Ris­ing in the south

Ot­tawa na­tive Brett Pa­tron tasch has landed some high­pro­file in­vestors for his Seat­tle-based ven­ture.

Ottawa Business Journal - - Front Page - BY JA­COB SEREBRIN Spe­cial to OBJ

An Ot­tawa na­tive is hop­ing to make it big south of the bor­der thanks to a new mo­bile app startup that has just landed $1.5 mil­lion in ven­ture cap­i­tal.

Brett Pa­trontasch is the founder and CEO of Shyft, an app pro­ducer now based in Seat­tle. The app is in­tended to help hourly work­ers at fast-food restau­rants, re­tail­ers and cafes trade shifts.

“Shyft con­nects work­ers di­rectly with oth­ers at their lo­ca­tion and lets them quickly and easily ex­change and cover shifts,” Mr. Pa­trontasch said in a re­cent in­ter­view with OBJ.

He said the in­vest­ment will al­low the com­pany to hire peo­ple for key po­si­tions and drive growth.

“Now we’re just work­ing on growing the busi­ness,” he added.

The seed stage in­vest­ment was led by Seat­tle-based Madrona Ven­ture Group and also in­cluded sev­eral an­gel in­vestors – most no­tably for­mer Ot­tawa mayor Larry O’Brien. Be­fore go­ing into pol­i­tics, Mr. O’Brien was the founder and CEO of Calian Tech­nolo­gies.

“Larry def­i­nitely brings a skill set and ex­pe­ri­ence both in un­der­stand­ing how labour forces work and also how technology prod­ucts work and scale,” Mr. Pa­trontasch said.

Also in­vest­ing in the round was for­mer Seat­tle Sea­hawks of­fen­sive line­man Rus­sell Okung, who re­cently signed with the Su­per Bowl-cham­pion Den­ver Bron­cos.

Mr. Pa­trontasch re­lo­cated Shyft to Seat­tle in March to at­tend Tech­stars, a startup ac­cel­er­a­tor pro­gram. Be­fore that, the com­pany had been based in Toronto.

He said the Tech­stars pro­gram helped speed the com­pany’s growth. When the pro­gram ended in May, Mr. Pa­trontasch de­cided to stay In Seat­tle.

“The U.S. econ­omy is larger,” he ex­plained. “There’s more ac­cess to op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

But it’s not just the coun­try, it’s the city it­self, he added.

“Seat­tle’s typ­i­cally been a great tech mar­ket,” Mr. Pa­trontasch said.

It’s also home to the head­quar­ters of Star­bucks, where many of his users hap­pen to work. In May, Shyft said al­most 10,000 Star­bucks baris­tas had signed up on the app.

So far, the com­pany says, more than 26,000 work hours have been traded through the app.

The app con­nects users based on the store where they work. Users can post shifts they need cov­ered and get con­fir­ma­tion if one of their col­leagues wants to pick up the shift.

Mr. Pa­trontasch said the prob­lem with pre­vi­ous shift-shar­ing op­tions is that a worker would need to have a col­league’s phone num­ber or be friends with him or her on Face­book. That led to sit­u­a­tions where work­ers might not be able to reach the right col­leagues or where not all em­ploy­ees who wanted to pick up ex­tra shifts knew they were avail­able.

Mr. Pa­trontasch said much of Shyft’s growth has come or­gan­i­cally. Be­cause the app re­quires mul­ti­ple users who work at the same store for it be use­ful, once one em­ployee at a spe­cific lo­ca­tion down­loads the app, oth­ers of­ten fol­low.

“Now the name of the game is growth and scale,” he said.

The app is par­tic­u­larly well-timed, ac­cord­ing to S. Somasegar, a for­mer vi­cepres­i­dent at Mi­crosoft and now a ven­ture part­ner at the Madrona Ven­ture Group.

“The U.S. labour mar­ket is chang­ing; work­ers don’t just take a sched­ule set in stone ev­ery two weeks,” he said in a re­lease. “In the era of Uber and on-de­mand mod­els, where work­ers can turn their avail­abil­ity on and off, they want more flex­i­bil­ity.”

But it hasn’t been all steady growth for Shyft. The com­pany launched in 2013 as Cof­fee Mo­bile. Orig­i­nally, the plan was to sell the app to em­ploy­ers, who would then use it to com­mu­ni­cate with front-line work­ers.

“Back then, we were build­ing some­thing that enterprise clients had said they wanted,” Mr. Pa­trontasch said.

De­spite pi­lot projects with brands such as Yogen Fruz, Pita Pit and BeaverTails, the app didn’t get the trac­tion Mr. Pa­trontasch was look­ing for. So he de­cided to re­build it and change its tar­get mar­ket.

“We spent four months lit­er­ally cold call­ing and in malls, talk­ing to em­ploy­ees and store man­agers,” he said. “We’d show them our prod­uct, show them our (min­i­mum vi­able prod­uct), ask them what they like, what they didn’t like, how to make it bet­ter. That helped us de­sign a fea­ture set that was re­ally de­signed by users ver­sus one that was de­signed by busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives.”

The Shyft app is free and doesn’t gen­er­ate any rev­enue yet. Mr. Pa­trontasch said he has a plan to mon­e­tize the app but doesn’t want to talk about it un­til he’s seen more growth.

How­ever, in a May press re­lease, the com­pany sug­gested it would be re­plac­ing its enterprise soft­ware-as-a-ser­vice model with a mar­ket­place model.

Shyft isn’t the first busi­ness Mr. Pa­trontasch has launched. In 2012, he was named one of OBJ’s Forty Un­der 40 re­cip­i­ents, an award that came af­ter he founded Schol­ars At Your Ser­vice, which sells res­i­den­tial paint­ing fran­chises to stu­dents.

That com­pany still op­er­ates in Que­bec and On­tario and has posted an­nual rev­enues of $2.5 mil­lion.

“The U.S. labour mar­ket is chang­ing; work­ers don’t just take a sched­ule set in stone ev­ery two weeks. In the era of Uber and on-de­mand mod­els, where work­ers can turn their avail­abil­ity on and off, they want more flex­i­bil­ity.”

– S. SOMASEGAR, VEN­TURE PART­NER AT MADRONA VEN­TURE GROUP AND IN­VESTOR IN SHYFT

PHOTO COUR­TESY SHYFT

Shyft’s team in­cludes (from left) Chris Pitch­ford, Daniel Chen, Ot­tawa na­tive Brett Pa­trontasch and Kyle Liu.

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