and hire 40 people, that’s not how it works. I started small. I hired someone five, 10 hours a week. I gave them tasks. I got them really good at those tasks. Once they got good at those tasks, I gave them another, and another, and I increased their hours and I eventually hired a second person and I went through that process slow. I think a lot of people, they just keep going, keep going, keep going without making sure that they’re actually, the VA’s actually doing what they want and actually taking the time to set those expectations. When you hire someone, you need to set the expectations, hey, this is when we’re going to work. This is what success looks like, this is what failure looks like. This is how we run meetings, this is what’s important to me. These are my pet peeves.
Nathan Hirsch 16:06 Getting 100% on the same page right from the beginning. And then if things start to not go on the right way or deadlines are being missed, whatever it is, pause work, take a step back, get on the same page again, and then give them another chance. And if you continue to do that and only move forward once you’re 100% on the same page and things are getting done exactly the way you want them, you’re going to have a lot more success long term. And giving feedback is so important. I mean, you have to remember, especially if you hire like a part-time VA, they’re going to have other clients. They’ve probably had 10 clients before you. Every client wants things differently. What one client likes, another client hate. So if you don’t spend that extra time to set expectations and give good feedback, you’re going to struggle because the VA doesn’t know exactly what you want.
Michael Bereslavsky 16:54 Okay. Perfect. So for the person who’s hiring a first time, give feedback, have clear expectations, yeah? And make sure that you communicate well with the freelancer, right? And let’s say the next level that you already have several freelancers and maybe you have a team to manage. Maybe I’m managing like three or five people or maybe you want to hire someone full time. What are some common mistakes that people make and what some advice would you give people that are in that stage?
Nathan Hirsch 17:29 Yeah. So once you get to that stage where you’re, you’re mentoring a lot of people. I personally like to put a team leader in charge and I want to talk to that person. I want to make sure that they’re comfortable being a team leader and I want to set the expectations of what that looks like. What a, what’s different between being a team leader than just being another VA on the team and what, what kind of communication are we going to have? How are you going to report to me? How are you monitoring the other ones? There might be meetings that you’re going to run without me even there, which I do right now. There’s a meeting every Monday morning at 3:00 AM with all the assistants and I never attend that because it’s 3:00 AM and they do a great job, but I set that expectation of, Hey, this is what I need you to make sure you cover. This is how we run meetings at freeeup. Here’s how you report to me what happened to that meeting.
Nathan Hirsch 18:11 Really making sure that you’re giving them that additional responsibility and there’s a way for you to get that information. So even if you’re not there, you’re still involved. I think the other thing is just setting up different communication channels and what those channels are for. I think I’ve seen some clients struggle because they only use email or they only use Skype. You really should have different ones for different reasons. This is how I set it up. So, we, everyone has email, everyone has Skype, everyone has WhatsApp or Viber, whichever one they want. So with email, that’s for things that aren’t urgent, right? I can send an email as long as you respond within a business day or the next time you work, we’re good.
Nathan Hirsch 18:51 So that’s for non-urgent conversations. If every time that I sent, that I got something, I sent someone a Skype message, they would go crazy. It doesn’t make a lot of sense. You want to do email for that. Skype is more day to day. Talking back and forth, having a conversation, having a meeting. But I’m not sending someone something on Skype unless it’s important and we need to talk about it now. And then Viber and WhatsApp are just for emergencies. So I think a few weeks ago our software like went down on a Sunday at like 2:00 AM and someone Vibered me and we fixed it within 30 minutes and it wasn’t that big of a deal. But that’s an example of how do I get a Viber type issue, if they shoot me an email saying that my software is down, I’m not going to get that email until the next time I log in. It’s a lot more important than that.
Nathan Hirsch 19:34 So establishing what communication channels you use. And, and how you use each one and making sure everyone’s on the same page with that. And even giving some corrections. I had a VA on my team who’s brand new, who, who called me, on like a Friday night over a very non-important issue that could have been solved without me. And it wasn’t a big deal, I just explained to them, hey, that that’s not a Viber type issue. That’s a, Hey, talk to a team leader or handle it, I’ll check it next time I’m on type issue. So keep resetting those expectations and keeping those expectations in line as you go.
Michael Bereslavsky 20:07 Nice. So on that second stage with like 3-5 people, get a manager and then set clear expectations about communication channels and which channels should be used when and how right?
Nathan Hirsch 20:21 Exactly.
Michael Bereslavsky 20:22 And let’s see. What’s the next level, let’s say that they have close to 10 employees, more or less, and several managers. What are some common mistakes that people make at that stage and what, what are some advice would you provide?
