Written with love by Thor Wood, Founder/CEO
Originally featured on Medium
What is it about the startup life that gets me fired up? Self torture. Isolation & loneliness. Awkward encounters with those NOT involved in furthering your startup (i.e. potential team additions, clients, partners, investors, etc). Balancing ‘hustle culture’ with unplugged family moments. Combating & protecting your tribe from exploitative people, snake-oil salesmen, imposters, and time-wasters.
By all accounts there is no logical reason to subject oneself to pain & torture while risking everything for the possibilities of an idea. Sacrificing friendships, familial relationships, hobbies, financial security, et al. This life is one of sacrifice and of reward and I attempt to capture some of that below as I recap 2019 and our journey, along with some founder advice.
The decision to dive into the startup world was an easy & exciting choice— attempting the feat of growing a successful + sustainable business built around technology and the new wave of consternation from the employable population— a choice I formally made midway through the last decade. And whether I knew it or not, it seems it was actually percolating as early as 2010–2013 when I uprooted myself and my two pups to take on an adventure in Florida in search of meaning — a renewed purpose in a life that had gotten cloudy through my natural inclination to buck the establishment. Rules, as it were, did not suit me, and were causing serious friction at the core of my being — but that’s a story for another day.
Being a startup founder has been thoroughly rewarding and justifiably worthwhile in every way. Achieving anything meaningful takes commitment, sacrifice, fortitude, obsession over the customer, and of course a little luck — the latter being a result of the aforementioned. One mantra that we find works for us— “Keep your head down, results will follow”.
As such, getting our startup SNAPSHYFT into 500 Startups Batch 24 on our first application was not by accident. Becoming the go-to provider for top-shelf customers was not by accident. Impacting the lives of our users in a positive way was not by accident. Being backed by some amazing investors from the West Coast, Midwest, and East Coast, growing 100% YoY, being invited to The Pitch podcast, being named a Top Pick for social impact by TechCrunch, a finalist for the SOGAL Global Pitch Competition (Feb 2020), and being selected as a Top 15 startup of the year — all not by accident.
From the Midwest with love
There are all sorts of obstacles for any founder to overcome, and for us there are certain factors that some might consider potential hindrances to startup success:
- We’re a proud Midwest-based startup (Indianapolis, IN)
- Led by first-time founders (one of whom is a hyper-talented female — Stephanie Corliss)
- Our product is a two-sided marketplace in an unsexy category — HR Tech
However since the start of 2019 we have become the most reliable labor marketplace serving the food & beverage and hospitality industry — achieving a 92% fulfillment rate for our clients in 2019– 3X what the staffing industry is capable of!
But we are not surprised by this because the market we identified is substantial and hyper fragmented with no clear winner… yet. What we set out to do is effectively replace temporary staffing agencies and the ancient model they employ to milk the industry without providing anything resembling a solution. These dinosaurs generate over $139 Billion in temp-staffing revenue on the backs of typically unqualified, inexperienced people, without any true up-skilling. They are providing literal “bodies” as fill-ins and charge a premium for doing basically nothing— say ‘goodbye to temp agencies’ and ‘HELLO SNAPSHYFT’
Looking at the numbers for our target market— the F&B/Hospitality industry—and the reality is over 50% of employees are underbanked & underserved, and two-thirds(!) are working for multiple employers to make ends meet. With SNAPSHYFT these workers have been able to secure higher wages and near-instant pay, plus access to banking, healthcare, telemed, and retirement options thanks to relationships we have forged— on top of up-skilling themselves shift-by-shift.
Rule Breakers— are you really changing things if you haven’t been told “F#@& YOU!” at some point?
We have found that we’re upsetting the establishment (as they’ve shared in not so subtle ways), going against the grain of what is considered the “right way” to staff in this industry, while making it substantially easier for accountable professionals to jump from job to job without friction, paperwork, interviews, etc — creating maximum mobility for the F&B & hospitality industry, in exchange for accountability and consistent output. And the businesses that utilize our marketplace are thriving. Meanwhile we embrace the negativity that is thrown our way from the incumbents. And for those that refuse to change— we will see you soon when you come to your senses.
To hustle or not to hustle
Playing nicely with the ongoing conversation being hashed out on twitter, for our team today, the hustle culture has been necessary— and it works for us. Our version of hustle culture is more akin to a doctor or nurse being “on-call” and we each understand the 24/7 commitment to monitoring and addressing what transpires on our platform is on an as-needed-basis. So when most of our target market are fast sleep so too are the staffing companies they’ve been forced to depend on by default. Meanwhile, it’s 2am on a Monday morning and my team is monitoring the system for shifts that start at 5am sharp. Perhaps that’s one reason our clients see near perfect shift coverage through our labor marketplace. We simply make this personal around-the-clock — taking on their burdens. And going into 2020 we will continue to build upon what has gotten us to this point (yes, some of this is cheesy):
- We care about the little things
- We care about quality
- We care about providing comprehensive support to our users
- We care that they can pay bills on time
- We care that they can spend more time with friends and family
- We care about their success
- We care if they are having a good day or not
- We want their business to succeed
- We want to help them make more income AND gain benefits
In short we have a little bit of an obsession. Our technology is a great enabler, but it ‘s the humans behind the tech that support our ever growing community of F&B and hospitality pros & businesses. Putting themselves in the trenches as an extension of our clients’ operations—spending their days and nights focused on the users. Because if we don’t, who will?
So as a founder I think you should:
- Focus on providing the most compelling solution to a problem that already exists, to generate maximum benefit to your most ideal target customers/users — some say a 10X improvement on what they already have access to, but this is all relative to your target market imo.
- Own your space— become a subject matter expert if you are not already
- Get to traction fast — quickly identify your evangelists and the early adopters, and build your product to solve their problem(s). However don’t be jack of all trades — find your niche with your target customer segment.
- Constantly experiment in hypothetically meaningful ways — forget optimization, instead choose experiments that are bold and then declare your assumptions/results for the team to see.
- Keep at it— because at some point the market will indicate when you can cross the vaunted chasm.
- Lean on your network (investors, fellow founders, mentors) and be sure to be helpful to them as well.
- TALK TO YOUR CUSTOMERS! — no matter what stage of the game you’re in.
2020 and beyond
So as we say goodbye to 2019 I know exactly why I love the startup life — We break the rules and rewrite how the game is played (and ultimately won). We encounter the good, the bad, and the ugly every day. We have learned to love our bruises, scrapes, and scars— they’re our badges of honor. And each day is THE DAY that can make a difference. We continue to execute knowing this and that’s our guiding light— Our North Star.
Hats off to all the founders making a go of it and cheers to 2020 and the decade to come!
I believe in founders supporting founders— please feel free to reach out to connect. For those interested in what we’ve been building you can learn more about us here.