Five months ago, Jamie Baxter changed his game plan. Wanting to accelerate his staffing startup's Miami launch to capitalize on the Super Bowl, he crunched the typical six-month timeline to two weeks, spending about $10,000 in the process. Today, Qwick--which connects hospitality workers with food and beverage shifts--is in a vastly different place. With hospitality reeling, Baxter shifted to hospitals and supermarkets, adapting Qwick's platform to try to provide jobs for his now out-of work-clients.
Until a month or so ago, Scottsdale-based Qwick was placing its 82,000 customers in shifts at restaurants, bars, hotels, and catering companies in eight cities. Then, state lockdowns forced many of those businesses to close, contributing to the eight-week surge of 36.5 million jobless claims. "Most of our professionals have been furloughed or laid off," says Baxter, a former technology director at Willis Towers Watson who launched the business two years ago with his co-founders Chris Loeffler and Blaine Light. Loeffler, who owns several hotels in Arizona, asked Baxter to help build the company using his experience in HR technology. That's when hotels were scouring the market for qualified staff, unlike today. "Our professionals are begging for work," says Baxter.
And a number of industries still need workers, including grocery stores, delivery-only restaurants, and hospitals seeking non-medical personnel. So Baxter plugged Qwick into those markets. He got the idea after Arizona Governor Doug Ducey activated the National Guard in mid-March to help stock shelves at grocery stores and food banks. Qwick has placed more than 1,200 people, although that's a far cry from the number Baxter hopes to hit. Last January, Qwick placed 22,000 of its customers into hospitality gigs.
"This isn't going to be a replacement from a revenue perspective," Baxter says. "We've given up on the idea that we're going to make money during this time."
Qwick is also connecting people to volunteer work. Non-profits and charities can post opportunities on Qwick's platform for free, a service Baxter wants to keep offering.
Qwick, like many businesses, has taken a big hit. The company booked $3.76 million in revenue last year and, before the pandemic, projected it would take in $16.9 million this year. Baxter estimates the company will now reach between 10 and 20 percent of that goal. He had to lay off half of his 54-person staff and ask the remainder to take reduced salaries in exchange for equity in the company.
Breaking into new markets under these conditions is brutal, he says: "We're trying to build a new business-to-business service with one hand tied behind our back." Pre-pandemic he might have networked at grocery industry events to develop that market; now he has to cold call companies. To help make Qwick's service more appealing, he has reduced fees by 50 percent, which means he also has to cut operating costs. And with so many people unemployed he has to fight to get his workers into some coveted jobs, even, he says, if it's finding one person an 8-hour shift a week.
It's a fight he's more than willing to make. "Human spirit is going to win the day; and we want to be part of helping people do that," Baxter says.