by Cheryl Yeoh November 6, 2013
Cheryl Yeoh tried out a virtual assistant for a week, after her startup was acquired by Walmart Labs
This is a guest post by entrepreneur Cheryl Yeoh, who tested a virtual assistant for a week. VentureBeat asked for a write-up after hearing her review of the service.
We all wish we had more hours in a day. As a startup founder for almost four years, I never had the time to get organized or take care of personal matters — all my focus was on the company.
I neglected to fix silly things like the occasional unauthorized charge on my credit card, call the bank to remove a fee, cancel my gym membership I was no longer using. But I never really thought about outsourcing personal tasks to a virtual assistant until recently, after my company was acquired by Walmart Labs.
I decided to experiment with a VA through Zirtual, a new service that connects you with a local assistant. I picked the $197 per month plan, where I can delegate unlimited tasks to my VA, up to 10 hours a month. I researched a few other services, and Zirtual turns out to be more affordable than other competitors like Red Butler and Fancy Hands.
In just three days, Zirtual matched me up with Alice from Texas, a stay-at-home mom in her mid twenties, who is earning a masters in Education.
On our first call, we chatted for 30 minutes to get to know each other better. I added her on Facebook to feel a bit more secure about handing off my sensitive personal information. But we established trust quickly — Alice told me she could perform just about any task that could be completed online or over the phone.
I chronicled my experience with Alice to give you an idea how my life changed in a week. I saved a few hundred dollars, just by having an extra person on hand to call the DMV, cancel credit cards, and deal with those other niggling tasks that we never have enough time for.
8am: Alice calls to make and confirm all my dinner reservations for the next two months.
1pm: Alice researches and optimizes the redemption of a free flight to the Galapagos Islands using airline miles and finds one for on Delta. She also researches day trips, makes bookings, secures airport transfers, and makes restaurant reservations for my vacation.
8pm: My VA helps me with some preliminary research on a freelance project I’m working on for my client with very specific instructions on what mobile companies to use as case studies.
7am: Alice works with my accountant to resolve startup corporation taxes, which takes a very arduous bit of work off my plate. There was some confusion over the company’s location, so Alice called the Corporation Service Bill to clear it up.
11 AM: Alice chases down a previous landlord who has owed me my apartment security deposit for the past five months. That’s a few thousand dollars in the bank!
2PM: She then cancels the Banana Republic and Bloomingdales credit cards I never use, which will likely improve my credit score.
10am: Our apartment Wi-Fi has been really sluggish lately, so I asked Alice to call up AT&T to investigate. It turns out AT&T never upgraded our speed even though they had charged us the higher rate, so they fixed the issue immediately and gave me one month of credit to apologize. My roommates joke that we should invite Alice to move in with us.
2pm: Recently, I’ve been tracking a lot of data about myself through MyFitness Pal, Moves, Sleep Cycle, Cardiio, and so on, except my weight, so I want to purchase a Wi-Fi scale to complete my fitness picture. Alice helps me research a few different scales. I end up buying the Withings since it has the better functionality, durability, and hardware, even though the Aria is a little cheaper.
While she’s on Amazon, she also researches and buys me the best priced Nespresso capsules since she knows I’m running out of them at home (yes, she tracks my home coffee consumption).
4PM: Alice categorizes all the personal expenses from my credit card and bank statements via a service called Hello Wallet and sends me a weekly report of all my expenses, so I get a snapshot of where I’m spending my money and how I’m managing my budget. When she notices an unusual transaction, she alerts me and takes care of it for me.
All in all, Alice has easily helped me save a couple of hundred dollars today in unauthorized transactions or extraneous fees alone, which pays for the service itself.
9.30am: Alice gets a notification from an Airbnb guest who wants to book my room while I’m on vacation. She checks with me on the tenant, price, and dates and approves the booking. Next, she communicates with the guest and makes sure they know how to get into my apartment while I’m gone. Ka-ching — this Airbnb booking will pay for half of my island tour expenses!
4pm: A few days ago, I received a letter from the DMV about suspending my vehicle. Alice calls up the DMV to dispute the notice and finds out that my auto insurance company submitted the wrong license plate number to the DMV. She calls the insurance company to fix the error. She also updates my address on file and gets me a $220 per year reduction in annual premiums, since I moved to a newer and safer neighborhood a couple of months ago. Way to go, Alice!
1pm: Given that I was building a startup for the past few years, I neglected regular visits to the doctor and dentist. Alice helps me select a physician in the One Medical Group network. She books my first health checkup with the doctor for next week.
3pm: I’m new to Walmart Labs, so Alice helps me research (via company poll that she synthesizes and analyzes, and through Yelp reviews) a good dentist near my office that’s covered by my work’s insurance network.
Would I spend another week with a VA?
Absolutely. During the week, I didn’t worry much about identity theft, since all Zirtual VAs are thoroughly vetted and have a criminal background check. In fact, Alice and I use a service called Last Pass, which protects all my passwords so Alice never sees them in plaintext but can simply log onto the websites on my behalf. In just two months, I’ve effectively trained her to be my double.
Transitioning from a startup to a large corporation meant that I’m back to the 9 to 5 grind and have less flexibility to make errand calls during the day. One of the more significant ways Alice has helped me is to free me up from these calls that have to be made during regular office hours. That way, I can focus 100 percent at work without worrying about resolving personal issues. Now, instead of spending time on non-urgent, tedious tasks, Alice does that for me so that I can focus on the things that truly matter.
Cheryl Yeoh cofounded Reclip.It, a personalized shopping list app that helps people save money by matching list items with digital coupons. In 2013, Reclip.It was acquired by Walmart Labs. She lives in San Francisco, CA.
Cheryl is not an investor and does not have a business relationship with Zirtual or any of the companies mentioned above.
Follow her on Twitter @cherylyeoh