Logo blanc WISK-> All episodes <-

May 21, 2024

S2E35 - Jennifer Ryan on Building Trust in Hospitality with Croux Staffing Solutions

Jennifer Ryan, CEO of Croux and Blueroot, connects hospitality talent with businesses for flexible work

Lien vers le lecteur Podcast d'AppleLien vers le lecteur Podcast de SpotifyLien vers le lecteur Google Podcasts
Logo blanc WISK-> All episodes <-

May 21, 2024

S2E35 - Jennifer Ryan on Building Trust in Hospitality with Croux Staffing Solutions

Jennifer Ryan, CEO of Croux and Blueroot, connects hospitality talent with businesses for flexible work

Lien vers le lecteur Podcast d'AppleLien vers le lecteur Podcast de SpotifyLien vers le lecteur Google Podcasts

Notes du spectacle

Jennifer Ryan, the Co-founder and CEO of Croux and Blueroot, shares her journey in the tech and hospitality industry. She started as a server in New York, then went into finance and real estate before launching a healthy food restaurant in Alabama. During the pandemic, she faced challenges in the restaurant industry and realized the importance of listening to customer feedback and focusing on what truly moves the needle. She then co-founded Croux, a platform that connects trusted talent with understaffed businesses in the hospitality industry.

Croux is a platform that provides flexible work opportunities for individuals in the hospitality industry while helping businesses fill staffing gaps. The mission of Croux is to economically empower communities, starting with individuals and local businesses. The platform offers benefits, tax support, flexible schedules, and fast payment to support workers. It also helps businesses retain their core staff by providing additional support and extra hands when needed. Croux focuses on the event space and works with businesses that are mission-aligned. The company is experiencing growth in existing markets, expanding to new markets, and developing new technology features.

Takeaways

  • Listening to customer feedback and focusing on what truly moves the needle is crucial for success in the restaurant industry.
  • Iterating and evolving quickly is essential for survival and growth in the hospitality industry.
  • Being open to feedback and willing to make changes based on customer needs can lead to unexpected success.
  • Starting a tech company like Croux can be a way to address industry challenges and support businesses in the hospitality sector.
  • Techstars can provide valuable support and resources for entrepreneurs in the tech industry. Croux provides flexible work opportunities for individuals in the hospitality industry and helps businesses fill staffing gaps.
  • The platform focuses on economically empowering communities, starting with individuals and local businesses.
  • Croux offers benefits, tax support, flexible schedules, and fast payment to support workers.
  • The platform helps businesses retain their core staff by providing additional support and extra hands when needed.
  • Croux is experiencing growth in existing markets, expanding to new markets, and developing new technology features.

Timestamps

00:00 Introduction and the Importance of Croux in the Hospitality Industry

03:03 Challenges and Listening to Customer Feedback in the Restaurant Industry

08:48 The Journey from Restaurant Owner to Tech Founder

13:06 The Role of Iteration and Evolution in the Hospitality Sector

24:09 Techstars: Empowering Entrepreneurs in the Tech Industry

26:59 Balancing Staffing Needs and Business Viability

28:27 The Challenge of Low Wages and Thin Margins

29:24 Economically Empowering Communities Through Croux

31:14 Onboarding and Using the Croux Platform

34:35 Roles and Opportunities on Croux

36:27 Utilizing Croux in the Event Space

38:43 Retaining Core Staff and Filling Staffing Gaps

43:57 Growing and Expanding Croux

Ressources

Follow Jennifer Ryan on LinkedIn!

Check out Jennifer Ryan on Instagram!

Learn more about Croux!

Transcript

Jennifer Ryan [00:00:00]:

A big chunk of our kind of VIP users, the talent that use Croux, very, very almost obsessively. It's become part of their DNA, part of the fabric of who they are. Most of these people are ex hospitality people. They left. They're some of the best. And this is their way in their way to stay their way to continue to contribute to an industry they love without the baggage. And so we've been able to bring back a number of people that said, whether it was during COVID or before, see you later. I don't want this anymore.

Jennifer Ryan [00:00:32]:

And so now we've given them an avenue, an entry point, an on ramp.

Angelo Esposito [00:00:39]:

Welcome to WISKing it all, with your host, Angelo Esposito, co founder of WISK.ai, a food and beverage intelligence platform. We're going to be interviewing hospitality professionals around the world to really understand how they do what they do. Welcome to another episode of WISKing it all. We're here today with Jennifer Ryan, the co founder and CEO of Croux and the founder and CEO of Blueroot. Jennifer, thanks for joining us.

Jennifer Ryan [00:01:10]:

Thank you for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.

Angelo Esposito [00:01:12]:

Of course, you got quite the interesting profile, so I'm excited to jump into it. So maybe before getting into all the details, I'd love to understand the story behind what led you to the kind of tech and hospitality industry, because I know you kind of started finance real estate. So let's hear a bit about that.

Jennifer Ryan [00:01:31]:

Sure. Like 30% of our country, I had my very first job at a restaurant. Like, my first true job w two, and that was as a server in New York when I was in college. And it was probably the hardest job I've ever had until I ran a restaurant many years later. So we came full circle. But in between that time, after school, I went to Wall street, and I then found myself in real estate for a second for into technology. And then my husband's job moved us down to the deep south from New York City. And like many other startup entrepreneurs, I built something because I found a need and I had zero reason or experience in terms of doing it.

Jennifer Ryan [00:02:10]:

But I launched a restaurant, a healthy food restaurant in the third unhealthiest state in America, with a pipe dream that we could bring beautiful, simple, accessible food that had a healthy vent to it to the masses in the community of Birmingham, Alabama. And after being a server in New York, that was the next hardest job that I ever had. And any restaurant who out there knows it is so hard because you have to be so darn good at so many things. So many things. So many things. And so you quickly, you know, we quickly became experts on everything from real estate to taxes to hiring and firing to training and everything in between, in addition to, you know, the food and understanding our community, which was so important. But right when I launched, I had a baby, and the pandemic hit, and we opened our brick and mortar. And so there were a lot things going on at once.

Jennifer Ryan [00:03:00]:

Like any restaurateur knows, you really have no idea what's coming down the pike every day. And so you're prepared for the craziness that happens. That was probably the epitome of crazy for us, all of those things happening at once. And ultimately, we had this restaurant. We had a great team, but like so many other people in our industry during the pandemic, we were losing individuals who needed to provide for their families, take care of their kids, take care of their parents, not be able to work, whatever it was. And flexibility became really important. So in that period of time, I teamed up with some other people in the hospitality industry that I trusted and I loved and I knew, and we started to connect these people that needed hospitality, flexibility, flexibility in the hospitality industry with businesses that were understaffed. And it was kind of hand to hand combat, you know, how many people do you need? I have five people.

Jennifer Ryan [00:03:48]:

I had all these working moms on my payroll that couldn't come to work anymore for the obvious reasons. They were awesome workers. And so it's what started as this, "Can we help each other and can we support the humans behind this industry that we knew and love so much?" It turned into a tech company and that is Croux, where we bring trusted talent to the fore and connect them with understaffed businesses, mostly in smaller economies and communities across the country. And for us, those economies are driven by sports or tourism or hospitality, and our industry holds up those economies. And we want to be able to give people choice in how, when, and where they work. We want to be able to help them optimize their earning power. They get paid fast, they have benefits. All the things that our industry is still kind of trying to figure out.

