How do you become more than just yourself? How do you scale up your ambitions?
How do you summit real mountains and giant business obstacles with equal ease?
To get inspiration, I spoke with Bryan Miles, CEO and Co-Founder of BELAY, which provides virtual assistants, bookkeepers, and web specialists, and that’s what we tackled on this episode of the #FlipMyFunnel podcast.
Here’s what we’re unpacking today:
- Fun Fact
- What Is a Virtual Culture?
- How Did BELAY Start?
- How Did You Get the Idea of Doing It?
- What Makes a Great Virtual Assistant?
Bryan: I have stood on top of Mount Rainier, the Grand Teton, and Mount Whitney, some pretty iconic mountains in our country. I’m a mountain climber. And that’s why I like the name BELAY so much.
Plus I’m 44, and every time I get off one of those mountains I think, “I’m never doing this again.” The last mountain I summited was Mount Rainier, and it was a butt-kicker. I’m still drunk on the honeymoon phase of having gone through with it, and there’s no way I’m going again.
What Is a Virtual Culture?
Sangram: You wrote a book called Virtual Culture. What does that mean?
Bryan: Back in 2017, Entrepreneur magazine gave us the top award for a company culture. We were number one out of 50 companies listed. We were the only one on that list of 50 that was all virtual.
We have no physical office. The reason for that is we sell virtual services, so I feel like as a company we need to eat our own dog food.
A lot of people said, “Oh, you don’t have an office, so that means you’re not a legitimate company.”
No, we’re a great company. We’re making a great profit. We’re growing in revenue every year. We’re doing the things that we should as a company.
Culture has nothing to do with where you work. Culture is basically shared vision, going after something collectively as a whole, whether that’s in your basement or in your cubicle at work. You can have that on your back deck as much as you can in a boardroom.
How Did BELAY Start?
Bryan: In 2010, my wife and I left our jobs to start this company. We resigned on the same day. We cashed in our 401(k)s, which was about $160,000.
We used it as a start up capital. We went all-in. We didn’t go to a bank or friends; we just used our own money. We broke even in 14 months.
Right now, we have about 720 people on our team. Sixty-five of those are our corporate team, which is our full-time w2 salaried folks who act as our headquarters: salespeople, marketing, me, my wife, HR, the guts of the business. The rest of our team are contractors, our virtual assistants, bookkeepers, and webmasters. They’re all over the U.S.
How Did You Get the Idea of Doing It?
Bryan: In 2010, I was working in a job where I was on six to eight flights a week. I was worn out. I was making somebody else wealthy and I was really doing a really great job. I actually really loved that job, but it was killing me.
Then I read a book about Sam Walton called Made in America, which is a really great story of how he started Walmart. I realized he started his first branded Walmart when he was 43. And I thought:
Mind you, at the time we started BELAY, during the great recession, unemployment was 9.6%.
We hit it at the right time, it was suddenly more acceptable to outsource. They didn’t call it virtual services, because no one knew what that was, but outsourcing made sense. They didn’t want to add to their payroll.
We grew it, and by about the third year we hit an inflection point where our corporate team members each had one role, versus startup mode where everybody had to wear six different hats. We had the funding and enough money from our profits to reinvest in the business.
Eight years later, we’re serving thousands of customers all over the U.S.
What Makes a Great Virtual Assistant?
Bryan: The king of things that we’re looking for in a virtual assistant is their ability to anticipate needs. That means that leaders need to be comfortable giving their assistants permission to get out ahead of them.
Our best clients don’t see them as assistants. They actually see them as extensions of who they are. They grease the tracks and say, “Listen, if Amy’s asking for this, just pretend it’s me asking for this.”
Once people have a virtual assistant, it’s like being upgraded from coach to first class. After you’ve experienced that level of service, you’re ruined.
That’s what we hope to do with our clients, ruin them for life.
Sangram: Here’s my summary of our discussion:
Culture is not in the office and the cubicle. It’s really the shared vision that you have for your organization. And if your team doesn’t know or doesn’t feel it, I think you’ve already lost it.
I feel like that is such a big takeaway for me and hopefully for every leader listening to this.
You mentioned Made in America, the book by Sam Walton and how he started Walmart at 43 years old.
I recently wrote about this. It’s actually a fallacy that only people in their twenties can hustle and found a company. I started Terminus when I was 36, with a wife and two kids. I feel like I had the experience to learn and know a lot of things.
Bryan: I would have screwed up if I’d started this in my twenties. For a couple of reasons. I wouldn’t have had the experience to handle leadership. The other thing is, with our success, I would have screwed that up too. Now I’m a much better steward of the success that has come our way.
Sangram: So anybody who’s thinking of starting something, a new project, a new hobby, don’t let age be the reason you don’t do it.
And finally, if you have a virtual assistant does the person that you’re working with have the ability to anticipate your needs?
If you are a leader in your organization and if you can anticipate the needs of your customers, your employees, your boss, then you’re really gelling and making things happen. And if you have a truly amazing virtual assistant like I do, they’ll be an extension of your life.
Bryan: We meet a lot of leaders who do not know how to delegate. Part of the reason is they believe this falsehood that having an assistant is a luxury. It’s not. Having somebody who is a work-alongside partner and serves as an extension of you, that’s more a necessity for growth and productivity.
When you finally find a great person, delegate a result, not a task. It’s the difference-maker in how you empower an assistant to do a really great job for you. Frankly, the word “assistant” is a disservice to the role these people actually perform.
We have people with amazing backgrounds and experience who serve as assistants in our organization.
So my call and my challenge to leaders is, how do you see delegation? Do you see it as a stewardship issue, where you have the opportunity to really steward how people work? Or do you just see them as people who are just getting tasks done for you?