Hey guys, Ryan here from Instructions Not Included. And today, I’ve got with me Tom Hunt, who is the creator of Virtual Valley, which is a virtual employee marketplace as well as the podcast 0-$4 Million where he’s documenting his journey.
Very similar to what I’m doing in terms of his business.
Ryan: Hey Tom, thanks for coming on.
Tom: Ryan, it’s a pleasure to be on a very similar podcast, actually, as we were just discussing.
Ryan: Yeah, for those who don’t know you, can you just give us a quick outline of who you are and what your business is?
Tom: Yeah, sure. I’m 26 and I’m from England. Up until I was 22, I couldn’t do anything entrepreneurial.
I was just like the perfect student, I guess, or perfect employee. And then, we started selling male leggings as a joke to try and impress girls, I think. And I just got sort of addicted to selling. Not selling, but helping people and getting money for it. When that happened, when we started selling male leggings…
Ryan: So male leggings, are these like tights?
Tom: Yeah, yeah, they’re like – no, well, they’re not tights. They’re leggings, actually, Ryan.
Ryan: Okay, sorry. I don’t know the difference.
Tom: But they’re leggings for men. There’s whole story behind it. Basically, me and my friend wore tights, actual female tights to a fancy dress party and we looked really good and felt really good.
We were on the bus on the way home, actually, I said to him that we should sell them, but for men. But he was like, yeah, okay, but we’ll do it for leggings.
And then, one week later, we were on this marketplace in East London selling female leggings that we’d bought from eBay and like [inaudible 1:48] drew on a logo that made them male.
And we had this market stall, we had 18 pairs in stock and we were selling them for £15. So it was like $25 Australian dollars, probably, if I got that right? How many do you think we sold?
Ryan: Zero or 18, either.
Tom: Zero. You got it right. Anyway, so we still persevered and then we actually got male leggings designed and made them in China and we started selling them in an e-commerce store. Anyway, so the point of the story is that when we sold those [inaudible 2:25] pairs, I was like, “Yeah, I need to do this and not work in the city of London at my boring job.”
In the last 4 years, maybe similar to you, I’ve built loads of small online businesses and like failed most of them. I’m not saying you failed, but I failed a lot.
Ryan: No, I have. Definitely. A lot of them have just tanked.
Tom: Exactly. But there’s a couple that have stuck and if you should ask where I am now is focusing on the two – with the leggings company and this virtual assistant marketplace that have stuck and kind of working.
Ryan: Yeah. And so, you’ve also started a podcast to document your journey, which is 0-$4 Million. Do you want to talk a little bit about that? And why “0-$4 Million”?
Tom: Yeah. Great question. This is going to be interesting to compare your motives as well, but the motives for us having our podcast serve us value was; a) I don’t have much money. So I need to do content marketing for this platform to start with until we make some more money.
It just so happens that people that would be interested in what we’re doing would also potentially be customers of Virtual Valley, right? So first, content marketing. Second is to network with people like yourself. Third is accountability or myself. And fourth is improve speaking skills. So that’s the reason that we’re doing 0-$4 Million.
I had this goal since I started selling male leggings to sell a business for $1 Million and then, I was talking through some projections with another entrepreneur and he was like, “No. If you hit those projections, you’ll actually be worth $4 Million.” So then, I just changed it to $4 Million.
Tom: So my question for you is, Ryan, why did you start your podcast?
Ryan: I started my podcast probably out of boredom of my other websites that I was running. I was following a lot of business podcasts and things like that. And the StartUp Podcast, which I found really interesting and I thought…
Tom: Oh, the StartUp Podcast is so good, isn’t it?
Ryan: Yeah, so good. But then, they’re venture-backed and everything and I thought, you know, I’m not wanting to go down that path. That’s not my ambitions and so, I thought, you know what – it was kind of two-fold.
I wanted to document my own journey to look back on later in life because you just forget so much. And then also, boredom out of wanting to do something different than just talk about property, which is my most successful website. It was kind of like those two things, as well as, just a bit of fun for me. It’s always good to improve my speaking skills and things like that, which I want to do.
Tom: Exactly. And it’s not actually that hard. To promote this marketplace, I spend a lot of time doing guest blog posts. And so, by going on finding people’s blogs to write a blog post for, it takes like 6 hours, right? If you have a podcast, you can then speak to your podcast friends and you could jump on each other’s podcast, like semi-promotional point-of-view.
You just sit here and chatting, right? You can produce good content for people. Still adding value, but with less time investment.
Ryan: Yeah. Well, it takes an hour to record a podcast or something like that versus 6 hours to write a guest post and it’s so much more “intimate” is the wrong word. You get to know people better, you build trust better.
I get a lot more hits to my website in terms of blog traffic, but then in terms of the best customers of mine and the people that actually drive my business in terms of monetary value are generally people who either listen to my podcast or who watch me on Youtube. And I think it has something to do with just the fact that you build trust there even though that’s way less a traffic driver than the website itself.
