Alfredo Atanacio is the COO and Co-founder of Uassist.ME, which is dedicated to providing remote executive assistants, social media managers, and online marketing support. In 2010, Alfredo was an honoree of the Miami Power 30 under 30, and is also a part-time professor at the School of Economy and Business in El Salvador.
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- Zero clients for six months. Literally zero clients. Alfredo gives you his recipe for sticking it out until he found the wild success he currently enjoys today.
Entrepreneurial AHA Moment
- Alfredo had a virtual assistant before the terminology virtual assistant existed. His light-bulb moment is one for the ages.
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- Great answers from a passionate individual.
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John Lee Dumas: Hire Fire Nation and thank you for joining me for another episode of EntrepreneurOnFire.com, your daily dose of inspiration. If you enjoy this free podcast, please show your support by leaving a rating and review here at iTunes. I will make sure to give you a shout out on an upcoming showing to thank you!
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Let’s get started. I am simply exhilarated to introduce my guest today, Alfredo Atanacio. Alfredo, are you prepared to ignite?
Alfredo Atanacio: Absolutely, John. How are you?
John Lee Dumas: Good. Thank you. Alfredo is the COO and cofounder of Uassist.ME, which is dedicated to providing remote executive assistance, social media management and online marketing support. In 2010, Alfredo was an honoree of the Miami Power 30 Under 30 and was also a part time professor at the School of Economy and Business in El Salvador.
Alfredo, I’ve given a little overview of yourself. Why don’t you tell us a little more about who you are and what you do? And forgive me. Even though we practiced before the interview, I know I butchered your last name a little bit. So go ahead and tell us the correct pronunciation as well.
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] Sure. It’s Atanacio.
John Lee Dumas: Oh! So close but so far away.
Alfredo Atanacio: No. It was close. It’s closer than usual [Laughs]. Well, as you mentioned, I’m the COO – actually, I’m the chief everything officer, let’s say it like that, of Uassist.ME. We provide remote administrative support, which is basically virtual assistants. We’ve been honored with the INK 30 Under 30 award this year from INK Magazine, which is really exciting for us.
As you mentioned, I love to share my experiences as an entrepreneur. So I’m a part time professor at the School of Economy and Business in El Salvador, so I share my experience with my students every day, and I love that. I’m also part of the Art Museum of El Salvador. I’m a member of the junior board. So that’s one of my other passions. I collect contemporary art from very young artists. Young artists because that’s when they’re still affordable [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: Wow! You definitely have a lot of worthwhile passions. It’s great to see you delving into so many different areas and giving back so much to the community. That’s just really magnanimous of you. So thank you for that.
Alfredo Atanacio: Thank you.
John Lee Dumas: Let’s transition into our first topic, and that is our success quote. At EntrepreneurOnFire, we like to start every show off with our guest’s favorite success quote because it really helps get the motivational ball rolling and get our listeners really pumped for the rest of the content that we’re about to provide. Alfredo, could you give us your success quote?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, I’ll share my success quote. It’s “I am a great believer in luck, and I find the harder I work, the more I have of it.” So basically, it means that you really, really have to work for what you want. There’s no easy way to get what you’re looking for, so you have to work for it.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. I definitely am a believer of that quote. Another one that I live by that has the word “luck” in it as well is that “luck is when effort meets opportunity.”
Alfredo Atanacio: Oh, I love that one.
John Lee Dumas: Yes. That really says a lot of what you were just speaking of. Just that you’re going to make your own luck if you’re really putting in the time and the effort. So they speak to the same thing. I really love your version, so I’m going to make sure to write that down on my quote board here. Can you give us an example of how you use that quote in your life?
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure. Well, every day, I’ve become a workaholic. Before having Uassist.ME, I used to work for another private company. Really, when you’re an entrepreneur, you work like a zillion times much more when you’re an entrepreneur than when you’re part of a private company or a public company even.
