As a waiter during high school and college, Kim Smith learned the ropes of the service industry quickly, and saw a clear – although different—career path. “I believe that many fundamental skills that you learn in hospitality translate to wider careers,” Smith says. “For me, this was in technology.”
Smith put those fundamental skills to use in a variety of ways within the tech field, from digital media to marketing and sales, all with an eye toward tourism and hospitality. This eventually led to her current role as general manager of Shiftgig, a new app that pairs hospitality workers known as Specialists with shifts at participating businesses all over the city. “They can now find and confirm shifts directly from their phone,” Smith says. “It’s on-demand, it’s mobile, and it’s growing like crazy.”
Read more about Smith and Shiftgig below.
How long have you lived in New Orleans?
I moved to New Orleans in 2010. When I arrived, I didn’t know one person in the city; I had no family in the city; I didn’t even have a job in the city. But I had been drawn to New Orleans for years and when circumstances in my personal life gave me an opportunity to do the proverbial ‘follow your dream’ thing, I decided to go for it. 6 years later… Best. Decision. Ever.
What do you love most about this city?
What I love most about New Orleans is the insane quality of life that we have here. I love that people don’t sweat the small stuff. I love that we passionately celebrate just about everything – life, death, the Saints and even sinkholes. I love that people make eye contact and say hello when you pass them on the street. I love that I legitimately know my neighbors and if I pop outside for an impromptu glass of wine on my porch, there’s a good chance 8 people will be crowded around there by the end of the night. There is so much anger, violence, intolerance and hatred in the world, but that’s not me at all. I believe in the good of people and I am charmed by the little, silly, fun and whimsical things in life. And we have both in spades in New Orleans.
Tell us about your role at Shiftgig.
I’m the General Manager at Shiftgig New Orleans, which is a new technology startup that just launched in New Orleans in June 2016. My role means I do a little bit of everything. Far more interesting is what Shiftgig does, which is to offer a new, smarter way for hourly workers and businesses to connect through a mobile app. Our workers, which are W-2 employees we call Specialists, use our mobile app to claim shifts and choose when, where and for who they want to work. Specialists must first apply, get background checked and assessed for their skills. But, for those who make it through the application process (not everyone does), they can now find and confirm shifts directly from their phone. We work with some of the biggest brands in the food service, hospitality, retail and warehouse industries. It’s on-demand, it’s mobile, and it’s growing like crazy.
What path led you to this point in your career? How did your career in tourism begin?
Like so many people, my very first jobs were in the service industry. I worked as a waitress for years in high school and college. I believe that many fundamental skills that you learn in hospitality translate to wider careers. For me, this was in technology. I’ve done sales, business development and product management for high tech companies in digital media and marketing solutions for 17 years. Personally, I’m always intrigued by how technology has changed our day-to-day lives. It’s fascinating to watch how things that would have seemed impossible a few years back are now part of fabric of our everyday world. iPhones/Apple wallet, Uber, Venmo, Tinder, and Parkmobile to name but a few.
In terms of how I got back to a career influenced by tourism, remember that I came to New Orleans because I wanted to be here for personal reasons. I arrived believing it would be just as easy to find a high tech career as I had in Chicago. It was not. I therefore spent my first 5 years in New Orleans working for a Detroit-based company and traveling all of the time. But it missed the entire point of why I moved to New Orleans in the first place. So I had to get smarter. I looked at the industries that are strong in New Orleans and tourism was at the top of the list. So when this opportunity with Shiftgig came along – combining my passion for technology with one of the strongest segments our local economy – I knew it was a great choice.
What do you love most about your job?
The best part of my job is meeting the Specialists who work for Shiftgig. It’s truly a cross-section of New Orleanians – moms, service industry lifers who are absolute pros, millennials who love our tech, and folks who are just trying to make a living and provide for their families. I believe that Shiftgig is truly empowering for our Specialists – it gives people control back in their lives by letting them manage their work schedules. If you’re a musician following your dreams, but you still have to pay your Entergy bill, we can absolutely help you find work that fits your schedule. In New Orleans, people hustle to make a living. I love that we help people make the hustle easier.
What advice would you give to other New Orleanians or your peers about choosing a positive career path, perhaps in the tourism industry?
People always say follow your dreams — and you should — but I think choosing a positive career path involves a little more than that. My advice is to pursue work that interests you but also think about whether it’s also in a growth industry. It’s always more exciting to work for a company or in an industry that’s growing versus retracting; there is usually more investment and therefore more opportunities as well. So, be strategic. Think about what parts of the economy are growing and receiving investment in New Orleans? Hint — tourism is a huge one, but you have to be more specific. I’m not sure this is the time to build your career in train travel. But the new airport being built? That is absolutely going to create new opportunities for New Orleanians.
Then, when you find work that interests you and is in a good market segment, my advice is to be entirely focused on making an impact. It’s not about showing up, and it’s not about what the person sitting next to you is doing. If you are laser focused on helping your organization advance its goals, you will be building a successful career. Making an impact takes many forms – growing sales, creating a new craft cocktail, or simply putting a smile on a customer’s face. I try to think about impact every day: did I just show up and go through the motions or did I really move something forward? I fundamentally believe this is a hallmark of success – and it doesn’t matter to me if you are a housekeeper at a New Orleans hotel or if you are an executive in a boardroom.
Oh yeah, lastly — and I’m obviously a biased source on this topic — but you can never go wrong with developing technical skills and learning new technology. Even down here in New Orleans.
How is your job personally affected by tourism?
We are directly affected. When large events, conventions, and visitors come to town, local catering companies, hotels, and venues around New Orleans need additional staff to help take care of the visitors. This directly translates into job opportunities for our Specialists. Stepping back, when technology companies in places like Silicon Valley, New York, and Chicago look at early expansion markets, New Orleans is not typically at the top of the list. Think of how long it took Uber to arrive here. Yet New Orleans is the 11th market for Shiftgig, a fast growing, VC-backed startup. Why did Shiftgig choose New Orleans? The outsized footprint of the tourism and hospitality market was a direct factor.
What does tourism mean to you as a local?
As a local, tourism brings my current far-flung friends to town and helps me make new ones all the time. Even though I wasn’t born here (it took some of us a little longer to make our way “home”), I’ve become fiercely proud and protective of New Orleans’ unique and wonderful traditions. One of my absolute favorite things is watching people fall in love with the city for the first time.
What do you think the city of New Orleans would look like without tourism?
Some of the richness we get to experience as locals would certainly fade. Tourism sustains the vast majority of our local restaurants, bars and venues. Thus without tourism, the number of outrageously good options we have on a Tuesday night would decline. Tourists generated $7.05 billion for the New Orleans economy in 2015, helping employ over 75,000 people in the hospitality industry. These people embody the heart and soul of this city and without them, New Orleans would lose a little of its charm.
New Orleans will…
…continue to persevere as a premier travel destination due to our rich local history, architecture, extraordinary cuisine and loving people who call New Orleans home.