Tom: Yeah. Can I ask about tracking? Sorry, I’m sort of hijacking this interview. But tracking leads from podcast, have you been able to do that effectively?
Ryan: Not really. You can track them so you can send people to a unique URL. So you go to ryanmclean.net/podcast or /freebie or you’d name it whatever you want. But you only give out that link to people on the podcast. And so, there’s a special offer through that and they go to that link, then you can track that.
Alternatively, like my main business driver of my property site now is buyer’s agent. So, requesting people to someone who will help them buy a property. So he asks those sorts of questions, like, “How did you find out about me?” and they’re like, “Oh, I found out about you through Ryan’s podcast.” etc. And so, that’s how I kind of made that assumption, but I don’t have hard numbers to back that. But just from the discussions that we have with the customers.
A large portion of them come from the podcast. And seeing as my web traffic to my website numbers would outrank my podcast and video views by – it’d be at least double, or maybe three times the amount to the website, to written content versus to audio or video content. But we’re getting probably more than half of people are coming through the podcast or video.
Tom: Which is what matters, right? The website views is just more a vanity metric.
Ryan: Yeah. Well, that’s the thing. You don’t really care. At the beginning you care how many people visit your website. I had a goal, originally, to get 30,000 people a month to my website, which is quite good for an Australian property blog.
You care about that in the beginning and you aim for that. Now, I get 2.000-3,000 a day. So we’re talking like 100,000 visitors a month to the website. I don’t even track it anymore. It’s just kind of like, am I creating the content I want to create? Am I driving the business forward and earning enough to get by?
Ryan: So let’s talk about Virtual Valley, which is a marketplace for virtual assistants. What caused you to start that and what gap did you think there was in the marketplace over things like oDesk, which is now Upwork or the other sites that are out there? What is it? There’s the Virtual Staff Finder as well.
Tom: All awesome sites.
We’re going to have to go back to the journey as well, back to the male leggings days. When we started the e-commerce site, I was in the corporate world and I was working in project management and I was working in outsourcing. We also had a virtual assistant that manage the admin and customer service for the leggings site. So we can just focus on selling and designing leggings, which is what we really like doing.
Ryan: Can I just ask you, how many leggings are you selling through this site or were you selling?
Tom: Year 1, 2013, 150 units. Year 2, 450 units. Year 3, so last year, 850. This year, we’ll probably sell 1,000 and we’ve increased prices. So it started like a side project that just me and my 2 best friends run with a couple of hours a week. So it’s not serious, but maybe we’ll all leave our jobs and [inaudible 9:52] and focus on male leggings, see what happens.
Ryan: Well, it’s definitely a very niche market. It’s amazing that you can sell 1,000 units of male leggings.
Tom: It is. Yeah. We started off trying to re-define male fashion, but now, we just sell them to people that do yoga. Anyway, picture this. I’m stuck in the corporate world. I’m selling a few pairs of male leggings a week. Obviously, not enough money leave. I needed to build a business that would enable me to leave the corporate world within a year. I wanted to leave within year.
I decided to take the service that we had with our virtual assistant and offer that to other startups in London and charge double the salary and be the middle man and use my consulting skills and project management and outsourcing skills to help them make it all work. So I did that and it was awesome.
I left the corporate world, but when we scaled to 6 clients, I was spending all my time working in their systems and not on mine. So I stopped marketing and delivering that and build this marketplace. I thought when I was spending time hiring virtual assistants for that first business, it was basically too time consuming and I was having to do a lot of admin to hire these people to do my admin or to do other people’s admin.
So the goal of Virtual Valley is really to just reduce all of the admin you have to do around outsourcing your admin, if that makes sense.
So there’s other services that you mentioned, like Upwork. If you go to Upwork, yeah, amazing platform. But you have to scour through the database of 200,000 freelancers and it takes time. While Virtual Staff Finder, again, amazing service where you pay for them to give you a virtual assistant. But then after that, you have to spend time managing them and you have spend time working how to pay them. With Virtual Valley, we have a curated database, which means that you can come on and hire someone really quickly – within 5 minutes or 7 clicks.
We have screenshots that you can look to check what they’re working and then the payment’s automatic. It’s just saving that time around outsourcing your admin, is basically what we do.
Ryan: Okay. So is it like a curated version of Upwork then? So you’ve got a higher quality staff on there.
Tom: You got it. “Curated version”, that is the differentiating factor from Upwork.
Ryan: I’ve hired people through Upwork before. I’ve hired transcribers. My virtual assistant, I actually found her originally through there. And now, she works for me. But yeah, there’s a lot of people who just aren’t very good on there. I remember I went to hire a transcriber for videos or my podcast. I had a little test in there and it’s just like, “Just transcribe the first 10 words of this video.” and I left a link to Youtube. And seriously, 90% of people couldn’t even do that. The first 10 words.
