Guest: Adam Roseman, Co-Founder and CEO of Steady
Air Date: September 12, 2018
Chad: Hi everyone, and welcome back to another episode of Ready. Set. Work. We’re here today with Adam Roseman, Co-Founder and CEO of Steady. Thanks, Adam, for being here, we’re excited to have you!
Adam: Thanks so much for having me
Chad: Yeah, so I thought before we dive into some of the questions, I know you and I actually met for the first time – I think it was a couple of months ago – you were in the final stages of closing your recent fundraising round, and congrats on that milestone by the way, and we learned that we actually share a couple investors – Omydiar and Clock Tower Ventures I believe were the two. I’m really curious, so one investor that we don’t share is Shaquille O Neal, or Shaq, who I noticed when I read your press release is an investor in steady, and I’m definitely curious, and I think our listeners would love to hear just more about that as well. How do you know Shaq and how did he become an investor in Steady?
Adam: Sure, no problem. Well we’re certainly glad to have him. And this is audio and not video, and if you had video you’d see I’m typically not dwarfed, I’m a fairly large individual, but you know I’m glad to have one of our shareholders who’s able to dwarf me. So I’ve known Shaquille now for about five years. I dealt with him in my last business which had a media component to it, in particular relative to China, and so I had the chance to spend a pretty good amount of time with him in China, in fact over the course of several years he was quite active there from a brand partnership perspective. And when I worked on getting Steady off the ground, I was in the same town as Shaquille’s management team and went in just to say hello, just because we had been friendly. They inquired about what I was doing next and I told them about Steady and the first thing they responded with was ‘this is amazing, we need to get Shaquille on the phone, because he is going to love what you’re doing.’ And so they put Shaquille on facetime, told him about what we’re doing, and his response was, you know, exactly in the line of ‘I see what’s going on in the US, I’m troubled by it from the standpoint of the challenges that a large portion of the population is facing now as a result of the, sort of, changing environment people are having to work more than one job. I see it, you know, at home with friends and family members, and i want to be a part of this because I want to bring awareness to this topic, and I want people to understand that there’s someone who’s there to try to help make things better.’ So that’s how it all came about, and he committed to doing a very significant amount of work for us over the course of a couple of years, which people will start seeing here soon, and didn’t want a penny from us. He just wanted to be able to participate, and be a shareholder, and sort of benefit from the growth that we all hope that we’ll achieve. So it’s exciting to have him, we’ll be with him again in a few days in LA doing a bunch of filming. And you know what he is absolutely wonderful with is sitting with folks and, you know, talking to them about their lives and challenges they’re facing and really being a sounding board, and just making people feel welcome, so it’s always fun when we get to put him in that type of environment which we’ll be doing next week.
Chad: Yeah that’s amazing, thanks for sharing that story. It’s definitely cool to hear about, you know maybe a different side of Shaquille that the public doesn’t hear about that often, so that’s really cool. So – and that’s a really good segwe, I think, into – maybe just start off by telling us a little more about how steady works, and the gaps that it’s filling in the gig economy.
Adam: Sure. So we’re very excited about our mission, and we are focused on helping individuals who either currently have more than one source of income or one job, or those who are requiring a second source of income, for one reason or another. It could be that they’re a gig worker and, by choice or necessity, work multiple gigs on a regular basis. It could be that they they are a part time employee at – could be restaurants, could be retail, could be a logistics or distribution or healthcare services business where they’re not getting sufficient hours, so they’re working either a second, part time job or doing gig work to supplement it. Or it could be individuals, who we see quite often, who have what we would define as full time jobs, but for one reason or another – which could be that they’re in a high-cost living metro, or that they have other financial goals that are being unmet, such as retirement savings or saving for a down payment on a home, as a result of that they’re having to supplement their full time work with additional gig or part time work. So what Steady is set out to do is to help these individuals, which obviously is a very large number of Americans now, we can debate the number depending on whose research you want to believe, but you know we’re focused on helping these individuals to optimize their income potential. In the near term what the product does is it helps you figure out what is the best supplemental work for you, it enables you to be able to track your income, and as we’re tracking your income able to see and, you know, based on the income trajectory in certain instances volatility be able to identify and better curate for you income opportunities that are going to align with what we’re seeing in terms of your current earnings trends. And then as we carry forward, the mission of the business is to help you be able to define your overall portfolio of work. So that could eventually become replacing certain work that make up a portion of your income pie with other components, or it could be to the extent that there’s a full time job that you’re currently not in that becomes available that’s a great fit for you and aligns with your goals because you require benefits, or something else that’s not going to be able to be provided through your current part time or gig work, we’re going to suggest that you move into that. So our mission is really on being the income advocate for participants in this, sort of, broadly defined future of work.
