How To Sell A Business For 7 Figures: June-Sept Update

Wow… What a difference four months can bring. But before we jump into EVERYTHING that has happened during this time, I have an apology to make…

“I’ve just been SO busy”

I am tempted to say this, but we all know that there is no such thing as being “too busy” and only such thing as being “too busy for a specific thing“.

I this case I was “too busy” to continue with our daily podcast and monthly blog post.

Though the radio silence did not actually occur because I didn’t have the time… it happened because so much has changed in the Virtual Valley world that I wanted to wait until we had some clarity around the situation before sharing it with the world.

By the end of this post, you will be aware of EXACTLY what has changed and what this means for the future of Virtual Valley… and let’s just say…

We are very excited for what is to come.

Goal Update

Back in with the Goal Pyramid:

As you can see, we didn’t make a huge amount of progress with some goals, though did make steady progress with others:

MRR/Hours Charged – Both of these have been either maintaining month on month or have decreased slightly, with the reason for this being that I have been tied up in the negotiation of the partnership that I believe will see the platform growth significantly over the next year.

More on this later in the post…

Blog Subscribers – Again, slow growth over the past few month due to a lack of focus from my part, though leveraging the marketing prowess of Virtual Valley’s new partner, this metric should also experience further growth over the next 12 months.

Guest Content Spots – Interestingly this figure still continued to grow regardless of the lack of focus… partly due to the fact that there is a lag time between creating the content and it being posted but also due to the fact that once you have “influencer” status, you get invited on a weekly basis to contribute to roundup posts… that do provide some traffic and quality links.

To summarise ALL of those numbers and to give a clear picture of the core metric movement over the past few months, this is the graph you need:

Now you are clear about the numbers, let me communicate to you EXACTLY what has happened over the past 4 months…

After spending 10 months of my life building, organising and marketing the Virtual Valley platform, I decided that if we were to hit our ambitious goal of selling the platform for $4 Million in 2 years… we were going to need some help.

More specifically, help to scale my marketing efforts, which would bring in the much needed cash in the short term to allow us to improve the experience for our Entrepreneurs & VA’s, which would in turn bring more revenue.

Now, I think I’m pretty sweet at marketing… but only a specific field…

Bootstrapping growth through content and social media (as I documented in this post).

I’ve done this for many businesses…

What I have not mastered is SEO and paid traffic.

So…

What if I could somehow incentivise a parter that has massive experience in these areas, which would then allow me to continue my bootstrapping methods and also manage the development of the platform?

Well this is exactly what has happened.

And this is the reason why you have heard radio silence until now.

Our partnership has been formed, the legals are in place… and we are now ready to blast off.

More details on this partnership, how to build such partnerships yourself and most importantly HOW to find the right partners coming up on this blog and the podcast over the coming months.

Let’s just say that the pro’s have arrived… and that things are going to change around here going forward 😉

And of course, don’t worry, everything that we are about to do to explode Virtual Valley is going to be documented right here, so you can do the same… if you wish.

Three Key Learnings

1. You Must Find The Right People

I used to think that I could do it all alone.

And then I started to look back at off of humanities achievements that I admire:

  • The light bulb
  • PayPal
  • Scientology

Each of these were not created by a GROUP of people, NOT by a semi talented individual.

This was the driving factor behind Virtual Valley’s new partnership… and how that pans out, remains to be seen 😉

2. Empower Management

You can see from the figures above the Virtual Valley’s metric progression has been slow over the recent months.

And the reason why becomes clear when you understand that the total amount of time that I have invested IN the business (there is a difference between working in the business as opposed to on the business as we know from this post) has been close to 0 hours over the past 4 months.

Now if I had been spending the majority of my time as a manager or a technician during the period between Virtual Valley’s launch and June, then the platform surely would have collapsed.

But no…

I had trained AND empowered a responsible and competent leader to manage the day to day running of the business to allow me to work on the business (developing our new partnership).

3. Be More Than Just A Business

When you form a greater purpose around your business… you will find it much easier to attract equally passionate customers and partners.

Without our purpose and personality that we inject into the Virtual Valley platform, do you think we would have been able to do so much with our limited resources?

Or managed to secure a partnership with a group of highly talented marketers?

I am not sure.

If you are struggling to get the word out or to get replies to your partnership outreach mails… then maybe it’s time to start thinking about why you exist.

Two Key People

1. Zandro

As mentioned above, I have been pretty much non-existent WITHIN the Virtual Valley business for the past 4 months, though our numbers remain solid and we are still helping tens of VA’s and Entrepreneurs each day.

How did we manage this?

We have a solid and consistent manager/leader that is completely competent at running the Virtual Valley platform without my direct input.

Thank you Zandro 😉

2. Tom Rankin

If you have been following our journey for any period of time, you have probably experienced my incessant outreach attempts in order to build early traffic and links to this very blog, in fact most of them are listed here.

It’s been a hard and transformation journey.

And just 10 days ago, something incredible happened.

Yep…

For the first time ever…

Virtual Valley was linked to and included on a HIGH PR blog… with NO outreach!

Yes, thanks to our man Tom, GoDaddy dropped a VERY valuable link to our homepage in their recent post on how to hire your first virtual assistant.

Thanks Tom!

One Key Tool

1. Maitre

I used to think viral giveaways were cheesy and that the lack of list quality built through this method was not worth the hassle…

And then I spoke with my good friend Kieran at Maitre and he persuaded me to roll out a giveaway for another project.

And we smashed it.

100’s of emails addresses for a minimal investment… and guess what? The leads generated from the contest CONVERTED.

Now my viewpoint has changed considerably.

So, if you want to double/triple or even quadruple your list for a minimal investment, I highly suggest you click this link and take advantage of Maitre’s outrageously simple to use software.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. Initial Paid Growth

Taking advantage of the marketing prowess of our new partners, we will commence to drive paid traffic (primarily through Facebook) to Virtual Valley, which will drive an increase in revenue AND actionable data to determine how the platform can be improved.

That said, we are still aware that previous feedback has suggested that the two areas need to be worked upon: VA Quality and Ease Of Use.

This is where this fresh burst of cash will be invested.

2. One Single New Metric

To take a leaf out of Y Combinator’s book, going forward Virtual Valley will be tracking JUST 1 single metric that the whole team agree on and will review each and everyday.

Early discussions show that this metric will be: Total Hours Charged.

As this reflects both new business AND engagement (so we don’t just focus on driving new growth without understanding how “leaky our bucket is”).

I would strongly recommend that your business does the same (if you are not doing so already).

3. The Complete Funnel

It seems likely that the current product/service that you are working on is simply your core product.

And that there are offers that could be made both prior to AND after a core product purchase that increase the ability of your customer to reach the end goal that they are striving for.

With this in mind, we will commence to built out other offerings to support out perfect customer, these could be “done for you” packages OR even information products focussed on the Virtual Assistant niche.

Keep your eyes peeled…

Summary

Another host of unforeseen events have been and gone over the past 4 months…

Much has changed, people have been and gone and clients have been won and lost.

But what remains?

We still have 1 hungry entrepreneur, 1 awesomely consistent virtual assistant manager and one new extremely competent marketing partner…

All striving towards that same goal:

To give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by January 2018.

Will we do it?

Only time will tell, so you better keep watching 😉

How To Sell A Business For 7 Figures – May Update

 

  • Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just wasting your time?
  • Like, everything you do is not actually helping any person or any business?
  • It’s as if the business child you have just given birth to didn’t exist, no one would care?

Though it may sound extreme, this is a common problem for startup founders…

Here’s an extract from Ben Horowitz: The Hard Thing About Hard Things:

“Every time I read a management or self-help book, I find myself saying, “That’s fine, but that wasn’t really the hard thing about the situation.” The hard thing isn’t setting a big, hairy, audacious goal. The hard thing is laying people off when you miss the big goal.  The hard thing isn’t dreaming big. The hard thing is waking up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat when the dream turns into a nightmare.” 

The reason I raise this is that it was the feeling I got when I checked our May Revenue forecast after the booming, best ever month for Virtual Valley in April.

Less than half…

Goal Update

Here are the goals we are working towards for the next 2 years: Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

And metrics from the past month:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

MRR/Hours Charged – A significant reduction in the amount of hours charged and therefore MRR through the platform from April, this was mainly due to technical glitches in the marketplace driving the churn of a couple of key Entrepreneurs plus inactivity on the marketing side with resources tied with with AskTina.

Blog Subscribers – If you follow our podcast, you will aware that I spent some time learning more about opt in rates and list building, and then used this knowledge to destroy our optin rate, to be continued…

Guest Content Spots – I am still participating in and hunting down podcast interview opportunities, couple this with the weekly requests for us to submit to expert roundup blog posts should see us hit the target of 100 guest content spots by the end of June.

Twitter Followers – As per our learnings from #garyvee last week, we will discontinuing this vanity metric in Q3 despite the steady growth and my account almost reaching 10k (real) followers:

Tom_Hunt___tomhuntio____Twitter_🔊

Anyway, after re-watching the Y-Combinator course: “How To Start A Startup”, I decided to analyse some more meaningful metrics to try and derive some learnings from the data we have collated over the past 5 months:

image (12)

Note the steep drop of total revenue and hours in the month of May. The Virtual Valley revenue continued to rise due to the sale of a $497 sponsorship package for the 0-$4 Million podcast.

The amount of Entrepreneurs that have signed up and have used the platform to charge time with one or more Virtual Assistants each month since launch:

image (13)

And the amount of Entrepreneurs that have signed up, charged time with one or more Virtual Assistants and then stopped the next month (churn):

image (10)

The churn rate of 30% in May suggests that we may be yet to reach product-market fit.

What to do to address this problem?

Send out a nice yet strategic survey to all of our Entrepreneurs of course.

Here are some of the highlights:

Results___Typeform_🔊

Over the next two months, we will be hiring a part time PHP developer to work with the qualitative and quantitative feedback from this survey to improve:

  • The user interface and experience of the hiring process for our Entrepreneurs
  • The ability of our Entrepreneurs to derive insights from our tracking software

As we believe that the reason for our high churn rate is simple:

Our Entrepreneurs are not able to derive value worth equal to or more than the 20% salary uplift we charge, and if Virtual Valley is to scale into a thriving platform, this needs to change.

In other news, our Net Promoter Score is currently 6.38, this will be tracked over time.

