Zirtual: What Happened and What’s Next
First, let me start by telling you a story…
Over four years ago I moved to San Francisco from Reno, Nevada, with a backpacker’s pack and the burning desire to turn my blog’s side-business, virtual assistant matchmaking, into a “real” business. A business named Zirtual.
I had meager savings so I stayed in hostels for the first three months, dreaming of how wonderful life would be when Zirtual was “big” and we had hundreds of employees serving loads of happy clients.
Fast forward almost four-and-a-half years later…
I don’t live in a hostel anymore; I live in a nice house that my boyfriend owns. I don’t work out of Starbucks; I work out of our SF or Vegas offices now. Zirtual did grow to be “big”; at its peak it had almost 500 employees, was serving thousands of clients and was on an $11M run rate.
Then growing fast caught up with us, and the last seven days have been a spiral like I have never experienced before in my life.
So what went wrong?
Short answer: burn.
Burn is that tricky thing that isn’t discussed much in the Silicon Valley community because access to capital, in good times, seems so easy. Burn is the amount of money that goes out the door, over and above what comes in, so if you earn $100 in a month but pay out $150, your burn is $50.
Zirtual was not flush with capital — for as many people as we had, we were extremely lean. In total we raised almost $5 million over the past three years, but when we moved from independent contractors (ICs) to employees, our costs skyrocketed. (Simple math is add 20–30% on to whatever you pay an IC to know what it will cost to have them as an employee).
And at the end of the day… “burn” is what happened to Zirtual.
The reason we couldn’t give more notice was that up until the 11th hour, I did everything I could to raise more money and right the ship.
After failing to secure more funds, the law required us to terminate everyone when it became clear to us that we wouldn’t be able to make the next payroll.
This also meant that all of our clients immediately lost their support.
The outcome breaks my heart — hundreds of our people out of work and thousands of people losing a service they loved, and paid for, overnight.
I cannot express my deep sorrow at letting down our employees, our clients and our investors. I’ve read notes from people calling me stoic as this shit storm has hailed down on us. But in reality every time I am alone I cry like someone whose child has been ripped from her arms.
I cry for all the employees we hurt. I cry for all the clients we infuriated. And I cry for the investors we let down.
At the end of the day we grew faster than we could handle. Our burn spiraled out of control even with our high revenues, and that led to the pausing of Zirtual’s services.
At the Eleventh Hour…
During all of this I was contacted by a client and friend of a current investor, Wil Schroter, CEO of Startups.co — the world’s largest startup launch platform. He was a happy client, had done the entrepreneurial thing seven times and sold four companies.
During the last twenty-four hours we have worked out a deal where Startups.co will purchase Zirtual, and all its assets, and restart the service — to offer our clients support and give us the opportunity to hire some of our Zeople back.
Like the rest of this situation, these conversations have been all-consuming and happening at lightning speed. We weren’t able to share any updates with our community until now — and I regret not having answers for our community sooner. We’ve built up an enormous amount of trust over the past four years and it hurts to know that we compromised this in a few days.
More information through Startups.co press release, here.
*Note: There has also been speculation about whether people will or will not be paid for their time worked. Everyone will be compensated fully. Checks have already been processed and are being mailed out today. If you have direct deposit, you’ll receive payment that way. Benefit charges will also be refunded. PTO payments will be sent.