EFP 159: Tracking A Virtual Assistant Startup
Building a startup from scratch can be challenge enough, but it’s even more difficult when you’re working with a team overseas.
In this episode, we sit down with Tom Hunt from VirtualValley.io to discuss his experiences in working with an offshore team and to look at what he’s building to help other entrepreneurs. I also asked him to share some tips that might help our listeners when working with virtual assistants.
Two Peas in the Pod – The Journey to Mastering Hiring & Training Virtual Assistants
Tom’s story isn’t so different from ours and we both have plenty of experience working with staff from the Philippines. I was impressed with his transparent approach to his startup – documenting his journey through monthly reports, openly talking about his failures (and successes) on his podcast, etc.
If you’ve hired or are looking to hire offshore this is probably a good episode for you. Aside from that, we also talk about our personal experiences in the Philippines and dig into his numbers – I think you’ll dig the show!
Check Out This Week’s Episode:
Direct Download – Right Click, Save As
Topics Discussed This Week:
- Building A 2-Sided Marketplace
- Business Partnerships
- The Transparency Effect
- Hiring Virtual Staff
- Tom Hunt @ Virtual Valley
- Listing # 40537 an Adsense Site In The Entertainment Niche
- 0-$4 Million Podcast by Tom Hunt
- Virtual Staff Finder
- Virtual Staff Finder
- WP Curve
- Technical Co-Founder
- Meet Edgar
- Tropical MBA
- Derek Sivers @ CD Baby
- Tom Hunt
- Schedule a Call with Joe
- Blog Post How to Monetized A Crazy Business Idea
Spread the Love:
“It’s great to do things that the big boys in your space either won’t or can’t do.” – Justin – Tweet This!
Did you enjoy this episode? Head over to iTunes and leave us a review. We’d appreciate it and will mention on an upcoming episode!
Justin: Welcome to the Empire Podcast episode 159. Having run an outsourcing company, Joe and I are familiar with the hassles and problems that can come with hiring and managing an outsource team. In today’s episode we’re going to sit down with Tom Hunt from Virtualvalley.io to get his thoughts on outsourcing, scaling, and his process for partnering and building out a double-sided marketplace in the virtual staff space.
You can find the show notes and all links discussed in this episode at empireflippers.com/virtualvalley. All right, let’s do this.
Audio: Sick of listening to entrepreneurial advice from guys with day jobs? Want to hear about the real successes and failures that come with building an online empire? You are not alone. From San Diego to Tokyo, New York to Bangkok, join thousands of entrepreneurs and investors who are prioritizing wealth and personal freedom over the oppression of an office cubicle. Check out the Empire Podcast. And now your hosts, Justin and Joe.
Justin: All right, Joe, you and I both know that the virtual assistant industry is still pretty fractured and the problems have not been solved. You and I have worked primarily in the outsourcing industry. We know it really well, so it’s really interesting to talk to you, someone that’s heading into the space and looking to make some changes to it.
Joe: Yeah, you know, you always say, Justin, that knowing what we know now, that we could definitely attack that area better, but I still say to you that it would be a business that I would hate to do. I just don’t-
Justin: You don’t like it. I think your problem with it was, and tell if I’m wrong man, or expand on it if you need to, but I think your problem with it was we’re always doing work for someone else’s business, so it was always like a marginal business. We were always a small piece of someone else’s company. We didn’t get some of the upside and we had all the downside in the case of them dropping us. It just didn’t feel like we has something of our own going on.
Joe: Yeah, I always say it’s a middleman problem. I guess a broker could be considered a middleman, too, but really with the outsourcing company it’s all about price, it’s very little about quality, and yeah, I guess you could attack it that same way we’ve attacked that [inaudible 00:02:05] with the content marketing and whatnot, but I still think that it’s not the kind of business that excites me in the morning. I can’t imagine doing sales calls and trying to sell people on 10 agents or 15 agents to some kind of godawful who knows back office thing.
Justin: Out of all the requests we get from people to do, I want to build the next Facebook, but it should be kind of like LinkedIn, and like, “What, dude? No, we can’t do that.” I think the virtual assistant industry is really getting commoditized, right. So, you have marketplaces that are like Upwork that are pretty helpful, and they’ve really done a good job I think of consolidating just a ton of virtual assistants for people to choose from, but they don’t really address the quality problem. They do have kind of a rating system, but it’s not terribly helpful and they do any kind of vetting, and that’s one of the things Tom from Virtual Valley’s looking to do, is he vets the agents; he offers training and qualification process, which I think is helpful.
Joe: That’s really cool. I’d like to know how that works.
Justin: Yeah, and he also has the problem, and we talked about this a little bit on the interview, where he has the two-sided marketplace issue, right? He needs to both find virtual assistants willing to do it and qualified to work for the customers he finds, and then the entrepreneurs and businesses that need those services. So it’s like chicken and egg problem. Who do you start with? So we get into how he solved that where he found which side of the market was the hardest to acquire.
One of the cools things about him and his business, he’s taken the transparent route. So, on his blog he talks about exactly how much money he’s making, how many customers he has, what his churn problem is, where that’s at and how he’s looking to address that, so he’s very transparent in kind of his business process. For those couple of reasons, I mean, the double-sided marketplace and his transparency, I thought it’d be really interesting to talk to someone early in his entrepreneurial career and talk about where he’s at and what he’s working on.
Joe: Yeah, that sounds really cool. I mean, obviously his transparency has worked very well for us and it’d be interesting to see how he’s able to translate that into the outsourcing business.
Justin: Yeah. We also get some tips from him in terms of how to hire virtual assistants, training them, keeping them on board, and he introduces a new service he has. It’s basically like an all-inclusive WP Curve model to virtual assistance, which he’s calling Tina, and where basically the entrepreneur can work on Slack and make any requests via Slack, and then the agents will get to work on that for you, and it’s like an all-you-can-eat thing.
So I don’t think he’s launched that yet, or he’s close to it, but I think that’s a pretty interesting offering he’s working on.
Joe: Yeah, that does sound very interesting, and a good way to communicate directly with the VAs but also have them managed at the same time.
Justin: All right, man, before we do that, let’s get into the featured listing of the week. What are we looking at, buddy?
Joe: We’re talking about listing 40537. This is primarily an AdSense website in the entertainment niche. Specifically it’s about quizzes and you know, those kind of online viral quizzes that you do. It has a large social media following and a big email list. Those were both obviously included in the sale. It makes just over $1,500 a month net profit, and we have it listed just shy of $53,000.
You know, it’s been very steady. It was doing really well back in early 2015. It slid down a bit since then, but it has been steady for the last 12 months. I think it would be a good kind of passion project for someone or someone looking to diversify their portfolio a little bit into the AdSense arena that’s getting a lot of its traffic from social media.
Justin: So I see it’s got a Facebook of around 180,000 likes. Does most of the traffic come from Facebook? How does he get the customers, how does he get people, get the users or the visitors over?