Chad: That’s great, no it’s definitely an inspiring mission. And I’m curious, what was the inspiration behind you wanting to solve this problem?
Adam: Yeah, so there were a number of factors. The first is that our seed investor and chairman Michael Loeb in New York, who I’ve been working with for quite some time, over a dozen years now, we’ve always sort of focused together on building “double bottom line businesses,” businesses that hopefully would scale, but also had a social mission behind them. So we started dipping into a variety of stats and the two that really stood out to us were, you know first off looking at the mckinsey reports around the future of work, and the roughly 70 million Americans today that sort of fit into this broadly defined future of work definition, combined with the roughly 70+ million Americans who have at least one consumer debt in collection, and then marrying that up against wage increases, where you have a one percent median increase in real household income in the US since 2000, and you have significant double digit increases in either major cost of living items, such as housing, healthcare and education services, and we looked at all of that as a whole and said ‘okay, there’s wonderful businesses out there today, PFM tools and inclusive fintech platforms that are providing for better access to credit for individuals who are in this future of work definition, helping them to identify savings that they may be able to enact, whether it be limiting an unnecessary expense, or a cheaper alternative. But the real problem from our perspective that wasn’t being tackled was income, and how do you take that existing income pie and make it bigger? And then it sort of hit home, in that I started thinking about my father, and m father is a 71 year old retiree in Savannah Georgia who lived the majority of his life in Sacramento California, and, you know, no college education, he had worked in a restaurant the majority of his life, retired to Savannah with insufficient retirement income and is sort of working to make ends meet by working in retail, not getting hours, and one of the early, sort of, test cases was to give my dad access to other types of work he didn’t know about, so a couple of different gig platforms that would supplement his hours he was getting in retail. It ended up being that he loved it, and he was able to get sufficient hours and generate sufficient income to fund his retirement, and he loved the diversification of not just doing one thing, and being able to get out and move around and stay active, and that sort of set us off on our current trajectory. So I’d say those are the main factors that lead us to be moving in this direction, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.
Chad: That’s great so your dad was essentially patient zero, he was one of the first users of Steady?
Adam: He was absolutely patient zero.
Chad: That’s fantastic, and you made a quote that I really liked, and it kind of hung on me for a bit, which was the ‘double bottom line,’ and just so I understand that, that’s referring to both, kind of, the economic value but then also the social impact, is that right?
Adam: That’s exactly right.
Chad: Cool, yeah I really like that. I’m definitely going to reuse that if that’s okay, I like it
Adam: Of course. I didn’t make it up, I won’t take credit for that
Chad: Yeah no that’s fine. Cool, so one other question, so you have, I think, a really unique perspective, as a platform who works with independent contractors, but it sounds like also with W2 employees who are working multiple part time jobs, and I think you kind of look at it as, maybe agnostic, just from an income perspective, and that’s probably how the worker looks at it, as more of just from an income perspective. And I’m curious, just from your unique vantage point, how do you see that, kind of, W2, part time, and contingent work intersecting? And, I guess, what does that future of work look like to you, when you think of those two components – W2 part time versus contingent work?
