Entrepreneurship Podcast post

Buying Time with Ethan Bull

George Grombacher October 25, 2023

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Buying Time with Ethan Bull

LifeBlood: We talked about buying time through bringing on support staff, the difference between virtual assistants and executive assistants, how much these services cost, and how to get the most out of it, with Ethan Bull, CoFounder of ProAssisting.       

Listen to learn when you’re ready to bring on fractional help!

You can learn more about Ethan at ProAssisting.com, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.

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Our Guests

George Grombacher

Ethan Bull

Ethan Bull

Episode Transcript

george grombacher 0:02
either bill is the co founder of pro assisting. They’re an organization providing next generation remote executive and personal assistance support for consultants, entrepreneurs, C suite executives, former CEOs and board members. Welcome, Ethan.

Ethan Bull 0:16
George, thank you so much for having me. excited to have you on. Tell us a bit about your personal lives more about your work, why you do what you do.

george grombacher 0:26

Ethan Bull 0:26
you know, I grew up in upstate New York, really small, really small town. My father was an entrepreneur. My stepfather was a personal injury attorney who ran his own office. So he was an entrepreneur as well, just in a different way. Ran away from the small home town to go to Boston for school. Then, through an internship there, heard about a movie shoot in New York and moved down to New York right after college and 20 years later you wake up and you have a second son on the way and my wife and I decided to you know, sell our condo and move back to that hometown that I kind of didn’t like growing up in but now absolutely love it. Both my wife and I career executive assistants at a really high level in New York City. And when we moved six hours north of the city, we realized those roles were few and far between. And long story short, we we kind of saw a gap in the market and started produce distinguishes our, as you said, our remote fractional executive assistant service company.

george grombacher 1:37
How small is small, Ethan?

Speaker 2 1:40
It’s 15,000 people. But we are on a lake Canandaigua Lake one of the Finger Lakes in in the summer that doubles to about 30,000 people. And it is kind of a vacation destination, if you will, in the summer, summer months.

Ethan Bull 1:59
Nice. So you’re living in Boston, you heard about a movie shooting in New York, where you you are an aspiring actor, you said I want to just be an extra what’s going on there.

Speaker 2 2:09
You know, Junior year I’d studied abroad in Australia, I was I brought my keyboard, all the way down under. I got in a band. I was playing keyboard and percussion. And I said, Look, I’m going to the specialty business school. But I really love music and creativity. I really want to marry the two. And so when I got back, I grovelled at Warner, Elektra Atlantic, and which is a record label distribution company, armed the arm of Warner Brothers in in Boston, and got an internship there. And that’s where I heard about the Warner Brothers movie Addicted to Love shooting in New York needing production assistance. So once I did get to New York, and and I spent some time on that film set, that’s I actually did get into acting, and really, I do love writing and directing. And someday maybe I will end up making that movie.

george grombacher 3:11
Yeah, I appreciate that. So you and your wife decide we’re gonna we’ve got this family starting up living in the big city, it’s not necessarily sustainable. And you say, Hey, I know about this spot, six, six hours north, it’s pretty great. You didn’t really think about the career what you were going to do up there. You just figured it out.

Speaker 2 3:37
A little bit of that, you know, I it kind of went the other direction, meaning she she fell in love with Canandaigua, as we were, you know, together. And then we started looking at Austin and Charlotte, North Carolina and other cities like that, but realized we really wanted family support. So I bit the bullet and came up here and just thrilled that I did. But yeah, we took a risk. I did have a connection. My boss in New York introduced me to an ad exec in Rochester ran an ad agency. And so that was kind of on the back burner, but we did quit our jobs, ditch our healthcare and throw caution to the wind. You know, the fortunate thing is, is when you shift economic environments moving from New York City to Canandaigua, New York, the cost of living just changes dramatically. And that, combined with our savings and the investment of our condo did really well provided us with enough of a cushion that we we felt comfortable jumping off that cliff.

george grombacher 4:52
Well, that’s awesome. So being making good financial decisions positioned you to to be able to take a risk and you both I had obviously first hand experience in the field. And he said, You know what? Why don’t we went in? Well, why am I guessing? You saw an opportunity that wasn’t being served?

