Article originally published on Fem Founder by Kristin Marquet
An In-Depth Interview With Stephanie Corliss, Co-Founder & COO of SnapShyft
Co-Founder and COO of technology startup SnapShyft which she co-founded with her partner Thor Wood, and is headquartered in Indianapolis, IN. With over 20 years in operations, finance, accounting, and HR at both non-profits and Fortune 500 companies including Novellus and Source Interlink’s $1.2B distribution division. Her company SnapShyft is a Staffing-as-a-Service software and mobile app that connects businesses with fully vetted & experienced workers, on-demand— Delivering the best attributes of the gig-economy while eliminating bias and discrimination in the staffing process. SnapShyft was named a TechCrunch Top Pick for Social Impact, as well as a Top 15 Startup of the Year in 2019, and previously received the Indiana Innovation Award, and winner of the Indy Startup Challenge.
Can you tell our readers about your background?
Well, I grew up in Silicon Valley raised by my wonderful grandparents. They both worked for IBM and were a bit old school encouraging me to find a rewarding yet “traditional” career path which is how I found myself in the accounting and finance world— banking, casinos, luxury resorts, global distribution companies, and semiconductors. During school, my grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer and that threw everything into flux as you can imagine. She was my rock, and when she ultimately succumbed it was tough for me to reorient myself. But eventually, I moved to San Diego and joined Source Interlink, and then relocated to Southwest Florida to their new headquarters which is where I met my partner and eventual Co-Founder Thor.
Sometime later we relocated to Indianapolis and eventually took the leap to start our company, SnapShyft— a Staffing-as-a-Service software and mobile app that connects businesses with fully vetted & experienced workers, on-demand. Delivering the best attributes of the gig-economy while eliminating bias and discrimination in the staffing process (very important to us).
What inspired you to start your business?
The idea was really born from frustration and a dearth of qualified staffing solutions. And Thor had a growing desire to build a reliable on-demand labor marketplace that had the immediacy and consistency of Lyft or Uber, and was hyper-focused on a single industry (food services, hospitality); Basically finding a way to cut out the underperforming incumbents— the middlemen which were temporary staffing agencies. I spent a great deal of my free time working with him to flesh out the early idea and research the market. We started looking at what solutions these businesses were relying on and realized we had a $100B market opportunity in front of us. As we peeled back the layers we started understanding that not only is there a massive turnover and labor shortage problem, but that 16M+ workers in the industry were generally underpaid, underbanked, and overlooked. The workers became the focal point in our efforts to build an equitable gig-platform.
Looking back though, I never had aspirations of being a startup founder. I was content following my traditional career path, bringing in a steady income, working regular business hours, and having time to be present in my kids’ lives. I didn’t believe or understand that I was capable of more. We officially launched out of beta in January 2018, and I started to really see how we were helping people— many of them being minorities or women, and many of those women also moms, and I could relate to them in many ways. We were providing real operational benefits to the businesses and generating better outcomes for the workers. The worker feedback and impact stories are what keeps my fire ignited and drives my efforts each day.
Where is your business based?
We are headquartered in Indianapolis, IN.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
After extensive market research and performing a commercial viability assessment SnapShyft was set up as an L.L.C., got a Federal Tax ID, D&B, and set up a business bank account. We then filed trademarks and had our legal counsel produce investment docs for early angel investors. After we were accepted into the gener8tor Milwaukee accelerator program we needed to become incorporated so we did.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
I believe that showing up is half the battle so making it a point to take part in relevant events at a local level has been helpful. Being an active participant on social media or in-person by getting out of the building has been super important to us since the early days when we were doing customer interviews— getting out to speak with customers and users to really see their operations first-hand. And even though that is not possible this year for the most part we always talk to the customers. We have also been fortunate in earning local, regional, and national press/media recognition for some of our accomplishments along the way which has helped build our credibility and reach.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
There have been a number of factors that created adverse conditions for me (us). Both Thor and I were first-time tech startup founders, neither of us is engineers, we’re based in the conservative midwest, and I am a woman and a mother of 5. Since the moment we started doing a commercial viability analysis we’ve really been learning everything about building a tech startup on-the-fly, so we had to find a way to gain access to resources and needed support so we could move from just a pitch deck, to a prototype, and to an actual working product in the market.
My Co-Founder and I have 5 children between us (4 under 12) so our homestead is fully saturated in the startup life + eLearning + quarantine so it’s been a challenge. And I know in general female founders are struggling much more than male founders— Every single woman founder that I know who have children also have the added struggles of managing eLearning, daycare, ensuring the family is healthy and safe (and fed), looking out for aging parents, and handles the shopping (hoarding) of supplies, — which means their available time to focus on just the business is reduced. Also, women are more apt to actually go see a doctor and are generally more aware of their own health (and that of their family members) which adds to the overall stress.
Technology adoption has been a hurdle for the industry we set out to change (hospitality, food service, etc). But if the pandemic has taught us anything it is we must all adapt or die. And we are now seeing an amazing shift in terms of hospitality businesses embracing technology in order to survive— not just on the staffing front but also on ordering/delivery, inventory control, customer engagement platforms, and so on.
