Canadian companies are rising to the challenging circumstances that COVID-19 has posed. In this new series, we discover how these inspiring leaders are helping their community, customers and employees during this monumental crisis. We learn about how they’ve adapted to remote work, and how they predict the future of office occupancy will look like for their business.
Our third episode of Moving Forward is with Peter Faist, CEO and Founder of Staffy
This transcription has been edited for clarity and may not read exactly as the interview
Peter, thanks for taking the time to talk to us. First of all, tell us a little bit about how Staffy got started.
Staffy originally started as an on-demand platform for the restaurant industry. Your dishwasher or your bartender would call in sick and we would send you somebody within 90 minutes. We started in the restaurant industry as opposed to within hospitality, and so we charge very slim margins. That offering became a very disruptive force that quickly led to us servicing other segments of hospitality like event spaces, hotels and catering companies. Eventually, we evolved into a comprehensive staffing platform that allowed companies to scale their workforce. Whether they needed an extra line cook for 3-4 weeks or 20 servers on a weekend – we became that that positive force that would allow them to adapt their business and staffing levels as necessary.
Hospitality has obviously been greatly impacted by this pandemic, and so I know you have pivoted. Tell us about what’s going on at Staffy, and how the COVID-19 crisis has changed what you’re working on.
On March 12th or March 13th, when when the state of emergency was declared in Ontario, we lost about 90% of our business overnight. It was really devastating not for just us, because we would have been okay, but we have 30,000 people on our platform across North America! We felt it was our obligation to do as much as possible to find them work. We started looking for different types of work that they could do. I happen to be a fairly frequent user of Instacart, and I noticed that the delivery date was getting further and further out as the pandemic worsened. I realized that there is going to be a number of companies that are much much busier as opposed to being devastated from COVID. Companies like e-commerce and grocery delivery fulfilment, and healthcare. We started reaching out to all of those companies.
What started getting a lot of traction was healthcare. They don’t have this the existing staff to fill the roles needed due to the increased demand because of COVID. We were able to place hospitality staff into healthcare facilities in roles such as cleaning, dietary help, or serving roles. That snowballed to even more business where these companies were then turning to us for registered nurses and practical personal support workers. We were able to pivot our software very quickly to allow us to serve that market. That market is more egregious than the hospitality industry in terms of disrupting the agency model. The way our platform works, and the reason we’re so disruptive, is that agencies typically charge a lot of money and pay the staff very poorly. We flip that model around. Most of the money a company pays goes to the staff and then we charge a small service fee. We pay better and faster. The reason why I think [the agency model] is more egregious in healthcare is because they’re charging 100% markup. We’ve heard of a situation where a company was paying an agency $150 dollars for a registered nurse and paying the nurse the same amount they paid before COVID, which was $50 an hour. We can pay the staff better, and we can charge you less. It’s a win-win situation. Now we’re paying the nurses $60 or $70 an hour and then charging the companies in between $85 and $90. They’re appreciative because they don’t have a large financial burden and they’re not being gouged. It’s quickly catching on, and we’ve been inundated with requests. We’re now working with 3 of the 4 top healthcare providers for seniors in Canada. We’re incredibly busy! It’s been a very interesting event and we’re probably 10x of what we were doing pre-COVID.
It sounds like there’s been a lot of demand since the pivot
It’s honestly been overwhelming. I thought it was very busy pre-COVID, but now I’m probably ten times busier, which is unbelievable to me.
How is this going to impact the future for Saffy? Both midterm through this pandemic and longterm with the business plan. Have you thought that far out at this point?
We’re a company that was very focused on just doing hospitality for a long time. The first lesson I learnt was that you should pick one thing and do it really really well. So we were laser-focused on hospitality. But because that business basically disappeared, it caused us to pivot into a number of other verticals. We’re not just doing hospitality – we’re also doing warehouse work and general labourers. Our platform is very flexible and very fluid. It doesn’t require a lot of changes on our part in order to accomplish those things.
There are a lot more regulatory issues with healthcare that we have to be cognizant of. Coincidentally, just prior to COVID, somebody who had worked with us when we initially started back in 2015 came back. She’d been working as a nurse in the interim and so she helped us navigate all of the regulatory issues. We’re still working through that. It’s been very challenging but also a lot of fun in terms of the future for Staffy. I can’t see this not being a part of where we go moving forward.
