“We accept everybody here as is,” says Bobbie Racette, CEO and founder of Virtual Gurus, the talent as a service platform that connects businesses across North America looking for virtual assistants with people looking for jobs.
An Indigenous woman who is a member of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, Racette is a resilient and inspiring entrepreneur who decided, after being laid off from a Calgary oil and gas company in 2016, to form a startup that creates jobs for marginalized groups such as transgender people, single mothers, and those who are Black, Indigenous, or people of colour.
“I’m obviously marginalized — being part of the 2SLGBTQ+ community, being Indigenous, and my parents also being 2SLGBTQ+ and Indigenous,” Racette tells Daily Hive. “When I was trying to find work after I got laid off in 2016, everybody said ‘no’ because of my tattoos and the fact I am gay. So, the reason I started Virtual Gurus was to create my own job, and then to create jobs for those that are often told ‘No.’”
Racette has received various accolades such as ‘Most Promising Startup Entrepreneur of the Year’ at the 2018 Alberta Tech Awards and Startup Canada’s 2019 ‘Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year’. She’s recently become one of the first Indigenous women in Canadian tech to close a Series A investment round (for $8.4 million). But her most precious achievements are when she hears feedback from freelancers hired through Virtual Gurus who are able to be their true, authentic selves at work — like the young trans woman who couldn’t be who she was in her former job as a car salesperson.
“She was on the brink of doing something not too good for herself and then she was able to come here and work as a freelancer [as she became] ready to be who she is,” says Racette.
She also mentions the story of Max, a non-binary person who became a virtual assistant with Virtual Gurus and bonded with their client so much so that they were offered full-time employment.
“These are just a couple of the many stories of people who freelance through Virtual Gurus that explain why we do this,” says Racette.
People over profit: surviving the pandemic
While many businesses suffered during the pandemic, Virtual Gurus scaled up and tripled its revenue.
Racette says, “When all of the administration people were getting laid off throughout the pandemic, we were scooping them up and saying, ‘Come work for us, we’ve got work for you.’ So it worked out in our favour.”
Because Virtual Gurus’ freelancers had taken a hit on their personal lives due to the pandemic, Racette implemented a ‘People Over Profit’ program which saw her give free services to over 100 Canadian startups and 40% off for other businesses to ensure her virtual assistants could keep working.
As many businesses struggled with cash flow during the pandemic, Racette found the Interac e-Transfer platform to be invaluable.
“We use the Interac e-Transfer payments platform,” says Racette. “We had a ton of clients who wanted to leverage it during the pandemic, and since we’ve enabled Interac e-Transfer as a payment option, it’s been a great way for us to receive timely payments and grow our business. ”
She is pleased that the Interac e-Transfer platform allowed her business to receive timely payments, which put them in a position “to continue the growth of the company.”
“During the pandemic, we tripled our revenue,” says Racette, who raised two funding rounds during those two years — a seed round and a Series A Round — “because we couldn’t keep up with the demand for virtual assistants”
Her seed round investors included The 51 — a woman-led investment firm that only invests in women founders — and Raven Indigenous Capital, which aims to empower Indigenous entrepreneurs with the capital and expertise they need to succeed. The Telus Pollinator Fund for Good leads the Series A round funding of over $8 million.
Almost 800 freelance virtual assistants are currently employed by Virtual Gurus and hiring is underway for 2,000 more. The Calgary office currently employs 45 people and 25 additional roles are up for grabs.
The hiring spree is due to ambitious plans to grow the business in the UK, and the US, where Virtual Gurus’ largest client, IDEO, is based. US clients also provide 40% of the company’s total revenue, and Racette is in the process of her first acquisition of a US-based company that provides services that are complementary to those provided by Virtual Gurus.
The tenacious CEO was excited to have been included in a recent trade mission to Las Vegas organized by the Canadian Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce (CGLCC), an organization she cites as having been instrumental in helping her business get to where it is today.
“They are amazing,” says Racette. “The CGLCC really do support the 2SLGBTQ+ community in Canada. I’ve really looked up to them for getting me out there because when I first started Virtual Gurus, they were the ones that helped push me. They have helped me land some of my largest clients, and it has been really good working with them.”
Racette cites her two moms as key influences in her life and voices her appreciation of having been accepted into the tech community in Calgary as a lesbian. She also mentions her delight that more members of the 2SLGBTQ+ have entered the tech sphere in Alberta since she founded her company six years ago.
To learn more about Virtual Gurus and Racette’s business journey, visit thevirtualgurus.com. To learn more about Interac, check out our website. If you are a 2SLGBTQ+ business or simply want to hear more about CGLCC, click here. To stay on top of news, products, and technology at Interac Corp., check out the Interac® newsroom.