Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Outsourcing Part of My Life to India for a Month

One of my favorite books from last year was The 4 Hour Work Week by Tim Ferriss. The book focuses on lifestyle design and leveraging tips & methodologies to escape the 9 to 5 (or in my case, 8 to 6) rat race to ultimately develop a self-sustaining source of income. Tim runs through a number of steps and case studies but the one chapter that really intrigued me was outsourcing tasks to a virtual assistant overseas.
Why is a virtual assistant helpful? Here are some of the reasons:
  • It teaches remote management and communication
  • It frees your time to focus on bigger and better things
  • It offloads spending time on tasks that aren’t worth your time
About a year after reading The 4-Hour Work Week, I finally decided to take the plunge on getting a virtual assistant through a service called Timesvr. The difference between Timesvr and some other services is that your request goes to a queue of available assistants and based upon their domain of expertise/availability, your virtual assistant dynamically changes per task. The main draw was that I could sign up and try out the service for three days before being charged a monthly subscription fee of $69 a month. For the $69, I could submit an unlimited amount of tasks that take approximately 15-minutes or less. That’s right, any 15-minute task that does not require their physical presence to complete. For projects that take a longer time or if I wanted a dedicated virtual assistant, Timesvr had separate plans for that as well.
At first, I did see a lot of value in having my “virtual assistant” do routine tasks like Internet Research and calling different customer support phone lines on my behalf. Getting my Garmin FR60 watch replaced alone was worth the money. Most of my inquiries were researched based to the tone of “Can you look up/Can you find out/etc” Instead of having to spend time finding out how to roll over a 401K to Etrade, find school bus rental companies, or finding a free web-based Visio alternative, I had the virtual assistant spend time doing the research. I quickly learned (and it is detailed in a chapter in 4-Hour Work Week) that I had to be really specific and clear with my instructions to my virtual assistant. I could not assume my virtual assistant had any type of knowledge to use as context. On the assignments that my virtual assistant knew exactly what I wanted, they did very well on. The response times were generally within 6 to 12 hours.
After using the service a few times, I did notice two main drawbacks. The first one is language. While I was in Chicago, I called the toll free hotline they provided to talk to a live person. I was done with customer meetings early and wanted to see if there was an earlier flight I could take via standby. When I spoke to the virtual assistant, the English was broken and I had to explain my situation multiple times. The virtual assistant assured me he understood what I wanted and he said he would send me an email. This was my first annoyance. I would have preferred to get a call back due to the timeliness of the situation instead of receiving an email. What if I did not have access to email while on the road? I eventually received an email back but rather than providing me times for earlier flights, I an update with the status of my current flight. Fail.
The other drawback is local context. For obvious reasons, the virtual assistants provided generic responses to requests that required any local knowledge of Philadelphia. I think their main tool was using a combination of Google and to find local attractions. The virtual assistant was able to provide feedback with this research but the results sometimes didn’t make sense. For example, check out the following inquiry I sent in:
Please find a banquet hall/rental hall/catering hall near Center City Phiadelphia that will allow me to rent out for a birthday party. The hall must allow for us to bring in our own alcohol or be able to serve it. We are expecting about 50-65 people to attend.
The response I got was:
As you requested, I called the businesses mentioned below and have confirmed that they don't allow alcohol from outside but can serve by themselves. Let me know which one to confirm.

Chart House - Philadelphia
555 South Columbus Blvd, Philadelphia, PA 19147 (215) 625-8383 () ‎

Moshulu Restaurant & Bar
401 South Columbus Boulevard, Philadelphia, PA 19106 (215) 923-2500 () ‎

Sheraton Philadelphia City Center Hotel
This place has unverified edits. Show all edits »
N 17th St, Philadelphia, PA 19103 (800) 640-7324 () – (215) 448-2864 (Fax) ‎

Finley Catering Co
100 Penn Sq E # 9, Philadelphia, PA 19107 (215) 640-8838 () ‎
Other than getting venues that did not allow you to bring your own alcohol, none of the venues were really traditonal banquet/rental halls in the traditional sense. I will admit that I could have been more specific with this request.
At the end of the first month, I decided to cancel my subscription to Timesvr. It got to the point where I was not really sending in enough inquiries to justify the $69 monthly fee. Part of it is that my life is not dynamic enough to require help yet nor do I own a business. I also think that I need to get better at learning to delegate tasks. There are still elements of enjoying the control I have over certain tasks that I refused to let a virtual assistant handle. Despite some of the limitations, I can still see myself using this service again in the future. I think the service adds a ton of value for people who find themselves caught up with a lot of errands related to looking things up or calling people. It comes down to having a comfort level delegating all the tasks during your day that really could be handled by someone else.
Here are a few other sample inquiries and responses I received so you can get an idea of the feedback I would receive:
1) Please identify shooting ranges within a 15 mile radius of Philadelphia, PA that will allow a person to rent and shoot a gun without a permit. I have never fired a gun and would like to do this. Please list location, website url (if applicable) and costs for a one time session
Response from Owais:
Hi Quoc,
After searching for your request on many websites I have gathered some shooting ranges near Philadelphia , PA that will allow a person to rent and shoot a gun with their contact information and prices.I hope this proves useful for you.
1) The Firing Line at Front & Tasker :
Indoor range in Philadelphia, the Firing Line is probably the best one, charging $15 for a box of UMC 9mmP factory ball; they also sell 3D reloads for around $7-8 per box. They will also give you some money back if you turn in your brass.
$15 in range time covers you for the entire day (not just one hour) and they have a reasonable line of handguns available for rent. Targets, hearing protection, and eye protection are provided with the range fee. The range isn't the most technologically advanced in the world--it gets rather cold in the winter--but the staff is friendly enough. The prices for handguns aren't that great, but for Philadelphia, they're not so bad.
1532 South Front St,
Philadelphia PA 19147
831-33 ELLSWORTH ST                               
Prices :
Daily Range Fee ($15)*
Unlimited use of the lane (large groups excluded)
Eye and ear protection available
Required to purchase range ammunition
****Non Members can shoot their own ammunition, however, a $25 daily range fee will apply****
3) Indoor Rifle Pistol Range :
ADDRESS : 540 N Percy St # 52
Philadelphia, PA 19123
Neighborhood: Spring Garden
TELEPHONE : (215) 236-9292
2) On the attached powerpoint deck, can you crop out the circled images (7 of them) on Slide 1 so that they can be standalone images that can be used on other slides? The standalone images can be placed on a new slide anywhere in the presentation.
Response from Ahad:
Dear Quoc,
I am attaching the six images you requested, with this email. High quality cropping could not be achieved because the quality of the  picture was not that great. If you need any more assistance please feel free to ask.
3) Can you find vendors near the Philadelphia/south New Jersey area that will do hot air balloon rides? Please provide URL and pricing information. Thanks
Response from Ahad:
Dear Q,