Jennifer Ryan [00:04:34]:

And that's how I somehow landed from a very first serving job in New York City to running a tech company that supports the industry. That is my favorite place to work.

Angelo Esposito [00:04:44]:

So that's awesome. That's awesome. And I always love to hear, like, the background in the hospitality space. So it's really cool to hear when people lived it, because I just think then they generally end up making that much better product just because they really understand the pain points and the customer profiles. But before going deeper into Croux, which I'm super curious, and I got a ton of questions around that, but I'd love to understand maybe some of the challenges around the restaurant side, because we have a lot of restaurant listeners. So you're opening up Blueroot. You highlighted a few things, like you said, wearing many hats, real estate taxes, hiring, you name it, but maybe walk people through some of that journey. What are some challenges you faced when opening, and how did you overcome some of those challenges?

Jennifer Ryan [00:05:29]:

So the fact that we're still standing today after starting at a farmer's market table in 2019, launching a brick and mortar, figuring out some roads in between, I've made a ton of mistakes because I didn't have a playbook. So a couple things that I've learned quickly was to figure out my blind spots and to be able to hire for them. I didn't have the culinary background, and so I leaned on an incredibly talented person, Robin Baszinski, who's got two James beards under his belt. He's got the community love. But I knew that I was gonna be. I was gonna need to figure out how to slide in people that were going to be stronger than I was in certain areas. Like, that was just number one for me. I needed to hire a lawyer, and I needed to make sure I had an accountant.

Jennifer Ryan [00:06:06]:

All those things that I just didn't have the expertise in. It was the best investment that I made upfront, even though it was really hard to spend that kind of capital, because we all know it is not a business to make a lot of money. And so I think, for me, when I first started, I made the age old mistake that so many entrepreneurs make. We've got big eyes, big hearts, and we want to be everything to everybody. And I did that. And when I think about my menu when we first launched, it looks like the cheesecake factory, right? And you're nodding because you know, and any other restaurateur that is out there probably knows. And if you walked in more school than I did, maybe you knew not to do that. But my.

Jennifer Ryan [00:06:46]:

My incorrect assumption looking back, it's so silly.

Angelo Esposito [00:06:50]:

Yeah.

Jennifer Ryan [00:06:50]:

Was that as long as I had something that call to someone, they would walk through the door and volume was what I needed. And what I really needed was not 1000 people to kind of like me, but I needed 25 people to be obsessed, and that would build.

Angelo Esposito [00:07:06]:

That makes sense.

Jennifer Ryan [00:07:07]:

And so that was the first mistake I made. Right. It was a lack of focus and what that translates to for the community. And again, I can throw myself under the bus because I know now, but what that translates to in the community is you don't know who you are. You're having an identity crisis. Right. And so we finally figured out a way over time and good feedback from mentors and advisors and the community, because you got to listen. That was number two.

Jennifer Ryan [00:07:29]:

Listen to what people are telling you. Right. We have our view on what our business needs to look like. The community or your consumers believe theirs is correct. It's not that it's perfectly right in the middle as to where the answer is, but you've got to give a little bit. Otherwise, you're working in a vacuum and you will never be able to command the love, the respect, the sales, the volume, the engagement. And so listening was lesson number two. And so we started sending surveys.

Jennifer Ryan [00:07:53]:

I started asking people the hard questions. I asked them for real feedback. And the moment I acted on it, they knew they could tell me the truth. People were. People are scared to tell you the truth. They don't want to be that person. But you give them anonymous surveys, you thank them for their time with an extra brownie, or you show them that you will act. It gives them the feeling of empowerment, like, I'm part of this, and she's going to listen to me.

Jennifer Ryan [00:08:16]:

So that was number two for us, listening. And then number three was, it sounds, again, so obvious. Do the things that you know you need to do. You probably need to let that person go that's not pulling his or her own weight. You probably need to call the menu down a little bit to make sure that people aren't confused when they walk through the door. You probably need to reroute people more clearly to your register so people understand where to go. Like, there are things that you know if you're going to ask yourself. And so, a really good rubric.

Jennifer Ryan [00:08:43]:

I remember hearing from someone who runs a big company, she said, you know, I have this test that I ask myself often, which is, I'm struggling with a problem. And I think about the people that I admire the most. If I gave them my company for a day, what decisions would they make right away? And if you just objectify that experience and just remove the emotion for a minute, it's amazing how clear your next steps are. Yeah. Yeah. Number one, being focused. Number two, listening. And number three, doing what you need to do.

Jennifer Ryan [00:09:17]:

And I think what I've learned in those things, they're really easy to say out loud, and they're hard to execute, and they're hard to impart on your team.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:25]:

I love that. I love that.

Jennifer Ryan [00:09:27]:

It's simple and it doesn't come from, you know, any sort of, you know, long schooling. It's just, it's the school of hard knocks.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:33]:

Yeah, yeah, 100%. What's funny is like, you know, you mentioned, like, you know, it's so obvious looking back, but that's the thing about any, I think entrepreneurs like, looking back, it's easy. It's easier to connect the dots. You're like, ah, that made sense. It was so obvious. But in the moment, it's hard. You're like, I don't see it. And then you look back, you're like, that was so obvious.

Jennifer Ryan [00:09:49]:

But those are so obvious.

Angelo Esposito [00:09:50]:

Yeah, those are three, three really good lessons. And it's, it's funny because one of the things, and I'm sure, you know, we'll get into, but in the tech world is like, if you get acquired, one of the first things they do is they just raise your prices because as founders, you're like, ah, this is, you know, I don't want to be too expensive. So it's like, rule number one when you get acquired is like, all right, we could, we could probably, without doing anything, just increase pricing across the board. 2020, 5% and nothing will change. And they'll just be an uplift, you know, so it makes me think of that. That's awesome. So going from that. Right.

Angelo Esposito [00:10:21]:

So I'd love to hear just how that then impacted your restaurant. And then obviously we'll get into Crouxde. But, you know, you start making these changes, you start doing a better, I guess, quicker feedback loop. You're collecting this feedback, you're implementing these things. What actually happens now to the business? Do you see an uplift? Your revenue profitability? Love to hear kind of like, what's the outcome?

Jennifer Ryan [00:10:42]:

Yeah, yeah. With the ROI on some of those investments, some of them are hard to quantify because pandemic hits. And so now I've got, you know, the backdrop of something that's messing with my experiments, I can't quite figure out. You know, the people that are coming in, is, are they coming in because they have the ability to come in? Do they feel okay? Because they. Whatever. It's a different paradigm now, like, figuring out, you know, is it, is it me or is it you or is it what's going on here? But if we're able to extrapolate a few things, I think a few things happen, one of which is I get really sharp on who I'm serving. And it doesn't mean that I still can't welcome everybody in my door. We really take pride on if you come through the door, I don't care if you've never eaten anything healthy, if you live by this every single day, if you're from Birmingham and you're not, like you are welcome in our space, you come through, we greet you with a smile, and we say, you know, thanks for choosing us.

Jennifer Ryan [00:11:30]:

You could, you could have chosen anyone else, particularly the big guys across the street. You chose us, right? And we're here to serve you. The answer is yes. What is the question? That's what we know, right? But to be truthful, I had some assumptions on the specific demographic that I was serving. And what I learned is that as we started to fine tune the menu, simplify things, I started to see different kinds of people walking through the door, age, race, gender, background. And I thought, what is this? How interesting. And I looked around at my community, who I was serving, and I realized I needed to get sharper on what the needs really were. And there was a group of people, for example, that had never really embarked on eating healthy food, but they were being told by their physicians, hey, it's really important for you, otherwise the consequences are super dire.

