GetFriday and the Cost of Success: Exclusive Letter from the CEO

54 Comments

Do you want to get a promotion, make $500,000 per year, appear on Oprah, or have 10x the number of customers?

Be careful what you ask for.

GetFriday, a personal outsourcing firm in India, was thrust into the limelight when The 4-Hour Workweek hit #1 on The New York Times bestseller list, and their client numbers jumped by almost 1000%. Outsourcing your life was now in fashion.

It’s not simple to handle unexpected massive demand, and this was reflected in complaints from new users who were frustrated with waiting lists, response time issues, and mistakes. New personal outsourcing services popped up to fill the demand, and the niche industry of personal outsourcing is now big business.

I asked the CEO of GetFriday, Sunder Prakasham, to explain the problems and address the criticisms. Below is his letter to me, an excellent description of the growing pains many of you will face if you become “overnight successes” or get sudden primetime exposure.

###

Hi Tim,

Here is an analysis of all the negative posts that went on your blog about GetFriday. (attached excel sheet)

As you would see all of them relate to 2007 when there was a wait period and we were playing catch up. And there are going to be complaints if customers have to wait.That is gone since 1st Jan.2008. We are now taking on clients immediately though we have kept a sane ‘within 5 working days’ as the upper limit to take on clients. So that issue is non-existent now. There is a team that keeps collecting feedback information on the web, so that we can address it if the issue is genuine.

Coming to talk about developments at GetFriday and the key challenges we are currently facing:

DEVELOPMENTS

GetFriday has ramped up its manpower and infrastructure at an extremely fast pace in the last 2 months, so much so we are now ahead of the wait curve and can now take on customers immediately. We have invested huge sums of money into IT infrastructure development and a world class CRM system that places us, leagues ahead of any others in the pack when it comes to delivering on any kind of tasks on a large scale. Small teething problems are expected when something new is implemented and some customers are going to bear the brunt of such issues and may go away unhappy. We have tried to keep all our customers informed of all the changes happening internally from time to time, so that they understand that it is all for the better. New office spaces have been added and we have decent spare capacity to be able take on work on the fly. We have a good management team in place that can handle further growth. A lot of development took place in a very short time, just like a lot of growth happened in too short a time. So there are going to be problems we need to contend with, here are some of them.

CHALLENGES

Culture and Relationship

I have reviewed a lot of feedback on the web myself and understand from customer feedback that one of the biggest issues facing GetFriday is that of understanding culture. Now this is a real issue and no matter how much of training I give about the American culture through classroom sessions, reality is that we live in different cultural zones. At no point of time has GetFriday professed that we use Indian assistants who are ‘American’ or any ‘other culture’ ready. We do our best to ensure that we train people and try to set the expectations right with the customer. The basis for a successful relationship lies in understanding at the outset that we are different and then work towards sharing each other’s culture and making ‘work’ work. How successful that will be shall depend on whether the people who transact, the client (American or any other culture) and his assistant (Indian) are open about it. I think the culture thing is being given too much emphasis, because though I may not understand my Israeli client’s culture thoroughly, if I have a good relationship and we are open about diversity then I should be able to understand the pulse of the customer and deliver on the client’s needs. That is fundamental for any cross cultural working relationship. It worked for us when we started GetFriday and I think that is the way we would like to keep it going. And BTW, we should have clients from 30 different nationalies being served by GetFriday at this point of time.

Given the spate of work that has come our way, most of our assistants had focussed on pure delivery of tasks and not much on the relationship management aspect. This we found was the biggest problem for us and hence we have taken steps to fix that problem. Am not giving out specifics of this because we have seen other services blatantly copy everything from tariff to processes to our manuals once it is on the web. ;-)

Quality of Service

Keeping the quality of service really high as we grow rapidly has been a huge challenge. There were some bloopers here and there, which happened in the past. It was really a choice between losing the client on a wait period to taking them on sooner (because they wanted it immediately after reading Tim’s book and couldn’t wait) with a little compromise on quality (because the assistant was not trained enough). Was a Hobson’s choice though we did our best to tell clients that waiting was better. Now with the capacity crunch being handled and well within our control, we have really been focussing on improving the quality of service. A good quality of service needs to meet client’s expectation to a reasonable level. People who have been with us for more than 2 months, stick with us for a long time. There are customers who are as old as 2 years still using our service. It is the initial period that is the most trying, both for client and for the assistant. We have put a fix for this problem as well recently. In order to continuously provide a good quality of service, we take feedback from customers plus we have internal systems that rates the quality of tasks selected on a random basis.

