Gary Lin

Airwork is a venture-backed tech startup solving Canada’s labour shortage crisis. We’ve developed a digital platform that enables blue-collar workers to pick up work at any local business whenever they want and get paid the same day while providing employers with access to a flexible workforce at their fingertips. Our mission is to give every Canadian the power to control their work schedule and unlock economic growth for Canadian businesses.

Tell us about yourself?

My parents migrated to Montreal when I was seven, and I grew up in Mississauga since I was 10. I graduated from the University of Waterloo with a BSc in Computer Science and compiled experience at 11 different tech companies by the time I was 23.

I was a Software Engineer at companies like Meta, Yelp, NVIDIA, Nauto, Veeva Systems, and Ericsson, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. At some point, I realized through observation that there was a massive brain drain from Canada to the States, and I wanted to do something for the country that raised me. It didn’t seem fair that the country that invested in me didn’t get any of the returns.

In 2020, I quit my full-time job at Meta (then Facebook) to start Litebulb (litebulb.com), a Canadian startup aimed at fixing technical coding interviews. We raised $1.5M in pre-seed venture funding from YCombinator (the largest startup incubator in the world), Village Global (LPs include Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates), Expa (funded by Uber’s co-founder), and Sahil Lavingia (founder of Gumroad).

In 2022, we pivoted Litebulb to Airwork and have been building and growing since.

If you could go back in time a year or two, what piece of advice would you give yourself?

If you’re going to make changes, make them fast and be bold. You can’t predict the future, but you can change your speed of execution by increasing knowledge and, thus, confidence.

What problem does your business solve?

Airwork is solving the Canadian labour shortage problem. Deloitte found that 30 per cent of all Canadian businesses reported being understaffed. For the last couple of years, the average Canadian has experienced all of these:

  1. Vehicle, furniture, or general e-commerce orders are taking months to get to the front door (supply chain labour is squeezed)
  2. Waited hours at the hospital to get five minutes of attention (healthcare staff are burned out and quitting)
  3. Restaurants and retail shops closed early due to a lack of staff

What is the inspiration behind your business?

When Litebulb needed to transition, we realized we weren’t solving for a large enough problem space, and we asked ourselves: what problems are currently plaguing Canada? Easily the labour shortage was at the top of the list. Airwork solves this with a two-sided marketplace of businesses and workers transacting on a high granularity basis (shift-by-shift), and we’re starting with warehousing and manufacturing companies in the GTA.

A warehouse might suddenly have a big shipment next Monday. They use Airwork to bring in 10 more workers for the day and successfully stock the full shipment. The workers get paid for their day’s work.

What is your magic sauce?

Our competition is traditional temp agencies. A client calls a temp agency, requests for workers, and the agency manually sources/schedules workers in over the next week or two. Generally, 60 to 80 per cent of the requested workers will show up, and the agency charges anywhere from 50 to 100 per cent markup. For an agency, that high markup is necessary to cover operating costs.

As a digitally-native marketplace, our entire experience is automated. Think Uber versus traditional taxis. We automatically background check and vet all workers, new shift requests are dispatched in the form of push notifications or SMS to workers, and booking, insurance, and payments are all automated. As a result, we can charge a platform fee that’s half the industry average, boast a 95 per cent plus fill rate, and fill workers within hours, not weeks.

What is the plan for the next 5 years? What do you want to achieve?

Within five years, we want to become the default Canada-wide solution for flexible staffing in the supply chain, retail, manufacturing, food/beverage, and hospitality industries. We want to serve all businesses, small and large.

Within 10 years, we want to expand globally and IPO.

What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?

We tried to launch first in Vancouver, BC but realized it was not the best market to initially start in. The risk tolerance for new technology is lower, and the market is smaller. As a result, we tested out the market in Toronto, and within the first month of launch got 300 plus waitlist signups plus our first two paying employers. Thus, we very recently moved the company to Toronto to support our launch.

How can people get involved?

If your warehouse, manufacturing site, storage facility, or freight company is understaffed, please sign up at www.airwork.io or reach out to Gary at [email protected]. If you’re a site worker with experience in the warehouse, manufacturing, storage, or freight industry and want to pick up shifts at local businesses on your own schedule, please sign up at www.airwork.io/workers