Jennifer Ryan [00:12:21]:

So I'd call these newbies to the arena of healthy eating. And what did I need to give them? I needed to give them an easier, lower barrier to entry access point to healthy food, not something that was a green juice that tasted like a garden.

Angelo Esposito [00:12:35]:

Yeah, there's levels. There's levels to this.

Jennifer Ryan [00:12:37]:

There's levels. And so going back, so we launched a vegan burger, which I never would have anticipated. And that was the experiment with, you know, with all the accoutrements and all the zhu xing from chef, they're amazing. I eat meat, and those things are really damn good. And so we started to experiment with giving people opportunities to dip their toe in the water. And so that was. It was part of that listening. So then all of a sudden, I started to see a group of people that maybe never would have come in because there was a level of intimidation or misunderstanding or lack of interest, frankly.

Jennifer Ryan [00:13:09]:

Why do I want that? I'd rather go eat barbecue today. But guess what? We started as burgers, as an example, you know? So I think that was listening. Feedback loop. Action. And then now we see that we're able to serve a group of people that probably never would have been on a radar. What does that translate to? It translates to a greater number in the denominator of people coming through our doors. Right. What does that translate to? An uptick in sales.

Jennifer Ryan [00:13:32]:

And so it sounds ridiculous when you look back on it, but that one move, that was, like a 15% mover on our top line, like, extremely impactful, that if you told me that six months ago, I would have laughed. But it reminds us to try things. It reminds us to try.

Angelo Esposito [00:13:50]:

I love that. And this is one of the goals of the show, is, like, sharing some of this knowledge that now to you, seems obvious, but to someone listening might be like, hey, this is something I should try. And it's funny, but sometimes the simplest ideas make the biggest impact. So it's interesting to see how you can actually, you know, give concrete examples of changes you have made. That's cool.

Jennifer Ryan [00:14:10]:

Yeah. Here's an. I'm gonna give you one more because this is one that I had to let go of. There are two things I had to let go of, one of which was my vision of a menu. I'm from southern California. I had all these things in my head that I wanted to see, and my question that I had to ask myself later was if I remove the personal experience, and I really, truly think about this as a business. Right. My goal was to grow Blueroot, not to be a one and done.

Jennifer Ryan [00:14:32]:

The goal was to grow, and how was I going to scale that? I was going to be accessible to a lot of different people. That and the other. And so I had to let go of some of the preconceived notions I had about what I wanted. And part of that went back to listening, you know, meeting your clients or guests or customers were there. Here's another great piece of feedback that I got from friends of mine who have been doing this forever. And this, again, goes back to meeting the novice. Spend time on the things that customers actually care about. For me, this is, again, a great example.

Jennifer Ryan [00:15:01]:

They didn't care that we cut the carrots like a fine dining restaurant. Do you know how much labor costs I saved when we decided to just add a food processor and shove those things out? And it sounds ridiculous. Again, as a first timer, to anybody, this is great. Do not spend time on the things that do not move the needle for your customers. If they do not care and you're doing it for you, you are wasting time and money. Stop the madness.

Angelo Esposito [00:15:24]:

Yeah, I love that.

Jennifer Ryan [00:15:25]:

And so we really shrunk our operations in the back to minimize some of the things that really, if we asked ourselves, they were nice to have, they weren't need to have.

Angelo Esposito [00:15:34]:

There you go.

Jennifer Ryan [00:15:34]:

Right. We did better cross pollination on the menu where you could see, you know, overlapping of ingredients. Again, seasoned veterans, they know this. But when you want to be all things to all people and you want to be unique, you think you're differentiator is because you've got some random slaw on your menu. They're not coming in for the slaw. Right. It's probably not going to move the needle. And so it goes back to the 80 20, you know, what's going to move the needle for you and spend the time on that and adding burgers for us and killing a lot of things that were sweet, fun, nice to have and kind of novel.

Jennifer Ryan [00:16:05]:

It made the biggest difference.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:07]:

I love that. And you know, what's interesting is the idea, and this goes to really any entrepreneurs, but I know we're talking about restaurateurs, but being able to detach yourself, it's hard because it's your baby. You have a vision and it's on one side obviously staying true to the vision and whatnot, but the other side also being able to listen and actually take in the feedback because sometimes you can hear, but you're not really listening because you have your perceived perspective that you want to kind of stick to. It's interesting to hear how sometimes just kind of like putting down your guards and like taking that feedback and taking that leap of faith while, you know, holding true to some parts of the vision for sure, but then end up being like a much better outcome. And I think about what you said before, how your menu was maybe like as big as cheesecake factory, which side note, I love cheesecake factory, but I know, me too.

Jennifer Ryan [00:16:53]:

It just wasn't going to be profitable for us.

Angelo Esposito [00:16:55]:

Exactly. It's hard to do, but I'd love to hear maybe that side of things. How did you go about shortening your menu? So you're getting more feedback, and this is something I think a lot of restaurants do wrong in the beginning. So maybe there's a little lesson here. How did you go about shortening your menu? So you had a big menu in the beginning. Obviously, you started learning more about your ideal Personas and whatnot. But yeah, walk me through that process.

Jennifer Ryan [00:17:16]:

Yeah, I think it was a couple different angles coming at once. I don't know whether I would change anything upfront because what it gave us was some data, some data to work off of what is selling. It was the easiest thing to say. What's moving the needle, the top line. And so we saw there were some really obvious drivers, some of which I could have called, right? Absolutely could have called that. Our gluten free, dairy free, incredibly amazing, best in town, dark chocolatini brownie was the top seller. Right, in a healthy food restaurant. Now, if that starts to tell you something, there's something.

Jennifer Ryan [00:17:46]:

There's a theme here. But some of those were also surprising. I was surprised at some of the things that people loved. And the burgers, even though they came later, was one of those things. And so we looked at the data, and the data don't lie. The data were telling us what people wanted. And beyond that, we were able to better understand who was buying them. Right? So once you figure out the what and then the who, you start to that Venn diagram and you start to figure out how to sharpen the message.

Jennifer Ryan [00:18:12]:

Where are we best serving people, getting the most bang for our buck, and spending time on the things that are going to move the needle. We looked at the data, we made some decisions, and we also really personally figured out who we wanted to be when we grow up. "Who are we?" We didn't want to lose sight of our values while also listening. It's bringing those worlds together, which is, there's not a formula for that that's hard. And so that becomes pretty subjective, pretty personal. And some, and I will say this with love, but I found some chefs unwilling to give and some business people being willing to give too fast. Right? And so what is that sweet spot of how you keep the ethos and the values and the personality alive while still listening and being. You gotta be viable.

Jennifer Ryan [00:18:58]:

Like, it doesn't matter if you still hold true to your values.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:00]:

If you're dead right now, don't, don't.

Jennifer Ryan [00:19:02]:

Don'T relinquish your principles and stay true. I mean, we talked in a previous episode, you had clean eats on, and she's talking about integrity.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:08]:

That's all we have.

Jennifer Ryan [00:19:09]:

Don't lose that. But at the same time, you've got to figure out a way to stay alive, or it's for not, you know, so what we did then was we took the marriage of who we wanted to be when we grew up with the. With the feedback. And now Blueroot from, you know, just healthy eating. We're salads, burgers, bowls, and brownies.

