Nine years ago, Nathan Hirsch started his first company, Portlight in his college dorm room selling textbooks on Amazon. Since then Nathan is now the CEO of FreeeUp and has bootstrapped two multimillion-dollar businesses that he continues to run today.
Since launching his first company from his college dorm room, he has expanded into other product categories and has sold over $20 million in the e-commerce marketplace. At its peak, he was managing over a half a million products on their Amazon store from over 1,000 drop ship suppliers.
Ed Kless, the host of the Sage Advice podcast, recently spoke with Nathan about how he went from a broke college student to the founder of two successful companies.
Kless: Tell us more about FreeeUp and why you decided to launch the company
Hirsch: I have been hiring remote workers for years. I started my first business as a 20-year old broke college student looking for extra beer money. I started off by buying and selling textbooks. So that eventually led me to Amazon where I started building relationships with different vendors and suppliers to shipping products. From there my business took off. I had to start hiring people for the first time and I had mixed results. Some were good hires and some were bad.
When I was introduced to remote hiring and all the different freelancer marketplaces available, I became obsessed with it. I thought the best way to grow my company was by hiring hundreds of freelancers that made me look good. Through this process, I could complete projects, have assistants for my employees, assistants for my assistants and build an excellent remote team. After talking to other sellers, I realized they had the same problem as me. It just took so long to find great talent.
With my five years plus experience hiring at that point, I had come up with a good system of vetting workers for skill, attitude, and communication. I started offering prospective employees that I had already vetted to other Amazon sellers and they loved the service. So then they started asking for other freelancers, like graphic designers and bookkeepers and copywriters.
So that is how FreeeUp was born. We are a marketplace where unlike our competitors for our business you cannot just create an account as a freelancer. You have to apply to get in. We take the top 1% of talent and then we make them available to our clients on a first come, first serve basis.
Kless: Why do you love what you do?
Hirsch: With FreeeUp, I get to help business owners out there pursue their dreams and their passions. However, on the flip side of that, I get to help these talented freelancers that I have formed relationships with from all over the world, both US and non-US, pursue their dreams, grow their freelance business and achieve goals that they did not think was possible. So, it is a lot more rewarding, personally to help both sides. FreeeUp has impacted thousands of people across the world and we continue to do so. And that is what motivates me more than the money.
Kless: Tell me a little bit about your experience leading remote workers. You say you hire them for other people, but your internal team is also remote. What tips do you have for people leading a team of remote workers?
Hirsch: I have a 20 person internal team that is remote. It is all about building that culture. So even if you are hiring an employee, a contractor for a one-time project or a team of remote workers, it is essential to maintain the same culture. So, I like to think of my culture as one, so I hold my employees accountable. If you tell me something during an interview, I am holding you to that. If we assign a project to you or you take something on, you are going to get it done. You are going to hit deadlines.
We treat our people well. We set expectations and we reward people when they meet them. We give people credit. We make an environment where people want to share ideas and give feedback and feel like they are helping towards one common purpose instead of just doing a project for themselves. We created an environment where everyone is working together as one team and that is what I have been able to do.
And the other side of that is communication, which is also important. We are constantly communicating with people. I even consider it over-communication by just letting people know what’s going on. What are we trying to achieve? Did we have a bad week last week, a good week? What’s on the table the week ahead? And what are other freelancers, other people on the team, working on? So just having that strong communication model, the ability to give and receive feedback and not be that boss that’s always talking down to people, but also setting an atmosphere where people are expected to succeed and hit their expectations.
Want to hear more from the interview with Nathan Hirsch and Ed Kless? Listen to the full podcast interview.