Adam: Sure, so I am a big believer that the lines are going to blur overtime, and I think one of the most obvious examples of that is if you look at how people are actually working. So today, let’s just say you’re a part time worker at Walmart, or at Home Depot. You work there, there’s no, sort of, minimum threshold of hours that you really need to work, because they always have a challenging time, sort of, filling shifts. And, you know, depending on which brand of retail you’re working for, every couple of weeks you have the ability to log on to the scheduling platform, whether it be Kronos or others, and you grab the shifts that you want to work until they fill up and then once they fill up then you have to pick other shifts, and you go and you work in a retail environment based on the shifts you selected. And then you sort of flip that over to someone like an Instacart: you’re working for Instacart, which we all consider to be a good platform, what do you do when you’re working for Instacart? Well, every week or two depending on you Geo, you go onto instacart when the shifts open, you book your shifts, and then you go and you show up at a retail environment. And so, the app was your initial entry point into instacart, but the mechanism of work is really no different. And so from our perspective, there is absolutely no doubt that the lines are going to continue to blur. I am not an expert, by any means, in terms of sort of the legal ramifications or challenges associated with that blur, be it, you know, a W2 or contract worker. You know, the way that our workers look at it is, as you talked about, yes, is very income centered, but all of them also understand that, you know, when you are a 1099 or contract worker, there’s going to be additional things that you need to think about, such as, you know, taxes and insurance and other things that may not be provided to you, that you’re going to be able to achieve through W2. But they’re, from our perspective, just given that you have, sort of, technology first gig platforms that are creating an offline, real world experience combined with offline, physical presence, real world experience-first businesses that are becoming more and more technology enabled to enable them to match labor supply and demand and effectively Uberize, you know, I think the lines between those two very distinct set of businesses in most people’s minds are going to become very very narrow over the course of the next decade.
Chad: Yep, no that definitely makes a lot of sense, and I know at Bunker, you know, we’re a really really small part of that but one of the things we talk about is kind of removing the barriers to talent. You know, with Bunker it’s obviously insurance, but kind of what you described just made me think about that, because from the worker’s perspective, they just want to work, right? They just want to – whether it’s a gig job, whether it’s a contracting position, whether it’s a W2 position, they ultimately want to work and earn income, and I think it’s our responsibility to remove those barriers and help them work. And it sounds like you guys kind of think similarly about that.
Adam: Oh completely. And we view ourselves as one small piece of that as well, and obviously, you know, businesses like Bunker and others that we would be excited to work with fill different pieces of that, so we’re excited as well to be a small piece of that overall solution.
Chad: Yeah. And that’s a good segue, so you know at Bunker we talk quite a bit about, you know, ensuring the shifting workforce is ultimately a safe place for everyone, and really a fair place for everyone. And I’m curious, kind of if you think about what your utopian future would look like for the gig economy or the future of work, what would that look like? And maybe put your product hat on, so you’re, you know, kind of, a maker in this space, what do the workers on your platform ultimately want?
Adam: Yeah, so I’m going to talk a bit about this, but, you know, we’ve got certain secret sauce that’s in the works that factors into it, so I may need to leave out just a little bit of the “utopian” for the time being at least. Hopefully be in a position to talk about that down the road given our early stage. But yeah, we certainly think that there is a lot to be done, and there is room for a lot of players, who hopefully can work together to create an optimal environment for workers in this very new world and environment that they are already facing. So from out perspective, speaking with workers specifically, when you’re focused on income which is part of this equation I’m going to tackle in terms of the response to your question, you know folks are looking – it’s very difficult for them to understand, when you have more than one puzzle piece that makes up your income puzzle, what’re those puzzle pieces, first off, like which are the appropriate ones. Secondarily, how do those fit together when you have things like conflicting schedules? And then how do you think about your future, in that there are very few – if any – part time jobs that have a clear trajectory to them. What is the next step you’re going to take? You’re not a typical 1950s 1960s worker who knows, you know, you’re in an office and you have a certain trajectory over the course of the next 20-30 years. Yeah, maybe you’ll get a couple rungs higher if you’re a high performer or highly political, but if not, you’re sort of – you sort of have a set path and you’ve got your pension and you go home and retire. These workers have no idea what’s next, and what we see – specifically with our income tracker – is that a large number of these workers, I’d say the majority, they’re working to pay the bills that are due next week or next month, and they don’t really have a clear sense of how that looks on a historical or forward looking basis from an earnings perspective. And I’m talking about the sort of low to moderate income side of the future of work workforce here, right? I’m not talking about attorneys and accountants who have their own 1099 businesses. So these workers, they’re focused on making ends meet and their focused on achieving their financial goals but there’s no clarity on, where am i going to go next to move up the ladder? And so I think from our perspective it’s, first off, how do you define those current puzzle pieces, when do you work for each of those current puzzle pieces in order to optimize your outcome, and then how the heck are you going to approach replacing those puzzle pieces over time, either with additional pieces or, again, replacing the whole puzzle to put you in a better position, and I think that’s one of the biggest overhanging challenges for this workforce is how are you going to move up that income ladder?