It was only 10 words. They would try and they would just make all these mistakes. I didn’t choose a super difficult 10 words. So I can see the issue there in terms of Upwork and I wouldn’t want to really go back there to hire someone because I know how much effort it’s going to be.
Tom: You have a good point that you’re making, but I don’t think if we’re going to be able to sell this marketplace for the $4 Million as you see on the podcast there. Having the curated version of Upwork is really differentiated enough? Because ultimately, I’m going to want to sell it to Upwork or someone like Upwork. And if all we have is built like a clone of them, then they probably not going to want to buy.
So this is the reason – I talked about this a lot on the podcast, actually, probably too much – is because I built this platform which is freelancers that I’ve just paid to build this spec. What I’m doing now, now we have some revenue and I’ve proven that I can build something and that people are interested in this service, is bring on a technical co-founder. I’ll give him up to 30% – him or her, up to 30%. And we’ll work to build something that’s truly differentiated from Upwork.
I’m not 100% sure what that is now. But we have the baseline of marketing and customers and feedback to do that now. That’s the plan for the next 6 months.
Ryan: So, is what you’ve done so far kind of like the minimum viable product that they talk about on laying startup?
Tom: Pretty much. Pretty much, yeah.
Ryan: So how did you or how do you curate people? Say I want to go to hire your services, how do I know that people on there are going to be good?
Tom: Here’s an interesting piece of content marketing, I designed this recruitment process based on a book called Topgrading by Brad Smart. All of the best companies uses Topgrading principles, apparently. So I designed the whole recruitment process. For 2 to 3 months before we launched the platform, we were recruiting.
I then posted this process on my blog, right? So I’m actually telling everybody how to go away and find your own virtual assistant, but the process is quite long and complicated so it’s sort of like innately saying, “You can go do this thing that’s really long complicated or you can click this link and go into our database and find someone.”
To answer your question, how do I prove that they’re good? I don’t really prove that they’re good. I show the recruitment process and then you go and try it. Because it’s free to go in and hire someone. You just get charged like all the time is tracked and you’re automatically charged to your PayPal account. If you feel that they’re not good, you’re going to lose $10.
Ryan: Yup. I find the same thing in my business. I originally wanted to teach people how to find positive cash flow properties. That was what drove me to start my website. And then I teach them how to find it and I kind of did this little add-on thing where I would go out and find a few properties and share them with my members. And then everyone just wanted that.
No one wanted to find them themselves. And now, even with the buyer’s agents that I’m working with, we recently ran a webinar, we basically went through step by step, here’s everything you need to do to research and find a good property to invest in yourself or you can hire Ben’s services for thousands of dollars. And a lot of people will do that because either they’re overwhelmed…
Tom: They just don’t want it?
Ryan: Yeah. People just don’t want to do it. They’re interested in reading how you do it and learning about it. But then, they don’t want to go out and do it themselves. They just want to hire someone to get the job done and I’ve seen that time and time again.
Tom: Which is perfect, right? It’s awesome. Like, yeah, you can just do that and pay me all the money to do it. That’s fine.
Ryan: I really like that business model now. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the guys Empire Flippers. Have you heard of them?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Aren’t they just a marketplace for websites?
Ryan: Yeah, but they originally started out, they would build websites themselves and they started a podcast talking about how they build websites and giving people tips and stuff like that. And as a side thing, they were saying, “Oh, by the way, you can buy our websites.”
Originally, they were on Flipper and then they started selling them on their own site. And then people were like, “Can I sell my website through you?” and it kind of just all evolved out of them teaching people to do something that people didn’t want to do. They just wanted to buy websites off them.
Tom: That’s a great story. I’m going to check out their podcast.
Ryan: Yeah. Check out their podcast. They’re great guys over there in the Philippines.
Tom: They’re based in the Philippines?
Ryan: Yeah. They’re American guys based in the Philippines. Let’s talk about your podcast and some of the things that you’ve gone through moving from a leggings e-commerce business to a brand new virtual assistant platform. What are the ups and downs been of that?
Tom: Oh my God! If we talk about the evolution from the legging company to the outsource service company, to the marketplace, both of those first two – the leggings and the outsource service company.
It was very much I had just created myself a job. The three of us created ourselves a job with the leggings company with the fact that we were designing the leggings. Before we had our virtual assistant, we were doing the admin and customer service. We were doing marketing.
When I created the outsource service company, again, I was like working a lot within the business. And you have to do that when you start, right? When you start learning and when you read, for me, like The E-Myth: Revisited and Work the System by Sam Carpenter. These 2 books, I realized that I had just created myself this job and yes, it’s okay to do that when you start out.
But the goal is to start removing yourself so that you can work on the business and not in the business. So that’s when I stopped developing that outsource service company and start building Virtual Valley was because now, I wanted to build a system that I would sit on top of that would create value for people completely without my time. So that ultimately, I’d be able to sell this business.
