Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: March 2012

"Wow!"

At about 11:15 this morning I was sitting on a stool at the bar at my favorite coffee shop, knocking out the second round of edits for the third vid in the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. (There’s a pic on your right of my notes and the pencil I stole from my daughter’s desk when I left the house this morning).

I took a break to see what emails had come in, and I noticed a familiar ring to the subject line of the “EatBeat” email: “How to build word of mouth buzz.” I opened the email and noticed the lead article was one we submitted to Restaurant Hospitality a few months ago.

My heart jumped a beat and I uttered, “Wow!” a few times. You see, EatBeat is a joint email between Restaurant Hospitality and Nation’s Restaurant News, and it is sent every Tuesday to nearly 100,000 recipients.

Here’s a link to the article. We’re so stoked that we can help spread the wisdom of some of our awesome, smart, successful customers, such as Tad Peelen of Joe’s Real BBQ!

Wil

Being experts is not our strategy, and definitely not our style

I remember soon after we started Schedulefly (and with only a couple of paying customers), a very successful friend told me that we should aim to become the “gurus” of online employee scheduling. To be successful, we needed to become “thought leaders” so we would eventually be asked to speak about online scheduling at conferences and build massive credibility in the industries we served. I smiled and said “yeah, good idea”, but I knew I was never going to do this. In his defense, he thinks bigger than I do – and more corporate – so that strategy has worked well for him. But you see, in general, I am not really a fan of people or businesses who believe they are experts (or the authority) – at anything. Now they may very well be an expert, but when they think they are and seek out venues to evangelize that they are – it’s annoying. It’s arrogant seeming – as if they have nothing left to learn and being experts somehow justifies being paid for what they do. They also aren’t usually fun to be around because they tend to talk and talk and talk.

On the other hand – people that ARE fun to be around (and fun to learn from) are people who are passionate about something, yet don’t act like experts. In fact, these kinds of people are usually more interested in other people’s experiences and would rather hear their story than tell their own. They are still curious – no matter how much they know. I admire people like this. These people are who I want to be like and with whom I want to build a relationship and learn from. Naturally, I want our business to be like this too.

So I think about this a lot when deciding how to speak (or not speak) about our business and about technology. I don’t want to sound as if we know all there is to know and or that we should be the choice of all restaurants because we are “the experts”. I usually just try to explain what we do in simple terms – and why it’s fun for us- and that’s it. And while we are indeed getting better at what we do as we go on- we are by no means experts or thought leaders or gurus. That’s not our strategy and it’s definitely not our style.

Wes

ROU video series: Competition, gut checks, and no lemon wedges out back

In the second of five videos we’re producing from our interview with Dave Query of Big Red F Restaurant Group, Dave discusses why stiff competition is good for business, the importance of daily gut checks, and why it’s important to pay attention to even the smallest of details (like the lemon slices in your back alley).

We’re so proud of these videos. They capture Dave’s rare mix of business savvy and street smarts, and offer a glimpse into the mind of a man who has been successful in the tough restaurant business for over 30 years. If you know anybody who is in the business or wants to get into it, please share the link to the Restaurant Owners Uncorked Video Series: http://blog.schedulefly.com/search/label/rou-video-series

Wil

P.s. I’d love to know your thoughts or feedback or questions about this vid or about the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. Wbrawley at Schedulefly dot com.

For me, the schedule was never really done

When I sat down to start coding Schedulefly, the memories of creating a schedule for 40 wait staff guided me to a simple solution – a solution for a problem that I remembered so well. The problem for our team back then, ironically, was not so much a scheduling problem as it was a communication problem. The reason the schedule took so long to create and then maintain through out the week was 100% because we had no easy way to communicate about it. Phone calls, paper requests, voice mails, messages left at the host stand on sticky notes and verbal requests exchanged over beers the night before the schedule was to be made were the ways we communicated. Looking back it was gigantic mess and a pain to organize and manage, but back then it was just the way it was. Had we had an easy and centralized way to submit, collect and review information related to the schedule and it’s changes – life would have been easier for our scheduling managers and the people trying to tell them things.

