When you’re building a new piece of software or a new feature, should you jump right into the application development process, or should you try solving the problem manually first? During a recent episode of TechRepublic’s Dynamic Developer, I had the opportunity to speak with Jamie Baxter, CEO and co-founder of Qwick about just that.

Qwick is a gig economy company based in Phoenix, Arizona. Jamie and I talked about how they hire the right types of developers to help them innovate and grow and his very unique manual approach to software and feature development. The following is a transcript of the interview, edited for readability.

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Jamie Baxter, Co-Founder and CEO, Qwick
Image: Qwick

Jamie Baxter: Thanks for having me, Bill. I’m excited.

Bill Detwiler: For folks who don’t know what Qwick is, give us a little rundown on what you are and what you do.

Jamie Baxter: Qwick is an on-demand staffing platform for the hospitality industry, specifically for food and beverage. Think of us as a gig economy for servers, bartenders, cooks and dishwashers. You sign up on the app, tell us what type of experience you have. We go through a pre-vetting process, and then you can pick up as many shifts as you want at different hotels, catering companies, event venues, and we pay you 30 minutes after you clock out.

Bill Detwiler: Pretty simple, right? Let’s talk about the gig economy. It’s something that’s been in focus for many years, with the start of ride sharing services. But it’s not just those, there are lots of people who work as independent contractors and have for decades. So, this isn’t necessarily new, but the software and the platforms that allow professionals to connect with openings are. How do you think that the gig economy is evolving from where we are right now? Where are we going in the next maybe five years, in the next 10 years?

Jamie Baxter: I think what happened during COVID with all of the layoffs that happened. It forced people to look for a new way to work, a new way to earn money. It helped them rethink about what work really means. You put that in combination with where the technology is today, and I think it kind of created the perfect scenario for people to make money outside of the traditional W2, nine-to-five, fixed-schedule way of working. And many people had to do that because they lost their job, or their businesses shut down. As we look forward, I think the gig economy is going to be the new way of working. And I think if you look at the different studies like McKinsey, they just put out a study that said they’re expecting over 50% of all the workforce to be working through contingent labor, more the gig economy by 2027.

Those are just some crazy shifts that we’re talking about as far as how many people are abandoning the traditional way of working and working on their own schedule around their own lives. A way to think about work in a more entrepreneurial way, which I love. And I think it puts more power into the workers’ hands or professionals. It allows them to make as much money as they want to make. I think that’s really where the power shift is happening right now. The workers are getting more power. It’s not going to the employers.

Qwick wants to make the gig economy work better for everyone

Bill Detwiler: I’d love to drill down on that, too. As someone who looks at this, and is in this space right now. Again, I work in the media industry. So, I work with a lot of freelancers and have for the 20 years of my career as an editor. I’ve worked as a freelancer myself in the media industry. And I have a lot of colleagues who worked as 1099s, ICs in the IT industry as well. But there are some downsides that come with that, at least here in the States. And it’s really heavily dependent on the country or your region you’re in, how much stability you have that goes along with the benefits of the flexibility. We think about things like benefits, and we think about things, whether it’s healthcare or whether it’s time off or whatever that is.

I’d love to hear your take on just how the economy, and a lot of those benefits for anyone who’s listening, especially in the States, come from your employer. They come from your W2 employer. What changes kind of need to happen as we shift to that gig economy to help provide that stability to workers, to help provide stability to employers who need to fill shifts, especially as we come out of COVID and we’re in the middle of the Great Resignation? Whereas you talked about how people are looking for new opportunities.

Jamie Baxter: Yeah. I think especially here in the U.S., we need to, from a legislative perspective, think about a different type of employment, something that is in between a 1099 and a W2. I think we also need to decouple the requirement that someone be a W2 employee just to be able to offer them benefits, or offer them time off or offer them some of these criteria. Right now that says, if you offer those things, you are a W2 employer. But why? And that’s really what I want to challenge is, why does that have to be the case? What we’re trying to create at Qwick is a way for people to make money that is better than W2. You can get all the freedom of flexibility, you can get access to your pay faster, you can get paid more and access to all these other things. Right now, legally, we can’t do all of that.