Ryan: Yeah. So you wanted to create a system that created value. A business that you didn’t have to be a part of. Basically, that could run without you.
Tom: Correct. However, I am still recording a podcast everyday. So the marketing of that system is my job, let’s say. But when we start bringing enough revenue to hire someone to do the marketing, then I could just hand that over like the podcasting and everything.
In answer to your first question, like what are the pitfalls, what did you learn? The first thing that I’ve learned is to try and build this system and as soon as you can, try and remove yourself from that system. And then, you can have something you can sell. I believe that’s ultimately what an entrepreneur is and how an entrepreneur will be successful.
Ryan: Yeah. In terms of my own business and things like that, mine’s more like a lifestyle business so I don’t actually plan to stop working. But I do firmly believe in like as the business owner, slowly or as quickly as you can, I guess, is to take yourself out of the low value task and to hire someone to do them or to automate them in some way so you can do more higher-value things. Similar to your building the business and now you’ve kind of stepped out of it a bit, but you’re still doing all the marketing.
Very similar to me, I was doing everything in my business; from recording episodes to editing them to transcribing them myself sometimes, publishing them, doing everything. Now, I’ve got a system where I will record. Like this interview, I’ll do a quick edit and then I’ll put into Dropbox and then my VA will take it from there and she will upload it to everywhere. To Soundcloud, to my website, to Youtube or whatever.
The transcriptions will get ordered. Once they’re delivered, they’ll be published on the blog, etc., etc. So I’ve got like a full process in place.
I can spend more time doing the things that I enjoy, which is interviewing interesting people like yourself, creating content, all that sort of stuff. And then she gets it done in half or a quarter of the time it used to take me.
Tom: Are we filming this for Youtube, by the way?
Ryan: No, no. This will just go on the podcast.
Tom: Okay, that’s fine. I’ll just give you something to edit there as well. Okay. Should we talk about the pitfalls? Because that’s probably more interesting.
Ryan: For me, right. We were talking about it just before we started recording. I had that episode where I’m 3 weeks away from running out of money. Now, I’m in a place – I’ve still got like 3 weeks in the bank, but then I’ve got revenue coming in that’s going to give me 3-4 months buffer. So I’m not too stressed about it.
I’ve had situations like that where I’m like, my business isn’t looking viable, I’m [inaudible 22:13] for my own money, what the heck am I going do to? Have you had any of those circumstances?
Tom: Oh my God! Yeah. This is I want to say one of the lowest points in my life. But looking back, I’d think it’s funny now. After I quit the job and I had the outsource service company. It was bringing load of money. But then, I realized that I don’t want to do it anymore because I just created myself another job.
I stopped marketing that and I did a couple of other things. I had one website that was giving me money, but I didn’t really have anything that was working. And this marketplace was being built in the background. [Inaudible 22:45] marketplace, right? And with all the little things like I didn’t like them and they weren’t really working.
The hope that I had that I was going to be this very successful entrepreneur within the form of this marketplace. With the leggings company, we’ve never taken any money out, we just invested money back into the business. So there was one point, I was actually in Venezuela at the end of last year just waiting for this marketplace to be built and it was like almost ready to launch. We were launch no the Monday and it was Saturday. Now, two things happened in the next 48 hours, which my life felt like it was crumbling.
The first of which is my laptop broke. And so, I went to 5 different Mac Stores in Venezuela and they’re current situation does not mean that people – basically, they weren’t very good at fixing Macs, so I basically didn’t have a laptop. Second things is I let a different freelancer into my hosting account to fix the malware of one of those other sites I just mentioned.
A freelancer that I’d only worked with once and he took a backup of that one site that he was fixing and he just deleting everything else from the folder where all of my other domains were, like my personal blog. All the other websites that I’ve been working on, including the 5-6 months of Virtual Valley [inaudible 24:07]. I got loads of angry emails from the developers and I didn’t even know what was going on. I didn’t have a laptop to even go and sort it out. They were phoning this contractor, this freelancer in India trying to get everything sorted.
In the end, we had all of the functional code backed up on the developer’s hard drives or whatever, but the HTML and CSS had to be completely redone, which is another 2-3 weeks and another I don’t know how many hundreds of dollars. In the end, it was fine and we just delayed by a month. But that feeling, stranded in another country, no laptop, the feeling like your hope of being a successful entrepreneur has just been wiped off the face of the earth. [Inaudible 24:52]
Ryan: With the delete key – one delete key from one contractor.
Ryan: Did you have money coming in at this time? Were you still doing that contract services business?
Tom: No. The outsource service business didn’t exist anymore. They have one Filipino who was hired by a startup in London that still had – but that was like $300 a month.
