GE 213: How FreeeUp Founder Nathan Hirsch Built a $5M/Year in Revenue Business and Manages 500 Freelancers Remotely (podcast) With Nathan Hirsch

Nathan Hirsch

Hey everyone, today I share the mic with Nathan Hirsch, CEO and founder of FreeeUp, a platform that connects businesses of all shapes and sizes with top freelancers across the world.

Tune in to hear Nathan share how a frustration with the hiring process forced him to come up with the idea for FreeeUp, how he acquired their first 500 customers, the process that will get them to $5M in revenue this year and allows him to manage 500 freelancers remotely, and the success of their referral program.

Download podcast transcript [PDF] here: How FreeeUp Founder Nathan Hirsch Built a $5M:Year Business & Manages 500 Freelancers Remotely TRANSCRIPT

Time-Stamped Show Notes:

  • 00:48 – Leave a review and rating and subscribe to the Growth Everywhere podcast
  • 01:24 – Nathan is a 28-year old serial entrepreneur, he started his first business by buying and selling text books, before moving on and finding his niche in baby products, home goods and outdoor stuff
    • 02:04 – Nathan got the idea for FreeeUp because he got frustrated that he was spending too much time on the hiring process and wanted to get a way to access the top talent
    • 02:35 – Nathan still does his e-commerce business and it makes him 5 to 7 million dollars a year—he runs it through Amazon’s drop shipping
  • 03:42 – FreeeUp is different from other marketplaces as it is not a job order, when customers submit a work request, FreeeUp does the vetting and handpicks a freelancer just for you
    • 04:12 – They also offer a “no turn-over guarantee” – if the worker quits for any reason, FreeeUp covers all training and placement costs associated with finding a new worker right away
  • 04:34 – Nathan hired a lot of people for his own business and started the pool of freelancers for FreeeUp from there, he then did Facebook ads and looked for more recruits
    • 05:01 – Nathan then did a referral program for clients and workers
  • 05:24 – They have a client rate and worker rate and get their income from the difference of the hourly rate
    • 05:52 – About 15% of the workers at FreeeUp are from other marketplaces like Upwork and they are paid through there
  • 06:47 – FreeeUp is about to hit its goal of 7,000 billing hours in a week
    • 07:02 – In terms of revenue, they are looking at hitting 4 to 5 million this year but this depends on busy season
    • 07:31 –FreeeUp secure its first 500 customers through cold emails
  • 08:18 – Nathan built his own tools because the outside models do not fit his own business model
  • 09:47 – In terms of acquiring clients, the referral program is working well for the company, they contacted a lot of influencers and give good kickbacks
  • 11:03 – Nathan manages 500 workers remotely – he has 20 people working directly under him for FreeeUp, he has 10 people for his Amazon team and the marketplace of 500+ freelancers
    • 11:34 – The freelancers have big group chats that include everybody and Nathan and his partner interact with them on a daily basis
    • 12:02 – Nathan uses Skype for communicating with his teams
  • 12:21 – Tell us one big struggle you’ve faced while growing either of these businesses – When Nathan was just starting his Amazon business, he had this vendor that he was selling a lot of products from
    • 12:39 – It was so good that Nathan did not look at other vendors and he was able to build the business to a good point
    • 12:59 – Nathan had a vacation and on the first day, his manager said the supplier did not want to work with them anymore
    • 13:07 – An hour later, Nathan’s accountant called saying someone filled a tax return in his name and stole $60,000 from the government
    • 13:23 – Nathan learned never to rely on just one supplier or revenue stream
  • 14:26 – What’s one big thing that’s really impacted your life dramatically? – Two to three years ago, Nathan’s house was broken into and the thieves stole his girlfriend’s car, his laptops, and everything valuable—they ended up living at his girlfriend’s parent’s house for 6 months
    • 15:22 – It was busy season and Nathan had to work on orders while trying to get his life back together
  • 15:33 – What’s one big change you’ve made in the last year that has impacted you or your business? – Working out, joining a gym and adopting a puppy
    • 16:34 – Nathan got the dog from the pound and says the dog is really well-behaved
  • 17:03 – Nathan opened an office in year 5 after being remote and realized it was not a good business decision so he went back to remote
  • 18:22 – Nathan’s partner worked on building the company culture for their remote team
  • 19:10 – Nathan says the way you get the most out of your workers is by having a great culture
    • 19:30 – During hiring, they were already looking for a specific kind of person – someone who enjoys working and is passionate about what they do
    • 20:10 – It’s about creating an environment where honesty and feedback is appreciated
    • 20:22 – It’s about treating people well and giving recognition
  • 20:46 – What’s one tool you’ve added in the last year, like Dropbox? – JIRA
  • 21:17 – What’s one must read book you’d recommend to everyone? – Zappos’ The Pursuit of Happiness
  • 21:54 – What’s one blog or podcast that you tune into all the time? – Tracy Hazzard
  • 22:23 – CEO Space is a community of business owners that come together for networking and workshops
  • 23:12 – Go to FreeeUp.com to book an appointment with Nathan and if you sign up and mention this podcast, you get a dollar off your first worker forever, check out the blog and Nathan’s book