Qwick Mobile App 01
Qwick mobile app
Image: Qwick

We do offer discounted healthcare through Stride and Indipop, which are great benefits for our professionals. But we can’t pay for those today. We can’t pay for their time off. We can give them as much time off as they want because they can choose their schedules. But what we really want to do is to be able to offer all of the great benefits that come with W2 and the freedom of flexibility of being an independent contractor. But that is going to require some legislative change. I truly hope that we can, in the U.S., adopt a third employment model that would allow us to do that. And I think as we see the number of people that are moving into the gig economy and the number of people that are getting their income through 1099 versus W2 start to increase more and more, I think there will be more and more pressure on legislators to make something like that.

Until then, what we’re trying to do is ensure that all of our shifts are paying more than what you would make as a W2 employee, which will help you cover your own taxes, help you cover paying for your own benefits, help you save up that money so you can take the time off. We’re hoping that through that, through higher pay, freedom of flexibility, we still offer a better value prop. And you can work on our platform as much as you want. We had someone that made over $25,000 last quarter through our platform. That’s a hundred thousand dollars a year in the food and beverage industry. You can work full time and make a great income on here and make a whole lot more than what you would make as a W2 employee in this industry.

Bill Detwiler: That sounds like a great proposition for the professionals who are on your platform. I would certainly, here in the US., I think, like everywhere, legislation runs extremely slowly. And sometimes that’s for a good reason, but sometimes it just needs to catch up to the realities of the world that we live in as we move very quickly, especially enabled by tech companies. What about on the employer side, your business, your B2B clients who are looking for those professionals? How are you working with them to help them solve those labor shortages that we’re in right now?
SEE: Business leaders as developer: The rise of no-code and low-code software (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

Jamie Baxter: Yeah. So, we started out as a replacement for temporary staffing. That’s really kind of who we were going up against. And businesses typically hated working with temporary staffing. The reason for that is that they charge exorbitant fees. They’re charging a whole lot more than what it would take if I paid an employee W2.

Bill Detwiler: They do, as someone who has done it, they absolutely do. I’m sorry. I had to put that in there and empathize with you as well. Please go on Jamie. I didn’t mean to derail you.

Jamie Baxter: Yeah. Exorbitant fees. But you’re paying these fees for typically some pretty low-quality workers. Most temporary staffing agencies, especially in the food and beverage world, they’re only able to attract the unemployed or unemployable because these are people that can’t get a job somewhere else. If they could get a job somewhere else, they would go work at that place. And then they tend to be pretty behind the times as far as technology goes. And with that comes a lot of unreliability.

My co-founder, Chris, he owns a bunch of hotels. He’s the one that really came up with this idea. He was plagued in his business, really difficult working with these staffing agencies. When he couldn’t find his own employees, he’d go out to the staffing agency and say, “Hey, I need 10 bartenders for this big banquet I’m doing.” And it would be a great day if five or six of them actually showed up. But he didn’t know until the time of the event how many people were going to show up. So, let’s say you get five or six people. And then three of them may actually know how to pour a drink. The other three were kind of just warm bodies. And by the way, he’s paying 50%, 60% up to 100% markup on that labor. So we wanted to really change that. And by the way, if Bill comes as the bartender, and I love Bill, he ends up being this great person, I had to pay $5,000 to hire him full time. He had to pay this bounty, right?

So, we kind of looked at this whole model and said, how can we make this entirely better? How can we do this without charging exorbitant fees? Because what we ultimately want to do is have people use us more, not use us just as, like, the last minute, “I’ve got to use this because I have no other option.” We want to be a good business partner. What we said is, let’s lower our fees and enable technology to help us deliver this and still make a profit and look for ways that we can actually do this better and solve some different use cases. You can’t use a temporary staffing agency for a same-day, two-hour type of shift because it’s picking up the phone or sending them a fax to order someone. It just doesn’t work within two hours. We can fill your shifts same-day. So, if someone doesn’t show up to work, post a shift on Qwick. Our fastest shift is 24 minutes. But we guarantee that we can get someone out there in two hours.

The other really cool thing that we’re doing, especially now, is what I call the new SaaS. It’s staffing-as-a-service. At our fee structure, we charge 40% markup versus the 50%, 60%, 100% markup that traditional agencies do. You can actually use us every single day. So you can post a recurring shift and say, I need five dishwashers every day of the week to show up and clean our dishes. And 40% is, yes, more than what you’re going to pay in just your W2 taxes and overhead. But if you consider the cost of recruitment, you consider the cost of training, you consider the cost of turnover, and the brain damage that occurs every single day when you’re trying to say, “Well, Bill, didn’t show up to work again today so now I got to call Jamie.” Well, “Jamie’s already worked 40 hours this week. So, I now have to pay him overtime, which is time and a half,” 40% is actually more cost effective.

