Brad Stevens | Delegating, Outsourcing, and Managing a Virtual Team

John Corcoran 9:50

when things are dominated up to what was it at its peak in terms of employees or revenue or products number units sold before this hit

Brad Stevens 10:01

I mean, we did I think 40 or 50,000 units of the product in that business we had about close to 30 employees. All in the States. Yeah, that was all a stateside operation. We had contract manufacturers we worked with in other countries for components to it. 

John Corcoran 10:19

But so the business didn’t fail, but only it didn’t fail, because you found a way to make it leaner.

Brad Stevens 10:25

Yeah, I mean, at the time, that was a big disaster we had. And so it was being able to use the gig economy and learn how to, you know, because I, my marketing director, had always wanted to do all these different projects. I’m like, man, we just can’t from a budget standpoint. And, you know, back in the day, it was platforms like Elance and oDesk, that you could find these gig economy workers. And, you know, most people had read Tim Ferriss, you know, Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Work Week”, you know, 1012 years prior. But it was still this novelty of like, how do you actually use these resources? How do you actually use them in your business? What can they do, and when I realized I could get people to, like, you know, help manage the LinkedIn account of our sales reps, we could do this thing called Data scraping, we could data scrape and data mined for pennies on the dollar, incredible leads. And we could get video editing and graphic design and websites bill, all this kind of stuff. I mean, 10s of 1000s of dollars of what it would cost me, you know, for hundreds of dollars. So I was able to make a dollar stretch and kind of get through that patch, you know, at that time by using these resources.

John Corcoran 11:26

Got it? Got it? And how did you learn these things at the time, you know, nothing like a good crisis to have to learn some important skills, right? I mean, this is not easy, as you know, it’s not easy to manage a virtual team, recruit, hire a virtual team, monitor them. Did you have a mentor or you know, another entrepreneur founder who guided you through it, or you figured it out along the way?

Brad Stevens 11:55

Yeah, I mean, at the time, it was, it was really kind of figuring out along the way, like I mentioned, you know, Tim Ferriss’ “The 4-Hour Work Week” was about the closest sort of reference book that had been written about this whole, you know, gig economy thing of you could describe, it’s gotten much larger, you know, since this point, it was actually a friend of my wife’s that, you know, went to dinner one night, and I remember, it was the first time that really kind of brought, he had told me he had gotten a website done for his father in law’s, you know, business. And he said, he showed it to me, he was like, I got this done for like, you know, 500 bucks, and I just spent 10 grand getting paid to get our website kind of overhauled locally. And I was like, are you kidding me. And so I went back that night. After dinner, I remember that Mexican restaurant member was sitting, it was me and him. We had, you know, we were talking about, you know, Bob together. And I went back in, I could not get off like Elance was the platform back in the day that since I just started clicking, and clicking, I spent five hours I was like, this is going to change the game. If I can really harness this and understand it, there’s a lot that went into it, you had to vet people and learn how to communicate, and there’s all kinds of things that I learned and the best practices, and that’s what I kind of speak on when I was doing a 90 minute kind of webinar and virtual presentation for groups on it. But we just committed to figuring it out. And part of it was just, you know, a very process driven individual, and detail oriented, so being able to identify, and then kind of create, you know, workflows of how to build this into the, into the business. Part of this is just creativity so it’s just once you kind of learn, you have these tools, like a wrench doesn’t mean anything if it’s sitting in the toolbox, but it’s like, well, what can I do with this wrench? Well, I can do this, and I can do this, and I can make this tighter or just this. So you know, learning for example, like data scraping and data mining, like, you know, finding these resources on these platforms, if you go scrape the web and put into a spreadsheet, like incredibly targeted lead partnership opportunities. Well, that’s great. But now you have that data, what do you do with it? And so then it was sort of coming up with great brainstorming ideas of like, okay, we have their LinkedIn profile, we have somebody log in under LinkedIn and connect and we have their email, we can send an email to them. We can use this creative tool that sends automated handwritten letters. And once we connect with them on LinkedIn, and they agree, then we’ll log into this thanks, calm and go send, you know, automated handwritten letters to them now that we know they’ve engaged with our content. And you can use a VA to do that. So it kind of snowballed. It was just understanding it. And the more I kind of built concepts and a lot of his creativity as well. It’s kind of bringing it together in different ways. That’s what I mentioned is kind of a blend of some growth, hacking, some outsourcing some automations and delegation, some, you know, free or cheap tech tools, and how you can kind of blend it together to just do some really cost effective things, any big mistakes that have occurred along the way, or regrets or challenges as you were teaching this to yourself? Yeah, I mean, and I had kind of give it that that company at the time, I had my marketing director and some support team that we were kind of going through this, I mean, I brought it to the table and we kind of got into it together. But I mean, something I’ve continued to learn is just the vetting process is just setting a high bar for people that you’re going to work with, in using for these different you know, projects. And then how to communicate with them. Those are some of the failure points we had is, you know, maybe others have had as you go, you’re trying to identify some, you know, somebody to do it. And then, you know, I heard the story a million times. Well, you know, by the amount of time I had to spend explaining to them what to do, I could have done it myself, right? He had time. Yeah. And unfortunately, a lot of entrepreneurs are not the most patient when it comes to detail or communication. But we learned how to use tools like Screencast-O-Matic and Loom that allows us to do screencasting, that we could record our screen or voice in our mouse and send it over. And it just eliminated so many of the failure points and communication, both initially on the project. But then also, what I found is, it taught us how we could attract better talent, because you got to understand these people in the gig economy world. You know, they can see a mile away somebody that doesn’t know how to communicate with a virtual worker, and they live and die by their reputation on these platforms. It’s like, nope, Johnson’s a bad communicator, he’s gonna expect way too much, he’s not gonna communicate well with me, he’s gonna be a poor rating, and it’s gonna give me no future jobs on this platform. So by using the right kind of tools, you not only get a better product, but experience but you attract better talent, you know, as well. So I think that’s the biggest thing I kind of learned. And what kind of led to the business I’m in now is the other challenge was we had all these like, individual skill based people that between myself and my marketing director, we have 5060 people, we were individually kind of manage, right? Somebody that did video editing, somebody that did graphic design, somebody that would do LinkedIn. So I did data scraping. And we were having to kind of quarterback all that.

