Succeeding in your business is about going beyond the comfortable. Nathan Hirsch is no stranger to this when he built up his own remote hiring software, FreeeUp. Coming from one of those rare success stories that sprung up from a dorm room, Nathan started his now million-dollar business bargaining books in college. He later went out of his comfort zone and started selling toys and baby products at just 21 years old. Talking about his parents and the dream life he wanted, he explored on the kind of freedom he wanted in a job, which later on helped built his empire today. Hiring VAs from all around the world, expanding beyond his town, and helping others focus more on growing their businesses; Nathan shares about the increasing opportunities found in remote hiring.
Nathan Hirsch on Remote Hiring And The Opportunities Beyond
Our guest built his first business from his college dorm room. He struggled at first to find the right model and the right products, but when he uncovered the secret he was searching for, his little dorm room business grew to $20 million in sales. Competitive pressures led him to believe that the future would not be as bright as the past, so the transition began. As luck would have it, his experience led him to helping others find and hire freelancers, which is how he built his empire today. Nathan Hirsch, welcome to the show.
Mitch, thanks so much for having me.
Not many people except Michael Dell and Mark Zuckerberg built a business in their dorm rooms. Tell us a little bit about how that all got started.
My parents are both teachers. When I was growing up, the mentality was always to get good grades in high school, get a scholarship, go to college, get an internship that leads to a job, work for 40 years, then retire. That was my life path. When I was in school, I always had a summer job. I was working 40 to 50 hours a week while everyone else was enjoying their summers. I almost got a glimpse into what the real world was like. I found myself watching the clock because I didn’t want to be there. I wasn’t motivated even though I could do the job efficiently. I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I wanted something more, but we all know that wanting something is different than doing it. When I got to college, I was always looking for a side gig, something to make a little extra side money.
I noticed the school bookstore was ripping me off, so I started my own bookstore. I took the money, which I made from the summers, buying people’s books, holding onto them for a semester, and reselling them at the beginning of next semester when prices were inflated. Before I knew it, I had lines out the door of people trying to sell me their books to the point where the school sent me a cease and desist letter because I was taking up too much of the school bookstores business. That was my first glimpse into being an entrepreneur. From selling books, I came across Amazon. This was back in 2008, 2009. There were no gurus. There were no courses. No one even knew what being an Amazon seller was, but I was addicted to it. I was obsessed. I wanted to own an Amazon seller business and I tried everything.
I tried selling products that I was familiar with from sporting equipment to DVDs and computers and failed over and over. The only thing that I could sell was books. I knew I was only going to be in college for a few more years, so I wasn’t going to be able to get access to books forever. I was frustrated. It wasn’t until I got out of my comfort zone and experimented with toys and baby products that I had success selling. Keep in mind that I was a 21-year-old single college guy and knew nothing about baby products.
You had no experience with toys and baby products. At the same time, you had several failures. This is the pivotal point in most people’s lives. The entrepreneurial life leads you to a place where you will fail and fail hard but the successful entrepreneurs pivot, figure it out, and move forward. Why didn’t you quit?
When I was thinking of it in a logical way, it was almost like a timer going off. I had X amount of time before my college life was over. If I didn’t figure something out by the end of that, I was going to get a real job and I wanted to do everything possible to avoid that. I was going to try everything in the book to try and create a sustainable business before I graduated.
Most of us go to college for the purpose of getting a job. We know that it stands for Just Over Broke. That’s where you end up with more month than money and leads us to that place where we want more than a job can provide. You saw that as a young person. I did, too. Many of the people we know today together feel the same way. For a young person in college, there was something about getting that job that turns you off. Was it looking at the way your parents had to show up at school every day because they were teachers or professors? What was it that turned you off badly?
I’ve never been motivated by working for other people. I was a little bit of a rebel and I didn’t love authority. I didn’t break any laws or anything, but I wanted to be in charge. I wanted to have that freedom. I wanted to make decisions. I wanted to use my brain to come up with ideas and change things. I saw my parents who were going through the curriculum year after year and that wasn’t what I wanted to do. I wanted to impact people and make a difference. I wanted to make a profit while also influencing people’s lives and being able to bring my own ideas to the table. My internships were very corporate. I worked for Firestone Corporation and for Aaron’s Corporation. This is a system, this is a process and you follow it. There was no place for my ideas.
