Tiffany Bowtell: Success = lessons applied

No one has a crystal ball, so when you start a new business there's a lot of hoping and praying. But what happens when it works and you grow too quickly? Tiffany Bowtell examines the rapid growth in her business and explains how she managed to avoid a WeWork-style crash.

I’ve just finished binge-watching WeCrashed, an epic tale of massive real estate dominance in the co-working and leasing space.

It’s also one of the biggest rags to riches and then public failure business stories of our time.

Many lessons sit at the forefront of the drama series, and I couldn’t help but use them as a guide to review the success and failure of my own company, PMVA – Property Management Virtual Assistant.

As a growth-based business, there have been many times when the odds were stacked against us.

To some, transitioning from a well-established property management training and consulting company into a global outsourcing business was a stretch.

We had no idea if the business model would work.

Outsourcing property management administration was a great concept, but the execution to do it well was a challenge at first.

After prototyping our service offering to the market, it took many months to turn the idea into a full services premium model.

It wasn’t until the end of our second year in business that we managed to gain some growth momentum.

The initial take-up of services was long, slow and hard – like a fully loaded A380, we needed a long runway if we were ever going to get airborne and go somewhere.

Towards the end of the second year, we hit our growth stride and grew 383 per cent in 18 months.

It was like the entire real estate industry was sitting back to see if the pioneer adopters would catch on and ‘outsourcing’ would become a thing.

In hindsight, this was merely what’s known as the early adopters’ launch, and it came (and went) at lightning speed.

During that time, we were finalists in the Telstra Business Awards and had expanded our team, office space, clients and service offerings rapidly.

It’s a total buzz when you’re growing, and everyone gets caught up in early success – just like in the TV series.

The problem was, unsustainable growth can be like a fully-loaded plane that doesn’t take off and crashes instead.

That’s exactly what happened to us. We grew too quickly.

We learnt that, like most property management businesses that grow quickly, you need more staff.

And staff cost a lot.

You have more expenses, have more people, and you need more capital.

More clients mean more expectations and everyone wants what they want, and they want it now.

If your systems, processes, values and talent are not aligned, then growth comes to a grinding halt or worse, crashes beyond recovery.

Fortunately, we were able to identify one of the main reasons our growth was unsustainable was because we technically weren’t the employer of our offshore staff.

We had outsourced that component, wanting to mainly focus on our property management clients and leave the employment of the virtual assistant to a local, so-called expert.

After all, we were a training company that went into outsourcing, not the other way around. 

Outsourcing in the Philippines is unregulated, and many things happened under the table that we didn’t know were going on.

We had no control over one-half of our business model.

After the initial failure, we set up an incorporated company in the Philippines, took over a large office and set our sights on developing the highest quality outsourcing.

We set a growth pace we could sustain and started retaining our offshore virtual assistants and clients in a more professional and meaningful way.

This year marks our seventh year in business and we have proudly navigated the WeCrashed moment in our journey.

No one can see into the future, but in hindsight, the startup failures we experienced helped turn us from a good company to a great one.

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Tiffany Bowtell

Tiffany Bowtell is the Founder and CEO of Property Management Virtual Assistant.