And so I said, How can I? What if I wanted a full time person to work with me side by side to do nothing but manage those resources. And that’s what I kind of learned after, when I kind of got into this business. And that’s what I ran across the Philippines is this concept of having a virtual staff, a virtual assistant that can actually work side by side with you as a part of your company and your team, you know, they’re on the other side of the world, that can do a ton of work directly themselves, a lot of skill sets, but then they can manage all those specialized resources, they can find them, they can manage them, and so forth. So when I learned about getting a virtual staff to plug in and kind of be a quarterback over those resources, it took our game up to a whole nother place. Hmm. Why the Philippines?

John Corcoran 17:18

It has a great reputation for outsourcing. But you mentioned it briefly earlier.

Brad Stevens 17:23

Yeah, so actually a good segue from that comment. So when I realized I wanted to find a, you know, somebody that could work side by side, you know, not somebody off of one of the gig economy platforms like Fiverr, and Upwork, and so forth. And, and would post on a job board in and I’ve been hearing, and I decided I want to have a full time kind of person working side by side with me, I kept hearing about the Philippines. And when I really started investigating, and I ended up visiting there and visiting 20 facilities over the course of several days, is that people realize that the US controlled the Philippines up until like 1947, so it has completely Americanized culture. English is their second language, they have American education system there. And when you walk down the street, there’s, you know, Outback Steakhouse, so they get our culture. So there’s not as much of a culture gap, which is really important. I mean, if you’re getting somebody to just do a one off logo, right, or a website development, you know, the culture breach isn’t as big of an issue. But when you’re having somebody to work side by side, and to manage your email, to do personal projects, to do LinkedIn management, you need less of a culture gap. And so the Philippines found that you get very competent, sharp individuals, American education, English, English speaking. But it’s still, you know, from an economic standpoint, I mean, minimum wage is still one US dollar over there. So the US dollar has a lot of strength. And so you can get very, very talented sharp people, you know, for a fraction off standpoint, and you can pay them four or five, six times what their minimum wage is the equivalent of making, you know, 2530 bucks an hour in the US with somebody has a four year college degree very sharp and bright. And, and so it creates a win-win situation. So once I visited there, that kind of made all the difference. And I got my very first VA, and I heard this young woman at 23 years old, who didn’t have a ton of experience being a VA, but she was very sharp, bright, and should work for another company. And I was just blown away by her passion to learn to educate herself to understand and absorb my business harder and brought her on full time. You know, it was crazy. Then I added a second, a third. And funny enough that a 23 year old girl is now my chief operating officer of 275 employees, you know, several years later, wow. And her ability and competency to grow and perform at an incredible, incredible level. So just showed me the capacity. If you set the right bar over there and the right people and do the right assessments, you can get that kind of talent pretty consistently.

