Nathan Hirsch | Who Should You Hire First?

When Nathan Hirsch was running his first ecommerce ventures he thought he could go it alone. But when busy season kicked in and orders picked up… he knew he needed to hire an employee.

But he made enough bad hires along the way that he was inspired to create, a freelancer marketplace like no other. It specializes in connecting ecommerce companies with highly qualified remote workers quickly and efficiently.

We chat about the type of person you should hire first, his favorite type of worker to outsource, as well as…

  • Why he was hesitant to hire his first employee – and how he got over it
  • The biggest obstacle to hiring effective virtual assistants who will help you grow your business
  • How they vet potential applicants – and skill is just part of the equation
  • 3 levels of remote workers and which ones can help you in each part of your business
  • The best way to communicate with remote workers
  • And more

Listen now…

Mentioned in This Episode:

Episode Transcript:

Joris Bryon: Hey, this is Joris of the of E-commerce Excellence podcast and today I’m really excited to talk to Nathan Hirsch. Nathan is a 30 year old 10 year entrepreneur and he’s an expert in remote hiring and in e-commerce and he started his first e-commerce business out of his college dorm room and he has sold over 30 million online and now he’s a co-founder and CEO of Free Up, that’s free with three E’s a market place that connects businesses with pre-vetted virtual assistants with freelancers and agencies specifically for e-commerce digital marketing and much more. He regularly appears on leading podcasts such as Entrepreneur on Fire and he speaks at a lot of life events about online hiring tactics. So yeah, Nathan, welcome to the podcast. I’m honored to have you here actually.

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah, thanks for having me. Excited to be here.

Joris Bryon: Cool. Yeah. Just to start off, I’d love for you to tell everybody a bit about your background, where you come from in your career so then they can understand a little bit more about you. How’d you get started in e-commerce and how did you evolve over the years to Freee Up?

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah, so I started a pretty large Amazon business out of my college dorm room. I always knew that I wasn’t going to be happy working for other people. So I started experimenting and I tried textbooks. I sold on Amazon a little bit, actually got a cease and desist letter from my college telling me to knock it off. But this was back in 2008 no one really knew what Amazon was, so I thought it was so cool. I could have this Amazon storefront. I just had to figure out what to sell besides books. So I started to experiment with sporting equipment and video games and computers, typical college guy stuff. And I just failed over and over and over. It wasn’t until I branch out of my comfort zone and found the remote hiring industry that my business really took off.

So if you can imagine me as a broke college kid selling … A broke college guy selling baby products on Amazon, that was me and this business started to scale. I met with an accountant and the first question he asked me is, when are you going to hire your first person? And I kind of shrugged him off like, why would I do that? That’s money out of my pocket. They’re going to steal my ideas, they’re going to hurt my business, and he just laughed in my face and said, you’re going to learn this lesson on your own. Well, sure enough, my first busy season comes around the fourth quarter in ecommerce, which is pretty crazy. And I was not prepared. It was just me and I get destroyed. I’m working 20 hours a day, my social life plummets. My grades go down, and I think to myself, “Man, I can never let this happen again. I need to start hiring.”

So I posted a job on Facebook and this guy in my business law class says, “I need a job.” I say, “You know what? You’re hired.” And Yeah, ends up being an amazing hire. He’s hardworking, he’s smart, he brings a lot the table and are there. I am thinking, man, this hiring thing is easy. You post a job, someone shows up and makes your job easier and I just proceed to make bad hire after bad hire after bad hire and really learning a lot about the hiring industry, realizing that it’s tough as a 20/21-year-old to hire people in person. I turned to the remote hiring world and I got pretty good at it. The Upworks and the Fiverrs. Some people I still have today, but I always just wanted something faster. I hated posting a job and getting 50 people to apply and interviewing them one by one.