Joe: Yeah, most of it’s driven via social media.
Justin: Cool man, and then the whole goal with this is to create new quizzes, those funny Facebook quizzes, the silly ones, the BS ones, basically that my girlfriend fills out all the time?
Joe: Exactly, yeah. There’s a lot of that. There’s over 700 pieces of content on the site right now. He has a process for that and that would obviously be taught to you as the buyer, and that’s the kind of thing that, well, you don’t know which one’s going to go viral. If you produce enough of them, you have a good catch and a good possibility to go ahead and do well.
Justin: Side note, man. I filled out one. By the way, I don’t like those questions. I generally don’t like them, but I see people on Facebook all the time, they fill them out. I finally filled one out because I thought it was kind of silly and fun and I was waiting at the airport and had nothing better to do. So I fill it out and it was like, what percentage good and what percentage bad are you? So I was 2% good and 98% bad. My girlfriend was cracking up laughing at me. So I was like, “This just makes up numbers, man. I don’t like this.”
Joe: Yeah, it’s interesting. I don’t know how they exactly come up with the math there. It’s not our valuation tool, let’s put it that way, but it is interesting from the viral piece of content format, and if you can bring it down to a little bit of a formula and you can make it work on the regular basis then this is the kind of social site that brings some diversity to, if you have other sites that are organic or paid traffic, this could diversify your portfolio, for sure.
Justin: Cool man. Making just over $1,500 bucks a month, average monthly net profit, listed just over $50,000. Again, if you’re interested in this one, it is listing 40537 and there’ll be a link to that in the show notes. All right, buddy, let’s get into the heart of this week’s episode.
Audio: Now for the heart of this week’s episode.
Justin: I’m really excited to have Tom Hunt from Virtualvalley.io on the show today. He studied chemistry in London, sold male leggings through his site, he’s been a TedEx speaker, a Dragon’s Den dropout and host of the $0-4 Million podcast. Tom, it’s great to have you on the show, man.
Tom Hunt: Hello, Justin. Yeah, it’s a pleasure to be here because as you know, I am a listener of the podcast.
Justin: It’s great to have listeners on. It’s great to have other podcasters on because you’ve already got the mic set up, you know how to talk, you know how to kind of get through. You’re not terribly nervous. All right, man. Let’s do a little bit of intro on background. Can you give us the 60-second kind of spiel on your up-and-coming entrepreneurial career?
Tom Hunt: Sure, yeah. So, from year zero of Tom to year 22, I don’t I really did anything entrepreneurial. Then I was on a bus on the way home from a Halloween party, and in the previous eight years of my life I’d been through school, I’d been through university, and I was now working for Ernst and Young, one of the big four accounting companies. We were just coming back from a Halloween party, me and my good friend, and we were wearing tights to this party because is fancy dress. And we thought we looked good and we were definitely very comfortable, and then as a joke I said to him, “We should sell these, but for men.” Obviously leggings, not tights, though, because tights are somewhat see-through.
Usually stupid business ideas, from my experience, end up were just nothing. They get forgotten about, but this was slightly different because a week later we were on a trendy market in East London selling female leggings that we’d actually purchased from eBay, drew on, and I’d branded them by just drawing on our logo that was male, and then we were trying to sell them for about $22 in US dollars. And we had 18 pairs in stock on this market.
Now, I’m going to ask you, Justin, how many do you think we sold?
Justin: Couple of hundred.
Tom Hunt: So, we had just 18 in stock. We actually ended up selling zero pairs.
Tom Hunt: Now, I bring this up though because it was a real turning point in my entrepreneurial story because three months after that market we sold our first pair of actual male leggings that we got designed especially to someone that we didn’t know. It was ever since then, that was March 2013, that I’ve just been sort of immersing myself in online entrepreneurship and online marketing, which I think ultimately brings us to where we are speaking together today.
Justin: Yeah, let’s talk about that a bit. I’d love to have this be a story about your e-commerce career in men’s leggings, but that’s not really what you’re working on today. You’re pretty early in the journey and you’re documenting your journey much like GrooveHQ, much like we’ve done, like Pat Flynn with monthly reports. Letting people inside in terms of how much money you’re making, where your business stands, mistakes you’ve made, which I think is really fascinating. That’s one of the reasons I want to talk to you, and you’ve got a podcast, the $0-4 Million podcast where you are documenting your journey to building a company to $4 million, and that company is Virtual Valley.
Tell us a little bit about what Virtual Valley. I think it’ll help to kind of shape the conversation and questions I can ask you.
Tom Hunt: Yeah. Virtual Valley is the second iteration of an outsourcing company I set up to leave the corporate world. So, I set up a very manual outsource service company where I was connecting startups in London with people in a team I formed in the Philippines. I was very much involved in the process and with not working on my system. I was working in their system. So I decided to stop delivering and marketing that after I left the corporate world, and have since built a more automated system, which is basically a marketplace that connects entrepreneurs and virtual assistants. We manage the transaction and provide software to help track and a payment [inaudible 00:10:57] service to give security around the relationship.
Justin: It’s interesting. As you know, we ran an outsourcing company previously and it was a very service-based business, and a lot of the work you’re doing is custom. You’re having to change your process to match those of your clients, and that’s challenging. It’s a challenging company to run and we ran into challenges where we’d take on projects that we thought we might be able to do but we’d have to kind of figure it all out and it required just a ton of Joe and I’s time, and just learning their processes.
And so, what you’re trying to do is take this outsourcing service and turn it into a productized service, what we call them. So basically you have the same thing for everyone. They can order from you and it’s much more scalable. It’s a lot easier for you to run. What separates you from let’s say, a virtual staff finder or from Upwork or something like that?
Tom Hunt: So, very similar to Upwork in that you can hire through the platform and we manage the salary and the payments, but our main key differentiator from those large marketplaces is the fact that we have a curated database. So you can go to Upwork, search for virtual assistant, and have 12,000 responses and have to sort through. We’ve personally recruited each and every virtual assistant on the marketplace. We actually only have I think it’s 84 virtual assistants on the platform at the moment, but it means when you do find someone you can be pretty confident that they are good and you can actually come onto the platform and hire someone very quickly.
Justin: Cool, okay. So, I got a grasp. You got this dual-sided marketplace where you need … you’re both curating the agents, the virtual assistants, and then having people sign on and they’re able to hire them and work with them, and you’ve got kind of your two markets that you’re serving there. The plan is to get this up to a $4 million business. I think you want to exit at $4 million, is that correct?
Tom Hunt: That is a goal I have set. Now, whether we still or I still want to do that when we have the business at that size is probably another question, but currently yes, that is the goal.
Justin: It’s funny how that changes, too, right? You get to the point where you have a $4 million business and you’re like, “I don’t know if I’m really big enough. We’re still growing. We grew a quarter over the last three quarters. Is it still worth it or should I keep going?” It’s interesting how your cash-out number changes over time. But let me ask you a bit about where you’re at today.
