It all started about 10 years ago when Jordan Boesch decided to help his father with shift scheduling at the Quiznos restaurant the latter operates in Regina. It was a messy situation.
“I watched him do scheduling at the back of Quiznos using an Excel printout, and he’d actually assemble a lot of the pieces using sticky notes,’’ recalls Boesch, who’s 29 and the CEO of 7shifts, a popular restaurant scheduling software. “Staff would phone to say they can’t work Friday, for instance, because they had school or a dance class or soccer. And he’d have to deal with all these shift trades.’’
Boesch says the solution he came up with was simple. But his explanation reveals as much about his budding entrepreneurial spirit as his problem solving ability.
“So I taught myself how to program,’’ he begins, “and I built something that allowed him to upload the Excel document to a website so staff could log in and download it. It eliminated the phone calls. That was the starting point.’’
Today, that simple solution has evolved into 7shifts, a restaurant-specific scheduling tool used by about 2,300 restaurants, 85 per cent of them in the United States, 5 per cent in Canada and the remainder scattered around the world in places as far flung as Kyrgyzstan. And there’s no slowdown in sight. A year ago, Boesch’s Saskatoon-based company had three employees. Today there are 17 and the career page on 7shifts website is advertising openings for four more “smart, eager and passionate’’ people. In the one-year period ending in January 2016, 7shifts experienced a 300-per-cent increase in sales.
In a voice that’s confident yet matter of fact, Boesch says something that’s surely never before been uttered in Saskatchewan. “We’ve got a great opportunity here to conquer the restaurant market.’’ Yes, he’s talking about the world restaurant market. And his angel investors in Silicon Valley and big league point-of-sale partners elsewhere in the U.S. clearly believe his company has a shot at it.
What 7shifts does so well is soothe “pain points’’ for restaurant managers. For example, employees can trade shifts using a mobile app that notifies the manager after the swap has occurred. “It’s all automated through the phone now,’’ says Boesch. “There’s less talking and less time involved; you can do it on the go.’’ 7shifts also can be used to help a manager determine when to end an employee’s shift when business tails off—an employee leaving early under such circumstances is a common practice in the industry. The program also includes a logbook that allows a manager finishing a shift to update the next manager on what’s been going on in the restaurant.
Boesch says there’s only one way to learn about all the various pain points experienced by restaurant managers.
“You have to spend a lot of time with them. You can’t just go in there blind. You have to be armed with the information you need to build out something that’s going to solve a problem.’’ That approach appears to be working very well. “Managers report saving 80 per cent of their time using 7shifts. If they used to spend five hours on scheduling, they’re doing it in one hour using 7shifts.’’
7shifts received angel investment money arising from its participation in an accelerator program in Silicon Valley as well as venture capital from other investors in California and Toronto. “These people have a lot of expertise in tech companies, in helping them scale, helping them with advice. And they have a vast network of people who are really smart and who’ve done this before.’’
Boesch’s Silicon Valley investors wanted him to relocate 7shifts to their neighbourhood. It wasn’t that they wanted to micromanager their investment, he says. They just wanted Boesch and his staff to be in an ecosystem where there’s an abundance of help any time it’s needed. “It’s more that they want you to be part of this exclusive party that’s happening. It’s not necessarily the case that they are always at this party, but their friends are at the party. And all their friends are really smart and they’re going to talk to you.’’
But Boesch told the Californians he didn’t want to leave Saskatchewan. “We want to build our company here,’’ he says, adding world-class expertise is never more than a Skype call away.
“I love Saskatchewan. I think there’s great opportunity here. I think we can build our own ecosystem here and succeed here.’’