Bryce Maddock, CEO and co-founder of TaskUs, has lots of interesting stories to share from his entrepreneurial journey with his best friend over the last ten years. From selling designer belts in high school to setting up night clubs for high school students, to struggling for three years to get TaskUs up and running successfully, Bryce has definitely gotten his hands dirty as an entrepreneur and has a lot of great advice.
Finding a Business Parter & Getting Into Entrepreneurship at an Early Age
Bryce Maddock, now 28 years old, grew up in LA and has been doing business in some form or another with his best friend since they were both just 17 years old.
They sold designer belts on the school yard in high school, set up real night club experiences for high school students when they were in college, backpacked around Europe, and then left their swanky post-college jobs to move back in with their parents and start TaskUs.
Though it had a long, rough start, today TaskUs supports some of the hottest rapidly-growing startups like Tinder, Whisper and Uber. They’ve got 1,500 employees between Santa Monica and The Philippines, and closed out 2014 by doing $15 million in top-line revenue, increasing from the $6 million they did in 2013.
By attaching themselves to some of today’s more successful companies, they’ve been able to grow based on the growth and success of their clients.
How TaskUs is Different From Other Outsourcing & Virtual Assistant Firms
Six years ago, when TaskUs first started, Bryce and Jasper were trying to be a Virtual Assistant (VA) business, and kept coming back to the idea that they should be able to hire their own VAs as well. But since they were 22 and didn’t have any money, the only way they could afford to do so was to hire overseas.
They started a business model that wasn’t based on hiring a VA based on a set skill set – instead, clients could enter a needed task into TaskUs and they would send it to a person whose skills were best-suited to do the job. The idea was that a client wouldn’t be limited to just one person’s availability and skill set, but the idea performed better in theory than in practice.
Through trial and error by outsourcing to 16 different countries in their first two years, Bryce and Jasper found that they needed to become highly familiar with client expectations so they could deliver work that wasn’t deemed sub-par or mediocre. So 2.5 years into founding TaskUs, they pivoted their business and took their delegation knowledge to build what is a more traditional outsourcing business.
Now, rather than focusing on helping an individual get whatever they need accomplished, they focus on helping businesses as a whole by taking a full-on function like a customer service team, a photo editing team, or a content moderation team. And in most cases, they build out an entirely new team in The Philippines to do that specific function.
The Most Popular & Strangest Services TaskUs Provides
Roughly half of all the staff TaskUs employs work as part of another company’s customer service team, whether it’s on email, phone or live chat.
The other half does a whole grab bag of back office work: whether it’s content moderation for Whipser and Tinder to make sure nothing offensive passes through, photo retouching for eCommerce businesses, or writing product descriptions.
“People are aware that customer service is outsourced, but I think the other half is most fascinating because there are so many things most people don’ think about human beings having to do.”
For example, TaskUs has one client that runs a wine app that allows people to take a photo of a wine label so they can order more bottles of it later. While most people assume the app works on optical character recognition, there’s actually an entire team of people who review pictures of wine bottles all day long to make sure the app users get the correct bottle when they order.
How Does TaskUs Get to Work with Such Cool Clients?
“We joke that we are at the humble service of today’s sexiest companies.”
Bryce says that outsourcing is never sexy, but they do get to work with some of the coolest startups.
The secret, he says, is that he and Jasper have religiously attended meet ups for the last six years. By doing this, they’re able to talk to founders and ask meaningful questions on a regular basis. The reason TaskUs succeeded was their ability to connect personally with a lot of very successful entrepreneurs.
How Should a New Company Get Started in Outsourcing?
For someone who needs just a little bit of work done, TaskUs probably wouldn’t be a great fit. They require a team of at least 10 full-time people at $10 to $12 per hour.
In the early days, they would have been happy to take a client that just needed one employee, but now they focus more on quality customer service, so each client has a US-based outsourcing manager so they don’t have to deal with hiring and training their own staff.
But for someone in seed stage, Bryce recommends looking somewhere like Odesk or Elance to get a single virtual assistant for $4 to $5 per hour. The only catch is you need to watch internet connectivity and background noise. Working from home is great for email, but you need to be careful with phone work.
