‘In February 2020 bookings started to cancel, first a trickle and then an avalanche’: Guiding a hospitality company through a pandemic
Hannah Wrixon, CEO of tech hospitality company Get the Shifts, was forced to completely rethink her business model when the pandemic hit. We chat to her about how she did it and the lessons learned along the way.
14th Apr 2022
As CEO of Get The Shifts, a tech company that offers staffing solutions for the hospitality industry like venues, events and festivals, Hannah Wrixon understands the term “pivot” better than most.
Winner of the IMAGE PwC Digital & Technology Businesswoman of the Year in 2019, Wrixon won for her innovative company that placed an emphasis on finding the best bar staff, baristas, promotions staff and waiters through their rigorous recruiting program and intensive e-learning that each new staff member had to undergo before going on shift.
The result has been satisfied clients and staff that found a flexibility that works for them. “Our top staff – we call them superstars – are coming from a place where flexible work is now the norm. So it’s become completely normal to order your work on your telephone, just like your food or your taxi,” Wrixam said at the time of her win.
However, the hospitality industry was upended by the pandemic. Unable to retain their own staff never mind hiring contract workers, client businesses closed their doors, many for almost two years and some indefinitely. Forced to realign Get the Shifts with this new, ever-shifting world was Wrixam’s top priority. Here’s how she did it.
Since the IMAGE Businesswomen of the Year Awards 2019, the world has changed completely, how have the last two years been for you and your business? Does your business look very different now?
After winning the IMAGE Digital & Technology BWOTY in 2019 we went on to win The New Business of the Year at The European Business Awards in Warsaw, we were flying high. January 2020 saw the largest number of advance bookings ever, our team was growing, we had acquired bigger offices, it was really going well! In late February 2020 bookings started to cancel, first a trickle and then an avalanche. I made the very difficult decision to do mass temporary layoffs, keeping just one person working, our ops manager, with the promise that we would all be returning to the office in May. Then there was nothing.
We support the hospitality industry primarily and as we know it is the industry that has been hit hardest for the longest period. I think the key trait that all of us entrepreneurs have is resilience and I really had to lean into it during this period. I negotiated rent freezes, I haggled with outstanding debt and then I took a step back and had a think.
I decided that this time was an opportunity that we hadn’t had as we were so busy running the day-to-day business. This was the time to critically analyse the business and to figure out what our strategic plan was. I decided that the key was our technology and with the help of my mentor, we secured funding from the Clare LEO and set about redesigning and improving our software offering. We had no income at this stage, our ops manager was working for 16 hours per week but we were committed to seeing this through. It was a very stressful time but also very productive.
In March 2021 we were acquired by FRS Recruitment, they are so excited about innovation and it has been a very rewarding partnership. We have great plans for the future and it is a very exciting time!
What has been the biggest challenge for you and the business in the last two years?
Off the top of my head: Cash flow, to keep the doors open, to bring our staff back to work as soon as we could, to keep the communication channels alive with our clients and to restart. Knowing when the time was right, knowing when to bring the staff back, there has been a lot of second-guessing! In addition to all of the above, selling the company also brought its own challenges, it is a very long and stressful process even when the two companies’ cultures and visions are aligned.
During the pandemic, many businesses were forced to pivot their business model and plans. How did you chart the way through 2020/2021?
We started to support industries that we had not supported previously like warehousing. While it was great to be able to work and offer work it is not our core business and as such we have moved away from those industries again. Our core value is that Get the Shifts offers the most flexible way of working in Ireland today and we have to be true to that when we can. Through our app Superstars can choose where and when to work and our clients can grow and flex their workforce as and when they need to. It’s a win-win.
What have been the biggest learnings from the pandemic, both for you as a leader as well as the business writ large?
I learned loads – the culture of our organisation is what carried us through. I learned that I am a transformational leader, I am authentic, and my team are amazing people. I learned that you don’t need the bells and whistles, stay lean, say yes to the new things (even if it is uncomfortable, you never know where it will lead), take (calculated) risks and see threats as opportunities. Don’t hold back, don’t be afraid to fail. Businesses grow, flex and adapt if you let them. It is an adventure and there are so many routes to your goal.
With the benefit of hindsight, is there anything you would do differently?
No, I don’t think so, I am happy that we are back doing what we do best, our team is back and happy. We have a great new parent company that we enjoy working with and there is a great culture fit.
Are there any individual working habits you established during the pandemic that you hope to retain?
Our whole team now works remotely which is something that we will retain. It enables me to now offer new roles to the right person regardless of location. Our team loves it but it is so important to maintain good communication working in this way. We have a daily huddle where we all meet and we have social time in our calendar each week just for the chats. It is important that our team feel like one unit working towards a common goal.
The Great Resignation saw many people switch careers during the pandemic. How do you feel companies need to shift to align with new employee demands?
For Get the Shifts, moving to a fully remote team has been key. We also offer flexible working hours and encourage work/life balance.
What’s the one leadership skill you wish someone had impressed upon you when you were starting out?
Trust your gut, it’s rarely wrong!
Any other little nuggets of knowledge you’d like to share?
Culture is key to success, how you as the leader set the culture will influence everything. How your staff treat each other and your customers, the tone that is used, your advertising and marketing. People are also key to success so build your team strategically. See your skills gaps and address them when you can. Ensure that there is a culture fit with new hires and design your interview process around your culture.
The 2022 IMAGE PWC Businesswoman of the Year takes place on Wednesday, April 20, 2022, from 6pm in The Clayton, Burlington Road, Dublin 4. Order your tickets below or join our Business Club today and receive a discounted ticket.