Hello! Who are you, and what business did you start?
I am Pavel Stepanov, the Founder, and CEO of Virtudesk, and we help entrepreneurs scale and automate their businesses through virtual assistants and technology. We offer highly-trained virtual assistants based in the Philippines, specializing in services such as real estate prospecting, marketing, administrative work, customer service, and transaction coordination.
We help real estate agents, entrepreneurs, and small-to-medium-sized business owners scale their businesses by teaching them how to delegate certain parts of their business to virtual assistants so they can focus on the 20% of their business that produces 80% of the results. We primarily serve the real estate industry in the United States and Canada right now but are currently expanding into other industries such as Finance, Retail, Healthcare, Insurance, and others.
I started Virtudesk in 2016 and now we are making a little over $500,000 a month. Surprisingly, 2020 was a good year for us where we experienced greater growth than in previous years due to the nature of our service. Before 2020, we averaged 20-30 sign-ups a month, but in 2020 we averaged 50 signs ups. Now, we average around 60-70 sign-ups a month and want to achieve 100+ monthly signups by the end of the year.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
For three years, I practiced real estate at a 100% commission brokerage. After finishing my law degree, I got my real estate license as I discovered my passion for real estate.
When I was a real estate agent, I worked 12-16 hour days with no real break. I was doing everything from Marketing, setting appointments, outbound calling, meeting with clients, going to showings, etc. I then decided to hire my first virtual assistant to help me set more appointments and alleviate my task load. The results were dramatic. My virtual assistant was responsible for doing the outbound calling and setting up appointments. I could barely keep up. After hiring her, I spent a lot of my time going to meetings. My sales that year tripled! No joke. I started to realize the value of virtual assistants and the power of delegating.
After those three years, I started my own brokerage, Nexus Realty, in 2015. As I brought on more brokers, I realized they had the same problem - time. Just like I did. I discovered they needed virtual assistants as much as I did, and they started asking me about it. That’s when the idea of Virtudesk came on. I realized most of the agents around me desperately needed help, so I started Virtudesk as a side project to assist Nexus and saw how I could expand past my brokerage due to this common pain point that all agents and entrepreneurs face.
It really wasn’t until I started Virtudesk and pairing virtual assistants with agents in my brokerage that I realized I was on to something. That was the “aha” moment for me that it could become something really big and impactful. I was in a great financial situation at the time because I was a top-performing agent. I didn’t have to start a new risky project, but I was eager to start this as I knew there was something there.
I validated the service by getting constant feedback from the Nexus Realty agents and improving the service from there. I also took all the cancellation reasons from current and past clients to inform systems and service improvements.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
The process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing our service was not difficult or time-consuming. All it took was 2-3 days and $2,000 to start serving our first clients. Because I had already had a virtual assistant for so long, I had connections in the Philippines, and it was easy to start sourcing. Before I started Virtudesk, I was a huge advocate for virtual assistants and helped many of my peers find, hire and train their virtual assistants.
Don’t worry about perfection and don’t overanalyze your next move for the company. Execution trumps overthinking.
Besides developing our service, we also developed a software called Timedly, which is a time tracker to keep the virtual assistants accountable for their work.
Timedly was also a result of a needed product for our specific situation, where we needed to monitor the virtual assistants and see their screenshots. Of course, there are other products on the market that we could have used, but I wanted Virtudesk to have a customized software solution that would serve our purpose and wouldn’t cost anything extra to our clients.
Describe the process of launching the business.
The launch happened at the same time as the formation. The website came first, as we needed to get the word out about Virtudesk. That was the launch. The first Virtudesk website was built in Squarespace and was done in less than an hour. In the first two weeks, we were able to get 10-12 paying clients who believed in us and signed up for services.
One of the reasons we were able to pick up paying clients so quickly was because I was very active in several real estate groups on Facebook. I always advocated for the use of virtual assistants to leverage time. Even before Virtudesk was launched, I always advised people on how to pick a virtual assistant and what to do with them. So, launching Virtudesk was more of a natural and expected occurrence for many.