The Early Days of TaskUs: Moving Home & Not Giving Up
Shortly after Bryce graduated from NYU, he took the secure route by working in investment banking for a year and a half before he called it quits. The job was too boring and tedious for him, so he decided to pack it all up, move home, and start TaskUs.
At the time, he fully believed he’d only have to live in his parents’ house for six months before he could move out and have a lifetime of riches. But, the universe had other plans.
Because they didn’t know exactly what they were doing, he and Jasper only took in about $100,000 total in their first year. And after paying their freelancers, they probably only had $1,000 in take-home pay each for the entire year.
Three years later, they were still living with their parents and Bryce was beginning to question what he was doing and whether or not he should throw in the towel.
“If I’m being totally honest,” he said, “there were moments when I wanted to give up.” In fact, for the majority of that three-year period, he thought TaskUs was going to end up a failure.
At one point, he even pulled Jasper aside and told him it was time for them to stop. Jasper told him that he didn’t want to do the business if it wasn’t with Bryce, and assured him that they would make TaskUs successful together.
He also had some feedback from a lot of his mentors, who could see his potential for success even in those darkest moments. The people surrounding him made such a difference, that if they weren’t there, Bryce says he probably would have given up.
Landing a Spot in EO: A Lucky Break
Bryce and Jasper both knew that in order to become members of EO, they had to do $1 million worth of revenue to get in, so that was their target.
But when they started filling out the application, they found out that since there were two of them, EO wanted to see $2 million of revenue. Their hopes were a little deflated, but they were able to convince the board to accept them.
One of the best benefits of being in EO was the international side of the organization. In The Philippines, they had 150 of the country’s best entrepreneurs they could call on at any time – and they did so in order to get out of some sticky situations.
After Three Years, Another Brink of Failure
An interesting side to entrepreneurship, says Bryce, is that once you become successful, you run into a bigger problem than making money, and that’s money management.
He says it always seems to happen when the business is taking the next big step up, and you don’t have enough cash in the bank to cover that first month’s operational expenses.
For example, at one point they hired 100 new employees for one client, and when the first payroll came around, they didn’t have enough cash in the bank to make payroll. Fortunately, Bryce was in The Philippines at the time and could stand in front of the employees to promise their pay checks, but one day late.
“As your business begins to grow,” he said, “it’s not about staying profitable, but it becomes about managing your cash flow and making sure you’ve got enough money in the bank.”
Any time a business takes an exponential step up, you have to be careful that it doesn’t break the business.
Having a Friend as a Business Partner
“I would not hire my friends,” said Bryce. “Almost never.”
He realizes that he and Jasper are a bit of exception to the rule of never working with your friends, but he accredits it to the fact that they’ve been doing business together since high school.
He also notes their six-week backpacking trip through Europe when they didn’t fight once…which he took as a good sign.
When they started TaskUs together, they did have to work through some serious challenges, but he states that they key to success in their partnership has been communication and dealing with each other in as constructive as a way as possible.
Advice to His 25-Year-Old Self
“Stick with it, it’s right around the corner. You’re going to make it.”
When he was 25, he kept doubting the TaskUs business model and wanted to throw in the towel to start something else. What turned out to be the case was that he just needed to apply the lessons he’d learned to pivot the business for success.”
One Productivity Hack
Bryce says he used to use a Chrome app called Blocksite to keep him from getting sucked into a black hole of worthless content via Facebook. It worked until he installed Safari.
Rather than ‘hacking’ productivity, Bryce does things the old-fashioned way: he says setting aside blocks of time where you commit to really focusing on something is the best productivity hack he’s found.
One Must-Read Book
Bryce suggests The Hard Thing About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz.
“That is the best book for entrepreneurs,” he said. “Hands down. The Hard Thing About Hard Things is incredible.”
For a non-business book, Bryce suggests Shantaram, which is a 1,000-page novel loosely based on a guy’s life. He says it helped him get through the three years of TaskUs when he wasn’t making any money.
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Eric Siu (@ericosiu) is the CEO at Single Grain, a digital marketing agency that focuses on paid advertising and content marketing. He contributes regularly to Entrepreneur Magazine, Fast Company, Forbes and more.