Shyft wants to make it easier for employees in retail, restaurant, or service environments to quickly change their work schedules as a way to increase flexibility and keep businesses from losing money.
Founded last year, the Seattle-based company wants to create a real-time labor marketplace using basic supply and demand assumptions. It is focused on building a “supply side marketplace,” where employees can respond to employer demands in real-time.
“The labor industry is broken,” said CEO Brett Patrontasch. “Gaps in real-time labor supply and demand create billions of dollars of loss every year. It is our goal to repair this market, and create a marketplace where labor supply and demand can reach equilibrium.”
Patrontasch founded the company with three others he met at University of Toronto: CTO Daniel Chen, Lead Mobile Developer Kyle Liu, and Director of Growth Chris Pitchford.
The co-founders actually developed a workplace product prior to Shyft, but pivoted after realizing how they focused too much on the employer.
“We were building features designed by feedback from executives who would pay the bills, but we were not listening to the end users,” Patrontasch explained. “Due to this, the product wasn’t engaging. When we closed Coffee Mobile and launched Shyft, we listened to our users. We talked to thousands of employees, synthesized their input, and built our marketplace. Now users love our app. We make it a priority at least once a quarter, to spend days in the field talking to shift workers, to ensure we always stay true to our user base.”
Shyft is part of the current Techstars Seattle cohort. We caught up with Patrontasch for this edition of Startup Spotlight.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Shyft is a labor marketplace. Our app helps retail and service workers make adjustments to their work availability, and pick up shifts to earn more money.”
Inspiration hit us when: “Inspiration hit us when we realized that a schedule is a simple function of supply and demand: An employee’s supply of available labor hours, and an employer’s demand for labor hours worked. A biweekly schedule is a two-week prediction of supply and demand, but unfortunately this forecast becomes instantly obsolete the moment it is published.
For the last 20 years, all scheduling systems that have been built are demand side-oriented systems. These systems focus on payroll and tax from an employers perspective. The labor supply side, however — employees working shifts — has been treated with a secondary consideration. We realized that by building a supply side marketplace, employees will be able to respond to demand in real time. This will enable workers to substantially increase their earnings, and eliminate billions in loss for employers.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “All three have their time and place in a great tech business. We started by bootstrapping and then quickly pulled together some angel capital. This allowed us to test our hypothesis, experiment with different approaches, and learn more about our users’ desires and behaviors. As we continued to develop traction, the story got more interesting and we were able to get into the Techstars program.
Now that we are here, we are focused on growing our user base and scaling our model. We are starting to fundraise, and I expect our seed round to be a mix of angel and VC investors. We have incredible momentum, so we are looking for partners who can add strategic value to our team. By attracting experienced entrepreneurs, and investors with deep insights, we will have a strong advisory group that will help contribute to our success.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We have a relentless dedication to solving a massive problem. Our team perseveres through obstacles, and supports each other through the trenches. There is an open and untouched marketplace ahead of us, which will change the way the world works, so it all comes down to team and execution. We have built products together before, and each of the four co-founders has a unique area of expertise. We trust each other to execute on our responsibilities, and praise each other when we deliver results.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “Applying to Techstars Seattle. Techstars has been an epic experience and we love the community here. We have had incredible access to mentors and industry leaders who have helped us develop unique insights about our product. The program structure is intense, and this caused our business to go into hyper compression. Development, user growth, thought processes, and other tasks that may have normally taken six months to complete, we were able to complete in three months. We are excited to continue moving at this pace. Getting into Techstars definitely marks an inflection point in our business.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “The biggest mistake we made was approaching distribution top down. Prior to launching Shyft, our first workplace product was called Coffee Mobile. We sold into the enterprise, and had $70,000 in sales, but it was all backwards. We were building features designed by feedback from executives who would pay the bills, but we were not listening to the end users. Due to this, the product wasn’t engaging. When we closed Coffee Mobile and launched Shyft, we listened to our users. We talked to thousands of employees, synthesized their input, and built our marketplace. Now users love our app. We make it a priority at least once a quarter to spend days in the field talking to shift workers, to ensure we always stay true to our user base.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “That’s a tough call. Most of my life I would have said, Bill Gates. His life’s work is extremely impressive, and his philanthropic contributions make him an iconic example of how I would like to behave. If I can give a fraction of what he has back to society, I will be a very happy individual.
That said, I would have to choose Mark Zuckerberg. Building Facebook is a story of my generation. I remember being an undergrad when Facebook came to campus. I refused to sign up until a friend made me a profile. Then the world changed. Now with his universal reach on social and mobile, I would love to get 15 minutes to show Mark our product and listen to his insight. Or maybe Bill, Mark, and I could all grab a coffee?”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Working 16-hour days to resolve complex challenges. Thinking about new models, concepts, and radical opportunities that can solve massive problems is what we enjoy most. Each of our team members provides a unique perspective when we brainstorm ideas. It’s this diversity that makes us such a close team.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Exceptionally talented people who are passionate about solving complex problems, and who understand it’s not about the cash upfront. We look for talented thinkers with unique areas of expertise, who can add incredible value to our team. By surrounding ourselves with people who are better than us in their field of specialty, we are able to expand our learning and increase shareholder value. We look for individuals who want to build something for the long haul, and are more enticed by an equity offer than a short-term payout.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Become comfortable addressing conflict. It is frequently cited that number one reason many startups don’t succeed is due to founder conflict. A better explanation of this would be, many startups don’t succeed because the entrepreneurs failed to address conflict early and often. When conflict goes unaddressed, the parties involved build up negative internal emotions and opinions, which harbor distrust. If this simmers for too long, one may pass the point of no return.
It is OK to disagree, argue, and even fight with your team. When you place a bunch of passionate entrepreneurs with diverse opinions in a room, chances are they will not see eye-to-eye on everything. What is critical is that conflicts that come up are addressed promptly. It is important to have difficult and uncomfortable conversations about disagreements when they occur. Do not shy away from uncomfortable scenarios. After all, nothing feels better than stepping out of a meeting, and developing a newfound sense of trust with a team member, after a disagreement has been resolved.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the companies participating in Techstars Seattle’s class of 2016 in the lead up to Demo Day on May 18.