So I really apply this quote every day because look, I’m working at my office and it’s Labor Day weekend, and I work every day. So I think when you decide that you’re going to have your own business and when you’re an entrepreneur, you have to really know that it’s not going to be easy. It’s not going to be easier than working for another company. You really have to work for what you want, but the effort is definitely worth it.
John Lee Dumas: Here, you and I are. It’s Labor Day. Specifically, Monday, September 3, 2012. We’re working. We’re in here. We’re putting in the hours, but at the same time – and I don’t want to put words in your mouth – but for me, it doesn’t really feel like the typical term “work.” It really is something that I just enjoy doing.
I’m passionate about sending the message of successful, inspiring entrepreneurs such as yourself to my audience. I love sitting down and talking to people like you who have such a passion for life and a passion for what you do. So for me, it doesn’t really feel like “work.” I mean yes, we are here and we are putting the effort and the time in. Do you have that same mentality?
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure! I mean, I love coming to my office every day and I really enjoy it. So it’s called work, but really it’s my hobby. So I love that I’m making money out of my hobby.
John Lee Dumas: That’s very awesome. So Alfredo, we’re going to transition to our next topic now, and that’s failure. At EntrepreneurOnFire, we really delve into the journey of each entrepreneur that we spotlight, and that’s you today. We want to hear your story. You’re an entrepreneur. You’ve done many things. So at some point in your journey, you’ve come across an obstacle. You’ve hit a challenge head on. You have failed at some point in your life. Can you take us through one of these things and exactly how you reacted to it?
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure. Well, as cliché as it sounds, I don’t like to call it failure [Laughs]. I prefer to think positive out of all the obstacles I’ve encountered. But specifically with Uassist.ME, one of our biggest challenges was getting our first client. Actually, one of my business partners, who is no longer with the company, but he was one of the original business partners. He was in charge of sales and I was in charge of operations. I was really stressed out because we had six months without a single paying customer. So it was so frustrating. I had to quit my job, which was stable and I was earning good money, to found Uassist.ME, and I was here without a single paying customer and a lot of people working with me. So that was my first obstacle. So let’s call it obstacle instead of a failure.
John Lee Dumas: Absolutely.
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] I mean you have to be realistic and you have to know what you’re getting into. So to overcome this obstacle, I had to take matters into my own hands and I had to talk with my business partners and telling them that I really didn’t believe we were going in the right track sales-wise. So I started getting customers myself, and the funny thing is I always said I’m getting into this business, but I will not be in charge of sales because I hate selling. Really, I’m not good at sales, so I’ll be in charge of operations, but please, please don’t put me in charge of sales.
Then the funny thing is I’m now in charge of sales and I’m the one who’s getting the customers for the company. So I’ve turned this obstacle into a really positive thing about my work, and now I’m starting to enjoy it because I really love what we’re doing here, and now I think I’m the best salesperson this company can have because I really believe in what we’re doing. So that’s how I overcame this obstacle.
John Lee Dumas: I love your perception on failure because the reality is, is that perception is reality, and when you perceive a failure as a failure, then it truly is a failure, but when you perceive a failure as just another obstacle or a challenge to overcome, then that’s exactly what it is and it becomes something that is able to be overcome. So I’m glad that you look at things that way. It’s a great lesson that’s passed along.
I want to get down to the ground level now. So you were six months in length without a paying customer. You were stressed out. You took over sales. You learned a lot of lessons throughout that timeframe. What was one major lesson that you can pull out of that failure that you specifically apply to Uassist.ME that was successful?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, again, I think if you really believe in what you’re doing and if you’re really solving a great problem people have, because I think sometimes entrepreneurs are inventors and we invent solutions to problems, but we have to be sure that the problem exists in order to become successful.
So I think if you really believe in what you’re doing, you will definitely overcome the obstacles. I think in talking a little bit more about the same thing about failure and obstacles, as an entrepreneur you have to be ready to have a lot of obstacles. I think there’s one in eight businesses who actually succeeds.
