Hantz Févry of Stoovo: My Life As a Twenty-Something Founder
As a part of our series called “My Life as a TwentySomething Founder”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Hantz Févry, CEO and co-founder of Stoovo, Inc., an AI-driven gig economy platform that helps gig workers find the best-paying jobs and reduces the income volatility so prevalent amongst gig workers. Stoovo was founded in 2018 and with massive unemployment due to COVID and millions turning to gig work for survival, his idea could not be more timely. A Haitian native, Févry founded his first company in high school selling promotional branding items, in college he founded I. Trade International in 2010 following the 7.0 Haiti earthquake, at just the age of 20 his early warning earthquake design was marketed in Haiti to help save lives.”
Thank you so much for joining us! What is your “backstory”?
Iam from Port-au-Prince in Haiti and it is very different from other parts of the world because there are really only two classes — upper class and poverty. With no middle class, I really consider the people of Haiti who live in poverty to be living in misery because the conditions are so bad and the lack of opportunity is so limited.
As my LinkedIn profile says, “I believe in the progress of humanity with the help of technology” and believe that technology will make the world a better place for the millions who live in poverty and are suffering and nowhere is that more near to my heart than in my home country of Haiti.
I credit my mother with instilling in me the concept of money and finance when I was ten years old in an inventive way that was fun to me at that age. My grandfather is an attorney and had taken a business trip to New York and brought me back fake American dollars. I loved them and began playing with them and I guess it gave my mother the idea to create a real game.
Wachovia Bank had just been acquired by Wells Fargo and she had an account there but now all of the Wachovia checks were non-negotiable so she created my “Play Money” game. We created an economy — we all had jobs and we made my teddy bear the banker. I would pay my cousin Cassandra with the expired checks and my banker would loan us money.
My mom wanted to make it life-like so we had to repay the loans with interest — she planted some very high level concepts about money into my ten-year old brain. We sold each other services that were real and imagined so you could say that I was learning to be an entrepreneur by playing this game as well.
During my last year in high school I started my first company, CMS Haiti, for Caribbean Marketing and Services. I sold stuff with my high school logo on it and thought that I could get other businesses in Haiti to buy these branding and promotional items such as pens, hats, coffee mugs and some cool things like a clock that worked with water.
I went out and pitched local businesses in person, but I was so young and it did not go very well. One man was actually laughing at me while I was giving my sales pitch and I found out that I just gave some of them my ideas and then they went around me and bought the items on their own, so I did not make any sales with this venture. I realized that the real world was a lot harder than I imagined.
It was 2009 and I left for college at Stony Brook in New York. My mother insisted that I have some type of job so that I would have my own “real” money, my life was no longer my Play Money game. I really didn’t want to work, but I was able to find security work in the Residential Safety Program at Stony Brook University, it was good part time work that gave me time to study.
I was looking forward to going home for Christmas and when I returned to Haiti I was reminded of how much crime went on in my home country after living on the safety of Long Island for my first semester. I kept thinking that I wanted to create some type of device or warning system that would help the police and keep the people safe.
I started my second company, I. Trade International and began researching device manufacturers in China and kept my eyes open for something that could help with the crime in Haiti, like intrusion devices or protection devices. I didn’t know what I was looking for but I knew I would know when I found it.
On January 12, 2010, with just a couple of weeks left before I had to return to school, the 7.0 Haiti quake hit and it was chaos. A part of me was so glad that I was there to help people and be with my family and not far away in New York, but the level of suffering was unimaginable.
The deaths, injuries and the sheer number of people who had nowhere to sleep was overwhelming. When the aftershocks hit, people went into terror mode and there was nothing anyone could do.
I began researching the earthquake warning devices that Japan was known for and this is when I learned that a Chinese company, Hunia, developed this technology and made these devices. I had to go back to school, but I continued to work with them and managed to get the Haitian government interested. The dean of business let me wave some prerequisites so I could spend more time trying to get this life-saving technology sold and implemented in my country.
My company I.Trade International served as the importer and the technology got the attention of a warning device marketing company out of Australia. Unfortunately, the Haitian infrastructure was too damaged for the technology to work with text and only worked with radio waves — and the government didn’t want to invest at the level needed to implement the program nationwide.