So, you want to build a $4 million company. You’re still relatively early in that process. Like, how much did you make, let’s say, last month in April.
Tom Hunt: So, launched January, and I’ll just give you the revenue figures for the actual platform. We take 20% of the salary that passes through the platform. So, launched in January, and month on month we’ve just increased. It’s pretty small at the moment. January I think the platform made $200, then it was $500, then $700, then last month, in the month of April, we made $1,500. That’s including some sponsorship for the podcasts, though, at about $500, so the platform actually made $1,000 in April.
Justin: Cool, and then you’ve been marketing the hell out of this. You have a podcast, you were just knocking them out. I was looking back at your episodes. You were doing like one a day about that. That’s a lot. And you’ve been guests on other podcasts. There’s posts all around talking about it, so you’re doing a really good job I think marketing it, but you’ve had some business struggles, and you talk about that on the blog, too.
Recently you were talking about some churn that you’ve had. You’ve been talking about hiring a technical co-founder. We’re going to get into all that in the interview here, but first let’s talk about just the fact that you’re building a two-sided marketplace. Now, this is really challenging, especially when you’re starting off. You get to a point later on where you two sides that you’re selling to and there are network effects and it’s really valuable and beneficial, but getting it off the ground is challenging because you both have to sell the virtual assistants to get on the platform and then you have to sell the fact that you’ve got these, it’s a chicken and egg problem which like, you need the agents first but if there are no jobs for them they don’t really want to join. So, getting started with this, did you look for the agents first? How did you kind of get the ball rolling?
Tom Hunt: There’s a book called Platform Scale by a guy called Sangeet Choudary, who is one of the forefront thinkers on double-sided marketplaces in the world, and he says, or he said in a blog post maybe on his blog, that in order to address the chicken or the egg problem, you need to artificially build the side of the marketplace which is easier to bring. So, we spent three months recruiting virtual assistants, as I thought, and I believe it’s true, it’s actually easier to bring virtual assistants to the marketplace. They’re all looking for work.
So we recruited I think it was 57 virtual assistants to the marketplace before we launched, so that when the harder to side to bring the marketplace, the entrepreneurs, came, they would find someone and they would be happy, and we wouldn’t waste any of that marketing investment to bring them to the platform.
Justin: It sounds to me like the side of the market that you thought would be easier to bring on was pretty clear. With us, we thought it would be sellers that would be much easier, website sellers would be easier to bring on and the buyers would be more challenging, and what we found is the exact opposite, which is funny.
We spent last year really trying to hammer our sellers because inventory for us was the more challenging piece but it’s really important. If we have the sellers, we can get the buyers, but we’re not getting the buyers no matter what without the sellers, right? So it was interesting. We were totally wrong, but now it’s changes a bit this year, 2016, probably because we spent a year really pushing to get the sellers on board, so now we’ve finally got them and now I’m trying to build both.
So, it was apparent to you getting started that you needed the virtual assistants first. Was there a selling angle? Did you have to sell the virtual assistants on the platform to get started or were they just pretty much happy to sign up and check it out.
Tom Hunt: Yes, people were happy to sign up but we still wanted to sell to everybody that came through that recruitment process, because probably the most crucial factor of the success of this marketplace, I believe, is the quality of the virtual assistants that we have. So, all of the people that we did attract to that recruitment process, we wanted to ensure that we got the best that we possibly could. So we were selling to everybody, but finding the 84 also that we have on the platform now, it wasn’t hard.
Justin: So, Airbnb kind of hacked theirs, right? They went to Craig’s List and just started hammering people on Craig’s List and that was kind of their hack to getting started. Did you find anything? Were you recruiting off Upwork or were you … How did you find it works? Did you go to the Philippines? Do you have someone on the ground doing doughnuts and rice to come to a meeting? What did you do there?
Tom Hunt: As I started the development of the platform I hired a manager in the Philippines from Onlinejobstop.ph, actually, which is an awesome site. Slightly different business model to us, but ever since, he’s been responsible for the supply side. So, he recruited all those 57 that we came on when we launched. There was two interviews in the process and the second one I did 60% of. He was responsible for recruitment. I know he did put ads on Onlinejobstop.ph, and the freelancer marketplaces. I also know he put ads on a local site within the Philippines within the city that he’s from.
Justin: That’s cool. What city is he from, by the way? I’m curious.
Tom Hunt: Davao City.
Justin: Oh, Davao, okay, great. Next time I’m there I’ll have to stop in. But yeah, we’ve got a crew in Davao ourselves. It’s a really great place. Have you been there?
Tom Hunt: I was actually there two days ago, yeah.
Justin: Oh yeah, you were just telling me you were in the Philippines. Awesome man, yeah. So you got to meet up with him, I’m sure you got to meet up with your crew. This is a side note, I guess, but do they have a dance prepared for you? I know that sounds weird, but did they have one?
Tom Hunt: No, it’s very funny. They didn’t have a dance. I did have an amazing day in his family home, though, when I was just sat at the dining table all day chatting, and they were just like supplying me with food. Every single thing that I could ever dream of. It was amazing.
Justin: That sounds about right. Filipinos, yeah, the food is huge. My girlfriend’s Filipino and we have someone over, a buddy, and if I don’t offer him food right away she’s like, “What, you’re so rude. What are you doing?” So yeah, anyway, Davao, an amazing place. I’m glad you got to visit.
The dancing thing, I just mentioned that too, it sounded kind of weird, but Joe went there the first time or maybe the second time, years and years ago, and they prepared a dance. They did like this speech thing and the whole team had done this choreographed dance. Dancing is just a huge thing in the Philippines, like a routine type dance, and Joe thought it was the oddest thing, but it was awesome. They’d put this work into it and had the team’s shirts on and stuff, and he just thought it was kind of crazy but pretty cool that they-
Tom Hunt: I’m going to request a dance next time I go.
Justin: You should. You should get the dance for your team. All right, man. So coming back to the double-sided marketplace. So you hired someone on the ground in the Philippines in Davao. That’s smart, by the way, because they’re able to not just hit up the main ones like Upwork or Onlinejobs.ph, but also the smaller, lesser known places. Also, like go and hang posters up, right, and actually recruit people that way. So that’s pretty smart.
So you started getting the people on board. What was the sales pitch to handling the other side of the market? How did you get your first customers?
Tom Hunt: I spent a lot of time thinking about this as the platform was being developed, and I actually have two phases to marketing. So phase one, we’re still really in phase one. The goal of phase one is just to bring a trickle of entrepreneurs to the platform so we can handle them, we can build a relationship with each of them, and so that we can then gather the feedback before we scale up and really open the tap, so to say, for phase two.
In order to get that trickle we’ve just focused on SEO content and social media. That includes podcast interviews like this, it includes the 50 or so guest blog posts I’ve done in the past four months, includes hammering Twitter every day, it includes putting content on our own blog that’s targeted and getting influencers to share that.
