Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: April 2011

ROI is nice, but it’s not why I use Schedulefly

Every now and then we get a testimonial from a customer that I want to display on our homepage all by itself – because it just gets to the core of how we help restaurants and why restaurant owners keep paying us every month. I seriously want to have a blank white page with only the quote and maybe a big button to sign up for a trial. Should I try it? Is that stupid? Probably. Well I won’t for now because my partners might faint. If I do try it one day though – below is the first one I will use. It’s a comment from Kevin Horne. Kevin is the owner of a Great Harvest Bread Bakery in Lincoln NE. He has a small staff (20 employees) – but I know customers with 10x the number of staff agree with his feelings…maybe even more!

“It would not be that hard to create schedules the old fashioned way, but managing time off requests, shift trades, etc. is not what I want to be doing. I want to be baking, thinking up new products, and talking to customers. ROI is nice, but that isn’t why I use Schedulefly. Plus my employees love it. They see me as a cool with-it employer. I post a schedule and forget it. I love it.”

Thanks Kevin for saying that out loud…we are thrilled your here.

Wes

Traffic, Data, Files, Oh My! Doing the Schedulefly Server Dance

We made a quick trip to our data center in Raleigh to slide a new database server into our rack and I thought I’d take a few minutes to blog about what we’ve built so far. Most people don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes of a database intensive web application like ours and in most cases they should not. Like a car engine, to them it’s a black box with lots of moving parts inside and it should just work. I agree, it should. And that’s simple to manage right? If more people come to the web site it should always serve them right? How hard can it be? Funny – I think this is the reason I still have friends who ask me “Is Schedulefly really your full time job?”. Too funny. If they only knew. I guess they assume, since it’s simple little “web site”, that you just need to set it up and hand it to someone to host. Then create a Google ad words account so millions of people can find it and buy it while you sail away into the sunset watching your bank account get fatter. Man, if only!

To handle our customers and our steady growth, Schedulefly now has 5 servers (and some other equipment to support them). This was our plan 3 years ago – to eventually get to 5 servers and the setup we now have. We have a primary web server, a backup web server, a database server, a backup database server and a development server. The primary web server handles all of our web traffic – from our web site and our apps. The backup server is currently idle and waiting to take over if needed – in case the primary machine dies before we expected it to. Our next move is bring the 2nd web server online to help share the load. For now – one web server is getting it done. We have a big beefy Dell server where our SQL database lives. The coolest, geekiest part of our data center setup is the 2nd database server. It is literally a real-time mirrored image of our live server. To the millisecond, it is kept in synch with our primary database and is ready to hop into action if the primary server has issues. To help give our database a bit more breathing room we are currently working on a caching technique that will greatly reduce the number of round-trips that our web server makes to query our database. This is critical for us going forward.

So we are doing the best we can to have redundancy and up-time at each level – power, internet, firewall, router, web server and database server. It’s really cool to see and I am thrilled we are scaling this ourselves as we grow. While we do spend a bit more to purchase hardware and manage it, we rest easier knowing we have a network dedicated to our growing business (that we have built along the way). There is also a bit of comfort knowing we can visit the data center and put our hands on our servers. We like the “clear box”, instead of the black one you can’t see inside. We are fortunate to also have an IT leader who is second to none in scaling a database intensive application like Schedulefly. Most small businesses don’t have this kind of technical person in-house, so they outsource it. Both ways work well. You choose one and go.

So for now we are cooking with gas. We continue to monitor all kinds of things like memory usage, disk space, backups and bandwidth usage. All of this goes up every week – every day really. Our database grows, our traffic increases, our log files get bigger, more people visit and upload photos and documents and our bandwidth usage climbs too. Heck, man handling the backups we take for our customers is getting tough so we have to routinely look at the backup routines we have in place and consider re-engineering them. It’s an evolving, living, breathing system for sure.

I tell my team that our system, like any web based database service that keeps growing, is like a ticking time-bomb. If you ignore it for even just a few days and don’t move and shake and tweak and do a little server dance – it will explode. I promise . It will happen. There is no “super computer” that we can install that will handle our customers forever. I think cloud computing may be trying to create the illusion of this for businesses – but at the end of the day – it’s still humans behind the scenes doing the server dance to help a web based business scale. In our case, we want to be the people dancing at Schedulefly.