Angelo Esposito [00:19:27]:

And brownies.

Jennifer Ryan [00:19:28]:

And. And that's what we do. Right? And so we do salads, we do burgers, we do bowls, we do brownies. And as we continue to evolve, I think the other thing that I've learned in this is that probably it's this is probably pretty controversial, or at least pretty different from how most restaurateurs approach things. And I'm not a seasoned multi decade restaurant tourist, so take this a grain of salt. I'm an entrepreneur, and I know that iterations and evolution is really important for survival. And I know that I might not have the skills visa be the next person, but I can outlast you. And I am going to find a way to survive.

Angelo Esposito [00:20:05]:

There you go.

Jennifer Ryan [00:20:06]:

Stamina over skills wins for me. And that's what I think about my weird background. It's learning quickly and figuring out what needs to get done, moving the needle, and just staying. Just staying standing. And as a restaurateur, is that not the objective every single day just to survive? Let alone thrive. And so, as I say all of this out loud, you know, by the time this launches, we will be in the middle of another refresh and a rebrand. Because I'm listening again to what the community wants, and they want derivations on a theme. They want a lot of what we're asking, what we're giving, but they want a little more. They want beautiful coffee that I don't do today.

Jennifer Ryan [00:20:44]:

They want beer and wine. They want a place to come hang, not just fast casual. So how do we stay true while still evolving? Again, I'd imagine that 90% of your restaurant tour listeners would say, that's blasphemy. You're going to change your entire model. And my view is you do what's right for you. But if I'm thinking about this from an entrepreneurial perspective, if I do not listen, I do not iterate, I do not evolve, I die.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:10]:

Yeah. It's very similar to the tech world. It's like the companies that typically grow the fastest are really good at short feedback loops. And so, like, yeah, and we, what's one of our values in WISK is being 1% better every. We actually call it better every damn day. That's our thing. But 1% better every day? Yeah, because it compounds. Right.

Angelo Esposito [00:21:30]:

And so if you're improving once a quarter, once a year, like, the longer that is that, the harder it is for it to compound. So for us, and I think, to your point in the restaurant world is like, if you're iterating faster, you fail faster, but you learn faster and you improve faster. So it's like that, that'll compound over time. And I think that's something that a lot more restauranters should look into where they can, obviously, like, there's some things that may be higher, higher risk, but I love that. And out of curiosity, from Blueroot, how did you then come up with the idea behind Croux? Right. Because now you're doing this thing, starting out at a tough time, like you said, right? Like, COVID's there, and, like, it's tough new business, so many angles now. Things seem like they're stable, growing. You found your ideal customer profile.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:13]:

Like, your identity is a lot more clear, like, et cetera, et cetera. Your menu is nice and simplified, let's call it. And so now you're like, okay, things are less stressful. I need more stress in my life. So let me start a company. What made you start Croux? And tell me a bit about the idea behind it.

Jennifer Ryan [00:22:30]:

The only thing that I will correct you on is that it never got less stressful. It never got seamless. There was never a moment. If we can paint the timeline here.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:39]:

Yeah, please.

Jennifer Ryan [00:22:40]:

We did the prep, the data collection, the farmers markets in 2019, 2020. I was basically serving out of a closet. I turned into a health department certified, like, walk up window, you know, in order to just, like, keep it going.

Angelo Esposito [00:22:53]:

Right?

Jennifer Ryan [00:22:54]:

In 21, we launched the brick and mortar, which was a year delayed. And that was. I had a baby in May. I opened in July, 8 weeks later. And then in October is when the great resignation headlines were hitting across the board, right? We all remember this. And in October of 21, four colleagues and I got together and entered into a technology, techstars hackathon, which basically is like, bring an idea and let's see if it has legs. And the whole theme was innovation in the food space. And this is what was.

Jennifer Ryan [00:23:25]:

Birmingham is a culinary town. And so everybody was talking about it. Everybody was excited about finding new ways to support this industry, and everybody was just really focused, which is great. That's what brought the town together. And so in October of 21, you know, only months after I'd launched the true brick and mortar, where we were slinging the real deal experience every day, only after we'd started to figure out all of the things we just described and discussed, that's when Croux came about. We won that competition, and the five of us looked at each other, and we're like, we think we might have something here. And so, basically, a few months later, we inked it. We put it together.

Jennifer Ryan [00:23:59]:

The five of us put some money in. In Q one of 22 by Q two of 22. In April, we'd won a real tech competition with some money behind it in Alabama. And I was still running the restaurant. My colleagues were still chefs, owners, operators, caterers. This is why. But they do also. And ultimately, we launched the technology company in June of 2022, one year after I had the brick and mortar.

Jennifer Ryan [00:24:24]:

And so, you know, you're right. Like, why would one add that layer of insanity to one's life? And a lot of it in the moment was, if we do not do something, we will all die. We, the five of us, but we, the collective community. And then we just kept reading the papers and watching the news and reading Twitter, and we, the industry was just withering away. We were watching people close their doors every single day. And so I don't know why we thought that we could be the ones to be helpful, you know, or we could be the ones to move the needle in our community. But our community needed innovation and a new way of thinking. And we thought, you know what? We've got skills, we've got the interests, we've got the capacity, we've got the love.

Jennifer Ryan [00:25:06]:

Like, why not? And so I'm not saying it was not an insane call to do, but it made sense in the moment because it was also servicing our own businesses. Right.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:17]:

That makes sense.

Jennifer Ryan [00:25:18]:

And it was. It made solve problems.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:20]:

I love that. And I. It's really cool to hear that you guys were all, or still are all in the industry because it means, you know, typically you're just a bit closer or a lot closer to the pain point and to the problem and you think a bit differently about the solution. And I think you said. You said techstars, right? Well, you were part of the.

Jennifer Ryan [00:25:36]:

Yes. Tech stars very, very, very early. It was a hackathon in Birmingham and it was. It was our entry point. We thought, you know, what the hell?

Angelo Esposito [00:25:43]:

That's cool.

Jennifer Ryan [00:25:44]:

And who would have thought? Nine months later, we're launching a technology company when the World Games was coming to Birmingham. But anyway, that's a. Here we are.

Angelo Esposito [00:25:51]:

Yeah, I love that because it's funny enough, WISK was part of Techstars in 2018. So Techstars also helped us at that time. So, yeah, so cool to hear a fellow techstars, you know, alumni. But. But, yeah. So, going back to Croux. So for our listeners, tell us a bit about, like, the problem it solves. Like, more specifically.

Angelo Esposito [00:26:09]:

So tell us, you know, I know, I know. I was checking out the website. I know there's different industries, but generally hospitality and kind of bars and restaurant staffing. So I'd love to hear, like, what it looks like today, you know?

Jennifer Ryan [00:26:20]:

Sure. So it's a platform that connects trusted talent with businesses that are in the hospitality space, and that could range from, you know, a Blueroot all the way. We spend a lot of time in the large scale event space. So that could be an NFL stadium. It could be a big expo. It could be a golf and country club that does a lot of weddings. But think of any place where you all of a sudden have to scale up or scale down your workforce super quickly. Whether it's.