John Corcoran 19:46

Now, I think maybe it’s because of my background as a recovering lawyer. But I always think of worst case scenario and I think how do you prevent How do you diversify your risk prevent anything from happening and the Philippines for a long time was plagued by monsoons and Technical snafu is it seems like in recent years, some of those have been taken advantage of it seems like they don’t have as many hiccups as they used to. But I don’t know if that’s just my personal experience. Have you noticed that?

Brad Stevens 20:12

Yeah, that was, which was really eye opening that I saw, when I went to visit over there. And just seeing and visiting, you know, 20 plus facilities over the course of four or five days, I went on a very intense kind of tour. People actually on our, on our website, outsourceaccess.com and actually see that documentary film of kind of I took our team over there. But it was just amazing to see the technology, the infrastructure, you know, because a lot of large corporations have been using the Philippines as call centers, because it has such a small language gap, right? For years, but now it’s starting to get more visibility and more small to medium businesses are kind of engaging and going down that, you know, going down that path. So the technical infrastructure, and there’s still a lot of areas that aren’t as developed. But there’s been a huge double down in what’s called the BPO, the business process, outsourcing industry, you know, over there from a technology standpoint, and weather wise, I mean, they’re still, they’re still definitely some, the monsoons. And actually, you know, a couple weeks ago, there was one, I mean, we actually chose for the base of our operations to kind of be in an area that doesn’t have as much direct hit experience, you know, a lot of times, so you’re still gonna have the weather issues and things are gonna happen from time to time, but they’ve they built infrastructure and redundancy. And that’s really helped, you know, mitigate any kind of losses that happen from that.

John Corcoran 21:29

Yeah. What has been like, this is such a different business from your last business, but what is it been like? What personal challenges have you had to overcome in building such a fast scaling operation? 270 plus people in 20 months is insane.