Wes

The Stars of Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Dave Query

Dave has built a highly successful restaurant group at Big Red F. His restaurants (Zolo Southwestern Grill, LoLa Coastal Mexican, Jax Fish House – two locations, West End Tavern, Centro Latin Kitchen & Refreshment Palace, Happy and The Bitter Bar) are extremely popular and very successful, and if you’re in Denver or Boulder, you’d be missing out if you didn’t visit them. Dave is genuine, honest, colorful and smart as heck. He’s been at it for over 20 years, and he’s learned quite a bit along the way. Here are a few of the topics we covered in our interview with him for our book…

– Things change when you take your eye off the ball, even for a moment
– Ownership ain’t easy street
– Go where the universities are
– Your investors will represent you in your community – choose wisely
– Treat staff righteously
– Don’t be the tenth restaurant doing something – be the first

If you are interested in learning how Dave and 19 other owners have found paths to successful in such a tough industry, grab a copy of Restaurant Owners Uncorked with a couple of clicks on Amazon today.

The Schedulefly Crew

Arch Rock Fish is "On the Fly"

Today we’re starting a new blog series featuring short profiles about our customers, aka restaurants that are “On the Fly.” Each post will include the customer’s answers to a few questions about their restaurant. We’re doing this to help show people who are considering using Schedulefly what kinds of restaurants enjoy our software. We tend to think our customers generally run fun restaurants, focus heavily on their staff’s happiness, have cultures focused on teamwork, etc. We’ll see if we’re right as we get responses from them for these posts. We also thought it would be fun to learn more about our customers in their words.

So we start with Arch Rock Fish in Santa Barbara, CA. We asked co-owner Jeremiah Higgins (@Jeremiah_HJL) to tell us about his “neighborhood joint”…

Describe your restaurant’s culture.
The culture that we strive for is one of family and community. We keep our communication open with our staff, and share in our successes and failures together. We each strive to get a little better at what we do each day. We support the staff in their goals in life, and they support ours. We strive to keep the concept simple, easy to “get.” Our food is simple but flavorful. Again, easy to “get”, not fussy. In fact, my business partner, Chef Scott, strives for no more than three ingredients to complement a piece of fish or protein, so that the quality and simplicity of the dish stands out and speaks for itself.

What do your staff members say is the best part about working at your restaurant?
I didn’t feel comfortable answering this question for the staff, so I posed the question to them. Here is what they said about why they love working at Arch Rock. [A quick aside – We noticed that Jeremiah used his Schedulefly Message Wall to broadcast this question to staff members. Nice way to use the wall Jeremiah!]

What I love about working at Arch Rock is the family that has been created. We all work together from the morning cleaning dude to the closing dishwasher. There’s a strong camaraderie that has been solid since day one. And it shows through to our customers – Kami

A few things I like about my job are the great people I work with- from the dishwashers, to fellow servers, to management. I can confidently say that I have experienced the most teamwork and general cohesiveness among staff members since working at ARF . I also like that you guys (Jeremiah & Company) try to keep us (the staff) excited about ARF, not just the guests excited. Of course, the food is great but that goes without saying. – Ruby

I believe one of the best parts of our restaurant is how close everyone is, and how easy it is to communicate between all staff members (with schedulefly). – Kyle

The best part about working here at ARF is I have the best boss! Aka Germeister/J-Bear 🙂 I love all of the employees and the food is delicious. – Laci

The best part is everyone we work with is super awesome! Best staff ever! – Courtney

How do you keep your team excited to work hard every day?
I’ve said this before, and at the risk of sounding redundant, my first thought of the day every day is of my staff. I try to remember what our goal is as a company, and as I get ready for work I put myself in their shoes and try to see the job as they must see it. I cannot go into work in a bad mood. If I do it sends a ripple effect through the restaurant. I motivate myself, no matter how bad of a day that I am having, and I hope that this motivates the team. That, along with guest speakers in the food and wine business, and planned field trips with staff really help keep everyone interested in this fascinating business.

