Real Success, Virtual Guru: Bobby Racette Creates Opportunity On and Offline
“My calling was to be an entrepreneur. My calling was to build a massive scale up. I love it. I love that I found it. I love that I did it,” exclaims Bobbie Racette, founder and CEO of Virtual Gurus. Originally from Regina, Saskatchewan, she now lives in Calgary, Alberta.
She moved to Alberta from Montreal to work in oil and gas, becoming a foreman and making a lot of money in 2016. When she and her crew were laid off, she struggled to find work as a queer Indigenous woman with tattoos. Racette created Virtual Gurus to create a job for herself, hiring herself out as a virtual assistant working from home.
In 2017-2018, she hired her first virtual assistant and then in 2020 she closed her first funding round. Before that, Racette bootstrapped through virtual groups and generated 1.8 million in revenue from the company’s services alone. She raised money to invest in technology to grow.
“Now Virtual Gurus is a two-sided talent marketplace, where we provide work to traditionally underserved communities and people, so Black, Indigenous, People of Color, people with disabilities, veterans and single moms, through the platform, and we leverage artificial intelligence to match them with businesses that use the service,” she beams.
Racette now has 50 full-time employees and 900 people working through the platform, with plans to hire 2000 more. “We're the largest in Canada, the fourth largest in the US and we're taking the US by storm. We launched into the US a year and a half ago and now about 60% of our revenue is US based. We're roughly around a 70 to 80 million valuation right now,” she continues.
What she went through keeps her moving forward. “I did it to provide a job for myself because nobody would hire me so now it's about providing work-from-home jobs to those that also won't get hired….that's what makes me wake up every day and put all my hard-earned work into this company because I want to give those a chance that might not have had the chance, like myself.”
She didn’t think she had the direction to be an entrepreneur but proved herself wrong in a trial of fire. She learned she had to jump in, be fearless and trust herself. “There were many times I wanted to throw the flag in and just say ‘I'm done. I can't do this.’ But it was about persevering and just pushing through and saying, ‘You know what? I'm onto something. I've got to do this. There's nobody better to do it than me.’ I just had to really push through,” she recounts.
People didn’t take her seriously at first, but she proved them wrong, too. “Now we're at this massive scale up and people are seeing what we're doing and now people are taking me seriously, but it took a long time to get to that and we shouldn't have to do that,” she shares.
It was hard, but she’s found meaning in the struggle, offering, “Those are things that would have made me want to throw the towel in, but… those are actually the things that make Virtual Gurus what it is today.” Now, she’s looking at cities for the company to expand to thanks to all the service requests pouring in.
When it comes to enjoying her downtimes and self-care, Racette likes to travel, golf, spend time with her partner and dogs and soak in the hot tub. She likes camping, dinner parties and getting involved in whatever she can. She enjoys mentoring young women in business to scalability and is an entrepreneur in residence for other companies. While all that activity means she’s spread herself thin, she loves consulting and helping other women grow their companies.
Racette talks wistfully about the hope she has for Indigenous youth. “It would be that they wouldn't be afraid to take their ideas and come out and just do it. If there's one thing about Indigenous folks, in general, is we typically don't like asking for things. Contrary to what people might believe, we really don't. It's one of those things where I really truly believe that if more people like myself, or Jeff Ward, or Jenn Harper from Cheekbone Beauty and all these amazing Indigenous people in Canada, they're making big names, and we're paving the way for the next generation to come,” she dreams aloud.
In her travels, Racette has met Indigenous youth with big ideas and she wants them to have the resources they need to succeed. Starting her company, she had no support but eventually became the first Indigenous woman in Canada to close a series A funding round. “While I love that title, it just shows that we have so much more work to do. My hope is that we can just keep inspiring them to come out and to start their ideas, and not take ‘no’ for an answer like I did, and just continue pushing forward,” she reflects.
In closing, she wants to say to Indigenous youth, “Be bold, be brave. But most importantly, always be you. Doesn't matter where you are, what you know, anything, gender, creed, what anything is, just always be you and stay true to who you are and then the rest will follow the way it's supposed to be.” She learned the hard way it was going to take everything she was, not what she was pretending to be, to grow and scale her company.
“Ever since I..stopped being who I thought people wanted me to be, the company was able to just scale and blossom.”
For all the winning, Racette knows firsthand what it’s like to lose sometimes, too. “It's okay to fail. We're all human and things are never going to always go our way… Failing is just a part of what's going to build you and make you stronger. Get back up and just wipe yourself off and just keep going. Oftentimes, people beat themselves up a little bit too much when something doesn't go the right way. Let it fuel your fire to be stronger,” she continues.
Her calling was to be an entrepreneur, to build a massive scale up and she loves it. She loves that she found it and she loves that she did it. Now at the helm of Virtual Gurus, Bobbie Racette is helping others do it too. Doors closed on her time after time because of who she was and what she looked like, now she’s opening doors for those who share in that experience, welcoming them to come as they are and experience real success working virtually.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authoring this article.
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Funding is generously provided by the RBC Foundation in support of RBC Future Launch, and the Government of Canada's Supports for Student Learning program.