Chad: Yep, no that definitely makes sense, and I’m curious, if you look at kind of the demographics of the workers that are on your platform today – you mentioned your dad being a retiree, and then you mentioned other individuals who are, kind of, augmenting their income with multiple part time jobs – is it truly kind of a very diverse population of workers that are on your platform or is there kind of more of a typical worker that you see?
Adam: Yeah, it’s still early days for us, right, we just crossed 100,000 registered users a couple days ago cause we’ve only been live out of beta for about a month now, but what we’re seeing thus far is that it is a large cross section of the economy. I like to make this sort of equation – that I know I’ve spoken with your team about before – of sort of the comparison that we’ve seen of our users to the film Love Actually. You know, the British film. Partially because they’re are very few films I actually see, and partially because it actually kind of hit home, where you have in that film, you know, people that range from a migrant worker from Portugal who doesn’t speak English, who moves to an English speaking territory and is working to just survive as a, I believe, cleaning staff in that film, and all the way up to the prime minister of the UK, who were suffering from the same challenges, and those challenges are relationship driven. Well, a we get to further understand our users, and as we’ve conducted user discovery across the country for the last year, it’s clear that this is an everybody problem. You can be anyone from any walk of life, everyone’s got a friend or a family member who’s struggling with an income shortfall and they’re not able to achieve a financial goal, some of those planned some of those unplanned. And as a result of that, we are seeing a tremendously broad and diverse user base. I’d say our most active users right now are sort of those who are mid 30s to late 40s, and tend to be not as much the, sort of, very young, post high school/post college age individuals who, if they need to save, if they’re having financial challenges can, perhaps, take in an extra roommate, they can cut the bills, not go out as much, go live with their parents for a while. Here we’re talking about individuals who have a mortgage, who have a family, who have education and other child related matters to pay for, who have to put food on the table for their children, and who just simply cutting some monthly expenses is not going to solve the problem. And so for them, they really need to find other ways and better ways to generate income in order to mitigate those challenges.
Chad: Yep. Well, first off, congrats on the 100,000 user milestone, that’s impressive. And I definitely love the reference to the movie Love Actually, and I think that’s definitely the first time the movie’s been referenced on this podcast – and maybe the only time – but it does make sense. Like, it is really a diverse cross section. And I’m curious – this is one thing we think about a little bit at Bunker, is kind of the push/pull of this. So, if you think about your platform, you have kind of the supply and demand side, or a traditional marketplace has the supply and demand side, and we hear quite a bit that the demand side – or rather the supply side, the workers themselves, aren’t hard or difficult to find because ultimately people want to work. And I’m just kind of curious on your impression of that, do you think that there is just a lot of untapped potential in even getting the word out more, to more workers, that aren’t even aware that they could augment their income easily, or they could be a retiree that could work. And I’m just kind of curious, in your opinion, where are we? And to use a baseball analogy, you know, like first inning? Ninth inning? Where do you think we are in that spectrum?
Adam: From my perspective, we’re still in batting practice. We are not – our low hanging fruit today is not the existing gig worker. You know, they tend to sort of already have things set for themselves, they understand how they’re going to split their day – at least in terms of the full time gig worker. For us, if you look at the future of work participants, you know you can look at the numbers it’s anywhere between 2 and 5 million Americans are actually spending their time – a reasonable amount of time – doing some type of “gig platform work.” And you’ve got another, again depending on whose study, let’s say roughly 50 million+ who are part time workers, who are individuals who have full time work that aren’t achieving their financial requirements. And so, yeah, there’s a massive portion of the population that still is not clear that they can augment their income, that there are things that they can do that are going to align with their schedule, that there are things that they can do. Nothing wrong with, you know, Uber and Lyft, but there’s things that they can do aside from ride sharing, right? And so the awareness amongst those individuals – or the target potential market – is still incredibly low and I think we’ve got a long long way to go. And I think, whether it be for ridesharing, delivery, pet services, healthcare services, childcare, whatever type of on demand work and gig work, you know, there’s a long way to go.
