Connor Gillivan is currently a Founder and Owner of OutsourceSchool.com. He was an Owner of FreeUp.net, which he helped scale and was acquired in 2019 by The HOTH. Connor is an expert in hiring and scaling with virtual assistants and shares his business insights on his own blog, ConnorGillivan.com. He currently lives in Denver, Colorado.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
I entered the eCommerce industry when I helped found my first company while still in college. We saw an opportunity to purchase textbooks from students at the end of each semester and then sell them on the growing Amazon Marketplace. As Amazon expanded into new product categories such as toys, baby products, and home goods, we followed in suit by forming drop ship partnerships with manufacturers around the country.
As we built the business, we realized that we needed help with all of the repetitive tasks that go into running the operations of a large eCommerce business. We were introduced to Odesk (now Upwork) by another entrepreneur once we moved to Orlando, Florida and we became addicted. We ended up interviewing hundreds of remote workers and adding over 30 to our team. We found an equation for success when hiring remote workers, but we were frustrated with the process that Upwork and other freelancing sites were offering to business owners.
It was around this time that one of my co-founders, Nathan Hirsch, and I decided that there should be an easier way for eCommerce companies to hire reliable remote workers. In the fall of 2015, we set out to build a company that would do exactly that. We called it FreeeUp because we would be freeing up the time for business owners and eCommerce workers. The third “e” represents eCommerce.
The company differentiates itself by interviewing hundreds of eCommerce workers each week and only accepting the top 1% to our network. We’ve created a custom interview process based off of our experience to ensure that workers joining our network are reliable and understand the importance of communication. On the backend, FreeeUp acts as insurance for its clients. In the rare case that a worker decides to leave a client, we replace the worker within hours and pay for any re-training costs necessary.
Over the past year, we’ve seen a tremendously positive reaction to our service. Today, we have hundreds of clients and workers on the platform that love our service. We have a great referral program where clients and workers can make money off their referrals. And we are on pace to surpass $1,000,000 in revenue in the next year.
How do you make money?
FreeeUp makes money through its workers and additional eCommerce services. Workers that join the FreeeUp network pay us a commission to find them work with eCommerce clients. Clients pay hourly rates between $5 and $50 for the worker based off of what they need as a business.
We have both US and non-US workers available for hire who come at different price ranges. The lower level workers ($5 to $20 per hour) are workers that have specific skill sets that can positively contribute to your daily operations. The higher level workers ($20 to $50 per hour) are experts that speak with you, create a game plan, and perform work to grow your business.
In addition to our amazing workers, we also offer a variety of eCommerce services such as consulting, Amazon ungating, Amazon suspension appeals, product listing, etc.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
When we first started the business, we were more eCommerce service focused as we broke into the industry of remote hiring. Because of our focus on selling eCommerce consulting services, the business has been profitable since it has started. As the company has grown over the past year, profits have continuously increased with the number of hours being billed to clients greatly increasing. Today, we are billing over 10,000 worker hours each month to our network of clients.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
Of course. Every entrepreneur runs into this dilemma in the first few months of starting a new business. It’s only natural to question your business idea from time to time when everything doesn’t seem to be going as planned or you run into walls along the building process.
With FreeeUp, the doubt was never too strong because of the initial positive response we had from our target market. My co-founder and I built an expertise in remote hiring and eCommerce through our first Amazon business so we knew the market extremely well and we were able to prove our worth to potential clients through our history of selling.
As days built into months, our market awareness grew and our client base became more excited about the idea of being able to hire a reliable remote worker within having to deal with the recruitment, interview, and hiring process. Once we introduced our referral program and word began to spread to our client’s professional friends, the business really started to take off.
How did you get your first customer?
When we first started the business, we tapped into the database of manufacturers and suppliers that we had accumulated over the past 5 years while running our first eCommerce business. With the Amazon business, we had worked with over 1,000 manufacturers and we had a database of over 20,000 suppliers in the United States.