So, that is how I brought this trickle of customers that’s taken us to the $1,000 revenue mark. We are in the process of getting their feedback and then I’m ggt bring technical co-founder in to incorporate that feedback into improvements to the platform, so then we can move to phase two.
Justin: I think you’re still figuring the product out, right? I saw recently on a post you talked about you had 30% churn, which is not good. Your customers were leaving, and so, it probably just means, well, that could be multiple things. One of them might just be you’re not putting on the right customers or attracting, you’re not connecting with the right customers.
Another thing is I know you’re testing out different products, and one of them I thought was interesting, was kind of the Slack virtual assistant, almost like the WP Curve model but done through Slack. We use Slack on our team. It’s awesome. So I could see that kind of being interesting, it’s like 200 bucks a month or something?
Tom Hunt: Yeah, it’s a completely separate business model and when I brought the technical co-founder on, Will, we thought instead of getting the feedback and improving Virtual Valley, why don’t we just try out this little idea that we had. It went from idea to having 30 Slack teams using Tina at the moment within three weeks. I’m going to create a whole post explaining exactly what happened there. It’s really interesting. There’s been a great response to that. So we they now have to sit down and decide where we want to invest our time and money into each of those projects.
Justin: That’s one of the big challenges in entrepreneurship, right. There’s plenty of ideas you could chase, right? You go after this, you go after that, but which one is the best use of your time? Which one will you not be wasting, you’re going to make mistakes and you’re going to go after losers, and you’re going to go after one that was a good idea that just ends up failing, but you know, just one anecdotal response. I mean, I think that’s pretty interesting. I know a bunch of people that use Slack.
One of the concerns of the VA is you have to send this email and they get back to you like 12 hours later, and if you’re just on Slack it’s just so easy to kind of give directions. It makes it a lot … it cuts down a barrier in communication that email presents, right?
Tom Hunt: Yeah, massively, and we’ve also … The reason we actually created Tina was because the feedback we had from Virtual Valley entrepreneurs, not direct feedback but indirectly I could see what was happening with the people that were leaving the platform.
There is a skill involved in managing virtual assistants that I’m sure you’re aware of, Justin, and I’m sure you’re probably really good at it, but people that don’t have that experience, it can be hard working with a remote team. So Tina, this Slack assistant we’ve created, we’re trying to eradicate the fact that you have to manage someone. You just throw this task into the black hole and then it comes back two hours later complete and you have unlimited access to this black hole.
So, solving that management problem I think is resonating more with the entrepreneurs that we are connecting with.
Justin: Yeah, I can see that. I can see also at a $200 price point, bloggers can do it, right? A travel blogger making 2,500 bucks a month, 4,000 bucks a month, they can afford that, so that’s a cost they can swing especially if they’re getting value out of it. So I think your market would be a lot bigger than trying to hire four full-time agents and that kind of thing, right? It just seems like it opens your market up a bit. It’s kind of a good test ground for someone to try it out and then expand from there, right?
Tom Hunt: Exactly. A caveat on the $200 price point is that they’re launched only a week ago yesterday, so I’m not 100% sure yet if we’re going to be profitable in that event, and we may have to increase.
Justin: Of course, yeah, of course. I also like the fact that you’re naming it, too. I had a guest on a few weeks ago. Her name’s Laura and she runs a company called Meet Edgar. So, by personifying your product I think it helps you connect with it a bit better. So by calling it Tina, I think that makes sense.
By the way, we have a disproportionate amount of women that work for us in the Philippines. I’m just curious. Is your staff similar? Like more than half, 70% of them?
Tom Hunt: In terms of Virtual Valley marketplace yeah, I think I would say yeah, 60%, 70% are female.
Justin: Yeah, and nurses, too. This is huge. The nursing community in Davao.
Tom Hunt: Yeah, we’ve got so many nurses.
Justin: It’s funny, I could talk about Davao all day but there’s a whole bunch of questions I want to get to so I’ll move on. Let’s talk a little bit about business partnerships. So, there’s lots of different ways you can handle business partnerships. Joe and I have a deal where basically everything we do in business is done 50/50, right. I come up with a business idea. We decide to chase it or not chase it. It’s all wrapped up in the Justin and Joe Empire Flippers thing.
Our buddies over at Tropical MBA have been the same way. They’re just 50/50 down the line. Other people aren’t. So you have like Dan Norris, right, who has WP Curve, but him and his co-founder are doing a ton of different projects. He’s brewing beer, seven-day startup and all that stuff, so they have totally different projects that are not related to their core business, which seems crazy to me.
You’ve been looking to bring on a partner. First I’m going to ask, why bring on a partner? Why not just continue down the road that you’re taking right now as a solo entrepreneur?
Tom Hunt: I think it’s a very good question. If you saw the reality of the past six months, the answer would be very obvious. I built the whole Virtual Valley marketplace with a freelance development team from Egypt, and yeah, they were awesome. We don’t work together anymore, but having to work with people that do not have a long term investment in your vision can have, not negative effects, but I think there’s a massive opportunity cost to that, comparing to working with someone who is invested, who owns part of the asset that you’re building.
I think it was probably a good decision not to bring a technical co-founder on early stage, to build something, to prove the idea and to prove myself, but then, now we’re going to scale, I think it’s very, very important to have someone who can do the technology and is invested in the asset that you’re building.
Justin: I was going to ask you the question, I mean, you could hire someone and give them a small bit of equity and effectively get the same thing or pretty close to it. I’m guessing the problem is that you don’t have enough cash flow to pay the money you need to get someone that’s good enough to do what you need to do. So you could do that, but you’d have to wait a year or a year and a half to even start.
Tom Hunt: Correct.
Justin: Okay, so you’re bringing them on now, they’re going to make less, but they’re getting a much larger piece of the equity. Tell me about that. The hiring process. How did you start looking for a co-founder? How does that work?
Tom Hunt: I took a similar approach to with the virtual assistants or what my manager did with the virtual assistants. I had like a scatter gun approach. I went on there. There are two co-founder sort of dating sites. One’s called Co-founder’s Lab, one’s called Founded Dating. So I went on them, create a profile, got the premium account, sent out messages to people that I thought would be good. I reached out to people on my LinkedIn network. I created a podcast episode and a blog post, and put it all around social media. Reached out to personal contacts just to get as many people in that funnel, and then it was like a recruitment process. Numerous emails, numerous Skype conversations. We have an advisor at Virtual Valley, sort of bringing him in at the final stage to make that final decision, and ultimately we landed with Will.
Justin: Okay. How many applicants did you get from the start?
Tom Hunt: I think I spoke to on Skype, initiative conversations, 20 people.
Justin: Okay, so let’s say 20. I’d say half, maybe even more were just out, right. Like, “No, this isn’t going to work.”