We’re in the process of changing our logo. around just to make it a little bit more industry agnostic. I think healthcare at least is here to stay for us.
Tell us a bit about how the team is navigating pivoting the platform while working remotely at the same time.
It was definitely a learning curve for all of us in terms of pivoting the platform because of all those regulatory issues. The other kind of issues weren’t as difficult to navigate because almost anybody can work in a warehouse or work as a general labourer. Healthcare was a big challenge for us. Everybody’s been working very hard and my team is absolutely incredible. They’ve been 16-hour days in some cases to ensure that we’re filling as many positions as possible. That was a challenge for us too because we had to develop a new market and in a new vertical.
The agency model is so egregious in this industry that people actually didn’t believe that we were real! They didn’t think we were paying registered nurses $60 or $70 an hour because they’ve never seen those wages before. Because of our model, we are able to do that. On Facebook, some were worried that we’re a scam because they’ve never paid this amount before, so we can’t be real. They think we’re just trying to steal their identity! We did our best to reassure them and now we have people that are making those wages! We’re finding more and more people are coming onto the platform and it’s gaining a lot of traction. We are able to fill a lot of roles that we’re getting requested for.
In terms of working remotely, it’s been pretty challenging, to be honest. I really think that in order to drive culture in early-stage companies you really have to be together and working alongside one another. I’m a big proponent for people working in an office together, sharing space, going to lunch together and those kinds of bonding activities. That’s challenging when you’re working remotely. I mandated that a team video call every day. We all just have that connection where we can see each other, interact where necessary, and ask questions quickly as opposed to everybody being offline and then having a call here or call there. That’s really helped us keep some of the semblances of togetherness.
I think that being in an office part is key to working together so that has been a challenge. But I think we’ve worked it out. This is not going to end soon. It’s going be another two to three months at least where we’re having to work remotely. We’ve found our groove and I think the team is happy now and we don’t have any separation anxiety from not being in an office because we’re sharing culture through video.
I’m glad to hear that they’re navigating it well. As you transition back into the office, will there be certain things that you re-evaluate or best practices that you’ve learnt over this time that you might take forward?
I don’t know that it’s been long enough for me to realize what some of those advantages are. Certainly a lot more freedom in schedules and potentially working from home a day or two. If one person is working from home and nobody else is, what does that mean for the rest of the team? I’m not sure how that’s gonna play out exactly. We did give up our office just as COVID hit. Fortunately, we were on a month-to-month plan, so we are allowed to get rid of our office lease. We’ll be looking for a new space in a few months. We’re very much committed to being in an office and working together. I think it really adds a lot to the culture. In terms of lessons learned, I for me it’s just highlighted how much being in office and working together means to a company as opposed to working remotely. Although we intend to be more flexible, I really think that being together in an office space is key and really drives culture and team-building.
I definitely agree. I miss my office – I miss seeing my team and my colleagues every day and interacting with them so I can definitely appreciate that. Finally, how can the community get involved?
We’ve been involved with a number of initiatives to support the hospitality industry. We are part of a consortium of companies called Save Hospitality CA. You can visit the website and sign up if you’re a restaurant or a business owner.
We’re trying to get some rent controls in place because hospitality issues margins are so slim. It’s difficult for these companies to pay large rents. They are at risk of going out of business, so anything you can do to support – you can retweet it or send it to your MP. These are places that we’ve grown up with and bonded with. Our locals might not be back by the time COVID goes away. It’s really important that we make as much noise as possible and get them as much support as possible.
Another organization that are are part of is a Hospitality Workers Fund. It’s a number of companies that have contributed over $1million so far. We didn’t do a financial contribution because we don’t have that kind of capital but we’re very much part of the community. We are advocating for this organisation and making sure that it gets out as much as possible. It’s north of a million dollars to give everybody a $500 grant for hospitality workers that have lost their main source of income. In some instances, the CERB program is not enough – $2,000 is not a lot of money for some.
If somebody is looking for work, or they want to work as a general labourer, have hospitality or healthcare experience they can go to Staffy.com sign up. They’ll have to go through skill-testing questions, upload their resume and do some background checks. It’s well worth it because we pay really well and really quick