So three years ago I started my own platform, Freee Up where we get thousands of applicants every week. We vet them for skill, attitude, communication, top 1% get on our platform and then we make them available to our clients quickly whenever they need them. And on the back end, 24/7 support in case they have even the smallest issue and a no turnover guarantee. If someone quits for any reason, we cover replacement costs and get them a new person right away. So that’s really what we’re all about. The pre-vetting, the speed that customer service and the protection and that’s kind of how I went from a broke college kid to starting an Amazon business to eventually building a freelancer marketplace.

Joris Bryon: Wow, that’s a pretty cool, and it’s actually … I’ve been using Freee Up myself and it’s pretty amazing. I must say. It’s so different than any other platforms. Maybe you’re the best one to say why it’s so different. I mean I’ve hired before on Upwork, Fiverr, all the usual suspects, but there’s no comparison to Freee Up. And how would you say what the big difference is?

Nathan Hirsch: The big difference between like the Upworks and the Fiverrs?

Joris Bryon: Yeah.

Nathan Hirsch: It’s really the four things I mentioned. The pre-vetting, I mean anyone can go on Upwork and post a job with us or anyone. You can go on Upwork and offer a service with us, we only accept one out of a hundred applicants to get on our platform. Now on the backend, I would put our customer service against to anyone. No one else has a no turnover guarantee where if someone quits, we cover replacement costs. But for me the main thing is that point number two where you don’t have to browse through all these applicants. You just submit a request and we fill it. Usually within a business day. We have clients who have who get started with an hours or minutes of putting in a request. And that’s what it is for me as a business owner. Time is your asset and, and the average business owner doesn’t have weeks and weeks to waste trying to find the right person.

Joris Bryon: Absolutely. I think what you mentioned before, you made a lot of bad hires yourself starting out and I think that’s something a lot of entrepreneurs can recognize. They probably made a few bad hires before and it’s comforting to know that you vet the candidates and they don’t have to go over thousands of candidates there. What does that vetting process actually looks like for your freelancers?

Nathan Hirsch: We vet them for skill, attitude and communication. I learned a long time ago that when you just vet people for skill a lot of times you get burned. People that might have five years of experience, but skill is only part of the equation. So for skill we look we don’t need everyone to be a 10 out of 10 you can be a five out of 10 you can be a three out of 10 as long as you’re honest about what you can and cannot do. That’s what we care about. And for attitude, we do one on one interviews. We want people who are passionate about what they do. They’re not just in it for the paycheck. People who don’t get aggressive that something doesn’t go their way. So we put them through skill tests. We do the one on one interviews and then we have 15 pages of communication best practices that they have to memorize and get tested on.

Communication is the core of our platform. It’s one of the reasons that people have bad hiring experiences because at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if they have a great attitude or a great skill. If we can’t communicate with them, nothing else matters. For me, we’re looking for that trifecta of skill, attitude, communication. Once they’re on the platform, we hold people to these initial expectations and we’re quick to remove people that show us that they don’t have the skill they say they do, they don’t have the attitude that we want or they don’t have communication skills.

Joris Bryon: That makes sense. Do you only work with freelancers from certain countries?

Nathan Hirsch: No, I mean right now the platform, well first of all, we get 3000 applicants a week from all over the world and we accept people from all over. Right now the platform is about 40% U.S., 40% Philippines and 20% scattered. That’s not necessarily by design. That’s kind of where we are now. But we accept people from all over the world.

Joris Bryon: Okay, cool. You mentioned that before that … The first time when someone mentioned to you like you should hire someone, you laughed at them and then what you found out the hard way that you should have hired someone earlier, but when is it, According to you, when is the right time to start hiring for your business?

Nathan Hirsch: You have to remember you’re never going to get it exactly right. You’re either going to hire too early or a little too late, and I’ve learned that it’s better to hire a little bit early than it is too late. What I like to do is I like to look at the numbers. I’ll go in and I’ll say, “How much money did I make last month?” And then I’ll say, “How aggressive do I want to be?” If I want to be really aggressive, maybe I’m investing 40 to 60% of my profits back into my business. If I want to be more conservative, we’re all in a different place in our life and in our business, maybe it’s 10 to 30% but figuring out what that number is. You can always tweak it and month over month. Maybe you go up 5% or down 10% but figure out what that number is and then use that money to invest it back into your business maybe a little bit earlier than you think you need to.