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: So you narrow it down from the 10 or so, maybe the last that are left. What was your criteria? Was it skill set? Was it technical skill set, and if it was technical skill set, how did you judge them? I mean, are you a technical person?
Tom Hunt: Yeah, correct. I think technical ability was … That’s why I had the conversation with the advisor because he is a technical guy. So, he was … We had two calls with the advisor and I sat on them and I was just on mute because they were just doing the technical stuff, and then I got his opinion afterwards.
Then in terms of the most important criteria for me was hunger. Are they hungry to put in the massive hours and to build something amazing? So, Will, the co-founder I brought on, he’s 19. He dropped out of school when he was 16, and the question that really closed it for me, because I want to have a connection with this person, I want them to be a friend as well, I asked him, “What do you do in your spare time?” And he was like, “I code.” So for me that was like, this guy is hungry, he’s committed. And then I compare that to say, we had a couple of 40-year-old guys who had massive technical experience, like managers in banks and stuff, but I didn’t think they would be as hungry. I didn’t they would be able to make the commitment.
Justin: Yeah, I get where you’re coming from there. We recently hired for a content manager and while I wouldn’t have said hungry, I think that’s a good word for it. I wouldn’t have said hungry. We were looking for someone that could commit, that would be in it longer term because we want someone that’s going to stick with us a while. There’s getting them up to speed and then having them get to the point where they’re valuable. It takes a while, and so from your perspective, too, you’ve got to put some time in to get them up to speed on the business and get them doing interesting stuff for you.
So yeah, I like the hunger piece. What else? Was there … This being a co-founder, were you looking for a relationship? Did you have to get along? Did you have to view the world or business through the same lens? How do you measure that? How do you test that?
Tom Hunt: Yeah, very intangible and I think you can only get that from Skype video calls or if not, in-person meetings. So, I went to London and interviewed face to face a numbers of technical co-founders and yeah, there’s no way to put that in a spreadsheet or measure that. It’s just like a feeling that you get, right.
Justin: Yeah, it’s a gut check. That’s something that we, Joe and I, when we’re doing final interviews that we look for, and it’s actually probably the most important thing when they get to that point. We cut a lot of people based on skills or you’re not following directions or other things, but when it gets to like the final, final interview, we’re really looking for a fit. Like, will they fit in our organization?
Cool, all right. Let’s talk a little bit about bringing them on as a co-founder. Were you thinking from the get-go, let’s do 50/50? I mean, that would seem silly. You built the business, you started it. I can’t see how you just do 50/50 down the line like Joe and I do or like Dan and Ian have done at Tropical MBA. Do you give them a piece of the equity and have them invest over time? What was your thinking and how did that negotiation go?
Tom Hunt: I’m actually finalizing the contract now, but we have what’s called a cliff, I believe. I’m not super up on these terms, but at the six-month point Will will get 25% of the total equity that he is going to be receiving, which certainly is 33%, but that may change slightly, and then every month after that he’ll get a further 2.5% of that 33%. So, in I believe almost a year and a half he’ll have his full amount of equity.
Justin: And that’s 33%.
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: Was that weird for him or was he fine with the 33%? How did you come up with the 33% number?
Tom Hunt: When I put that initiative advert out to world I said up to 40%, and then I had a conversation with my advisor and he thought that was much too high. So, when we were going through negotiation with Will, I said, “Look, I’m probably not going to give the initial 40% that we agreed.” He came in at 35% and then we went to 33%. It wasn’t that scientific. So yeah, not much more I can say. I’m not an expert negotiator for startup equity yet.
Justin: Was it awkward at all, or was it pretty amicable? You were like, “Okay, [crosstalk 00:31:40].”
Tom Hunt: I think it was cool. As we mentioned before, you tell when you resonate with someone when you speak to them on Skype, right? Now, one of the reasons I probably went with Will is because we had that sort of connection and we’re both sort of pulling in the same direction, so when it came to that it wasn’t that awkward. It was cool.
Justin: Awesome. Let’s move into something that’s fascinating about your business, is kind of the transparency, right. Like us and like some other companies, GrooveHQ I mentioned, I think they’ve done just an excellent job at being transparent. You’re following the same model, right, and you’re doing it from a very early stage in your business. Do you think it hurts you? Because you’re still small, right? If you were larger, it’s easier, and we’ve taken this kind of criticism, too. When we were too small they said, “Oh, you shouldn’t be doing that. You’re too small.” Now that we’re bigger they’re like, “Oh, you should stop doing it now.” So you’ve got to take it from both sides.
Do you think that it hurts you in any way doing the monthly reports and showing how much money you’re making and the problems you’ve had?
Tom Hunt: I’ve only actually had one person come to us and say that they were concerned about using Virtual Valley because of the fact that we said we were actually going to exit. Now, clearly there have been other people that haven’t emailed and have seen the fact that we sometimes sell the business after two years, and have just walked away, but I don’t know about that.
So yes, I think it does hurt, but I think that the benefits of doing it overweigh the negatives.
Justin: Yeah, I agree with that. I also think too, that you’re going to attract maybe the clients that you deserve or that you probably want, right, that are good with your transparency, that like it, and the ones that aren’t, they’re not on the same page with that or whatever, they just like really hate it, then they’re not going to go with you and that’s probably a good thing.
Tom Hunt: Yep, I agree.
Justin: Do you think that this transparency movement in business is just a marketing gimmick or do you think there’s something more to it?
Tom Hunt: Very good question, and thank you for asking that because when I was planning our content marketing before we had launched, I wanted to do something game changing and remarkable, as per Seth Godin, and the reason I actually chose to set that goal and to track that goal was to be, I guess you could say a gimmick. So we did have this content marketing buzz we could build.
I mean, in answer to your question, kind of like, we are using it as a gimmick but I also think it adds massive value, and I think that when I read GrooveHQ’s blog or when I read [Brother’s 00:33:59] blog, I feel like I get so much more information and value from their content because they’re being so real and so honest with the information that I really want to know about running a startup.
Justin: Yeah, when we start doing it, maybe it was a gimmick. More like we didn’t have anything to lose. We had our outsourcing company that was going, it was kind of paying the bills, and so all this Internet stuff was just a side gig anyway, for us, right. It was just extra and we were just, so it didn’t really matter. We weren’t putting a lot on the line by doing it.
I wasn’t a full believer, I just thought it’d be interesting, right. I was like, “This’ll be interesting, and probably help give us some traction early on.” And I became a believer over time. I think over time I was like, “Wow, okay, this really resonates. Yeah, I’m getting great feedback. I’m attracting people that are interested in our business, interested in us, that are giving us advice, like helpful advice and criticism, and it’s awesome.”
Over years I was like, yeah, this is how we do it. We make mistakes and we talk about it very publicly, even things that are painful or in some cases embarrassing.
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: Those are the things that resonate the best. Those are the things that our audience likes the best, so I really encourage you. I think it’s really interesting. I know that you’re up against some really big competitors, though, right?
