Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: May 2011 (Page 1 of 2)


That’s what it costs to send Restaurant Owners Uncorked and a personal note to people who have leverage. Deans and presidents of culinary schools. Editors of restaurant publications. Restaurant consultants.

These are people who not only can pull levers to expose our book to lots of people, but they are also people that we want to know about and think highly of our company.

Investing $9.42 to get the book to a person with leverage seems wise to me. When I mail a book in an envelope like you see in the picture, it gets the person’s attention and forces him to make a decision on our book. The envelopes are large and hand-addressed, so I’m confident each person will open the envelope and see the book and the personal note I included. At that point, each recipient will either A) decide to read the book or B) decide to give it to a colleague or a professor or C) decide to put the book aside for future consideration. I could be wrong, but I don’t think there is a fourth option “D” to throw the book away. It’s a 322 page book, not a brochure.

Yesterday I sent a book to seven different hospitality school deans and presidents. I look forward to finding out what happens. I hope they’ll tell their colleagues and students about it. If so, maybe a professor will feature it in her curriculum one day. Maybe another will invite me to come speak to his class about key lessons I learned from the owners I interviewed. Maybe students at lots of schools will soon start using Restaurant Owners Uncorked as a reference tool as they plan their dream restaurants. Maybe it will help somebody succeed when he otherwise would have failed. If any if these happens, our book will have served two of its purposes, by helping people succeed as restaurants owners and helping us build our brand in the restaurant community.

Or maybe nothing will happen. I have no idea. But I like spending $9.42 to find out. It’s more fun (and I would argue much smarter) to spend hundreds of dollars to send our book to dozens of people who will most likely read it and do something meaningful with it, than it is to spend thousands of dollars to send an email to thousands of people who will most likely delete the emails and move on.


Why we don’t have a sales team

Often I hear “Why don’t you have any sales people?” or “It seems like you could pay young college kids all over the country to walk into restaurants and sell Schedulefly – why not?” or “Why not partner with a food service business that is visiting restaurants already and have them sell Schedulefly too?” (We actually did try that early on and it flopped quick – so we backed out). I can see the dollar signs spinning in the eyes of those who ask me this question – and usually it’s the same kind of friend asking. They are traditional business thinking people and most wear a tie and spend the bulk of their day in meetings thinking up ways to sell more stuff to more people.

You see when I tell someone about Schedulefly – they get it right away. It’s a product that is easy to explain and easy for almost anyone to picture the value it would bring to the staff and managers at a restaurant. Heck, most of the people I’ve told about it over the last 5 years have worked in the service industry in the past – so they really get it. They are thinking: it’s a no brainer and should be easy to sell to hundreds of thousands of restaurants across the country – or millions across the globe – right? In fact – most poo poo our focus on restaurants and think every business in the world with hourly employees could use this. All these places with schedules hanging on the wall and phones in the office ringing off the hook with staff on the other end asking about schedules and shift changes could use Schedulefly. It should darn near sell itself if a salesperson just walked into a restaurant and said “Here is something that will make your life easier, please make the check out to Schedulefly”.

Right? Wrong. It does not work. Here’s why.

We are not selling a bread warmer or a cash register or a freezer. We are not selling food that they can sell to their customers. We are not selling silverware that their customers need in order to eat. We are not selling wine that will make their customers relax and better enjoy their meal. We are selling something they have never used and most have never heard of before. So in order to do this – we are actually trying to sell the success our current customers are having with our product. We are selling the happiness and the flexibility and the freedom it has created for the owners, the managers and the staff. The freedom to spend more time with their customers. You just can’t walk into a business and sell that. You’ll be laughed out the door – and quick – especially at a restaurant run by people who literally have zero time for “vendors” that they don’t know and trust and expect. I don’t blame them.

So rather than focus on building out a large (and likely annoying) sales team that pushes our product on restaurant owners that are not ready for it or simply don’t need it – we are trying to position ourselves to be here when they are ready. To be here with a simple product that does not lock them in or try to do too much. A product that is easy to adopt and use. We’ve learned that readiness, which ends up creating a happier more loyal customer that renews every month, is something we can’t force or create. We can’t talk them into being ready. So we are trying hard to make a great name for ourselves so that when they are ready – they give us a shout.