Brad Stevens 21:48

John, it comes down to, you know, the age old age of a Jim Collins talks about, you know, right people, right seats, you know, it, it, it’s been about finding the right kind of people, because I mean, crazy enough, on top of all the rapid growth, I haven’t been able to physically be there during that journey or making a normally I’d be making several trips over there. But after my very first trip there that I went inside to launch this operation, I’ve been able to go back, you know, COVID hit, I was supposed to go for, you know, several weeks back in March, April, as we were going to be getting into new office facility and so forth, we decided to pause on how everybody’s working virtual, which actually worked out way better. But so I’ve had to really double down on the right people, the proper leadership, conveying my passion and care as a leader and kind of driving the organization in attracting the right kind of people. So, you know, our biggest challenge, just because we had pretty high growth, was operationally kind of keeping up with the talent requirements that we were bringing on with our clients. You know, because we provide a fully, all we do is full time, and it’s a fully managed VA experience. And part of the differentiator we bring in the market is providing layers of managers and infrastructure. And we have over 200, specialized people to support the VA, which is very different, anything anybody’s done in the market. So it was just getting the core team built of senior managers and getting that in place. And then, you know, just all the processes and the workflows, which we’re still continuing to refine To this day, to attract talent, and get the right people in, do the proper assessments to make sure they’re going to be a right fit, to get them paired up with clients. So the challenge hasn’t been demanded, because I’ve been a pretty big thought leader in space and created a lot of awareness. And, frankly, because we have been delivering a really good experience. I mean, we have tons of referrals. I mean, once an entrepreneur experiences that they want to share it with other entrepreneurs are like, hey, somebody actually got this outsourcing thing, right? This company is amazing and how they deliver so we’ve been fortunate to get a lot of demand. Our site has just been building the operations, the infrastructure, you know, to make sure we’re delivering some fanatical about EOS traction Entrepreneurial Operating System actually hired an eo member, you know, Entrepreneurs’ Organization. I’m a member of one of the beauties of that is I was able to tap out internationally and got a Philippines member that did EOS implementation for us. It’s been amazing first in your management team. I use components for Disciplines of Execution as part of that to kind of keep us on track with our quarterly goals. We did our level 10 meetings actually just had one before our call today. My whole team in the Philippines right up on zoom and we go through and do our 90 minute level 10 meetings quarterly goals, how we’re going about executing it with my senior development, more senior managers and HR operations, finance. And one of the most powerful things is our EOS implementer had us all read Jim Collins, “Good to Great” together. And I’m the first guy I mean, from a male standpoint, I’m the first guy to stop and ask for directions if I’m lost, like I don’t need to have an ego that says I need to go banging my head against the wall. Like I just soon if there’s a framework or process to follow, it’s been proven I’d rather use it so I can use my creative ability. I’m building, we’re building and so we read Good to Great and A lot of people, you know, they’re like, Oh, yeah, good to great. It’s a good one. But if I asked them, well, what were the key principles? A lot of them don’t remember, right? They all just know it was a good business book. And oh, yeah, no, it’s a great one. But they really don’t. And that was me as well. I mean, I read it, I think back in my late 20s. And just Yeah, I remember Yeah, Jim Collins. He’s great, but nobody, really, most people don’t know what the principles are, and use them. I became such a fanatical student of Jim Collins, and asked her to read it together as a management team. And it was like I read it again for the first time. And I’m like, this is the blueprint of how to build a phenomenal organization. So I double down on those principles. And it’s part of what we use to actually our core values spelled great gr EA T, because of so connected to it. And I use the vocabulary and bring the concepts to the table and level five leadership, right people, right seats, verse bullets, and cannonballs, all the key concepts, across all of his key books, has been a huge part. So, you know, the challenges have been operations, leadership, managing, you know, virtual leadership. So I’ve tried to double down on existing frameworks and processes like EOS, like Good to Great like four Disciplines of Execution like John Maxwell’s, The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership, and try to really use those frameworks to kind of guide our process. And, so far, I’ve been very fortunate, it’s worked, and it’s brought the right people to us, which is where it starts to be a part of the organization.

John Corcoran 26:20

One of the things that I think is so interesting about entrepreneurship is your you have to work yourself on improving your own skills as you improve the skills of those around you. And Firstly, that’s something that I see for me next year and years ahead, that there are going to be certain skills that I’ve never worked on before that I need to work on. For you. What skills do you think are that you need to work on in the year?

Brad Stevens 26:46

sticking bigger, and thinking bigger and bigger, I think is, as entrepreneurs, I mean, my businesses, I haven’t had one to this size as of yet. And I think you can allow yourself to be molded mentally to sort of this one size and make the mental leap of like, No, we can be 500, we can be 2000. And our goal, actually, in the next four years to get to 3000 people, that’s a big concept to think about, especially something on the other side of the world. But, but I think, you know, thinking bigger as a leader in shifting, you know, for those of you familiar with EOS, really owning that visionary, new type of role, and continuing to extract myself from operations and day to day, and here’s the thing I call the 85% rule is like, Look, if somebody else can do it and get 85% of what I would do, and it gets done, then it’s a win, you know, I’d rather get 5x more done at 85% than 1x done and 100% what I can do. So I think owning that role and thinking bigger and just mentally, the appetite and desire to kind of get to that size. And just developing as a leader, you know, overall, you know, culture is a huge part is what’s made us successful. And we got to set up a whole Corporation in the Philippines and go through that infrastructure. But I think ironically enough, a lot of people see the CEO side is, you know, you don’t get into the day to day, which is true operationally. But I say one of the most powerful things that I do that I learned from reading an article, Frank Blake that turned around Home Depot, you know, he talks about one of those powerful things he did was write 100 handwritten letters per week to frontline staff. And that rippled through the culture of that organization. It’s like Peter Drucker says, you know, culture eats strategy for breakfast, you have all the strategy in the world, but getting things right, treating people right then super passionate about your organization. It’s actually I still write personal handwritten messages, you know, I had to do via chat to all of our VAs that join our organization, we’re committed to their personal development, their growth, and you wouldn’t believe how much that ripples our organization. So my growth areas is just stepping into bigger thinking as far as our size and what we’re capable of kind of breaking outside of my fishbowl to the current size that I’m at from a standpoint and then doubling down on on culture and continually being the cheerleader, you know, from a visionary from a culture standpoint, moving ahead,

John Corcoran 29:12

in an organization that really helps with that, would you mention is he Oh, so what role has EO, Entrepreneurs’ Organization, what role has that played for you over the years?