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: You’ve got your Upwork, you’ve got Freelancer, right, so you’ve got these larger companies that you’re like the little guy. Talk about David and Goliath. That’s exactly your case. Do you think this gives you an advantage?
Tom Hunt: I think so, yeah. I mean, I don’t want to slag anyone off, but I’ve been on Upwork’s blog and I probably wouldn’t go back to track their journey or to … I don’t look forward to the content I get from that blog. Now, I’m not saying that people will do that for us, but I think when, as a customer or a client, you can connect with the journey and you can sort of compare the journey you’re on to the journey of the business that you would potentially work with, I think that’s very powerful. You don’t get that from venture-backed massive marketplaces with half a million users.
Justin: Yeah, I think, especially in your situation, in our situation, Empire Flippers, I think it’s great to do things that the big boys either won’t or can’t do. A good example is, I have another entrepreneur I know that when he was starting off and he had email subscribers, he would record a little 10 to 15-second, 20-second video, very personalized to them, thanking them for subscribing, telling them a little bit about the business briefly, just a thank you. And then would send the email-
Tom Hunt: What, to each subscriber?
Justin: To each subscriber that he got.
Tom Hunt: Oh [crosstalk 00:36:25].
Justin: Yeah, he’d bash them. He’d do them of Friday. He’d knock out 20 of them, 25 of them or whatever, and would send them this personalized video. It’s just hard to compete with that if you’re a big company, you know, that’s really awesome. It was a SaaS product so there’s some lifetime value and recurring revenue going on there, and I thought it was super sharp. Plus it’s also something that people talk about.
Another example, I signed up for a Shopify account a long, long time ago. Got an email from their support and it was like, “Hey.” This is a real person. No really. His name was Brian or whatever. There’s a picture of him in this cubicle holding a little mini white board saying, “Hey Justin, it’s Brian here.” Or whatever.
Tom Hunt: Wow.
Justin: I was like, “Wow, that’s like …” So I talked about that for years. They’ve gotten mileage out of that silly little picture that customer service agent sent me. I think those are the things that I think are really valuable. Have you thought about that? Are you doing any things like that in your business that you’re doing that the big boys can’t do?
Tom Hunt: We have, like most websites now, we have a customer service app at the bottom right hand of the screen, and we reach to everybody that comes onto the website and we will offer to search through the database ourselves. So now you can come to Virtual Valley, you don’t even have to make a search to find a virtual assistant, you just tell your tasks to our guy Xandra or one of his staff on the chat app, and then we’ll hand pick people for you now.
I mean, I’m not sure if any of the other larger marketplaces are doing that at the moment. That’s one thing. All I can think of though. On this topic, do you remember the first time someone on Twitter sent you a thank you for a tweet with a video, just to you?
Justin: Do I remember that?
Tom Hunt: Or has that happened?
Justin: I don’t think so. I don’t think I’ve ever got that.
Tom Hunt: Well, it happened to me like three times and each of these people, like now I feel this connection to, and when I first saw it I was like, “Wow, are they really sending that just to me?”
Justin: Oh, I bet.
Tom Hunt: So it’s [inaudible 00:38:12].
Justin: Yeah, especially if it personalized. I mean, if it’s just some bullshit automated video, “Hey, thanks for signing up or thanks for following me,” or whatever, yeah, I don’t care about that, but if it’s personalized it gets really interesting. I love stuff like this, and I’ve talked about it for a long time. We’ve done some stuff like that at Empire Flippers, but not enough. We recently were interested in a customer love program where we reach out to customers that have just recently done business with us and send them little gifts. Send them little things that I think they’d appreciate. Sometimes it’s a really nice gift. I think those-
Tom Hunt: Like physical gifts?
Justin: Yeah, physical in-your-hand gifts.
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: And I think there’s something to that, right. I know a guy, Derek [Severus 00:38:52] who ran a company called [CD Baby 00:38:53] and he would send little random things. They would ask for things. First he’d put a little … After they complete their order for a CD then they could ask for anything they want, and then they would try their best to send them something. Like someone asked for like squid or whatever, and they sent them a picture of a squid, and one time it was like dried squid. Just like really cool little things that most companies just wouldn’t do and they were able to do.
We’ve talked about it a long time and I really want to implement that, and the bigger you get I feel like the less likely you are to do it, so if you can start doing those things earlier on in the business, and make it habit. Just say, “We’re doing this, I don’t care.” And you make it part of your philosophy, part of your culture, you’re going to be better off. Trying to do it later and later I think it becomes just … you’re like, “Oh my God, so much money. I mean, we’ve done just fine without it. Do we need to add that?” So, I’d encourage you, if you can think of those types of things you can do, start them now so that you continue to do them later.
Tom Hunt: Yeah.
Justin: All right, man, let’s move into hiring virtual staff. You and I both have some experience there, quite a bit, actually, and what kind of things do people get wrong when they’re hiring a virtual agent? Someone in the Philippines, someone in India?
Tom Hunt: I think there’s two things that I want to bring up. The first of which is including a test task. It is so, so simple, and yet I don’t … this is probably the one thing that people just miss out. So, including an example task that you want them to do that is representative of the tasks that they will be doing in your business, and that requires a certain amount of detail.
Now, we found that the most correlated competency with a virtual assistant and their success on our platform is actually attention to detail. So, in the test task that we recruit people with, it’s very, very detailed, and we can tell almost immediately when we look at the results of the deliverable that they give us from the task whether they’re going to go through or not. That’s the first thing.
The second thing is, this actually came out … I had a call with [Marron 00:40:53] Kate, who was the founder of Virtual, about three months ago just to sort of ask about her journey, and she gave loads and loads of awesome information, but one of the best things she said was to move that test task from the end of the recruitment process – it was step five for us – to the start.
Tom Hunt: Because you can automatically screen out almost 80% of the freelancers virtual assistants based on that.
Justin: Yeah, so I’m totally with you on that. Totally agree, and here’s how we view it, right. It’s a funnel. So, top of funnel you get a lot more applicants, bottom of funnel you have a lot less, and whatever you spend the least amount of time, your personal time hours, at the top of funnel and more at the bottom, that’s way, way better, right? Because you want them to screen themselves out. Now, the fact that they’re hg to do a task that’s related to the tasks they’re going to be doing at work, that’s smart.
One thing we use that may be helpful for you or our listeners or not, but we use a grammar test. A big thing for us in the Philippines was communication, and most people in the Philippines, especially the younger kind of virtual assistant age, people you’re going to be working with, they speak pretty good English, but there’s still a lack of communication and a lack of kind of understanding. It can be challenging still, even with the relatively good English.
