At a time when hospitality is suffering its worst staffing crisis in living memory, tech startup Limber believes ‘surge pricing’ for staff can help the industry get back on its feet following Covid-19.

Limber, an app which connects staff wanting to pick up flexible shifts in the hospitality industry with venues looking to fill them, has introduced a feature allowing workers to increase the hourly rate they’re willing to work for.  The feature is especially popular on Friday and Saturday evenings when demand for staff is highest.

Limber’s founder, Chris Sanderson (pictured right), says, “In a nutshell, limber is a marketplace – which matches all the empty shifts in cafés, bars and restaurants with all the great people who want to work them. We’re all about making sure no opportunity to earn cash goes to waste.”

He adds, “Our users are currently reporting Christmas-like levels of demand, with around half the staffing levels. Covid-19 restrictions have made hospitality more labour intensive than ever with requirements such as table service, meeting and greeting, etc a necessity.  What should be a period of welcomed profitability for the industry after a tough year, is becoming really challenging.

“In response to this we’ve introduced our own version of ‘surge pricing’.  Whenever the app is busy, workers applying to shifts can opt to increase the hourly rate they’re willing to work for.  Venues have to pay a bit more but, in the current climate, that might be what it takes to keep the business moving.”

According to data from the Office for National Statistics, almost half of all UK jobs lost over the past year were in the hospitality sector.  In the 12 months to March 2021 the total number of paid employees in the country fell by 813,000, with hospitality businesses accounting for 43% of the national total, losing 355,000 employees over the period.

Now those positions are open and need filling again but staff aren’t returning in the numbers hoped for. The fear is that Covid-19 and Brexit have caused hospitality to lose that talent for good.

Chris continues: “The idea of aggregation is really important to us.  If we can collect all the unfilled shifts and match them with skilled staff then we can make sure no opportunity to earn goes to waste.  It’s vital to both support the industry and help people get back on their feet financially.  There also needs to be a focus on nurturing young talent and strengthening the pool of skilled hospitality workers – it’s a fantastic industry to be a part of but it’s facing a real crisis.”

The Limber app is available for staff to download on both apple and google app stores.  Users can create a profile in seconds and apply to shifts the same day. Limber provides staff with one weekly payslip for all their shifts and has the option for staff to earn into a pension.

In aid of founder month at TechSPARK, we caught up with Chris to find out a bit more about Limber’s startup story: 

How did you decide when to found Limber? Would you describe the process as waiting for the right time or taking a leap of faith?

It was immediate. For me, at the time in my life (30, single and bored of my corporate career), it was an absolute no brainer. I think the only thing that matters at the start is your gut. You can read all the startup books about lean methodology and data driven decisions that you like, but ultimately, if your gut is screaming, “do it”, that should be all you need. Ultimately, if you’re the type of person who asks all the questions before acting, you’ll find a way to talk yourself out of it.

What’s been the most memorable part of the journey?

Like anything, you remember the best bits and the worst bits, but the worst bits are way more vivid. When the pandemic hit, watching our pre Covid numbers take a sky dive was pretty harrowing. The world felt like it was imploding – but we were able to put that stuff in perspective (our trauma at that moment was insignificant in the grand scheme of things). The most memorable (positive) moment was when we became profitable this year.

 Would you do anything differently if you started now?

There are a million things I’m sure I’d do differently, but all the mistakes are totally fundamental to learning so I’m glad we made them. That was such a cliched answer. Maybe the better answer is to the question – “what will I do differently next time”. I’d think about distribution first. Sales and marketing is not an answer to “why will we scale”. I’d have a technical co-founder (if it’s another SaaS business). I might choose a model we could bootstrap (ie one where we can hit profitability without raising).

What advice would you give to founders looking to raise investment.

Do you need to? How far can you take it without doing that? Raising cash is not an indicator of success  – it’s easy to look at x, y and z startup and say – “they’ve nailed it, they’ve raised £25m”. All that proves is they’re good and raising cash. If you do need to raise investment (lots of businesses do), then be ready to sell a big dream and get equally comfortable with dealing with the day to day grind and talking about the 10 year big dream – and you need to be able to switch between those two modes effortlessly (I’m rubbish at it).

Do you have any other pieces of advice for aspiring founders you’d like to share?

Nope. The world (mainly social media) is full of advice, I don’t want to add to it!

Shona Wright

Shona covers all things editorial at TechSPARK. She publishes news articles, interviews and features about our fantastic tech and digital ecosystem, working with startups and scaleups to spread the word about the cool things they're up to. She also oversees TechSPARK's social media, sharing the latest updates on everything from investment news to green tech meetups and inspirational stories.