Nathan Hirsch 20:38 So I think a lot of people fall into the trap of not diversifying. They hire one person or two people and they really like them, maybe they had some bad hires before and they just load up those people with everything. Or maybe just load them up with the most important tasks and then that person gets sick, that person needs a week off. No one else knows how to do their tasks and that stuff doesn’t get done. And that can set your business back. So when I have a team of 10 people, which I have now on my customer service team, I think it’s 12 or 13, not only does, do I spread out the tasks among different people, but more than one person knows how to do every single path. So if that one, I don’t need to teach 12 people to do every little thing. That’s crazy. Because some things are small things that only get done once or twice a week. But if someone has a task on Wednesday and they can’t work that Wednesday, that task still gets done by someone else, by the backup. So I think that’s where a lot of people go wrong. They either invest the time and teaching everyone to do everything which gets a little crazy and out of control or they’re just not diversifying enough and making sure that their business is protected.
Michael Bereslavsky 21:43 Nice. So diversifying and having some backup, but how would you go about scaling that management structure? Because once you have, let’s say more than 10 people, you might want to have a couple of managers. You might want to have someone, like you probably would consider doing, adding another level of management, right? How would you go bust that?
Nathan Hirsch 22:07 So it’s very specific to what your structure is and what the work is. What I like to do is for every type of manager or team leader, there are two things, there’s what tasks are you responsible for and then what people are you responsible for. And if you take the time to actually list those things out, you’re going to be able to see what that tipping point is. If you’re working with a team leader and their tasks and their people are way more than any person can handle, you probably need to hire that second person. And then you need to divide it up and say, hey, you’re responsible for Bob, Julia, and Ross, and you’re responsible for Joe, Nick, and Mark. And really divided up from there. And the same thing with tasks and figuring out, hey, it’s your job to check every email at the end of the day to make sure nothing was missed. It’s your job to check every Skype message to see if anything was missed. Once you start to actually write those responsibilities down and define them, that’s going to give you a much clearer picture of where you are. You might look at it and be like, oh, one person can handle this, I’m good for now, but in six months or a quarter I’ll revisit this. Or you might look at it and be like, wow, that’s, that’s too much for one or even two people. We need to divide this up between three people.
Michael Bereslavsky 23:17 Yeah. That’s good advice. So dividing things up and giving clear expectations, clear talks to people. And what do you do next? Let’s say you get up to, well you have now 40 employees, right? So how do you manage 40 employees successfully?
Nathan Hirsch 23:34 Yeah. VA is not an employee. So we divide it by, there are three different parts of FreeeUp for the day to day. You’ve got the billing team, you’ve got the success team, which is our recruitment and then you’ve got the customer service team. So the customer service team actually has two team leaders, one in the morning, one at night, because it’s much more of a 24 hour around the door type thing. So we’ve got team leaders and then they, each of them has an assistant team leader because again it’s a 24/7 thing and then everyone else is underneath them and has shifts because that’s more of a set time. Now for accounting, they work 8:00 to 12:00 AM and PM. It’s not a 24/7 thing. If someone has an accounting issue, it can usually wait. We can always call them if it’s super urgent and there’s one team leader for that team and then three people underneath them.
Nathan Hirsch 24:21 There’s no real need for an assistant team leader, that one person can handle all three people. And then on the success team, very similar to the accounting team, it’s not 24/7. We only do interviews at certain times. So I have one team leader and four people underneath them. And those four people have different tasks from going through applicants, to actually doing the interviews and approving people, all of that. So that’s kind of how we divided up in the day to day. And then you’ve got the outside the day to day, right? You’ve got the social media, you got the marketing, the lead generation, all those stuff around it. And for that we use freelancers, and with those people report to Connor and I. So we don’t need team leaders because those people are not really on my team. They’re doing certain projects for us. So Connor and I divided up, he handles the developers and the blog. I handle the social media, the marketing and stuff like that. And so certain people respond to me and they update me and I’m in charge of the projects and vice versa. And as we get bigger, who knows, we might build out a marketing team and put someone in charge, but that’s kind of how we handle it right now.
Michael Bereslavsky 25:22 Nice. So different departments and different team leaders. And is it just you and your partner in charge or do you have some other people in your team, those on the job is just to manage others?
Nathan Hirsch 25:29 Yeah. So it’s me and Connor as the owners and then we’ve got the accounting team leader, the two customer service team leaders and the success team leaders. So it’s those four really, those are the people that are running the business.
