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How This Company Combines Qualities From Craigslist and Airbnb to Solve Staffing Issues

This story appears in the February 2016 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

As it was opening multiple locations, the Plant Café, a thriving Bay Area restaurant chain, was struggling to find workers to slide into many of its new hourly positions. "The job market is incredibly competitive here," says Doug Hunter, the cafe's director of training and technology. "We were trying everything to find the right people -- postings on and Craigslist -- but the places we were using weren't producing, which made it very difficult to sustain our growth. It was impacting the quality of service and the staff's stress level."

Chris DeLorenzo
Staff sergeant: Plant Café’s director of training and technology, Doug Hunter.

The Fix

Last summer, Hunter found the elusive talent pool he'd been seeking by using Instawork, an Airbnb-style marketplace that matches employers with part- and full-time job seekers. The site takes two key steps: It checks job-seekers' references; and when an employer posts a job opening on (an app is coming soon), the service responds with a list of screened local employees with relevant experience -- always within 24 hours, but often quicker than that. Employers then tells Instawork which candidates they want to interview, and when. Instawork schedules the interviews directly with candidates. The fee: $100 for a 30-day job posting.

The Results

Almost immediately, Hunter noticed an improvement in the number and quality of candidates. "We get five or 10 good candidates from Instawork -- and maybe one or two from Craigslist, where we'd pay $75 for a listing that would get buried," he says. Instawork has cut in half the amount of time that Hunter used to spend recruiting hourly employees, and turnover has been reduced by 30 percent.

The Second Opinion

Planet Café's problems were typical of small- to mid-sized businesses, says Kelly Workman, vice president of OfficeTeam, a staffing consulting firm. "Large businesses hire a lot of hourly employees, too, and the pool of candidates is quite small, so you need to know how to turn over every rock to find that talent, and you need to be able to move quickly. Time can kill all deals."

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