Speaker 2 5:14
Well, yeah, I mean, I was I actually ended up I eventually after I started working at a an ad agency for two months. And then I got poached to support the CEO of the second largest employer in Rochester. It was a healthcare network, 16,000 employees, 2 billion in revenue. And I was director of admin services there as well, where I oversaw a team of 80, assistants for about 250 healthcare executives. My wife was home with the kids. And after about a year and a half, she was pulling her hair out. And one day, she got a call from a friend of ours, and said, Hey, I have this client, she’s a fortune 100. Consultant, she travels the world, she needs great support. She doesn’t care where you are, doesn’t need full time, are you interested? And Stephanie was like, I need more adult interaction in my life. Absolutely, I’m interested. And that really kind of sent us on the path to do a deep dive on the virtual assistant space. We had pretty much written it off before then, because we really didn’t feel like technology was where it needed to be. But after looking at that space, we what we saw is what there’s something that didn’t align with us or our experience. And so and we saw that nobody was filling that gap between what really a virtual assistant service provides and what a full time executive assistant provides. So we decided to pivot pro assisting, we actually ended up starting pro assisting in 2009, as a training program. So in in 2018, we pivoted that to a remote fractional EA support company.

george grombacher 6:58
Excellent. Okay. So the difference between those two, what’s what’s what’s the difference between executive assistant and what you’re doing?

Speaker 2 7:09
Well, I would look at the Wii U closer to being a full time executive assistant in terms of how our support is structured, what we saw in the virtual assistant space is, you know, you know, a $45 an hour service for US based assistant, the company is paying their Bas 2020 to $24 an hour, they’re asking their assistants to work for six 812 people. We always felt that a three to one executive to assistant ratio was the sweet spot to really provide full service support. And we also don’t charge by the hour, we charge a flat retainer rate. And instead of taking 5060 70% of that we pass 80% of that onto our assistants, and what that allows them to get compensated commensurate with their experience. And, you know, it allows us to track excellent assistance who really could command six figures in major metropolitan areas?

george grombacher 8:11
Well, that’s certainly compelling. So as opposed to, you know, six to 110 to one, he said, you know, what, I think three to one is kind of the sweet spot, and why don’t we pay the people more to attract better people to the position?

Speaker 2 8:28
Yeah, you know, a lot of business coaches tell us, we can’t make it work on 20% margin, but we’ve been in the black from day one. Because really, we built the business to fill ourselves up with clients. And six years later, we’ve decreased our client load. And you know, we’ve got about 30 assistants across the country and serving clients. And it’s, it’s really all about connecting the right people and having both sides really understand what the relationship is expectation wise. And we have clients who’ve been with us for over five years. So it works when it really works. Which is it’s encouraging. So

Ethan Bull 9:10
the the expectation like that that’s such an important thing, in any relationship, be it with your spouse, or with business professionals, whatever, friends, all of it, what it works, when it works, who is who’s the perfect candidate we talked about at the beginning C suite executives, consultants, entrepreneurs, why they consider this

Speaker 2 9:39
you know, we’re in a really I’m gonna go kind of 30,000 foot view on you, we’re in a really interesting time right now. Small businesses and startups through SAS products as well as fractional into, you know, independent contracting support, in any capacity can really punch of Have their weight without having to hire a full time employee or create a system to do what they need. So, you know, I think, as a founder of a startup gets going, or a solopreneur, or a consultant, you know, at the beginning, they’re just doing everything in bringing in the work. And, you know, they don’t have to make the full jump to hiring a full time executive assistant, when it doesn’t make any sense. They, they can find the right level of support at the price point that fits their budget. Because there’s so many options, and you’re seeing a lot of fractional CMO, CFO, CFO, candidates out there, you’re seeing, you know, with the assistant position, a lot of executive assistants hanging out their own shingle, and we’re working for clients instead of bosses. I just think that’s where the world is going. And that’s, that’s, we’re part of that.

george grombacher 11:08
It certainly does make sense that when you’re going through everything you say, You know what, I could show you some help, but I don’t I don’t need a full time person. So what do you say fraction? What does that really mean?

Speaker 2 11:22
Well, I mean, in our case, we’re unique in that our fractional support is Monday through Friday, nine to five, it’s just that the work that your assistant is doing for you is feathered in, during the downtime of the work that they’re doing for their other two clients, and vice versa. So in and we offer that expandability, you know, we start at 1/3 resources, you can go to 50% resources, you could go to to third resources. And then we’ve taken a lot of clients to where they’ve maxed out the way that they can support us. And then we both come to the conclusion that they do need that full time person. And then we can help interview, recruit, train that person and then exit the relationship professionally. And so we’ve been really successful with that as well.

Ethan Bull 12:17
Well, that certainly makes sense. I can just be a personal experience that early in my entrepreneurial journey, I knew that I needed help, but I just had no idea. Like, how much help that I really needed. Do you run into that a lot? Or is that common?