Results___Typeform_🔊 x

And then mixed results to this question:

Results___Typeform_🔊y

When selling a business, the new owner/owners will look to see how independent the system is from the current owner (more independent the business, the lower the risk associated with the transfer of ownership).

Thus, the results above show that both I AND our existing customers have been instrumental in driving new signups.

If this system is ultimately to be sold, I need to find a way to reduce it’s reliance on me.

Three Key Learnings

1.MORE SKILLS NEED TO BE LEARNT/ACQUIRED

We have successfully built and launched an online marketplace with approximately a $5k investment to $1k per month in revenue. Our current skillset have enabled us to reach this stage. 

Though as Peter Sage once told me: 

“What gets you from A to B, does not get you from B to C”

In order to take Virtual Valley to the next level, I or someone that I hire needs to either have or develop the following skills: 

  • User interface design
  • User experience
  • Extreme product management
  • Membership site set up
  • Information product creation

Once we have this skill set in place, have optimized Virtual Valley for the Entrepreneurial experience and have built the best Virtual Assistant training program that exists in the world today, reaching our next revenue goal will become a triviality.

Moving forward to scale to the $4k revenue projected for the end of 2017, assuming product market fit has been achieved, the following skills will be required:

  • Facebook advertising
  • Affiliate recruiting
  • Referral program set up

2. “THIS IS THE REAL WORLD HOMIE, SCHOOL FINISHED…”

Yes, that is a Kayne West lyric.

It became brutally apparent this month that being an Entrepreneur and starting a startup occurs in the real world.

If you are not contributing enough value to the environment, you will either die from lack of resources or be eaten by a competitor.

This is not sitting within a 400k person corporation, where the total amount of value provided per month can reach billions, though is not averaged evenly amongst the human resources, allow those that do not create the value to be sheltered from reality.

3. SEO IS A LONG TERM GAME

Check this out:

Channels_-_Google_Analytics_🔊

Despite the fact that the actual Virtual Valley domain itself: http://virtualvalley.io/ has little on-page SEO optimisation, we have still seen some love from Google re. a couple of significant keywords:

“virtual valley”

virtual_valley_-_Google_Search_🔊

And with the help of the awesome SEO tool: Ahref’s (our podcast sponsor) and some hardcore link building, we expect our ranking for further search terms to increase dramatically.

Three Key People

In this edition of Three Key People I have select three very young and promising online entrepreneurs that we have interacted with recently, I would highly recommend bookmarking and checking in on their progress over the next few years…

1. STEPHEN ESKETZIS

Stephen is a young AND very advanced internet marketer, to help others become as successfully as himself, he built this BEEFY list of online tools that any marketer should be using that I highly recommend checking out, he is also an online sales funnel ninja.

2. BRIAN ROBBEN

Another successful young man, Brian decided to build a list of things to do over the summer, to help you become successful, check out number: 195.

3. TUNG TRAN

Tung built his first WordPress site when he was 13, he’s now 20 and is tracking his journey to a $10k a month online business on his blog: Cloud Living. We collaborated on a couple of pieces of content (including him mentioning us in his Simple Virtual Assistant System), if you are trying to build an online business, I highly recommend going to check his stuff out.

One Key Tool

1. AHREFS

We usually share three key tools of the month in this section…

However, the full month I have almost been completely focussed on learning how to boost organic Google rankings with a BIG tool that any online business should probably want to be using if they are serious about SEO: Ahrefs.

To learn more about what we are actually doing with Ahrefs, check out this podcast episode and lookout for a interview with Tim Soulo, Head Of Marketing at Ahrefs and a full brutally honest review of what has been achieved with the Ahrefs tool over the three months we will be using it.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. UPGRADING VIRTUAL VALLEY BASED ON FEEDBACK

I had this as a focus area for May, however, we made no progress.

I guess this was becuase we were basking in glow of Virtual Valley’s best month EVER in April. Couple this with a lack of focus on the platform with AskTina’s emergence, it feels like Virtual Valley has been neglected (Here is a post about Tina’s early startup traction).

But no more…

Now we have the results of our survey, it is clear what needs to be done:

Virtual Valley’s users interface AND experience must improve to support our Entrepreneurs to give back 1 million hours of their time by January 2018.

2. INCREASING VA QUALITY

As the second “most frustrating thing” about the current Virtual Valley service, we must increase the quality of Virtual Assistants that are registered and available for work on the platform.

Now, there are two ways we could approach this:

a. Invest heavily in recruitment – just as we did prior to launch (as described in this post), we could head out and recruit more awesome assistants.

OR

b. We could create the best training program for Virtual Assistants that exists anywhere in the world to attract new Virtual Assistants. Only those Virtual Assistants that have passed through the training would have access to the platform.

As well as increasing the quality of the Virtual Assistants on the platform, this will also form an additional profit centre for the business.

3. LINK BUILDING TO INCREASE ORGANIC TRAFFIC FOR KEY KEYWORDS

Now we have secured the number 1 ranking positions for “virtual valley”, we are turning our focus to ranking for a number of highly potent keywords for our industry:

  • virtual assistant philippines
  • hire a virtual assistant
  • filipino virtual assistant
  • hire a filipino virtual assistant

Through onsite optimisation of blog posts, specific pages within the marketplace itself and some tactical link building we plan to reach page 1 for each of these by the end of Q3. Progress will be tracked in upcoming podcast episodes.

Summary

Let me take you back to the question I raised at the start of this post: 

“Do you ever get the feeling that you’re just wasting your time?”

As you may expect, the answer is a resounding… No.

Because what else would we be doing? 

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures – April 2016 Update

 

In perhaps our most radical month to date in the Virtual Valley journey, April saw us:

  • Bring on a new Technical Cofounder
  • Release a new Slackbot called Tina
  • Travel to the Philippines to meet Zandro and the boiz in person for the FIRST time

And despite these “distractions” the platform actually saw it’s largest month on month growth, but how?

Let’s find out…

Goal Update

A reminder of the goals that we are working towards over the next two years: Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

And each metric we are tracking along the way:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

MRR/Hours Charged – We saw strong growth in MRR and Hours Charged towards the end of April to reach $5,223 for the platform by the end of the month which equates to 47% of the monthly revenue goal we have for July of this year as shown by the pyramid above (more detail in this podcast episode).

Blog Subscribers – We grew by just 25 over the month hitting 23% of the quarterly goal, expect significant growth during the month of May as I focus further on content for the Virtual Valley Blog.

Guest Content Spots – Steady growth in guest content spots which puts us well on the way to hitting 100 by the end of the quarter, this will give a solid foundation of traffic and SEO as we move to marketing Phase 2.

Twitter Followers – As per our learnings from #garyvee last week, we will discontinuing this vanity metric in Q3 despite the steady growth.

In other news, podcast downloads seem to be increasing slightly on average:

General_Stats__Liberated_Syndication_-_Libsyn_🔊

And finally, I made a cute little graph to show our progression in hours charged and revenue since launch day:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

In addition, we also released:

AskTina_

With Tina, the mission of the company remains the same:

To give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by 2018.

Yet, we believe we are solving the “management problem” to a greater extent than with Virtual Valley.

Tina is effectively a “black hole” for admin tasks, essentially eradicating the requirement for an entrepreneur to manage a virtual assistant. Both direct and indirect feedback from our current entrepreneurs has shown that this is one of the biggest challenges our entrepreneurs are facing with outsourcing.

Since launch day (learn about our launch plan in this podcast episode), 29 Slack Teams have integrated her and 4 of these have subscribed to Tina at $197 per month (for unlimited small admin tasks 24/5).

This has been achieved with a total of 4 hours promotion from myself (more on this in a later blog post).

So we are now left with a quality problem…

Which validated business model should we focus on?

Wil (our new technical cofounder) and I discussed this at length in the past week and have decided to continue with both business models and then review growth at the end of the quarter.

That said, going forward we will combine and track the combined MRR and Hours Charged metrics for both business models.

Three Key Learnings

  1. MEET YOUR VIRTUAL TEAM IN PERSON

In April, I went to Hong Kong to set up a bank account for our new parent company: One Million Hours Limited:

One Million Hours_Limited__BR__1_1_pdf__1_page_

And how could I NOT jump over to the Philippines to see the team that I had been working with (virtually) for the past 8 months.

Here is Zandro (Virtual Valley Manager) and his assistant Stephen:

IMG_0120

And even during this past week since I have returned to Europe, the productivity efficiencies gained through the deepening of the relationship have become apparent.

Therefore, if you have the opportunity, I would strongly recommend to meet regularly with your virtual team.

2. ALWAYS LOOK FOR GROWTH HACKING OPPORTUNITIES

As will be shared fully in an upcoming blog post…

We managed to get 45 Entrepreneurs to integrate our new Slackbot Tina into their Slack Teams with a grand total of 4 hours of my time spent on promotion on launch day.

We drove people from the Virtual Valley audience, Facebook and Slack Communities to our Product Hunt entry that was posted by an awesome influencer (See Jeffrey Needles below).

However, I don’t believe any of those actions were directly responsible for the 45 signs ups (and 4 customers), I believe that there is something else at play…

Slack

This is the message that Tina sends to ALL members of a Slack Team when she is integrated.

To make this clear, one person within the Slack Team clicks the two links required to integrate Tina as we automatically get exposure to the full team (sometimes up to 500 people)?

This is the reason for our organic growth with minimal effort (and is also the reason that Apple adds: “Sent from iPhone” to the end of all your emails sent from your phone).

3. MAINTAIN A HEALTHY BIAS TOWARDS ACTION

We had the idea for Tina 3 weeks ago, now she is live and we have 4 paying customers

2 weeks ago we thought it would be a good idea to register a parent company in Hong Kong, now we have a parent company set up in Hong Kong.

We had the idea for the 0-$4 Million podcast, 30 days later we were #1 in iTunes New & Noteworthy for business:

iTunes #1

And all becuase we try to maintain a bias toward actions when we believe we have enough information to make a decision.

Why?

To maximise learning.

Two years ago, I gave a TEDx talk about this.

Three Key People

1. JEFF NEEDLES

To give you every chance of succeeding on Product Hunt, it is often a good idea to request that an influencer post your product for you.

Therefore, I went through ALL of the Slackbots that had received 200+ up votes on PH in the past few months and then decided to reach out to a select few to see if they would like to post Tina.