Brad Stevens 29:26

It’s been a centerpiece, you know, of my entrepreneurial development, my personal development as a husband and father. I just can’t say enough about You, unlike some other organizations that are out there. I mean, it’s a volunteer run organization. You know, I’m on the board of the president this year, and probably put in about as much time with that as my business and don’t get paid for it. But that’s driven by the passion for the organization. I mean, it’s, you know, 15,000 entrepreneurs globally 190 chapters all over the world. I got a chance to speak for 50 or 60 chapters myself, I got a chance to know a lot of members. You know, you meet him In monthly forums, you have seven or eight entrepreneurs you meet with for four hours per month. And you’re basically it’s your board of advisors, you know, and none of you are in the same industry. So you can offer blind spots and insights from people that aren’t as close in the weeds of your industry. Know, from a business standpoint, also, from a personal matter a great deal as an entrepreneur, it intersects your personal life a great deal as a father as a husband, spouse. So it’s just helped elevate me to a whole nother place by having that form I meet with monthly, you know, we have 30 plus speakers and events throughout the year, incredible speakers. I mean, in the last month, we had Usain Bolt and Gary Vaynerchuk, they came to speak for the organization. They just continue to inspire. And in stepping into leadership roles being president of the chapter this year, and I’m actually gonna be a regional director on the East Coast for next year. It’s just, you surround yourself with fellow entrepreneurs, and those that are entrepreneurs know that, you know, a lot of times your friends or family can’t quite relate. Having that peer group around you to be there in the low times, like when you have teeth whitening pens blowing up all over the world, and you’re trying to get to the other side. But also to be there to support you in your growth, and particularly during COVID. It’s been an amazing resource and collection of people, both within our own chapter, but now we have a global Slack channel for all of the members and there’s over 10,000 members globally that can go on there. If I needed to, like I was dealing with trying to get a new bank in the Philippines, we would incorporate over there, post it and within two seconds, I’d get 15 responses back from people in different parts of the world. Or, you know, I was looking for an EOS implementer and I immediately found one in the Philippines. So it’s connected us in a global way. That’s been, you know, tremendous. So I can’t say enough about eo and what it’s been specifically for, you know, entrepreneurial support.

John Corcoran 31:47

Yeah, I think they’ve done an amazing textbook job this past year with COVID and everything and how to respond and how to support your members. We’re running a little short on time. So I want to wrap up the two questions I was asked. I’m a big fan of gratitude. So as you look around at other peers, perhaps forum mates, other EO or other entrepreneurs, other founders, other people in your industry, who do you respect, who do you admire is out there doing good work?

Brad Stevens 32:17

Yeah, man, if I look around, you know, within the eo community, I’d say, you know, the entrepreneur in Atlanta, David Cummings, it’s really well known that he took part out and sold, sold off to Salesforce and, and he built a huge entrepreneurial community in Atlanta with Atlanta tech village. He’s actually one of the first people I met when I joined eo for Atlanta, and just just a phenomenal entrepreneur. He’s very simple, not super complex in his approach, and ideas and concepts are easy to understand. Not simple in terms of competency, but just simple. The simplest things are always the best. And so he’s just had a very steady approach to how he’s built his companies. And it’s had a, you know, a give back component, you know, to what he, you know, to what he does. So, David Cummings has been a, you know, tremendous mentor. And, you know, within me, I have to say, collectively, my forum with an EEO. You know, I’ve been an eo for eight years now. And just the individuals that had been a part of that journey from Matt Granados and Kenji Terremoto Christian daughter, and Alan Bray and John Austinson, I mean, all the people that have been a part of that journey. Philip Gosling, who joined recently for us, just phenomenal entrepreneurs, who are committed to growing their businesses, but also being great fathers, and, you know, in women, I’ve had a chance to meet with being great mothers, and, and spouses. And so collectively, my Forum has been just an incredible, you know, resource. And, you know, I think you got up recently. You know, Warren Rustand is probably one of the standout speakers I’ve ever heard. And he, oh, you know, his name comes up a lot and highly recommend anybody a chance to see his content, you got a book that just came out recently, but just a tremendous leader, and just the grace in which he has led organizations and also his family, and how he’s built an amazing family dynamic and experience has been tremendous to observe as well. So you’re Top of Mind, those are some quick ones that I reference. Excellent.

