A sweet spot for Chicago tech is helping old-line companies become more efficient.
Think Groupon. Think GrubHub. Add Shiftgig.
Launched in January, the LinkedIn-style online community helps service workers find jobs — and restaurants, hotels, nightclubs and shops find workers. Already, about 100,000 job seekers have created profiles on the site, while about 4,000 businesses are using it, Shiftgig reported Wednesday.
The company also announced that it raised $3 million in an early funding round. Investors include the I2A Fund, FireStarter Fund and Red Barn Investments, run by Terrance Holt, the founder of Interface Software. Shiftgig also said Ken Pelletier, the former chief technology officer of Groupon, has become an investor in and technical adviser to the startup.
"Lots of online companies are helping small businesses fill seats, find customers and build online reservation systems, but no one's helping employers with their largest expense — that's people," said Shiftgig co-founder Eddie Lou, a former general partner at Chicago venture capital firm OCA Ventures. "And in the service industry there's a lot of turnover ... so you're constantly looking for people."
Lou also said LinkedIn isn't solving that problem for the type of businesses he's targeting.
"The reason I started the company is because I saw a statistic: Among 18- to 22-year-olds, 98 percent are on Facebook but only 13 percent are on LinkedIn," he said. "So why is that? It's because they have jobs. They don't have careers. If you have a career, you're on LinkedIn. If you don't, you're not there."
Shiftgig is operating in Chicago, Los Angeles and New York, and recently expanded to Houston, Washington, D.C., Miami, Philadelphia and Minneapolis, Lou said. It plans to offer premium, paid-for services to build revenue.
Stuart Larkins, managing director of the I2A Fund, said he invested on the basis of the strength of Lou's team, which includes Shiftgig President Jeff Pieta and Chief Technology Officer Sean Casey.
"I would also say their track record for the first year is proof of concept," Larkins said. "A hundred thousand people signing up is not an insignificant amount of individuals."
Threadless CEO backs BlackJet
Threadless CEO Thomas Ryan is among the handful of tech glitterati and celebrities investing in BlackJet, an Uber-like service that matches fed-up (and wealthy) fliers with empty seats on private planes.
After paying a membership fee of about $2,500, a few clicks will guarantee a seat on a private jet. The cheapest fair is $950, according to the blog AllThingsD. BlackJet CEO Dean Rotchin said service in Chicago is scheduled to begin in 2013.
"What that means to us is that we're not just waiting for someone to ask, 'Oh, I want to fly out of Chicago,'" Rotchin said. "We go and actually get thousands of clients, prior to offering the first flight in a market."
Uber co-founder Garrett Camp led the funding round and is leading product development. The company is a relaunch of Greenjets, which Rotchin also led and filled seats using methods that required "lots of paperwork." Ryan got connected through Uber investor Shervin Pishevar, a friend and the former president of Webs.com. (Ryan was an angel investor in Webs, which helps people create simple websites and was acquired for a reported $117.5 million in December.)
Ryan said although he's an investor in BlackJet, private planes are not his typical mode of travel.
"I fly economy everywhere," he said. "I just got back from Tokyo, and I flew economy there and back. I hope to use (BlackJet). I wouldn't be investing in it if I didn't think it had a lot of potential. But I've been an economy road warrior for my entire life."
Headed to Harvard
Popular Kellogg School of Management professor Steven Rogers has left Northwestern University for Harvard Business School, where he is a senior lecturer, Rogers said Monday.
Rogers cited conflict with Kellogg Dean Sally Blount as the reason for his departure. Rogers, who received countless teaching awards during his 17 years at Kellogg, earned his MBA from Harvard.
Rogers stepped down in 2011 as director of the Larry and Carol Levy Institute for Entrepreneurial Practice, the school confirmed. Rogers said he later asked to be let out of his contract with the university. Kellogg spokeswoman Megan Washburn declined to comment on contract-related matters. (Blount was named dean in 2010.)
"Professor Rogers was a valued member of our faculty and, while we had hoped he'd stay, we wish him the best in his future endeavors," Washburn said in an email.