3 Key Points:

  1. Do not rely on just one source of anything—income, supplier, whatever. Diversify and work with multiple sources to ensure the sustainability and the growth of your business.
  2. Managing a remote team successfully means having a good, top-down company culture.
  3. Honesty in feedback is important to creating a winning company.

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Full Transcript of The Episode

Show transcript
Nathan Hirsch: The referral program's huge. It's been a hit. We're on pace to pay out over $150,000 this year in referral money. We contact lots of influencers and it's kind of a great relationship. We make the influencers look good.

Speaker 2: Do you want to impact the world and still turn a profit? Then you're in the right place. Welcome to Growth Everywhere. This is the show where you'll find real conversations with real entrepreneurs. They'll share everything from their biggest struggles to the exact strategies they use on a daily basis. If you're ready for a value-packed interview, listen on. Here's your host, Eric Siu.

Eric Siu: Before we jump into today's interview, if you guys could leave a review and a rating, and also subscribe as well, that would be a huge help to the podcast. If you actually enjoy the content and you'd like to hear more of it, please support us by leaving us a review and subscribe to the podcast as well. Thanks so much.

All right everybody. Today we have Nathan Hirsch who is the CEO and founder of FreeeUp, which allows you to hire the top 1% of freelancers in the world. Nathan, how's it going?

Nathan Hirsch: Going great Eric. How are you?

Eric Siu: Doing well. Thanks for being on the show. Why don't you tell us a little more about who you are and what you do over there at FreeeUp.

Nathan Hirsch: Sure. I'm a 28-year old serial entrepreneur. I started my first multimillion-dollar business when I was just 20 years old, in college, looking for some extra beer money, I started buying and selling textbooks, cutting off the school bookstore, which they didn't love, and really running a business solely dependent on Amazon. I got away from textbooks, started a little trial and error. Eventually found my niche in baby products, home goods, and outdoor stuff. From there, when I graduated, I opened up an office. I started hiring and we were growing. I just became so frustrated that I was spending 50% of my time going through resumes and interviewing people, and using the different marketplaces like Upwork and Freelancer.

I just wanted there to be a better way for me to quickly get access to top talent. I had the idea of FreeeUp where, instead of posting a job, we get hundreds of applicants every week. We vet them for you and we make them available to people quickly. If you're a business owner or a client, you can just quickly request a worker and have someone ready to go by the end of the day, whether it's a short-term or a long-term project.

Eric Siu: Great. Let's rewind back to your college days. I mean, you're running this e-commerce thing. How big did you make it? Did you shut the whole thing down or did you sell it? What happened?

Nathan Hirsch: I still run it. It does between five and seven million dollars a year. We do Amazon drop shipping. There's a lot of pros and cons to it. There's a big cash flow Eric Siu: Awesome. How do you guys make money?

Nathan Hirsch: Sure. There's a difference between the client rate and the worker rate. It's 15%. There's no sign-up fees, no monthly fee. We just make the difference on the hourly rate.

Eric Siu: I know it seems like these outside platforms before, let's say like a Freelancer or Upwork, for example, they don't want you to contact the people directly. How do you get around that? How do you prevent that?

Nathan Hirsch: Sure. It's not like we're just stealing people from other marketplaces. If we do, we follow their terms pretty strictly. Most of them are more centered around the payment. We get about 15% of our workers from the marketplaces like the Upworks. For those that we do, we pay them through there. While they can contact our clients and work for them, we almost act like an agency where we pay them through a marketplace, but they're doing the work for our clients.

Eric Siu: Great. Makes sense. By the way, where does all your energy come from? Because you talk really fast and I talk really fast. This is going to be the fastest podcast ever. Where does all that come from?

Nathan Hirsch: Oh my God. It's hilarious because two weeks ago I had shoulder surgery. Then last week I was in a conference from 8:00 in the morning till 9:00 at night. This is my third or fourth podcast of the week. I'm running on no sleep and I've never had more energy.

