Long before becoming entrepreneurs, the founders of Shiftgig had gigs of their own. They understood how painful it could be to search for a job in the service industry.
Launched in late 2011, Shiftgig is the new darling of Chicago-based technology startups. Likened to a Career Builder or LinkedIn, Shiftgig matches job-seekers with employers in the restaurant, entertainment and retail sectors.
“Everybody is looking for employment and trying to better their lives,” said Co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Sean Casey. “This is a platform that is supposed to make the experience better.”
Many people have been there at one time or another – walking from restaurant to restaurant with stacks of resumes, trying to find a job as a server, bartender or line-cook. It’s a time consuming effort that people dread. Shiftgig eliminates the need for such drudgery.
Until Craigslist, there wasn’t an easy way to know if a business was even hiring. Job seekers in the restaurant bar or retail industries applied in person. Restaurants posting openings were flooded with applicants that didn’t always meet their needs.
Founders Sean Casey, Jeff Pieta and Eddie Lou saw a niche that needed to be filled: the service industry lacked an efficient way of connecting hiring businesses with potential employees.
“We mapped out the sector, talked to a lot of small businesses, trying to understand where we could help,” said Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Eddie Lou. The trio developed the Shiftgig platform and sees no shortage of opportunity.
“It is a relatively large market, so people who work in restaurant and retail industry are more than 40 million in the U.S.,” Lou said. “And when you include small businesses, it’s closer to 80 million.”
Here is how it works: Job seekers log in to the Shiftgig website (www.shiftgig.com) and create a profile that serves as an online resume. The information includes education, past work experience and any additional trade background. The profile also leaves room for intangibles, like photos and social influence – measured by the number of Facebook friends and Twitter followers. From there, candidates can scroll through available positions and apply for jobs accordingly.
Employers log in to post job openings and scroll through profiles for qualified candidates.
“Our process makes things more transparent,” Casey said. “We make it easier for candidates to really set themselves apart, so you aren’t just a name and a subject line.”
The business community has taken note. Shiftgig recently raised $3 million in capital to continue to expand the model. The board of directors consists of big names in Chicago business, like Match.com Chief Executive Officer Sam Yagan and Brian Spaly, Chief Executive Officer of Chicago-based men’s clothing distributor Trunk Club. Ken Pelletier, former Chief Technology Officer of Groupon, serves as a technical advisor.
Now that the tech and startup communities are paying attention, the biggest task for Shiftgig executives is figuring out how to become profitable while still keeping the site free for job candidates. Although the startup currently lacks any revenue stream, they don’t expect that to be an issue for long.
“The natural choice is to monetize on the employer side. We want to be this job marketplace slash community, so people can come here and exchange ideas and references,” Casey said.
Employers may not be opposed to footing the bill if it means saving time and finding the right fit.
Phil Siudak, General Manager at Chicago Cut steakhouse, uses Shiftgig to avoid being flooded with resumes.
“Instead of having 10,000 resumes come in, we can actually go in and find what we are looking for, which is a great tool,” said Siudak, who recently posted a bartender job on Craigslist and received resumes from people with a wide spectrum of experience.
With Shiftgig, Siudak can contact only those who fit his search criteria. He uses other resources only when he can’t find someone qualified on the site. But it still isn’t as effective, he said.
Siudak said job candidates are the ones who will really drive the success of Shiftgig. The more qualified workers who participate, the better the platform is for the employers. And as long as there are open positions, candidates will continue to look on the website for opportunities.
Kylie Harwan, 24, was looking on Craigslist for a job when moving to Chicago from Omaha. During a standard search, she found a posting for a serving position with a green Shiftgig button. She went to the website and filled out a profile.
“I think the great thing is instead of sending a resume to a place through email, you get a feel about who the person is, so they can get to know me better, instead of just seeing my experience on a piece of paper,” Harwan said.
She appreciated the chance to provide potential employers with more detailed information about herself, as well as the ease of submitting an application. And she ended up landing a job.
The concept seems to be working on both sides.
“We’re providing a better system for both parties to find the right fit,” Casey said.
Shiftgig is averaging 8,000 new users each week in nine cities and a variety of industries. Initially focused on the restaurant, bar and entertainment sectors, it recently expanded to include retail operations as well.
In the beginning, they would celebrate those milestones along the way – taking a group picture when the met 5,000 users just six months ago. Now the team is working to figure out where the site is going next as they approach 250,000 users. They hope to reach 1 million users by the end of this year.
“Ultimately it comes down to user experience and it’s a great user experience,” Lou said. “If people have a good experience and see opportunities for employment, they will tell their friends.”
For now, they are focusing on continuing to improve the product.
“We’ve gathered a wish list of features that both employers and candidates would like to see, and so we’re adding those features in, trying to make it better. We were relatively shoe-string before,” Lou said.
And after that?
“What my partners, Sean, Jeff and I want to do is build a great company and we want to build it quickly,” Lou said.
If it doesn’t work out, at least they will know where to look for the next gig.