Michael Bereslavsky 25:52 Nice. It sounds like a really efficient setup.
Nathan Hirsch 25:56 Yeah. And the cool thing about it is you’re going to make tweaks along the way. Like when we set up the team leaders and the assistant team leaders, there was some tweaking. There was, hey, you know what, this is too much work, we got to move it here. Or Hey, you know what, you’re a morning customer service person or customer service team leader. It doesn’t make sense for you to do this task. We need this task in the afternoon, so let’s move it to the afternoon person. So don’t be afraid to create a plan, execute that plan, get things in place, but then evaluate, see what’s not working and tweak things over time. And we’re always doing that. We’re always listening to feedback and saying, hey, how can we improve? How can we make this better?
Michael Bereslavsky 26:30 Yeah. That’s really great. And I like to get into the overall kind of progress of FreeeUp. So you start about four or five years ago, is that right?
Nathan Hirsch 26:42 Yeah. This is year four, in our year four.
Michael Bereslavsky 26:45 Did you expect that it would get so big? Did you expect that it would cross, you know, into eight figures?
Nathan Hirsch 26:52 No, I mean, I’m a very short term thinker. I understand that the market’s change, right? I mean, I use sold baby products on Amazon before this. I got into it at a really good time. I got into Amazon in 2008. If you had asked me 10 years ago if I’d be selling baby products on Amazon, I wouldn’t believe you. If you asked me five years ago if I’d be running a freelancer marketplace, I wouldn’t have believed you. So things change. We tried to get our minimum viable product out there as fast as possible. We spent a few thousand dollars on a time clock software that had really no features. People could clock in, clock out, clients could see the freelancers on their end and, and that was it. There was nothing else that software could do. We got it to market. We started asking people for feedback.
Nathan Hirsch 27:34 We got in front of some micro-influencers and whenever you start a company, you have no idea what the client feedback’s going to be like. And I think at first the feedback was oh great, another freelancer platform. That’s what the world needs right now. And it took a little bit of time for people to try us and give us a chance. And from there we treated those initial clients really well and they had a good experience and they told other people, we created a referral program where you get 50 cents for every hour that we build the people that come from you forever, which is probably one of my better business decisions because people started talking about us all over the world and us kind of expanded from there.
Nathan Hirsch 28:09 So I never start a business thinking, oh my God, this is going to crush it. I know this is the home run. I mean you can’t be like that. Things change, just because you like an idea or your parents like an idea or even one of your clients likes that idea, doesn’t mean that the entire market likes the idea. So it really was about figuring out what people like and continue to make adjustments. And we’re very fortunate we’ve gotten to this place. I mean we couldn’t do it without our team. They build me, they bill me 1200 hours a week. They put a lot of hard work into this business and we’re really grateful for it.
Michael Bereslavsky 28:42 Nice. So in the beginning, how did you get your first clients? Was it through for word of mouth of that referral program?
Nathan Hirsch 28:51 No, the first client was us cold emailing people and trying to get someone to give us a chance. I mean, we have built some relationships with some manufacturers and different Amazon sellers with my Amazon business. So that was kind of our starting point. We had this group of freelancers that we used for our Amazon business. We really liked those freelancers and we didn’t use them full time. So the initial thing was us offering our network of freelancers to other people. And clients would email me and say, hey, I need a graphic designer. I need a lister We’d say, Hey, here’s Bob, here’s Joe, whatever it is. And that was how we got FreeeUp off the ground. Eventually, we ran out of freelancers and we had to build a recruitment team and start vetting and all that. But, but that was really, it is cold email trying to get people to give us a chance. It’s a very low barrier to entry, right? It’s free to sign up. There’s no monthly fee, there’s no minimum. So people were more open to give us a chance and let’s say if we were selling a $10,000 product for the first time, but then once they got in the door, it was on us to make sure they had a really good experience.
Michael Bereslavsky 29:50 And what was next? Once you got to, let’s say half a million or 1 million in revenue, how did you, how did you grow further?
Nathan Hirsch 29:58 Yeah. So it’s figuring out what was the best way to market. I mean we’ve spent very little money on ads, right? We, we do our referral program, which is great. We’re going to pay out about $300,000 this year in referral money. And then we wanted to work with influencers, people who are coaches, people who have a Facebook group, people who have a podcast or community of business owners and, and that their, their audience needed people to hire and we partner with them. We provided them a lot of good content like, just like we’re doing right now. We’ve provided the affiliate program and most importantly we took very good care of their clients, their customers, and made them look good and that made them want to keep referring business. And so we’ve created this ecosystem where we have lots of different influencers, lots of different partners, all that do the same thing that, that have the same audience that we do but do different things.