Almost 45% of our revenue now comes from this recurring nature to where people just say, we want you to completely outsource and take over all of our dishwashing, all of our busing, all of our prep cook, things like that. And that’s, I think, truly how we can help these businesses because they can guarantee that they’re going to have people there. We have a 97% success rate, which is a whole lot better than the typical 20% absenteeism that occurs in the food and beverage industry. So, we’re trying to help them, trying to help them at a cost that they can actually afford, not pay those exorbitant fees.

Oh, and by the way, Bill shows up as the bartender, you want to hire him. Great, go ahead. We don’t charge you any fees. We want to be a good business partner to you, and we want, Bill, to help him do what he wants to do as well. The fact of the matter is that Bill will continue to work on our platform when he is not working at that particular hotel or restaurant. And so we truly don’t lose those pros. But I think overall, we’re trying to make a great value prop for the business partners that we use. And I think that’s why we’re seeing the adoption and the growth that we are.

Qwick’s algorithms make all the difference

Bill Detwiler: Let’s talk about some of the technology that you use to deliver a high quality of service, and do it at a rate that’s less than a traditional staffing agency. And you kind of talked about old-school technology, phone calls, faxes and things like that, and that overhead the businesses had to deal with for a very long time. So, let’s talk a little bit about the Qwick platform. You’ve grown a lot since you started. COVID was a challenging time, but you’ve really been growing since then. Talk to me about building a team there at Qwick of developers and product folks who are building that technology to allow you to run the business.

Jamie Baxter: We have a fantastic product and engineering team here in Phoenix. Our engineers, our designers, our product managers, our data folks, everyone, our QA, us all here. And just a fantastic team that is able to work really fast to build the right features for our business partners and our professionals.

The experience starts on the business partner side. You no longer have to fax your order in. You can just go on an app and immediately say, this is what I need. You can even copy a past shift. And you can post a shift within just a minute or two, and have someone that shows up just a couple hours later, if you need someone the same day. On the professionals side, it’s a truly easy interaction on the app. You just look at a list of shifts that you have available. See how much it pays, where it’s at, what business it’s for, what type of work it is, and choose to pick it up. And you can pick up as many shifts as you want, there’s no penalty for declining shifts or not picking up shifts.

I think what makes us really different is the algorithms that the team has developed on the back end that allow us to track who is actually a great professional and who is a great business. So we start to look at the quality of those pros, the reliability of the pros, do they clock in on time? Are they canceling? What type of shifts are they good at? What type of businesses are they good at? And it’s almost like a Netflix-like algorithm that says, “Oh, you watch this show. You probably also like these shows.” We can do that on professionals so we can start to learn exactly what type of professionals our business partners like.

And we send those invites out in that order. We don’t just blast this out shotgun-style and say, “All right, everyone, there’s a bartender shift available. Whoever’s the fastest draw can click it. The fastest gets it.” We really want to prioritize those professionals that are the best professionals on our platform. And the higher your Qwick score, the more shifts you get. We’ve gamified the entire thing. We tell you all the things that make your score go up and all the things that make your score go down. And we’ve gamified the entire thing. It’s interesting how that drives human behavior, right? If you tell people what they’re going to be rewarded for, those are the things they’ll end up doing

Software development at Qwick starts with a “manual” approach to problem solving

Bill Detwiler: It is. And it brings up something that you alluded to there, which is transparency. Because one of the criticisms that you see for some of these decisions that are made by algorithms or pattern-matching solutions is that sometimes people are dinged for things that they don’t know they’re going to be dinged for. And so, I think it’s really important to hear you say that, “Look, we’re going to tell you blatantly what’s going to cause you to be ranked lower than someone else so that people can understand that, and then they have a way to sort of connect with you to address issues there.

I’d also love to hear about, I’ve listened to you talk previously about your philosophy around developing software that you use for Qwick. And you described it, I think, as this approaching a problem from a point of, can you do this manually? And what would it take to do this manually? And then doing it manually and then building software that automates that process, or at least the part of the process that we really need to make not manually. Describe how that works in practice, and why it works for Qwick.