I had this other website, which I’m not proud of. It’s not an amazing site. It sold like, if you wanted to get your app reviewed on the Play Store, it’s just the site that you come and buy it and then there was a pool of people that would review it for you. So, not very good, ethically. But I just bought it a year and a half ago, when I was desperate to leave my job and it was still running, managed by a virtual assistant.
So that was like $1,000 a month. And then, I think that was probably it for income at that point. So I had barely enough to live in Venezuela. I have savings and stuff, but I didn’t really want to go to that.
So, yeah, that was really horrible. But we got it back and we launched just a month later. And now, it’s bringing in a significant amount, I guess. Not really enough to live on, but enough to cover the cost. I’m investing in more development, which is what we need to do.
Ryan: Yeah. When you launched Virtual Valley, did you have a launch plan? Did it create a big splash or did you just launch it and it was just crickets? And you just had to – because I feel like a lot of people do like I used to get excited about launching something.
And now, I kind of just launch it and it’s like this piece of poo website that’s up there for 3 months, but I’m creating content or whatever. And then, 3 months ago, I’m like, “Oh shit, I’m getting some traffic here. I better actually improve the website and take it off the default WordPress theme.”
But were you expecting to launch it and to generate revenue instantly? And then, what happened after you launched it?
Tom: To be honest, I love the description of your product launch if you should start an internet marketing product called “Ryan’s Product Launch”. Okay, now, what happened? Because I had all this time while it was being developed, I spent a lot of time learning online marketing I’d have been for the past 2 years, but I spent more time learning about startup marketing.
So I actually have this 2-phase marketing approach that basically in the line, it was like the lean startup methodology. While the product was pretty shit – can I swear in here? While the product is pretty rubbish, I’m just doing some guest content blogs.
Creating our own content and going on Twitter, just to drip feed a few entrepreneurs, and that’s what’s happened. And then, we’re going to get their feedback, make the changes – like, try and truly differentiate. And then, when you turn on the tap in phase 2 with like [inaudible 27:50], affiliate program, referral program and partnerships with people that I guest blog with.
In answer to your question, no, there wasn’t – I had an email list of about 200 people. So I send an email, a few people started on day 1. But no, it didn’t make a splash. It wasn’t a big launch. But I had no reason to expect that. Just releasing a curated Upwork and not spending 6 months building a list for it.
Ryan: In a way, I think it’s smart to do the MVP, but at least you have a few people. And obviously, you get feedback, you try and iterate on it before. You want something to be working well before you turn on the tap. You don’t want to spend thousands of dollars in Facebook advertising and then get $100 back or something.
Ryan: It’s better to know how much money you’re making from each email lead or whatever it is and I can spend up to X amount to get a client. It’s just so much easier to scale because you know you’re not going to go bankrupt doing it.
Tom: Yeah, you know you’re not throwing water into a leaky bucket, right?
Tom: Currently, I still think we have a leaky bucket. Which is why we’re not on phase 2 yet.
Ryan: Yeah. So how long has it been open?
Tom: For almost 3 months. I’ll drop some numbers on you. The goal over 2 years, I think this is pretty ambitious, is to give entrepreneurs back 1,000 hours of their time – no, not 1,000, 1,000,000 hours of their time. And if we do that, we can sell for $4 Million, I think.
Now, in total, in the 3 months, we’ve given back 1,500. And so, we make approximately $1 per hour for the platform. Because 20% of the hourly rate comes to us. So we made $200, $500 and $700 in the first 3 months. That’s revenue for the platform. In terms of hours to go on our 1 Million count, we still have another 900…
Ryan: 998,500 or something?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Exactly. So we have a lot to do. I think once I have the bucket that’s not leaking, I can turn on the tap.
Ryan: And so, what is the plan? Until you get to phase 2, are you planning on – obviously, you’re doing the podcast, you’re doing guest blogs like you are on this. Is that the plan at the moment? Just use content marketing to grow the service at the moment?
Tom: Content marketing and Twitter, I guess.
Ryan: Is that just because they’re free? Or have you got a more long term strategy?
Tom: Yeah, pretty much. (a) They’re free. We have money to invest, but I don’t want to invest in something that I’m not 100% sure is really going to work or really going to be – I’ll get a return. Two, they give a foundation for me.
In my mind, like a foundation in SEO in content and social so that when, again, when we turn on the tap, people can come to our site and come to our blog and see that we’re actually doing stuff and helping people. I think that really helps. They’re free, they’re giving a foundation and number three, they’re giving it the right, I call it a “trickle”. So just a few entrepreneurs.
Like an entrepreneur will sign up everyday and maybe a team member will get hired or a virtual assistant will get hired everyday, so it’s just the right amount to make sure we have that 1-on-1 relationship with them. Make sure everything’s happening, like the connections are occurring and the virtual assistant knows what they’re doing. It allows us to control the process and get the feedback.
Ryan: Yeah. So it’s not happening too quickly for you.
Tom: And not spending money and building fund.
