In amongst all the commentary and economic divination that’s accompanied the end of Australia’s mining boom, there are hints as to where our nation’s companies might do well in the future. If you’re reading this article, the biggest trend should be obvious: technology. Australian startups that create new technology and sell it to an international market are capable of becoming a major source of growth for the economy. In fact, the transition to a tech-based economy has already begun, with ICT showing the most rapid growth of any industry in the service sector in the 2014-2015 financial year.
The next major trend is an industry coming in just behind ICT during the same timeframe: hospitality. The popularity of shows such as MasterChef and trends like craft beer and organic wine have encouraged us all to go out more often and spend a little more when we do. The strength of Australia’s service sector bodes well for entrepreneurs, particularly as people flock to on-demand software and services, such as Uber, Xero, and Airbnb. Those businesses weren’t founded here, but local startups have an opportunity to build the next wave of services-on-demand.
Clearly cashing in on the zeitgeist, Brisbane-based Bar Staff Co has established itself at the intersection of hospitality and tech with a business plan that’s hard to ignore. Professional bartenders coming to your house to mix cocktails for you and your guests sounds as absurdly opulent as having a private driver. But, with Uber making the latter more accessible, Bar Staff Co is betting it can convince people to bring their night out back inside.
Whereas the places you end up when you go out can be too pricey, noisy, or downright seedy, co-founder Hesam Alavi says that he wants to offer “a different kind of experience. We really want to focus on creating intimacy – at your house, you have that intimacy.”
The company launched in time for the 2015 Christmas period and grew quickly, managing to double its booking numbers after the silly season had ended. And as the state government prepares to do Bar Staff Co a favour, that growth looks set to continue. With mandatory closing times – the first stage of Queensland’s new lockout laws – coming into force next month, the nocturnally inclined may well find themselves in search of a different evening experience.
The beginning of Bar Staff Co is a familiar entrepreneurial tale. It features two founders, partners Hesam Alavi and Emma Elliott, a lack of funds approaching a crisis point, and a serendipitous idea. While working on another startup, Elliott and Alavi realised they needed an extra source of income if they wanted to be able to continue. To Elliott, who has “Richard Branson’s brain” according to Alavi, the solution was clear: start a new business on the side, which could fit around their main project.
As former bartenders and cocktail fans, building a business based on mixing drinks sounded like a natural fit. And with the cocktail resurgence still going strong in bars and restaurants around the world, people would be attracted to the idea of having high quality drinks at home. Sure enough, on the same day Elliott called Alavi to tell him she had set up a website for the company, they secured their first booking.
It wasn’t long before Bar Staff Co was taking up more time than the founders’ original business. Forced to choose which one to focus on, the pull of the private bartending market was too strong. “People at every single party would come up to us and say, ‘Who are you? How can we get your details?'” says Elliott. “It’s a really nice feeling having something that people love.” It’s a positive feeling from a business point of view, too. “You’ve got this thing that’s just bringing people to us all the time.”
Referrals and conversations at events are still a major channel for finding new customers. The company has been ramping up its marketing efforts recently and is looking to make referrals smoother and more frequent.
An increasing number of bookings are coming in for office parties, with companies asking Bar Staff Co to create a signature cocktail based on their business. Alavi and Elliott read up on the client company, then mix a drink using ingredients which symbolise its particular values and mission. The story of the drink becomes the story of the company. The BlueChilli incubator recently joined the ranks of businesses Bar Staff Co has immortalised in liquid form.
Since launch, fifteen bar staff have come onboard, but the business side of things is currently still a two person operation. Elliott and Alavi are planning to build the company into a scalable platform by automating the booking process and creating a portal for bartenders to see available gigs. However, they want to make sure their platform is fair to both customers and bartenders. Alavi is concerned that many services-on-demand businesses take the people who actually provide their service for granted. “They’re not giving so much love to the people who are actually driving the business.”
In contrast, Bar Staff Co aims to ensure their bartenders feel a sense of community, encouraging them to swap recipes and tips, and rewarding them for remaining on the platform. “The longer you stay with us, your base rate increases.”
On the customer side, Bar Staff Co provides event hosts with a list of ingredients needed to make the cocktails and will even do the shopping for a fee. The day after, they send recipes for drinks which can be made with whatever was left at the end of the night. Elliott and Alavi clearly love making cocktails, and little touches like this are as much about education as they are about providing a good service.
Indeed, Alavi tells me their long term goal is to become “an end-to-end cocktail business,” offering people recipes, advice, ingredient delivery, and cocktail classes, as well as bartending services. That future may be too far off to be seen clearly yet, but what is clear is that Bar Staff Co is just beginning to shake things up.