You were blessed with terrible internships, which only reinforced your desire. When I was building the recruiting division for Tony Robbins and Chet Holmes, Business Breakthroughs International, one of the questions that we would ask anybody whom we were recruiting was about their parents. Which of your two parents was the most influential for you in your life?
I would say my mom. My dad’s a scientist. He taught physics. I was not relatable in that sense. My mom taught kindergarten and she built up a nonprofit kindergarten. While she was mostly a teacher, she did have a little bit of that entrepreneurial experience. I looked up to her even though I didn’t see myself doing something along the lines of nonprofit.
You are exactly in the right corridor here because men look to their moms and women or young girls look to their dads. That is where we get our self-esteem from. Nathan, your self-esteem came as a gift from your mom. When you looked back and said to yourself, “Was she someone who encouraged me or discouraged me?” How would you answer that question?
Encouraged. That’s the thing that I can say about my parents, although we disagree on a lot of things, they are nothing but supportive. They want me to be happy as long as I don’t show up homeless asking for money, a place to stay, and I can sustain myself. They support me in any direction. Even while I was going to college and they didn’t understand why I was going to college, but also trying to not get a job at the end, they were very supportive along the process. They always left it up to me to make my decisions.
The key here is the support of your parents, your mom in particular if you’re a guy. These are the ingredients that set the stage. The fertile soil of true entrepreneurship comes from an encouraging mom for sons and an encouraging dad for daughters. It’s magic. This is what we look for when we recruit salespeople. We look at these characteristics. The stage was set and you were ready to go. Talk about how the transition happened, maybe even with your first client. Where did you go with this after you realized that you were soon going to lose your Amazon book selling market? Even after you transitioned to toys and baby stuff, how did you move to enter the business you’re in today?
When I sold, I got into baby products and the business took off. It blew even my wildest expectations. Within a year, I was running a million-dollar business out of my college dorm room. I was so overwhelmed with stuff that had to do from answering customer service emails to fulfilling orders to every issue that happens in eCommerce and the regular business world. I had to start hiring people and it was the only option. I got lucky with my first hire. He’s my business partner, Connor, whom I’ve worked with for eight years. I have this good hiring experience and I thought hiring was going to be easy. Then I proceeded to make a bad hire after bad hire. People who weren’t motivated, people who wasted my time, energy, and money. As I came up with a better hiring process, I got introduced to the remote hiring world, the Upwork, the Fiverr. I thought it was so cool to get access to talents from all over the world. I was no longer limited to my town and the town around me. I built up these VA armies and quickly noticed that all my time went from the marketing, the sales, and the expansion. I was just doing the interview after interview. I thought there had to be a better way.Get feedback to make sure that both sides are having a good experience. Click To Tweet
That’s when I had the idea of creating a marketplace that presets people, so you can get access to fast talent no matter what industry you’re in, remote freelancers from all over the world. I wanted to change the hiring industry. This happened at a time where Amazon was getting much more competitive. Keep in mind that I wasn’t selling my own products. It’s not like I created a product that I was passionate about. I was making a margin on other people’s products. After six years of selling on Amazon, it wasn’t as fun. I wasn’t as passionate about it as I was before. I knew it was time to transition into something else because I enjoyed hiring. I enjoyed helping people, dealing with freelancers, and that’s where my passion was.
I could see how the evolution into this model took place and the timing was great. You came along at a time when it was starting to become fashionable to bring in outside. You used the term VA. That to me means Virtual Assistant. Does it have a different meaning for you?
It’s the same. When you say freelancer or virtual assistant, it’s almost like project manager. It can mean a lot of different things. What I mean is someone who’s working remotely and that I’m not their only client. They’re essentially running their own freelance business.
For everybody who have businesses, who are already generating revenue in their business, maybe even six figures or more, this concept is probably quite simple and common to you. To those of us who are not, and let’s say that someone is about six figures or under and think it’s going to be either too expensive or unrealistic for them, maybe they’d say, “I don’t have enough work for a freelancer.” How do you help somebody figure out what it is they need to get done? Is that part of what your company does today?