And becuase Jeff is such a legend, he agreed:

Conweets___Conversations_between__tomhuntio____jsneedles_🔊

And here we are:

Tina_-_Product_Hunt_🔊

2. HARRY HUANG/ED MOYSE – PROFILE HOPPER

When I read awesome content, I almost always attempt to reach out to the creator to connect and share my thoughts:

Conweets___Conversations_between__tomhuntio____edmoyse_🔊

Which is exactly what happened when I read this post by Ed Moyse.

Which ultimately lead to a very enjoyable coffee with his business partner Harry in Hong Kong last week.

These guys are product machines, bringing out Hey Press, Journorequests and Profile Hopper in quick succession and I highly recommend following their journey on their Medium blog.

3. CHRIS HELLER

Each month we like to pick out our favourite entrepreneur that has used Virtual Valley, and this time we have a special one for you…

Check out the branding on Chris’s social media marketing agency:

http://sircle.me/

Pretty sweet right?

Chris hired a Virtual Valley Virtual Assistant to aid his research efforts and in theory, will expand his team in the future!

Three Key Tools

1. SLACK

Slack’s growth is ridiculous:

slack-users-paid-seats-chart

So it isn’t like they need the massive exposure being featured on the Virtual Valley Blog will bring them.

But I thought I would send them some love seeing as they so gracefully enabled us to build Tina on their platform.

2. ASKTINA

Somewhat self promotional but we love her.

Tina is a feisty Slackbot that will handle all of your admins needs for just $197 per month (though we may be increasing this monthly rate soon).

If you have a Slack Team, want to be more productive AND think that your increased productivity by having an unlimited admin assistant is worth more than $197…

Then let’s get started.

3. POMODORO ONE

It seems to me that the success of an entrepreneur (or any person) hinges almost exclusively on their ability to direct their focus.

Your focus is your biggest asset and must be protected stringently against the external time vampires (your friends, Facebook and  phone) if you are going to be able build a sustainable business.

The fortunate thing is that you don’t actually have to invest a massive amount of focussed time in order to get ahead (as so many people don’t actually invest any focussed time themselves).

To ensure that I am able to invest focussed time into projects like Virtual Valley and AskTina is due to the fact that I carefully track my focussed time with a simplistic desktop app called: Pomodoro One.

I have the settings tuned to:

  • 50 Focus
  • 10 Min Rest
  • 50 Min Focus
  • 30 Min Rest

Bearing in mind that focussed work is without email, Slack, Skype, Whatsapp, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin… the list goes on.

If I achieve 2 full cycles of the above in 1 day, it is deemed a success.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. ASKTINA MARKETING

We reached the dizzying height of 4 customers paying the monthly rate of $197 in 10 days with just 4-6 hours of my time in promotion.

Now we have secured the delivery of Tina’s tasks, we can look to grow this number of subscribed customers significantly during the month of May, but how?

Tina has no blog, Twitter handle or even email form submission on her site, though what she does have is the ability to direct message all of the people within the Slack Team that she is integrated into.

And if we supercharge this growth hack with a double sided referral schemed fueled by free tasks, I believe Tina can grow to 10 paid Slack Teams by the end of Q2.

2. ASKTINA DELIVERY

As per the growth forecasted above, Tina will need to have a solid delivery model in order to deal with this influx of tasks.

Currently tasks are delivered through Tina with the following model:

  • Automation – Tina speaks with Entrepreneur to gather task info
  • Admin – Clarifies task requirements and either completes the task if has capacity/delegates to an assistant
  • Virtual Assistant – Completes the task and returns to the admin for review

We currently have just one admin shift in place during our busiest time (80% of tasks are submitted to Tina during PST office hours) meaning that tasks are just completed by ad-hoc assistants during downtime.

As we grow, we will need 1 or more admins working 24/5 with a pool of assistants waiting in the wings to pick up tasks. The whole model will also need to be built into a flawless system that operates completely independently of Tina’s two founders.

3. UPGRADING VIRTUAL VALLEY BASED ON FEEDBACK

And don’t worry, we haven’t forgot the platform that we started this journey with…

Over the next month we will be requesting feedback from each of our 19 paying customers in the month of April and will prioritise the updates to be made to improve the Virtual Valley experience.

Summary

In summary a solid month with steady revenue growth and an exciting new addition to the team: Tina.

And interesting contrast in business model between Tina (productised service) and Virtual Valley (online marketplace) led Tina to almost eclipsing Virtual Valley’s monthly revenue figures in a fraction of the time.

Though will Tina eventually become profitable?

Currently she is not at the $197 price point with 4 paying customers.

Will we need to increase price or invest further in marketing to boost customers?

Who knows.

Find out next month…

P.S.

If you are sat there thinking:

“I don’t really care about your startup, I just want to outsource some stuff so that my business can grow…”

Then let’s get started, here are the 5 tasks that you should NOT be doing in your online business:

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures (Apr 2016 Update) (13)

 

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures – Feb 2016 Update

 

Wow, what a month!

We doubled the amount of hours charged through the platform, increased our average hourly rate significantly which lead to a significant revenue increase for Virtual Valley in February.

We had our fair share of technical issues, customer support enquiries and frustrated Virtual Assistants but pulled through with some awesome efforts from Zandro and the rest of the team.

This post will outline our progress through the first full month as a live online marketplace and what we have learnt (so you can go away and apply the learnings to your online business).

Who This Post Will Help:

  • Anyone about to launch their online business
  • Anyone in the process of building an online marketplace/SAAS business

How To Read This Post:

  • If you are a startup founder/internet business owner pressed for time, scan through the headings in the Table Of Contents below and review those relevant topics
  • If you are a normal person or just like stories, then settle in and enjoy the roller coaster

Goal Update

Here is our famous Goal Pyramid:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets

You will note that our blog subscriber  and MRR revenue goals are still marked as red, and thus are at risk of not being completed by the deadline. Though we have more confidence about our content marketing and working procedure goals.

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets

The table above tracks these goals at a more granular level, we have made steady improvements through each metric but not at the rate that is required to hit the stretch goals that we set. Regardless, we will continue striving forward.

Whilst MRR has been rising steadily since we launched, I have yet to find a scalable method to increase signups on the blog, any ideas? Tweet us.

I have taken a breather with regards to guest content spots but will be using Ninja Outreach over the next couple of months to land further podcast interviews (will share the results of course ;)).

With the influx of customer support inquiries and recruitment requests for Zandro, we have decided to pause blog commenting. Stephen is doing a FANTASTIC job managing and growing our Twitter presence and we have not invested any further time into creating Working Procedures this month.

Three Key Learnings

1. A BIG PODCAST LAUNCH WON’T SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS

A Big #Podcast Launch Won’t Solve All Of Your ProblemsCLICK TO TWEET

General_Stats__Liberated_Syndication_-_Libsyn

We launched 0-$4 Million at the end of January and here’s how we did it.

I was happy with the launch, but as you can see from the download statistics above, an awesome launch does not guarantee sustained listener growth. I did not invest any further time in promoting the podcast during February partly to see what would happen to download figures and partly as I had other areas to focus on.

Moving forward I will be investing more time in promotion and we will be reviewing this effort in these monthly updates.

2. WE NEED A TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER

Did You Know That @VirtualValley & @TomHuntio Are Looking For A Technical Co-Founder, Interested?CLICK TO TWEET

A SIGNIFICANT portion of my time this month was invested in managing freelance developers to improve the Virtual Valley experience for both Entrepreneurs & Virtual Assistants.

However, if we are to hit our ambitious monthly revenue goals, I need to invest my time 100% in the marketing of the platform to Entrepreneurs.

I would be prepared to give away up to 40% of Virtual Valley to the right person, as I see this as a crucial role as we look to differentiate our offering from other marketplaces and Virtual Assistant services to command a higher purchase price when we do eventually decided to sell the company.

3. COLD EMAILING WORKS (IF YOU DO IT RIGHT)

Cold Emailing Works (If You Do It Right)CLICK TO TWEET

I sent this plain text email to 1,900 startup owners:

Hey [[name]]

Quick one, as I know you’re busy…

Just stumbled upon [[startup name]], and thought I would drop you a quick mail to explain how I think I can help you grow.

We recently launched Virtual Valley: a marketplace connecting startups and virtual assistants based in the Philippines. We have spent 4 months recruiting a database of the best VA’s that are hungry to enable startup founders such as yourself, spend more time working ON your business and not IN your business.

We have just moved out of Beta and are looking to bring just a couple of new startups to the demand side of the platform.

As I think that what you guys are doing is pretty cool, I would be happy to have a 30 minute, 1 on 1 consultation with you/your operations guy to deep dive into the tasks and processes that you could potentially outsource to maximise productivity and cost savings.

As a background, I spent 3 years working on large outsourcing projects with Accenture and have been outsourcing with startups for 2 further years, so know a thing or two about this stuff! Plus my hourly consulting rate is normally $100 😉

Furthermore, as we are in the early stages of our journey and would really value your feedback on our platform, we would offer you 1 month WITHOUT the Virtual Valley charge, this would reduce your investment in the salary of your new Virtual Assistant by 20%.

Let me know if it makes sense to talk?

Thanks

Tom

Founder – www.virtualvalley.io

Feel free to swipe and adapt for your business.

Before we jump into why I think this mail converted so well, let’s have a look at one of the responses:

cold email

The mail was sent less than 24 hours ago and we have already had 26 responses and ONLY 1 of them suggested that they knew the mail was automated.

A number of them enquired about our services and a couple of them have already gone on to create a Virtual Valley account and even hire Virtual Assistants, sort of like free revenue right? (Apart from the costs to build the email list and mailing software).

Here are the three reasons why I think this mail converted so well:

1. Build Value

I built the value of myself, Virtual Valley and the offer by making the following true statements:

  • That I used to work for Accenture
  • That my consulting rate is usually $100 per hour
  • That we are looking to take on just a couple of new clients
  • We have just come out of Beta e.g. people have already used us and we are a startup just like you
  • Offered an exclusive discount
Think about ways that you make make your offer more valuable to your prospect.

2. Sneaky Personalisation

The mail was sent in plain text to increase the personal feel, I also personalised the Founder Name and Startup Name naturally in the mail and made sure that the link was not tracked so it was pretty hard to tell that the email was automated.

3. Take The Perspective Of The Lead

Scroll up and review the first two sentences of the email again..

I am basically saying that I am not a normal spammer as I understand that they are busy AND that I want to help them with their biggest frustration as an early stage startup: growth.

To increase the amount of people reading your cold emails you MUST open the mail whilst talking from their perspective and NOT start talking about yourself straight away.

