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Show HN: Staffjoy V2 – Text message-based employee scheduling app (staffjoy.com)
52 points by philip1209 on Jan 10, 2017 | hide | past | web | favorite | 37 comments

Today Staffjoy (YC Fellowship 1) is launching a new version of our scheduling application. We started by focusing on bringing big company scheduling technology to small businesses. We found some early success with on-demand startups and call centers. Yet, we had trouble crossing the chasm.

We stepped back earlier this year to focus on why so many businesses still run on pen and paper. We found that offline scheduling was a symptom of deeper communication issues.

Staffjoy V2 is a ground-up rewrite that focuses on sharing work schedules in less time. We do this by sending workers their schedules over text message. When there are changes, we send the latest schedule to affected workers.

We optimized our architecture for messaging, and we plan to expand beyond SMS soon. You can read about it here: https://blog.staffjoy.com/staffjoys-v2-architecture-9d2fcb40...

We chose to focus on text messages after doing extensive user studies in the service industry. We found that many workers lacked email addresses, and operated on prepaid phones. Managers would text them photos of the schedule because it was the best way to reach them. So, we automated this process.

Moving forward, we will focus on improving the core scheduling experience. We plan to use text messages to engage directly with employees and create flexibility. We also plan to integrate scheduling with other business tools. To do that, we plan to announce our first integration partners later this month.

Finally, today we’re excited to announce a $1.2M seed round of funding, led by Caffeinated Capital (detailed here: http://venturebeat.com/2017/01/10/staffjoy-raises-1-2-millio... )

If you have any questions, I'm here to answer them!

Well done Phillip. I think you should be commended for actually going back and finding the deeper reasons, rather than doing the usual throw more marketing $/hire expensive sales team.

I think it's also great that you're building a product that is aimed at people who aren't quite as 'online' as the usual HN crowd, which make up a quite large %age of the population but are generally totally overlooked.

The only problem with that is it is harder to reach these companies (for the very reason your product is interesting to them). I'm curious on what your marketing strategy would be to those kinds of companies?

We actually had some insights about reaching small businesses in our user studies too. Restaurants largely ignore their phone now - orders and reservations are online. They get bombarded with emails, which they ignore. However, they look to peers through google groups and facebook groups for recommendations.

So, we started a content series called Breaktime where we highlight small businesses and the tools that make them succeed. Our goal is that the businesses we feature will share the content with their networks, which is our target market! We're using the articles and episodes to create rich content across our social channels, too, and we plan to feature more Staffjoy customers!

Here's Breaktime: https://www.staffjoy.com/breaktime/

Hey, I have been following you fairly closely from the sidelines. I work on similar software, though strictly in the call-center space. You can see our stuff here:


Our main feature is simulating a call-center to build the correct schedule. Do you offer any features like that, or do you plan to?

Have (or are) you implementing an automated conversational api? You want people to make changes easily and you don't want it to rely on a human on the other end being reliable.

Seems tricky to build whilst optimizing for message number (SMS is expensive if you're poor) and usability (large % of users are poorly educated).

We haven't implemented a conversational UI yet. Messages are currently one-way. We'll be adding in voice support soon too so that you can call in and hear your schedule (even if you just hang up after when your "next shift" is).

As we roll out two-way messages, I've been contemplating internationalization. Date formats are somewhat universal, but for things like shift swapping - I think that we could overcome a lot of usability issues by adding Spanish support quickly.

Regarding cost and education - we also learned in user tests that we still need to support a print schedule. We're in the process of building that out. Our focus is on making structured, accurate scheduling data available to other systems (such as payroll). If that means that we need to focus on a printable view, that's fine :-)

BTW, this might simplify the rollout of conversational UI: http://www.smsinbox.net

I built it last year. It has basic white-label support, but I'd be happy to work with you guys to integrate the UI more closely with what you already have.

I'm working on a better landing page with screenshots; in the meantime here is a PDF with more info: http://www.blackchair.net/hubfs/SMS_Inbox.pdf

I'm so happy you posted this! I've wanted to add 2 way SMS to my product for a long while but it just hasn't made it to the top of the priorities list yet.

