Laying your cards on the table and being transparent is what closes deals, and creates bonds with other people.

 

Shmulik Fishman is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Argyle – an infrastructure-as-a-service company that makes workforce data (everything from UBER to Fiverr) accessible through a single API. Insurance providers, credit card issuers, and applicant tracking systems use Argyle to unlock the power of workforce data.

Before Argyle, Fishman was the Chief Operating officer of STRATIM, a company he co-founded in 2014. STRATIM raised over $40M in venture funding and sold in 2018 to KAR Auction Services, an $8B publicly traded company. STRATIM built software that automated the operations of large-scale vehicle fleets across the United States and Canada for clients such as General Motors, Enterprise Rental Car, and Zipcar.

Prior to STRATIM, Fishman worked at Adap.tv, an online video advertising marketplace now owned by Verizon Wireless. At Adap.tv, Fishman reported to the Chief Financial Officer and was responsible for order payment processing and actionable data insights on the company’s health.

Fishman has held positions at World Financial Desk, a high-frequency trading firm and global market maker; Merrill Lynch, a global financial services company; and the Metropolitan Transit Authority, America’s largest transportation network serving a population of 15.3 million people across New York City, Long Island, southeastern New York State, and Connecticut.

Where did the idea for Argyle come from?

The value proposition of previous company Zirx, was on-demand parking. A valet picked up a client’s car at their home, office, or a restaurant, stored it securely in a parking lot and returned it to the customer whenever and wherever they wanted. While the unit economics of Zirx never panned out, what interested Shmulik most was not the customer’s user experience, but rather the range of work the Zirx valets performed. These young workers didn’t have desk jobs and didn’t have a single employer. Instead, each day they worked at different gigs. Sometimes as a barista, sometimes as a delivery driver, sometimes as a handyman, sometimes as a office support person, and sometimes as a valet for Zirx.

For most people the future of work is not one of single employment but recurring gigs, across different platforms. The question then becomes how to allow these workers to make use of the data they are creating at multiple platforms each week. Data such as the number of hours worked, number of jobs completed, attendance, earnings, duration of work, reviews, ratings, and quality are no longer stored in one location but in many platforms simultaneously. The data generated at these gigs must be provided in order to get an insurance quote, purchase benefits, get a credit card or a loan, pay taxes, and even to apply the worker’s next gig. This is where Argyle comes in. Argyle connects to workforce platforms allowing a gig worker to authenticate into their accounts and enable their data to stream directly to a business that is offering them products and services they want to obtain. An analogy is how you give mint.com information about your accounts. On mint.com you log in, select your financial institutions, authenticate, and data is then continuously transferred between your financial institution and the mint.com platform. Argyle performs the same service for gig data. Workers log into their workforce platforms and their data is automatically transferred, via Argyle, from their workforce platform to the businesses the gig work authorizes.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

I’m an early riser and I like to get into the office when it’s still quiet. I have a game with myself each morning to get my inbox down to zero before tackling the day’s important projects. I use asana.com. It has all my to-dos — large and small — from scanning a document to a client to monitoring the progress on quarterly business objectives.

How do you bring ideas to life?

Whiteboards are some of my best friends, particularly when there are multiple people working on them simultaneously. It’s a dynamic environment where people are writing thoughts, drawing diagrams, erasing each other’s work and setting a path on which everyone is aligned. Whiteboards spur creativity and bring ideas to life.

What’s one trend that excites you?

The digitization of money and the removal of a physical wallet. While it’s still in its early days, the cashless society is here. Today people are sending money to each other, making payments to almost every kind of vendors and walking around without cash. I do all three. I’m looking forward to the day when a digital device — with appropriate privacy guarantees — is all I need in my pocket.

What advice would you give your younger self?

I would remind myself to cede control to others and try not to do everything myself. Both my professional and personal lives are a team sport. It takes many people. I wished I had realized sooner that off loading projects and bringing people into the fold helps you accomplish your goals quicker.

Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.

People spend too much time watching sports. We live in a culture where being a spectator and watching others trying to defeat each other takes precedence over trying to achieve a goal for yourself and your team (professional and personal).

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

I recommend that people allow themselves to be more vulnerable than they usually are. Popular culture idealizes success stories about shrewd, guarded, aloof entrepreneurs who hold ideas, knowledge, and information close to their chests. My experience has been the opposite. Laying your cards on the table and being transparent is what closes deals, and creates bonds with other people.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

When you are trying to close a prospective client and you don’t know anyone at the company, send an email to the support department at the company. All companies have support email addresses staffed by entry-level workers. These workers want to make a name for themselves by finding a diamond in the rough and you can be that diamond. Nine times out of ten my email reaches a C-Suite executive at the business I am trying to close, and the C-Suiter thinks it’s entrepreneurial that I used the support network to get to him or her.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

When we started Zirx we aspired to transform the parking industry and that never came to fruition. What was first a failure to make the unit economics of valet parking profitable became an exercise on dissecting the assets of that business to determine a higher, ultimate value. This dissection was the reason we were able to pivot from on-demand parking to fleet logistics. We carved out the software underlying the business and developed a new B to B use case.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

Jacketornojacket.com is my giveaway. Most people look at the weather every morning. Not because they want to know the weather, but because they are trying to figure out if they should wear a jacket. Instead of giving them a bunch of bells and whistles they don’t need on the their favorite weather site, just tell them: jacket or no jacket.

What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?

I made a small side investment into Y Combinator’s recent batch of demo-day graduates. It’s the first time I invested in someone else’s startup. I wanted to sit on the other side of the table — as an investor rather than an operator — to better understand the other side of the equation.

What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?

Grammarly. It’s a God-send. Not only does it fix misspelled words, but if professionalizes your wordproduct.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

Roland Barthes’ Camera Lucida. Ostensibly it’s a book about the advent of the camera and how taking photos captures memories in a way that humans cannot do themselves. On a more meta-level it’s a book about how the act of being in a place changes the place itself. Inhabiting a space changes that space. Your presence transforms the space into something it wasn’t before you were there. I take this with me because it’s important to remember that you change each space you enter and the people around you.

What is your favorite quote?

For my college application essays, I used a verse from Yo La Tengo’s song, Big Day Coming. It remains my favorite: “There’s a big day coming, I can hardly wait.”

Key Learnings:

  • Cede control to others and try not to do everything yourself.
  • I recommend that people allow themselves to be more vulnerable than they usually are… Laying your cards on the table and being transparent is what closes deals, and creates bonds with other people.
  • Whiteboards spur creativity and bring ideas to life.