Clone sites

There were many clone sites that started service after seeing the popularity of GetFriday and thought that there was an incredibly quick buck to be made. Some of them whom I don’t wish to name but are referred by users on your blog are sites which are complete clones. I couldn’t help laughing my head off when I came across a site that had copied and put up our user manual verbatim on their site. Someone had used the find and replace technique efficiently, but apparently forgot to remove our support email id. Another one is trying to gain popularity through using our brand name in the headline of all their free web PR releases. They are listed high in google because of the word ‘getfriday’ in it, but I can’t see how customers would bite and try out a service that uses such unethical means.

For the moment, we focus on real feedback on our service from real clients. And we ensure we listen to them and fix them. The rest, we would rather ignore.

On the whole, I think GetFriday is in a lot better position than most others to understand the challenges and tackle them head-on.

If a client is open-minded and willing to invest a little time in the relationship at the beginning, he/she will reap a lot of value over a period of time with GetFriday.

If you have any further concerns, please do let me know.

Regards

Sunder P
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{democracy:3}

Posted on: March 12, 2008.

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54 comments on “GetFriday and the Cost of Success: Exclusive Letter from the CEO

  1. Hey Tim,

    The concept of outsourcing the time consuming parts of one’s life still fascinates and excites me ever since I read your book several months back. I can’t wait to try it out on something. I am currently trying to find a new job both here in Canada or in Europe. Maybe I’ll try outsourcing job applications. I’ll let everyone know how it goes.

    One question I did have is regarding cost vs. quality. I know you touched on this subject a bit in your book and other previous posts, but I would like to know which company gives you the best “bang for your buck”, both on the high end and on the affordable end.

    Cheers

    Like

  2. Robert Heinlein wrote a story “We also Walk Dogs” (I think that was the title.)

    In the story, he predicted a world with personal outsourcing.

    Like

  3. I used GetFriday for a brief period after reading about it in your book. This was around summer ’07 and the wait time was five weeks before I was assigned to someone.

    I did not have the patience to work through the significant cultural differences or teach my assistance my expectations for responses to tasks. I considered it a test run, to see where the starting point would be and how much work I would have to do to get the results to a satisfactory level.

    Since publishing 4HWW, I would be interested to hear of any U.S.-based VA you would recommend.

    Like

  4. Outsourcing has become an integral part of the way I operate in my life and business. There’s just too much to do in life to spend time doing menial things that I can pay others to do.

    Get Friday is one of three virtual assistants that I use. So far things are going pretty well with them. I didn’t have to wait terribly long to get started. The assistant has been polite and definitely interested in knowing what he can do to best fulfill my needs.

    The only problem I’ve had is when I had him take on something outside of his skill range. I think he was a bit ambitious about how quickly he could figure it out. With any VA there will be a ramp up and training time for things that you want done a specific way.

    But they did a brilliant job doing research for us when we decided to move to Argentina. The information was thorough and well-organized.

    I’m happy to see the success that you have enjoyed from your excellent book and that Get Friday has also enjoyed by association. Thanks for your invaluable insights.

    Like

  5. I signed up for GetFriday, but realized right away they were experiencing growing pains. They were VERY professional and well organized, and I expect I will be using them in the future. However, I decided to try my luck with elance.com, and found it made more sense — in my case — to outsource different tasks to different providers.

    I have since hired a personal assistant (in Michigan), a company to do web research, data entry, and website administration (in India), and a web designer to redesign my website (in India).