Fundraising was tough in the early days of pre-revenue and we spent the bulk of our effort focused within the Midwest— specifically Indiana. And it was always the same outcome— “You have an amazing “idea”, and we want to help you succeed, just not by writing a check. Keep us posted!”. It wasn’t until we spent considerable time outside of Indiana working with gener8tor in Milwaukee and 500 Startups in San Francisco that investors started taking us seriously.
But all is not rosy in that being a female founder comes with an inherent bias in startup land; and in terms of VC dollars flowing to women— mountains of lip service, no real equitable progress to point to. And the sample size of women in tech is actually decreasing as a percentage. Women are simply leaving the industry altogether for myriad reasons, probably most notably toxic culture. But I think progress is being made for sure, but not at a rate that is meaningful, and as our wages increase the compensation for males continues to go up.
Just looking at 2020 less than 2% of all venture capital in the US flowing to all-female teams (13% for female co-founded startups) and this highlights that securing startup capital is an even more daunting, defeating task full of false starts, inherent bias, and plenty of mansplaining along the way; it is very apparent that investors look and/or act unfavorably towards female founders/entrepreneurs given the lack of conviction through investments made. And many of the funds or investors that talk about investing in women end up holding female-founded companies to a different standard (I think a higher bar is set), and it shows in their risk tolerance. In other words, in order to prove themselves “right” they are more critical as they look for big marketable wins they can point to as proof— as a result, many exceptional female founders are passed on— My Co-Founder recently wrote, “The distinct differences in how I am treated and viewed, versus my super talented female co-founder Stephanie shows the scrutiny of female founders is pervasive. So we push to change this narrative”.
Plus there is a great deal of data highlighting the contrast in startup performance where companies that are all female or female co-founded generate over 150% more revenue compared to all-male startups, despite men raising over 120% more capital. These stats alone should make any VC or angel course correct to maximize their returns backing female founders!
How do you stay focused?
By knowing and planning for the one or two high priority tasks the night before, I am able to be more focussed at completing without deviation, the tasks that impact and drive the business versus the ones that are time wasters or that can be delegated. As founders we have to look at the big picture— Is this a high leverage task? And for me more specifically, how might this impact us today, tomorrow, 12 months from now? Are these tasks distracting me from day-to-day execution?
I have a fear of mediocrity, so I challenge myself daily to be the best in one single task or area, and then I attack the other priorities one at a time based on urgency. The fact is I would have a hectic life without being a startup founder— Throw that into the mix and I muse that I will sleep when I am dead!
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
Well from a high-level view there are some distinct differences between the operation and execution that occurs on the SnapShyft Labor Marketplace. Principal among these is the extensive screening process professionals must go through to gain approval to use the platform to pick up work. Thorough background checks, sex offender registry checks, I9 verification, reference checks, industry certifications are all part of the approval process. And once approved the workers must abide by our terms and our community guidelines to remain an active member of the community.
SnapShyft is also a worker-driven system— much like Bumble where women make the first move. On our platform, the workers select the work opportunities they want based on a number of factors like in-app rating of the business, compensation, work location, length of a shift, and also the general perception or reputation that people have of a given business. Through research, we found that allowing businesses to be in full control of worker selection leads to persistent discrimination and bias; specifically gender and ethnicity which is something we won’t tolerate.
Another differentiator is built-in transparency end-to-end— We do not apply a percentage markup to the hourly rates, instead we charge a flat booking fee for any successfully worked shifts. This means what a business pays per hour is exactly what the workers receive. And to date, the workers on SnapShyft are earning over 50% more per hour than the national industry rates, and this excludes any earned tips they collect.
Of course, execution is everything in this game and SnapShyft actually has the leading average fulfillment of over 95% which is actually 3X the staffing industry average. 3X the fulfillment means we create real peace of mind for the businesses and thus more work opportunities for the SnapShyft workers.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
We’ve been moderately successful in our social strategies and continue to put an emphasis on ‘being where our users are most often’, but our most effective channel has been word of mouth and referrals from the workers on our platform— acting as ambassadors and really advocating businesses and their peers.
What’s your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
In the famous words of Nike— Just Do It— actions over just talking about doing it. Having a novel idea is great, but making the leap and putting in the work to flesh out your idea is necessary to have something come to fruition. Every thought or assumption you have should be proven or disproven— make this part of your SOP. Of course, being an entrepreneur is not easy so be prepared at first for more lows than highs. Make sure to acknowledge and celebrate the highs— share them and document them for posterity, and if for nothing else as a way to look back to “re-savor” when you inevitably experience a low. This will help you mentally move forward and not succumb to giving up.
What’s your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
Well, my favorite app is SnapShyft of course! Outside of that, I am a big fan of ClassDojo. It has saved my sanity throughout the pandemic being a mom with eLearners working from home and trying to keep my business schedule, their schedule, and tend to my smaller kiddos— it’s been a godsend! All of my kids from different schools all in one place with easy communication with teachers, schedules and updates, et al. Also an avid fan of Instacart because they have real-time shopping— you see everything being shopped as it is happening and can quickly approve substitutions at the moment. Plus live tracking is essential.