We provide options. We never want to tell someone how to run their business. We’re there to help them no matter where they are in their business, whether they’re doing a $100 million in sales or just getting off the ground. One of the benefits of hiring freelancers is you can hire them part time. You don’t need to have a full-time opportunity like you would if you hired an in-house employee. For someone like that, I would tell them to come up with a list of all the things they do on a day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month basis, and start at the beginning. Take one or two things off your plate. Get a virtual assistant for the first two hours of every day to get caught up, so you can spend the rest of your day on expansion. There are different ways that you can utilize freelancers, whether it’s one-time product projects or part-time that can help you focus on what you should be doing as an entrepreneur.Remote hiring is rising every day. Click To Tweet
Why don’t you, our audience, take the first two hours of your day and think about what it is you have to get done every day? See if a virtual assistant could take some of that off your plate and instead use those two hours to grow your company to do the $1,000 an hour work. A $1,000 an hour work is the work where you could literally earn $1,000 an hour because it’s the highest level of work that you do. I’d love to hear more about how the business itself forms. Once you were able to realized, hired some people to help, and started creating this list of people who had these skills, where did the infrastructure for this type of business come about? How did you figure that out and what did you do to create it?
I used all these other platforms, whether it’s Upwork, Fiverr or Freelancer.com. I talked to different VA agencies and VA staffing firms. I knew the good and the bad. I knew what I liked about them and what I didn’t like. What I tried to do was come up with a business that took everything that I liked and tweaked or changed everything that I didn’t like. An example of that is I didn’t like browsing profiles. Upwork gave me access to thousands of freelancers, but do I have time to go through each one and see who’s available, who fits my needs. I wanted to be able to tell someone what I wanted and had them send me one to three options that I can interview there on the spot. What we did is instead of that business model where there’s a lot of browsing, we get hundreds of applicants every week. We vet them, add into the network and then make them available quickly to clients around the world whenever they need that.
What you did was you spotted a weakness in the marketplace and then responded to it. Another very powerful technique for getting anything started is to find out what’s not working for people and fix it.
The reason people like agencies is because you have a point of contact besides someone who’s just doing the work. The reason people necessarily don’t like the marketplace is if that freelancer disappears, you have no one to go to. We added 24/7 support. My calendar is right on the website. We’re there, we’re not going anywhere. We’re there to back you up and to make sure you have a good experience. We even have a no turnover guarantee. If the freelancer quits, we cover replacement costs and get you someone else. We want people to know going in that they’re protected and that we have their back.
I want to focus on the infrastructure of the business. You had to create digital systems to manage all of this. Tell us a little bit about where those came from and what the structure was. How much of that did you have to create from scratch and how much of it were you able to piece together from what’s out there already?
There are three parts of a marketplace. You’ve got the client side, how do you get people that will use the service? You’ve got the freelancer side. How do you get those service providers? Then you’ve got the software that holds it all together. We’re not managing these freelancers. The freelancers are working directly with the client. We’re there if anything goes wrong or if the client needs anything, but we’re not there monitoring the work. We had this small Rolodex of freelancers we already used, people from our Amazon business. We started off from our client base. We targeted other Amazon sellers. We said, “We’ve sold a lot on Amazon. We have this great Rolodex of VAs. Why don’t you try to use them?” That’s how we got people in the door by relating to our clients.
From there, we set up a referral program. Any client that you referred, you get $0.50 for every hour that we billed to them forever. They started telling other people in their eCommerce community. By the end of year one or two, they were telling other business owners they knew, whether it was digital marketing companies or software companies. That’s how we got off the ground from the client side. From the freelancer side, we had a similar referral program, but we also knew that there was a lot of competition for these people who can offer their services elsewhere. We had to create differentiators, whether it was building a community of where freelancers can interact instead of being competitors to having someone like me who’s the CEO be available to talk to the freelancers, listen to their ideas, and their feedback. People want it to be there and they would tell everyone else how awesome the marketplace was.
Lastly, it was the software that glued it all together. That was the hardest part that was lagging up until about a year ago, where we had to create a software that was simple to use on both ends. I could bring both people together competing with people that had much larger software budgets than us. For us, it was all about figuring out what features we could possibly add and prioritizing them one by one, getting them out there, but also getting feedback on them to make sure that both sides are having a good experience.
In a sense, you had to become a software developer.
