I recently had the pleasure of speaking with the co-founder of Hyr about leaving her career in politics, being a woman in tech, Canadian entrepreneurship and picking up shifts.
If you were ever wanted to plan a big oversees trip to Cambodia for the summer, buy a new used car, pay off your student loan, or just gift your mom something really nice for her birthday—the only thing that might be stopping you is a few weekend shifts to get that extra income in your pocket.
That’s where the Hyr app comes in.
As part of the new gig economy, Hyr makes it easier for businesses and talent to find each other. It’s a platform where go-getters looking to book a few extra shifts can find their next side hustle. For businesses, Hyr plays match maker by providing talented workers, on-demand.
It’s Canadian co-founders, Erika Mozes and Joshua Karam, didn’t come from a technical background before founding Hyr two years ago.
In fact, they had no startup experience whatsoever.
But between them what they did have was years of experience working part-time jobs in restaurants while they were in school—from KFC and East Side Mario’s to Jack Astor’s. Josh worked in HR and Erika had a background in public affairs and was working as a Lobbyist at MacDonald’s in Canada.
Currently toggling between Toronto and New York, I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Erika about leaving her career in politics, being a woman in tech, Canadian entrepreneurship, picking up shifts and the aha which led her to founding Hyr.
What inspired you to start Hyr?
My co-founder, Joshua Karam worked in HR. The two of us were sitting on the Bier Market patio on King Street. It was a really nice afternoon two years ago and we started talking about what the issues were with restaurants and hospitality workers and just the fact that it’s really hard to find people.
We started talking about predictive scheduling and minimum wage. We were just talking and geeking out over these HR issues.
As we were talking our server came up to us and said the patio wasn’t scheduled to be open. She was really swamped and wanted us to move closer to her other customers so she could have everyone in the same general area.
It was then that I looked at Josh and said, “wouldn’t it be awesome if this restaurant were able to get somebody on-demand like an Uber?”
That was the genesis of the aha moment. We knew it would be awesome for both workers and restaurant chains. We decided to build it up.
What problem are you solving?
My first job after university, I was working in politics and I was thinking that I could use another $20,000 a year. I would have loved to have picked up three extra shifts a month and make a little bit of extra money.
That’s the person that wants to come work on the Hyr platform. Somebody who needs to just make a little bit of extra money.
Whether you want to buy a present for your boyfriend for his birthday or you’re falling short on your paycheque and you need a little extra to make your rent—that’s the person we’re trying to help connect with businesses to get those shifts.
Before starting Hyr, did you have a background or interest in tech?
I absolutely had no technical background. I was really lucky. Once I got the idea, I reached out to Tom Bollich, who was a friend of mine and the Studio CTO at Zynga.
We were able to call on him and he built out the app and took care of the technical aspect of the business and building the app. Now we have a kick ass technical team who work for us in New York.
What kind of challenges or setbacks did you face in launching Hyr?
The biggest challenge as a non-technical founder is that you think that it’s easy and that it can’t be that hard to build. But then you realize you have to build the product in stages. It takes a lot longer than you’ll ever think.
We thought it would take six months to build this out. It took us over a year to get that first product built and in market.
It is something that you iterate on. It’s a case of something that you think is simple taking a lot longer than you think to build.
There’s a lot of interest in the fundraising process. What was it like for you?
I think we were really lucky. We went to New York and met with the Gaingels group and we got our first cheque. That really put our product on a good footing in terms of that round of fundraising that we were doing.
We had the Gaingels group that were behind us. We were able to raise just over a $1 million CDN. We also had some great friends and family and Angel funders that came in on that round.
I think that was a unique experience because we didn’t have a product yet. At that time, we had a team, we had an idea and we were building out the product.
I think also because we were a little bit older and I had my background coming from MacDonald’s, it made our investors less anxious.
In Canada, compared to the US, unless you have a product in market with a little bit of traction, it’s hard to get that first cheque. We would have loved to be able to stay in Canada and raise our money here, but we found it a lot easier to do in New York.
Is there any truth to Canadians being less entrepreneurial than Americans?
I think there’s truth to Canadians are more cautious. We have less people and so we have less of those Angel funders.
An Angel funder is going to take a big risk on you early on. Those kinds of Angels aren’t as highly developed in Canada as they are in New York or Silicon Valley.
But I’m optimistic with what’s been happening and the investors that I see here. Hopefully we’ll get there. Once I have the means and the funds to do so, I’d love to write that first cheque for someone who has a great idea.
Who were some of your mentors or champions?
Chad Rogers, who is a Principal at Crestview Strategy, a public affairs firm. He was great to have around and answer questions about building a business and how to go about hiring, and he made introductions to other businesses.
The Gaingels group, who are based out of New York and who gave us our first cheque. It’s been great to have them guide us on everything from the structure of what we ask for, how we’re going to negotiate during our second round of fundraising, and what the term sheet should look like.
These are all still brand new concepts for us, so it’s been great to lean on David Beattie and Paul Grossinger at Gaingels and have them advise us on those types of matters.
What’s one cool thing that’s happened to you since becoming an entrepreneur and launching Hyr?
The first thing is just becoming an entrepreneur and launching Hyr.
My whole background has been in government or working for large multi-national corporations, I worked for GlaxoSmithKline, Coca-Cola and McDonald’s.
I never thought I’d do something like this. I think it’s really cool that I’m my own boss. That I had an idea and that I brought it to fruition.
We have filled over 500 shifts in Toronto, with over 200 professionals. There are 75 companies with profiles and we have over 2,000 professionals with profiles.
To see that concept in action is really, really cool.
Are there any misconceptions about being a woman in tech that you’ve experienced?
I think it’s pretty much all true. I don’t see a lot of other women in tech. In New York, I have joined a number of organizations that are supporting women in tech.
There is an eco-system down there. I joined SheWorks, where they’re about mentoring other women.
Maybe not so much on the founder’s side because there is a nice little community, but definitely on the investors side.
In my whole experience of talking with venture capital firms or funding firms, I’ve only come across one firm that was a female-based firm where both of their co-founders were women.
Women should be supporting other women and really encouraging them to start their own companies especially on the investment side too. That’s what’s really going to make a change.
There are a lot of female founder events with a lot of women. But what I think is really cool is when men show up at those events to support female founders.
What’s one cool thing about being a woman in tech?
It sounds strange, but when you have a woman founder you do get a little more attention.
There was a study that found that women founded companies are actually more likely to succeed. That’s a cool stat to look at.
We think a lot differently than men do. Maybe it’s that we’re more collaborative. Maybe it’s because there’s such a lack of women that we have more drive to want to succeed. I’m not sure why that is. But I’m sure that being able to get that extra attention has opened doors.
How do you spend your down time?
I’m an avid ClassPass user so when I’m not working I pick up a class. Whether it’s Barry’s Bootcamp or picking up a spin class or a cool running class, that’s my down time when I put my phone away and I try to leave work behind.
How long have you ever gone without checking email?
If it’s not email, it Slack communication or text messaging. I’d say hours— about 3 hours.
What advice would you give to others looking to purse the tech space?
I would say to do it.
I was really scared to launch out on this journey. But if you have a really good idea, do your research. We did customer interviews before even deciding that this was something we were going to pursue.
We had conversations with people in the hospitality industry and retail industry and the hourly pay cheque industry.
We talked to our customers to find out whether or not this was a product that people would even use.
I think founders sometimes get stuck on apps and businesses and they forget that they should talk to their customers. It’s important to figure out if your product is something that customers will even use.