So, we give this grammar test and we, over time, realized that if they score below this threshold we’re going to have too much difficulty communicating. It took at least an hour to do, as well. So, it’s a great top-of-funnel check, especially if you have plenty of applicants. It takes an hour. They’ve got to go through this process. They’ve got to do this grammar test. They’ve got to send in their results and it’s kind of a pain, and so that was a quick filter for anyone who’s not serious about it. They’re just not going to do it and they’d go away, right. So we didn’t spend any time on them. So that was helpful for us.
Over time, we had hundreds of people that did it, and it got pretty good, the results. So I totally agree with you on having them do something up front. That actual task sounds like a particularly good idea, and if they can’t follow directions very closely, that’s a problem.
Tom Hunt: Exactly.
Justin: Getting back to the communication, one of the things we did was, we would ask them in the interview … This is when Joe and I were interviewing the agents in the Philippines. We would ask them if they knew anything about our business to kind of see like, had they researched us. If they’d researches us, bonus points. If they’d only done like basic research, okay, not the worst thing in the world. It’s not a disqualifier. But then if they hadn’t researched we’d tell them a little bit about our business and what it does, and at the end of the interview we would go back and ask them about our business and what it does. And if they’re not able to go back and recall from 10, 15, 20 minutes ago what we just told them we do, there’s a real communication problem.
Tom Hunt: That’s an awesome little test, and I hadn’t thought about that.
Justin: Yeah, it’s good.
Tom Hunt: Because when working with virtual assistants, I always … Here’s a really good tip, as well. When you’re explaining a task to someone who works remotely, you explain the task and then afterwards you obviously get them to explain the task back to you.
Tom Hunt: What you’re doing there is really, really clever because you’re sort of basically doing that bit in the recruitment process. You can tell if they have the communication skills up front.
Justin: Yeah, for sure, and definitely repeating, in the training process, having them repeat it back and make sure they understand it in their own words. You can make sure their mind is wrapping around the task and the project, other than just, “Yeah, yeah, I got it.” You’ll get a lot of “Yes,”, right, in the Philippines, because it’s not wanting to offend. It’s not wanting to make you lose face. So they’re not going to want to tell you, “No, I don’t get that. Please explain to me again, I’m not sure I fully understand you.”
Some will, of course, but there’s a lot that won’t, until it gets to the point where they’re totally comfortable doing that with you. And so, if you’re just asking, “Did you get that? Do you think you understand?” those are the wrong questions to be asking a VA.
Tom Hunt: Mm-hmm (affirmative), yeah.
Justin: I actually get that a lot, too. Tell me about your training. When someone brings a virtual agent on board, let’s say they pass all the criteria; they did the tests and everything and everything worked out. You bring them on board. What’s the training process for getting someone up to speed?
Tom Hunt: This is something that I’ve been considering, because we’re trying to be the marketplace of connecting, and we’re trying to step away from guaranteeing the service, if you know what I mean. So, if I had an outsource service company, every virtual assistant that we would recruit would go through training. Now, we don’t currently have formalized training in place for the virtual assistants that come to Virtual Valley. However, what I might consider doing, and me and Xandra are talking about this at the moment, is having a paid training program that any virtual assistant will have to go through in order to get access to the platform.
Now, obviously the training program would have to be so good to provide that amount of value for the payment, and then you also get the bonus of finding them clients. Now, that will filter, so we have better virtual assistants on the platform, we have an extra revenue, and then-
Justin: You charge premium for those, yeah.
Tom Hunt: Yeah, exactly. That’s something we’re considering. At the moment we don’t have that formal process in place although it could be simply set up and it wouldn’t cost very much at all to run because it’d just be videos recorded by Xandra and myself. So, currently we don’t but it’s definitely something we should consider.
Justin: Yeah, I can see how that’d be valuable. It’d be valuable to the customers using the platform too, right, because they now have a premium level. People have completed the training or shown some proficiency in that training, you’d have to do that, of course, and then if they’re paying to take it, you can justify that by telling them they get better access, they get better placement, they get more job offers, that kind of thing.
Yeah, that’s an interesting process. All right, man, tell me a little bit about your staff right now. How many people do you have today? This is early May 2016. How many people are on the team?
Tom Hunt: It’s just myself and Xandra, the manager in the Philippines who was responsible for all the recruitment, and then he has an assistant that helps him out with managing the supply side and supporting me with some of the marketing. And there’s myself, as I said, and then there is now Will, who’s responsible for the technology. So I’m like CEO and lead marketer, and then Xandra is responsible for supply side and really operations at the moment, and then we have an assistant who supports both myself and Xandra.
Justin: Cool. How many agents do you have on the platform and how many customers do you have today?
Tom Hunt: In April we had 18 paying customers and I think the number on the platform at the moment is 84 virtual assistants.
Justin: Cool. So you got plenty of workers, plenty of basically hand-picked and vetted workers on the platform and you’re looking to really ramp up the customers. You’re testing out what’s now Tina, which is the Skype assistant basically. It’s almost like a WB Curve, it’s not just WordPress-related. It’s like a WP Curve model, proxy service model where they’ll do anything for you. You contact them on Slack and they’re kind of your assistant just having out there. There’s a bunch of these companies though, that came out. A couple of years ago it was all the rave in the tech startup world and VC world about these companies. What happened to them? How are they doing?
Tom Hunt: I’m very new to this world. We only really had the idea to do this a month ago. Obviously I went on a research spree and I couldn’t find companies from a couple of years back. I found there are a lot of different types of variations on that service live at the moment that have launched like this year, but did you have any names that came up?
Justin: Yeah, I’ll probably have to look it up and I’ll put it in the show notes for this episode and I’ll send it to you. But yeah, a few years ago or maybe more than a couple. I’m getting old, man. I think three, four, maybe five years ago there were a bunch of companies that were coming out that was like that on-demand virtual assistance and you can contact them any time to order flowers for your wife or order your plane tickets or do whatever. I was wondering how those companies did. I know they raised a bunch of money. I don’t know how successful they ended up being, but that’s kind of the model.
I think yours with Slack though is even more kind of instant, and as I said, breaking down that communication barrier I think is valuable. Let me ask you, if someone wanted to check you out, tell me a little bit about, you’ve got a podcast obviously: $0-4 million podcast. Tell me about Virtual Valley and where people can find out more about you.
Tom Hunt: Yeah, virtualvalley.io, and as I said, just onto the customer service app if you are looking for a virtual assistant and Xandra or someone else on the team can actually just find them for you. That’s virtualvalley.io. Me personally, tomhunt.io. I have a little questionnaire people can fill out, dependent on what they want from me, and then twitter.com/tomhuntio is where I spend a lot of time, as well.
Justin: Awesome, man. I’ll put links to that in the show notes, as well. I think our audience, we’ll try and do a follow-up with you further down the road. I’d love to see how your business does. I think you’ve done a really good job marketing. I love the transparent approach. I love your sharing your business successes and failures. I’ve seen guys like you and over a couple of years they do either pretty well, or blow up. So, I’d love to see the same thing with you. Ay man, you built that $4 million company, number one, you got to come back on and tell us exactly how you did it, and number two, you got to sell with us, man.