So really, the statistics are not in our favor, but we have to believe in what we’re doing. If the business turns out to be the wrong business, or if you fail in your venture, then think of it as – I mean the money you spent in that business you will learn more put in that business than in a masters’ degree. So I think you have to learn from everything.
John Lee Dumas: Great! Thank you for sharing that. We’re going to transition now into our next topic, which is the aha moment. As an entrepreneur, we all have aha moments at different times in our journey. Some are small little light bulbs that come on. Some are big lightning bolts that illuminate the entire sky and we’re just like, “Oh, that is exactly what I need to do,” and we charge forth and everything works. Did you have a very distinct aha moment?
Alfredo Atanacio: Oh yes. I really did. I did. I have had a lot of businesses myself since I was like 10 years old. So I’ve always been very busy. When I was around 20 something, I hired my own assistant. I live in El Salvador. I’ve lived in El Salvador for most of my life, but I travel a lot. So I had my assistant and she lived in a different city that I did. So I was driving from the airport with who now is one of my business partners and we were discussing several things about my business and how I dealt with everything.
So I started talking about my assistant. Then when I told him that she lived in a different city than I because I really traveled all over, he suddenly looked at me and said, “Hey, we should do a business out of that!” and I was like, “Wow! We should really do a business out of that” because she lived like 50 miles away from where I lived, but I just saw her the time I hired her. So I figured we could do this with people in the states and we would have people here in El Salvador because El Salvador has a very Americanized culture and we are just two hours away from Miami. So we figured it would be very easy for us to differentiate ourselves from the Indian companies that provide this type of service. So that’s where it really hit us. We could really make a lot of money out of this. So that’s when it happened.
John Lee Dumas: So you had that aha moment. What were the actions that you took directly following that aha moment?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, immediately – I mean the day after that discussion with my business partner, I started drafting a business plan and started vetting the idea with friends and family to see what they would think about this. Then two weeks later, I had a meeting with all of who are now my business partners in Miami, and then I presented my drafted business plan and we decided to start the business then.
I think the business plan part is really important because that way, you really, really learn about the business before you ventured into it and you really find out if there’s a demand for that type of service or product you’re trying to sell. So I really recommend to everyone to start with a business plan.
John Lee Dumas: So you started your business plan. You were talking with family and friends. You got some great advice. You took some powerful action. What happened to actually make Uassist.ME come to life?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, I mean, after that meeting we had in Miami when we decided we wanted to start the business, we started working. I actually started working to build the business. To start getting all of the suppliers and start drafting all the services we were going to offer.
I think one of the biggest problems of aspiring entrepreneurs is that they think too much about starting the business. You must be a person of action and take the risk of starting the business because I’ve heard a lot of people saying, “Oh, I wish I had this business,” “Oh, I have this idea I want to do,” and they never do them. So it’s really important for an entrepreneur to start someday. Somehow start a business. It’s about not losing the momentum.
There’s a great quote of this musical, Evita. Tim Rice’s Evita. It says that it’s very difficult to keep momentum when it’s you that you are following. I love that quote because that’s the challenge. You cannot lose the momentum. You cannot lose the ability of inspiring yourself and inspiring others around you. That’s part of being an entrepreneur.
John Lee Dumas: That’s powerful. So you have really had that aha moment. I love the quote that you said even prior to the Evita quote, which is that you must be a person of action. That is so true. That resonates so well with entrepreneurs because they have all been people of action because that is how they made it to where they’re at.
So Alfredo, we’ve jumped around a little bit. We talked about a major obstacle you had when you went six months without a single client. Then we jumped kind of backwards into your aha moment, which was the light bulb of the potential to create Uassist.ME. You’re currently sitting with Uassist.ME right now. It’s a very successful company. You’ve won a lot of accolades. Have you had an I’ve made it moment yet?