Jennifer Ryan [00:26:43]:

It's every Saturday night, it's every Sunday night during football season, it is for large scale events because concerts are coming. If you're a business owner and you're in that space or you're a worker in that space, you know that it's very hard to manage that group of people, right? And being able to carry all of those people on the balance sheet all year round is not feasible. Right? It's just not feasible. But not having anybody around and just hoping that someone shows up when you call them two days before an event is also not a viable way to run a business. And so what we found, this started with the bars and restaurants where we were in Birmingham. We had all these people that wanted to work, but they needed flexibility. And what that's ultimately morphed into is we've got a lot of people that want to work, and flexibility is important, but what we're hearing more now, right now, is earning power is important. Life is very expensive.

Jennifer Ryan [00:27:30]:

The hourly wages are not cutting it for most people in this country. We know that. And our industry, however you want to think about it, we're not the highest paying industry, and we're asking a lot of our people. But we also know, as business owners, our margins are so thin that we don't have a lot of room to maybe pay what we want to pay. So I feel strongly about showing my people that I value them, but I've had to find ways over time to do that that's not directly monetary. Paid time off, flexible schedules, weekly pay, whatever I can do for you, transportation credits, or finding ways to be creative. But I wish I could pay you dollar 25 an hour. I can't.

Jennifer Ryan [00:28:10]:

Even though I know that you have two kids at home and you got, like, I get it. And so when I think about being a mom, I know the cost of childcare is high. You know, you just think of all these things. And so, as a business owner, we're caught in this space. We want to keep our people in love on them, and we want to give them what we can, but our margins are really thin. So as we take a big step back. When we launched Croux, it started as providing flexibility to this workforce, this group of people, the humans behind hospitality. And we asked ourselves if we could serve them.

Jennifer Ryan [00:28:37]:

And the knock on effect was we could help understaffed businesses fill some shifts. It was great. People got to pick and choose where they wanted to work. The mission of Croux today is to economically empower communities. What that starts with is the individuals, right. If we give individuals the ability to show up when, where, and how, they want to be able to pick when they're going to drive to work, because they can get there with the one car they have in their family, they can take the bus scheduled, they can figure out childcare. We can support them with benefits and quick payment so they know they can bring their full selves to work when they show up with their full selves to work. You and I both know as business owners, we run faster, we operate better because our people are happy, they're ready, and they're working hard.

Jennifer Ryan [00:29:17]:

When our local businesses, like yours and mine, are running at top speed, our local economies thrive. Small businesses hold up 99% of this economy. It's really important we figure this out. And so we start with, we think about economic empowerment in local economies, and we pick these economies very specifically. They're not New York City or Los Angeles. They're in the Southeast and the Midwest, the places that we think move the needle, but haven't really, really seen the innovation or the love. And that's on purpose, that we go there because we believe that hospitality is an integral part of how they operate, and we've got to support them. So the mission is to support those humans and in turn, those businesses.

Jennifer Ryan [00:29:57]:

And how we do that is we provide all the things that you and I both know are really hard to provide as business owners to our employees. Benefits, tax support, flexible schedules, fast payment, we do all of that, and we're working on providing even more, you know, ways to be able to access money before it hits your bank account, but you've earned it. Ways to be able to tap into more benefits, whether that's financial support and help or more, you know, insurance opportunities. These are all things that we know are reasons people leave the industry. So if we can provide both veterans and novices alike with an opportunity to work in an industry that we love, but we give them all the things that allow them to feel really good about it, we know we can support both sides. And so Croux brings these two worlds together, and we do that through technology, and we do that through machine learning and AI and all the crazy tools that allow seamless smart connectivity to happen. And what that looks like, again, is local economies running at top speed.

Angelo Esposito [00:30:59]:

I love the mission. I love the mission behind it. And so just to maybe paint the picture of, let's say, like, what an average, you know, worker might go through. So, like, what does the process look like? Is it an app? It's on the website. Like, I love to hear they want to pick up some shifts, like, what happens?

Jennifer Ryan [00:31:14]:

Sure. It's really easy. So there's no cost to the talent. The businesses are the ones that are footing the bill, so it's free for the talent to use. And that was really important to us. So if you're out there and you're in one of our markets, we're growing. We're small, but growing. You pick up a shift, what you're going to do is download the app and it's Croux, c r o U X.

Jennifer Ryan [00:31:30]:

You're going to go through an onboarding process, and we're going to do all the screening to make sure that you feel good about joining us and that the people that are about to bring you into their work family feels good about that. We're going to confirm everything from your identity. We're going to do a quick background check looking for the big things. We're going to be able to screen tax status and all that stuff. And so ultimately, you're going to get through this process, and we're going to ask you a couple of questions on what you want to do. What's your availability? How often do you want to work? How much do you really want to earn every week? Because we're hearing more and more that it's less about the hours, but people have a number in their head. I've got to bring an x number of dollars extra this week to pay the bills, to support my family, to do the one thing I really want to do, to buy my daughter that prom dress. I mean, there are goals that we know people have, and so being able to help them budget, they can be able to reverse engineer and say, you know, I've got these shifts that will help you get there.

Jennifer Ryan [00:32:19]:

Once you're locked and loaded, your profile will include your work history. And that might be hospitality, it might not be. It'll include any other information, like a service safe certification or food handler certification, maybe a bartender's license, maybe you don't have any of that. And that's okay, because Croux is all about equal and easy access to job opportunities, irrespective of what you bring to the table. There are tons of roles that are low skill, low risk, meaning you or I could walk in and do them. Because sometimes they just need somebody to show up on time with their shirt tucked in to say, hey, I'm a set of helping hands. That's a lot of the jobs on Croux. Anybody could walk in and do them and that's the point.

Jennifer Ryan [00:32:57]:

Browse the shifts that work with your availability and your abilities. So figuring out what works for you in terms of the types of skills you have and when you want to work, because remember, you're in charge, you're your own boss. You apply for as many or as few as you want and the businesses will receive your application. And as you work on Croux, you develop a trust score. And you see this and it's like a credit score. It's going to utilize machine learning to basically pull together all of the things that the app is learning about you. How many minutes you show up early, how many shifts you pick up, the ratings that you get from the businesses, all the things that are within your control. Because again, we want you to feel empowered.

Jennifer Ryan [00:33:36]:

That score is going to be what the businesses see, not your gender or your race or how many years you spend in the industry. You, professionalism, trustworthiness, and your ability to show up and do the job. That's what people care about. And that's what we're really excited to be able to showcase the things that you can control. So that trust score is going to be next to your name in addition to all that experience. And businesses make the choice, right? They're going to bring in people. You may be called in to pick up a shift and you confirm it. They tell you what to wear, where to be, they tell you how much you're going to earn.

Jennifer Ryan [00:34:08]:

They tell you what you're going to be doing, who you're going to be reporting to. It tells you everything that you need to know about that shift so that you walk in ready to go. And what's really fun is we work big events. A lot of times people are working with their friends because they need 20 bartenders or they need 15 servers, or they need 100 people working concessions. And so we find this experience is great. Not just for picking when and where you want to work, knowing what you're going to earn, but you actually get to have fun doing it. Which is, again, so much of what we love about the industry, right? It's the engagement with people. So after you work your shift, you're going to rate the business because we care about what you say.

Jennifer Ryan [00:34:44]:

We care about how your experience went, and we take great pride in giving that transparent feedback, that channel. It's open. In the same vein, the businesses will rate you. Do you want to have this person back again or no? And you may even get added to their favorites list, which means that you get to see the shifts first before anybody else does. Yeah. Which just, again says, thanks for being really good today. Sometimes roles will have tips, and that's when the businesses will add the tips to it. But they're going to rate and review you.