We became a software company even though when we first thought of the idea, that was not the direction we thought we were going to go.It's one thing when you make a mistake or something goes wrong, but it's how you react to it that keeps people coming back. Click To Tweet
Having done that raises all other different opportunities as well. The first opportunity is now you know how to hire software developers. That’s another part of the type of people whom you can find for your clients. The business evolved to the point so that these things would become available. It enabled you to enter new markets with the knowledge and skills that you had to develop to grow your own company. You end up evolving. When I was building a software company many years ago, I was disgusted with my disc duplicator.
Now, we don’t have discs anymore. Until eventually I said, “Screw it. I’m going to do it myself.” I literally built a disc manufacturing business as part of our vertical integration. I loved having that as part of the company. In fact, it was much better. I was able to save money on building our software packages. More importantly, I learned a lot about a different part of my business, which I would have remained ignorant about just as I’m sure you did, Nathan.
There are so many things that pop up when you’re starting any business. We don’t know what the client reaction is going to be like until they use it, the same thing with the freelancers. There are so many things that you’re not thinking of, whether it’s software issues or freelancers that disappear when you’re trying to make a good impression on your first or thousand clients. You have to figure out, “How do I make this client happy to keep using us, to trust us?” It’s one thing when you make a mistake or something goes wrong, that’s going to happen in any business, but it’s how you react to it that keeps people coming back, if they know that you have their back and you’re a man of your word.
That is the secret to a great business experience. A great business executive is understanding that it’s how you react to what goes wrong, not what you get right every day of the week. Kudos for getting that lesson at this incredibly young age for who you are and what you do, but more importantly, for this stage in your business. Most people have an attitude wherein the customer got what they paid for, so they should be happy, and we know better. We know it doesn’t work that way. Customer satisfaction is the lifeblood of our company no matter what it is we’re doing. Thankfully today, the way people do business, that’s a much more important element that people are aware of. The next part of this conversation has to do with the types of people that should think about getting a VA and what they should look for in a VA. Can you talk a little bit about that?
There are three different ways to hire. You’ve got the basic level freelancer, maybe $5 to $10 an hour, non-US. They’re followers. They are for clients that have their systems and processes in place. You can plug someone in and get out of the day-to-day operations, but if you don’t have systems and processes, you’re not going to have a good experience hiring these people. Next would be the mid-level people. They’re specialists. They do the same thing, eight hours, ten hours every day. Maybe it’s graphic design, writing, bookkeeping. You’re hiring not to teach them, not to consult with you, but to get stuff done at a high level quickly so that you don’t have to learn how to do it. Then you’ve got the experts, the $25 and up. These people can audit your business, auto part your business, consult with you, project-manage, and help create systems and processes for those basic level workers.
When you’re hiring, you have to think, “Am I taking on something I don’t know how to do? Is that a good use of my time to spend the next six months learning how to do Facebook ads or should I hire an expert to do it? Have I been doing this one task longer than three months? Is it time to get it off my plate? I need someone to write for my blog every week. Let’s just hire a good writer to get it done, so it’s one less thing I have to deal with.”
In seeing with what you said, you gave me five ideas. I have a project now where I have an income producing website and it’s all about reviews. It’s called DPReviews.com. What’s interesting about it is that I need more writers for reviews, which then can generate more revenue. What other things can people do? Give me more ideas, Nathan.
We were talking a little bit about lead generation. If you’re not investing in lead generation, you’re missing out. Whether it’s LinkedIn or sending emails, you have to come up with a good system and process to get people into your funnel. It’s so affordable nowadays. You can hire someone in the Philippines for $5 an hour to follow your system, your process. What we’ll do is research. We’ll come up with a hit list, maybe it’s companies, agencies, individual or solopreneur is that we know need to hire. It could be influencers or podcasts that I’m trying to get on. We’ll have custom pitches that we’ve written out but tweaked each time to make them customized for the person we’re sending it to. We’ll hire people to go through and grab their LinkedIn, Twitter or email. We don’t want to bombard them. We don’t want to spam them but we reach out. Once they respond and they’re interested then, it goes into our sales funnel. Connor and I hop on the phone with them. These people do an incredible job.
I’ve been on over 100 podcasts in the past year. Probably over half of them came from lead generation. No matter what your business is, you can apply it. From my Amazon business, I used it to get in touch with manufacturers, so I could sell their product. I have real estate agents that use it to get some warm leads, people who they know are interested. You have to come up with some good lead generation system and with Facebook, with LinkedIn, there are so many opportunities to do it. You have to do trial and error what works for your business.
