Welcome to our founder lessons series.
This week, Sam Wilson shares how he successfully launched Virtalent.
What is Virtalent?
Virtalent is a Virtual Assistant service that helps busy entrepreneurs to better leverage their time. Virtalent’s team of Virtual Assistants provide PA, marketing or customer service support to give business owners the clarity and focus they need to sustainably (and enjoyably!) scale up their companies.
Clients take out a flexible monthly subscription for either 10, 20, 40 or 60 hours allowing them to focus on value-adding tasks, rather than the admin associated with running a business. Essentially, we help business owners work on their company and not in it.
Why and how did you start your company
I started Virtalent with my Co-Founder, Ellie, after we came across the Virtual Assistant (VA) industry by chance. We were researching the different types of support that entrepreneurs can access when they’re looking to grow.
There are task marketplaces, however most providers are offshore and so language barriers and cultural differences can be a different. This leads to mixed results – either the project goes very well, or it goes very poorly! The bidding model also means success in the market is based largely on price alone, resulting in “who can do this the cheapest” mentality. This a race to the bottom.
There are also agencies, however most agencies are expensive and largely cater to larger, more established teams with big budgets and not for small businesses (especially those just starting out).
This leaves hiring an employee. But, again, a smaller business is unlikely going to want to make this significant financial and legal commitment.
They want a convenient, risk-free way to access the high quality talent they need to grow their companies.
We then encountered Virtual Assistant industry. This seemed to tick many boxes, but we found that these companies still seemed to be lacking in high-quality long-term support. Most of the industry in the UK and US is composed of freelancers with little experience and so the quality varies greatly. Even larger companies seemed far too focused on completing millions of tasks, rather than servicing clients in a more tailored, personable way.
We realised there was a gap in the market. Small businesses need reliable, experienced individuals to help them scale their businesses, but they also want to hire these people easily and affordably.
We wanted to go beyond what our competitors were offering by providing a more tailored solution to their needs, but still at a competitive rate. We chose to disrupt the industry for the better.
Today, our team of 40 now has an average 17 years of experience, the majority having worked at large blue-chip companies. They can really add value to our clients’ companies.
What have been your biggest success factors
We’re fortunate to have a few successes. Virtalent has been featured in national press, notably The Sunday Times and The Mail on Sunday and we have won entrepreneurship awards from RBS NatWest and Santander.
I consider one of the biggest successes of the company to be when we are approached by companies such as Black and White Hospitality, the restaurant company owned by Marco Pierre White and Countrywide, which is the largest property company in the UK. The fact that these well-known brands put their faith in our team of Virtual Assistants to deliver high quality PA and administration support is one of our biggest successes at Virtalent.
What are the biggest challenges you have faced launching and running the company
When you first start a company, there can be a lot of noise that can cloud your judgement or take you off the path you’re heading down. Everyone has an opinion and you’re inclined to follow it when you’re new to the entrepreneurship game, often to your detriment.
Now that I’m older and wiser, I’m more self-assured and I understand that the only opinion I should trust when it comes to Virtalent is my own. Now that I’m running the company 5 years later, one challenge I find is setting priorities. My role has changed from launching Virtalent where you need to wear many hats just to get the business off the ground.
Nowadays my focus is trying to scale the company and creating the right strategies to devise and follow. It’s a challenge, but an enjoyable one where I’m still learning all the time!
Which do you think is most important: the right market, the right product, or the right team?
Of course all three are important, but I’d say the right product or, in our case, the right service is the most important.
A sustainable and profitable business focuses on solving a problem. You can have access to your market and have thousands of customers at your fingertips, as well as have an unbelievable team behind you to deliver on all fronts, but if you or your team can’t offer the right product or service to your customer, you’ll find that your business won’t grow and will eventually fail.
You need to solve a real problem to thrive.
6. Final words for those chasing the startup dream
Trust your gut and your instincts. If a decision doesn’t feel right, that probably means that it isn’t. It can be easy to be led astray by “experts”, but you are the biggest expert when it comes to your company.
Whilst it is important to surround yourself with smart, like-minded individuals; your journey and your experience is not their journey and their experience. Take nuggets of wisdom that you can apply to your business, but your own failings will be the biggest learning opportunity you can access as an entrepreneur.