Since opening Lune Croissanterie in 2012, renowned pastry chef and ex Formula One aerodynamicist, Kate Reid, has never had a problem selling her specialist croissants. But finding staff to help make, serve and sell them has been a different story.
In late 2015, Lune Croissanterie moved from a tiny hole-in-the-wall outlet in Elwood to its current and much bigger location in Fitzroy. At the same time, the business grew from a small team of three, including Kate’s brother Cameron, to a staff of 30.
It was during this period of expansion, says Kate’s partner and Supp co-founder Jordan Murray, that Kate began to experience one of the hospitality industry’s biggest pain points—finding and maintaining staff, often at a moment’s notice.
“Kate was learning first-hand that making croissants wasn’t in fact the hardest part of the business, it was finding and managing staff, “ said Jordan, who has a background in finance and commerce, working for multinational companies including ExxonMobil and RioTinto.
“I think a lot of people when they start to grow a business, regardless of the industry, start to realise that staff can be the trickiest part. But in hospitality, it’s a particularly transient workforce with a high number of casual staff that come in and out,” Jordan said.
“Then you get people who call in sick and then there are the ones that quit unexpectedly and this was becoming an increasing problem for Kate as she took on more and more staff.”
Turning the idea into a reality
Jordan says the idea to build an app where hospitality businesses could find workers to fill shifts at short notice was born over breakfast one morning.
“Kate and I were talking about our work and the challenges we were facing, as couples often do, and that was how the idea for Supp came about,” he said.
The app, which was officially launched on March 20, 2017, allows hospitality venues to post an available shift. Hospitality workers—from baristas and bar staff to waiters and chefs— can then accept those opportunities. Often, workers can be at a venue in less than an hour.
In doing so, Jordan says Supp addresses two serious issues which make up the single largest drag on hospitality productivity—underemployment and labour market inflexibility.
However, he said turning the idea into a reality took months of research and two important milestones—appointing a technical expert as a third co-founder and securing crucial seed funding.
“Finding a strong technical co-founder who had a team ready to go to help us build the app was one of the biggest milestones in the early days,” Jordan said.
That person was Sean Woodhouse, Supp’s chief technical officer and the founder and owner of Itty Bitty Apps, which has developed apps for industry-leading brands including Lonely Planet and the REA Group.
Another critical step was finding investors to fund the project. They came in the form of Little Creatures co-founder Adrian Fini and ANZ’s head of analytics and platform for international and institutional banking, Dr Richard Schroder, who was also a seed investor in Bluestone Lane, the hugely successful Melbourne-born hospitality group now based in New York.
Validation and crucial customer feedback
It was this seed funding that allowed Jordan and the team to get a prototype of the app into the hands of chefs and duty managers from dozens of Melbourne restaurants and cafes.
“We first starting testing just with Lune, then we expanded to about 40 venues,” Jordan said.
“The more venues we spoke to, the more validation we got for the app. They just kept telling us ‘this is a real problem, please do something about it.
“Customer testing has been crucial for us. We built the first prototype and put it in the hands of the customers, measured their feedback and built again. Customer feedback is something we still rely heavily on.”
There are now 100 venues in Melbourne and more than 1,000 hospitality workers using Supp.
Jordan says balancing the number of venues with workers has also been important in launching Supp successfully.
“It’s been critical for us to get on board workers and hirers at the same time, because the workers won’t stay on the platform if there aren’t enough hirers posting shifts and the venues won’t keep using the platform if they’re aren’t enough workers. “
He says maintaining that balancing act will be important when Supp expands into other Australian capital cities, starting with Sydney, later this year. They also hope to eventually launch Supp in overseas markets, including London and New York.
“Melbourne has been the perfect launch pad for the app because I think Melbourne has always pushed boundaries in hospitality. You know, guys like Andrew McConnell, who was at our launch, have been pushing boundaries in their restaurants and their kitchens for a long time, so they’ve been really supportive of Supp and to improving and evolving the industry in any way they can.”