Haiti and its people were still suffering and Groupon had just become a thing in the States. My third company, Travooli was created, it was a system of coupons businesses could give to tourists to help the economy in Haiti and the Caribbean. We were able to introduce it into South America as well but there wasn’t reliable internet in these locations and the tourists couldn’t always download them.
The world was still reeling from the 2008 economic meltdown and I switched my focus to helping people find work in Haiti. I didn’t know this at the time, but we were building the first iteration of what would become Stoovo by putting part time or unskilled one-off jobs online for people looking for work.
It sounded like a good idea but a platform had to be created for each type of work and it wasn’t scaling. All of this was happening from my dorm room and I was still in college, but now I knew what I wanted to build.
As graduation approached I was blessed to have a Google executive help clear a path for me at Google. Jon Venverloh, who launched Google Enterprise and was part of the Google Chrome team, had befriended me in the chaos of the 2010 quake when he was there to help rebuild the Haitian tech infrastructure.
He had become a mentor to me and I landed my first job with them as the Google Marketing Solutions account strategist for some of the biggest agencies in France and the EMEA region. I was training teams in Google Ad Words and Analytics and was based in Poland.
While I was overseas, I solidified my idea for Stoovo — to make the gig economy work for gig workers and to help them avoid the income volatility that is so prevalent. Gig workers will typically take the first job or ride that pops up in their apps, there is no strategy involved or logical way of determining how to make the most money in the shortest amount of time.
My team began working on a platform that would aggregate Uber, DoorDash, Lyft, Instacart — all of the apps — onto one platform so that the user could work off one app. We wanted to be able to compute the compensation for each job before they took the gig and to let them know the best times and locations to work so they made the most money per hour.
More importantly, we wanted to help them pay their bills and save. One of our original taglines was “Don’t go broke, go Stoovo.” The system had to integrate fintech capabilities so that the user could set a goal of paying rent or making a car payment without having to transfer any money or use their bank app.
We wanted to build a seamless, integrated, aggregated gig economy platform that would help gig workers have the same type of financial security that 9–5ers have. Now that we are in a post-pandemic world, it is probably safe to say that millions of people are finding themselves without financial security and the gig economy is expected to grow by at least 50 percent — Stoovo is the perfect solution for seasoned gig workers and the newly unemployed looking to keep afloat and pay their bills.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company? What lessons or takeaways did you take out of that story?
It was 2018 and I was working at Google in Silicon Valley with my co-founder and CTO and we were finally launching the first version of Stoovo in my apartment. We had a waiting list of gig workers who were anxious to use the app and everyone was waiting for the download. I had worked so hard for so many months and had not had a date with my girlfriend, I thought, “We’ve done all the hard work, now I can just relax.”
We left for the movie and sent the alert to our waiting list. We had just sat down in the theater with our popcorn and our drinks and my phone blew up with texts and on the app. At the exact same time that we had flipped the proverbial switch, our provider had an outage.
When our users went onto the app that they had downloaded, they were met with a blank screen. When I read the text from my CTO I jumped out of my seat and ran out of the theater like a crazy person. The provider was down for almost three hours, which is an eternity in tech.
This was our launch. We had worked for months to get the technology to work and had tested it in beta on the Google Play Store with great feedback. Not only did the app not work, we lost a ton of data and there was absolutely nothing that we could do.
We lost a lot of people because of that outage, it was our first impression and our provider’s outage destroyed our launch. We got some bad reviews in the AppStore and had to pick up the pieces and get back to work.
I realized that there would be other forces at play that you have absolutely no control over, no matter how hard you have worked, things can go wrong. And a full outage of your platform at the very second you are going live with your users is about as bad as it can get.
As with any crisis, you reach out and are completely transparent, which we were to our waitlist of beta users. Many users understood, but many didn’t and may never give us another chance, time will tell.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
To see the full weight of Stoovo’s value proposition you have to step back and realize that the job landscape is changing. It was changing long before COVID with research showing the people wanted flexibility with their work schedules and that they wanted to telecommute and not give hours of their days in traffic and stressed out.
The entire model has been changing as well, it used to be that a professional worked for the same company until retirement, being promoted from within. Some people changed jobs, but it was usually within the same skill set, maybe they got a promotion or maybe it was a lateral move financially, but the norm was to find long-term security in work with the goal of having a comfortable retirement.