Three Key People

MARREN KATE (FOUNDER OF ZIRTUAL)

When looking for individuals in this world that have actually done what we are trying to do, there is no one better suited than the Founder of Zirtual: Marren Kate.

I reached out to Marren through her blog: and she generously agreed to a 1 hour Skype Call.

I will not go into further details here as I covered the majority of our discussion in this podcast episode, but let’s just say it was eye opening.

DAVE NEVOGT (FOUNDER OF HUBSTAFF)

Another individual who has been on a similar journey is Dave Nevogt, Hubstaff Founder. For those of you who are unaware of Hubstaff, I am more than happy to propose that you go and check them out, their time tracking software FAR surpasses what we have built here at Virtual Valley.

I first interacted with Dave on the Hubstaff blog:

How_to_Use_Transparency_in_Business_to_Help_Startup_Growth

I then followed him on Twitter:

Dave_Nevogt___dnevogt____Twitter

And connected with him on LinkedIn:

David_Nevogt___LinkedIn

And then decided to book a Clarity call with him:

Call_Details_—_Clarity

My biggest takeaway from the call was the requirement for relevant content marketing. Over the past 4 months I have produced numerous guest blog posts focused on marketing… NOT outsourcing, virtual assistants and systems (the content that supports the Virtual Valley mission). Thus moving forward, Virtual Valley’s content marketing will be more focussed on these topics.

CHRIS THOMPSON

At Virtual Valley, we love working with legends.

I spend a few minute each day checking in with our Virtual Assistants to see how they are getting on with their respective Entrepreneurs and the feedback for Chris has been remarkable.

He is currently working with Jeremiah and Gabs, both of which are thoroughly enjoying themselves supporting Chris with his online marketing.

So, Chris – thank you for working with Virtual Valley (and for being such a legend!).

Three Key Tools

1. IFTTT

Any tool that enables us to place PLAYABLE podcast episodes in our Twitter feed AUTOMATICALLY deserves a mention on our blog:

Tom_Hunt_on_Twitter___0-_4_Million_Episode_041_-_Stop_Working_Nights__How_To_Work_With_A_Virtual_Assistant__https___t_co_y89rc4o5XC__VirtualAssistant__4HWW__in_

Here is the Recipe if you want to do the same.

2. ZAPIER

Zapier have been instrumental in our campaign to systemise our lead generation efforts, so much so that I have dedicated a whole podcast episode to how we are using different Zaps to automate different parts of the process, it is being released this week.

3. COFOUNDERS LAB

Did You Know That @VirtualValley & @TomHuntio Are Looking For A Technical Co-Founder, Interested?CLICK TO TWEET

And as you are aware, Virtual Valley is looking for a Technical Co-Founder, so I have spent time browsing through different Co-Founder dating sites and have found CoFoundersLab to be the most effective. I have had two conversations with potential Co-Founder’s that I have met through this platform and who knows… maybe they will be the chosen one.

To be continued in next month’s update.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. FINDING A TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER

Did You Know That @VirtualValley & @TomHuntio Are Looking For A Technical Co-Founder, Interested?CLICK TO TWEET

I have spoken with 5 potential co-founders during the past week and will be meeting those that I believe to be suitable IN PERSON later this month and expect to have made a decision and finalised the agreement by the end of March.

2. ENSURING WE CONTINUE TO STAFF THE BEST VIRTUAL ASSISTANTS

As I have stated from Day 1, one of the most important factors that will determine the success of Virtual Valley is our ability to source the BEST Virtual Assistants and connect them with exciting Entrepreneurs.

Our pre-launch recruitment process has been well documented, though we paused recruitment during the January and February as we had a sufficient amount of Virtual Assistants for the demand that we were experiencing. Now we are starting to experience increased demand (we had 12 paying customers during the month of February), we MUST ensure that we continue to provide the best Virtual Assistants possible to ensure we continue to add value to our Entrepreneurs.

3. MAINTAIN CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH PAYING ENTREPRENEUR

As Virtual Valley grows over the coming months, it will be crucial to maintain open and honest communication lines with all of our paying customers (we had 12 in February), for two reasons:

  • To collect feedback to enable continuous improvement
  • To ensure that Virtual Valley continues to provide value to the Entrepreneur once the connection has been made to increase chance of referrals AND to reduce churn and platform leakage.

Summary

In summary, February was a rollercoaster of a month that saw us DOUBLE the amount of hours charged through the Virtual Valley platform and therefore revenue, we connected with individuals that have done what we are doing and were all confident that it could be achieved AND helped 12 Entrepreneurs to such an extent that they were willing to pay for our service.

Not bad for a bootstrapped online marketplace that has been live for less than 2 months?

That said, we are significantly behind on our Q1 Goals so will be trying everything we can to catch up in the rest of March to try and get us back on track…

Speak then and you have an awesome month.

And finally, you know that one technical friend who is looking to join a PROFITABLE startup? It would be AWESOME if you could click the button below to help us in our search for an AWESOME CoFounder:

Did You Know That @VirtualValley & @TomHuntio Are Looking For A Technical Co-Founder, Interested?CLICK TO TWEET

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures

 

Let’s be brutally honest here, we don’t know how to sell a business for 5 figures, let alone 7 figures…

But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to try.

Inspired by Matthew WoodwardBuffer and Gary Vaynerchuk, who are all BRUTALLY honest about their goals and progress.

AND after assigning one of the focusses of the Virtual Valley Blog as Honesty AND getting excited about our two years goals, we decided to make these public and to publish a monthly update on our journey to selling Virtual Valley for seven figures.

Who This Post Will Help:

  • Anyone interested in starting an online business
  • Anyone already running and online business
  • Anyone that wants to feel better about their decision not to invest time and resources into building and launching a business online

How To Read This Post:

  • If you are a startup founder/internet business owner pressed for time, scan through the headings in the Table Of Contents below and review those relevant
  • If you are a normal person or just like stories, then settle in and enjoy the rollercoaster
  • Goals

    Here is our Goal Pyramid for the next two years:

    You can read about our LONG build up to the launch here and once we finally reach the launch we aim to achieve the following in the next two months:

    $7K MRR

    Equivalent to 10 full time Virtual Team Members, we aim to have $7k in monthly recurring revenue by the start of February.

    To clarify our business model, Entrepreneurs are able to hire Team Members through the Virtual Valley platform by validating their credit/debit card details or PayPal account, which are then charged an amount equivalent to the amount of hours worked by their Team Member multiplied by their Hourly Rate as tracked by our time tracking software at the end of the month.

    The Team Member Hourly Rate includes a 20% uplift that we provide in exchange for Team Member recruitment, payment escrow service and time tracking software.

    SYSTEM WITH 5 WORKING PROCEDURES

    After reading:

    We have decided to focus on building a system that is as automated and documented as possible, which will help us when the time comes to find a buyer, retain knowledge through staff turnover (although we plan on zero attrition) and to drive profitability.

    Each major process within the Virtual Valley system will have an attributed Working Procedure, you can download our template here:

    Download our Working Procedure Template

    50 GUEST BLOG POSTS

    Inspired by Leo from Buffer, we plan to gain initial traffic and links for Virtual Valley by placing value offering post on blogs followed by one of three Customer Avatars (an idealised and imaginary version of the customer we believe could benefit from using Virtual Valley).

    We will create another full post on our Guest Blogging procedure and the results experienced but have some reasonable results over the past 6 weeks which can be seen here.

    1K BLOG COMMENTS

    As you may have noticed, we are attempting to bootstrap the growth of Virtual Valley, partly for the challenge and partly due to a lack of capital.

    Though, in conjunction with Guest Blogging and an ACTIVE Social Media presence we also plan to build relationships, contribute to blogs that we admire (and that are followed by our Customer Avatars) whilst sending traffic back to the Virtual Valley blog using comments to add value.

    100 BLOG SUBSCRIBERS

    If you have spent ANY amount of time in the online marketing world you will be aware of the mantra:

    “The money is in the list”

    Which isn’t 100% accurate…

    The money is actually in the relationship with the list.

    So we will aim to provide content that will help 100 people over the next two months SO much that they will hand over their permission for us to contact them again in the future in the form of their email address.

    We will then add further value in the form of information regarding working with Virtual Team Members, so much so that a number of those 100 subscribers will ascend to Entrepreneurs that have hired a Team Member through the Virtual Valley platform.

    10K TWITTER FOLLOWERS

    As part of our integrated content, social and SEO strategy, we will aim to tweet 50-100 times a day on both the @virtualvalleyio and @tomhuntio (our founder) Twitter accounts sharing relevant content, building relationships and generally having a laugh with our audience.

    There will be no fake followers or other such “shenanigans”, just manual human connections every day for the next 60 days or so before we review our strategy again in February.

    Here is our progress so far:

    You can view and download our Goal Pyramid & Progress Tracker Template by entering your email address here:

    Goal Pyramid & Progress Tracker Template

    We are off to a strong start with MRR due to an existing client from a previous business and a friend who was happy to test an unfinished product.

    Three Key Learnings

    1. CREATING VALUE TAKES TIME

    CREATING VALUE TAKES TIMECLICK TO TWEET

    In his book Zero To One:

    Peter Thiel describes a business as:

    “Creating X amount of value for the word and then capturing Y of X.”

    First we must focus on creating “Y”…

    The “Y” that Virtual Valley provides lies in our curated database of the best Virtual Assistants in the Philippines and our proprietary time tracking and invoicing software.

    Now, building both of these has taken months…

    Not the 30 days that we envisioned to start this project.

    So, for all you founders out there, do NOT be surprised that if you through up a website for a product/service you think you can create and you don’t get traction, remember, creating your “Y” takes time.

    2. PEOPLE DON’T SHARE YOUR CONTENT IF IT IS NOT AWESOME

    PEOPLE DON’T SHARE YOUR CONTENT IF IT IS NOT AWESOMECLICK TO TWEET

    Our first blog post received over 120 shares, which for a first post on a blog, we think it AWESOME, so thanks everyone for sharing. Now maybe it was the brutal honesty of the post or the detail in which we went into, we do not know.

    However, our second piece of blog post, received just 27 shares and we believe this is because this piece of content was just not as awesome.

    Going forward, EVERY piece of content we release WILL be awesome and hopefully the amount of people that we help AND our share count will reflect this.

    3. NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PRODUCT

    NO ONE CARES ABOUT YOUR PRODUCTCLICK TO TWEET

    It’s true.