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] Not really because I want to be very conservative, so to say. I think we still need to grow a little bit more to be sure that we actually made it. We’re profitable and we’re growing a lot and we’re having awards and everything, but I don’t want to say I made it because I don’t want to jinx it [Laughs]. I think we’re in the right track. Really in the right track. So I hope it stays this way.
John Lee Dumas: Well, I wish that that happens as well. So best of luck in that venture and that’s a great mentality to have. That’s the mentality that many entrepreneurs do have. Even if you do reach that goal that you set for yourself, we continue to raise the bar to continue to propel us forward and create more and better businesses all around.
So Alfredo, right now, you are the CEO, the everything officer of Uassist.Me. I love how you define that. That’s so great. I’ve actually never heard that before.
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: What’s one thing that’s really exciting you about Uassist.ME right now?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, everything. It’s really exciting. I love this business because every day is different. So it’s very exciting to come to work because you never know what you are going to be working in because we have several customers and everyone’s requests can be so weird sometimes, so it’s very exciting to come to work.
Strategically speaking, I’m very excited about the growth we’re having right now. We’ve had a lot of very good PR with all the awards, the INK Magazine mention, and everything’s happening very quickly for us and we’re very excited that we’re really growing. We were around 20 people last year, and now we’re around 40 something. So it’s huge for us to grow like this. We’re about to have our third year anniversary in around two weeks, so we’re very excited about that celebration as well.
John Lee Dumas: So you currently have 40 employees at Uassist.Me?
Alfredo Atanacio: Yes, yes. 42 I guess.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful. Well, Alfredo, the word “entrepreneur” is a mystery to many people. At EntrepreneurOnFire, we really try to pull back the curtain and show our listeners exactly what an entrepreneur does every day. Now obviously, you just went into a little detail. Every day is a mystery. Every day is a surprise. You don’t know when you go in to work what is in store for you. That, in and of itself, is very exciting. However, we still do have common tasks that we need to complete each day to keep the business running that occupy a majority of our time. What are two tasks that you find that are occupying a good portion of your day?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, mostly I’m in charge of making sure there’s no chaos going on. My job is like if I were an air traffic controller. So so many little stupid things can go wrong that can lead to disaster and I make sure they really don’t happen. Then I also spend a lot of time prospecting new clients, and ironically, in charge of sales, which I really didn’t like, but now that’s part of my days. So yes.
John Lee Dumas: So we have to add to your titles the “Chief Chaos Officer.” Is that correct?
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] Yes. Exactly.
John Lee Dumas: So Alfredo, you’re very passionate about Uassist.ME. Give us a little inside glimpse into the vision that you have for the future of Uassist.ME.
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure. What we’re trying to do is having a virtual assistant mainstream. Today, having a virtual assistant is still a very weird thing, if you want to call it like that, and people are not used to having someone in another country or another city working for them because they think outsourcing is just for the big companies. We’re trying to make this to educate our potential customers and making sure they understand that having a virtual assistant is actually very beneficial for them.
Especially for startups and small businesses that have very limited budgets and that they usually cannot afford to have a fulltime person with them and they definitely could benefit from having a virtual assistant. I think yes, small businesses and startups should be our core market.
John Lee Dumas: Where do you draw your pool of virtual assistants from?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, we have two offices. We have our sales office in Miami and then we have our operations center in El Salvador. All of our virtual assistants work from our office in El Salvador. El Salvador, as I mentioned, it has a very Americanized culture, and around 20% or 30% of El Salvador’s population actually live in the states. So a lot of our assistants actually were born and raised in the states and now are back in El Salvador and they come to work with us. So it’s something really cool for us because we can find very good people and people are very in sync with what’s happening in the states. So it’s very beneficial for us and for our customers as well.
John Lee Dumas: So just to draw a better picture for the listeners, like for instance, Virtual Staff Finder is a service that I’m semi-familiar with. They’re based out of the Philippines. They will actually vet out potential virtual assistants, and then send you three or four “candidates,” but those virtual assistants still live and work from home. They really don’t have any contact with Virtual Staff Finder after that initial interview process.