Ryan: Yeah. Like I just ran that webinar with a friend of mine the other night for his buyer’s agency and usually we might send like 5 leads a week or like people interested in his service a week. And I think we got close to 100 people interested in his service in one week.
Tom: Was he happy with that or was he overwhelmed?
Ryan: I think he was a bit of both. Extremely happy, obviously, because there’s just so much opportunity. But then, obviously, having so many more people compared to usual can make things difficult so you do need to be careful with that.
How do you go about making sure that you’re getting the right feedback from people? How do you get feedback from customers that are coming through so that you know how to change your product, how to differentiate, etc.?
Tom: So that’s coming into the end of phase one. I’m moving to phase two now. I haven’t been great at that. So I spend the time in the last month really trying to find a technical person who is going to really good and is excited about the vision. When I sorted, which will be in a couple of days, I’m going to go through and speak to every entrepreneur that’s charged time. Probably between 20 and 25 now and try and get them on a Skype call like this.
I think it’s very important, the questions you ask. You can be very leading with people and say, “Would you like it if we improve this?” and they’re probably going to say, “Yes.” But then, I’m going to start conversations just saying, “What did you think of the service? What did you like? What did you dislike?” and just take all of that information that is unbiased, without my leading questions. I think that’s the key.
Ryan: Yeah. That’s one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do; get feedback from people, but actually decipher the feedback into what the whole audience would want. Sometimes, I’ve taken something that one person and I thought, that’s great feedback, that’s a great either feature idea or product idea and run with it. And then, a month later, you wasted a month on it and then, you launch it and no one cares.
I did that once with property as I was listing. I think I did leading questions and I was like, “Would you be interested if we shared data around the suburb that the property’s in and the property itself? Like when it was previously sold or this sort of stuff?” and so then I went out and did that and it was just a waste. People liked it, but people weren’t staying any longer in my membership.
I had it even integrated into my sales page so no one was signing up based off it. And so, I doing like, well, I was paying for my virtual assistant to do all this extra work that was just unjustified. I think it went on for 2 or 3 months or something and then I turned it off and I just stopped doing it. I kept lists, like sharing properties but I just didn’t put the data behind it and I think one person might have asked me about it. Like, “Where’s it gone?” No one really cared.
Tom: After that, you were like, “Fuck!”
Ryan: There’s been a lot of things that have just been like, “Oh! Why did I do that? It was such a bad idea.” Like I just didn’t test it beforehand and I put so much of myself into it and I’m just like, oh, this was just such as waste. So that’s why now, when I launch new websites or something like that, I try to put minimal amount of effort into it and only when I see some signs you get some sort of return then I’ll re-invest. But that’s because I do a shotgun approach.
So I have a lot of different websites in a lot of different niches and so, I can do that because if something fails, it’s not a big issue. But if someone was just doing it with one product, like you with Virtual Valley, I probably wouldn’t recommend the Ryan McLean way of launching websites.
Tom: This can go in your internet marketing course as well. Product launches and shotgun approach.
Ryan: You think I should run one?
Tom: Yeah. I think you should start an information product on how to launch and build websites.
Ryan: How to launch and build crappy-looking websites. For me, I have this theory or I guess, an ideal that I live by, which I call “function before form”. So something needs to work properly because people don’t actually care as much about what a thing looks like if it doesn’t work very well. And that’s just come from my experience of spending hours and days and weeks perfecting the code on the site so it looks exactly the way it looks and all the while, I’ve got 10 people a day visiting my website or something like that. And then, a month later, after I spent all that time, I’m like, “No. This theme or the way this website looks is not what I want.” and so, I good back to the drawing board.
So I think I’ve spent enough years of doing that that I’m like, it’s a waste of time. When you’ve got the volume and you can measure a change that you make. So if I make X change, how does it affect the viewership or attention or whatever it is you’re measuring, then I’ll go ahead and do it. But otherwise, it’s just not worth my time.
Tom: Rapid feedback, I think, is the solution, right?
Ryan: Yeah. But it is, like you were saying, it’s hard to get the right feedback from people and it’s daunting to contact your customers and get on a Skype call with them. I find that daunting, to be like, okay, you’re paying me money and I want to get on the phone with you and get you to tell me what I’m doing that’s not very good. That’s worrying to me. Does that worry you?
Tom: Yes. I think so. I think I’ll just do it anyway. If they don’t want it, they can just ignore it, right? Or they’ll just say, “No”. If they agreed to go on the phone with you, they’re probably going to be okay.
Ryan: Yeah. So why haven’t you gotten feedback earlier? If you’ve been up for 3 months and you’ve had customers for longer?
Tom: Good question. I think the same reason why it took so long to get Virtual Valley launched, is because I’m scared. I know the reason, so it took 5-6 months to build and launch Virtual Valley.