Jennifer Ryan [00:35:13]:

Your payment's going to get processed right then. And for most people on the app, assuming you've got a bank that we recognize, 95% of us, you're going to get paid right away. The worst case is you get paid within 24 hours, so you have money in your account to go do what you need to do. You're going to have a trust score that increases because you just did a great job. You might have met some new people, and you get to pick up your next shift if you want. Or if you don't, you use Croux when you want to. That money is in your account, ready for you. And just by working one shift every month, you have access to free and low cost health and wellness benefits.

Angelo Esposito [00:35:48]:

I think there's a lot of benefits. You mentioned one of them even just being access to the capital. Right. You don't have to wait two weeks for the paycheck. You get it instantly. I'm curious to know, like, I'm sure there's many different types of roles, but, you know, for events, I think, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I imagine it's maybe a bit more streamlined because if it's an event, it's like, okay, wear black pants, white dress shirt type of thing and whatnot. But for restaurants, is it a bit trickier? Because maybe there's uniforms and maybe they got to know the pos and they're punching things. So I'm imagining, like, a server at a big event where you just need more hands and, like, serve these tables, versus maybe a restaurant where maybe now you're serving, or maybe as the pos, or is it more bus style jobs? I'm curious to know, from your point of view, what do you see?

Jennifer Ryan [00:36:30]:

Well, we're seeing a little bit of everything, that's for sure. I would say the sweet spot for us is definitely the event space where there is a bit more of a seamless experience.

Angelo Esposito [00:36:37]:

Got it.

Jennifer Ryan [00:36:38]:

And as I tell most bars and restaurants that come to us, you know, what we're usually seeing them need is a dishwasher, a bus, or maybe a bartender, right where you can kind of step in and you've got the skills to do that. Sometimes servers assistance will be helpful, but often what we're seeing at bars and restaurants is that they're looking to give their core staff just an extra hand. That makes sense because they're trying to retain their great people. And so they do have one or two awesome bartenders. They've got a couple of great servers. They might have a hostess that needs some backup, but what Crouxs are to do is to lift up that core team, give them a little breathing room. Being able to do the sometimes super unglamorous, not so fun stuff, like sometimes you just need one extra person to go sCrouxb the toilets because you got to keep the bathrooms clean. Because we all know people judge you on the cleanliness of your bathrooms 100%.

Jennifer Ryan [00:37:24]:

And so that's a great way to utilize Croux, which is anybody could walk in and do that with direction, and it gives the course staff on your team some breathing room, some ability. It also just helps them to know they've got just one more set of extra hands on a busy night. And so that's usually how we're seeing smaller operations utilize Croux. The big guys, to your point, they need 20 servers to show up in all black and to really just take direction in place.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:50]:

Right.

Jennifer Ryan [00:37:50]:

So there's really not a need to know the Pos or to know the menu. It's a lot of execution. Again, almost anybody could come in and do those roles.

Angelo Esposito [00:37:58]:

That makes sense. That makes sense. Thanks for clarifying that. And I wonder if there. You must have some data, or at least you will at some point. But I imagine there's probably some correlation with, to your point, with staff retention. Right? Like if you're keeping your employees happy, it's one of the big problems in the industry now. There's a lot of staff turnover, and then there's different reasons for it.

Angelo Esposito [00:38:18]:

But one of the reasons that I've seen is that people feel overworked or overstressed. And so I'm curious if you have seen any. Any data or just any anecdotal stuff on restaurants or some of these venues just keeping their staff longer.

Jennifer Ryan [00:38:32]:

I will have better data for you soon because it's such an important point, and it's the number one thing we hear time and time again. It's not only expensive, but it's emotionally taxing to have to continue to hire. It's really hard and to try to find the right people. So the answer is yes, it's really helped with retention, and it's helped so twofold on the retention side, it's helped individual organizations keep people for a couple of different reasons that may be obvious, one of which is like, the core staff gets a little extra help, right. They don't have to pick up every Saturday night this month, but maybe they get one Saturday off. Like, it's really helpful from that perspective. But it's also helpful because we have a lot of businesses now, and if I'm just going to speak candidly, they're in the COVID hangover where they're carrying extra people on the balance sheet because they have been and they don't know how to undo the COVID protocols. And what they're trying to do is really right the ship from an expense perspective.

Jennifer Ryan [00:39:27]:

But these people that they're carrying need 2025, 30 hours, and they're just keeping them on, finding them things to do. But they're starting to have those difficult conversations, hey, I really don't need you for 30 hours. I need you for 15. And so what do we do? We come in and they can keep them on part time, and they find their supplemental hours through Croux. So they're still happy with their core job. They go into a familiar place with a boss that they know in an environment that they understand. But it's not a bad conversation. The employers, in a strange, almost funny way, are saying, go to Croux for the supplemental role.

Jennifer Ryan [00:40:02]:

We want to have you here for 15 to 20 hours, but we want to support you. And here's a tool for you to go earn that extra income that we know we can't give you, but we really want to give you what we can. So it's an interesting paradigm and partnership which I never would have expected. So that's what we're seeing there. I would also say that we're seeing broader retention in the industry. So I have a lot of people, a big chunk of our, you know, kind of vip users. The talent that use Croux very, very almost obsessively. It's become part of their DNA, part of the fabric of who they are.

Jennifer Ryan [00:40:36]:

Most of these people are ex hospitality people. They left. They're some of the best. And this is their way in, their way to stay, their way to continue to contribute to an industry they love without the baggage. And so we've been able to bring back a number of people that said, whether it was during COVID or before, see you later. I don't want this anymore. And so now we've given them an avenue, an entry point, an on ramp to work in a space that they know. They've got the skills, they've got the relationships, they've got the abilities.

Jennifer Ryan [00:41:07]:

This is plug and play for them. But they get to check all of that extra stuff at the door. They get their benefits, they get their flexibility, they get fast payment, but they don't need to deal with the B's that they might have been dealing with before. And that has been so refreshing to see folks that I thought would have said farewell forever to come back into an industry, because that's what we need. We need those seasoned people. So that's been really interesting.

Angelo Esposito [00:41:32]:

That makes sense. And I'm curious, like, from your perspective, like, on the business side, right? You're building this out. I know building any business is hard. You know, building WISK is hard. Building any business hard. Building a marketplace is even harder. So I love to understand, like, how do you think about, like, as a company, how do you guys think about building and growing, expanding? Because it's tough, right? You got to get the staff, but you got to get the restaurants on the flip side, or whether it's events or event venues or whatnot, but you need the supply and demand side. So I'm just curious, like, what's, how have you guys been going about kind of growing.

Jennifer Ryan [00:42:04]:

So that three part rubric that I mentioned before and, like, what I learned with Blueroot, kind of deploying the same tactics and in a roundabout way of answering your questions, we started with just staying super focused so that we are not all things to all people. And so we will service, you know, anybody that is in the service space. But we've really, really narrowed our scope onto the event space, where we know we've got a wider aperture of talent, right. To be able to walk into those roles. And we know we play really well in that space. So that's kind of, number one. So that helps us, number two, we've listened time and time again to the big and the small players and what they need. So we're trying to make sure that we're, you know, spending time on the things that are going to move the needle for them, right.

Jennifer Ryan [00:42:48]:

And then, you know, we're doing the things that we know we need to do. So how does that really manifest itself and, like, how we go launch a new market? It is really hard. Marketplaces are expensive. Marketplaces are time consuming. Marketplaces are challenging. And my investors told me that from the very beginning, and I knew that. But when you're in it, you really see it. And the unit economics have to make sense.

