In 2016, Bobbie Racette was a Calgary-based freelancer launching a career as a virtual assistant. However, she soon encountered a key challenge with the existing platforms: clients required cost-effective administrative services, but the international contractors didn’t have the experience required by local companies. Local freelancers, meanwhile, couldn’t compete with the low prices set by assistants working overseas.
So Racette quickly switched gears from freelancer to entrepreneur and began developing a new virtual assistant platform: The Virtual Gurus. The Virtual Gurus uses sophisticated algorithms to match clients to virtual assistants who have been trained through The Virtual Gurus Academy. The propriety courses offered by The Virtual Gurus Academy ensure that contractors have the skills necessary to competently use new and common technologies so companies can get the assistance they need.
After three years of juggling multiple roles within a team of just three people, Racette knew she needed to take The Virtual Gurus from “lean startup” to the next level for the company to reach its full potential. In 2019, she looked into Alberta Innovates’ Voucher Program for support. The Voucher Program is a suite of small business and entrepreneur funding programs focused on the commercialization of new product development and technology solutions. Working with Technology Development Advisor Lori Adams, Racette was able to secure funding from the Commercialization Associates program and hire a chief operations officer.
“My COO and I work side by side every day. She has been so great for the company,” Racette says. “Without Alberta Innovates I don’t know where the company would be right now.”
Having a new team member allowed Racette to focus her efforts and work on securing more funding for The Virtual Gurus. At the beginning of 2020, right before the pandemic, Racette closed her first funding round. With the additional funding and $1.8 million in annual recurring revenue in 2019, Racette has been able to hire 14 additional full-time staff members and remains committed to providing fair-paying work for Albertans.
“I refuse to hire full-time employees outside of Alberta,” Racette says. “We are trying to keep work in Alberta. It felt good that we have been able to hire and provide work, even during the pandemic.”
In addition to creating full-time jobs for Albertans, Racette has found other ways to support Canadian businesses during the pandemic. The Virtual Gurus provided free services to 110 startup clients across Canada (including more than 20 businesses in Alberta), and reduced their fees by more than half for other small business clients.
“Our clients tell us that that is what helped keep their business afloat,” Racette says. “They were on the brink of shutting down and without admin support, and we were able to help out.”
Those same clients, saved from having to close down completely, have since returned as paying clients—making 2020 a record year for the company.
“Our month-over-month growth has completely skyrocketed,” Racette says. “We went from 13 to 17 per cent month-over-month growth to 66 per cent in September.”
Creating diverse opportunities
Racette is also committed to providing opportunities for marginalized groups, whether through full-time or contract work. “I have a large platform and I have a voice as an Indigenous, LGBTQ+ person, so my onboarding team has a mandate to make our team 95 per cent women, 65 per cent people of colour, and 45 per cent LGBTQ so that we can give the people who are often forgotten more work.”
It is Racette’s commitment to social impact that makes The Virtual Gurus a desirable competitor in the virtual assistant space. “We provide work to marginalized folks, and we do not contract offshore workers. We provide work to hundreds of people who have struggled, and pay our contractors fair rates,” she says.
“Our partners and clients care about this as much as we do. When I closed my funding round, it was important to me that whoever came on as shareholders and to the board was aligned. We’re profiting, we’re doing well, it’s working for us.”
This story is part of our October feature on Women in Innovation. See our related stories below.