He hated the idea of working for someone else, so he starts selling things on the internet. He fails many times before having success with baby products. Then he starts a vetted virtual assistant company that he ultimately sells for a nice number.
Key Points on How to Build a $12MM+ VA Company
- Nathan worked 40-50 hours a week summer jobs from a young age, which gave him a good chance to learn customer service and business.
- After college, he tried selling different products on Amazon. He wasn’t very successful until he branched out and started selling baby products.
- As the selling took off, he hired Connor from his college class who ended up being his business partner for 10+ years.
- He tried hiring more people to help, but it didn’t go well so he turned to Upwork and Fiverr to find VAs.
- As he learned everything about the remote hiring world, he recognized its issues and realized he could do it better.
- His partner and Nathan created FreeeUp, spending only $5k on very basic software.
- They eventually made a name for themselves by providing exceptional customer service to both companies and freelancers.
- In just a couple of years, FreeeUp made $12M revenue a year.
- They were not planning to sell the company but were open to any opportunities.
- They eventually sold the company to the HOTH in 2019 and it turned out to be a huge success for everyone involved.
- Currently, Nathan is working on his new project, OutsourceSchool, which is an educational platform that teaches people how to use virtual assistants.
- He is also becoming very interested in real estate investments.
- In the future, Nathan would like to work on OutsourceSchool, real estate investing, stay open to new opportunities and just enjoy life.
- Who is your success role model? His mom and his aunt.
- What is your biggest success? He is most proud that in the last year of FreeeUp they were able to pay out over $7M to freelancers around the world.
- What does a typical day look like for you? He doesn’t really have a typical day right now. He usually appears as a guest on a podcast or publishes on Facebook live. Then he spends a few hours on OutsourceSchool and real estate goes to the gym and spends some time networking.
- What’s your favorite quote? “Work hard, play hard.”
- What are your hobbies? Playing sports like baseball or softball, working out, reading and spending time with his fiancé and 2 dogs.
- What is the best business book you’ve read? James C. Collins, Jerry I. Porras – Built to Last
- If there was one key piece of advice you could leave our listeners with about achieving success, what would it be? Throw as many things against the wall as you possibly can. If you do that you're eventually going to come across things that you're good at and passionate about.
About our Guest, Nathan Hirsch
Nathan Hirsch is an entrepreneur and expert in remote hiring and eCommerce. He is the co-founder and CEO of FreeeUp.com, a marketplace that connects businesses with pre-vetted freelancers in eCommerce, digital marketing, and much more. He has sold over $30 million online and regularly appears on leading business podcasts, such as Entrepreneur on Fire, and speaks at live events about online hiring tactics.
- Wealth Junkies
- Rich Dad Poor Dad
- 4 Hour Work Week
- 10X Rule
Nathan Hirsch is a 10+ year entrepreneur who built his first eCommerce business to $25M in total sales. He scaled his second successful company, FreeeUp, from $5k to $12M in revenue. He recently sold that company and is currently working on his new project, OutsourceSchool, that helps people to understand the process of hiring virtual assistants.
Nathan’s parents were both teachers, so he grew up with a mentality that he would go to school, get a “real” job, work for 30 years and retire like everybody else. From a young age, his parents made him work summer jobs with 40-50 hour weeks. While his friends were playing outside, he got a good chance to learn customer service, how to work with others and business. This also made him realize how much he didn’t want to work for someone else. He hated having a boss and working fixed hours, so he soon started to look for better alternatives.
Nathan was still in college when he started hustling. He took the summer money he earned, a few thousand dollars, and started buying people’s textbooks and reselling them for a better price than the bookstores. He even created a little referral program and before he knew it, there were lines out the door and a cease and desist letter from his college telling him to knock it off.
Nathan pivoted and started selling books on Amazon. This was in 2008, before the Amazon algorithm and it was new for everyone. So he started experimenting with the platform.
He tried to sell familiar products to him, like sports equipment, video games, computers… typical college guy stuff. He tried many things, but nothing was selling other than some books.
It wasn’t until he branched out of his comfort zone and came across a deal on baby products. There he found an industry that could actually sell very well on Amazon.
The baby product business
There he was, a 20-year-old college guy, selling millions of dollars of baby products on Amazon. He even came up with drop-shipping, years before he even knew what it was called. Nathan didn’t have much money and he lived in a dorm room, so he couldn’t buy and store a lot of inventory. He had to work with manufacturers that would ship the products to his clients directly while still making a margin.
The business grew very fast. His parents told him he should probably start paying taxes. So he finally met with an accountant whose first question was about when he was going to hire his first employee. He was against the idea because he thought that an employee would just steal his ideas and hurt his business.
Soon after that, his first busy season came and he had to work 20 hours a week on top of his college studies. His grades plummeted and his social life was gone. He was doing everything himself, responding to every customer email and handling all the orders for 6 weeks. That’s when he thought to himself, this can never happen again. He decided to hire some people.
He was 20 years old and he knew nothing about hiring, so he put a job post on Facebook. His business law classmate applied without any experience and he hired him on the spot. This turned out to be an amazing hire because Connor Gillivan is his business partner for 10 years now.