What’s the most fun part of running your restaurant?
There isn’t just one answer here, but if I had to choose my top three, I would choose #1 The staff is like family to me. They motivate me to never give up, even when we have a tough day. #2 The guests that support us, I have been in this business for nearly 20 years now in Santa Barbara, and the people that I have come to know as guests have become some of my best friends. They too have become a part of my very large foodie family. And finally, my #3 favorite part of running a restaurant is that no two days are ever the same. If you like food, wine, spirits, entertainment, history and travel, the restaurant business is for you.

Why is your restaurant successful?
Our restaurant is successful because we have been lucky enough to find a business that we are passionate about, and then in turn have been able to inspire guests and staff to care about it too…

Thank you Jeremiah and the team at Arch Rock Fish! Your and your team members’ responses are inspiring and very enjoyable to read. Keep up the great work building an incredible restaurant, and thanks for being “On the Fly!”

The Schedulefly Crew

Why restaurants use Schedulefly

Want to know the #1 reason restaurants use Schedulefly? (Hint – it isn’t measurable for an ROI analysis)

Last week I spoke to a Cornell hospitality school student who is working on a project in which he has to pitch an imaginary business on a product. He decided to pick our restaurant staff scheduling software. He told me he loved using it last summer when he was on summer break and working in a restaurant back home.

When he asked why most restaurants use Schedulefly, I told him that while his project would probably receive a better grade if he helped quantify labor cost savings, time savings and other measurable ROI (return on investment) factors, the truth was that most restaurants use it because it simply makes the lives of the owners, managers and staff members easier. Period. There’s really not much more to it.

Restaurants that are worn out with time sucking process of creating paper schedules and then dealing with the constant schedule phone calls and shift trade requests quickly calculate that $30 or $40 or so per month is an easy decision if it turns hours into minutes and keeps the phone from ringing (unless it’s a customer).

Since the question came up, we decided to toss out a quick online survey to our customers, and ask the the #1 reason they use Schedulefly. We gave them six choices, and asked them to choose just one. We also allowed for responses outside of our six options by providing an “Other” field. We cut the survey off after we received 100 responses, and here’s how those 100 people broke it down…

So 55% of the respondents indicated that Schedulefly simply saves them time and (daily) hassles and makes communication easier. It’s really that simple. And notice that only one person – one – said the #1 reason to use Schedulefly is for labor cost savings. Well, that is except for the 8 (out of 10) “Other” respondents, who all said they wanted to pick all six answers…

So while companies selling enterprise software solutions to large organizations with tons of locations and multiple decision makers often spend tons of energy trying to quantify their ROI factors, we simply enjoy telling people that for about a dollar or two per day, we can make life easier for their restaurant team members.

Wil

Schedulefly and Notepad, a (simple) match made in Heaven.

Today I was writing some code and I realized that I have written every last line of code for Schedulefly in notepad, the most basic text editor. Our outside website, the Schedulefly app’s UI, the middleware and the SQL back end. All of it. I likely sound like a idiot to many developers, but it’s the only tool I’ve ever used that does not get in my way. It does not try to help me by writing code for me or predict what I’m trying to do. It’s just a plain white blank canvas that can be used for anything I do. It just sits there and waits for me to create something. HTML pages, JavaScript code, server code, database scripts, backup routines etc.

There are definitely some amazing tools available today for software developers and designers to use to build a product. Pick your favorite language and platform and there are tools to help people design, build, compile, test, package, deploy and store their products. There are a few tools that keep it simple, but most of them are bursting at the seams with complexity and features that only a small % of people would use. Most also require you to have a high powered, expensive computer with a huge amount of memory, a blazing fast processor and a large screen resolution. Personally I’d rather work from a small screened cheap laptop or tablet.