We built a strong sales pitch introducing ourselves, explaining our value proposition, and calling the reader to action. We sent different variations of that sales pitch out to our network of suppliers and fielded responses as they came in. One of our first clients from our supplier network was The Step2 Company, a kid’s manufacturer that we had a great relationship with through our Amazon business.
Another tactic that we used to gain our first customers was an Amazon course on “How to Safely Sell on Amazon.” We offered the course to entrepreneurs interested in selling on the Amazon Marketplace and backed it up with our 5+ years of experience selling on Amazon. These first customers eventually turned into clients that were interested in hiring remote workers. Many are still with us today and love our service.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
In the past 6 months running the business, my business partner and our CEO has been focused on landing guest post, webinar, and podcast opportunities to share the story of FreeeUp. After getting his feet wet, he has been able to break into the industry and has been featured on leading websites to share the FreeeUp story. He’s probably been featured on over 20 different websites now and the people listening or reading are our target market. When people listen or read information about FreeeUp, they are inclined to check out our site and set up a meeting with Nate.
We’ve also started to experiment with using special promotions if you were someone that heard about FreeeUp through one of these guest opportunities. That has been a great way to entice readers or listeners to give FreeeUp a shot. One of the most advantageous aspects about our service is that it’s free to sign up and you don’t pay for anything unless you actually hire a worker.
We’re excited to continue to build our reputations within the eCommerce industry and use special promotions to bring new clients into the network.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
Over the past 3 months, my co-founder and I have been working to decide on the best payment methods to offer to our clients and workers, both in the states and internationally. There are tons of options of companies that offer payment processing and each have their own set of unique advantages and disadvantages. We’ve been researching, understanding fees associated, and testing to find the best possible solutions.
We’re at a point where we are confident that the choices we’ve made will work, but now we need our development team to integrate the payment methods into our software so that it is easily accessible and editable for clients and workers. It has been a long process, but we are confident that it will make the client and worker experience even better once completed.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
Passion. I am someone who only pursues opportunities within my life where I am passionate about the work, the potential outcome, and the purpose of the venture. By focusing solely on projects where I am extremely passionate about its long-term outcome, I am able to enjoy each day and make significant progress.
Commitment. I understand that it takes hard work to reach your long term goals and I take it very seriously by learning from other entrepreneurs before me. Each week, I create an action plan for what I want to achieve based off our big picture goals. Each day, I break those goals down into time increments. I work within those time constraints and get as much done as I possibly can. On a weekly basis, I will work between 55 and 70 hours consistently. When running my first business, my cofounders and I would work 14+ hours each day in the holiday season to keep up with customer demand.
Vision. I am driven by the future reality that I depict within my mind. I am motivated by who I want to become and who I want my ventures to become. I work with amazing people that complement my skill sets and see a similar vision. With vision, you can stay focused on today and understand where it is leading you tomorrow.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
It’s not a specific moment, but rather a culmination of all the hard work my cofounders and I put into building a unique company cultures based off a set of core company values. For 2 years, my cofounders and I hired 60 people both in Orlando and internationally. In the hiring process, we focused on finding people that not only had the right skill set and experience to join the team but a set of personal values that aligned with the company’s.
Fast forward 2 years later and we had a lively 60 person team where our culture was tightly engrained in their mindset and in how we functioned as a company. Everyone respected each other, brought new ideas to the table, treated work as a place to be creative, and drove growth within their given team. Seeing the outcome of all the hard work and time that we put into building that culture was a testament to how important company culture can be. We built a culture where our team wanted to come to work and where they wanted to stay the extra hours when it was called for. Seeing 60 people committed to a vision that we had created in our apartment was extremely satisfying and uplifting.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
I am super excited about the future of FreeeUp and my career as an author in entrepreneurship. As an entrepreneur, I often envision the future of my ventures one year out from where we stand today. It is an exercise that reminds me why I am working so hard today and is the fuel that I can share with the team to further motivate them to continue working hard.