Speaker 2 12:36
Yeah, I mean, part of what we do either work with kind of those C suite executives who’s had who’ve had an assistant for 20 years. And now maybe they’re sitting on some corporate boards after they retired, and they don’t have access to this support. So they know how to leverage that EA support. On the other end of the spectrum, we’re dealing with that use case exactly what you just said, terms of someone who’s never leveraged the support, and doesn’t see clearly how that will impact their business. And so if we do it right, and we’ve picked the right Assistant, that assistant is going to manage up and really shine a light in terms of how they can impact that executives day to day, month to month and give them back time. That’s the name of the game.

george grombacher 13:32
And the value proposition of well, I guess I’ve made an assumption. Are these folks in the United States? Are they all over the world?

Speaker 2 13:45
All of our EAS are in the US? Yeah. And why is that and we know their language, we’re part of that community. I think, you know, going overseas and getting support, I think is fantastic. Again, it’s offering this rainbow of options. And you can get very specific on what your needs are. And you know, for us, we are top level EAS who were making well into the six figures supporting C suite executives and billion dollar organizations. That is a certain mindset. And we’ve created our business model to cater to that mindset both on the EEA side, because we want to attract that level of talent. And on the client side, you know we’re not for everyone. When you know when people are asking us how can we just charge a flat retainer and not charge by the hour and they don’t, it doesn’t connect with them that in assistance work goes up and down, day in day out month in and month out year in and year out. They may not be the right fit for us. But if you want the best fractional remote EA support we’re right there at the top,

Ethan Bull 15:02
appreciate them. There are a list of tasks that an EA will traditionally do and that yours will do and that they don’t do.

Speaker 2 15:15
We break it down into five performance multipliers, we outline these in our book, the 29 hour workday, we really feel that anything at the top level EA can do falls under business partnership, Chief of Staff, project management, Assistant slash scheduler, and personal assistants. And those five verticals cover both both worlds of the principle, the business world and the personal world, and really highlights the Swiss Army Knife nature of the support that we provide.

george grombacher 15:54
Got it? And I imagine that you didn’t come to those easily, just two years of experience in figuring it out.

Speaker 2 16:01
Yeah. You know, I mean, give you one example. And Stephanie was working for a hedge fund CEO, one of her side projects, over the course of two and a half years, was to project manage the build of a $20 million estate on the coast of Connecticut, from dealing with the, you know, the city manager, to the architect, to the general contractor to ensuring the art on the walls when it was finished. That was a side project. And so I’m not saying that are all of our clients are doing things like that. But that gives you an idea of the breadth of, of what a principal can task their assistant with. And I think a reason of that is, is the assistant has that single point of contact. And the principal only wants to have to deal with one person instead of 20. And the level of trust that they have in that person as the as the relationship builds.

Ethan Bull 17:06
I mean, that would be fascinating. Right there. What a cool project to work on. And just goes. Right? Yeah, for sure. Excellent. So what is what is the discovery process typically look like?

Unknown Speaker 17:24
What do you mean by discovery process,

Ethan Bull 17:25
you have an entrepreneur who’s listening, say, You know what I’ve been, there’s all this stuff that I’m not getting done, or that I probably could leverage my time a lot better. How do I learn more?

Speaker 2 17:35
Oh, yeah, no, you know, go into our website pro assisting.com. I’m also on LinkedIn, Ethan BOL, on LinkedIn, but on our website, you can just book a free consultation. And then we have a, you know, a half hour chat about you and your business and your needs. And we focused in on being aligned and expectations earlier. And that’s the key because our services month to month, if we’re not providing value, we don’t want you to feel like you’re locked in anything. So it’s up to me in the discovery process to make sure that we’re the right fit that we’re on the same page. Because I want to be able to hit it out of the park and I want you as a long term client. It does no on either side, any good to go through that onboarding process. And then after a month or two months, you say it just isn’t working. So we have that conversation. If pro insisting is the right fit, I’m gonna say that if pro assisting isn’t the right fit, I’m going to say that too. And and then you get to tap me for knowledge on Well, if processing is right, then which way should I go? Who should I talk to? What should I be thinking about? And, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s all about making sure that our prospects are getting the support they need, even if that isn’t us. Because if we do right by them, they’re going to look fondly on pro assisting and potentially introduce us to someone that actually is right for us, or they’re gonna grow into our support, and then potentially grow out of our support when they need a full time assistant.

Ethan Bull 19:20
Makes sense? Well, Ethan, thank you so much for coming on. Give us the website again, please.

Speaker 2 19:26
It’s www dot pro assisting.com.

Ethan Bull 19:30
Excellent. Well, if you enjoyed as much as I did, so Ethan, your appreciation and share today share with a friend who also appreciates good ideas, go to pro assisting.com And check out everything that Ethan is working on, check out the 29 hour work day that they wrote and discovered. Schedule a discovery call and find out if it’s a good fit for you and what you are trying to accomplish. Thanks anything. Thanks, George. Till next time Remember to do your part doing your best

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