I am listing the requested information below. Hope it will be helpful. Feel free to ask any questions.

Air Ventures Hot Air Balloon Flights, Inc.
P.O. Box 711, Paoli, PA. 19301
email -- phone 800-826-6361 -- fax 610-827-7203

To visith the Website: Click Here

For Package Details: Click Here


  • (Plan 1) Traditional Champagne Toast One Hour Flight - $189.00 per person
  • (Plan 2) Champagne Dinner Flight - $219.00 per person
  • (Plan 3) Traditional Champagne Toast Flight and overnight stay, weekdays thru Thur. - $499 per couple.
  • (Plan 4) Traditional Champagne Toast Fight and overnight stay Fri-Sat-Sun - $540 per couple.
  • (Plan 5) Champagne Dinner Flight and overnight stay weekdays - $570.00 per couple.
  • (Plan 6) Champagne Dinner Flight and overnight night stay Fri-Sat-Sun $595.00 per couple.
  • (Plan 7) Romantic Flight for Two - $579.
  • (Plan 8) Romantic Flight for Two - Fri-Sat-Sun - $740.00 per couple.
  • (Plan 9) Romantic Flight For Two including Dinner weekdays only - $630. per couple
  • (Plan 10) Romantic Flight For Two including Dinner and overnight stay weekdays - $760.00 per couple.
  • (Plan 11) Romantic Flight for Two including Dinner - Fri-Sat-Sun - $790.00 per couple.
  • (Plan 12) Romantic Flight for Two plus Dinner and overnight stay - Fri-Sat-Sun - $950.00 per couple
  • (Plan 13) The Sweet Escape Package - $1550, Romantic flight for two, two nights at the Fairville Inn.

The United States Hot Air Balloon Team

Contact: (800) 763-5987


Special Promotion price of $174.00 per person normally $199.00.

Special Promotion price for Bucks County $204.00 normally $229.00.

To Make Reservations: Click Here

Above & Beyond Ballooning


Website URL: Click Here


Please note that pricing is per passenger. The Exclusive Flight option means your group of 2, 3 or 4 will be the only passengers on board (plus the pilot, of course!).

Passengers On Board              Price Per Person   Cash Price

Standard Flight (1-5 passengers)        $250                   $225
Group Rate (6+ passengers)                $225                   $200
4-Passenger Exclusive Flight              $295                   $265
3-Passenger Exclusive Flight             $345                      $295
2-Passenger Exclusive Flight             $395                      $345

Contact Information

Jon Radowski - Owner & Chief Pilot

By Phone: 908-208-1869

By Email:
4) Can you log into my account and accept all invitation to connect requests?
Response from Owais:
Hi Quoc,
I logged into your Linkedin account with the user name you provided. There were 24 invitations to connect I have accepted all of them as per your instructions.
5) Can you reach out to Pistol People( and found out what the rates are for a basic session of firing a gun and what costs are involved? I would like to preferably go on a Friday night.
Response from Owais:
Dear Quoc,
I am attaching the information brochure containing your requested information. Hope this will prove useful. Let me know if you need any more assistance.
Attachment:  "a117_PistolPeopleBrochure.pdf "
6) Can you do some online research on the best way to organize customer accounts in that have subaccounts? For example, the customer is General Electric (master account). Under General Electric are different divisions (sub-accounts) such as Healthcare, Consumer Products, Energy, etc. I'm looking for best practices to organize these accounts in so that they are all associated in a logical manner and associate to the master account.
Response from Ammar:
Dear Quoc,
I spent much time on researching to find the best practices to organize sub accounts under I am afraid there wasn't information specifically for this, however I gathered some informative stuff. Have a look at the files attached herewith, one is a ppt presentation and the other is pdf document in which chapter-1 is all about working with accounts. Hope this proves to be helpful and relevant.

7) Please call Garmin at 1800-800-1020 to arrange for my watch (model: FR60) to be replaced due to a defective wrist strap. The Serial # is: 1MH025670. Please provide the instructions to return the watch for replacement. Thanks!
Response from Asad:
Hi Quoc,
As you requested, I called Garmin, talked to their representative named Kim, who told me that you have to send the "proof of purchase" via email to her in order to proceed on this issue . Also she told me put a brief description about the fault and your address and phone number in order to contact you. She gave me her email id so you can send these info to her directly.
I hope the above mentioned information proves useful to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment