Ensure clarity of goals & targets — Everyone should have a good grasp of how their work contributes to the broader goals. Of course the ability to deliver on objectives and key results (OKR’s) is fundamental but it can be done most effectively when the individuals and the group as a whole know exactly what the desired end results look like. This will help avoid getting paralyzed, and allow everyone to move more quickly — to evaluate more quickly. It’s beneficial that all goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based).
As part of my series about the “How To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Thor Wood, Founder and CEO of technology startup SnapShyft which he co-founded with Stephanie Corliss, and is headquartered in Indianapolis, IN.
With over 13 years in executive recruiting and staffing, prior to founding SnapShyft Thor operated his own successful staffing agency working with several high profile third-party logistics companies including industry heavyweight Matson Logistics. He also helped lead N+FOB’s growth from 24M dollars to over 108M dollars in annual recurring revenue and a Top 25 industry ranking. SnapShyft was named a TechCrunch Top Pick for Social Impact, as well as a Top 15 Startup of the Year in 2019, and previously received the Indiana Innovation Award.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I entered my thirties all evidence was pointing towards me finding a way to carve my own path. I had become disenchanted with the state of the recruiting/staffing industry as a whole and I realized I was no longer getting joy from the “job” despite the autonomy I had while running my own recruiting agency in southwest Florida. I became highly motivated to make a change after my partner and I learned we were expecting a baby girl (my first) — truthfully I was terrified but also this wonderful news completely altered my frame of mind almost overnight, and I knew I wanted to redefine what success meant (to me) and build something truly special, and find joy once again. It wasn’t until about a year later I had a clear picture of what I wanted to build — a reliable on-demand labor marketplace that had the immediacy and consistency of Uber or Lyft, yet was hyper focused on a single overlooked industry (hospitality); basically finding a way to cut out ineffective middlemen (temp staffing agencies). So I began the process of fleshing out the general concept by doing deep market research, and interviewing industry experts I could get access to; really my goal was to poke as many holes into the concept as possible to disprove my hypotheses.
All told it took about 9 months of this (while still running my agency) before we committed to relocating to a “burgeoning tech ecosystem” that we could benefit from being a part of. And Indianapolis rose to the top of our list mainly due to the positive reverberations that were coming from the Salesforce acquisition of local tech company ExactTarget (2.4B dollars), and I had family ties to potentially help offset supporting us and the kids. We relocated to Indy, and within a couple months found ourselves immersed in popular local meetups for entrepreneurs and startups, and even joined a startup bootcamp and pitch competition — which we won armed with only a basic pitch deck! That moved us to get to work building the product.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
There were a number of factors combined to create adverse conditions for me (us) — but I have never fathomed throwing in the towel. I was a first-time founder therefore I was really learning everything about building a tech startup on-the-fly; I wasn’t a “technical founder” (i.e. coding, engineering background, etc) so I had to gain access to the right resources to move from a pitch deck to prototype to working product; fundraising as a technology startup in the midwest presents its own set of challenges, as does technology adoption for the industry we set out to change — so we sure had our work cut out for us.
An example of a rookie mistake was related to some decisions that I made early on with product development which pushed our launch date back by 8 months while burning through the little capital we had available to us. It actually ended up being 13 months after winning the startup competition that we finally launched our product out of beta. Momentum is key and with Indianapolis being our launch market we lost some local energy & momentum because of the delays.
Having gone through it the way we did, by all accounts there is no logical reason to subject oneself to the pain & torture of startup life — sacrificing friendships, straining familial relationships, and forget having hobbies or financial security; basically risking everything for the chance to make a difference, and maybe create a legacy. Because this is a life of sacrifice I had to consciously look for the rewards scattered all along the way — really learning to enjoy the journey and not ruminate on just the end goal. So for me, rather than taking on the world all at once and potentially deteriorating in the face of the challenges we faced, I began to focus on keeping my head down and only taking small bites — working towards getting a little better each day, and taking moments throughout my day to breathe it all in, smile or laugh a bit, and appreciate how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing. Because after all, I asked for this.
Pushing forward has been bolstered due to validation received from our backers like 500 Startups, gener8tor, SaaS Growth Ventures, and Alumni Ventures — plus some fantastic angels that had belief in the team early on. What continues to drive us forward is our purpose being about ‘quantifiable user impact’ — The more we peeled back layers of what this industry goes through in normal times (let alone COVID times) the more we became sensitive to the impact we were having and what the outcomes could be long term for both workers and businesses.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘takeaways’ you learned from that?
A funny mistake I made was during testing and product review — Our then technical-founder and development team produced all of the initial verbiage throughout the product (for a brief period of time we had an outside dev shop doing work for us on the front end); And as part of my previously mentioned poor decisions on product development — there was a lack of oversight on my part. So for the longest time we kept finding pretty comedic errors with the English syntax on everything from automated messages, app alerts, onboarding screens and forms, receipts, and so forth.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I think what makes us stand out is the genesis of SnapShyft — which began when I had a terrible experience at a brewery and was told it was due to on-going staffing issues. I was triggered, as I began recalling the scenario from my time in the service industry, what it was like to be on a short-staffed team constantly, and why I ultimately ran from it as fast as I could — remembering the resentment and burnout I felt. This became an ongoing discussion between my Co-Founder and I — We realized nothing had changed with how these businesses manage labor in at least two decades or more and as we started looking at why businesses were continually leaning on the old way of staffing, particularly in the hospitality, food service, and food manufacturing space we realized we had a huge market opportunity and more importantly millions of underpaid, underserved, and underbanked individuals that are too often overlooked — these workers became our reasoning to build an equitable gig-platform.
Our time in the industry led to making sure SnapShyft was a “worker-driven platform”, akin to a certain popular dating app where women must make the first move. On SnapShyft it is the workers that select the jobs they want based on a number of factors such as a business’ rating in the app, job compensation, location, length of shift, and ultimately the reputation of the business… In other words we don’t allow businesses to pick and choose between available workers. Through research we have found that such “selection” leads to persistent discrimination and bias; specifically gender and ethnicity which is something we don’t tolerate. Going further, the system discourages discrimination or bias, with built-in costs should a business reject a worker based solely on age, gender, or race for example, the worker is guaranteed compensation despite not working, and the business is potentially removed from the platform.
My Co-Founder, Stephanie, is also my significant other and we have 5 children between us (2, 4, 6, 11, 18). So it’s 100% a startup lifestyle with personal and professional lives fully intertwined. Add to that being based in the Midwest has forced us to make every single dollar count as fundraising is a bit different than on the coasts, but we can also do more with less here so it’s a bit of a trade-off. My opinion having grown up in Indiana, is that the get-it-done work ethic is pervasive and meshes well with my Co-Founder who was born & bred in the Bay Area.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
I believe it is very much ok to be vulnerable. This enables leaders to remain teachable/coachable and, to that end, embrace having a coach, leaning on your mentors, your board, etc. And continuously practice manipulating & influencing your own behavior & mindset; adjusting your focal points from time to time; And of course be sure to calendar time to really disconnect, recharge, refocus.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
My Co-Founder, Stephanie Corliss, is also my life partner. She has willingly helped me since the early days performing diligence on the concept, and researching commercial viability; and emphatically provided her full support to pursue launching a technology startup while relocating to a new city to do so. I formally asked her to be my Co-Founder after earning our spot in the startup bootcamp — So we are a “founding couple” so to speak and Stephanie balances my personality and is strong in areas that I am less so. Working together, especially during COVID, means our homestead (5 kids) is saturated in the startup with us — for better or worse (mostly better imo). We have been inspired by the successes and what has worked well for “founding couples” at Houzz, Slideshare, Eventbrite, Cisco, VMWare, and Flickr among others.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. Delegating effectively is a challenge for many leaders. Let’s put first things first. Can you help articulate to our readers a few reasons why delegating is such an important skill for a leader or a business owner to develop?
Well a CEO’s goal should be to replace yourself task by task, and do so by hiring the right leaders at the right time in a company’s life cycle that can work well together — ideally injecting plenty of cognitive diversity into the mix. Because time is a commodity, in order to do more or make the most of your allotted time each day a leader must find myriad ways to do less (through delegation), so all available energy is put into building the company. The flip side to this being a leader that can’t focus on the important areas and high leverage activities that will deliver the most impact or upside to the company.
Can you help articulate a few of the reasons why delegating is such a challenge for so many people?
A couple reasons I’ve seen firsthand that have impacted a leader’s ability to delegate revolve around a base fear that by delegating away items that are on their plate they somehow reduce their value in that given role. Also not having the ability to quantify the value of their time and match that against what a task requires. Combined this leads to a stifling or chilling effect on achieving goals and the manager becomes a bottleneck whether they realize it or not.