Chad: Yeah, I would agree. I think it’s really, like, a generational movement, you know, and changes like just – if you use analogs for other types of changes – just take time, and in some cases generations, and so kind of a macro environment. And I guess we’re both biased in this view, building companies that are focused on solving problems, but I think the macro environment is pretty positive. So I’m curious, if we fast forward the clock, let’s say five or ten years, what do you think success looks like in the gig economy? And maybe answer that question more from the perspective of the worker. So, as an example, is it finding enough work to make a living? Is it finding work that you’re really passionate about? Or maybe just being able to find a really rewarding work life balance, or something else. I guess, what comes to mind when you think of that question, from the workers’ perspective?
Adam: To me, what immediately is the lifting of the employer’s view of ownership of the worker. I think that’s central to this in that for anyone to be able to retain a worker who is in this target market of having multiple forms of income over the foreseeable future, they’re going to have to be very open and, quite frankly, proactive in terms of helping these workers become more financially healthy. And that is going to include putting them with the right insurance, putting them in the right type of financial services, but from our perspective, and selfishly most important to us, is they’re going to need to understand that they need to do other work as well. And whatever mechanisms need to be put in place for them, we obviously hope to support some of those, so, you know, systems that will enable those workers to be able to hop from work to work, specifically when you’re talking about unskilled and low-skilled workers, and do so in a very streamlined, seamless fashion is, to me, at the heart of this. Because the biggest challenge that we continue hearing today from workers who are working more than one type of job is it is so challenging for them to be able to align their schedules, and that their schedules are – especially if they’re working any type of part time or full time work – in many instances they very, they’re irregular, as a result of that it’s very hard for them to align other types of work. And a lot of that is due to just, you know, when you sit down with HR organizations at far too many corporations, they still view the employee – even if it’s a part time employee – as owned by that employer. And I think that view really needs to lift, and employers need to support and embrace the fact that workers are going to be more sticky, they’re going to be more happy, they’re going to be more productive on the job if they’re more financially healthy, and the only way for that to happen, is for them to work with the employee to help them be able to generate the full income that they need to be able to aggregate in order to achieve their financial objectives, or at least be financially not tremendously unhealthy. So, I would say to me that’s the number one thing that comes to mind.
Chad: Yep, no that makes sense. I think, going off of that a little bit, I’m really curious for your answer to this question and I honestly don’t know if I really have an answer for it, so it’s probably an unfair question, but I know in traditional employment, we often think of success as upward mobility, so in other words, you start at a company, and then you move up the ranks of that company, and do you think the concept of upward mobility transfers to the gig economy, and, I guess, are there, or should there be, ways of showcasing improvement or, you know, career progression in a particular line of work?
Adam: Conceptually, there should be. And I don’t know, again, if I have a clear answer for you either on this, it’s something that we do think about a lot. For us today, when you think about progression, or you think about upward mobility, it really comes down to acquiring valuable experience or valuable skills that are going to be translatable into work that you’re currently not in that is going to provide for a higher level of income than what you’re generating today. And today the way we think about that is looking at the work that you’re doing, no just at the wage that you’re making, but also at the value of that experience, and is that experience that you are building going to be transferable into another form of work, or into another role where there is the prospect of upward mobility, and if not, you need to think about either A. shifting to work that is going to provide for the value of that experience, or B. looking at skills that can be acquired, not necessarily going out and getting a four-year degree, but skills that can be acquired during the time that you’re able to invest and allocate based on already having, in many instances, a heavy workload, to be able to obtain that upward mobility based on that new skill acquisition. And that’s a very challenging thing for someone to do, especially one who has two three four different forms of work. And so, certainly, there’s going to need to be tremendous support from the employers and the gig platforms themselves, plus I think from third parties that are going to have to fill the gap. I know the work that guild education is doing with Lyft and Walmart and others, I think that’s great, I think it certainly needs to extend far beyond four-year university education, but I think that type of business and that type of initiative is certainly the right track and what needs to be pursued.