    (It’s worth mentioning that I have also had success in the past with web developers and programmers hired through guru.com, and I wonder if anyone has any stories to share about odesk.com?)

    A huge thank you to Tim for writing the 4HWW. My life is changed for the better. I am getting much more done, no longer neglecting the stuff that wouldn’t fit into my 15 hour days, and feeling relaxed and happy. Thanks Tim!

    Like

  6. Dear Tim,

    I am a fan of your work, your thoughts, your blogs and your intelligence.

    Had a few IDEAS which I felt like sharing with you and which could be useful to many people…

    1) What about having a blog/book on any or all of the following topics…

    – The 4-hour study week:
    For youngsters who have a lot of pressure of doing well in exams (especially in India – where we have seen students committing suicide due to exam pressures and coz of the expectations that parents have out of them).

    – The 4-hour knowledge week:
    Strategies for acquiring enough knowledge/experience to get amongst the top 20% in any field, without spending 20-30 years of your life over it.

    – The 4-hour financial week:
    Strategies in Real-Estate/Stock Market etc, which can get anyone financially free within 4 months or so.

    – The 4-hour spiritual week:
    Top 20% spiritual books/leaders/etc. which will give a person 80% of the spiritual knowledge that he requires in life.

    – Speed Reading / Improving your memory / How to give speeches

    2) What about coming out with video DVDs on…
    – Your seminars

    – Capturing your life transformations through video: for example, having a video right from the first day of your workout/diet/etc to the 4th week of the workout / diet, showing the transformation that took place

    – DVDs on some of the topics mentioned in the first point above.

    I will be your first customer and would love to purchase all your books/cds on any of the topics mentioned above.

    Would love to know your thoughts on the same.

    Take care
    Manan

    ###

    Hi Manan,

    Thanks for the comment. I won’t be doing too much crazy line extension, but there will be some good educational modules coming out in the next 6-8 months. I have plans for a few things that should be helpful, all based on user feedback and requests.

    Thanks!

    Tim

    Like

  7. outsourcing does have it’s challenges but when you do find the right person (or company) to accomplish tasks it can really be beneficial. I wouldn’t recommend anyone going into with the assumption that is reduces stress right away.

    Like

  8. Hi Tim,

    I read your book 4HWW a few months ago, and I’m a reader of your blog. I used outsource freelancers even before I read your book, but after reading it it was more clear to me how to communicate with them better. I used freelancers from every freelancers website around the web.
    A few weeks ago, an idea came into my mind: there’s no freelancers translation service that enables web publishers (and actually everybody) to translate in low costs, fast way.
    So – me and my partners invented OneHourTranslation.com.
    I’ll be more than happy to hear what you think of it. Your opinion really matters to me.
    Thank you,
    Yaron

    Like

  9. Oh one more thing!
    I was in the same exact place that you took the header picture!
    I took a 3-day boat to the iceberg, and it was a great thing to wake up in the morning and see all those iceberg pieces floating ….
    Yaron

    Like

  10. Hi Tim,

    I liked Manan’s post and I too have sometimes wondered why I haven’t seen the “Tim Ferriss Secrets” DVDs on here.

    I’m sure you could sell tons of line extension products through this website, but I also like the way you just sum things up in a short blog post.

    People write and sell ebook kits on weight loss diets and bulking up all the time, but you summed up what you found to be the most important parts (the 20% that counts) in about 1000 words. I think that’s great. Looking forward to a post about diet and training while traveling.

    I’d also like more posts on muse creation, if you are looking for reader feedback.

    It’ll be interesting to see what “educational modules” you come up with in 6-8 months. I hope they’re are not too expensive, but I would like more personal guidance on the muse stuff if you can offer it.