Nathan Hirsch 30:46 We promote them to our audience, they promote us to theirs, and it ends up being a win-win for everyone. We also realize that podcasts were a great way to just get in front of entrepreneurs. So I do a bunch of podcasts each week. For the past three years, I’ve probably done three to four podcasts a week. And it’s a good way to just network with awesome people like you. It’s a good way to get in front of an audience. It has some SEO benefits, like backlinks and different stuff like that. So podcasting has been big as well.
Michael Bereslavsky 31:15 And for finding leads, finding freelancers to come on your platform. Do you have any, any other strategy for it or is it, do they just organically come and join?
Nathan Hirsch 31:27 Yeah. Very similar to the client-side. I go on freelancer podcast or we have our referral program on the freelancer side and we do a little bit of ads. We have our blog, we have our YouTube channel, we have our podcasts and we’re constantly putting out content and then we’ve got partnerships with it, like virtual assistant academies, freelancer schools, stuff like that. So again, people just hear about us and we get about 2000 applicants a week getting onto our platform.
Michael Bereslavsky 31:50 That’s a lot. And what’s your best marketing channel currently? Is it still mostly from podcasts and kind of is word of mouth and the referrals?
Nathan Hirsch 32:02 Yeah, it’s organic. It’s our partnerships, our podcasts, and our content.
Michael Bereslavsky 32:06 Nice. So for people that are considering to use your platform, comparing it to, let’s say Upwork or freelancer.com or you know, or some, some other platforms. What would you say is it just absolutely perfect for? Who would be the ideal customer to come and use FreeeUp?
Nathan Hirsch 32:32 Yeah. I mean from a marketing side, because you can’t market to everyone, we target e-commerce businesses and we target marketing agencies. And marketing is kind of nice cause it trickles into every other industry a little bit. But, I mean, we have all different types of clients. I mean we have a client who uses VA’s to manage their friends on the football team. We’ve got real estate agents, we’ve got software companies, we’ve got Amazon seller, Shopify sellers, we’ve got marketing influencers, marketing agencies. We’ve got consultants and coaches. I mean anyone can take advantage of the gig economy, whether you need a part-time or full-time virtual assistant or you just need a new website or graphic design work or you need marketing, you need social media, you need those experts. So, even if you’re a brick and mortar store. I mean I had a client that I met in Orlando and we took them out, he took me out to lunch and it was his restaurant and he was using freelancers to market his restaurant. So any business owner can use the FreeeUp platform and can use freelancers in general.
Michael Bereslavsky 33:26 So that’s a really wide reach. What’s your average client like? Do they have one freelancer or do they work with 10 different freelancers or is it just all over the place?
Nathan Hirsch 33:38 Yeah, it’s probably all over the place. I mean, I think that at any particular time people are usually working with two to five freelancers. I don’t have any stats to back that up, but that’s like a ballpark. And then we’ve got clients who use way more and we’ve got clients who have hired a five hour a week VA and they’ve only used that VA and no one else for the past year. So it’s very all over the place.
Michael Bereslavsky 34:01 Great. So you’ve, you achieved some really phenomenal growth with that business. And what, what’s your next plan? What does the future look like?
Nathan Hirsch 34:11 I want to see how far we can push this thing. Sorry, I didn’t mean to cut you off.
Michael Bereslavsky 34:16 Yeah, yeah, no worries. Yes. So what current challenges are you facing or what’s, what’s your next goal with FreeeUp?
Nathan Hirsch 34:21 Yeah. So right now our goal is to improve our software and our client experience. I think I mentioned there’s a very little barrier to entry. We have a lot of partnerships. We get lots of new signups every day, but we understand that our platform is different than a lot of platforms that people are used to. So we want to educate people. We want to make our software easier to use. We want the client experience, like what emails, what kind of contact they get from me and my team to just be better. I mean, even small things like what you call certain things in the process, I think can be better when we, when we fill a ticket, not everyone knows what filling a ticket means. So there’s some part of clarifying things and just making it easier and easier and better. And, and overall that’s going to benefit the freelancers. That’s going to benefit the client. So that’s kind of our thing. I mean, we can spend tons and tons and tons of money on marketing, but we don’t want to do that until we make sure our funnel is as good and clean and clear as possible. So that’s our main focus for the third quarter. And then after that, it’s a busy season. It’s the fourth quarter and everyone’s hiring and all that. And then come January, that’s when we reach out and make lots of new partnerships and plan ahead for the year. So that’s kind of our immediate plans.