Chad: Yeah that makes sense, and I guess, theoretical – and I’m kind of a free markets type of person – you would think that the gig economy and the future of work just democratizes work in a way that workers just have a lot more flexibility than they might have had 20, 30, 40 years ago when the path was, you start at a company and then you work your way up, and there are some advantages to that, but ultimately you just have less flexibility I guess in that environment than a worker would today, where you can really kind of flex your time across multiple different arrangements, multiple different companies, and to your point, gain a lot of valuable experience that way, so that makes sense.
Adam: Yeah, it does, and I think far too often that the shiny light today is pointed on the gig economy as being sort of a cause of income challenges and, from my perspective, it has much more to do with just the fact that the proportion of low wage jobs that have grown – specifically since the financial crisis and certainly since like 2001 – in the US and jobs are becoming much more highly specialized to the extent that if you haven’t acquired those specialized skills, you’re going to quickly fall into a low wage category. I think the gig economy, if anything, is giving people flexibility in addition to giving them the ability to work as many hours as they need to – hopefully not too many – to fill those gaps to the extent that they were working those in traditional forms of work be it restaurant and retail, they just wouldn’t be able to acquire enough hours in order to make ends meet.
Chad: Yep, no that makes sense. So the last question that I have for you, which – I always like asking this question, just because it’s pretty varied in terms of the answers that I get – But, so you’re building a company in this space and if you look back through your journey, what has been, really the biggest surprise for you, either in building the company, or maybe assumptions that you had about the gig economy or the future of work. I’m just curious, anything that comes to mind?
Adam: A lot of surprises. And I think that’s a good thing, I think that means that we’re learning. So, the biggest surprise, I would say, is the diversity of the workforce, and the fact that our users today range from, as I talked about, perhaps someone who’s just out of University and, you know, wasn’t able to find their dream job, or someone who never graduated from University and who, as a result, is working multiple jobs in order to pay the bills. You go from there to the single mother who is perhaps in her 30s, who’s working to make ends meet and support their children, who needs extra work to supplement whatever they’re currently doing – could be a school teacher who needs to do online tutoring on the side, or something that she’s able to do from home during evening hours to the – we have an individual who we met with in Chicago who works in admissions at a large University in Chicago and who, as a result of being in a reasonably high cost living environment, is unable to save for a downpayment on a home, and he wants to buy their family their first home. So, he’s working in – graduated from a top university, but doing supplemental gig work on nights and weekends in order to save for his downpayment. All the way up to my dad, right, the retiree who’s supplementing their retirement income and doesn’t have sufficient retirement income, which unfortunately the trend is moving more and more and more in that direction. So I think the biggest surprise has just been the diversity of this perspective market and, again, how many of us are going to be, you know, we’re going to feel it, either ourselves directly, or touched by friends and family members, and I think that’s definitely been the biggest of many surprises.
Chad: Yep, no that makes sense. So before we close things off here, Adam, is there anything else that you’d like to share with our listeners?
Adam: No, I think we’re very excited to be a part of this overall market. Equally excited to have the ability to see businesses like Bunker and others who are building and developing to help this workforce succeed in this new reality we’re facing. I think there’s still far too many individuals focused on working to try to turn around the progression of “gig work,” I think, from our perspective, it’s a bus that’s not turning around – too far down the road – and so I think the focus from all of us needs to continue being on how do we create the best possible outcome given the realities that we’re facing. So, very excited to be a part of it, hope we can support as many workers as possible, and work with partners like yourselves and really appreciate being a part of this today.
Chad: Yeah, likewise. And like you said, it’s batting practice, so we’re really really early days and there’s plenty of potential and, kind of, opportunity around the corner.
Adam: It is indeed. Let’s hope all of us perform as well when it’s game time.
Chad: Definitely. Alright, well that is a wrap. And so, thanks so much again for Adam to taking the time to share with us on the Ready. Set. Work. podcast, and of course, thank you to our listeners, we appreciate you tuning in and hope you can join us on the next episode of Ready. Set. Work.
Next Episode: “Wellness in the Workplace” ft. Heather Waibel, CEO and Founder of Welnys