The business was financed with personal funds (no credit cards or loans), and we quickly turned a profit.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Some of the most significant strategies to attract customers, especially in the early days, were going to conferences and events and running digital ads, like Facebook ads. Since we market B2B, it was good for us to go to conferences where our target audience was. At the beginning of the company and now, we go to the nation’s largest real estate conferences to attract new clients, including NAR, NAREB, Inman, Tom Ferry, and others. Digital ads like Facebook helped us reach new people within our demographic for a relatively low cost. The ROI and the cost per acquisition were so low with this channel. Before attending Tom Ferry conferences, Digital ads were our biggest source of sign-ups.
To retain clients, we solicit feedback constantly. We make sure to listen to negative feedback and make the internal changes necessary to give them the support they need. We have been hired for roles solely to handle certain types of clients that need extra support during the onboarding process. I have also designated roles for coaches that help foster support and a good working relationship with clients and their virtual assistants. They kind of act as account managers to make sure the client is enjoying and reaping the full benefits of the service. Additionally, coaches serve to offer support and training to our virtual assistants if they want to train in a new skill they didn’t learn during their initial training program. These are just some of the systems I’ve set up to address client pain points and ensure our service is robust.
Other marketing tactics we use besides digital ads and conferences include heavy use of social media, hosting webinars and seasonal, virtual events, publicity efforts including getting earned media, creating lots of great content such as videos and blogs, email marketing, influencer marketing, and more.
One example of this that has helped our marketing strategy and our exposure includes partnering with a real estate micro-influencer and business consultant to help us get more sign-ups and develop our content marketing strategy. We have partnered with him to get exposure to his audience and network, and he has helped us refer new people to our service while helping us host webinars and virtual events. We just hosted a virtual event called “Leverage Summit,” where we brought on Tom Ferry, Robert Slack, Kerri Shull, and other real estate influencers to talk about scaling their businesses via virtual assistants. The event was a great way to produce high-value content for our leads while persuading them on the values of our unique approach to business growth. The event alone generated almost 1,000 leads for us to nurture. Plus, the event was extremely low-cost to put on. Here are some pictures of the event:
Another cool marketing example we have is when we attended Tom Ferry’s Blueprint event, and we were one of the sponsors. That event generated the most sign-ups from any marketing effort to date. That was wildly successful for us. One of the reasons for that is because Tom's presentation was heavily focused on hiring an assistant as an agent to grow your business. He practically used the same phrases we have in our marketing collateral. It was such a great coincidence. Plus, we were the only virtual assistant company at the conference.
We had a virtual booth, and we were hosting a few chats within the conferences trying to direct traffic to the booth. When Tom endorsed virtual assistants, we created a new graphic with Tom’s quote and our promo details to drive more traffic to our booth. When we posted that, it went wild. Once we posted it to the chats, all the sponsors started copying us. Here it is below:
How are you doing today, and what does the future look like?
We are doing very well today and are experiencing tremendous growth. We recently made the Inc. 5000 list for fastest-growing privately held companies in the United States for 2021. We have achieved a 454% growth in a three-year period.
The future for us looks bright. We are currently averaging 50-70 sign-ups a month, and I’m confident we can make that to 100+ sign-ups by the end of the year. As for profitability, we have a 30%+ margin. Customer acquisition costs have fluctuated over the years. It has ranged anywhere from $50-100.
For ads, we use Facebook ads, LinkedIn Ads, and Google Ads. It’s one of our biggest drivers of sign-ups besides conferences and events. Our average
Our customer lifetime value has definitely fluctuated over the years as other statistics change, but it’s roughly $700+. As for our website activity, we are driving an average of 3k - 4k users a month, with an average session duration of 1-2 minutes. We have a database of over 20,000 leads that we regularly nurture through email marketing and touches from the sales team. Luckily, our social media following has been significantly growing where we have an average of 1,500-5,000 followers, depending on the account.
Unfortunately, since we only have a service at this point that we are selling, we have not currently explored Amazon or eCommerce. However, we are currently working on internal products such as a time tracker, Timedly, and a CRM. I currently have developers working on this software. Once we work out more bugs, we plan to launch this as a separate product that people can buy.
The short-term goals for the company would be to achieve 100+ sign-ups a month and build up the leadership and management team. The long-term goals include expanding the scope of virtual assistants that we offer across different world regions. Right now, we only have virtual assistants based in the Philippines. However, it would be a long-term goal of sourcing virtual assistants from different countries that could offer different advantages to their clients, like being bilingual.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
I have learned several lessons that I believe are unique to helping entrepreneurs. One of those advantages is recognizing the value of hiring virtual assistants for your business, especially in the early stages, so that your company can grow. This is huge. Hiring a workforce that largely comprises virtual assistants allows you and your company to not only work remotely but be flexible to changes. Additionally, it can save you and your company operational expenses. The money you save can go back into the business and further grow it. Once you start building a more robust revenue stream, you can start bringing on more in-house employees. This strategy allowed me to avoid venture capital.
