‘Social care is in a staffing crisis and we think Outt can help’: The entrepreneur who set up an app to give carers and homes a better deal
Things have become so dire in the social care industry that the government has launched a TV ad campaign to tackle the 105,000-strong care worker shortage.
Tough working conditions, Brexit, burn-out, low pay and even mandatory Covid-19 vaccination rules, all contribute to the low take up of social care jobs in Britain.
Hoping to address this issue is Steve O’Brien, 48, the co-founder and CEO of a newly launched app, Outt – an online social care agency that says it can offer workers and clients a better deal.
He says: ‘The social care sector is in the middle of a staffing crisis and over the past 18 months our team has been developing new technology to provide a real solution.’
Outt effectively cuts out social care recruiters. It claims these agencies slow the hiring process and take a bigger commission chunk than what they should
Outt is a London-based social care jobs marketplace that marries up qualified care professionals looking for work with private and government care centres that have permanent, temp and contract positions to fill.
Besides this the company, which launched in beta mode this year (as it’s still testing some of its tech), is on a mission help care professionals get better pay, more flexibility and working rights.
Outt effectively cuts out social care recruiters. It claims these agencies slow the hiring process and take a bigger commission chunk than what they should.
Outt demonstrates this to employers through its temporary agency savings calculator on its website, which shows how much can be saved per hire.
Traditionally, care workers get paid weekly or monthly for the previous week’s work. However, Outt carers can get paid daily if they choose.
This is because all candidates are employed by Outt under PAYE offering care workers the choice of when to get paid via the app, which can be as soon as they finish a shift.
Care workers can sign up for free and are also offered complimentary skills training through the app so that they can refresh their knowledge following any potential stay away from the sector during the Covid-19 pandemic.
While O’Brien doesn’t disclose the business’ percentage cut, he admits it’s in the single digits, which he claims is far less than the typical 20 per cent that agencies charge for successfully finding temp and contract workers.
Outt also undercuts agencies when it comes to hiring permanent social care workers by charging recruiters a £1,000 flat fee per hire.
Steve O’Brien, 48, the co-founder and CEO of a newly launched app, Outt
O’Brien says: ‘We know how conventional care agencies work. We know how difficult it is because we’ve been there – and we know how many incredible social care professionals work crazy hours for low pay.
‘This new online agency has been designed to support these workers who are the heart and soul of the care industry.’
He adds that social care workers promoted via the app come with complete background checks before they’re allowed on to the platform. O’Brien explains: ‘Everyone that’s on there is fully compliant.
‘We’ve checked their right to work, conducted police and reference checks. We can reduce the time to hire from months to days. Recruiters know that everyone who applies can do the job.’
A fresh start
O’Brien started Outt after he and his wife, Nathalie Karr, and business partner Mark Rigby were forced to shut down their nursing recruitment business which didn’t survive during lockdown.
He says: ‘Literally the business closed overnight because all the companies were overstaffed, or their clients had all passed away.’
Despite this experience, it’s an industry that O’Brien couldn’t remove himself from, mainly as he’d worked in social care since the 1980s.
He adds: ‘It’s a sector I know well, and I would spend my spare time working in a nursing home in the 80s.’
O’Brien says Outt was formed after the partners became fed up with the healthcare recruitment sector.
The business partners all regrouped to launch Outt, adding two more professionals to the management team – co-founder Ben Oakley as head of legal and Aleix Moreno as operations manager.
O’Brien explains: ‘Many of the care professionals working in care homes and in social care work are doing it for minimum wage (even in London). They have to work long hours to make ends meet!
‘We realised that especially after Covid hit the world, that care professionals wanted flexibility and the ability to have more control over where, when, and for how much they worked – just like people in other professions. Covid changed everything for us all.’
Outt’s management team: From left to right is co-founder and CEO Steve O’Brien; Mark Rigby – CCO and co-founder, Ben Oakley, CLO and co-founder; Natalie Karr, CMO and co-founder and Aleix Moreno, operations manager
Pay for sleep-in shifts
Outt campaigns for social care workers’ rights and its management team are particularly passionate about workers getting paid fairly for sleep-in shifts.
Earlier this year a Supreme Court ruled that carers are not entitled to minimum wage while they sleep at their workplace.
O’Brien feels the Court made the wrong decision and refuses to put any sleep-in shifts that offer less than £10 on the app.
He points out: ‘They’re not getting the minimum wage even though they’re often woken from their sleep or listening out in case anything happens.’
Besides wading in on the sleep-in pay debate, Outt also campaigns for tax breaks for key workers, arguing that reducing tax would be the most direct way to help those on lower wages.
O’Brien explains: ‘We have a minimum £10 an hour rate, and this will go up with the minimum wage increase. There’s no way you can advertise £9 an hour shifts as our system won’t allow that.’
CEO Steve O’Brien says Outt wants to be prepared in time for the NHS’ 2023 tendering process
Funding on Crowdcube
The business is initially focusing on Greater London, but its services will soon be available in other major cities such as Birmingham, Sheffield, and Manchester. O’Brien says he wants to ensure Outt is ready for the NHS’ 2023 tendering process.
He says: ‘They only open this up every five years but their annual spend is about £6.2billion on contract and temp staffing.’
For the financial year ending March 2021, Outt has garnered £253,000 in revenue and made £141,000 in net profit.
The site currently has 2,500 registered care professionals, but the founders believe this could ramp up by around 700 applications a month, as this is the response they get whenever they do a test campaign.
Outt will officially launch in December. O’Brien adds: ‘We’re looking at generating revenue of £43million and posting pre-tax profits of £2.5million over the next five years.
Through the app, social care workers can decide when, where and how they will get paid
Initially, the business was only founder-funded, but it was awarded £50,000 from InnovateUK Government funding in 2020, which the partners used to develop its rapid registration module, which has helped to reduce the time to hire through the app.
The company is now seeking further funding of £200,000 via Crowdcube, which will help the business launch its ‘go to market’ strategy. It’s likely to hit its funding target.
At the time of writing the company raised £189,914 – 94 per cent of its funding level and had 23 days left to call for funds on the crowdfunding platform.
Despite the many challenges entrepreneurs currently face, O’Brien believes that now is the right time to launch a business, arguing that many barriers have been removed.
He points out: ‘You don’t need an office anymore. It’s acceptable to work from home. All you need a is a great Wi-Fi connection and you’re in.’
Perhaps reflecting on the closure of his nursing recruitment business, he adds: ‘And a failure doesn’t mean that’s the end. You learn things every time. If anyone is thinking about doing it – as long as you can self-fund now is the moment.’