Tom Hunt: Sure.
Justin: We’ll be selling businesses your size hopefully by the time you get there and we can do some business.
Tom Hunt: Yes, definitely, and I want to thank you for that feedback. I really appreciate it, and I want to thank you for creating a podcast that has helped inspire me to get to where we are today, so thank you, Justin.
Justin: Awesome, Tom. Thanks, man.
Audio: You’ve been listening to the Empire Podcast. Now some news and updates.
Justin: All right, Joe. Time to do some news and updates. First up we’ve for a great range of sites for sale right now. If you’re looking for a website or online business and you went from as low as $10,000 up to a million plus, we’ve for nearly 50 listings as of right now for you to take a look at. So they’re up and down the spectrum. We’ve for a really wide range, and I think this is probably the fullest our marketplace has ever been, man, what do you think?
Joe: Yeah, it’s definitely been the fullest. It’s definitely been the biggest wide range, so if you are out there and looking for something to acquire I would like to talk with you. Even if your bank account’s a little limited and the funds available a little limited, I do have some create financing options that I might be able to pitch to you. I’ve been talking to some third party vendors that might be able to help out and get you the rest of the way there.
Justin: Yeah, it’s interesting. When it comes to the financing, we’re seeing more options, right. Both [inaudible 00:51:02], but also just some third party vendors that are willing to do it, and if you blend that with seller financing on some of the larger deals like mid-six figure and above, you don’t have to have all the cash up front. It’s far from it. I’ll my buddy Ace likes to talk about zero down. You can do that, but I would expect to put some amount of money down, but when you blend seller financing and third party financing, it’s a smaller percentage. You can get less than 50% down, which is pretty interesting.
Joe: Yeah, I mean, we’ve done a lot of podcast episodes on this. Going ahead and finding as earn-out deal that works for you and most of our sellers, especially the sellers in the over $100,000 range are open to these kind of deals. So, let’s talk.
Justin: Yeah, I’ll put a link to contact you in the show notes show. The other thing I’ll mention here is that we’re actively looking for more sellers and deals, so we have paid traffic, we have organic pieces that are out on the interwebs looking for new sellers. So, that’s one of the reasons you’ve seen so many more listings from us. We’re going to continue to promote that, so we have a wide range of websites and online businesses for sale for buyers that are looking for very specific types of sites and organization strategies. So we’re going to continue to do that.
Next bit of info I want to say is we’ve for our next team meetup already scheduled. It’s going to be in Phuket, Thailand. It’ll be August 1st to the 29th. So we’ll be in Phuket meeting up with our management team and working from there. We’re also planning a small get-together there if anyone’s around or would like to come by. Phuket, Thailand in the month of August. We’ll be there and we’d love to meet with you. We’re going to formalize something. It’ll be probably some kind of get-together with dinner and drinks after, and we’ll let you know what the schedule is for that and how that’s going to roll out.
Joe: Yeah, I’m very curious to get there. I’ve been to Phuket before, but only for a short period of time. It’d be nice to spend a month there and really get to know the place.
Justin: A quick note on where we’re at right now, Joe, is in the Philippines he’s got a quick trip down to Davao. He’s there with our two new guys in Manila right now, working with them, and they’ll be there through the middle of July. I’ll be in Prague June 25th to 30th, in Venice from the 30th to the 3rd of July, and then Rome from July 3rd to July 8th. So if you’d like to meet up with me or if you’re going to be in Manila over the next month or so and would like to meet up with Joe and some of the new guys, just give us a shout on Twitter. We’d love to meet up with you.
All right, buddy, let’s do the listener shouts, also known as the indulgent ego-boosting social proof segment. First up I’ve got a tweet from our content editor, Alyssa, what says, “Oh my God, Empire Flippers. It’s happening. Legion M official is a fan-owned Hollywood studio.” So I got to give you a little bit of building on this, Joe. Do you remember a long time ago when I was talking about this kind of interesting, random idea I had for upvoting pilots. So, have a place where you can view all these pilot episodes that the major networks denied. They said it wasn’t good enough, right, or just not good enough for like a major audience. Well, some of those I’m sure are awesome. Some of those pilots would be great television maybe for an internet audience but just don’t have enough appeal for ABC to put on the whole show.
I was thinking, instead of those getting lost into the void, right, why isn’t there a place where you can watch those pilots and upload them and pick the ones socially and virally that are the most interesting, and the ones that get the biggest audience you can have an online or like an internet kind of studio. Release those and order a full season. So, there’s a company out there, Legion, that’s going to be doing that. It’s a kind of like crowd-funded studio and they’re going to be looking at pilots and doing it based on social interest. They’re going to be publishing shows and series based on that social interest. So, really, really excited to see that.
Joe: It’ll be interesting to see if they can make money, too.
Justin: It will be. I mean, you could argue they’re taking the scraps, right, if the major studios already looked and passed, you could say, “Well, this is going to be not as interesting as the other ones.” But I don’t think so, man. You’d think that the major networks, they generally go for the very formulaic, widest ranging appeal shows. You know, we’re on the Internet, man. You don’t have to do that anymore. You can be really niche.
So if you want to do this crazy, very pot security-first drama or comedy, you can do that, and have this crazy, interested audience of maybe only 30,000 people or 60,000 people, but if you have 60,000 real fans that watch your show, you can monetize and make plenty of money out of that. I think it’s a different age, man. I mean, yes, you have to do the kind of formulaic, somewhat predictable shows if you want to attract a huge audience, but you don’t need that anymore.
Joe: Yeah, I think I remember when you brought this up when we had the podcast, and my big sticking point was, would you be able to make enough money to pay for a TV show, and that’s the thing that I think it’s come down to is, with top level actors and studio costs and all this kind of stuff, are you really going to be able to pay for the TV show if you only get 30,000 viewers. It’ll be interesting. Don’t know.
I mean, obviously you can go the B-level route, but then the production value is not there and that might disappoint some people, too.
Justin: Yeah, even if let’s say it is a great idea, which it may not be, but even if it is a great idea, there’s the art of execution, right, that they could execute it poorly and it could not do well. So, we’ll see how it turns out, but it’s great to see like I had this kind of hair-brained idea. I wrote a blog post about it which I’ll link to in show notes as well, and then we’re seeing someone come out with it. And they were working on it way before. They didn’t read my blog post and come up with the idea, but it’s cool to see someone else working on that.
That’s it, wraps up one for the united, the Empire Podcast. Thanks for sticking with us. We’ll be back next week with another show. You can find the show notes for this episode and more at empireflippers.com/virtualvalley, and make sure to follow us on Twitter @empireflippers. See you next week.
Joe: Bye-bye everybody.
Audio: Hope you enjoyed this episode of the Empire Podcast with Justin and Joe. Hit up empireflippers.com for more. That’s empireflippers.com. Thanks for listening.