We could have probably released something after 3 months, but I was scared of it not working. And as we said before, my image of being a successful entrepreneur with this marketplace, I was biased towards that. And so, I wanted to delay my face-off with reality. As I believe, probably, exactly what’s happened in the past 3 months is I had a little bits of feedback with a couple of the entrepreneurs that I know and have spoken with.
But I haven’t gone out and scheduled 10 Skype calls to get them to tell me that – to try and get them to tell me their thoughts because this face-off with reality that it hasn’t still actually helped people.
Ryan: How will you know if you’re ready for phase 2? Do you have a metric in terms of, I need X amount of entrepreneurs to – like, for each person that comes in, they need to make X amount of dollars to go to phase 2 or is it just kind of a gut feeling that you have?
Tom: Actually, phase one or phase two, it was actually only crystalized about a week ago. I had phase one and then people – I actually went to London to…
Ryan: So phase two is just something you invented a week ago? Is that what I’m hearing?
Tom: No. Here’s what happened. Talking to the [inaudible 39:30] co-founders and the serious ones are like, “So, what’s your marketing plan, Tom?” And then, I’m like, “So this is what we’ve done. But that’s only phase one. Phase two, after we work with you, it’s going to explode the traffic.”
I’m there like, I truly believe this, right? I have a marketing plan right from the start, be it with a clearly defined phase one or phase two. Phase two will start when the technical co-founder comes on. I’m 100% confident about our technical solution. We have a double-sided referral system in place. We have potentially innovated somehow with this whole outsourcing admin virtual assistant thing and tested that. Then, I’ll start phase two.
Ryan: So what do you mean “innovated and tested” that?
Tom: Okay. I’m just going to slur a couple of ideas about what we might do. This is actually top secret, Ryan. I have only discussed this with my adviser and [inaudible 40:22]
Ryan: I promise I’ll only publish this to the whole world and no one else.
Tom: But what I want to do and again, I haven’t even validated this idea. I haven’t tested this, but I think we can build an automated Slack app bot. So you know the collaborations of it.
Ryan: Yeah, I use Slack everyday.
Tom: I don’t know, 200 million users. If we can build an app within Slack that a business can install for free and then when they interact with us through this application, through this bot, they can interact with this bot to find a virtual assistant automatically.
We’re bringing you the correct candidate without any interaction with a human. You can hire the human, the virtual assistant, from within Slack. Once hired, you actually talk to the real virtual assistant. You communicate and you talk about your task within Slack. All that time is tracked and the payment is setup with a PayPal account that you’ve also done within Slack, if that’s possible. You know, it is very early stage.
Ryan: It sounds very difficult to do.
Tom: Yeah. It probably is. And all of this happens within Slack. I think that is going to be a key channel for first to scale. And I think that’s an innovation. I’ve searched a lot for anything sort of like this. So that’s just an example of one thing that we might do.
It’s still having that vision of 1 Million hours of admin, of time given back to entrepreneurs. It’s just the method of by which we do that, I think, needs to be a little bit more innovative than what we currently have.
Ryan: I guess what I’m hearing is that you’re pretty happy with the marketplace idea and what you’re trying to innovate in is the form or marketing that you’re using to market your marketplace.
Tom: Yeah. You’re right. That’s one part. There are other ways that we would potentially innovate. Not just on the marketing, but also on the way that you would interact with a virtual assistant or a pool of virtual assistants.
Another idea that I would like to do is just, again, a portal that you pay a monthly fixed fee for and you can just somehow throw your task really simply into the portal. You’re not working directly with the virtual assistant, but the tasks are being done and thrown back out at you within X amount of time and you get unlimited access for small tasks. Similar to WP Curve business. [Inaudible 43:11]
Ryan: I’m a customer of WP Curve.
Tom: What do you think?
Ryan: Well, it’s easy. All you do is email them. So you sign up. WP Curve is, for people who are listening who don’t know, it’s like a subscription service for small developer or coding task that take a developer less than half an hour.
You can only do on one, I think, it’s like WordPress website and it’s like $100 a month or something like that. But you just email a tweak that you want made or something that you want done out to them. And they just do it usually within 24 hours and then email you back to say it’s done. Here’s what it looked like before, here’s what it looks like after. And then, when you’ve got your next task, you just email it again. It’s pretty simple.
Tom: And that’s so simple. That’s just a simple business model. Relying just on email, right? That is so simple. That guy doesn’t have to set that. Fair play. He’s done really, really well there. I think we can innovate. I like to eradicate email on this.
It’s like this portal that you get access to. You just go in there and you chuck a task in we make it as simple as possible. But, yeah, he’s done really well. Because I thought with WP Curve, you had to login and there’s some not magical portal, but it’s like this cool thing that you submit tasks into, but it’s actually [inaudible 44:35]
Ryan: No. You just seriously, just email.
Tom: [Inaudible 44:38] That’s awesome.
Ryan: Yeah. When I email them, I don’t even say what website it’s for because my email must be linked to, obviously, one website so they know what to do. I gave them access.