    No one cares about your product (except from maybe 2 of your closest friends and your mother)

    They only care about what your product can do for THEM.

    We have found that when describing Virtual Valley to people online or in person with this approach:

    “Virtual Valley is a Virtual Team Building Platform connecting….”

    We get many more glazed looks and non-committal gestures compared to this approach:

    “What would you do with an extra 8 hours a day?”

    So if you are building your marketing approach for your business/startup, try taking your customers perspective when sculpting your message.

    Three Key People

    Ever since starting work on Virtual Valley 4 months ago we seem to keep crossing paths with amazing people that always seem to help us on our way, here are three of the best from the past month:

    1. CODY MCKIBBEN

    Generously allowing us to take over his blog for a guest post that eventually was shared a total of 6.3k times, Cody inspires and educates digital nomads around the world and is an all round top guy.

    2. KEVIN DUNCAN

    Kevin has an awesome blog about being a better blogger (which we may have an upcoming guest post on) AND is amazing to talk to via email. This post on building relationships really made us think about how we interact with people.

    3. VINCENT DIGNAN

    Vincent is BIG on Twitter. He recently spoke at an event Virtual Valley sponsors in London, you can check out the video here (the second speaker is our founder Tom, though you can’t hear him). He provided inspiration and an insight on the execution required to growth hack Virtual Valley over the next 2 years.

    Three Key Tools

    1. BUZZSUMO

    Our guest post submission success is increased significantly when we have spent time on Buzzsumo before submitting. In 2 seconds you can uncover the most shared articles of a blog or for a keyword.

    We do this before submitting a guest post to ANY blog to help us craft our article and headline to something that is proven to work on their site.

    2. SOCIAL LOCKER

    If you are spending time creating awesome content that will attract people, then why not multiply it’s exposure by adding social content gates.

    Take your premium templates/ebooks/downloads and put them behind a Social Locker.

    3. VIRAL CONTENT BUZZ

    Again, Viral Content Buzz can provide extra exposure for your content AND can provide you will great content to share on your social media channels.

    Three Key Focus Areas

    1. CONTINUE TO FOCUS ON CREATING INDIVIDUAL RELATIONSHIPS

    Though time intensive, we have benefitted massively from building personal relationships with people associated in the blogging, outsourcing and startup world by offering value upfront.

    Whether this be guest blogging, commenting or retweeting their content, this invariably leads to us receiving something in return at a later date.

    2. GAINING FEEDBACK ON THE SYSTEM FROM FIRST CUSTOMERS

    We must endeavour to speak one on one with the first 10 Entrepreneurs that use Virtual Valley to understand the following:

    • How they found us
    • Why they are using the service
    • What they likes/disliked about the experience

    As at this early stage, learning will be the key to continual improvement of the service.

    3. DOING THINGS THAT DON’T SCALE

    As well as interacting one on one with each Entrepreneur that creates an account on Virtual Valley, we will also be manually connecting each Entrepreneur to the best possible Team Member to ensure an awesome experience using the platform.

    Though not sustainable in the long term, this will help word of mouth spread and us to learn more about our customers.

    Summary

    This post gives more of an overview of the goals for the next 2 months…

    However, in upcoming monthly updates, we will go into greater detail on what has/hasn’t worked which inherently, will be more practical.

    We decided to share and document our goals so openly to inspire others to join us on a journey of their own AND also to gather feedback :)

    Therefore, if you have any feedback or opinions on the goals stated above or even our method of achieving them, please Tweet us or leave a comment below.

    And finally, if you think our journey will inspire anyone in your network it would be AWESOME if you could use the share buttons below to send a link their way, who knows the effect that it could have?

 

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures – March 2016

 

Another month passes…

Many more bugs, many more issues, many more improvements and most importantly, many more new friends.

It is starting to feel like we are building a real marketplace startup.

Yes, a number of Entrepreneurs this month came to Virtual Valley, created an account, interacted with AND hired Virtual Assistants with ZERO interaction from myself or Zandro.

The feeling of helping Entrepreneurs AND Virtual Assistants through connection and software is wonderful, almost worth all of the bullsh*t that you have to go through as a solo startup founder 😉

Who This Post Will Help:

  • Anyone about to launch their online business
  • Anyone in the process of building an online marketplace/SAAS business

How To Read This Post:

  • If you are a startup founder/internet business owner pressed for time, scan through the headings in the Table Of Contents below and review those relevant topics
  • If you are a normal person or just like stories, then settle in and enjoy the roller coaster

Goal Update

Here is our famous Goal Pyramidupdated for Quarter 2 of 2016:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

Wait a minute Tom, haven’t you changed some of your goals since last months update?

Yes, here is the Goal Pyramid from last months update:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets

And here is a summary of our 6 weekly metrics for the past 4 months:

Q1You will note strong growth in:

MRR – We maintained the 12 paying customers from the month of February with an 80% churn and added 3 new paying customers in March which increased our revenue by $1,084 and 213 hours charged. We also increased our average hourly rate by $0.50 to $5.02.

Guest Content Spots – I outline EXACTLY how this was achieved in this podcast episode.

Twitter Following – And I outline EXACTLY how this was achieved in this podcast episode.

Though we were somewhat stagnant in:

Blog Subscribers – I am still yet to find a reliable and reproducible approach to building our email list of Entrepreneurs through this blog at the rate required, here is our daily subscriber growth over the past month:

Daily_Subscriber_Growth_🔊

Steady but uninspiring.

I have tried:

  • In post content upgrades on blog
  • Welcome Mat on blog
  • LeadDigits™ through podcast

And I believe that these methods are sufficient to hit our subscriber goals, the issue lies in the time required to create the content of sufficient value to incentivise Entrepreneurs to provide that all important permission asset, leave this with me.

Blog Comments – Partially down to lack of motivation and partly due to lack of measurable results, we have paused our blog commenting campaign.

Working Procedures – The increase in number of Working Procedures in January was down to the new processes we needed to formulate after launch, since then, just a couple of new processes have been required. As we bring on a Technical Cofounder and scale our offerring, I expect that further Working Procedures will be both formulated and documented.

And here are the Weekly Metrics we will be tracking moving forward into Quarter 2:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊We have opted to replace tracking the number of Blog Comments with Hours Charged, as this will give us greater clarity on our progress towards Virtual Valley’s ultimate goal and reason for existing:

To give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by 2018.

In other news, we have seen significant growth in monthly podcast downloads:

Podcast

General_Stats__Liberated_Syndication_-_Libsyn_🔊

And are look to sustain this rate of growth to 25k downloads in Quarter 2 (in comparison to 11,086 in Q1) .

Three Key Learnings

1. BE CONTROVERSIAL

If you are struggling to gain traffic/exposure for your site, try taking a contrarian (yet un-offensive) viewpoint.

This is exactly what I did when suggesting a novel way to use Auto DM’s on Twitter in this guest blog post for Marketing Profs (402 Shares).

Which… let’s say… was not well received:

Twitter Hate 6

Which then stimulated a healthy discussion:

Twitter Hate 2

Some of these “hater’s” persevered through this in-personal direct messaging, only to receive further automation:

Twitter Hate 5

Twitter Hate 4

However, the lovely blog host Ann Handley, seems to understand this concept:

Twitter Suppoert 1

Do you think it’s a co-incidence that we experienced our largest % increase in Twitter following (9%) in the week this post was published?

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

2. WE NEED A TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER

A couple of mornings ago, our application sent out an email to ALL of our Entrepreneurs with just the digit 1:

Airmail

That awkward moment when your application sends all of your customers an almost blank email.CLICK TO TWEET

Now, I do not bring this up to apportion blame, I bring this up to highlight the fact that we do NOT have technical resources incentivised towards our vision, and are therefore likely to make significant mistakes such as the email above, this needs to change.

And this is why I have spent the majority of my time this month in search of a Technical Cofounder that will take on a significant amount of equity in the platform to provide a sufficient incentive AGAINST these types of technical blunders.

3. OUR USER INTERFACE NEEDS TO IMPROVE

My experience with user interface is somewhat limited.

Which I believe is why when I asked our trusted advisor Stephen Fishburn (see Key People Section below) to have a nose around the platform, I received this avalanche of Skype feedback:

1

Since launching Virtual Valley, we have spent minimal time understanding the Entrepreneur user journey through the system and have therefore been blind to this type of feedback for the past 3 months since launch.

If we are to optimise this user flow to increase hours charged and therefore revenue, this needs to change.

Three Key People

ADAM CALLOW (FOUNDER OF EXPERT TRADES)

As part of our Guest Content Spots metric, I have been reaching out to other influencers that have a similar audience, one of these is a podcast that I am rather envious of:

Messages_on_SoundCloud_🔊

If you enjoy listening to the 0-$4 Million podcast, I would highly recommend Startup Diary for MUCH better production quality and a similar level of honesty.

Adam and I connected on Skype and agree to a talk through our respective journeys on each others podcasts, here is my interview on Startup Diary:

And you can learn more about Adam and his story in his interview on 0-$4 Million here.

DON SEVCIK (FOUNDER OF MATH CELEBRITY)

Don is one of our first Entrepreneurs here at Virtual Valley and also has great Facebook outreach skills:

VV_Entrepreneur_Mastermind_🔊

It turns out that Don has significant experience in PHP and we connected about the Virtual Valley Technical CoFounder opportunity, which he agreed to be recorded for this podcast interview.

To bring perspective, imagine that the job you applied for didn’t say you had the role and wanted to share the fact that you had applied AND why you had applied with the whole internet, what would you say?

If you are as much as a legend as Don, you would say YES.

STEPHEN FISHBURN (FOUNDER OF GET WELL CITIES)

What happens when you cold email someone who could become a potential mentor/advisor?

I’m not 100% sure, but on this occasion a relationship has been formed that could see me travel 6757km to spend a week in Stephen’s Brooklyn apartment to build the specification for the next evolution of Virtual Valley during the month of April.

Now, this would not have happened if Stephen had not been so liberal with his extensive knowledge about startups, technology and concierge services, check out his startup Get Well Cities with the link above.

Three Key Tools

1. TYPEFORM

Here is an elegant model for human behaviour:

bj-fogg-behavior-model-grapic

And the reason I use Typeform for ALL of my surveys, is that I believe it significantly increases the ability of the subject to act in the presence of a Trigger to take the required action.

I mean, just look at the design of the question:VV_Testimonials_🔊

Beautifully simple.