Eric Siu: Where does the energy come from? I'd be so tired.

Nathan Hirsch: I don't know. It's just that entrepreneurial spirit. I'm passionate about what I do. I'm excited to be on your podcast and meet you for the first time. It's fun for me.

Eric Siu: Cool, great. What kind of numbers can you share around the business today on FreeeUp?

Nathan Hirsch: Sure. We're about to hit 7,000 billed hours in a week. Which was a goal of ours, but not ... Right when we started. It's one of those things that we're actually taking a trip to the Philippines and we're celebrating it. It's pretty cool to have an awesome team that's been able to do that. In terms of revenue, we should hit over four or five million dollars in revenue this year. This is like year two-and-a-half, depending on what you count the first six months. A lot of that depends on busy season, right? We're in e-commerce where a lot of the business comes in the fourth quarter, if you have anything to do with e-commerce. That's kind of where we're at right now.

Eric Siu: How are people finding out about FreeeUp nowadays? Actually, just to back up a second, how did you go about acquiring, let's just say your first 500 customers for FreeeUp?

Eric Siu: Wow. That's crazy. Great. What's one big change you've made in the last year that has impacted you or your business? Maybe you started doing CrossFit.

Nathan Hirsch: I'm a big fan of working out in general. Before I had shoulder surgery a few weeks ago I was working out five days a week. It's something I strongly recommend. A lot of people on my internal team, I almost push it on them a little bit. I'm like, "You can't stare at your computer for ten hours a day and then go to sleep. You've got to get some kind of physical activity." I actually joined CrossFit. I wasn't a huge fan of that but I found this other gym right by me that's a little bit more intense, like one-hour workouts every day. That's something that I really look forward to on a day-to-day basis.

On the flip side of that, I recently adopted a puppy, which is probably one of my best life decisions. I've never owned a dog before, but my girlfriend and I adopted a puppy. He's incredibly cute and awesome, and it gives you something to smile at every day to take away from the stress and the ups and downs of owning two companies.

Eric Siu: I really want a dog but I want a dog that doesn't take craps. That's the only downside, so it sounds like the upside is much more worth it, from what I'm hearing.

Nathan Hirsch: Honestly, I am so lucky. We got this dog at a pound. We had no idea what to expect. We were expecting the worst. He's incredibly well behaved. He's more well behaved than any puppy I've ever met.

Eric Siu: My ops. guy, he brings his dog into the office sometimes. This dog does not bark and will not complain about anything. He'll just sit there the whole time. That's the ideal dog. I would pay a premium on that. Interesting thing. Your team's been remote for the last, basically since you started doing business, right?

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah. I actually opened an office around year five. It seemed good in theory but I just added overhead to a business that didn't need it. It was a drop shipping business. It was kind of cool to have my own office. I could hire employees that could drive in every day, but ended up being one of my worst business decisions. Something that I learned a lot from. I quickly went back to remote, and both my companies are run remotely now.

Eric Siu: I think you made a really good point. You said like the office if you need it, right? It depends on the business I think, because when I was at Treehouse, which actually does have an Orlando office. When I was at Treehouse a while back, 60% of our team was remote. Most of our culture was an engineering driven, design driven culture, so it works out well, right? When I took over this agency I tried to switch everything over into remote, so it's a marketing agency, right? That didn't work out for us. It totally flipped the culture. I learned my lesson there. But now I'm seeing when we're actually in the office, we get that, "Oh, what did you think about this?" You get that collaboration when you're part of an agency where you have to come

Eric Siu: Awesome. What's the best way for people to find you online? This has been great Nathan.

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah, so I'm pretty easy to contact. Whether it's Skype, Instagram, Facebook, if you go to FreeeUp.com, with three e's, my calendar is right on the site. You can book an appointment with me. I'd love to talk to you about your business. If you mention this podcast, you get a dollar off your first Worker Forever. You can sign up right on the site. It's free with no obligation. You can check out the FreeeUp blog. The online hiring mastermind group, and my book,

Free Up Your Business: 50 Secrets to Bootstrap Million Dollar Companies.

Eric Siu: Nathan, thanks so much for doing this.

Nathan Hirsch: Thanks for having me Eric.

Speaker 2: Thanks for listening to this episode of Growth Everywhere. If you loved what you heard, be sure to head back to growtheverywhere.com for today's show notes, and a ton of additional resources. But before you go, hit the subscribe button to avoid missing out on next weeks value-packed interview. Enjoy the rest of your week and remember to take action and continue growing.