    Rich

    Like

  11. Well first if you’ve noticed your newsletter type a bit larger in the past few months that’s because of my suggestion to Tim. It’s a lot easier to read now. I’m a virtual assistant/transcriptionist based in America. I know India offers much better rates but if you paid a full-time employee (40-hours per week) $10.00 plus all the benefits it could cost you well over $25,000 per year. And how much of that time would he or she spend playing solitaire on the computer? Most U.S. based Virtual Assistants (VA) charge anywhere from $35 to $60 per hour. Retainer fees can be set up so you know exactly how many hours they will work each month. There are a lot options available to small business owners in today’s market that it’s easy to acquire the right VA for a lot less than a full-time employee. If I can’t help you, I can give you some resources on where to find a VA. Thanks much.

    Like

  12. Hi Tim

    This is Terri from Hong Kong. I read through your book and it is great – I end up found a good guide on how to get my dream life work out, thank you!

    Now I am planning to develop an internet business and want to outsource the jobs of internet research and information compiling, already contacted BRICKWORK INDIA, while Ithe website will be specially for Hong Kong and Chinese people, hence better to work with someone from China. I would be grateful if anyone can advise the reliable source in China as Brickwork .

    Thank you, Terri

    Like

  13. Hey Tim,

    1) It was great hearing you moderate the Art of Speed panel at SXSW. Great stuff!

    2) In terms of outsourcing, some people are still shaky about dealing with someone who they can’t necessarily hold accountable (i.e.-they are not in the US). One way to overcome this is to to go to a US based company and use them to outsource your work.

    Like

  14. I experimented with outsourcing and actually found $5 an hour services. They did an okay job but didn’t listen as closely as I would have liked which ended in mistakes. They did quickly respond to my issues and did not charge me for the time for the mistakes. I found trying to explain the job was harder than I thought the effort was worth. I probably would have continued if I knew one person was consistently doing the work so I didn’t have to worry about results but that didn’t seem to happen.

    I will be looking into it again in the future.

    Like

  15. Hey Tim,

    Love your book & blog. Like you, I’m a big fan of business, martial arts & travel. I’m having a mental tug of war with the doing business out of america thing. I guess we’ll all eventually get over it – it’s the hippie influence of my Mom who hates calling customer service anywhere & getting India.

    Anyway, thanks for the inspiration & information! When hitting a block in writing (do you get these?) I’d like to hear of this from ya:

    Brainquicken

    What inspired you to write 4hww

    ###

    Hi Lili,

    Here is EXACTLY what I do when I get writer’s block: http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2007/08/25/the-creativity-elixir-is-genius-on-demand-possible/

    More to come :)

    Tim

    Lili

    Like

  16. I’m currently reading 4HWW and I think that the idea of outsourcing is fantastic. There are just so many things to do that take up so much time, but don’t really seem like they’re worth the time to do yourself. Thanks Tim for introducing us to this idea.

    I haven’t tried GetFriday yet, but I plan to in the future. Does anyone have any tips, learned from personal experience?

    Like

  17. I tried GetFriday (when it was just transitioning from being “Your Man in India”). They blew it – missed deadlines, poor quality work, lack of responses to email and phone inquiries, failing to cancel my account properly when I finally gave up, etc. I’m sure these were acute growing pain-related, and GF might be fine now.

    The one thing I think they truly did poorly is to not know how to say “no”. A “Yes” is an actionable answer, and a promise – “Yes, I can do that project for you”. “No” is almost as good – “No I can’t do the project for you” sets me free to find another vendor. “Maybe” or “Yes, in a while” are terrible answers for a client to hear – it forces me to keep an open loop on my to-do list (“Is my VA firm going to be able to do my work or not”).

    GetFriday might have gotten me back as a client in the future by simply declining my work when they couldn’t handle it – rather than over-extending themselves and effing-up so thoroughly that I can’t imagine trying them again.

    Saying ‘no’ to work can sometimes be the best move for your business…

    Like

  18. Thanks for posting this, Tim. I tried GetFriday for a couple of months (after being on a wait-list), and ultimately had to cancel because of service issues. I wanted to like it, but unfortunately, I received too much feedback from others (who were the recipients of my assistant’s efforts) that I felt reflected badly on me.

    I plan to give it another try when supply catches up to demand!

    Esther

    Like