I guess I have not missed helpful things like intelli-sense (a code auto-complete feature available in many dev tools) since I’ve written every line of code and am so darn familiar with the methods, functions and APIs I’ve written. The other reason I love this basic editor is that no matter where I am (at home or in a cab or maybe in the Florida Keys), I can simply hop on our server, grab the files I need to work on, quickly edit them and move on. Since all I need is notepad – I can do this on my mom’s computer, my sister’s iPad or an old dusty computer at some random public library. Heck, I’ve even squashed a few bugs while on vacation using only my iPhone. By the way, getting internet access in the Florida keys can be spotty – so I usually don’t make changes to Schedulefly a week or 2 before I go there to be sure things are running smoothly 🙂

Of course I understand this works for us because we don’t have a team of developers and an office and a network and all that. If we did, I guess I would need some more development tools and processes in place to keep everyone and everything organized. But thank goodness I don’t. Maybe one day I will, but for now it’s just so darned simple.

So before you go drop thousands on a fancy development environment….try it with notepad only. See how far you can take it. You may find the limitations of your environment help you keep your product simple.

Wes
Schedulefly

p.s while I do keep everything cheap and simple in development – we’ve spared no expense on the data center and network for our sites. You can read more about it in this fun post from last year.

Double click here, double click there

A few years ago we started asking restaurant staff that use Schedulefly to say a few words about it on camera. We don’t send them a script. We don’t do anything more than hold up the camera and say “Why do you like it?” or “How does it make your life easier?”. The first time we did it, we got a great one from a guy named Kevin. When he talks about easily checking to see who else is working the nights he is scheduled I laughed because I remember those days. Knowing who I was working with (and who was managing) often determined whether or not I gave up my shift!

It’s worth another post…

Here are some more fun videos of wait staff, hosts, bartenders, managers and owners talking about Schedulefly.

Wes

The Stars of Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Phil Roberts

Phil Roberts is a legend in the restaurant business, having launched over a dozen successful restaurants, including Buca di Beppo and The Oceanaire Seafood Room, which both went public. He owns Parasole Restaurant Group, which has 10 extremely successful restaurants (Mozza Mia, Pittsburgh Blue, Il Gatto, Burger Jones, Manny’s Steakhouse, Chino Latino, Uptown Cafeteria, Muffuletta, Salut, and Good Earth). Phil is bold, innovative, and knows what people want before they do. He’s refreshingly unafraid to offer very honest opinions on any topic. Here are a few of of the topics we covered in his interview for Restaurant Owners Uncorked:

– Be great at a few things, not average at a lot of things
– Check the view from 30,000 feet
– Edgy marketing gets free PR
– Be ready to work when everybody else is playing
– You’ve got to get every spoke in the wheel right
– Have a cookbook in one hand, and a P&L in the other

Want more? Grab a copy of the book on Amazon today! (Paperback $14.99, Kindle version $9.99)

The Schedulefly Crew

Fly Tips – A few ways to maximize Schedulefly

We decided to start sending an email 3-4 times per year to our Admin users, to make sure you know how to fully leverage Schedulefly to make your lives easier. We’re calling the broadcasts “Fly Tips.” Here’s the first one. Enjoy…

Fly Tips from Schedulefly April 2011

Sfly Admin users, we’ve built some simple tools to make your life easier. Next time you’re logged in, click the “SF Tools” link in the top right nav to find the following…

Job Posts
A simple, quick way to post job openings online (on your web site, Twitter, Craigslist, etc.), collect and store resumes, collaborate with fellow managers to share notes on applicants, and make the hiring process easy for you and your applicants.

My Reminders
Send yourself (and others) email reminders to appear in your email inbox on any future date. There’s no easier way to remind yourself to do something!

Schedulefly Badges
Pop these up on your web site to show your customers your commitment to being green, or to gain a competitive edge when hiring by showing prospective employees you provide a cool benefit that makes their lives easier. Here’s how a couple of customers are using them…

Pi Pizzeria

Friends Coastal Restaurant

Arch Rock Fish

Restaurant Owners Uncorked
Also, we’re excited to launch our book, Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success. It’s an easy, fun read and it’s only $14.99 on Amazon. There is also a Kindle version for $9.99. Check it out and spread the word!

The Schedulefly Crew
support@schedulefly.com

How many softwares do you love?

We always get a kick out of hearing people use the word “love” to describe their feelings towards our software. After all, it’s just a software, right? Well, it is, but it’s a software that truly makes people’s lives easier. And when you can do that, they’ll love ya…

The Schedulefly Crew

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