To our audience, if you haven’t thought of doing any of this with the third party, now is the time. This is a great opportunity to start. You are here reading this blog for a reason. Everything happens for a reason. Get into action and do something about it. Nathan Hirsch is talking all about how we could use VA’s and people like VA’s to come into our business on an hourly basis and help us. Take advantage of what Nathan is going to be offering something very special. We’re talking about building businesses here and what you’re doing as far as I’m concerned is you are saying to my audience, you have an unlimited workforce where any ability, skill or talent you need, I can deliver to you and can accomplish what you want on an hourly basis. How about building InfusionSoft funnels and ClickFunnels? How about writing emails? Are these the things that your people do too?
Absolutely, and we have fixed prices too if that’s what you prefer. It’s up to the freelancer whether they offer hourly or fixed. That’s something that we can accommodate.You have to do trial and error, what works for your business. Click To Tweet
You don’t have to go off and hire an agency. You don’t have to go and do it yourself and take a $2,000 course that you’re never going to finish anyway and try and figure it out. You have a resource here. Nathan’s business is not the only business that does this or offers this resource, but I like the way he does business. What we do is we work with people we like and trust. Maybe there is a hint as well. Nathan, we have covered some fantastic material here and we’ve got to the point where we need to know more about you. What I mean by that is the soul, the ethics and the individual tell the story of who they are. Who, in all of space and time, would you like to have one hour to enjoy your walk in the park, a quick lunch or an intense conversation with?
He’s been in the news for maybe not so good things. I would love to spend some time with Mark Zuckerberg. Him, like me, started a business out of his dorm room. He got way bigger than mine with a spirit of hustle, the spirit that you’re never too young to do something. I was told so many times that I was too young even when I was trying to hire people who were older than me. I got laughed at on my face. I would love to spend an hour sitting down with him and figure out what the real story is behind how he went, how he scaled so quickly at such a young age.
In over our 100 shows, nobody has said Mark Zuckerberg. If that ever happens, would you mind letting me tag along and be a fly on the wall for that conversation?
Absolutely. I know everyone has seen The Social Network and I’m willing to bet that’s not exactly how it happened.
There’s always a backstory and there’s always the business of entertainment. When movies come out they’re in the business of selling tickets. If it was boring or it didn’t happen the way they thought it would be more sensational, those things evolve in the scripts of movies. Mark’s a great candidate. Let’s see if we could set that up for you. The grand finale question, what is it that you were doing or would like to do that truly has the potential to change the world?
This is a fact: Remote hiring is rising every day. In the next ten years, over 50% of the workforce is going to be remote. These are freelancers, they’re business owners, people who provide for their family, whether they’re in the US and making $100,000 a year plus, which we have on the marketplace, or in the Philippines with people who were born in a third world country and trying to get by. Last year, we paid out over $3 million for freelancers around the world. Even on the client side where I get to help people grow their business, scale, and turn bad hiring experiences into good ones, I am as passionate about the freelance side and helping people who have spent so much time perfecting their craft and they need quality clients. Maybe they’re not a sales person and they need that opportunity and when they get it, they crush it. I want to change the world by getting talented people access to great clients and continuing the trend of remote working going up and up.
I love your mission because it helps people. The way that you help people, particularly people who are in need, is beautiful. The thing I want to get clear here is that you work with people in the US. It’s not like they have to be in the Philippines, is that right?
Yes, we’re about 40% US, 40% Philippines and 20% scattered around the world. It’s not necessarily by design but that’s where we’re at. We have freelancers that range from $5 to $75 an hour. No matter what your budget is, whether you’re looking for high-level or low-level, we have that available.
Nathan, you said that you have something special. What do you have for us?
If you sign up and mention this podcast or use Mitch’s link, you get a $50 credit automatically added to your account. You can meet freelancers and try them out. There’s no obligation. You can stop using them at any time. It’s in my best interest to get you people that you like, that help you grow your business. My calendar is right at the top of FreeeUp.com. If you’re still not sold or you have other questions, book a time with me directly. It won’t be one of my VAs, I’ll be there. I’ll be there to talk to you about your business, your hiring needs, and how we can help you.
Nathan, I enjoyed our time together.
Mitch, thanks so much for having me. I had a great time.
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