Jamie Baxter: Before I do that, I want to touch on just one more thing that you talked about, about the algorithm and understanding those. I think that’s one reason that our professional business partners love Qwick is that we’re not just this big tech giant company that hides behind the technology. We actually have real humans that are empathetic, that you can talk to. And we do a lot of our support through text message. But if you don’t understand why your score is going down, we have it in the app. We have training that goes around it. But you can text in and you can talk to one of our orientation folks on our side. And we deliver real empathy, real human base. We treat them like the human they are, and with respect.

And I think that’s something that, while we want to build all the technology that makes it work real well, we don’t want to hide behind that. We don’t want to shove technology down people’s throats. We are a hospitality business. We should have hospitality that runs through our DNA. So, I’m really, really passionate about that. So just wanted to-

Bill Detwiler: And that’s a perfect segue into doing it manually.

Jamie Baxter: Yes.

Bill Detwiler: You haven’t abandoned the personal, the human interaction, and just approaching a problem from a human perspective before you just immediately turn to technology.

Jamie Baxter: Right. So yeah, we have a real interesting way of innovating here that I think is unique. You can ask anyone on the team and they’ll always tell you that I’ve asked, have we seen this done manually, at least 10 different iterations or 10 different varieties of how we’ve done this manually? And we should do it manually until we can’t do it manually anymore. And until we’ve seen it a whole bunch of different ways. If you build the technology before you do it manually, then you truly don’t know what technology to build. And I know, this is the seventh product I’ve taken from concept to revenue. Trust me, Bill, there’s been a lot of products that I’ve built before I did it manually that I’ve spent millions of dollars building software that never gets used. It just ends up being software or features or functionality that the customers never really use, or we got it wrong. We built the wrong thing.

If you do it manually, you learn exactly what it is that you need to build. And you learn all the different ways that you need to build it. And you learn what you don’t need to build.

And then I think one of the other really unique things we do here is that we empower anyone in the company to automate. You don’t actually have to go through a product engineering cycle to build technology. We used off-the-shelf tools like Zapier and other tool sets that allow you to actually basically do some point-and-click programming, if you will. And our operations managers that are answering these support tickets and the text messages, they can say, “All right, when we see this condition happen in a text message, we want to go and do this.” Or when we see someone that hasn’t clocked in, for example, when we first had people that clock in late, nothing would happen. And instead of building into the app, we said, “OK, well, if Bill hasn’t clocked in for at least 10 minutes, we should send him a text message.” That was built with zero engineers. And we can iterate on it.

So now we’ve done it manually, because we would text him manually. Then we automate it through just innovation just at that lowest level. And we iterate there and figure out, all right, well, it works best if we send this message at this time. And then we build it into the product. And then you have an in-product experience. It saves us so much time to actually get something in the hands of our users, and money. But it also saves us from building the wrong thing. So it’s faster and gets it out there just in a better way. It’s actually functionality that we know is going to be used because it’s already being done manually or already innovated and automated in a non-product way

Bill Detwiler: Yeah, I think that low-code, no-code movement is the future, just like office productivity software was the future two decades ago. So, I know you’ve got to run. But in the last few minutes that I have you here, what’s next for Qwick? Right now you’re focused on the hospitality industry. You’re focused on food service in the hospitality industry. But what about other professionals, IT professionals, developers, creative professionals? Are you looking at other areas that you can talk about, without giving too much away?

Jamie Baxter: Right now, our big focus is geographic expansion. We’re in 12 markets today, and we’re going to be in 30 by the end of next year. We’re really focused on being the best in food and beverage. I learned a long time ago, a great path to success is niche to rich. Keep a niche. And the niche of food and beverage is a huge niche obviously, it’s a big industry, almost 10% of the U.S. workforce. But we just want to be the best at that. I don’t want to try and chase any kind of shiny object. I don’t want to try to be everything to everyone.

I think if you try to be everything to everyone, you kind of dilute the value down. You can’t be the best at everything. I can’t be the best at everything as a human. We can’t be the best at everything as a company. So we’re going to stay laser focused. Continue to be the number one platform for food and beverage. And then continue to expand across the U.S., and then potentially internationally starting in 2023.

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