Virtudesk CEO Pavel Stepanov on Culture, Success, and Making the INC 5000

Oct 8, 2021

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With no one laid off, our CEO Pavel found a way to mitigate the pandemic's impact and came out on the INC 5000 2021 list. The pandemic left no business untouched globally. Nearly all businesses in all sectors experienced a negative impact when lockdowns were imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Through the storm, our CEO Pavel Stepanov found a way to mitigate the pandemic’s effect on the company and everyone in it. The work paid off and Virtudesk came up listed on the INC 5000 fastest-growing US-based companies.

 

Pavel's Thoughts on Virtudesk, Success, and making the Inc 5000

Through an interview, Pavel shared with us how this achievement was driven by a culture that survived and thrived during a global pandemic. Here’s the full transcript of his interview where he talks about success, culture, and making the INC 5000 this year.  

How Did You Come Up With The Name For Virtudesk?

The name came up very spontaneously. We were brainstorming with my old team and just trying to figure out the name. We looked at the desk because this is basically where you work. And the name “virtually” came up as it is. We actually combined “virtu-” and “desk”. Kind of an epiphany of working remotely. So that’s kind of how the name came up. Very spontaneously. It took us five minutes to brainstorm and come up with the name that actually became a household name at the moment. That’s just what happens.  

What Kind of Culture Exists in Virtudesk and How Did You Establish It?

The culture that exists in Virtudesk is kind of a family values culture. We treat our VAs and staff as family members. We’re very closely held and operative. We do care about what’s going on with our people. We do get involved sometimes with people when life situations come up. When COVID hit last year, we didn’t lay off a single employee. I know a lot of companies did. Our competition laid off about 70% of their support staff. We didn’t lay off a single person, we all kept them on the payroll. We made sure that everybody is taken care of because, in a time of crisis, we don’t look at the profit. We look at our employees. This [our employees] is our greatest asset. And that’s the company culture that we’ve developed. How did we come to establish it? Basically, when you treat employees like family, then you see people who care about your business as if it’s their own. It’s gonna show in the profit margins and balance sheets. And it’s also gonna show in the company’s retention and the company culture. That’s how we’ve established it--by actually being proactive.   family quote We look out for our VAs, we make sure we reach out to everybody. Everybody’s working from home, so it can be a very lonely gig to work from home. We realize it's very hard sometimes to have that type of environment where, you know, people who used to go to the office and everybody’s talking to each other. But when you work from home, you can get kinda lonely. We make sure we remove that gap of loneliness and make sure that people are actually engaged. Not just only coming to do the work, that it actually became part of their life.  We do organize events. Before COVID we are organizing events in the Philippines for our associates. And now during COVID, because the Philippines is still on lockdown, we do have virtual events. We do quarterly meetings. We do fun trivia nights. We do bingo nights where people participate virtually.  That actually--all of that was a component of creating the culture of the company. And it shows in their productivity because people actually feel appreciated. They don’t feel like an empty tool who's going to be just doing the hours and getting paid and that's it. They actually feel they're actually part of the company, they are part of the family, part of a structure, part of a bigger organization. All of that actually helps the company be where we are.  We just recently made the INC 5000 list of fastest-growing U.S. companies. and our employees love that. They understand they’re part of something way bigger than just a screen dot on the computer.  

What is Your Biggest USP That Differentiates The Company From Competitors?

The biggest unique sales proposition that differentiates us from the competition, I guess, is we do care about our virtual assistants.  We provide health insurance. We provide benefits such as life insurance, health insurance, dental, vision. We have different perks besides salary. Our employees receive incentives, like merit-based increases. They also receive paid time off. They receive a lot of benefits so they actually do understand that they have a great company behind them, and it gives them a sense of security and stability. As far as client-wise we are better than the competition. We provide, besides the typical tools that we provide, like a time tracker, cyber insurance, cyber security insurance; besides the great infrastructure and support for the virtual assistants, we also do a lot of training for VAs. Constant training, ongoing up-training.  We have staff both in the Philippines and in the US who're constantly doing classes. And that's actually helping the client as well because they are getting highly-trained virtual assistants who are going to be part of their team. They’re going to be the kind of person who can work in their company and be on a long term basis. And we’re making sure that this actually happens and we are in essence becoming a partner or client where we’re making sure that the person who's working is actually working. We make sure that when things come up, we as a company resolve those issues. And if the person, let's say resigns, we can swiftly provide a replacement virtual assistant. That's just one of those things.  And again, we are a US-based company. So when you hire us, you are not only hiring a person in the Philippines, you are hiring a US-based company here in the United States. This means you don't deal with somebody overseas as far as payment goes and the security aspect, you don’t have to worry about the benefits versus when you hire a VA on your own. You don't have to try to figure out what benefits to provide your VA. We all take care of it on our side. That's a major part of it.  

