Thor Wood – CEO Interview

Thor Wood

CEO/Founder of SnapShyft

When did you know you wanted to start your own company?

When I turned 31, all evidence was pointing towards carving my own path in some way.

What was your original idea for this company, and are you still doing that (or did you pivot, if so, what is the new focus and why)?

To build a reliable on-demand labor marketplace that had the immediacy and consistency of Uber or Lyft, yet was hyper focused on a single industry (hospitality); Originally we looked at being position specific i.e. bartenders on-demand; but after conducting in-depth interviews with successful restaurateurs I decided it would be more impactful to tackle any open role in food & beverage/hospitality operations— which is possible because of our quality control standards.

How long did it take you to finally take the leap, and what was it that pushed you over the fence?

About 2 years— In 2014 I was running my own recruiting agency in SWFL and learned we were expecting a baby girl (my first). This wonderful news completely altered my frame of mind almost overnight, and I knew I wanted to redefine what success meant (to me) and build something truly special. About a year later I literally awoke with a clear picture of what I wanted to build, got the sense that it was now or never, and I chose to have no regrets— I began the process of fleshing out the concept, doing market research, interviewing experts, before committing any capital. It took about 9 months of this before we relocated to Indianapolis to take advantage of the growing startup/tech ecosystem and give it a go.

Who inspired you to pursue your dream, and why do you think they believed in you?

My girlfriend/partner helped me perform diligence on the concept, the market opportunity, and provided her full support to pursue launching a tech startup (and relocating to a new city). The original inspiration was of course my daughter’s impending arrival.

Who is your favorite mentor and why?

One mentor in particular that pulls no punches— no sugar coating; is Artem Gassan, former Venture Partner at 500 Startups and currently Managing Partner at SaaS Growth Ventures. He’s been in our shoes as a venture-backed founder, and willingly helps with everything from pitching the company to scaling sales velocity in a repeatable, scalable way.

What was the hardest thing about starting your company, and what did you do to make it through the first stage?

I purposely chose to found a technology startup, with zero technical background mind you, so adversity has been my bedfellow throughout the last 4 years of building. To offset this we proactively went about attending tech and startup centric meetups, building our network. Our network is how we joined forces with our CTO about 10 months into building the product. He has since become an investor as well, so it worked out for us.

What has been the hardest lesson to learn?

Be hyper-selective of who you let into your org— especially in the early days, and especially with leadership, partner, & board roles.

What has been the most amazing thing you have experience while running this company?

I think the most amazing thing is what the SnapShyft platform has been able to do for the workers that have been deemed “essential” during COVID, and how we are helping these overlooked and underbanked individuals pay their bills and keep a roof over their heads. Second to this I’m also pleased what we’ve been able to accomplish as first-time founders based in the midwest— selected for gener8tor’s accelerator program followed by 500 Startups flagship program; being chosen as a TechCrunch top pick for social impact, and being named a Top 15 early-stage startup.

What is the weirdest thing you have experienced while running this company, and how did you react to it?

VC’s are in the business of realizing substantial returns, yet despite evidence to the contrary they are purposely missing out on opportunities. The distinct differences in how I am treated and viewed, versus my super talented female co-founder Stephanie shows the scrutiny of female founders is pervasive. So we push to change this narrative.

What is the best decision you’ve ever made while running this company?

Asking my partner Stephanie to become my co-founder. She balances my personality and is super strong in areas that I am not. Our skill sets are actually complementary to one another— I focus on the big ideas, sales/biz dev, marketing, pitching and raising outside capital. Steph handles all operations, finance, HR/compliance. And we both work together on customer success and the general strategic direction of the company. Working together, especially during COVID, means our homestead is saturated in the startup with us— for better or worse (mostly better imo). Given we are striving for greatness we look for inspiration on what has worked well for husband/wife duos at Houzz, Slideshare, Eventbrite, Gap, Forever 21, Crate & Barrel, Cisco, VMWare, Flickr, Panda Express, among others.

What is the biggest mistake you made while running this company, and why do you think it happened?

Back in 2017, we put the cart before the horse in terms of fundraising, getting investors to help us fund the product build. Before we laid a single line of code, we were involved in a startup bootcamp competition that suggested having a technical co-founder was a way to be more attractive to investors. So we rushed that decision, and even though we won the competition shortly thereafter, we had to course correct about 8 months later, and this created a ton of technical debt to address.

How has the coronavirus pandemic affected your company?

Q2 felt like a complete restart for us— When COVID struck we were forced to helplessly watch the entire hospitality industry get frozen overnight— watching every single one of our customers be prevented from doing business as normal due to government mandates. This was painful, yet we knew this industry would find a way to catapult beyond the fallout and get on solid ground again. To be ready for the return we spent a great deal of time talking to our customers, introducing product improvements, and accelerating certain product roadmap items. And as it stands we grew 570% in Q3, and I am ecstatic to report that 95% of our customer base has survived 2020 thus far.

What keeps you passionate about your company?

User impact— The more we peeled back layers of what this industry goes through in normal times (let alone COVID times) the more we became sensitive to the impact we were having and what that could be long term— for workers and businesses.

What daily routine have you developed to help you take care of your mind, body, and soul?

I eliminated “doom-scrolling” from my day and completely avoided the news (started doing this well before COVID hit). This decision allows me to focus on task at hand, mission, etc; and plays well with the understanding that I need to mentally embrace the pain and actively try to learn from it— taking copious notes to reference. Lastly, it’s important to find moments to disconnect in order to recharge/refocus your mindset— music, playing with kids, taking a drive, reading, et al.

What one thing would you like people to take away from this interview?

It’s ok to be vulnerable. Be (or become) coachable. Adversity is par for the course, and by actively immersing yourself in the process/journey rather than the end goal.