Pairing the unemployed with nonprofits proves an instant success
By Cheryl Hall
11:30 AM on Mar 27, 2020
Anurag Jain, the principal of Dallas-based venture capital firm Perot Jain LP, and serial entrepreneur Patrick Brandt have never experienced anything like getting Get Shift Done for North Texas off the ground.
"Talk about the craziest week of my life,” says Brandt, who owns Shiftsmart, a flexible work company that helps staff the hospitality industry. “This is absolutely, by far, not even close, the fastest startup that I’ve ever done.”
It started with a phone call on March 14.
Jain, chairman of the North Texas Food Bank, was distraught about the loss of volunteers needed to package food to be sent to partner agencies. Brandt was worried about the massive layoffs in the hospitality industry caused by the coronavirus crisis.
That’s when they hatched the brilliant idea of staffing food banks, schools and pantries by hiring the unemployed hospitality workers for $10 an hour.
“We thought, ‘Why don’t we take people who know food to help the people who need the food?’ ” Jain says.
The next day, Jain reached out to the North Texas Food Bank while Brandt contacted the Communities Foundation of Texas. Both organizations said to count them in.
Jain and Brandt created their fund at the foundation that Monday and sent out the first shift of workers three days later.
“We raised more than $2 million very quickly from some community leaders — the usual suspects, names you would know,” Brandt said. “The program was extremely successful very quickly beyond our wildest dreams.”
In its first full week that ended Thursday, Get Shift Done paid for 25,000 hours of work and prepared more than a million meals at 14 nonprofit locations.
“We’ve exceeded $3 million in commitments,” Brandt says. “We’ve onboarded 5,000 workers to our platform. Next week, we will pay $400,000 in salaries, which is the equivalent of 1,000 workers working full time.”
As a venture capitalist, Jain has other businesses he could be tending to. But right now, he's closeted in his home office working on this mission — with an occasional escape to see his wife and two kids.
It’s all worthwhile.
“I walked into the first shift, right, and I met this worker who told me, ‘I took a train and two buses to get here. I really want this work.’ People stayed after the clock had closed out to help clean up,” Jain says.
“Typically when we ask for 70 volunteers, 55 show up. With this, everybody shows up and brings people with them,” Jain says. They say, ‘Here is my friend. This is my sister. This is my cousin. Can he or she also get the work because we have a family and need the work right now?’ ”
He and Brandt hate it when they have to disappoint the hopefuls because they haven’t been registered.
Brandt says he’s been heartened by the widespread support.
“When you look at the number of people being laid off from their jobs, they’ve got two lines that they might go in,” he says. “One is to work a few hours on an assembly line with us to supplement their income or they could wind up in the food insecure line. That’s what we want to keep from happening.”