Now people focus on jobs as “stints” in their lives — they have a really good job for two to three years and then they find a better job. This could be for more money, but it is also for more satisfying or challenging work, something that was not thought of 20 or 30 years ago.
With the explosion of independent contractors and freelancers for high-paying work such as copywriting, marketing and coding, people are going from job to job without necessarily having a job — many like to go from project to project. They like being able to travel, or to take time off to have children or volunteer for something that they are passionate about.
Employers are trying to address this by offering gig job boards internally or many workers use platforms such as Upwork, but with this comes the loss of benefits and protections. What has really changed since the 2008 economic crash is that working as a 1099 contractor is no longer perceived as a pejorative, in many ways it is now seen as a badge of honor and one that represents freedom in choosing when and where to work.
With more people choosing gig work the challenges of choosing the right ones are becoming more complex, especially since COVID and the fact that many people may have permanently lost their conventional positions.
Stoovo’s advanced AI is able to guide the user to choose the best gig jobs that provide the most reliable income and reduce income volatility. We also save gig workers time — the average gig worker spends six hours a week looking for gig work on one or more apps — we are the ‘Google Maps’ for gig workers and part time workers.
There is no way that the average worker can process the level of data that we use to guide the user into an informed decision as to what gig job to accept. We secure geographical, compensation, and optimal times to suggest the best time, place and type of gig selected at any given time based on their skills profile.
This helps eliminate the FOMO or ‘fear of missing out’ on the next gig that pops up. For example, if a driver just dropped off a fare in an area they are not familiar with, they may take the next ride that shows up so that they can make more money quickly, or select one that is on the way back to their base.
With our intelligence, we can let them know that if they wait until a ferry, for example, arrives in the area they will have more requests to choose from with a better probability of the rider traveling a greater distance. We bring strategy to the game of gigging.
In the Bay Area people drive from a place like Sacramento to do rideshare or grocery delivery in San Francisco because they think they are going to make more money, but after calculating their time and expenses that may not be the case. Our intelligence will let them know the best time and place to work so they aren’t literally ‘spinning their wheels.’
The gig economy system is rife with frustration and disappointment but we know this is where the future of work is going and we have to make gig work as stable as traditional employment. It’s like having a coach that helps you plan a path — when assignments are popping up in real time but there’s no way to analyze what’s the best one to take, we do the analysis and help the gig worker make the best decision.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
First and most importantly is my mother who created this Play Money game. I can say, ‘oh, I worked so hard,’ but in reality, it was she who taught me the value of money and business. She also helped me learn empathy and that is one of the reasons that I built Stoovo — so that we can really help people.
Secondly, Jon Venverloh, who has been a friend, advisor, and mentor and was the one who opened doors for me at Google — he was also our first investor. After the earthquake in 2010, my uncle told me that someone from Google was coming to Haiti to help with the relief and he told me to tell him about iTrade — I thought that he would be a student.
I went through the presentation for I. Trade but it was created for a student for an internship or something. I was not expecting a Google executive. Jon is a very direct person, he doesn’t beat around the bush, he gave me his business card and said, “How can I help you?” I called him from the university from time to time and his frank feedback was instrumental in shaping Stoovo.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
COVID has impacted everyones’ plans and we are no different. With school starting in the fall, we realized that most students will not be on campus and many of them depend on on-campus jobs to make ends meet while in college.
As this article is being written, we are mapping out a specific strategy for students to be matched with all kinds of jobs such as nanny or au pair work, delivery services, and moving because many students may not have a car and be able to do Uber or Instacart.
We are in partner discussions with employment services to offer traditional temp work on our platform and are talking with banks so that our high-volume users will be able to receive cash advances through the app and use a Stoovo debit card. We are also speaking with insurtechs so that we can offer health insurance and other services and benefits to our Stoovo workers.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
During that terrible time right after the Haiti earthquake, people were terrified from the aftershocks, they were sleeping in the streets afraid to be inside buildings. I developed the idea for an early warning device that could alert them via text on their mobile phones and found a company in China that built these types of devices.
