10 Questions with Zirtual CEO Maren Kate Donovan

Zirtual co-founders Erik Jensen and Maren Kate Donovan
Maren Kate Donovan CEO & Co-Founder, Zirtual

Maren Kate Donovan
CEO & Co-Founder, Zirtual

Maren Kate Donovan created Zirtual in an effort to bring together busy people with virtual executive assistants.  These professional assistants can help handle day-to-day tasks ranging from scheduling upcoming meetings, to researching the best TV, and arranging the details of the purchase down to the delivery.  Maren joined FoundersCard in 2012 and provides Members with preferred access to Zirtual services.

1. Having worked as an eBay seller in the past, what key lesson(s) did you learn about being able to work remotely, and how were you able to apply it to the Zirtual model?

I learned that telling a good story is essential to selling anything—be it a lapis ring or a $1000 virtual assistant plan. People want to be sold on how the item/service will add to their life, and what that looks like.

2. When launching Zirtual, what was the best piece of advice that you received, and what was the biggest obstacle that you overcame to get the company to where it is today?

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was “know what you don’t know”. I’ve always tried to embody that and am constantly looking for the truck that could come out of nowhere and t-bone us. This truck could be a competitor, a glitch in our software or even success. People don’t realize that getting a lot of success, without the systems to scale with it, can sink a startup just as fast as gaining no traction will.

3. Given the ease and accessibility at which people may work remotely, do you think that the traditional office setting may eventually become a thing of the past?

Absolutely, I think working virtually is the future. I like offices, and I love coworking with people, but I don’t think a 9-6 office environment is necessary to create a productive workforce. Often it’s more harmful than helpful.

4. I imagine that most Zirtual assistants are able to work as assistants while pursuing other entrepreneurial interests and passions. What is one great success story that you’ve encountered?

We had one ZA who used his income as a Zirtual Assistant to start his own company, called Freedonia U., which is a collection of college students who do deep research and create strategic reports for startups. We now use his company and recommend it to our clients!

5. Some people may question hiring someone that they’ve never met. What steps do you take to assure clients that their virtual assistants are dependable and trustworthy?

We have a seven step hiring process that includes thorough background checks, personality tests and social background checks—to ensure people haven’t lied and to get a very deep understanding of what makes them tick as people. We only hire 3% of people who apply, and by the time they handle their first client they’ve had 4 weeks of training.

6. Do Zirtual assistants ever physically meet their client at any point, or perhaps transition into a full-time position?

If a ZA transitions into a full time employee we charge the client a placement fee, just like a recruitment firm would, but that rarely happens. Sometimes assistants meet their clients, and it’s always an awesome moment. We have them take photos and share them with our community.

7. At this point, how many Zirtual assistants are there, and are there any geographic limitations to using Zirtual?

There are a few hundred ZAs, spread all over the U.S. We’re only U.S. based when it comes to Zirtual Assistants, but our clients are in 37 countries!

8. It seems like Zirtual assistants are able to work in coffee shops, parks, bowling alleys, and virtually anywhere that WiFi is available. What is the most outlandish place a Zirtual assistant has worked from in the past (that you are aware of)?

The coolest place was the beach, or in a plane traveling internationally. A sad place, but an awesome story, was that someone at Zirtual was able to spend the last weeks of their mother’s life with her by her bed in hospice—without having to quit their job. The ZA said it was such a welcome relief to have something to do while she kept her mother company during her last days, it really moved us that we can have that much effect on someone’s life and family.

9. With entrepreneurs constantly on the move, they depend on assistants to take care of tasks that they simply don’t have time to do themselves. What sort of promise does Zirtual make to their clients in terms of efficiency and reliability?

We have our epic guarantee and always go above and beyond to make sure we take care of whatever it is our clients ask for, we’ve hand delivered Madonna tickets to Vegas when our client was in a bind!

10. What is one startup that FoundersCard members should keep an eye on in 2013 (other than your own)?

Exec, we’re partnering with them to help get our clients what they need in person, whether it’s getting their house cleaned
or getting an espresso machine delivered (which I recently had Exec do as a birthday gift to my cofounder!)


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