On the Road With ‘Shark Tank’ 2017: Meet the CEO of The Startup Admin

Executive Assistant turned CEO La Donna Higgins pitches her solution for startup professional services at a Shark Tank casting call in Oakland, CA

For the ninth stop of the nationwide Shark Tank Diversity Tour, the casting team for ABC’s Shark Tank visited Oakland, California, where entrepreneurs pitched their businesses at the Kapor Center for Social Impact.

While at the Kapor Center, Brandon Andrews sat down with La Donna Higgins, founder and CEO of The Startup Admin (TSA); a new way for startup founders to get the professional services they need to grow their businesses.

The Startup Admin (The Startup Admin CEO, La Donna Higgins. Image: The Startup Admin)

 

 

Every business needs a good team. What’s the Startup Admin story?

 

La Donna Higgins: Before starting The Startup Admin I was a career executive assistant. I’ve supported Paul Marciano, owner of Guess Inc., Jeff Bonforte, SVP of Communication Products at Yahoo Inc., and Matthew Brezina, co-founder of Xobni and Sincerely.

I joined Xobni in 2007 as an executive assistant, office manager, HR manager, bookkeeper, and event planner. Within my first six months of being at Xobni, I was asked to prepare due diligence for Microsoft. During this process it became clear to me how many processes were not in place. Finding documents took longer than necessary because there wasn’t anyone managing where things should be kept or if the documents existed.

I began to create working procedures for every task that needed to be done. I started to implement policies and procedures and found I had a lot of free time on my hands. I began to answer questions from other founders on things like “Who do I use for payroll?”, “What insurance plan would be good for our team?” or “Can you recommend a vendor to deliver lunch to us?”

In the beginning, I was providing consulting services free of charge. Then a company reached out to me and asked if I could setup their new startup with everything they needed and they were willing to pay me. I did this for a few startups then one day Jeff Bonforte, who was the CEO at Xobni, said to me “if you could teach others how to run startups the way you do, it would be a goldmine.” This is when the light bulb went off and I started to work on my own startup, The Startup Admin!

 

Why is this the right solution for entrepreneurs?

 

Higgins: The Startup Admin is the right solution for entrepreneurs because there is a race against time to get your product or service to market. Having an admin who can take on all of your administrative tasks and create a compliant infrastructure for your business is a huge asset. Some administrative tasks are not the best use of a founder’s time, however, getting these tasks done could lead to the success of your business.

In the beginning of starting a business, the entrepreneur might not know exactly what they need from an admin; they know more that they just need help with all the moving pieces. Our admins are trained on all things “startups.” From Human Resources and creating that perfect onboarding package to due diligence and company wind down. Our admins are armed with a how-to manual to efficiently create policies, procedures, and systems to help a business scale.

 

 

Startups have—perhaps—never been more popular. How is The Startup Admin keeping pace with the rate of new business formation?

 

Higgins: The Startup Admin is keeping our admins trained on the latest technology to improve how we work. One of our goals is to save startups resources to help them stretch their runway and build a successful business. We are constantly working with startups as beta testers for companies creating productivity tools, accounting software, HR solutions, and many other tools.

We are always hiring and training new admins to meet the demand on new business formation.

How does The Startup Admin work? How do entrepreneurs get an admin on their team?

 

Higgins: Once a potential client reaches out to us, we schedule an intake call or meeting with the client. We gather information about the company such as employee size and anticipated growth, funding, current systems and vendors, pain points and immediate needs. Once we have identified what is needed, we create a job description and it is sent out to our admin queue.

We then vet the admins to find a group whose experience and background closely matches the needs and direction of the company. For example, one of our clients who is in the kitchen construction business was looking for a bookkeeper. We partnered them with an admin who had 15 years of experience doing project management in construction for hospitals. This admin was able to double the company’s revenue in three months!

After we select a group of admins to present to the client, we schedule interviews which can be in person, by phone, or via Skype. Although we can verify each admin has the skills, training, and ongoing support of TSA, culture fit is also key to a successful partnership. So we ask the client to be a part of the selection process.