I'll be digging into the beta :).

I'll throw this out there for you as well: https://textit.in

Lots of API goodness: https://textit.in/api/v2

Thanks! This looks cool very cool (bookmarked).

For my current product I'm looking for a human-human SMS interface in a browser. Ideally, it should just drop-in and work.

SMSInbox pulls outbound messages directly from Twilio logs and creates an embeddable iframe interface. Does Textit.in offer similar functionality?

I do have other ideas that involve bot replies but have some concerns due to the complexity of the workflows in this product. There are dozens of variables involved.

As someone who ended up working in a company with "dynamic scheduling" after college, i.e. Walmart and call centers, I have an ethical problem with this product. Many workers at the bottom of the wage scale have a need for multiple jobs just to pay for rent and food. The companies I worked for with dynamic schedules seemed to use the scheduling to force their employees into a sort of indentured servitude by pressing on this need. They would change your schedule every week, and if you didn't say you were available your hours would be cut to nothing which would make putting food on the table literally impossible some weeks.

The only thing that helped alleviate this pressure from the company was arguing that you couldn't have seen a schedule change over the weekend if you had not been originally scheuled to come in that day. All I see this tool doing is helping managers force schedule changes ay any moment and forcing employees into an even worse situation.

Nothing against the founders for their hard work, but this is the sort of business I couldn't ethically invest in even if it gave me a guaranteed large return

This V2 product is not dynamic algorithmic scheduling. Managers manually schedule, just like they would on paper. The focus is more on clear communication to the employees. In the future, we want to focus on data integrations (e.g. surfacing vacation days from other apps) and shift swaps (which largely benefit workers).

My point is that managers are already manually scheduling employees on a way that hurts the employee but benefits the company. The inability to guaruntee that scheduling updates were seen by the employee was the only thing I saw that kept people from being put to 0 hours or getting fired.

I witnessed multiple events where someone had acknowledged a schedule change with a manage with a <1 week notice and had to refuse it. Every single time that happened, that person suddenly had 0-4 hours of work each following week.

I don't see this product doing anything but forcing employees into even tighter servitude for the worst paying employers with how the current situation is in America. If there were greater workplace protections for employees concerning schedule changes I would not have such an issue with this product

We're seeing the market care more about responsible scheduling now. The delayed Obamacare rules means that many more workers are eligible for overtime. We've seen many workers happy about this, and we're seeing more businesses take ownership of scheduling.

If nothing else, Staffjoy maintains strict audit logs and could eventually help companies evaluate managers (average lead time per schedule, etc).

I might be talking from a position of ignorance then as I haven't worked these jobs in about 5 years, but how are the Obamacare rules making companies care? My experience was that any benefit got tied to n hours of work per week, employees were scheduled to n-1 hours.

This was held to so strictly across multiple companies that at one point I was told to work 2 hours overtime on a Thursday. The next Friday, the last day of the week for the business, I had the owner show up from their home in another state to take over from me exactly 2 hours before my shift was scheduled to end and I was sent home.

If you're targeting mid tier and above businesses where someone can live off the salary of that one job, I could see them using this for a great benefit for both employee and the employer.Unfortunately I can't see any way that an employer paying minimum wage wouldn't use this to control their employees even more strictly than before

It sounds like you are saying that employees need to be able to passively resist schedule changes by staying ignorant of them. That sounds dysfunctional and like an impossible situation to maintain indefinitely.

And, I don't see how remaining ignorant of a schedule can help an employee continue to be scheduled. You might think that ideally, schedules should be constant. However, businesses have a legitimate need to reschedule based on unexpectedly high or low volume, illnesses, emergencies, and so on. It isn't unethical to make reschedules easier for either employers or employees.

It's unethical to continue to give more and more power to one side in a situation where that side is already overpowered. Businesses may have a legitimate need to reschedule but they don't want to pay for it. Having an employee available for schedule changes 24/7 is no different then having them on call 24/7, except in this case the employees are not paid for the on call hours. Additionally the companies pay so little that employees are forced to have multiple jobs, which is impossible to do when one or more jobs will be changing schedule at random.

