In the 21st century, both employers and employees demand greater flexibility. For businesses, this means that they may need to scale quickly to fulfill a client’s order – and for employees this may be a desire to find additional work to fit around existing commitments. But how can this challenge be met? One new start-up which is aiming to provide a bridge between the two is Catapult, which was co-founded by Oli Johnson. Essentially it does something similar to Uber, and helps employers and employees pair up, so everyone can benefit – with the minimum amount of hassle. To find out more about how it works – we got a chance to ask Oli some questions.
First off, please can you explain what Catapult does?
Catapult is the on-demand hiring platform. It’s a new way for employers to hire temps and seasonal staff that can we on their premises in under an hour. Employees get to set their own hourly rates and build their experience by working for a variety of employers.
Catapult handles all the relevant paperwork, from payroll to contracts, all businesses have to pay is just 10% on hours worked which is competitive against direct employment costs and 75% cheaper than a traditional agency.
What’s your personal background, and what inspired you to start the company?
I was an investment manager but I left the finance industry in 2009 to co-found Rainmaking Loft, a prominent shared working space company with bases in Copenhagen, Berlin and London. Steffen, Ben and I created Catapult in 2015 out of a mutual frustration with the inefficiency and costliness of the current agency staffing model.
And what’s the story of the company from launch until now? How big is the company now?
Catapult was formed with the aim to transform the agency staffing model by replacing annoying consultants with technology. We were funded by a long list of both angels and institutional investors before even launching the company; investors believed in our vision from the start. We can cut recruitment costs by 75% and provide true flexibility to both businesses and people looking for temporary employment. To date our unique proposition has really taken off and we received seed funding of £1 million in January 2016. Catapult currently employs 15 people and we plan to expand the team in the near future.
How does the experience work for employees on the other end? How do they get paid? Is tax taken care of?
Temporary workers can sometimes be the most vulnerable part of the workforce. This means that there’s an even greater onus to treat them well. We strive hard to do this. For example, we give the candidates the ability to rate employers so we can ensure that we’re only working with the best businesses. As I’ve said, Catapult handles all the relevant paperwork for employees to work for an employer on our platform. Employees get paid on average 10 days after they complete a shift and their tax affairs with Catapult are the same as with other employers, i.e. national insurance and taxes are collected via PAYE.
How have you (or how do you plan to) solve the chicken/egg problem of needing to attract both businesses and temporary staff to the platform? What’s the plan for reaching both of these audiences?
What we’re building is a totally new approach to temporary staffing and having to change established behaviours is very challenging, on both sides of the employment equation.
Our approach is providing as much education and support as needed, while also listening carefully to the feedback we get from our clients, be they candidates or employers. One way we do this is through the use of social media; not only do we use it for our internal comms but we use it as a tool to communicate with and acquire clients.
How “hands on” with staff are you? Is it like Uber where drivers receive certain mandatory training?
We have the dual ambition of giving inexperienced candidates an opportunity while also ensuring that the businesses receive high quality staff, every time. In practice this means two things. Firstly, we have an application process which promotes the qualities we want in our staff. Experience is important for some of our roles but the right attitude is essential for all of them. Secondly, we meet with all of the staff on the Catapult platform, understand their capabilities and train them for certain roles. Going forward we envision doing even more training and development of our staff.
What range of jobs are on offer? What about jobs that are semi-skilled or require certain health & safety requirements or training? Could these work with the app?
Catapult has a healthy spread of clients based across various industries, especially within leisure, hospitality, office work and retail – they range from enterprise level, including some well known brands, to SMEs. On the other side, there is no set type of candidate or employee, except for the fact that they are all looking for temporary work and they all have a smile on their face!
What is your business model? How have you monetized your product?
Employers pay flat rate of 10% per hour worked to Catapult and a weekly invoice is sent by us catapult to our client. Our staff are classified as casual bank workers. In practice this means they are not guaranteed a certain amount of hours each week, but also, they are not required to do accept hours that conflict with their schedule. This is an important distinction to zero hour contracts, where staff are not guaranteed any hours, but are required to work when asked by the employer. With zero hour contracts, it’s unrealistic for staff to have multiple jobs, whereas that’s exactly what Catapult enables. We are completely against zero hour contracts as we believe they are grossly unfair to candidates.
What are the key metrics that you monitor in your business growth?
The obvious one that pertains to growth is number of shifts performed by our staff each week, however, we look at number of other things, including what proportion of of the hours our staff wants to work are we providing them with.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far in your business?
Designing great products is incredibly hard! A seemingly trivial change in our user interface can have an outsized impact – either positive or negative. I’ve also come to conclude that if I think an aspect of our product is particularly intuitive to use, as a rule, it usually isn’t.
What’s the next step for Catapult as a business? Is the intention to grow the business independently, or look for an exit via acquisition or similar?
Presently, Catapult is focused on London and we are mostly focused on improving the product. However, further expansion into other markets within the UK and on mainland Europe is top of our agenda too. Our mission statement is to build nothing less than the world’s most efficient staffing platform and pass on the benefits to businesses and people alike.