Jennifer Ryan [00:43:09]:

We spend, but probably more time than other types of businesses, thinking about where we're going to go spend our time and energy geographically. And so we first narrow the scope on economies, where the local economy is driven by the things that we know, where there is pressure from the workers to work differently, earn more. There's also a lot of pressure and demand from the businesses because if they don't figure out the staffing, they will not survive. And so we see these undercurrents, and we've got a number of ways where we're utilizing technology to better understand how to target those, assess those, and make sure we're spending time. But that's really step one for us. And then we know, as we're in service of both sides, but we really are trying to empower that individual to start. We know that the experience for them has to be really good. And so what that means for us is we've got to pick businesses that are mission aligned like that, understand what we're trying to do.

Jennifer Ryan [00:44:13]:

And sometimes that means that businesses that could be really economically interesting are not the right partners for us. And that has been really hard.

Angelo Esposito [00:44:21]:

Yeah, that's one of the hardest things to do as an entrepreneur. Say no to, you know, big deals.

Jennifer Ryan [00:44:27]:

Say no to the check. I know, and usually, and again, I, I feel like we've heard this from others. Usually when you're an entrepreneur, if you're in a position and they ask you if you can do something, usually you say yes, and then go run behind the scenes and try to figure out a way to get there. But that's assuming that you're aligned in what you're trying to do. And if your goals aren't aligned, I just think we found over time in this business, but in others, like, it's kind of a square peg, round hole. And if it's hard now, it probably will only get harder because you're just not really seeing eye to eye when it comes to the most important stuff. So what does that really look like? Some super traditional thinkers that don't understand this notion of flexibility, like, may not be the right partner for us right now because I've got to get them over the hill mentally to understand that this workforce is deserving of, you know, a place in their family, whether it's for one shift or, you know, building a w two pipeline. So I think that's another thing, too.

Jennifer Ryan [00:45:22]:

So let's say we find the alignment in partners and what we really have to do for the chicken and the egg, the cart and the horse with the marketplace, what we found is that in order to show validity and credibility with the talent, I've got to get businesses to bite first. And so I have to get businesses to come on board. And usually our credibility as hospitality owners and operators allows us to do that. And I've got 100 subscribed businesses now, more than that these days, to be able to say, hey, look, there's somebody that looks like you in our portfolio. Pick up the phone and call them. We'd love for you to talk to them about how they utilize us, hear it from them. And that brings great credibility. That took time, right? Like building that track record and that trust, but that is really powerful.

Jennifer Ryan [00:46:07]:

And then those businesses, they've got to trust. There's this moment where we all sort of have to suspend disbelief for just a second, and we're almost suspended in the air, waiting while we're getting businesses to trust and talent to engage. And it goes by in the blink of an eye. But it's that moment, as an entrepreneur that makes me the most nervous. Right?

Angelo Esposito [00:46:31]:

Yeah.

Jennifer Ryan [00:46:31]:

No, it's the moment before the magic.

Angelo Esposito [00:46:34]:

Exactly. Exactly. And I know another challenge, and I'd love to just hear how you're thinking about it, because I know it's not easy, like I said, at all, but specifically in marketplaces, how do you guys deal or think about the poaching side of things? And maybe it doesn't happen, but I'm curious to know, in your world, is it possible when you get someone who is really good, that event space or that restaurant is then, like, trying to hire them? And how do you guys deal with that?

Jennifer Ryan [00:47:01]:

So the question that my investors, anybody I'm talking to as we're raising capital, they call this disintermediation, like, what's going to prohibit, like, what's going to make you obsolete and make this just go away so that the talent are going to talk right to the businesses. And my answer to them in our first year was, I don't care if they hire them. And they were so flummoxed by this answer. And my response to them was, because if you knew anything about the hospitality industry, you would know that trust is the most important characteristic. And if I walk in and I am trying to not just sell a product, but solve a problem for a business, and I tell them, hey, I know that you're going to find great people because that's what we pride ourselves on. And I am not going to charge you anything in our first year of business. We're new, we're young, and I'm going to say, if you find great people, all I'm asking is you, for you to pass along the word that you found great people, because that quality is so critical to our credibility. The businesses were floored.

Jennifer Ryan [00:47:58]:

They asked me to repeat myself three times. Are you sure? Right, because competitors of ours will say, there's a fee. There's a fee.

Angelo Esposito [00:48:04]:

Yeah, exactly, Zen.

Jennifer Ryan [00:48:06]:

There is a fee today. But usually what we do is we say, look, if you're going to sign up with us for the long run, I'm going to take that fee down to almost nothing. Because what I'm looking for you to do is to be able to confirm that we're doing the job. We're finding high quality people. I'm quality over quantity. Like, that's. That's really the focus for us. If you asked me for a thousand people in a new market, I'd have to say no.

Jennifer Ryan [00:48:29]:

But if you asked me for 25 badasses in six weeks, I'd be like, I can do that for you. Right. And you and I both know in the industry, we'd way rather be working alongside a badass than three mediocre people.

Angelo Esposito [00:48:40]:

Yep, agreed. 100%.

Jennifer Ryan [00:48:42]:

So it's that there is disintermediation risk. But what we've done for the businesses is we've said, look, when people work on your platform, they're covered with workers comp. We're de risking the situation for you if they cut off their finger while they're working in the back, God forbid, like, we're going to handle that for you. We are handling the payroll, the scheduling, the taxes, the compliance, the legal, the background checks, you know, and the consistent confirmation that they're up on all the things they say they're up on. Like, the businesses will say, awesome. You can keep them on your payroll, and I'd love to have a 1099 when I need it, when there are opportunities for them to need w two s. What I said to them is, particularly if they're long term customers of ours, and we removed that hiring fee down to next to nothing. I say, be transparent with us, and we will find you an awesome person.

Jennifer Ryan [00:49:29]:

And what we'll do is we'll de risk that situation for you. That person can work x number of shifts so that you confirm that you like them before you hire them. And they can confirm that they like working here because the last thing you want to do is hire somebody who's just going to walk out the door in two weeks. And what that does is it removes the risk, which is the biggest thing for businesses. We don't have time for that. We don't have money for it. We don't have the emotional capital for it. So if I can de risk it for them and give them great candidates with no risk, they don't have to have the awkward conversation of, I didn't like you as much as I like the next person.

Jennifer Ryan [00:50:01]:

I'll handle that.

Angelo Esposito [00:50:02]:

Yeah.

Jennifer Ryan [00:50:02]:

Right. Just come in. And the worst case scenario is that they have an extra set of hands that day in the kitchen.

Angelo Esposito [00:50:07]:

That makes sense.

Jennifer Ryan [00:50:07]:

Right. And that trust, I think, has really allowed us to earn the ability to sit at the table with these guys.

Angelo Esposito [00:50:14]:

Yeah.

Jennifer Ryan [00:50:15]:

So it's been a building process that makes sense.

Angelo Esposito [00:50:17]:

And let me ask you this. So what's, what's next for you guys? Right? I know, I know it sounds like you're doing a lot, and I know it's not an easy feat. I know you still got that. You still got the restaurant running and growing and then you got Croux. But what's, what's next for, for Croux? What do you see happening in the next. Call it twelve months, 18 months.

