Bobbie Racette, Startup Canada’s 2019 Indigenous Entrepreneur of the Year, is the Founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus, a Talent as a Service solution platform that connects organizations with skilled remote teams. Mediaplanet caught up with Bobbie to discuss her entrepreneurial journey, diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and what’s next.
What drew you to entrepreneurship and how did you find success?
I had the idea for Virtual Gurus a long time ago when I was living and working in Montreal, but then a job in oil and gas brought me to Calgary. When the 2015 recession caused layoffs across the sector, I started working as a virtual assistant. It wasn’t long before I started to secure more work and sign more clients, and I hired my first Virtual Guru, Wajeeha, who’s still with the company today. Growing the business hasn’t been easy, but I’m proud to say that we’re scaling rapidly. We secured our first round of funding this year and have some exciting announcements coming up. Watch for the launch of askBetty, our new by-the-task Slack app, in the coming weeks. The app is for people who don’t need a dedicated assistant but still need help to get their own tasks done.
What challenges did you face in the tech industry? How did you overcome them?
I’ve faced barriers in the tech industry as an Indigenous person, a woman, and an LGTBQ2+ entrepreneur. There aren’t many Indigenous startup founders in Canada. The main challenge that I found was in raising capital. Although investors liked our pitch decks, as soon as I walked into the room, they’d quickly lose interest and decide not to invest with us. However, we kept booking meetings, growing the company, and proving our business model. We were ultimately fortunate to find investors who believed in our company and our values such as Raven Indigenous Capital and The 51.
How does Virtual Gurus help individuals overcome barriers to employment?
Virtual Gurus is an online marketplace that uses a proprietary algorithm to match businesses and entrepreneurs with freelancers. We vet and hire virtual assistants based on their skills and experience, wherever they are in Canada and the US. We have a social impact mission: to provide employment to marginalized communities as well as those who may have a harder time finding work. This includes stay-at-home parents or single parents, Indigenous peoples who live in remote communities, people living with alternate abilities, and the LGBTQ2+ community. They all deserve opportunities and a fair wage.
What advice can you share with Indigenous entrepreneurs starting their own ventures?
I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and mentoring young Indigenous entrepreneurs through different events and organizations and have been impressed by the business ideas they’ve shared with me. I encourage them to work hard and keep going to realize their ideas. It’s difficult and you’ll face challenges, but it’s worth it.
I’ve recently connected with Jeff Ward, a fellow Indigenous entrepreneur and founder of Animikii. We’re looking to start an Indigenous technology and business community to support and grow other Indigenous entrepreneurs. Our goal will be to provide a safe space for Indigenous people with business ideas to offer support in areas such as pitching, web development, and even finding investors.