Starting the FreeeUp Company
After hiring his long time business partner, they wanted to get more people on board. These all turned out to be a failure and a waste of money and time. He quickly realized that college kids are not very reliable and turned to the remote hiring world. Through a lot of trial and error, he eventually learned how to build a Virtual Assistant (VA) army on Upwork and Fiverr. He became good at interviewing, on-boarding and putting people into systems and processes. He finally was able to move into a CEO role, rather than just an operational person.
Nathan learned a lot, but also just hated the process of posting a job, getting 50 applicants and interviewing them one by one and if they didn’t work out or they quit, starting the process all over again. Connor and Nathan wanted a better and faster way to hire VAs. And when they couldn’t find the right platform for that, they decided to make that platform on their own. This is how FreeeUp came to life around 4.5 years ago.
They started the platform on the side, but it took off very fast. This made it an easy decision to solely focus on growing Freeeup rather than just being an Amazon seller. They launched a minimum viable product, spending only around $4.5k on a very basic software. In the beginning, freelancers could track their times and clients could create an account, but they couldn't do much more than that. Also, the billing was all manual. They reached out to the freelancers they had hired for their Amazon business and told them they will send them clients. This was such a huge success that they soon ran out of freelancers.
Instead of spending a ton of money on ads, they partnered with influencers who could reach entrepreneurship communities. They started to write a blog, make back-links and Youtube videos. Soon FreeeUp started to grow organically.
Building up the company
Nathan is not a big planner but more of a trial and error type entrepreneur. His partner, Connor on the other hand, loves strategizing. They have very complementary skills.
They knew that there would be a lot of things people wouldn’t like about the platform in the beginning. So they tried to read the market, ask partners for feedback and tweak the business accordingly.
After their first successes, they decided to branch out. They wanted to broaden their target from the eCommerce Amazon space to different businesses. They reached out to real estate agents, software companies, and brick and mortar stores. This was necessary because he knew the Amazon community very well and heard many horror stories about Amazon accounts being suspended all of a sudden. So he wanted to diversify his client base.
Nathan said that the biggest roadblock for him in building up the company was the software. Neither he nor Connor was a developer and their competitors had a much bigger software budget. They knew a developer from the Amazon business who worked at Universal and Disney. This developer understood how a good development team is structured. They brought him on board part-time, but soon realized how helpful he was. They offered him a full-time job and eventually made him an equity partner.
The success and the sell
FreeeUp’s biggest competitors were Upwork and Fiverr and Nathan knew they had to differentiate themselves somehow. He realized that they couldn’t compete with them on marketing or development, but they could always compete with them on customer service. So they focused on building an amazing customer service team. They worked to make the business as efficient and helpful as possible.
As they were growing and becoming more successful, they had to think about the future of the business. According to Nathan, there are only so many things someone can do with their business. They can leave the company, run it forever, close down or sell it. Nathan and Connor agreed that they would not spend any time on finding buyers or investors, but they would be open to the idea of selling if the perfect buyer came along.
One day one of their clients, the HOTH (an SEO services company), reached out to them. They had been using FreeeUp for a while and wanted to get into the freelancer market, but didn’t want to build a platform up from scratch. They came with an aggressive offer and Nathan and his partner were open to the idea of selling the company. For two months they went through the financials and how everything worked. And they got to know the HOTH’s owners, Marc Hardgrove, and David Martin. At first, they were anxious about putting their business with the freelancers, partners and internal team into someone else’s hands. But eventually, they saw how well the business was taken care of.
And once they agreed on the terms, they sold the company. Nathan and Connor took $500k and gave it to their internal team in the Philippines and made sure that nobody lost their jobs. They are still in the transition process, but their own roles have already been replaced.
Nathan thinks it was a win-win situation for everyone and he is very happy about the sale.
Currently, he is working on his new business, OutsourceSchool, which is an education platform that teaches people how to use virtual assistants. They are launching their first course on their IOTA method (Interview, Onboard, Train and Manage). This is how they built their 35 person VA team, scaled and sold FreeeUp with no US employees. They are launching other interesting courses as well on how to use VAs for social media or email marketing. Nathan and Connor are starting from the beginning with this new business and working on publishing good courses. They are trying to read the market, understand what people want and what would really help them. Their first target is entrepreneurs that are doing over $100k in revenue and either never hired a VA before or had issues doing it.
According to Nathan, hiring a VA is a lot more cost-effective than full-time hiring. The delegation factor is also important because entrepreneurs are usually not very good at delegating their tasks. With a good VA, the business owner can really focus on what they are good at and get more things done. This makes everybody’s life easier.
Nathan has a 90-day-rule about getting things done efficiently, which he shared with us:
- For the first month, he is just throwing stuff against the wall, and seeing what sticks. This is the time for experimenting.
- By the second month, he usually has a pretty good idea of what doesn’t work and he’s trying to perfect what does work.
- By the end of the month, he hires someone and then spends the last month onboarding and training them. And then the task is off his plate.
Recently he is getting into real estate investment as well. He is reading every book he can find and trying to learn as much as he can.
The bright future
Nathan is still at the experimentation phase with OutsourceSchool, so he doesn’t have a set plan for its future. He is trying to perfect the courses and provide as much value as possible. Maybe it won’t work out, but then he can always start something new. He is also learning as much about real estate investment as he can.
Nathan has many personal goals and things he wants to achieve, but he knows that there are many ways to achieve them. He is always open to new opportunities.