Joris Bryon: That makes sense. How do you decide what kind of person you should hire first? Because I know that’s something a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with. Should they hire a virtual assistant first or should they hire someone who can … Take big chunks out of their daily work and with a lot more responsibility?

Nathan Hirsch: I like to break it up into three levels, basic, mid and expert. Basic level freelancers, non U.S., five to 10 bucks an hour, they’re followers. They’re there to follow your system, your processes. They’re there to help you get hours back in your day. Then you’ve got the mid-level people, the specialists. The graphic designers, the bookkeepers, the writers. They’re there to do projects at a high level. You’re not really teaching them. They’re not consulting with you either. They’re doers and then you got the experts. The high level freelancers, the agencies, they’re there to bring their own strategy, their own system, their own process to the table, so it depends on where you are as a business owner. If you’re someone that’s stuck in the day to day operations of your business, you’re not focusing on the high level tasks, the sales, the marketing, the expansion. Then you need to hire those basic level people first.

If you’re someone that the projects are just building up and there’s too much stuff outside your core competency, you need to focus on the mid-level people, the specialists, and if you’re someone that’s taking on new things, maybe you want to run Facebook ads, but you don’t have six months to learn how to be a Facebook ad expert. You need to hire those experts to come in and handle those things. At a high level.

Joris Bryon: That makes absolute sense. Do you recommend hiring one freelance before for like everything you want to outsource or look for experts in every single field for every single cost?

Nathan Hirsch: There’s pros and cons. I personally like to diversify a little bit. I had an issue back in the day where I hired one person to do everything and they quit on me and it was a hassle and it took me six months to replace them. So I never want to make that mistake again. I’ll diversify within reason. I might hire an agency to run my Instagram because I don’t want to deal with Instagram at all. I just want someone with a system and a process and their own people. And then for something else like customer service, I might hire four different customer service reps and if one quits or gets sick, I can just replace them.

That, that’s kind of my mentality. It’s kind of that pro and con. The pro of hiring one person is, it’s less people to manage. Maybe you get a … Actually it would probably cost more to hire one person that can do a lot of different things. Then if you split it up, but if you hire a bunch of different people you have to manage more people but you’re more diverse and more protected, so it’s just pros and cons and you need to figure out what makes sense for you as a business owner.

Joris Bryon: Yeah, sure. Of course. You already mentioned the managing part of freelancers and I noticed that a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with that. The communication and management part of freelancers. Do you have any recommendations or tips on that?

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah, communication and setting expectations up front is key. I like to spend extra time right from the beginning really setting expectations on how we communicate. These are the hours that I’m available. This is … We use Skype and we use email and we use Viber. Viber is for emergency, emails are for being responded to within a business day. Skype is for day to day stuff. I clearly lay out who to go to for what. I let them know what’s expected of them when they’re reading my SOP’s and asking questions. It’s really about setting those expectations from the beginning and then holding people to those expectations. If you say, “Hey, we use Slack.” And then the next day you’re messaging them and texting them and a that that’s not going to lead to a great relationship. So for me it’s all about setting those expectations. Specifically communication.

Joris Bryon: Yeah, absolutely. I know giving a good briefing for freelancers as well, that’s essential because sometimes business owner just say like, “Run them in it.” But then they have no clue and there’s no good communication there. Things will go wrong. In my opinion it starts with a very good briefing and managing those expectations. I think those expectations is a big part of it. Like how can they reach you? What are the exact deadlines? I mean it’s a big responsibility I think as a business owner as well to make a good briefing so that they can actually do a good job. Because otherwise you’re going to be disappointed anyway.

Nathan Hirsch: Exactly. And you really have to not only set the expectations for communication, but what constitutes success? What constitutes failure? I hired a fourth bookkeeper after firing three. This was years ago. So what did I do? I told that bookkeeper, “Hey, here’s what the other three bookkeepers did that I didn’t like. Here’s what I’m looking for. After the role.” I set them up to be successful.