Going back to the point about legitimate business needs for rescheduling. My experience was that those events accounted for less than 5% of the scheduling changes. Every employee would be working a different shift almost every day, resulting in the same number of employees working during each shift, but in a way that was maximally disruptive to the employees.

I'd agree with you that this sort of situation is dysfunctional, but companies use ignorance to their benefit all the time. The laws companies break and then go, "oops" or even better have no reaction at all, show up on this forum all the time. I don't see why we should work towards removing that tool from employees

Some fair points, especially that there is a difference between weekly availability and on-call availability. However, if businesses are already doing that and employees are struggling to defend missing shifts and keep their jobs, isn't there some benefit to the employees, who already think of themselves as on-call, to at least get the notice? Honestly, if the situation you are describing is real, I don't see how employees who don't check the paper schedule daily actually keep their jobs anyway and they might as well save gas and gain the ability to react to their new schedule instantly rather than hours later.

If the same notification technology ends up making it painless to switch shifts and line them up, or even to automate more consistent shifts, does that change the ethics for you?

Hey, I work in a similar space. What has changed over the past five years is remote work. A call center can better fit their input by scheduling employees for a couple hours in a shift, and an employee can be happy with that if they can work that 2 hours from their living room. It looks like a win/win based on the customers I have talked to.

I worked with a competitor in the text-message-based scheduling space a little over a year ago. They skipped out on the bill, claiming that they "didn't reap the value" that I invoiced them for. A lengthy legal dispute later, and we recovered a fractional percentage of the amount owed, after determining it to not be worthwhile to go after the entire amount.

I worked with the competitor because I felt that this is a space ripe for innovation, and that it's been a long time coming. I am incredibly happy that someone is bringing the vision of my former client to life.

This looks like a great idea. There were a few times I got in trouble at work in high school because I didn't see updates my boss had made after I checked the schedule. This would avoid any of the he said/she said BS.

Can this be used for covering shifts. When I worked in a job like this, we were allowed to get shifts covered, as long as we found someone to cover it. It would be neat if this service could be used to text everyone that is eligible to cover a shift for the opportunity for extra time.

"Your coworker is looking for someone to cover their front desk shift, Fri 12/9 from 3:00 PM to 11:00 PM. Would you like to cover it?"

Thanks! When we built our V1, we started to investigate building in shift swaps. However, when we started doing the user studies, we had an "oh crap" moment when we realized that so few of our users had smart phones or even email addresses. P2P swaps wouldn't work with such low engagement.

We realized that we had to fix a communication problem before we could build swaps. So, we went back to the drawing board and released V2!

You're spot on with your message - now that we have higher engagement with the workforce, we hope to build in that feature :-)

This sounds close to something I was working on two years ago. Dynamic slot filling to optimize resource utilization. It's a pure social/communication problem; it needs to be reliable, fast, easy and works everywhere before you get the network effect that makes it actually work.

It would be nice if you could post incoming jobs to the API, and any staff members currently available could accept/decline the jobs (like uber does). Currently it seems like it only handles scheduling availability, not job assignment.

I'm currently building a similar product for a client who manages staff across the country. He gets job leads, then the program needs to (1) identify who is available during the requested time slot, and (2) assign the job to one of the available staff members by texting them sequentially with a timeout asking if they would like to accept/decline the job.

It seems that staffjoy v2 solves (1) and does a good job of keeping track of an availability calendar. I would love to use it for that instead of reinventing the wheel. However, without (2) job assignment, it's a non-starter.

Possibly I could use staffjoy for maintaining the central availability calendar, and then build out the job assignment functionality on top of that. But that causes some usability problems for the staff member who now has two numbers to text.

So, from this, two feature suggestions:

(1) Job assignment functionality (complex, logistics vary by use case)

(2) Ability to send arbitrary messages from the phone number to the user

It seems that (2) would be a simple feature to add and could make integrating staffjoy much easier, because I could fill in the gaps for any missing functionality by building on top of the messaging layer.