So when I send a link to our Entrepreneurs requesting their feedback for potential testimonials, I simply send them a link to an embedded Typeform and this simple design increases the ability of the Entrepreneur to provide the information required.

Plus, they also like to share our content on social media:

Typeform Twitter

2. ZAPIER

As I strive to leverage the value of my time by handing over as much of the tasks within Virtual Valley to our team/computers, Zapier has been a key player.

Here are a couple of Zapier automations we have utilised over the past month:

Adding All Twitter Mentions To A Google Sheet

Content_Social_Plan_-_Google_Sheets_🔊

These Twitter Handles can then be simply added to our “Twitter Friends” list in Buzzsumo:

Twitter_Friends_-_Outreach_Lists

This enables easy and simple outreach to all of our Twitter Friends as and when required (e.g. to request shares for this blog post).

Auto Welcoming New Followers

And as we have seen above, that sometimes Twitter automation can lead to frustration with the Twitter purists and sometimes it can lead to building awesome relationships:

Conweets___Conversations_between__tomhuntio____danicastellanom

Daniela is a passionate entrepreneur building an eCommerce store with a MISSION, we are now business friends, all thanks to an automated Zapier Tweet.

3. NINJA OUTREACH

Let’s keep it simple…

I used Ninja Outreach to reach out to Podcast hosts during the past 2 weeks and invested approximately 12 hours which resulted in the following 7 interviews being published:

With around 8 more interviews recorded and 10 booked. Furthermore, in true Virtual Valley style, the outreach process has now been fully outsourced to Zandro leaving me the task of simply turning up to the interviews and talking.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. CONFIRMING TECHNICAL CO-FOUNDER & ADVISOR

Once we have our Technical CoFounder and Advisor positions finalised with people that understand the role, are incentivised to complete the role and have the ability to perform the role, I see our progress accelerating significantly.

I will no longer have to invest time in managing freelance developers and being fully responsible for our technology stack, which will leave me free to accelerate our marketing strategy from Phase 1 to Phase 2.

2. PREPARE FOR TRANSITION FROM MARKETING PHASE 1

Though I wasn’t completely conscious of this strategy from Day 1, our marketing approach fits nicely into two different phases. Phase 1 focussing on setting a foundation of SEO, Content and Social Media exposure through guest blogging, our own blog, social media profiles and the podcast.

As expected, Phase 1 has produced a “trickle” of demand side customers (Entrepreneurs) and it will be the role of our Advisor, Technical CoFounder and myself to collate feedback from these initial customers and translate these into improvements to the platform.

Only then can we move onto Phase 2…

Which currently consists of 4 areas:

  1. Cold Email – As outlined in this podcast episode
  2. A Double Sided Referral Scheme – E.g. an existing Entrepreneur can invite a friend and if that friend hire’s a Virtual Assistant, both sides are awarded X number of free hours
  3. Experimentation With Facebook Ads – Though I’m sure this would take weeks of optimisation to reach a reasonable CPA, if achieved could prove to be an extremely scalable acquisition channel
  4. An Affiliate Program – To enable us to leverage on the relationships built with influencers over the past 4 months, we will collaborate on webinars which will offer value and will culminate in an offer with a revenue split between Virtual Valley and the affiliate

Phase 2 focusses on scaling an optimised Virtual Valley service based on the feedback of the customers from Phase 1.

3. COLLATE FEEDBACK AND IMPROVE PRODUCT

As outlined above, once the Advisor and Technical CoFounder roles have been filled, we will work together to translate the feedback from our existing customers into an optimised offerring OR a completely new offering that would NOT be based on exchanging time for money, more to come in next months update…

Summary

Though our 32% growth on hours charged through the platform from February to March is promising, this only equates for 5.5 out of the estimated 3-400 full time Virtual Assistants we will need to be charging per month to reach our $4 million exit goal.

In order to achieve this we will need to make significant changes to the platform to ensure we are offerring the value necessary to attract AND sustain Entrepreneurs using the platform.

Therefore, by the next monthly update I expect our newly appointed Technical CoFounder will have transformed our platform and should be on our way to explosive growth as fueled by Phase 2 of the marketing strategy.

And finally I need a favour from you…

You know that one friend who is also talking about starting an online business? Let’s inspire them by using the social icons below to share this post.

How To Sell A Business For Seven Figures – Jan 2016 Update

Wow, what a month.

We finally have built a platform and even better… we have people using the platform!

In fact, I’m sitting here 2 hours prior to when the first monthly automated payment is to be taken from our Entrepreneurs, with 80% being transferred to our Team Members and 20% to Virtual Valley, let’s hope it works.

This post will outline our progress through the launch and the initial feedback stages through to the start of our bootstrapped growth.

Who This Post Will Help:

  • Anyone about to launch their online business
  • Anyone in the process of building an online marketplace/SAAS business

How To Read This Post:

  • If you are a startup founder/internet business owner pressed for time, scan through the headings in the Table Of Contents below and review those relevant topics
  • If you are a normal person or just like stories, then settle in and enjoy the roller coaster

Goal Update

You will note a slight change in our goals since the December Update as we actually hit a couple before the launch date and I wanted to align them to the yearly calendar quarters. Here is our updated two year goal pyramid:

Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_Sheets

And here is a weekly breakdown of our progress thus far:Goal_Pyramid_-_Google_SheetsGuest Content Spots, Twitter Followers and Working Procedures have been awarded an orange RAG status as their progress has shown more promise than our MRR, Blog Subscriber and Blog Comment growth.

A Guest Content Spot can either be a guest post or a podcast interview, such as this slightly shaky one on Nathan Latka’s podcast.

A Working Procedure is simply the documentation of one of Virtual Valley’s processes, they have been built for all of the marketing activities that Zandro and his colleague Stephen undertake each day and will be created for other activities over the coming months. They retain process knowledge regardless of who is responsible and enable us to track improvements reliably.

Our Twitter following (for both @tomhuntio and @virtualvalleyio) has been growing steadily over the past couple of months but we will need to grow exponentially over the next two months in order to hit the 10k goal. In case you are curious, we discussed our tactics to grow from 2-5k followers in 2 months in Episode 12 of 0-$4 Million.

Which brings us nicely on to the Podcast…

iTunes #1

Yes, “0-$4 Million: A Startup’s Bootstrapped Journey To A Seven Figure-Exit” managed to hit the #1 New & Noteworthy spot in the Business Category of iTunes and #14 spot in the Overall New & Noteworthy spot on the iTunes Homepage.

All Of iTunes

The system we have built to produce the podcast takes up around 5 hours of my time (Tom) and costs approximately $30 for Zandro and Spartak’s time (our Russian podcast editor) per week, for 5, 10 minute daily episodes.

We have an upcoming guest post that outlines exactly how we built this system and how you can too, I will link from here when it is released.

I will also publish a full account of our launch plan that produced 258 downloads on launch day and propelled us to the top of iTunes with just a few hours of my time.

General_Stats__Liberated_Syndication_-_Libsyn

It also felt good to get some recognition from a podcasting legend:

Twitter___Notifications

Check out the upcoming 0-$4 Million Podcast Episode 019 to find out how we managed influence JLD to dropping this tweet.

Three Key Learnings

1. GUEST BLOG POSTS WILL NOT SEND YOU AN AVALANCHE OF TRAFFIC

Guest Blog Posts Will NOT Send You An Avalanche Of TrafficCLICK TO TWEET

Unless you land a post with a highly engaged blog that is the PERFECT fit for your favoured writing topic, style and product, do not expect an avalanche of traffic. This has been our experience.

Instead, we believe that the greater reward of guest blogging comes through the relationships that you develop with key influencer’s in your industry.

These connections could ultimately prove priceless in your journey to online business success and may prove to be so for Virtual Valley.

2. YOUR FIRST CUSTOMERS WILL NOT EXPECT YOU TO BE PERFECT

Your First Customers Will NOT Expect You To Be PerfectCLICK TO TWEET

Or if they do, you probably don’t want them to be your first customers.

We are starting to see this whole “build an online business” thing as more of a process as opposed to an event. Your marketplace or SAAS product should be un-recognisable from launch day to 365 days later as your product should exist in a continuous state of iteration.

Thus, do not be afraid to ship that risky feature for fear that your first customers will be upset and will leave, as you won’t know unless you try.

Just remember, ships were not built to be kept in the harbor and you will be surprised to see the effect of a simple apology on the mood of a disgruntled customer.

3. IF YOU HAVE FRIENDS, GETTING INTO ITUNES NEW & NOTEWORTHY IS NOT THAT HARD

If You Have Friends, Getting Into iTunes New & Noteworthy Is NOT That HardCLICK TO TWEET

Our promotion for 0-$4 Million consisted of:

  • Setting up a very clear and simple subscribe and review instruction page
  • Promising to mention people in the show that subscribe and review
  • Posting strategically in relevant Facebook Groups
  • Mailing the Virtual Valley and TomHunt.io lists
  • Pushing out to all of the Virtual Valley and our personal social channels
  • Hassling all of our personal networks, personally

Not rocket science hey, maybe you should start a podcast?

Three Key People

1. ANA HOFFMAN

Purely for this awesome tweet:

Feedback

And also because I have just drafted a 4.7k word post containing 42 Lessons’s From 42 Guest Blog Posts that I am hoping Ana will accept as a guest post on her awesome blog Traffic Generation Cafe.

2. SUJAN PATEL

For emailing me after I signed up to use his AWESOME tool Notifier asking if I wanted to jump on a Skype call to discuss content marketing.

Which we did and he gave me some awesome content marketing ideas for this blog and also invited me into his secret content marketing Slack community:

_82__Roundcube_Webmail____Inbox

3. ARTHUR RADKE

For being our second Entrepreneur on the platform to hire a Team Member, for putting up with all of our teething problems and for being an all-round legend.

So much so that he even agreed to be interviewed live in Episode 14 of 0-$4 Million to give his thoughts and feedback about his time with Virtual Valley to date, which fortunately were all positive and constructive.

Three Key Tools

1. OPTIMIZELY

Who would have thought that you increase the engagement rate on the Virtual Valley homepage by 7% simply by altering the sub-headline from:

“We Connect Virtual Entrepreneurs With Rockstar Virtual Assistants”

To:

“Hire An Awesome Virtual Assistant In 5 Minutes And 7 Clicks”

We would not have thought this if we had not had access to the FREE tool Optimizely, which enabled us to run split tests on any Virtual Valley page.