Michael Bereslavsky 35:29 And who do you see as your main competitors right now? Or do you just not pay attention to competitors at all?
Nathan Hirsch 35:36 I mean, we pay attention. Every virtual assistant agency, every platform like Upwork and Fiverr, which went public, every single freelancing platform out there is competition. There’s no shortage of it. I’ve yet to see anyone that’s doing things the way that we’re doing it. But at the same time, I mean, things change all the time, we don’t want to be complacent. We want to continue to make it better and better and better. And while also monitoring what other people are doing. And usually we look at stuff that other people are doing and we say, all right, that’s all right, or we don’t really like that. Or Hey, that’s great, we should implement that. Or Hey, you know what? That was a good idea. We’re going to tweak this and make it our own, so we’re constantly looking at competition, but we’re very focused on what we’re doing at FreeeUp.
Michael Bereslavsky 36:18 Okay, Nathan, so I have a few random questions for you. First of all, I got to ask you, you have a very high energy guy. How do you maintain your work-life balance? How do you maintain that high energy throughout the day, throughout the week?
Nathan Hirsch 36:34 Yeah. I don’t know why I’m high energy. That’s just one of those things that you are who you are, right? I tend to be that way in all aspects of life. Like I go to the gym at 4:45 every day. I’m going all out for an hour. That’s just, I’m just a high energy human being. The best way for me to get away from business and have a work-life balance is I depend on my friends, my family, and my fiancé. And there’ll be times where my fiancé will just take my phone away from me and she’ll just have it for the rest of the night because that’s what I need in order to just get away and remind myself that I have to have a balance. I think anyone that’s looking for that perfect balance, that doesn’t exist, right? It’s all about, are you enjoying life? Are you doing what you’re doing for? Is your business hurting your friendships? Is it hurting your ability to take good care of yourself? Are you getting enough rest? Are you able to have hobbies and interests outside of your work? And I think you need a really good support system and it’s something that as an entrepreneur, it’s very tough to turn it off, but you have to continue to work at it.
Michael Bereslavsky 37:35 Yeah, absolutely. Most entrepreneurs only have an on or off mode, you know like on, then you’re just working like 16 or 18 hours a day or off, that you’re just away on vacation, don’t want to check email at all. It’s really difficult for everyone to kind of figure out that balance. So it’s really amazing that you’ve been able to get closer to that.
Nathan Hirsch 37:58 Yeah. It’s a work in progress and I think as you get a little bit older and they’re like, I just got engaged. And I think when you’re, at least for me, when I was younger and I was in college like I didn’t have to sleep very much. I could, I could party all night and wake up the next day and work and I can balance school and social life. And I think as you get older, you start to get into more habits, more routines, more tendencies. You, you tend to realize that that work isn’t everything and you have to have that life and you have to enjoy travel and, and all that stuff. And just one of those things, you’re constantly maturing.
Michael Bereslavsky 38:29 Absolutely. What book or books are you reading, currently?
Nathan Hirsch 38:36 Reading currently? Well, I just got back from a ton of travel, so I’m actually looking for a new book right now. If you have any good recommendations. My, one of my favorite books is “Start with Why” from Simon Sinek. It just resonates with me at a very high level. I mean, I sold baby products for years. I made a good amount of money doing it. I wasn’t passionate about that at all. And I think with FreeeUp, it just resonates with me because I love helping freelancers. I love helping clients. I like win-win. I like helping people pursue their dreams, their passions, their goals. And if you don’t have a passion or a why for your business, I think you can only do it for so long. And that’s why I kind of got sick of that, of that baby product industry and selling on Amazon. But that was kind of a personal thing for me. But that book really resonated with me. And yeah, I’m on the lookout right now. I just got back from some travel which I didn’t have a lot of time to read on and, yeah.
Michael Bereslavsky 39:28 Yeah. That is, that is one of my favorite books as well. I love the, there was another book by Simon Sinek that escapes me now, that I really love as well. I’m currently reading Homo Deus by Yuval Harari. It really gives you a new perspective on, on history, on society, on everything, it’s really interesting. Kind of makes you think about all those different things, but you haven’t really considered it before. So that’s, that would be my current recommendation.
Nathan Hirsch 39:39 Definitely. I have to check it out.
Michael Bereslavsky 40:01 And who was your best employee that you ever hired and how did you find that person?