Once the clients selects an admin to work with, they are connected to start working together. There are no minimum usage requirements for the client. Our clients average 30-80 hours per month with their admin. The client is able to scale up or back when needed.

Once connected to the client, the admin is provided with an electronic folder with forms, systems, and policies to implement, to help them get started. One of the requirements of our admin is for them to create “Working Procedures” for the company they are supporting. This is a how-to manual on every tasks they are responsible for completing.

The startup admin reviews this ongoing working document to make suggestions on how the admin should complete tasks, what vendors should be put in place, and what workflows would help the business operate most efficiently.

Our team checks in with the admin and client after the first two weeks, six weeks, three months, six months, and one year. We want to make sure the admin is being successful in their assignment and the client is receiving the highest level of support.

As popular as startups are, self-employment may be just as popular. Tell us about the admins you work with. Where do you find them? Are you hiring?

 

Higgins: We work with Admins who come from a wide background of experience. Some are coming from startups that have been acquired or have gone out of business. Some are coming from corporate businesses, and some are looking to break into the startup world and need experience or a foot in the door.

We look for admins who can shift gears quickly and take on whatever tasks are needed to keep the ship moving forward. Our admins not only have your typical admin experience, but marketing, finance, project management, business development, web design, etc.

We find our admins through job fairs and postings, startup events, and pitches we give. Many come from referrals from the companies we support. We are always hiring.

You pitched at our Oakland Shark Tank casting call. What does the opportunity be appear on Season 9 of Shark Tank mean to you?

 

Higgins: The opportunity to appear on Shark Tank Season 9 would bring national exposure to our services and the need for every startup to work with an experienced admin to catapult their business forward. This is also an opportunity to create strategic partnerships with the Sharks themselves. Investors should require every company they invest in to have a sound business structure, not just a great product. A lot of times investors are thinking about how they will make money on top of their investment, but not thinking about who will manage their money while the founders are busy getting their product to market and building a sound team. Shark Tank is the perfect platform for The Startup Admin because it shows the other side of startup success or failure.

Richard Branson is the Shark I am most interested in pitching to. He understands and advocates for executive assistants. He attributes some of his success to having a strong support team that allows him to focus on higher priorities. I believe The Startup Admin will resonate with him and his own success as an entrepreneur.

(Sir Richard Branson. Image: Wikimedia/Richard Burdett)

 

How do you plan to grow The Startup Admin in 2017? What’s next for your business?

 

Higgins: I plan to launch The Startup Admin in new markets and demographics. New York, Austin, and the Midwest are huge markets we would like to build a presence in. Receiving funding will allow us to build our internal teams in these areas and launch our services within one to three months. I would like to focus on building strategic partnerships with VC’s, angel investors, and startup incubators.

I have also launched my second company, The Startup Admin Co-Munity workspace in Oakland. This co-working space is geared toward underserved entrepreneurs to work as a collective to learn what is needed to launch and grow a successful company. Along with the workspace, we provide the services of The Startup Admin to every member.

I have also recently incorporated another company, Experienced Admin Solutions, that will serve larger companies with full-time placements of experienced admins. I am passionate about the supportive roles admins play in the success of businesses. From my personal experience as an admin I have created multiple business ventures that support the success of entrepreneurs. While it was never my plan to be an entrepreneur, I have now become an example to many on how to turn your passion into a thriving business.

In 2017, Values Partnerships is leading a nationwide casting tour for ABC’s Shark Tank. This casting tour is focused on giving diverse entrepreneurs the opportunity to pitch their businesses and appear on the show’s ninth season. In addition to having the opportunity to audition for Shark Tank, Values Partnerships has also held discussions on access to capital, offered pitch prep sessions, and shared entrepreneurship resources with entrepreneurs from around the country, all throughout the Shark Tank Diversity Tour.

To apply to audition for the ninth season of Shark Tank and find out more information on the Shark Tank Diversity Tour, visit www.sharktankdiversitytour.com.