My favorite blog is She Owns it. It’s just nice to have one place where women of all ages and backgrounds come together to discuss what it means to build a business, maintain sanity, and celebrate being a successful (or aspiring to be) woman leader/entrepreneur.
Reading books is my escape from reality to free my mind of distractions and stress. Give me a good mystery with a twist or a compelling story about overcoming adversity and it’s a winner. I thoroughly enjoyed the last book I read by Glynis Peters, The Secret Orphan.
What’s your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Excel continues to be my favorite business tool— organizing the business, my thoughts, schedule, financials. I don’t believe everyone needs multiple expensive org chart tools, budgeting systems, thought boards, at least in the beginning. I recommend getting yourself Excel or Google sheets and getting to work.
Who is your business role model? Why?
I have two (2) amazing female role models that I consistently look up to. Kristen Cooper, Founder/CEO at The Startup Ladies based in Indianapolis. Though she doesn’t have a huge “empire” (yet), it is Kristen’s conviction that inspires me the most— In business and in my personal life. She has a 100% inclusion clause in all her dealings, and if you are not inclusive she will not partner or do business with you. Full stop. She is confident, bold, and direct— It would not matter if you were the richest individual in the world, she has no fear of calling out inequities, bias or discrimination, or other areas lacking their attention or conviction— doing so in such an eloquent manner that doesn’t mince words or dilute the intent behind her message. Because of this, she has garnered a mountain of respect and truly meaningful connections with power players that are supporting her mission. Kristen is a no holds barred leader and champion and I truly admire her.
I also have much admiration and aspire to be like Christine Tsai, Founding Partner, and CEO at 500 Startups out of San Francisco. Christine is the literal ‘top dog’ in a man’s world and she leads with grit and grace. She has the ability to step back from the negative around us and also is able to draw out the positives. Christine has worked tirelessly to change a culture that substantially favors men, and in the startup/VC game, this can only be achieved by being the best at your craft— which she is.
How do you balance work and life?
Balance is always something to work towards and is different for everyone. But I make sure to laugh out loud! My kids help me remember to not be so analytical all the time and to laugh and play (we like to dance).
During non-pandemic times it was much easier to put the computer away, get out of the house and do something fun. However during Covid, the balance-challenge is so much greater because not only are you on the computer all day, so are your kids. So I occasionally have to remind myself to just shut the laptop and do something else, but as a founder, the responsibility is too great to simply ignore the business. Panic sets in otherwise, but I think the balance between knowing what is a dire emergency versus what can wait until a later time or date is important.
Including my family in my activities is one way I balance work/home life— watching movies while working or moving my laptop outside while they play so we get some Vitamin D and fresh air. I recently got an Apple Watch and it promotes movement, reminders for meditation, or just relaxation, plus I can close the laptop and still be “connected” without staring at a screen endlessly.
The pandemic has forced us to be reliant on ourselves for everything and to be OK with this. There is no relief valve or easy escape to be had— Everyone, including other members of our extended family are contending with similar circumstances. So we have learned to band together to accomplish what needs to be done— eLearning, coding school, running a business, helping the non-profit I consult for, and finding new ways to have meaningful quality time. We are grateful for each other, and that we have found ways to conduct business as usual fully remote, while coping, and ultimately surviving circumstances. And of course, the occasional drive-by visitations from Grandma and Grandpa are all the more meaningful because they are few and far between.
If anything, this tumultuous year has taught us to not take for granted the simple act of hugging a friend or family member, or grabbing an impromptu drink or bite to eat. Quarantine confinement has been difficult and to see how this negatively impacts the people I know has been hard. But we are the lucky ones to that effect— we can hug our children, snuggle at night, share a laugh or cry on the shoulder of those we live and care for inside our own household and I am grateful for this.
What’s your favorite way to decompress?
I wake up super early so that I can have exactly one hour of silence where I can check emails or social media, sit and just be, all while drinking my first cup of coffee. Bottom line is to be one hour uninterrupted. Every other Wednesday evening I have a Zoom meeting with The Startup Ladies where we enjoy a libation (or three) and spend an hour learning something new related to business followed by open conversation. I believe the bond between women founders is a great one—as women building a business, we come together to support one another, to lift each other up, and also provide a necessary outlet for venting frustrations.
What do you have planned for the next six months?
On the business side of things, we will continue to be a reliable tool/resource for the workers and the businesses fighting to survive. Due to circumstances, for them, it is all about adapting or dying. Our team will continue working tirelessly to help these businesses operate more competitively by integrating the gig-economy into their respective labor models. There will be a growing reliance on technology within every aspect of their operation and we hope to own the labor augmentation/optimization side of the hospitality industry. And in my personal life, I will be focused on being a teacher and an affectionate mother so we can get through the holidays with as much normalcy as possible, and into the new year with positive momentum and optimism.
How can our readers connect with you?
The SNAPSHYFT Labor Marketplace is a cloud-based Staffing-as-a-Service software and mobile app connecting food & beverage and hospitality operations with actual industry pros, on-demand. We help fill shifts fast. SNAPSHYFT is currently available in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.