One of the biggest problems I struggled with was establishing and building the systems needed for operational effectiveness. One of the most challenging parts of starting Virtudesk was that I had to assign roles to every person in the organization and have a detailed job description of what they would be doing in that role. I had to tell people in detail what their defined role was before I even knew what the role entailed myself. It required me to sit down and really think and write out what I wanted each person to do and how I wanted to create my systems. I learned that I needed to first create the role (and a detailed version of it) and then hire. Then create systems. I had to do this in no other order.
Part of this struggle of building out systems includes creating several layers of management and a hierarchy of who would go to who. I also had to address who would cover what if a manager went out sick or on vacation. Could I ensure the job would still get done well with this person absent?
Being able to develop this skill of team and systems building will be paramount to every entrepreneur's success and will be particularly advantageous when done successfully. It helped me tremendously.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Besides hiring amazing people to your team, getting a robust CRM is essential to growing. A good CRM will help you keep track of leads, organize them efficiently, automate many processes to maximize efficiency, and allow you to deliver a much better customer journey. It will give your team all of the information they need to properly nurture leads and push them through the sales funnel. We currently use Follow Up Boss.
The next is going to be a project management tool. We currently use Clickup. This particular tool I often find is underestimated. When you are growing your team and you want to maximize efficiency and productivity, a project management tool is vital. This will allow all of your teams to better track deadlines, complete deliverables, and collaborate more effectively. Plus, it can be good for cross-department collaboration. When you are consistently adding new team members, it can help them keep track of what they are responsible for, and it can act as a resource hub.
Another tool that I would recommend is a good email marketing service. This will help you send mass emails to all of the contacts in your CRM. An email has proven to be one of the best ways to nurture leads. We have gotten many sign-ups from emails. Although the number of promotional emails has gone up, when you create value-driven emails, you will get a high engagement rate. We currently use Mailchimp. We’ve used Keap in the past, and that’s another great tool.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
One of my favorite books from Gary Vee is Jab Jab Jab Right Hook. He uses the analogy “Jab, Jab, Jab” when you sell your service and “Right Hook” when you land on leads. This illustrates how marketing is done and how patience is important to land that right hook for your business. It really transformed how I think of service, leads, my clients, and the power of social media and how it’s changing the marketing landscape.
Another favorite book of mine is the 4-Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. All of us want to have a work-life balance, but we are bombarded with a lot of tasks that need to be done, which makes this impossible for us. However, Tim Ferriss explains that this is possible because he cites ways on how we can free up our time and location. This way, we can enjoy our life and convert our revenue to 3-10 times more without even waiting for our retirement to do it.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting?
Just do it. Don’t worry about perfection and don’t overanalyze your next move for the company. Execution trumps overthinking. I see many entrepreneurs get scared to act when it comes to starting their own company or making important decisions to move their business forward. They are afraid of making mistakes. They may also worry that they don’t have enough expertise to start a new project, company, or initiative. They will overanalyze, spend too much time “learning” or “preparing.” What these entrepreneurs need to do is start doing and then learn along the way.
Entrepreneurs have to understand that making mistakes is not only inevitable but essential to learn and grow and advance the business. It will never be the right time; you will never be ready or prepared to start your business or take on a new project or initiative. Just do it. If you don’t, your competitors will probably be ten steps ahead of you anyways.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We are definitely growing rapidly. We are always looking for talented people. We can always use people in sales, recruitment, and operations. We could use more salespeople, account managers/coaches, recruiters for virtual assistants, and more.
We are currently looking for an in-house accountant that can handle our finances more efficiently. We are also looking for a Publicity and Events manager for our Marketing department. Plus, we could always use good writers, such as copywriters for the marketing department.
All of these roles would be full-time paid positions.
Where can we go to learn more?
- Company Website
- Company Facebook
- Company Instagram
- Personal Instagram
- Company Twitter
- Personal Twitter
- Company TikTok
- Company YouTube
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
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