Does Uassist.ME – am I hearing that correctly? That the virtual assistants actually have an office to go to in El Salvador where they’re working out of?
Alfredo Atanacio: Oh yes. Absolutely. Yes. They don’t work from home. They work from our office. This way, we can make sure they have all the equipment necessary. We have backup Internet, electricity and everything so they can really, really work. Before having Uassist.ME, I tried a lot of companies, especially in India and the Philippines. Some of them did what you just mentioned and people were working from home, but I really didn’t like it because there are so many things that can go wrong like Internet connections and electricity that they will be a really huge obstacle for them to complete their jobs.
So what we do here is that we hire people. We train them and we have them available. Then when a customer asks for a virtual assistant, they give us a job description. Then we send them a couple of candidates, but they’re already working with us in the office so they can choose and interview them. So yes, everyone works from the office.
John Lee Dumas: So just being a person that talks to so many small business owners and entrepreneurs on a daily basis, this question continually comes up. So I’m just wondering if you have an answer for this or if Uassist.ME has addressed this issue. That is that the entrepreneur is excited to get a virtual assistant, but then they’re like this person is virtual. They’re thousands of miles away potentially. How do I really know what they’re doing throughout the course of a day?
Is there some kind of system that you use that shows a report of what the virtual assistant has been doing throughout the day? Is there a tracker of any kind? Is there anything that’s kind of Big Brotherish?
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] Yes. Well, we have what we call “the end of day report,” and that’s what it is. After the end of the day, the assistants sends their boss a report with everything that she’s been working on and everything that’s pending so they can keep track of it. We do not track hours per se because we really don’t bill by the hour, but we like to track progress.
Another thing I experimented when I had a virtual assistant from India was that they charged a very low per hour rate and it seemed to be very economical, but after I used this assistant, I realized it actually was very expensive because the assistant would take forever to complete everything or to understand what I was saying. So really, when I started Uassist.ME, I said I really didn’t want to track the hours but the progress.
John Lee Dumas: So let’s take an entrepreneur. He comes to you and he says, “Alfredo, I’m looking for a virtual assistant who’s going to sort my emails, potentially respond to some emails, handle my calendar, set appointments, maybe do some writing and things along those lines. Just very basic virtual assistant activities.” What is the price range that they could expect from Uassist.ME?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, we have three different plans and we have one that’s $250.00. All of our plans include a fulltime available assistant, which means the assistant is available from [9:00] AM to [6:00] PM, but works at different intensities. So for instance, this $250.00 package would give you an assistant that’s being shared with let’s say six other clients. So you have an idea of how much you can delegate. I would say if you want to put a number of hours in that, I would say around one-ish hour a day.
Then we have the other one that’s the most popular plan we have. It’s $699.00 per month and gives you the same. It’s a fulltime available assistant. We also give you a dedicated phone line with the area code of your choice so you can give it out to everyone, and when someone calls to your office, the assistant answers like if she was with you. The $699.00 plan, you have this assistant, but is shared with another person.
Then we have our fulltime assistant, which means the assistant only works for you, and that’s $1,400.00 per month.
John Lee Dumas: So that’s a fulltime dedicated assistant that is strictly working 40 hours a week for you that’s answering any phone calls that are coming in and they are handling just your business.
Alfredo Atanacio: Yes. Exactly. Well, for phone calls, all of the plans can work for – for instance, we have a lot of realtors and we do a lot of customer service, but sometimes people have only like three calls per day or four calls per day, and they need someone that’s available during the whole day, but they really cannot afford to spend $1,400.00 per month. So we would recommend a smaller package in this case. But in all of the packages, the assistant is available during the whole day.
John Lee Dumas: Thank you for sharing that. I think that’s going to be a huge help for our listeners to understand exactly what Uassist.ME offers. That was just a great explanation. I have a full grasp of it and it’s a very exciting business.
Alfredo Atanacio: Thank you.