Jennifer Ryan [00:50:34]:

Yeah. Big growth. We're in seven markets today across the southeast and the midwest. And, and we're at that really exciting inflection point where we've earned the right to be at the table, where we are engaging with people that are big scale. And the phone's ringing on our end. People are calling inbound, which is really exciting. And so right now, there's probably three things that are happening in the next twelve months. There's growth from our existing businesses where they have learned to utilize Croux in really creative ways, to be thoughtful about how to give their people flexibility.

Jennifer Ryan [00:51:09]:

Utilizing our technology to streamline operations, saving costs, etcetera, etcetera. So we're seeing a continued uplift in the existing client base that we have. You'll see growth in terms of where we play. So those markets will be more on the map in the next twelve months. And then for us too, the technology is at the heart of what powers everything. And we've got some really exciting builds coming in the next six to twelve months. Again, thinking about ways to further empower the individuals, to further support them in their journey. And, and we just continue to ask ourselves, why are people walking out the door from these hourly jobs? And those are opportunities for us to solve some problems, because what that does is your very first point, it helps with retention, it helps provide some consistency in terms of teams.

Jennifer Ryan [00:51:53]:

And what that does is help those businesses run fast when they get great people in. So we've got growth and some very cool tech updates, enhancements, features and bells and whistles coming. And there's some new partnerships in the works, too. So by the end of this year, we'll be able to share some of that out loud. But, you know, we've got our foot on the gas and, you know, trying to be humble and listen while we go.

Angelo Esposito [00:52:17]:

So I love that. And then one of the things behind WISK, or why I started WISK was genuinely to help restaurants to give them their time back, focus on things they love. And that the idea behind the podcast was how can I get other professionals to just share? And whether it's just in the industry and sharing tips, whether it's tech related stuff and sharing, you know, how they can help. And so for people that are listening and apart from, you know, the advice you gave, and there was a lot of good, good wisdom there and the three tips and lessons you learned and then what you do at Croux and how you can help for people who fall in those markets. But all this to say, I'd love for people to be able to find you and define Croux. So maybe you can just plug where can they learn more about Croux or about you or all that good stuff?

Jennifer Ryan [00:52:59]:

Sure, you can find Croux. We have a website, so c r o dash co. You can also download us from Google Play or the App Store Croux. C r o u x. You can find us on LinkedIn. You can find us on Instagram. Join croo. I'm on LinkedIn as well.

Jennifer Ryan [00:53:14]:

Jennifer Ryan. And if you're in the Birmingham market, stop by Blueroot. We'reootco on Instagram, and I've got the website, too. But at the end of the day, it's just such a pleasure to connect with other people who are fighting the good fight every day. And, and if you are out there, find one way to support a local business today, whether it's somebody in your neighborhood or somewhere where you're traveling. If we can keep paying it forward to those that are working so hard, I think we can keep this lovely ecosystem alive.

Angelo Esposito [00:53:42]:

So there you have it once again, Jennifer Ryan, the co founder and CEO of Croux and the founder and CEO of Blueroot. Thank you for joining us today.

Jennifer Ryan [00:53:53]:

Thank you.

Angelo Esposito [00:53:54]:

Feel free to check out WISK.ai for more resources and schedule a demo with one of our product specialists to see if it's a fit for.

Meet Your Host & Guest

Jennifer Ryan, the Co-founder and CEO of Croux and Blueroot

Jennifer Ryan is an investor and entrepreneur originally from Southern California. She spent over a decade in NYC before making a significant impact in Birmingham, AL, by building businesses and creating jobs. Now residing in Green Bay, WI, Jennifer recently co-founded Croux, an app that connects high-quality talent with flexible opportunities in the hospitality industry. In 2020, she launched BLUEROOT, a healthy, fast-casual concept aimed at bringing delicious, nutrient-dense foods to a healthy food desert. With over 10 years of experience in finance, real estate, and tech, Jennifer is dedicated to building and growing businesses. She believes in a collaborative and ownership-driven culture, emphasizing that success comes from a compelling story, an incredible team, and impeccable execution.

ANGELO ESPOSITO, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF WISK.AI

Meet Angelo Esposito, the Co-Founder and CEO of WISK.ai, Angelo's vision is to revolutionize the hospitality industry by creating an inventory software that allows bar and restaurant owners to streamline their operations, improve their margins and sales, and minimize waste. With over a decade of experience in the hospitality industry, Angelo deeply understands the challenges faced by bar and restaurant owners. From managing inventory to tracking sales to forecasting demand, Angelo has seen it all firsthand. This gave him the insight he needed to create WISK.ai.

Recent Episodes

S2E35 - Jennifer Ryan on Building Trust in Hospitality with Croux Staffing Solutions

Lien vers le lecteur Podcast d'AppleLien vers le lecteur Podcast de SpotifyLien vers le lecteur Google Podcasts

Notes du spectacle

Jennifer Ryan, the Co-founder and CEO of Croux and Blueroot, shares her journey in the tech and hospitality industry. She started as a server in New York, then went into finance and real estate before launching a healthy food restaurant in Alabama. During the pandemic, she faced challenges in the restaurant industry and realized the importance of listening to customer feedback and focusing on what truly moves the needle. She then co-founded Croux, a platform that connects trusted talent with understaffed businesses in the hospitality industry.

Croux is a platform that provides flexible work opportunities for individuals in the hospitality industry while helping businesses fill staffing gaps. The mission of Croux is to economically empower communities, starting with individuals and local businesses. The platform offers benefits, tax support, flexible schedules, and fast payment to support workers. It also helps businesses retain their core staff by providing additional support and extra hands when needed. Croux focuses on the event space and works with businesses that are mission-aligned. The company is experiencing growth in existing markets, expanding to new markets, and developing new technology features.

Takeaways

  • Listening to customer feedback and focusing on what truly moves the needle is crucial for success in the restaurant industry.
  • Iterating and evolving quickly is essential for survival and growth in the hospitality industry.
  • Being open to feedback and willing to make changes based on customer needs can lead to unexpected success.
  • Starting a tech company like Croux can be a way to address industry challenges and support businesses in the hospitality sector.
  • Techstars can provide valuable support and resources for entrepreneurs in the tech industry. Croux provides flexible work opportunities for individuals in the hospitality industry and helps businesses fill staffing gaps.
  • The platform focuses on economically empowering communities, starting with individuals and local businesses.
  • Croux offers benefits, tax support, flexible schedules, and fast payment to support workers.
  • The platform helps businesses retain their core staff by providing additional support and extra hands when needed.
  • Croux is experiencing growth in existing markets, expanding to new markets, and developing new technology features.

Timestamps

00:00 Introduction and the Importance of Croux in the Hospitality Industry

03:03 Challenges and Listening to Customer Feedback in the Restaurant Industry

08:48 The Journey from Restaurant Owner to Tech Founder

13:06 The Role of Iteration and Evolution in the Hospitality Sector

24:09 Techstars: Empowering Entrepreneurs in the Tech Industry

26:59 Balancing Staffing Needs and Business Viability

28:27 The Challenge of Low Wages and Thin Margins

29:24 Economically Empowering Communities Through Croux

31:14 Onboarding and Using the Croux Platform

34:35 Roles and Opportunities on Croux

36:27 Utilizing Croux in the Event Space

38:43 Retaining Core Staff and Filling Staffing Gaps

43:57 Growing and Expanding Croux

Ressources

Follow Jennifer Ryan on LinkedIn!

Check out Jennifer Ryan on Instagram!

Learn more about Croux!