Things that make you say, "Hmmmm."

“What the heck do we do with these cards that have been in my drawer for two years?” I asked myself that question this morning. We have 1,000 of these suckers. Maybe 1,500. Let’s just say it’s a lot of them and they have been collecting dust and doing us no good since I brought them home from the annual National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago in May, 2009.

We had a ton of these printed for that show because, well, because there are something like 15,000 people that attend that show. So maybe we had 1,500 printed because I hoped we could hand them out to 10% of the attendees. I believe that’s right, now that I think about it. So I bet we have 1,200 left.

Yep, my guess is over the course of three or four days of standing on our feet for hours upon hours at the back of an enormous exhibit hall, we were able to offload no more than a few hundred of these. That show was a waste of time and money for us (more on that in a future blog post), and these cards function as a recurring reminder of a lesson learned.

But I still like the cards. They show pictures of our smiling, happy customers. They focus on how we make life easier for people. They are simple. Clear. Concise.

The only part I don’t like is the reference to ROI (Return On Investment) on the back of the cards. Big companies make buying decisions on complex softwares based on ROI. Independent restaurants that use Schedulefly don’t. We know because we surveyed our customers recently. A customer then commented on that blog post about why he uses Schedulefly, and his comment sums it up nicely:

“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.”

O.k., so other than the ROI stuff we shouldn’t have mentioned, these cards are great. Happy. Smiles. Fun. Simple.

So I’m sitting here trying to figure out a creative and inexpensive way to get them into the hands of other restaurant people who like smiling. People who have a relatively young staff that all own cell phones and smart phones. People who like to give their staff cool benefits. People who would like their lives to be a little bit easier.

Got any ideas? I’m at wbrawley [at] schedulefly [dot] com.


Quick Wisdom from Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Promote from Within

It’s hard to hire restaurant managers from the outside, with all of their thoughts and expectations and philosophies, and have them come in and try to meld with what we’re doing.

Get a copy of Restaurant Owners Uncorked

Follow ROU on Twitter to see tips and advice from restaurant owners.

Quick wisdom from Restaurant Owners Uncorked: You work, your friends play

Think owning a restaurant will be fun? Remember, you’ll be working while everybody else is playing.

Get a copy of Restaurant Owners Uncorked

Follow ROU on Twitter to see tips and advice from restaurant owners.

Quick wisdom from Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Cookbooks and P&Ls

To be a successful restaurant operation, you better have a cookbook in one hand and P&L in the other.

Get a copy of Restaurant Owners Uncorked

Follow ROU on Twitter to see tips and advice from restaurant owners.

Don’t let your ego cause your restaurant to fail

“I offered to give her a copy of your book, but she said she didn’t need it and already knew what she was doing.” My mom told me this two months ago. A new restaurant was opening soon next door to the store she works in, and she met the owner one afternoon. She proudly told the owner about Restaurant Owners Uncorked, but she told mom that while the book sounded “neat,” she didn’t need it. She went on to say that while she had never owned a restaurant, she had been to culinary school and had learned how to own and operate one.

Mom was sorta pissed. Of course that was because the lady had effectively rejected something her son had created. Mom also knew that this would be the fourth restaurant in that location in six years, and she figured it would be crazy for the new owner not to soak up as much knowledge as she could before going into such a tough location.

I told Mom to get over it. Let the lady do her thing. It didn’t bother me one bit. In fact, I joked with mom that one of the overriding lessons I learned from the twenty restaurant owners I interviewed was that owners that think they know it all and let their egos get in the way risk failure. My exact words to mom were, “I don’t hope she fails. But if she isn’t wise enough to accept a free book with advice from twenty people who’ve succeeded at what she’s trying to do, I wouldn’t bet on her.”

Since then I’ve eaten in the lady’s restaurant. Her food is good. It’s local and organic. It tastes fresh. It’s well prepared. She clearly has good culinary sense. But her portions were pretty small and she’s in Georgetown, S.C. which has a miserable economy right now and (I would guess) not a lot of people with $10 to spend on a “meat and two” when the drink doesn’t come with it and when the restaurant down the street may not have local and organic food, but only charges $7 for a “meat and two” – and the sweat tea comes with it.