2. UPWORK

Though technically a competitor, we had to drop the guys at Upwork a mention as it would not have been possible to go from idea to implementation to top ranking in the iTunes New & Noteworthy with 0-$4 Million over just 1 month without them.

Our Russian podcast editor Spartak, was the first freelancer we tried for the podcast, he was flawless and we now manage and pay him through the the Upwork platform.

3. NOTIFIER

This free tool will save you a solid 30 minutes with every blog post that you promote, in fact shortly after finishing this post I will be using it to extract and reach out to each person mentioned in this post on Twitter, in an attempt to obtain those all important shares.

Three Key Focus Areas

1. CONVERSION FROM LEAD TO ACCOUNT

We average 3 leads per day generated through this blog and The Outsource Savings Calculator which are then placed on an autoresponder that educates each lead about outsourcing before suggesting that the Entrepreneur could create an account and “Get Hiring!”

Follow_Up_SeriesYou can see that we have favourable open rates (this is low on the first mail as it previous was a plain text mail and therefore was not tracked.), yet we still think there is considerable room for improvement in conversion from lead to creating an account.

This autoresponder will be expanded with step by step walkthroughs for the top 5 highest leverage tasks to outsource for any online business owner with the goal of increasing this conversion rate.

2. CONVERSION FROM ACCOUNT TO HIRE

Entrepreneurs can create a Virtual Valley account to enable them to post roles and message Team Members, but only validate their PayPal account and set up a pre-approved payment upon sending a Hire Request to a Team Member.

Once accepted the Entrepreneur can view the off-platform contact details of the Team Member and they can work together on external collaboration tools, with all time being tracked and data fed back to the Entrepreneur Dashboard. With total charges being taken from the Entrepreneur account at the end of the month.

We currently have 28 Entrepreneurs signed up (that are not friends), yet only 7 of these have hired and are working with Team Members, which is a an opportunity for improvement.

If anyone has experience with this type of CRO, please drop me a mail at tom@virtualvalley.io.

3. CONTENT CREATION

Through this blog and the podcast, we have built an awesome platform to disseminate content that can really add value to those on a similar online entrepreneurial journey, so would be doing ourselves and others a disservice if we were NOT to continue creating awesome content.

Though in particular, we need to focus on creating the content that our potential customers would consume prior to using the platform. Our ideal customer is a new online business owner that has just reached the point in their new venture where they can experience greater growth through investing their time in the high $ value tasks within their business.

Summary

This month has had it’s ups (podcast launch and they first few paying customers) and it’s downs (Team Members not able to track time due to anti virus software interfering with our time tracking software), but the learning lessons have been tremendous.

The ball is now in our court to take the foundation we have built to further bootstrap our own growth to a position that would enable us to calculate the following metrics reliably by the end of 2016:

  • Customer Acquisition Cost – How much it costs us to acquire an Entrepreneur
  • Lifetime Customer Value – How much a Entrepreneur is worth to us over the lifetime of their relationship with Virtual Valley

Once these metrics have been calculated, optimised and are favourable, we can take them along to potential investors to tell a compelling story about Virtual Valley.

We decided to share and document our goals so openly to inspire others to join us on a journey of their own AND also to gather feedback :)

Therefore, if you have any feedback or opinions on the goals stated above or even our method of achieving them, please Tweet us or leave a comment below.

And finally, if you think our journey will inspire anyone in your network it would be AWESOME if you could use the share buttons below to send a link their way, who knows the effect that it could have?

How To (Not) Launch A Startup

In This Post You Will Learn How To (Not) Launch A Startup: 9 Learnings From The Failed Launch Of Our New Platform: Virtual Valley.

Seeing as we are taking SO long to launch (initially estimated to be the start of October) AND that one of the three themes of this blog is Honesty

We decided to share the 9 key learnings from the past 3 months building up to the launch of Virtual Valley in a MEGA post, that will hopefully prevent anyone in a similar situation making the same mistakes that we have.

Who This Post Will Help:

  • All those people who have asked me “What Is Going On With Virtual Valley?
  • Anyone considering building and launching a business online
  • Anyone that wants to feel better about their decision not to invest time and resources into building and launching a business online

How To Read This Post:

  • If you are a startup founder/internet business owner pressed for time, scan through the headings in the Table Of Contents below and review those relevant
  • If you are a normal person or just like stories, then settle in and enjoy the rollercoaster

The Story

It all started around 6 months ago when I (Tom Hunt), was struggling to keep with the needs of the clients of an outsource service business I had started (we would provide awesome team members to startups in Europe and advise them on what/how to outsource).

As once this business grew to 6 separate clients, I no longer had time to work on my business as I was almost completely utilised focusing on theirs.

If you are a business owner I would highly recommend reading more about this here:

download

I needed to develop a solution that would still provide a high level of value (awesome virtual Team Members) whilst remaining scalable.

It seemed that moving away from a “Pipe” and towards a “Platform” business model was the only logical solution.

We initially decided to build a competitor to OnlineJobs.ph:

OJ-logo

Who do an awesome job of connecting Entrepreneurs with Filipino Virtual Assistants, where the Entrepreneur will pay a monthly flat fee to access the contact details of the VA’s. We felt that we could build a better user experience and a more curated database.

So where do you head when you want to create a piece of software and have no potential technical co-founders?

Freelancer marketplaces of course:

  • Upwork
  • Elance
  • PeoplePerHour
  • Guru
  • Freelancer

Which brings us to our first key learning…

The Importance Of The “Technical Co-Founder”

Allow us to introduce the “Principle-Agent Problem“, an effect realised when a party is able to make decisions on behalf of another party where their interests may not necessarily be aligned.

Thus, when heading to freelance marketplace websites to enlist the help of a company or individual to help you build your product, you may experience negative consequences from differing incentives.

Now, do not get me wrong, we enjoy a fantastic relationships with our technical team, yet in the future, I will be sure to invest more time in relationships with potential technical co-founders as I feel that a technical partner with the same level of incentive behind the success of the startup could lead to much greater results.

KEY LEARNING – UNDERSTAND THE INCENTIVES OF YOUR TEAM AND PARTNERS

 

Back to the story…

We headed to the various freelancer marketplaces listed above and created a job post with an aspirational title along the lines of:

“Wanted: Rockstar Dev Team To Build The Next Elance/Upwork/Guru”

Of course, with a title like that we were inundated with responses and immediately got to work screening, reviewing and setting up interviews with the promising candidates and judging on the following characteristics:

  • Portfolio
  • Understanding Of Vision
  • Value Offered In The Process
  • Price

Unsurprisingly, as a cash strapped startup we gave a greater weighting to the final of the four items whilst using the Lean Startup/MVP theory as a rationalisation for this approach.

Why invest more time/money than you have to prior to validating your idea?

We settled with an Egyptian developing partner (with MonkShimaa and Asmaa on functionality and Aly on design) to build our MVP with the initial estimations for the product (the OnlineJobs.ph clone) to be ready within 30 days, which would have been early September.

We agreed upon a price of $1,200, on the basis that I would provide design guidance…

Over to 99designs we go.

I posted a three web page contest outlining the idea behind the OnlineJobs.ph clone and opened it to their community and within hours had received a number of awesome designs.

Of which, this was our favourite:

attachment_58039355_png

We handed over to the developers then sat back and relaxed…

The Importance Of The Survey

We then decided to start thinking about what our customers actually wanted… always useful when creating a startup.

We then decided to start thinking about what our customers actually wanted…CLICK TO TWEET

We produced the survey below and shared with all of our previous clients and social network:

This doubled as a invaluable information gathering technique but also a marketing message:

“Tom and his team plan on releasing something new and interesting to this marketplace and actually care about what I want”

The survey revealed that the biggest problems faced by our audience were related to:

  • Finding Talent – Awesome, we were planning to building a far more curated database than OnlineJobs.ph
  • Trust – Interesting…

As with the competitors we were initially targeting: OnlineJobs.ph and EasyOutsource.com. Once you have hired a Virtual Assistant, you are left on your own to manage payments and the working relationship.

We then followed up with a number of the survey takers to understand that a payment escrow service could be of value.

More on this later…

KEY LEARNING – USE A SURVEY TO GATHER DATA ON WHAT YOUR CUSTOMERS WANT

 

The Importance Of Mentors

It was around this time that we discovered Clarity.fm:

logo-whiteonblue

An online marketplace that enables you to find and speak to business people on a pay-per-minute basis.

It is like a sweet shop for Entrepreneurs.

We spoke with the following people:

 

0_-m7HL3xJafurCEJNzxm6Q8YUw7gt_dvNzVA5i87B6IpAkHFVBYaXT6tq_a-

Khuram Malik

GAME CHANGING! Khuram spent 30 minutes questioning me on my previous business model and then we both ascertained that it would be possible to scale with a platform automating much of what we had been doing in the previous outsourcing business.

0_Fl0jZWigJkY9l5oDWN7aZoklJ8wMP_UD5nICZo__65xWuFuSwBfA9EcScaIQrks36tjiBSgFm6tm

Elad Bleistein

Elad was part of the early Fiverr marketing team so was able to provide GREAT marketing advice. He clarified the necessity for a strong brand story and clarity over the two metrics: Customer Acquisition Cost and Lifetime Customer Value.

S43_5308

Charis Rafailidis

Charis and I discussed centralisation of platforms, how it is important to provide greater value after a transaction to ensure “stickiness” and the necessity of policing the platform to ensure value is captured by Virtual Valley.

profile_pic

Nick Loper

Nick was a great soundboard to clarify how Virtual Valley was to differentiate from other online freelancer marketplaces. He also suggested we can list Team Member earnings on their profiles to incentivise them to continue using the platform.

picture

Shams Juma

Shams explained the importance of solving 1 single problem for customers REALLY WELL, and using powerful language in the marketing message to communicate this.

 

Combining the knowledge gathered from the Khuram call above AND from the initial survey of our previous customers and social network, we decided to pivot our business model away from the OnlineJobs.ph membership model to facilitate connections and then manage the transaction ourselves.

E.g. Virtual Valley would take the salary payments for Team Members (with a % uplift going to the platform) and would then pay the salaries of the Team Members.

This payment escrow service would provide value to both sides of the transaction as we would ensure that Team Member gets paid (if they have done the work) and that we were able to refund the Entrepreneur if they were not happy with the standard of the work.

Furthermore, with the advice from Charis, we decided that in order to incentivise Entrepreneurs to continue using the platform, that we should provide value after the transaction in the form of software.