Joris Bryon: Yeah. I think that that’s crucial. That’s something that we tend to forget when we hire freelancers. It’s like, okay, they’re going to do whatever I have in my head, but as long as it’s in my head, they cannot imagine what I’m thinking. It’s better to get it out on paper or record a screen cast and show what you what exactly you mean. When I work with freelancers, I do make a lot of recordings, a lot of screen casts where I show like, okay, first you do this, then you go in there and then you do that. This is what I want, this is how it should look like or that kind of stuff.

I find that really helps. And it also reduces the amount of time you have to spend personally on checking up on the work they did and go back and say like, “Hey, this is not exactly what I meant. I meant it this way. You should’ve have done it that way.” I think there’s a big responsibility when you, when you hire someone, it should take some time upfront to make all of that clear and then everything is going to be a lot smoother down the road, I guess.

Nathan Hirsch: Exactly. You’ve got to focus on what you can control. I mean there’s so many things that you can’t control from personal issues to human mistakes to someone taking on another client. Like you can’t control any of that. Well you can control is your systems, your processes, your expectations, your communication.

Joris Bryon: Yeah. Right. Let’s go back a bit to your Amazon business. So how did you hire and integrate freelancers into your Amazon business?

Nathan Hirsch: Yes. I was running a drop shipping business. So for those of you not familiar with drop shipping, you are selling products. You don’t physically have in inventory. You have relationships with different suppliers and manufacturers and they ship the product to the customer. There’s a lot that goes into it. A lot of just intensive things to have quality assurance. We have to make sure every order gets to the manufacturer. This was before a lot of the software that’s out there, there’s customer service on the back end, there’s quality assurance in the middle following every tracking number, making sure it’s delivered, communicating with the manufacturer over inventory and price changing and making sure it’s updated. So we use virtual assistants for all of that stuff. And then we also had more higher level stuff. We started to build our own software. So we hired developers. We wanted to build their own website. So we hired people for that and had a social media channel. So there’s the day to day operations of the business, and then there’s all the expansion stuff that goes around it.

Joris Bryon: What are the biggest issues that you see Amazon sellers running into when they’re outsourcing?

Nathan Hirsch: Good question. The biggest thing is that there’s so many different strategies. There’s so many different ways to, to run an Amazon business and to do things on Amazon. You either need to have your own systems and your processes and hire a VA that knows Amazon, but you show them how you want it done or you need to hire a specialist that might’ve gone through a training or work for an agency or learned it themselves, or they might be a seller themselves and you have to trust them and be comfortable with their way or obviously the agency and the expert as well. A lot of times you have to figure out, hey, what is the strategy that I want to use and are the people that I’m hiring aligned with that strategy,

Joris Bryon: what about outsourcing customer service? Any recommendation to that, because I know that’s pretty tough?

Nathan Hirsch: Customer service is one of my favorite things to outsource. I mean I have a customer service team that that covers my Skype, my email 24/7 and even our live chat. And for me it’s all about coming up with canned responses. Hey, here are the most common situations we have. Here’s how we respond to them, here’s how you add fluff and customize it and here’s a starting point. Then from there you add different layers. Hey, here’s a new situation. Hey, write a draft, let me proof it. Hey here’s how we can improve this. It’s kind of one of those ever evolving things. Even with my customer service reps that I put a lot of effort into onboarding and making sure they know what we’re doing. We’re constantly trying to get better. We’re constantly trying to improve.

Joris Bryon: That’s a good thing. I think just those kinds of responses and trying to make it better all the time. I think that can definitely help. I know it’s a tough one to outsource customer service, but at the end of the day there’s often a lot of same scenarios that come back so you can kind of prepare and make templates for that and build on that. Maybe a little bit about your entrepreneurial story. What kind of challenges … What were the biggest challenges that you’ve run into as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?