Right now, this product is about 50% of what I need, but there's no easy way for me to add the additional 50%.

If you want to talk about this you can email me at milesrichardson@gmail.com

i mean do employees really want to deal with work stuff via text message too? We have email, calendars, various video and chat messaging apps, old fashion face-to-face communication, etc.

I'm pretty sure employees want to feel less on call, not to mention keep their one last silo of personal communication free from yet another greedy overlord.

Some types of employees have very irregular schedules, which can vary on a week-to-week basis. Right now, the most common solution is to review the "master schedule", usually a large printout hung in a common area in the back of the establishment, and write down what your days and hours will be. This is inconvenient for employees, who may make transcription errors, not see a shift they're scheduled to work because they're trying to follow a large chart filled with dozens of other employees, or miss a change in the schedule that was made after they had already written theirs down.

When I worked retail I saw the above issues every week, and would have welcomed a solution that I would know to be always up-to-date, was not filled with irrelevant information, and was convenient to access.

--"miss a change in the schedule that was made after they had already written theirs down."

That is more of management incompetence issue- if they make a schedule change after posting the schedule, they should inform (and ask permission) from affected employees- duh! But, I am forced to accept that many managers (especially in these types of jobs) are indeed inept.

We found that this was a pain point for managers. They would text workers their schedule changes. Then, the workers treated that channel as two-way.

For instance, they would text the manager when they were running late to a shift. The manager would not be checking their phone, and it caused issues.

Our goal is to create flexibility for workers. We looked at why so many companies still used pen and paper scheduling, and built a product for that market.

We found in user tests that many employees don't have email, and even run on prepaid phones. So, every Sunday they drive to each of their jobs (sometimes two or more) to find out when they are working. Alternatively, their manager (or a coworker) takes a photo of the schedule and texts it to them.

That's the person we built this V2 for. We're saving them time compared to traveling to work to see a printed schedule.

We want to further increase flexibility with tools like shift swapping. However, like I detailed in our other comment, using methods like email didn't have high enough engagement to give workers access to the feature. So, we built Staffjoy V2 with the idea of increasing engagement so that we could build more worker-friendly tools.

Finally, the workers can turn it off if they want.

"We found in user tests that many employees don't have email, and even run on prepaid phones."

Anyone reading along should remember this point. It's worth remembering because I've seen it over and over from when I started in the job market all the way today with even Fortune 100 companies. Those I know that did something about it usually involves signing in with username & password over Internet. Many of these companies have workers that don't want to deal with their crappy intranets or just have prepaid phones. A service that either totally or as an option appeals to such people has a massive, potential userbase to draw on if they can convince companies to use their software.

When I did part time shift work, I always checked my schedule when I was at work... but that may not work too well if you only work at a job occasionally, or if your boss is too incompetent to make the schedule in advance.

It's tougher for employees who work multiple part-time jobs. They're in the business less frequently, and they can't keep up with changes.

This is fantastic! I can see this being helpful to shift workers. Really applaud the process you took to arrive at the big opportunity.

Text messaging is a great tool for reaching a wide group of users (think WhatsApp). Shift scheduling touches a lot of low income and part time workers who may not have access to smartphones or data plans. Missing a shift can be costly. To me this isn't about being on call, but helping the workers ensure they have some control over their time.

I'm not familiar with this, but how is this better than just using calendar invites and an intranet? (Can't access the link currently, pardon me if this is addressed on the website)

1) Workers on prepaid cell phones don't have access to a calendar. (Many don't even have email addresses.)

2) When workers are onboarded via text message, we send them an ical links so they can add the schedule to their phone calendar directly!

3) Calendar invites don't scale well beyond 5 employees. We've seen it in user studies. It's ugly and hard to use.

For establishments that don't have company-issued hardware, it's difficult to standardize on e.g. Outlook calendar, Apple calendar, etc. Text messages and email are easy to standardize on, without putting too much burden of expectation on the employee to have high-end modern hardware capable of running the scheduling software client.

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