I.Trade began marketing the technology in Haiti but the mobile infrastructure was so damaged by the quake that it could only be used with radio waves. This limited its use only to some government agencies, 100 schools, and a U.S. NGO.
It also got the attention of a warning device company in Australia and they marketed it as Alert. E. The company was named EDWARDS and alert in French is alerte, so the name was a bit of a play on both. I like to think that my idea may have saved some lives but even if it did not I know that it alleviated a lot of fear from being in another earthquake.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?
I read a lot and I really can’t name just one of these books because all three have influenced me greatly.
- “The One Thing,” by Gary Kelley taught me to focus and prioritize, I know that you can’t try to do everything at once — it helped me learn how to strategize.
- “Originals” by Adam Grant helped me understand more about innovation and what influences drive people to design and create better products.
- Lastly, “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton Christensen taught me how to merge different ideas that are not related and how to approach problems in different ways. Sadly, he passed away.
Drawing from all three of these books is the way I approach any common problem. For example, Stoovo was ‘How can we merge a bank and a job site? Why should they be separate? Why should a bank just take your money, why can’t it help you make money?’ And this is how the Stoovo that we know today was created.
Can you share 5 of the most difficult and most rewarding parts of being a “TwentySomething founder.”
- Being a founder looking for money is a roller coaster. One day you may have someone telling you this is a great idea and that same day you have people tell you that they don’t get it, they don’t see it and they aren’t giving you any money. You simply move on and start new. Don’t carry any baggage from your last pitch to the next one, ever.
- You will encounter people who have the belief, ‘How can someone so young be doing this?’ I would know because people with this mindset wouldn’t ask me the business questions but they would ask me how old I was. Ageism goes both ways, there is a lot of talk about discrimination towards Boomers but there is also discrimination towards founders in their twenties. You just can’t let it affect you.
- Accept that some people will laugh at your ideas. When I was pitching Alert.E, one government worker told me that I should let my beard grow. The fact that I was only 20 and pitching this life-saving device was something that he couldn’t accept so he used laughter to avoid having a real business discussion about it.
- The most rewarding thing about building a company is the camaraderie and reward that comes from being part of a team. I can’t build this company on my own and when things don’t work and we are under incredible pressure and deadlines, it’s stressful. Working with my CTO and co-founder, Sammy, and his knowledge of AI, has been amazing, I have learned so much from him and our friendship is a gift. On my birthday he built an AI model to recognize my dog Joah from other dogs.
- The best thing about being a 20-something founder is that you know you have an entire lifetime ahead of you and you know that you will build more companies. I am now 30 and I have started three companies but I intend to keep thinking of the future and what people will need in 10, 20, or 50 years and I will keep trying to create solutions for the future.
What are the main takeaways that you would advise a twenty-year-old who is looking to found a business?
Be very focused, being a founder is a marathon, not a sprint. You may think you can start a business and be rich in two months, but you must be passionate. Don’t be afraid to share your ideas as soon as possible because you need the feedback — it’s a false premise to not share ideas because someone might steal it. If others want to try out your idea, that’s good, it proves that your idea matters and there are probably many ways to solve the issue.
Learn to take feedback and criticism in a positive manner. Sometimes it can be painful and you have to be like a bird in the rain and let the drops roll off of you. Stoovo is named for a rare tropical bird, the Eclectus parrot, and like a Stoovo parrot in the rainforest, when you have to deal with unfounded criticism or comments from people who don’t see your vision, just let it roll off like raindrops.
Don’t drink coffee. I can hear your readers moan, but it’s a stimulant that provides quick energy and then you crash. Coding requires a lot of focus, and so does thinking strategically, and coffee takes away from real focus. When you work and travel in different global time zones coffee is not your friend, tea is better — my favorite brand is Tea Forté’s mango peach tea.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Sarah Kessler who wrote the book “Gigged” because she has a great understanding of the gig economy and knows it will grow — she was saying this before COVID. Secondly, Bill Gates, because he used his status for his mission in life and is taking a path to help people. I would like to ask him “How can we make sure we give back while at the same time being a capitalist?”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media
Twitter @hantzfevry and @stoovo
My LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/in/335a0124/
Stoovo’s LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/company/stoovoinc/
Our Facebook page is https://www.facebook.com/stoovo/