1. Hello! Who are you and what is your business?
My name is Michael Brodie. I’m British but I live now pretty much full-time in the Philippines as I have over 120 employees here and I’m CEO of virtualstaff.ph the Philippines’ largest virtual assistant platform.
My business background, I was the youngest person in Europe (UK specifically) to open retail shops (stores) inside major shopping malls at age 16.
I built it into multiple shops and had 42 employees and a multi-million dollar business by the age of 19.
I’ve been entrepreneurial since I was a kid. I was selling stuff at markets, and on eBay and Amazon before it was “cool”.
My partner is a lawyer and accountant here in the Philippines, we have a tax consulting company here called davaoaccountants.com that helps advise some big corporations as well as small and often foreign business owners on tax structuring and other such stuff.
My staff were from the Philippines and to be quite honest, they were mostly better than the staff I had in the UK, while costing 80% less in salary costs.
So I self-financed a new venture and built the Philippines’ largest virtual assistant platform that basically has over 100,000 Filipino VA’s on it, and business owners and entrepreneurs can find and hire VA’s direct without any middlemen
I built a great team around me and I worked hard on making sure we could provide tremendous value to the market. I cold-called and helped some people and built it from there.
Business is good, but we’re always innovating and pushing the boundaries when it comes to the customer experience. I have a fantastic COO which allows me to really focus on the vision and the big picture stuff.
We recently turned down an undisclosed 7 figure offer to buy virtualstaff.ph.
People can post a job on virtualstaff.ph for free. They then pay us like $49 to access 100,000 VA’s and hire. We don’t take any additional fees or markups.
We actually have a really cool LIFETIME ACCESS, where you can pay us $300 one time fee and basically never pay freelancing or VA fees ever again.
Imagine this, you can literally hire anybody at no extra cost. It’s crazy but it’s real.
We also have for those really wanting my personal help, a coaching program where I basically work with them and they build a virtual team and turnkey management system in one of my offices here in the Philippines.
Our office-based solution allows business owners to have their own virtual team in an official virtualstaff.ph office and have it monitored by an account manager.
I recently sat down with Michael Gerber the E-Myth guy and we spoke about systems and the importance of it. We really started to grow at crazy levels when I decided to take a step back, put in a great COO, and really have a fantastic system in place and team around me.
Expenses are low due to the fact I’m pretty much-employing people of fantastic ability here in the Philippines at a fraction of the UK and USA salary costs.
Obviously I’m not some draconian wage payer, we pay good salaries but relative to the domestic market rate here.
Virtualstaff.ph made $13.68M (revenue not profit) in 2019, a big part of it comes from our office based staffing service where we help businesses build turnkey virtual teams here in the Philippines.
Most businesses we help with this hire between 3-15 staff and it’s really aimed at fast-growing businesses looking to have an entire team, effectively full-time employees here in the Philippines (usually at expert level) as opposed to lowest cost.
We call it “apples to apples”, as you effectively replace a $50k USA employee for a $12k-$15k employee of complete equivalence here in the Philippines.
Affiliate marketing is also a thing that’s being rolled out a lot more in 2020 for our home-based VA business.
We actually built the business by self-financing without any investor money.
But as mentioned previously this is not my first business so I had capital from my retail shops so in that regard was in a lucky position, although leaving school at 16 straight out of high school meant creating a lot of my own luck as failure really was not an option.
In 2009 when I left school, it really was a decade of “you NEED a degree”, and to be quite honest my mom was extremely concerned that I had no “safety net”.
It was not all plain sailing though, there’s been a lot of ups and downs in the last decade.
2. How do you attract and retain your customers?
For virtualstaff.ph I really can’t remember how we got our first users. I mean we have a great marketing team, we also have people on the phones speaking to businesses all over the world.
We are #1 on Google for many keywords, we also use podcast, video, outreach and for our office based VA’s, we do some good old fashioned calling. I don’t have many cold calling, maybe 12-15 people only, but it’s good.
The key lesson for customer retention is to provide value and exceed expectations.
3. What were your challenges and obstacles to growing your business?
Initially market traction. I had invested hundreds of thousands of dollars and the ball wasn’t getting hit out the park… I was doing all this crazy stuff, trying to be the jack of all trades.
I overcame the obstacle by not being a jack of all trades and instead employing people and putting systems in place.
I pivoted from the original business. The retail market in the UK slowed down, and also we really capitalized on a real estate loophole in 2010-2011 which allowed us to secure the best locations at like 90% less than the asking rent. It was to do with local government business rates on empty commercial space.
The Virtual Assistant business for us is doing great, I mean the new office based virtual assistants has had a tremendous response.
We had the phone ringing off the hook! It’s funny, people are surprised but I myself still like to sometimes jump on the phone and talk to potential customers. I get a real buzz from it.
One big mistake I made was when I went into business with a partner on a nightclub venture. I trusted the wrong person and got burnt financially. My lesson was to “partner” with people in JV style stuff like podcasts and all those things, but I don’t think I’d ever have a business partner in terms of equity share ever again.
4. What has been helpful to help you to grow your business?
Michael Gerber, he was a great guy to talk to and also his book the E-myth was really good. I also had the pleasure of sitting down and having a conversation with Lord Alan Sugar (In the 1980’s owned the largest computer business in Europe) who really shared some golden nuggets of wisdom.
Another great book, and one of my old neighbors in the UK was Duncan Bannatyne. He wrote a great book I read at age 15 called “anyone can do it”, I found it very inspirational.
Hired a great COO, I have a great lawyer, I have a fantastic accountant, and I built a great team around me. I also think that having both office-based and home-based virtual assistants has helped us really give the market what it needs.
Ability to see an idea and take it forward. I’m also very big into the saying “common sense is not so common”. I used to be a control freak! When I learned to step back and let my team do their job, business really took off to insane levels.
Retail I guess I got lucky that the business rates legislation changed, however, a 16-year-old kid still needs balls to figure a way to self-finance a shop.
I did it with a partner who was the same age as me, still a very close and trusted friend today. We somehow raised it. From age 13 I wheeled and dealt and by 16 had $50,000 to put into it, by 18 I put in about $250,000 of my own money to take things to the next level.
You could also say market trends forced me to look for the opportunity outside of retail
5. What is your advice for those are starting productized services?
The single biggest thing is common sense and trust your gut, and don’t look for a magic formula. However, surrounding yourself with good people is always smart.
A mistake I see others making is looking for a magic formula or easy money. I think the saying is “a fool and money is easily parted”.
Don’t overcomplicate things and simplify if you can. Look at the big picture and have a vision.
6. What are your plans for the future?
My first goal was to buy a Jaguar XJ car. I got that at age 19 and I remember feeling like a king driving home. My future goal is to take my businesses forward and employ 1,000 people by 2022.
It’s funny as things are great right now and we’re really on track.
I just love life right now, I mean I’m obsessed with Philippines outsourcing and helping change people’s lives by hiring VA’s and building virtual teams.
I get so many thank you messages on LinkedIn etc and it’s that what I love.
I accomplish these goals by continuously expanding. We have this new in-house virtual assistant concept and it’s going amazing. I mean we are housing world-class Filipino VA’s in our office and teaching business owners to run this like clockwork from the comfort of their home. It’s kind of crazy, exciting and fun all rolled into one.
7. Where can we learn more about you?
Some questions for the community:
* #1 challenge you have with virtual assistants
* What is your biggest headache with outsourcing