Two Christmases ago, Jack Beaman experienced something of an intervention. “I’d been out of work for six months, and a group of friends sat me down and asked me what I was actually going to do with my life.”
Fortunately, he’d spent that time cooking up a business idea. “As a student, like a lot of people, I’d worked as a temp. The agency I was working through was deciding how much I and the company were being paid. It didn’t make sense to me at the time. Ten years later, I had a model that could drive up what employers would be willing to pay workers.”
“The missing piece was a co-founder,” says Beaman. Again, fortunately for him, sometime housemate and City trader Novo Abakare “showed more interest than everyone else,” and the pair decided to launch a business together. That business, Syft, is an online solution to hospitality work – a highly efficient, cost-effective recruitment app.
The pair started coding in April of last year, and launched at the beginning of 2016. Now, they have over 1,200 job seekers signed up across the capital, and numerous restaurants and events companies using them. Syft saves its clients 55 per cent in fees that would otherwise go to an agency.
If you’re looking for staff, even with just a few hours’ notice, you list your job and put it out to Syft’s vetted and trained workers – it’ll frequently be filled within minutes. A new capability allows employers to create a pool of favourite workers, who are given first refusal on work.
The app will give workers a shift time, job description, address, who to report to and uniform if required. “Or dress up. We’ve been sourcing staff for The Swan restaurant at The Globe during A Midsummer Night’s Dream and they have been dressed up. We’ve also just done the GQ Awards at Tate Modern, and Lionel Richie at the O2 four times in a row, which is probably plenty,” says Beaman. Client restaurants include Coya, Mahiki, Steam and Rye, and Madison.
Syft workers get, on average, £9.30 an hour. “We’re getting towards London Living Wage [£9.40]. Our fee is so much smaller than a traditional agency, which is usually £13 to the employer, £7 to the worker. We just add 15 per cent on top of whatever the employer wants to pay,” says Abakare. “The great thing about our model is that we make back the cost of acquiring new users very early.” Syft also enables both sides to rate each other, upping incentives.
When I arrive at Syft’s offices, Beaman is keen to show off the extra room they’ve just acquired. It’s the next door office, and doubles their space. Abakare is being carried around on the phone. He’s on holiday in LA, but has tuned in for the interview, despite it being 2am. Having just closed their seed investment round – led by Profounders Capital, it was meant to raise £1.2m, but the pair ended up with £2.65m – they’re ready to grow even faster. “We’re moving on to chapter two. Before the round we were seven; we’re 16 now,” says Abakare. With new hires from LinkedIn and YPlan, new offices became too small within a week, which resulted in the hole being knocked through to the fortuitously empty neighbouring office.
Divining the future
“Next year, we’ll still be very London-focused, but we’re going to add a new UK city: Manchester, Birmingham or Cardiff,” says Beaman. “We need to prove that we’re really capable of scaling in any city. Then our next investment round will look at how we can replicate it elsewhere – LA, New York, Paris.” The founders are also interested in expanding into different sectors, doing more permanent placing (they do a little bit now), in addition to another revenue stream around hospitality. “We can’t talk about that one yet, but it’s a complete game-changer that none of our competitors seem to be looking at,” says Beaman.
When you see Syft’s technology and how well it works for transient workers and those who employ them, you can see why the pair get excited when they talk about other agency-dominated areas, like healthcare. “One of our investors is really excited about Africa,” says Beaman. “We know you can achieve technology leapfrogs there, and there’s so much of a need for access to work. At some point we’ll be giving it a go.”