Nathan Hirsch 40:08 My best virtual assistant, her name is Chiqui Ann, she lives in the Philippines. I’m actually the godfather of one of her kids. We’ve been working together for eight or nine years now. She was a referral back when I first started my Amazon business and we hired a VA who my friend was using and he first got me into VA’s and then she recommended Chiq’s and I quickly made Chiq’s my manager. She’s a lot of, she’s taught me a lot over the years about how to work with people in other countries, how to change my communication, changed my attitude, changed my tone. She handles our success team right now. So she’s really helped build our interview process. She knows what to look for in people, which is one of the reasons that I like working with her so much. And yeah, I mean she’s been a huge part of FreeeUps growth. She was with us when we were making no money. She was with my Amazon business when we were growing that up. She helped scale that and she helped start FreeeUp and we’re grateful for her and I’m probably going to hopefully work with her for many years to come.
Michael Bereslavsky 41:05 That’s amazing. And how do you find her? Was it just a recommendation from a friend?
Nathan Hirsch 41:10 Yeah, from a recommendation of a friend. I’ve met her one time in person when I went to the Philippines last year.
Michael Bereslavsky 41:16 Nice. And who was your worst employee? Or maybe it’s some, you don’t have to name names, but I’m curious how did you find them and what, you know, what was the mistakes? What did you do?
Nathan Hirsch 41:31 Back in college? I didn’t really have an interview process. I was a 20, 21-year-old punk kid that thought I knew everything and I hired people without interviewing them. And I had one guy who I hired and he was drinking on the job. He was smoking on the job. He quit on me during the busy season when I actually needed him the most and it took me way too long to fire him. I didn’t really know any better. I was also kind of friends with him, which made it even harder to do. That was probably one of my worst hires.
Michael Bereslavsky 41:58 What’s an unpopular opinion that you hold something about business? Something that you really believe despite you know it being unpopular and many, many people wont agree.
Nathan Hirsch 42:11 So I’m really against hiring US followers. We mentioned the three different levels. So, I’m all about hiring US freelancers, US experts, US agencies, I hire them. My clients hire them. But if you hire a follower position, a US Admin, a US customer service rep, not only can you get it cheaper in the Philippines, you can find people just as good, who will stay with you longer. If you hire an Admin for 15 to 20 bucks an hour, how long are they actually going to be happy in the US for 15, 20 bucks an hour? At some point, they’re either going to become more than an admin and a specialist or an expert, or you’re going to have to increase their pace. You’re going to end up paying in that 20 to 30 range when you really, the job is worth in that 10 to 20 range. And with the non-US people, if you like them and you’re paying them five to 10 bucks an hour, you can give them a dollar raise or $2 raise and they’re going to be happy and they’re going to be loyal with you. So that’s my personal opinion. That’s one of the reasons why I have no US employees. All my US people are freelancers and agencies. But plenty of people disagree with me and that’s okay.
Michael Bereslavsky 43:14 Yeah. I think nowadays it’s changing in the like many people are understanding that they can hire better people and cheaper people and kind of more experienced and more hardworking people abroad. So we don’t have to just hire on the US. That’s, that’s true. So what is the best way for our listeners to reach you and find you?
Nathan Hirsch 43:36 Yeah, so if you go to FreeeUp.com, with three E’s, my calendar, my team’s calendar is right at the top. You can book a free meeting with me, create a free account, mention this podcast, get a $25 credit to try us out. You can join my Facebook group, outsourcing masters. We have a lot of great content there to help you hire better and smarter. And yeah, you can reach out to me or my team on really any social media channel.
Michael Bereslavsky 43:58 Oh, thank you. So any final piece of advice to people in terms of hiring?
Nathan Hirsch 44:03 Yeah, don’t give up. I mean, if you, if you struggle at marketing, you’re not just going to wake up one day and say, you know what, marketing is not for me. I can’t market. I’m not going to market anymore. But for some reason, we do that with hiring. We, hiring is hard, you make some mistakes? And you say, hiring’s not for me. I’m going to do everything myself. Get out of that mentality. No one has a 100% hiring record. Keep focusing on what you can control, your systems, your processes, your interviewing, using the right platforms, all that stuff. And you’re going to get better and better over time. And I want to provide you with resources to help you do it.
Michael Bereslavsky 44:35 Yeah, I like that. So keep practicing, keep growing, and you know, keep improving. Well, thank you for joining us today, Nathan. It was a pleasure to talk to you.
Nathan Hirsch 44:45 Same here. I really appreciate you having me on.
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