And the challenges needing to be solved should dictate what capabilities, experiences and backgrounds the team must possess to deliver desired results. For us, as a tech startup, each of our team members has worn multiple hats each and every day, and we know over time we can continue to identify the core strengths matched with the core passions of each individual, which will guide responsibilities given.
In your opinion, what pivots need to be made, either in perspective or in work habits, to help alleviate some of the challenges you mentioned?
In my opinion most people don’t truly value their time, or have a way to quantify what their time is worth. So those management capacity waste half of their time on tasks that should be delegated. Not necessarily to an employee but to machines and tools. For example our numbers show that managers in the hospitality, food service, and food manufacturing sector are wasting up to 20 hrs a week on managing labor/staff issues. But to completely eliminate this time wastage would be a shock to their systems at first (change is painful at first), but the upside is tremendous — think what could be accomplished with an extra 1,000 hours each year put towards high-leverage activities.
Can you please share your “Five Things You Need To Know To Delegate Effectively and Be Completely Satisfied With the Results?” Please share a story or an example for each.
- Remove any assumptions — Boil everything down to a hypothesis. The goal is to prove or disprove while working with the “knowns”.
- Deliver clear reasoning (a clear why) — Clearly tie any task or objective to the big picture; most likely the only metric that matters for your company, or perhaps the north star for example. Cause and effect are at play and what one department does can have a positive impact on or sometimes impede another. Encourage open communication & cross pollination to eliminate blockages — i.e. things that are preventing one person/team from hitting the target.
- Ensure clarity of goals & targets — Everyone should have a good grasp of how their work contributes to the broader goals. Of course the ability to deliver on objectives and key results (OKR’s) is fundamental but it can be done most effectively when the individuals and the group as a whole know exactly what the desired end results look like. This will help avoid getting paralyzed, and allow everyone to move more quickly — to evaluate more quickly. It’s beneficial that all goals are S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-based).
- Assign responsibilities accordingly — Look to identify the people that might elevate the team by introducing new ideas that’ve been cultivated from different fields, as well as work and life experiences. For a given role we look for cognitive diversity i.e. differences in how people process information– in other words how they think. This can become a powerful way to break from the status quo that stems from ‘checking a box’.
- Protect your time — Avoid wasting half of your time by delegating all the low-value and uninteresting work to machines & tools. This will effectively eliminate low-level work obligations off your plate and free up more time for the things that matter like high-leverage tasks, etc.
- BONUS (ties in with #2) — I believe creating a culture of continuous improvement is essential i.e. to always be improving. This should include life outside of work. So we begin our regular meetings with each team member sharing something they improved upon on a personal level or within the confines of their work environment, followed by sharing a specific problem or issue they are facing. This allows for a collective celebration of big and small victories, and also opens the door for collaboration on problems both intra-department and cross-departmentally. By creating time for the team to share together about something they are facing (again personal or work related) without forcing a solution right away can produce different and better outcomes.
One of the obstacles to proper delegating is the oft quoted cliche “If you want something done right do it yourself.” Is this saying true? Is it false? Is there a way to reconcile it with the importance of delegating?
In the early days of launching a company I believe you must do all things yourself, so yes. Then you can isolate what works or what doesn’t and document the process — only then can you effectively delegate. There is much less, if any, delegation in the early stages of a startup and how the founder approaches everything really becomes the bedrock for company culture. Of course delegating comes with the territory as company headcount grows, and, long term, delegating to a cognitively diverse team will produce different modes of thinking, and these types of teams can solve complex problems at a faster clip versus people that approach problems in the same fashion (what we see most often from traditional corporate environs). This is important to consider because the ability to delegate by leveraging diversity in background, experiences, and culture will be the driver of innovation and improve the prospects for success.
Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I believe the most broad sweeping impact will come from the elimination of the credit bureaus — being replaced by the use of blockchain technology. There are so many untapped areas of application that when tied to the greater whole of the financial systems and the ways we exchange money on a transactional basis will paint a far better and more fair representation of a person’s credit worthiness and ability to pay. Taking this a step further you can see this intertwine beautifully with the future of work, the future of education, job training, and up-skilling. Of course there is always somebody that is greatly benefiting from the status quo and they do not want things to change. But this would be a truly fundamental change with massive positive upside for millions.
How can our readers further follow you online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this!