In the dynamic world of Canadian entrepreneurship, few stories are as compelling and inspiring as that of Bobbie Racette, the visionary founder of Virtual Gurus. From aspiring to teach music to deaf children to navigating the challenges of being a Cree-Metis, LGBTQ/queer individual in the corporate world, Racette’s journey is a testament to resilience and innovation. Facing adversity head-on, she transformed her experiences into a groundbreaking venture: Virtual Gurus, a platform revolutionizing the remote work landscape by connecting diverse talents with businesses. In this candid interview, Racette delves into the origins of her company, her vision for the future of remote work, and the triumphs and trials of her entrepreneurial path. Get ready to be inspired by her journey of breaking barriers and fostering inclusivity in the business world.
Can you share with us the story behind the creation of Virtual Gurus and what inspired you to start this business?
As so often happens, life takes us in a spiderweb of strange and surreal directions. When I was younger, I had aspirations of becoming a music teacher for deaf children. As a young adult, I moved to Vancouver and went to college for sign language, and even further down the line toyed with the notion of becoming a social worker, but it seems life had different plans for me. After being laid off from my oil and gas job, I discovered firsthand how difficult it can be for a Cree-Metis, LGBTQ/queer non-white person to be seen as a top applicant for a prospective position, and that’s where the Virtual Gurus story begins.
Virtual Gurus is an online talent-as-a-service platform which leverages the power of people and technology alike to connect remote assistants – many of whom have historically faced employment obstacles such as the 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, racialized people, those with physical disabilities and people who live in remote communities – with a diverse range of businesses and options for remote careers.
How do you envision the future of remote work and its impact on diversity and inclusion?
It’s about removing obstacles as well as biases. For me, it’s all about this innovative approach to talent acquisition and management.
For centuries, a traditional office working model has left many people unable to adequately provide for themselves. We have an office for our full-time Virtual Gurus employees but offer a hybrid working model that allows them about 70 percent of their time in the office and 30 percent of their time remotely. Our Virtual Guru base, however, is just that, all remote workers.
Apart from the obvious financial and emotional strain this causes for people, it’s important to remember that everyone has valuable talent, passion and perspectives, and remote work has the potential to accommodate a plethora of underrepresented folks.
Through Virtual Gurus, we have been able to empower First Nation, Métis, and Inuit peoples, members of the 2SLGBTQIA+ community, marginalized individuals, people with disabilities, and those residing in remote areas while becoming one of North America’s fastest-growing virtual assistant companies. Powered by innovative tech that harnesses the power of machine learning to match assistants with clients, she has created a thriving community of over 800 talented professionals from diverse backgrounds.
As the Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year in 2022, can you tell us some key challenges and triumphs you faced on your entrepreneurial journey?
It took Virtual Gurus two long and very stressful years to find its first client; however, that first milestone gave us enough momentum to keep building and working toward our social mission to provide employment to marginalized communities as well as those who may have a harder time finding work. Being named Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year in 2022 was an incredible validation for not only myself but the entire Virtual Gurus team, as our company is built and make the working world better and more accessible for people from all walks of life.
How has Virtual Gurus transformed the way businesses work?
Historically, it’s safe to say – whether through an inability to change or an unwillingness to change – many companies don’t know how to build a diverse talent pipeline. Since Virtual Gurus was founded, we have worked with more than 5,000 virtual assistants from a wealth of different backgrounds to support and uplift marginalized folx, all while pairing businesses and entrepreneurs with the right freelancer for the job to ensure the working world can be a diverse and ultimately successful place for all involved.
This allows small and enterprise-scope businesses to hire fractional talented staff that meet their needs, and it has transformed the careers and lives of many of our Virtual Gurus who may not have had a line of site to career advancement prior to coming on board.
How do you ensure that diversity and inclusion are at the forefront of Virtual Gurus’ values and operations?
Many organizations are lacking in the diversity, equity and inclusion department. Whether this is due to unintentional bias within a traditional hiring process or lack of knowledge and leadership around DEI practice and implementation is another story. Still, Virtual Gurus is a conduit for many of these businesses and founders who do want to see change in their organizations to take steps in the right direction.
Qualified people come from all walks of life, be it First Nation, Métis and Inuit peoples, members of 2SLGBTQIA+ communities, racialized people, individuals of alternate abilities or people living in remote communities. At Virtual Gurus, we empower these skilled individuals and businesses alike, all while championing diversity, equity and inclusion in a mutually rewarding, symbiotic relationship.
We often say that DEI is at the core of Virtual Gurus. We are not just a virtual assistant service but a DEI pledge. Businesses can make an impact with Virtual Gurus by hiring from our diverse pool of vetted remote talent.
Virtual Gurus’ streamlined process is designed to help businesses increase their capacity for growth. Can you provide some insights into how this process works and its benefits for clients?
Using Virtual Guru’s one-of-a-kind matching algorithm, companies are paired with our pre-vetted Canadian and American virtual assistants. Once the algorithm identifies the right candidate for the job, our Placement Specialists team has a second-look to ensure the pairing is specifically catered towards the task at hand. Our matching algorithm is amazing, but even in 2023, all things need a human touch.
Finally, our Client Success team gets down to the nitty gritty with a swift and supportive onboarding process to ensure our virtual assistants are in the best position to tackle whatever task is at hand.
Can you highlight specific tasks or areas where Virtual Gurus’ talented assistants have significantly impacted clients?
Making life easier and more rewarding for our clients and virtual assistants alike is the bread and butter of Virtual Gurus. We’re well-versed in the wily ways of the working world and so are keen to go the extra mile for companies who may not know how best to delegate to their assistants.
For example, 321 Growth Academy’s initial experience with Virtual Gurus allowed the company to better streamline their content creation efforts. When the company no longer needed a part-time assistant to help them with this goal, they were able to modify their subscription to improve their bookkeeping, reducing the negative impacts of staff turnover while saving dozens of hours which may have otherwise been spent manually finding an applicant for the job.
What’s your vision for the future of Virtual Gurus, and how do you plan to adapt to evolving business needs in the years ahead?
Our virtual assistants are our North Star. Last year our company was named One of The Globe and Mail‘s Top Growing Companies in Canada, and 2024 is set to be another incredible year for the gang at Virtual Gurus. Expect high standards as per usual) on the talent and passion of our virtual assistants, alongside even more scope for employability thanks to our training programs. The pandemic created a new working world, and we’re proud to empower a new wave of digital nomads.
Being named a finalist for EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2023 is a significant achievement. What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs looking to make a meaningful impact on their industries?
Every sustainably successful business has to lead with authenticity and integrity. For this reason, it’s integral for prospective entrepreneurs to live their story and pair their passion with a clear vision and persistence. Yes, there will be roadblocks along the way. Many, many roadblocks. However, there’s an unwavering drive in the heart of founders who are determined to make a change in the world. Hold onto that drive; it’s what will lead you where you want to go.