Shift-work scheduling software is their bread and butter but the founders of online platform Deputy are on a mission to streamline admin and boost employee engagement.
What is it? A cloud-based workforce-management system that helps ensure accurate rosters and pay and enables employees to easily call in sick, swap shifts and apply for leave. “Deputy’s mission is to simplify the work life of the two billion people around the world who are shiftworkers,” says co-founder and CEO Ashik Ahmed. “There are about two-thirds of the working population who are not sitting behind a desk. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of this demographic.”
Where did the idea come from? Ahmed had just graduated in computer science from The University of Melbourne when he joined Aerocare, Steve Shelley’s fast-growing aviation groundservices business, in 2003. Ahmed built an in-house rostering and pay system. In 2008, Shelley sold Aerocare and Ahmed was about to take off for the United States when his boss called. “My dream was to work for an Apple or a Google but Steve said, ‘Hey, why don’t we do something with this?’’’ says Ahmed, whose family had arrived in Australia from Bangladesh when he was 16. “I’d never thought about being an entrepreneur. I don’t even know what the word for ‘entrepreneur’ is in Bengali!”
What have you learnt? Ahmed recently found his employee handbook from his first job at Hungry Jack’s. He points to the full page of rules around rostering and attendance and the last line, which reads: “Do not ring the store during peak hours.” The lack of agency for shiftworkers is a burden for both companies and employees. “Our vision is that simplifying shiftwork will lead to thriving workplaces.” He recently did a shift as a waiter for a Deputy customer. “It was the most priceless experience of my working life. My advice for any entrepreneur or business owner? It can blow your mind to be in the shoes of your customer.”
Biggest challenge? “Close to 70 per cent of our customer base is hospitality and retail so because they were impacted by COVID-19, we were, too,” says Ahmed. Deputy had to restructure and shed staff. “It was very painful.” Meanwhile, healthcare customers were flocking to the system. “At the height of the pandemic, three new COVID-19 call centres were being set up on Deputy every day. We had a higher revenue and growth rate at the end of 2020 than at the beginning.”
What’s next? Deputy is now being touted as our next tech unicorn. It services 267,000 workplaces in more than 100 countries but Ahmed believes that it’s “only at 0.05 per cent of the market impact it can have, based on the number of shiftworkers. That’s how I quantify where we are and where we can be. We have a big focus on how the business will grow in the United States.”
Need to know
Founders: Ashik Ahmed, 40, and Steve Shelley, 56
Staff: 367 and hiring
Headquarters: In Sydney, with offices in London, San Francisco and Atlanta
Market valuation: Estimated worth of $880 million
First customer: Deputy launched in 2008 and was in development for 15 months before the Rocksia Hotel in Sydney became the company’s first customer.
Investors: Include Square Peg Capital, IVP and OpenView Venture Partners. To date, Deputy has raised $136 million.