What Are Some of the Major Challenges the Company Has Faced Till Now?

I guess like in March of last year when COVID hit, that was like the major challenge that Virtudesk was facing. Because nobody knew what the hell was going on.  And I spoke with different CEO's. I spoke with people from Fortune 500 companies and nobody had any idea what was going to happen. And March of last year, when everybody wanted to shut down--the whole world--nobody knew what was going to happen. If we're going to have the company at all--if we're going to have jobs.  I know usually the knee-jerk reaction of old companies when a crisis happens is to lay off people to preserve the company. We've taken a very holistic approach. We didn’t lay off people and we did preserve their company.  our success quote We took some measures that actually allowed us to operate without laying people off. That actually included that the company reduced profit. The company forfeited the profit so that we actually could keep people on the payroll.  That was one of the major challenges and again we needed to save the company and we needed to stay afloat. We did. And not only that, we actually grew because I think people don't remember what you do in a time of crisis, but they remember how you do it.  But that was some of the most challenging times that we had. And I'm thankful that we overcame this very effectively, and we definitely will be ready for anything that comes next. We don't know what's going to come but at any point, whatever comes, it comes and we’re gonna be ready to a certain degree.  That was a major test for us as a company to be able not only to survive but to thrive. So, I'm glad we were able to do that.   

What Are Your Growth Plans for the Next 12 Months?

We just made the INC 5000 list where we've been recorded to achieve 454% growth over the last three years. We are going to be on the list again next year. And obviously, the Growth Plan is to make it to the INC 500, to be in the top 500. So basically double the production which we are going to do to back it up.  The way we would do it again is we’d develop a great structure in the marketing department and the sales department. We are connecting with influencers in the US for marketing. We've developed certain partnerships with a lot of companies.  Virtudesk is becoming a household name for virtual assistants in the United States. That's what we are doing right now. I believe that with the right people in the right places, we will be able to achieve that to show growth and to provide more jobs to Filipinos in the Philippines, and more jobs for people in the United States, here at the corporate office.  Just one of those things we want is to make sure that people are being taken care of. We've provided more benefits this year to people here in the US, as well. We’ve provided medical, we’ve provided pension plans, 401(k)’s, and we've grown as a company, which is amazing. I'm glad that people who are working here can actually have some sense of stability, can have great benefits and salaries, and can stay with the company for the long term.   

How Do You Define Success?

Success is not how much money you make, but I guess how many lives you can actually impact.  At the current moment, we have several hundreds of people working in the Philippines and also a lot of people work in the United States. All those lives are being affected positively. And at the same time, like our clients. We’re positively able to affect their business. They can truthfully grow due to our efforts and the virtual assistants that we have. I define that as success. inc 5000 success quote That's essentially why we are doing it: To be able to positively affect people, the ability to provide benefits, to have people be part of the organization that allows them to grow within the organization. And also, to be able to provide for their families. That's just the most important thing. That's what I have so far.   

Virtudesk Makes the INC 5000 2021 List

And again, thank you, everybody, who helped Virtudesk to make the INC 5000 this year. This is not only my success, it’s the success of everybody at Virtudesk--everyone, every person who contributed and I want to thank everybody for doing this. Because without you guys we would not be able to be where we are. And as I usually say, this is our own success. We all share it together. That's how we do it.   

Culture, Success, and Making the INC 5000

With hard work and dedication to helping people, both staff and clients, Pavel was able to lead Virtudesk to a remarkable achievement in the midst of a pandemic. We couldn't be more proud of our CEO and ourselves with this honor from the INC 5000. If you’d like to find more tips from Pavel, check out this YouTube playlist of quick business tips. You can also connect with him and like-minded entrepreneurs and industry influencers on the Leverage Facebook group. If you want to learn more about our virtual assistant services, fill out this form and one of our consultants will reach out to you.  

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