With FreeeUp, we are on an amazing growth trajectory where we are rapidly adding new workers and new clients each month to the platform. As we continue to improve our marketing and advertising strategies, we expect to carve out a nice niche within the remote hiring market where we are a leading resource for business owners to hire reliable remote workers in eCommerce. Over the next year, a big focus will be taking our software to the next level so that our clients can have the same experience while managing their workers that they would have at a multi-million dollar corporation such as Upwork or Freelancer.com.
As the individual responsible for all of the content, branding, and marketing of the business, I am most excited about building FreeeUp into a brand synonymous with remote hiring and eCommerce expertise. We are just launching our own blog where we’ll be creating loads of content about remote hiring and eCommerce that we can share with eCommerce entrepreneurs to make their businesses grow. We’ll be releasing eBooks, white papers, case studies, and valuable content that our clients and potential clients can use in their own entrepreneurial growth. At the end of the day, our mission is to connect high-quality and reliable remote workers to businesses and entrepreneurs that want to grow. I’m excited to show the industry that hiring remote workers can be simple and that they can significantly contribute to the growth of your company.
What business books have inspired you?
I am an avid reader and have been inspired by many books throughout my entrepreneurial journey. The three types of books that I love most are biographies, self-growth, and business strategy.
Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I can read this book over and over and I learn something new every single time. The passion, focus and determination that Steve Jobs demonstrated throughout his life as an entrepreneur is riveting. Walter Isaacson paints an amazing picture of who Steve Jobs was through countless interviews with his family, friends, employees, and business colleagues. For a man who made such an amazing impact on the world, he also had his struggles and had to fight through tons of adversity to become who he envisioned. His vision is a constant inspiration for the visions that I have as an entrepreneur.
Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
I picked this book up this month and am still reading it. It was written in the 1950s by a businessman who studied the habits and lives of the richest men in America in the early 1900s. The book offers anecdotes and self-growth practices to achieving the visions that you possess. I’ve loved this book so far because of its core principles. When you cut through all of the anecdotes, Hill is explaining the process of creating a goal, developing action steps, and teaching our mind to believe in that future. At the core of the most influential entrepreneurs is a deep understanding of the power of the mind and how to use it to build the future you envision.
Zero to One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future by Peter Thiel
In this book, Peter Thiel provides his advice to entrepreneurs on how to successfully start and grow a new company. From his experience with PayPal and in the venture capital world, Thiel outlines key principles that he sees as the driving factor for how good ideas can become great companies. Some of the principles that he outlines can be found in other business books, but the context in which he explains them makes it clear how important they are to the growth of your startup. I highly recommend this for startup founders and CEOs who want to step away from their operations and gain a bigger picture view of what they should be doing to drive growth.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I recently started using a new sales application called PipeDrive. I love it. The app allows you to create multiple pipelines for different customer markets where you can easily store their contact information, create assignments, and move them through the stages that you’ve built. The dashboard makes it easy to see when assignments are due and where your leads are in the pipeline process. I highly recommend it for anyone looking for a new app to organize their sales efforts and work with multiple people on their sales team.
What advice do you have for the upcoming generations of entrepreneurs?
I’m a big proponent of teaching others what I have learned through my entrepreneurial experiences. Entrepreneurship is becoming a “career” more engrained within our society through the development of Silicon Valley, tech accelerators, and movies/tv shows surrounding the topic. If I had to give one piece of advice to someone interested in living life as an entrepreneur, I’d urge them to do the following:
- Choose an idea and an industry where you are passionate about its growth and future
- Understand your own strengths and weaknesses then find a business partner who complements your weaknesses. Find someone that you can trust and that you want to grow with for at least the next 5 years.
- Stay lean in the beginning. Build out a minimum viable product and talk to your potential customers. Make sure that your product or service is addressing a real problem that people would be willing to pay for a solution.
- Stay steadfast in your belief and the pursuit of your vision.