They’ve got their own login and so, they’ve got those details on their backend. And often, I’ll get delivered a task and if it’s not 100% or something, I’ll email back and that’s tracked. And then, someone else, because the developer’s gone home for the day, so some other developer will finish it off. Yeah, so email’s pretty cool.
I tried to use Fiber the other day. I used to use Fiber for transcriptions all the time. And I went on Fiber and it’s super broken now and horrible. I was super disappointed.
Ryan: I don’t know. If you had eBay in Australia, right? You can search for things. But now, eBay has the option where you can have multiple different options for different prices. So you’ll search for something and they’ll put in – the sellers will put in one crappy option for $1 and every option is like $20 or something. You’re like okay, here’s a picture of this. It’s $1. And you go in and the thing that’s pictured isn’t actually $1, it’s something like a piece of paper for $1 or something equally useless.
Tom: It’s the same on Fiber.
Ryan: It used to be you’d go in, and like 1GB would cost you $5. And so, you go in, order transcription for $5 and now, it’s like, someone said, “I’ll do 30 minutes of transcription for $5.” and you go in.
Now, it’s like, “I will only do 30 minutes for $5 if you buy 1GB add-on.” which is like $20 or something. They’ve got all these clauses that you have to weed through so when you search for it, you can’t find what you want. So I’ve just given up on Fiber after that experience.
I have someone who hires people for transcriptions and stuff like that. Having an affordable service where you could get tasks done. Definitely useful to people who… Because I’ve got friends who run businesses who don’t need full time or even part time VA’s, but every now and then, they’ll have a task that they need done and that could be cool. I don’t know.
Tom: Yeah. It’s like working out what the pain is and solving the problem. With Virtual Valley at the moment, we’re solving the problem of recruiting, managing and the payroll of virtual assistants. I think there’s a problem that we can charge more that’s not connected with the time of someone.
So we’re not charging for time, we’re charging for solving a problem. And that problem is getting rid of the admin portion task in your business for $50 a month by access to this portal. I think that is more profitable and also, it’s going to solve the problem. So let’s see what happens.
Ryan: Which a very different business model to what you have now. Dude, you sound like me. As an entrepreneur, and you’re starting new business, you have to try all these different things and which sticks and what works.
Tom: [Inaudible 47:35] And then, we can move into phase two and [inaudible 47:39]
Ryan: And then phase two, the magical phase two. Where it’s all rainbows and unicorns.
Tom: Yeah. When we get to phase two, we should have another chat and see what I actually have.
Ryan: Does phase two really exist? And it was actually like, “I’ll just turn the tap on and all of a sudden, I’ll starting farting money.” or is it like more complicated and difficult than that?
Tom: Who knows what’s going to happen when phase two comes?
Ryan: Alright. We might call it a day there. Because it’s what, 2:00 AM or something over there now?
Tom: Yeah, yeah. Nearly.
Ryan: Thank you so much for coming on and for having this chat. It’s been good to learn about your journey. Where can people find you if they want to check out your business or your podcast?
Tom: virtualvalley.io. You got this [inaudible 48:27] linked. Well, virtualvalley.io/podcast so you can get to the podcast page.
I want to thank you, Ryan. I think that was the most honest podcast interview that I’ve ever had. I was very honest, maybe a little bit too honest. I also want to commend you for what you do for your podcast. A lot of podcasters take their podcast really seriously, you know what I mean? It’s just not as genuine or real as yours, of course. So I want to thank you.
Ryan: And I think we’ve learned through this episode that I obviously don’t take things too seriously because it’ll be months before I setup a proper website for anything I start. That’s half the fun, you know? We’re both working this out.
I like that and like being raw and real and I like that there’s someone else like yourself doing it out there as well that’s probably more polished than me, but at least you’re sharing the ins and outs of running a business and I think people crave that and people need that. So I wish you the best with your podcast as well and I’ll definitely be listening to it and seeing how you go and we’ll get back and chat at phase two.
Tom: Yeah, yeah. I think we should have you on 0-$4 Million as well. You can share some of your insights with my audience.
Ryan: Yeah, for sure. Well, let me know whenever you want me on and we’ll do it.
Tom: Yeah, yup. Sweet. Thank you.
Ryan: All right. Peace out.
Alright guys, that completes the episode with Tom Hunt. I hope that you enjoyed that. I enjoyed getting him on, having a chat with him. Just a fellow entrepreneur trying to break through and create a business that adds value to people’s lives, just like I am.
Hopefully, I can get on his podcast soon and we can chat about something because I had a great time talking to him. I hope that you enjoyed the podcast and you can check him out, as he mentioned, you can go to virtualvalley.io or you can search for “0-$4 Million” in the iTunes Store or Stitch Radio or wherever it is that you listen to this podcast.
Thank you, guys, so much for tuning in and until next time, if you want instructions, go and buy some furniture.