One of the lessons printed on the back cover of the book is “Know Your Community Intimately.” Maybe she’ll figure that out. Maybe the book would have helped her do it faster.

Another lesson on the back of the book is “Check Your Ego at the Door.” I hope she learns this lesson soon. I like her food and so does Mom and I’d like to eat there with Mom again the next time I am in town.


Inside Schedulefly – Wil’s whiteboard

A buddy asked me recently what happened to the Wil’s whiteboard series on our blog. I used to post occasional videos of me sharing what was on my whiteboard at the time (product ideas, marketing ideas, etc.), and discussing why they were there.

I haven’t done it for a while, and I’m having problems uploading video clips to my laptop right now because a malware got in there and caused problems, even though I am paying for a program that is supposed to keep that from happening. Damnit!

Anyway, here’s a pic of my whiteboard. It simply reads “100,000.” That’s the next major milestone we want to hit for total end users of our restaurant scheduling and communication software. When we hit 100,000 end users, we’ll also hit a major financial milestone. It’s a revenue number and I’m not revealing what it is. Hey, transparency is cool, but I’m not opening our books to the world. Feel free to guess.

Anyway, I look at that number on my whiteboard every day and try to figure out how to get us there. And to do it with no sales people, no advertising, no traditional marketing, and very minimal expenditures. I like challenges, so this is a fun challenge!

We’re growing faster now than ever, so we are hoping to get there by the end of 2012. I’ll let you know every now and then how we’re tracking.


Quick wisdom from Restaurant Owners Uncorked: The lonely road

People you admire may think your idea is stupid. Banks may laugh at you. Being a restaurant owner can be a lonely road.

Get a copy of Restaurant Owners Uncorked

Follow ROU on Twitter (it’s a real person tweeting, Wil from SF)

Inside Schedulefly: To fly or not to fly?

Yesterday I spoke to a long-time customer who is an absolutely awesome guy. He has been watching us for a few years to see if our business does well. Four years ago he probably figured that we had little chance to succeed. I wouldn’t have blamed him. After all, it’s not exactly a likely scenario that three guys in their 30’s with families and kids could make ends meet selling individual subscriptions for $30 or $40 or $50 per month, unless they have VC or angel funding. We have neither. But we’re fortunate enough that the stars aligned and we’ve been able to make this business thrive.

Anyway, our customer is pretty plugged into the restaurant industry, and he wants to help me get on the speaker’s circuit for state and national trade show events. It’s a GREAT opportunity, and I thanked him for offering to help! I also told him about a couple of concerns I have, one of them being that I would have to travel to be a speaker.

Eight years ago, I would have laughed at myself for being hesitant to travel. I used to fly all over the country in my previous career, and didn’t think anything of it. Three, four trips per month. No sweat. I pretty much had to travel to succeed at what I did. And the the time I had no kids, so why not see cool cities all over the country.

Well, now I have three kids and I don’t like spending day away from them and my wife, and I’m fortunate to be a part of a business that isn’t backed by guys and gals that have given us lots of money and have lots of expectations about how how quickly we should grow. If we were, my hesitation would be irrelevant. I’d have no choice but to jump at the opportunity to travel around and speak at these shows. The pressure would be high to travel, sell, speak, and work 100 hours per week if needed to meet lofty growth goals.

But we’re not funded or backed or anything like that, so that leaves me with the (very fortunate) dilemma of being on the fence on this topic. Would it help our business? Yeah, it most likely would. Would it be taxing on me? Being that I pretty much can’t stand airports and airplanes anymore, and that I absolutely don’t like being away from my family…yeah, it would.

I’ll probably wind up taking the opportunity if it pans out (which is no guarantee), but it was weird hearing myself tell our customer that I had to think about whether I even wanted him to pursue this. It’s funny how things change as you grow. You place value on different things, your perspective changes, and you view the world through different eyes than you did not that long ago.

I’m not sure what the point of this post is, other than to share a little glimpse behind the scenes at Schedulefly and offer a brain dump of what’s on my mind right now. I’ll let you know what happens…


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