At the start of a company’s life, sales don’t come from clever persuasion. They come from building trust.
Ish Baid, an ex-Facebook engineer, is the founder of Virtually, an online education company offering programs for budding freelancers and content creators. Ish had previously founded a company called The Edible Project, an easy to use API helping people with dietary restrictions (religious, allergies, diet preferences, etc.) find restaurants that cater to them.
Where did the idea for Virtually come from?
Getting to the current vision for Virtually was a very iterative process. Leaving Facebook, I knew I wanted to start my own venture, but didn’t have a clear picture of what I wanted it to be. I blazed through many ideas: online coaching, accountability groups, a slick UI tool, etc. before realizing that I was taking the wrong approach.
I kept trying to start a business without considering my personal passions. After some soul-searching, I knew I wanted to work in the education space. I had spent many hours networking with freelancers, content creators and other new world internet workers and realized there was an underserved need that I was passionate about filling. There is currently a shortage of reliable, high-quality, live education for individuals looking to get into new world internet careers.
Virtually is our best attempt at solving that issue. By partnering with reliable and demonstrated instructors in these fields we are able to offer students mentors, guidance and education in this nascent space.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
I wake up in the morning each day without an alarm. I crush a healthy breakfast and handle any urgent email or communications. I dive into my main focus for the day with a small break for lunch. In the afternoon, I have a 3-hour block where I take meetings and then grind until dinner.
At the end of the day, I schedule out any content, social media posts, or emails that need to go out the next day. I find that waking up naturally when I am rested and containing emails to a contiguous window of time leaves me a lot of room to work uninterrupted.
How do you bring ideas to life?
Ruthless execution. You’ll never know if an idea has any merit unless you get it out there. That’s why I’ll try to immediately create landing pages for ideas that I think could make great businesses. I will, then, spend anywhere between $50 and $300 on Google/Facebook ads to drive initial traffic to the site.
From there, I can closely monitor conversion rates and determine whether or not my target audience is resonating with what I’m selling. If so, I can pursue the idea further. If not, it’s worth listening to customer feedback and iterating.
What’s one trend that excites you?
The future of work is freelance and independent. This past year alone, 1/3 of the US workforce worked in a freelance capacity. We believe that freelance and independent internet entrepreneurship opportunities will continue to grow, and our mission is to empower as many people as possible to take advantage of this growth.
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
At my first startup and earlier on in Virtually’s life I made a classic mistake: building stuff that no one wants. It is more important to effectively prioritize what to work on than it is to work hard (although working hard is necessary as well). What should determine your priorities? Customer behavior.
I am confident in my ability to build out whatever I need on the technical and instructor side, so I always make sure to decide what we do next based on user engagement, sign-ups, sales, etc. This ensures that each new experiment we put out delivers useful results.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Stop caring about sounding right and being smart. Uncovering the truth of what customers want and building a solution that delights them is more important than feeling intelligent. Also ask for help, trying to do everything alone isn’t helping anyone.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
In order to manage the impact of this new wave of automation, we need job retraining, not free money for everyone.
The explosion of the internet and mobile during the last 20 years has radically changed our economy and society. In this time frame, jobs haven’t gone away (employment is quite high at the moment), but they have changed radically.
The next 20 years won’t see the elimination of jobs, but they are likely to continue evolving. What we will need then, is not a way to support a mass population that no longer needs to work, but a way to efficiently retrain the population to be able to handle the new types of work that need to be done to keep moving forward.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Always be putting yourself out there. Networking, content, social media, whatever. Business doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Many of the best opportunities/resources at my disposal surfaced organically through networking and spreading the message. One can’t fully predict how a business or relationship will unfold. It only takes one interesting connection to move you forward in ways that you could never foresee.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
I am a big believer in Paul Graham’s quote to “do things that don’t scale”. All of our initial customers came from building close relationships with people, the hard way. It meant putting ourselves out there and delivering value for free to get people interested. It meant talking to people, intimately learning their problems and helping them in their journey. Only once trust is well established can you expect to convert connections to customers.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
My first company ended unamicably. We spent up the investor money, we tarnished our friendships, we built a product no one used, and we were all left with unnecessary baggage. Startups are hard. They inevitably present uncertainty, stress, occasional glorious wins, frequent small losses, and many critical decision points. Navigating these forced requires strong and healthy relationships.
In the time between my first and second venture, I engaged in frequent, and often painful, self-reflection. I took this time to dissect how my ego, my choices and the example I led by impacted the health of my relationship with my peers. Productive conflict resolution and proactive communication, as is well established, are the keys to keeping relationships healthy. This nugget of wisdom is something I had to contextualize myself though, the hard way.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
Someone needs to start a company called Context that cracks the code for creating a new social context for adults moving to a new city/leaving school. Seems like basic meetups and apps aren’t great, I am curious what a great solution is.
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
Personal: The Tortuga Set Divide ($156) – An incredibly well-engineered travel backpack that’s terrific for short business travel or weekend getaways.
Professional: brain.fm ($50) – Sounds engineered to produce higher productivity. They have tracks for meditation and sleep, but I primarily use the one for focus. Shockingly effective in keeping me in “the zone”.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
I am a big fan of Calendly. Makes scheduling a trivial process and makes it much easier to keep my meetings constrained to a fixed time window so I am not constantly interrupted throughout the day.
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
My most recent read, “Loonshots: How to Nurture the Crazy Ideas That Win Wars, Cure Diseases, and Transform Industries” by Safi Bahcall.
It really dives into why great ideas sometimes fail and what are the factors that drive innovation to turn crazy ideas into reality-changing products. A must-read for any aspiring entrepreneur.
What is your favorite quote?
“Every action is a vote for the person you want to be”
– James Clear
- At the start of a company’s life, sales don’t come from clever persuasion. They come from building trust.
- Every conversation is a chance to mine for truth rather than prove oneself right.
- The future of automation isn’t a world without jobs, it is a world with better jobs.