Thus, we have built a time tracking application that each Team Member uses to track the their total time worked and a number of screenshots generated at random intervals per hour. All of which is logged in the system to be reviewed at leisure by the Entrepreneur, we will also use this data to invoice the Entrepreneur each month.

In total, we spent $397 on Clarity Calls, which (in theory) will be a small fraction of the increased revenue and impact to be made with the new business model and marketing learnings.

KEY LEARNING – SEEK ADVICE FROM WISE PEOPLE (EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM)

SEEK ADVICE FROM WISE PEOPLE (EVEN IF YOU HAVE TO PAY THEM)CLICK TO TWEET

 

The Importance Of Clear Communication

Everything seems to be going awfully smoothly right?

Well not for much longer.

Another advantage of having a technical co-founder (assuming they are in your location and speak your language) is that communication will be MUCH more effective.

We believe that if a person has trouble understanding what you are saying, it is your fault, not theirs.

If a person has trouble understanding what you are saying, it is your fault, not theirs.CLICK TO TWEET

Thus, when we failed to explain the change in business model to our wonderful development team, it was our fault.

And, frustratingly this didn’t come to light until around the original completion date, triggering an uplift in the payment required and an increase in timescales.

KEY LEARNING – HAVE PEOPLE REPEAT IMPORTANT CONCEPTS BACK TO YOU AFTER EXPLAINING

 

The Importance Of “Doing Things That Don’t Scale”

Due to the nature of the platform that we were building (connecting Entrepreneur with awesome Team Members) and the fact that we needed a highly curated database to differentiate from competitors, we knew that we had to manually recruit the first batch of Team Members.

After reading Topgrading by Brad Smart, we designed an extensive 5 stage recruitment process to ensure we only enlisted the BEST onto the supply side of the platform.

41NbXA9CcyL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_

This is one example of “doing things that don’t scale“.

Fortunately, this also enabled us to get REALLY good at recruiting awesome Team Members, which led us to be able to spot the potential of Zandro:

9m9Qv9cJ

and Dowell:

uG-ZXEmD

Who both joined the internal Virtual Valley team to help operate and grow the platform.

We have a spreadsheet that we use to assess each different Team Member, pop your email here and we will send you a copy (no spamming).

Furthermore, we also started to get requests from ex clients and people from within our social network to commence with the Virtual Valley service prior to the platform going live.

Thus, Zandro, expertly understood their requirements and set them up with interviews with the database of Team Members we had been building:

image1Alex – Video Magneticimage2Christoffer – Nettly

(Great work Zandro)

Again, this is an activity that will not scale but will provide excellent testimonials, us the chance to perfect our processes and will catalyse the spread of the most powerful form of marketing: word of mouth.

KEY LEARNING – AMAZE YOUR FIRST CUSTOMERS

 

The Importance Of Guest Posting

After the business model shift and a few changes of personnel in the development team, we still had a number of weeks to go before the launch…

With a number of years online marketing experience with previous sites, I always used to think that guest posting was a waste of time, until I learned that it was the main reason behind the growth of Buffer.

I used to think guest posting was a waste, then I learnt that it was behind @Buffer’s growth.CLICK TO TWEET

So, I learnt how to do it properly and managed to secure a total of 13 guest posts, including some pretty big spots within a couple of weeks:

Note that all of these posts exist on blogs that are popular with our potential customer.

Here is the tracker that we use to manage our guest blogging activities and here is The Ultimate Guest Post Submission Email Template we use to reach out to blogs, feel free to download a copy of each.

KEY LEARNING – GUEST BLOG POSTS CAN BE AWESOME FREE ADVERTS

 

The Importance Of Relationships

There are a number of people out there in the world that could be responsible for making (or breaking) your business. As startup founder or business owner, it is your job to find them…

And to more importantly make friends. Guest blogging is awesome for this, through providing guest blog posts I now have relationships with Cody McKibbenJohn JanschJeff Bullas and who knows, we may collaborate with them in the future.

On a more personal note, I was recommended by a mutual connection to speak with a young student that was looking for an internship with a startup.

After a quick chat, we brought Jose and partner Izaskun onto the team to design and develop the Outsource Savings Calculator:

 

(We will create a whole post on why we built this tool and how we are using it as a lead magnet for Virtual Valley in the very near future)

This would not have been possible without developing the relationship with the mutual connection that introduced us.

KEY LEARNING – HELP PEOPLE THAT COULD POTENTIALLY HELP YOU (BUT DON’T EXPECT IT)

 

The Importance Of Backups

Launch day arrives…

We are just finalising a couple of design fixes and testing out the payment service and time tracking software.

And then it happens…

I foolishly enable the access of a contractor for another project to my hosting account in order to complete a small fix.

He accidentally deletes EVERYTHING.

But it’s fine, Hostgator keep weekly backups of all of their shared hosting accounts right?

HostGator_Billing_Support_System

Wrong.

(Though, in their defence, they are not required to per the service we had purchased)

Fortunately the development team had a full backup of the functional code behind the site, we had no method to recover any of the .html or .css code for the user interface we had painstakingly crafted.

An obvious lesson, yet one that needs repeating (if only for our own benefit).

KEY LEARNING – BACKUP EVERYTHING YOU HAVE (REGULARLY)

 

The Importance Of Understanding What Is Important

At Virtual Valley, we believe that the purpose of a business is to provide value to it’s shareholders and opportunity for growth and security to it’s employees and partners

In other words, the business is here to serve us, not the other way around.

Therefore, when catastrophe’s such as those listed above occur, it is important to reflect on what is truly important.

On this occasion, it translated into talking with and understanding the needs of the parties involved and not forcing them over work themselves in order to recover what we had lost.

A number of our development team had family or other pressing commitments around the time that we lost our code, so we ensured that they received their payment on time and did not push them to work despite the platform not being live.

This may not produce desirable results in the short term but will almost certainly lead to developing a more productive and healthy team over time.

KEY LEARNING – A BUSINESS IS BUILT TO SUPPORT YOU, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUND

A BUSINESS IS BUILT TO SUPPORT YOU, NOT THE OTHER WAY AROUNDCLICK TO TWEET

Now, we are aware that this post does not show the glossy launch numbers of other startups, a glamorous growth curve or smiling team members.

But what we hope that this post does communicate… is the bare bones reality of a startup trying to bootstrap their MVP with a remote team.

And though, it has been a stressful and over budget experience…

We wouldn’t have it any other way.

4 months on and we are FINALLY about to launch Virtual Valley.

If you have any questions regarding the above lessons or would like to know how they could apply to your startup/business, drop a comment in the box below and we will be touch to see if we can help.

UPDATE: VIRTUAL VALLEY IS NOW LIVE AND YOU CAN NOW 

CREATE AN ENTREPRENEUR ACCOUNT

What Is Going On With Virtual Valley?

In This Post You Will Learn What Is Going On With Virtual Valley, What Is Virtual Valley And How This Blog Will Help You.

In true Lean Startup style we have opened up the platform to a number of close friends and acquaintances whilst we iron out our final development issues.

However, I will take this opportunity to explain more about Virtual Valley, our mission and what to expect from Virtual Velocity (the Virtual Valley Blog).

What Is Virtual Valley?

Virtual Valley is an online marketplace that connects Entrepreneurs with Rockstar Virtual Team Members that will bring clarity and security to the outsourcing process.

Once an Entrepreneur has found a Team Member from our curated database (we are just starting with General Virtual Assistant Roles), he/she is able to hire the Team Member through the platform with Virtual Valley acting as a payment escrow.

This enables either side of the transaction to be refunded if:

a. The Entrepreneur is not satisfied with the work of the Team Member

b. The Entrepreneur is not able to pay for the work of the Team Member

We believe this will bring security to the outsourcing process.

Furthermore, once the Entrepreneur and the Team Member are working together, the Entrepreneur will be able to log into the platform and review the following data:

  • Total Time Worked
  • Total Active Time Working
  • 6 Screenshots Taken At Random Intervals Each Hour

We believe this will bring clarity to the outsourcing process.

Now, feel free to head over to our great competitors:

OJ-logo

Onlinejobs.ph have a considerably larger database of virtual assistants than we do, though we pride ourselves on our curation.

Furthermore, Onlinejobs.ph offer a monthly membership to access the contact details of their database, they do not provide a payment escrow service.

And I am sure you are aware of Upwork, a great marketplace with even better branding:

upwork-logo-1200

Virtual Valley has differentiated from this giant by focussing only on longer term roles and not project based work. From our outsourcing experience we believe that greater returns are experienced once the relationship between the Entrepreneur and Team Member has had time to mature.

In order to recoup some of the value that Virtual Valley provides to both sides of it’s marketplace, we charge a 15% uplift on the salaries of our Team Members, with average full time monthly salaries (including the Virtual Valley charge) equating to $450-$600 depending on the level of experience of the Team Member.

What Is Your Mission?

We aim to give Entrepreneurs back 1 million hours of their time by the year 2018.

We believe that many people become Entrepreneurs to increase the level freedom they experience. However, more often than not, Entrepreneur become trapped working in their business and actually experience less freedom than they could have achieved through a 9-5 job.

This needs to change.

And by adding clarity and security to the outsourcing process, we believe that we can.

Why Should I Read The Virtual Valley Blog?

Inspired by the great content marketers of our time (Dan NorrisNeil Patel and the team over at the Buffer Blog), we are going to turn Virtual Velocity into a must read for any online business owner.

It is of upmost importance that when providing content as a business, that you have business goals in mind.

Yes, it is great to help people but your ability to do so is compounded when you are able to do so profitably.

Thus, I was left with the dilemma:

Do we just blog about outsourcing?

Albeit relevant to potential customers, but not necessarily a “hot topic”.

So, the content we will provide on Virtual Velocity will sit within 3 categories:

  • Growth – Tom, our Founder and CEO has 3 years experience of building and growing online businesses on a shoestring. And after all, what does a virtual business do when it grows? Hires virtual staff…
  • Outsourcing – Prior to being Virtual Valley, we were StartOut Consulting, an outsource service company serving startups in London with awesome Team Members from the Philippines. We learnt a lot and will be sharing outsourcing best practices on Virtual Velocity.
  • Honesty – We love the book Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton, so will be a living, breathing example of this book.

What would you do with an extra 8 hours per day?

UPDATE: VIRTUAL VALLEY IS NOW LIVE AND YOU CAN

 CREATE AN ENTREPRENEUR ACCOUNT HERE