Nathan Hirsch: Great question. I mentioned that one day that I hired someone for six months and I tell them how to do everything and they quit on me on my first part of my vacation. But I had done a very similar thing where II had one supplier who I had worked with and they were doing about 85% of our business and I said, “You know what? I don’t care about that 15% let’s just do 100% of our business with them.” And actually on that same vacation I got a call from the manufacturer and they dropped me. I went from this unbelievable high to I have my business on autopilot. I’ve put all this work in on this 21 year old crushing it to now this person quit on me and I have no supplier and I have to start over again.

I had to come back and I had to do a lot of the work myself, contacting more suppliers and building a lot of different relationships. I learned a valuable lesson about diversifying. I hired different people to do different things and made sure that if someone quit, we were protected. For me that was probably one of the most devastating and biggest learning experiences as an entrepreneur. But I’m so happy that that happened in year one and two and not down the line.

Joris Bryon: It’s good because at the moment it sucks big time, but in the end you learn a lot from that kind of situations. And you only grow as an entrepreneur. You have a business partner right?

Nathan Hirsch: I do. Yeah.

Joris Bryon: How did you meet? How is it working with a business partner? Would you recommend it?

Nathan Hirsch: Yeah. He was actually one of my best hires early on in the company. We were lucky. I mean, we have the same values. We have the same goals and beliefs. We believe in treating people well and customer service and all that. But we have very different skill sets. I’m much more on the sales and the marketing and the face and he’s much more in the back and the content and the web development. We complement each other very well. We’ve had our ups and downs, but we know what it’s like to work with each other. And honestly, finding that right business partner is key. I’ve heard so many horror stories where it just doesn’t work out. So pick your business partners carefully, make sure that you can not only handle working with them when times are good, but also when times are bad as well.

Joris Bryon: Yeah absolutely. I think that’s important and you have to have total trust in each other to make it work of course. By the way, I heard a quote recently that was about hiring and it was like, “If he do you see the person that you’re about to hire as a potential founding business partner? If not, don’t hire them.” I don’t know if that’s a good tip or not, but I find an interesting way to look at it to hire only the best, if you always see them as a potential business partner, then you should hire them.

Nathan Hirsch: The A players is what you need to grow your business. And I mean the D and The C players are somewhat easy. You can let them go, but the B players kill you because they’re not bad enough to get rid of, but they’re not good enough to take you to the next level. I’m always focused on, hey, is this person in A player?

Joris Bryon: Yeah, absolutely. And that’s not easy to spot. Sometimes the difference between an A and a B, it’s not always clear. How do you make that difference?

Nathan Hirsch: It’s really that skill, that attitude and that communication that we talked about before. That that’s where what it all comes down to. You can’t settle for two out of the three or two and a half out of the three. You got to get that full package.

Joris Bryon: It’s either a hell yeah or no. If you, if you could offer advice to starting entrepreneurs, what would you say?

Nathan Hirsch: Make sure it’s for you. I mean, being an entrepreneur is not for everyone. There’s going to be ups. There’s going to be downs. You have to learn a lot. You’re constantly adjusting and problem solving and make sure you’re in it for the long haul. If you’re in it to make a quick buck you’re probably going to struggling and maybe being an entrepreneur is not for you.

Joris Bryon: Yeah, absolutely. It is not for everyone. I’m sure. What would you say is your proudest moment as an entrepreneur?

Nathan Hirsch: My proudest moment. We paid out $7 million to freelancers last year around the world. I mean that’s something that I’m really proud of and I’m just meeting with freelancers and having them show me pictures of their houses and their cars and things that they were able to do with that money. That made me proud.

Joris Bryon: Cool. Cool. Cool. Hey Nathan, this has been really great and we could probably go on for a few more hours, but we’re running out of time and just want to make sure people know how they can find you and learn more about you. What’s the best place for people to connect with you?

Nathan Hirsch: Go to with three E’s. My calendar’s right at the top. You can book a free call with me. You can also join our Facebook group Outsourcing Masters and create a free account to try us out. Mention this podcast, get a $25 credit.

Joris Bryon: Thanks so much for being here Nathan. It’s been really great. And again, thanks for the discount by the way.

Nathan Hirsch: No problem. Have a good rest of the day.