John Corcoran 34:24

All right, and looking a little bit further back in your past, so let’s pretend we’re at an awards banquet, maybe like the Oscars, the Emmys, Golden Globes have just happened. You know, if you were to look backwards, you know, who are the people along the way who you would acknowledge if you’re receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award, who would you you would acknowledge, you know, family friends, of course, but are there mentors coaches, you know, are there you know, teachers, any anyone like that?

Brad Stevens 34:52

Sure. I mean, I know it’s cliche, I’m sure for everyone to reference you know, parents in the journey but being an entrepreneur, I grew up in it. proneural type of, you know, family environment. And, you know, it was it was my dad, you know, talking to me about business driving back and forth to school to have me launched my first business in third grade, you know, where I, I sold a Micro Machines or running Micro Machines back and forth, that was an influence and led me to kind of launch it, you know, tutoring business in high school. So just hearing that advice and guidance. And then, you know, my mom actually was one of my very first employees of my very first company, I mean, she sat side by side with me that I launched in their house after the first company I supposed to work for after I graduated from college went under, and got a chance to start my real career. And then my mom was right beside me and my grandmother and my aunt in a room about 10 by 10, on the phones, helping me launch this pharmaceutical support business for, you know, for the elderly. So, they, as an entrepreneur, truly had been in the trenches and side by side with me, you know, to help kind of be supportive and literally financially and with their time be there to help me in the, you know, in the journey. So I can’t say enough about that experience. And the last I’d say I mean, that kind of it kind of existed in my past and coming forward, as I talked about. It was Jim Collins, I just encourage anybody that’s read his books, or partially just to revisit, as I mentioned, it’s something I read back in my 20s, late 20s. And, just rereading it again, though my management team has just, it truly is the blueprint of how to run a business. And he came out with a book, a very short one called Turning the Flywheel. And in that one, it’s only about an hour and a half if you do audio books, but he ties together all the concepts from his books, Good to Great, great by choice built to last, how the mighty fall, he ties it all up in about an hour and a half one. If you go to his website, jimcollins.com. And you click on concepts, he’s got a little video there that ties all the concepts together because everybody kept asking, Hey, Jim, put a bow on it for us to get all these kinds of books and so forth. And so I’m actually taking my board right now for Atlanta, you know, through a four little month curriculum of going through that. But just if you, even if you’ve read it, revisit that and check out Turning the Flywheel ties it all together in a really nice, consolidated piece.

John Corcoran 37:12

Excellent. I’m gonna check that out. Brad, this has been wonderful. Thank you so much. outsourceaccess.com and Automate and Delegate is the name of the podcast. Where else can people connect with you or learn more about you?

Brad Stevens 37:24

Sure, you also have some of the websites and one thing we’ve set up, you know, for all the speaking and stuff that I do is if listeners will just send an email to just [email protected] And all they need to do is just put, you know, rise in the subject line. So they kind of know where it came from, that’s all they do, don’t need to send a message, just send an email to that hit send. And, we’ll send you a list of over 200 tools that automate and delegate technology tools. I’ll send you a link to some of the recordings of webinars and content that I’ve done. And we get great feedback from it. So they send an email to [email protected], put Rise in the subject line, and I’d like to hit Send and we’ll kick off and send you some key content. But otherwise outsourceaccess.com, speaking bradstevenstraining.com, I think he didn’t have me speak for organizations, do tons of case studies and dive into this whole journey. And, and certainly on LinkedIn and Facebook and kind of look me up personally or Outsource Access and find us there. Excellent. All right. Thanks so much, Brad. Thanks, John. I appreciate it.

Outro 38:21

Thank you for listening to the Smart Business Revolution Podcast with John Corcoran. Find out more at smartbusinessrevolution.com and while you’re there, sign up for our email list and join the revolution. And be listening for the next episode of the Smart Business Revolution Podcast.