Sydney startup Work Ninja wants to help the hospitality industry fill staffing gaps on demand

- October 21, 2015 3 MIN READ

On-demand is so hot right now. From movies and television to drivers, groceries, and even burritos, anything can be acquired or delivered on demand. Now one Sydney startup has decided to apply the on-demand model to staffing problems in the hospitality industry.

Founded by Matthew Knee and Justin Best, who have worked as business partners on a number of hospitality ventures over the years, Work Ninja wants to help venues fill short term staffing gaps by connecting them with a screened pool of workers ready to take a shift at a moment’s notice, whether they be waiters, bartenders, or kitchen hands and so on.

Knee said the idea for the startup came from his personal experience running hotel staffing business Silk Hospitality.

“I noticed a growing trend from my customers needing staff at the last minute and started researching how businesses are fast adopting on-demand consumption of services. Work Ninja was launched off the back of this huge demand to fill this growing need, and help labour hire businesses with an easy solution to provide their staff for urgent needs with the full on-demand experience,” Knee said.

The platform works by having employers list roles they’re after. Staff on the platform receive notifications of all new jobs posted and confirm their availability, then the system’s algorithm finds the best match based on factors including proximity, availability, and skill. Once a job is sent and accepted, the app allows employers to track where their ‘ninja’ is and how long it will take for them to arrive. Work Ninja charges a fee for every job booked through the platform, with employers invoiced after a worker finishes their shift. A shift starts at $33 per hour.

Knee said Work Ninja has been careful to make sure it’s following all the rules and regulations: all the Work Ninjas brought into the staff pool are fully insured and are award-compliant employees, with the startup covering things like super and tax, rather than unregulated independent contractors. This means the businesses hiring through the platform can rest easy knowing they’re not exposing themselves to worker’s compensation or Fair Work claims for engaging independent contractors below minimum wage.

Work Ninja has partnered with staffing agencies in various sectors to ensure that they bring on board high quality staff. It also has a rating system for staff and employers.

There are now over 150 businesses and more than 500 staff on the platform, all in the Sydney market. Knee said that while many of the startup’s early customers immediately loved the concept and signed up right away, the main reservations usually revolve around the quality of staff and where they are sourced.

“Partnering with leading labour hire businesses and offering upfront incentives, like first shift for free, solves many of those initial concerns,” he said.

It’s easy to see why Work Ninja could become big. Anyone who’s ever worked in hospitality knows that there’s nothing worse than being short staffed during a busy day – and for whatever reason, it can happen often. For employers, getting onto the Work Ninja app and quickly putting out a request for a ninja is much easier than making the rounds calling every casual worker on the books. The industry is also full of young workers who would be happy to pick up a few extra shifts here and there given their skills are transferable to different venues.

The hospitality market is huge, while the temporary staffing market is worth $20 billion in Australia alone. Knee said he and Best are well aware of the opportunities for expansion, but want to perfect things in Sydney and NSW first.

“We have our eye on a number of markets we think are a good next step – retail, events, promotions are a few we like – but it really depends on what partners we end up signing with,” he said.

The founders are also unconcerned about competition from platforms such as OneShift, with Knee explaining that they are looking to offer very different solutions.

“Work Ninja provides businesses with staff when they need them, not resumes. So it really depends on whether the business is looking to hire a new person for their team or something more temporary to help out on a busy night or for an upcoming event.”

With Knee and Best having bootstrapped the development of Work Ninja so far, they’re now looking to solidify their model in NSW and put together a strong advisory board and set of investors to help guide expansion around Australia.

Image: Work Ninja cofounders Justin Best and Matthew Knee. Source: Provided.