John Lee Dumas: So Alfredo, we’ve now reached my favorite part of the show. We’re about to enter the Lightning Round. This is where I provide you with a series of questions and you come back with a series of amazing and mind-blowing answers. Does that sound like a plan?
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs] Sure.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] What was the number one thing that was holding you back from becoming an entrepreneur?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, it’s fear of failure, definitely. A funny thing happened with Uassist.Me. We started the business in September 16th, and my wife told me she was pregnant with our first child on September 18th.
John Lee Dumas: Wow.
Alfredo Atanacio: So you can imagine my fear of failure in that case [Laughs]. I’m going to call it failure right now. The fear of failure.
John Lee Dumas: [Laughs] We’ll let you do that. That is potentially terrifying.
Alfredo Atanacio: [Laughs]
John Lee Dumas: What is the best business advice you’ve ever received?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, I think there’s no specific best business advice, but what I do is I read a lot of books of how great companies were founded. One of my favorite is called “Made in America,” which is Sam Walton’s autobiography. It’s really great. There are a lot of great business advice in that book.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful. What’s something that’s working for you or your business right now?
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, I think it’s the quality of the work. We like to build our business based on relationship with our clients. So I guess that’s it. We’re building relationships. At the same time, we’re also helping our clients to build their businesses. So I think that’s really working for us.
John Lee Dumas: So you just mentioned a great book by Sam Walton. What’s the best business book that you’ve read in the last six months?
Alfredo Atanacio: Interesting. I’ve read so many [Laughs]. I’ve read so many.
John Lee Dumas: It can be in English or Spanish.
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, it’s not a business book, but it can be applied to business. I’ve read it like five times and I just read it like a month ago. It’s “The 48 Laws of Power.” I’m not sure if you’ve read of it, but it’s a great book that can be applied to business.
John Lee Dumas: I have never heard of that, but if you’ve read it five times, I’m going to at least read it once.
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure. I really recommend it.
John Lee Dumas: The last question is my favorite, but it’s kind of a tricky one, Alfredo. So you can take your time, digest it, then come back at us with an answer. If you woke up tomorrow morning and you still had all of the experience, knowledge and money that you currently have right now, but your business had completely disappeared, kind of forcing you to start with a clean slate, which many of our listeners find themselves in right now, what would you do in the next seven days?
Alfredo Atanacio: Interesting [Laughs]. Well, if I had the same experience and knowledge I have today, probably I would try to build it again, but I’m not sure. I probably will. With the knowledge I have now, probably I can save a lot of time and money during the “startupping” part of the business. So I guess I could really start it all over again.
John Lee Dumas: So try to be specific. For the next seven days, what would they look like?
Alfredo Atanacio: First of all, I would really hire the best people I could because that’s really important. You have to be surrounded by really good people, and when you’re building the business, your team should be the best you can get. So that would be the first thing. I probably would spend the first three to four days setting up the team again and getting really good people to help me build the business because I really doubt that you can start a business all by yourself. You really need some kind of help. If not as part of the business, at least someone that could be of moral support [Laughs].
John Lee Dumas: I cannot agree more. Alfredo, thank you for joining us today. You’ve given us some great actionable advice, and we’re all better for it. Give Fire Nation one last piece of guidance, then give yourself a plug, and then we’ll say goodbye.
Alfredo Atanacio: Well, again, I just want to tell everyone that really, if you have a business in mind and if you really believe in what you’re doing and that you’re solving a real problem, that you should really take action and you have to be a person of action. I think that’s really important and we don’t have to forget that we really have to be a person of action. So I guess that’s the best advice probably I can give everyone.
John Lee Dumas: Okay. Now give yourself a plug.
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure. Well everyone should visit Uassist.ME. Our webpage is www.uassist.me. We’re here to help, our extraordinary assistants for extraordinary people.
John Lee Dumas: Wonderful. Thanks again, Alfredo, and we’ll catch you on the flipside.
Alfredo Atanacio: Sure, John. A pleasure.