#24: Ontario-based businesses and the innovation born as a result of COVID-19
Peter Faist, founder and CEO: Staffy, founded in 2015, is an on-demand marketplace, connecting skilled contractors looking for flexible work to organizations with flexible shifts to fill.
The Spark: What were you working on prior to March 2020?
PF: Prior to March 2020, Staffy was focused on the hospitality industry. We helped bars, restaurants, catering companies and event spaces find skilled front-of-house and back-of-house contractors. We recognized that there was a need for Staffy in retail, healthcare, construction, and general labour, but we wanted to focus on one industry. After perfecting the model and expanding to more cities, we thought we would look at new industries. And that plan was working really, really well. Until COVID-19 hit.
Being an entrepreneur is hard, but it’s even harder in the middle of a crisis. When there is this much change and uncertainty, you have to stay nimble and flexible.
The Spark: How did you decide to pivot to fight against COVID-19 and help people during the pandemic?
PF: Overnight, the hospitality industry was decimated. With states of emergencies declared, restaurants, bars and event spaces had to shut down completely or reduce their staffing significantly to support takeout and delivery services. All of a sudden, the 30,000 independent contractors who had been using our platform for earnings to supplement their incomes were looking to us for support. That was hard. When the hospitality industry shut down, our business dropped 98 percent. I was obviously focused on reducing our expenses and overhead so that I could extend Staffy’s run rate and give my core team confidence that I could continue to pay them for a few months. But Staffy’s survival, that of my core team, was dwarfed by this obligation I felt to our broader community of independent contractors. They also had rent to pay and food to buy. What could I do to help find some work opportunities? I realized that delivery platforms like Instacart, Cornershop and Amazon would likely be in demand and need to supplement their workforce, as would supermarkets and retailers. I started to reach out, leveraging my network and posting on social media, but also cold emailing. I was hustling really hard, my team was hustling really hard and we were starting to see some traction. We also started to hear from healthcare organizations. At first, it was for general labour or kitchen staff. But then there were requests for nurses and personal support workers. So, I looked to Eric Wood, Staffy’s community manager, and said, “Staffy is now expanding to healthcare.” A lot of our processes and systems could scale but we had to learn a lot and quickly about healthcare designations and regulations. We knew that in helping these organizations find skilled contractors to fill these essential shifts, we needed to be very cautious in crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s.
The Spark: What have you learned from pivoting? How did your day-to-day business change?
PF: Being an entrepreneur is hard, but it’s even harder in the middle of a crisis. When there is this much change and uncertainty, you have to stay nimble and flexible. But at the same time, you have to stay focused on the end goal. Our day-to-day operations, which previously felt like a marathon, now feels like a sprint. Every day we are working to find new opportunities for our skilled contractors, but there has been the added urgency of filling essential services shifts for healthcare organizations in need.
The Spark: What has business been like since making the change?
PF: Staffy is now active in three verticals: healthcare, general labour and hospitality. With hard work, hustle and heart, we’ve seen our core business metrics grow 10 times. But there is much more to do.