Leisure and hospitality workers have the highest turnover rate of any industry. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, nearly 1 million people left the labor force in November 2021 alone. Why? Seasonality, low pay and monotonous work are among the reasons for the hospitality industry’s attrition rate, as well as the lack of career advancement.
So what’s a hospitality business to do? Maybe turn to services like Qwick, a startup that matches workers with hospitality gig contracts. Qwick announced today that it has raised $40 million in a Series B funding round led by Tritium Partners, with participation from existing investors Album VC, Kickstart, Desert Angels and Revolution’s Rise of the Rest Seed Fund.
Jamie Baxter co-founded Qwick in 2017 with Chris Loeffler. Baxter was previously segment technology director of risk and financial services at Willis Towers Watson, where he oversaw product and software development.
With Qwick, Baxter sought to build a platform that connects service industry workers with real-time food and beverage queues. Qwick uses a matching algorithm that takes into account factors such as distance, availability of “VIP” staff and amenities to fill concerts for hospitality establishments, including stadiums, high-end residences and corporate catering.
“The hospitality industry has faced decades of low retention rates, low wages and a reputation for poor management and working conditions,” Baxter told TechCrunch in an email interview. “Qwick aims to tackle the challenges of working in the industry and reshape what it means to work in hospitality by creating value for its professionals and offering them a livable wage.”
To sign up for Qwick, employees must fill out a profile and watch a five-minute virtual orientation. Once they are checked in, they receive notifications for open shifts.
“Qwick requires incoming professionals to go through an orientation that includes a one-on-one interview,” Baxter said. “Before being granted access to the platform, all Qwick professionals are certified and vetted for experience, professionalism and commitment to service.”
Baxter also says that Qwick uses a two-way, five-star rating system to “ensure consistent quality and reliability among professionals and businesses,” though he notes that similar rating systems in gig markets have been found to foster bias against minority workers.
Qwick is similar to startups like Stint, Flexy, Indeed Flex, Gig, Limber and Baristas on Tap, which provide short-term workers to businesses across a range of industries. Advocates of the platforms say they make hospitality a more financially viable profession by increasing work flexibility. But a recent Eater piece revealed that some workers at hospitality gig startups are taking home around the local minimum wage and may be forced to take long-term unpaid commutes. Critics argue that the platforms could leave companies with less budgets for hiring and training, encouraging them to replace full-time positions with temporary work.
Some hospitality employers have indicated a willingness to potentially accept temporary workers at the expense of salaried workers. In 2017 and 2018, Marriott and Hilton joined a coalition of Airbnb and TechNet (which includes Uber, Lyft, and Taskrabbit) in lobbying for a federal bill that would classify anyone who finds work through the online platform as an independent contractor.
Baxter disputes the notion that Gwik is a force for patients, arguing that it gives staff the “freedom” to work around their own schedules.
“Thousands of business partners across the U.S. rely on Qwick to end staffing shortages… [We] partner only with reputable businesses known for treating their employees well and giving professionals the agency to work where and when they want,” said Baxter. “Hundreds of thousands of industry professionals have downloaded our app and signed up to work shifts through Qwick.”
Baxter added that Qwick employees are paid an average of $9 above the minimum wage in the cities where they work. He also noted that Qwick allows companies to hire gig workers for employment outside of the traditional platform at no additional cost, unlike some gig work platforms that charge recruiting and hiring fees.
In any case, demand for Qwick’s service appears to be very strong on the employer side. After a rough patch during the pandemic — Gwik was forced to lay off 70% of the team and Baxter stopped taking salaries — the business has rebounded, with revenue up an astounding 10,000% over the past three years, according to Baxter. .
And for better or worse, the gig economy shows no signs of shrinking. The Pew Research Center reports that 16% of Americans have completed a job through an online gig platform. And Mastercard predicts that the number of global gig workers will grow from 43 million in 2018 to 78 million in 2023.
Baxter added that Qwick is actively working with more than 7,000 businesses in 23 metro areas, and the platform has facilitated more than 500,000 queues to date.
Qwick’s investors, for one, seem bullish on Qwick’s long-term trajectory, whether or not it’s the best outcome for employees. David Lack, managing partner of Tritium Partners, said in an emailed statement: “Qwick’s history of impressive growth and success with innovative hospitality solutions shows that even during a particularly challenging few years for the industry, the company is truly changing the way people work. “
To date, Arizona-based Qwick has raised $69.1 million in capital. The company has just over 270 employees, which Baxter says will reach 300 by the end of the year.