So the reason I am reminiscing, is because I realized that our solution is still more about communication and less about scheduling. It’s why I never planned (or plan) on creating some magical automatic scheduling function that spits out a schedule based on availability, seniority, sales numbers etc. Quite frankly, I can’t imagine something like that being anywhere near useful unless you were scheduling machines – or robots. As I’ve said in the past, (in my experience) people are really difficult to schedule and creating a winning team of the right crew night after night often has more to do with the people and their personalities and less to do with their skill level. Personal issues that happen last minute – even unexpected weather – can wreak havoc on a schedule. So I guess my point is – while I needed to know all that basic availability stuff in order to create a schedule – what I really needed was a better way for people to communicate with me leading up to creating it and after it was “done”. And of course – the real work started after the schedule was posted (like within minutes) – and that’s when a lack of good communication about the changes occurring made it tough for everyone to manage.

Having said all that, it’s really cool to see our customers tell us how Schedulefly has helped their team. Almost every comment is centered around better communication, a more cohesive and accountable team and the ease in which everyone can find out what’s going on with each other and the restaurant. You see, in the end, they still end up with the same schedule as they did before they started using Schedulefly – I think it’s just easier to make decisions now and manage all the stuff that affects it before and after it’s “done”. In fact, I don’t recall it ever really being done – it just keep changing until it was time to do it again.

Wes

How Disney gets it right

I woke up slowly this morning, groggy. The sunlight burned through my window as I stood wearily and peered hopefully outside. My eyes cautiously adjusted from the haze and as they focused on the surrounding terrain, I whispered…”Disney. Shit. I’m still only in Disney.”

(Quick aside – email me at wbrawley at Schedulefly dot com if you know what movie I stole that scene from – I’ll mail the first three people with the right answer a Schedulefly t-shirt or a packet of Schedulefly vinyl coasters – your choice)

Anyway, I’m with my family in Disney for eight or nine days. Or maybe it’s ten. I just know it’s a lot of days – I’ve lost count.

But all jokes aside, Disney absolutely nails it with customer service. Yep, we’re paying through the nose to be here. But, yep, they make the experience so awesome that you forget how much money you’re spending and spend your entire visit with a smile.

Sure, the accommodations are nice. Yes, the food is good. But where they crush it is with service. Every single Disney staffer we come across smiles and makes eye contact and asks if we are having fun, asks what they can do to help. It’s nuts. Even the folks cleaning the streets in the Magic Kingdom are jovial and helpful. They wink at the kids. Or smile and stop sweeping when somebody walks by. And so on.

I don’t know how they do it. I don’t how they literally train thousands and thousands of employees to be so good at service. But they do. And it works. Because even though taking three kids to Disney for so many days is one of the more exhausting ways you can spend your spring break, Disney nails the experience so well that I’m positive we’ll be back.

Wil

P.s. Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post on how Universal Adventure Park here in Orlando gets it wrong (teaser: I’ll tell the story of our 2:50 minute wait in line for a ride that was supposed to have a 70 min wait)

Restaurant Owners Uncorked Video Series Launches!

We’re so damn fired up to kick off the first episode of the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. This is the first of five videos featuring Dave Query, Owner of Big Red F Restaurant Group in Boulder, CO.

Dave has been involved with the restaurant business since he started cooking hot dogs at Mustard’s Last Stand in Boulder when he was 14 years old. Through culinary school to working in restaurants all over the world to launching a 6-concept restaurant group that has become one of the most successful groups in the country, Dave has learned quite a few lessons along the way. He was kind enough to share some wisdom, and (thankfully) we were smart enough to film it!

In this (3-minute) episode, Dave discusses egos, transparency, and remembering that the customer is always king.

If you liked this video, stay tuned. More are on the way soon…

Wil

P.s. An easy way to follow this series is to sign up to receive emails when we post to our blog. You can do that near the top right of this page.

Make life easier

I love reading the comments people leave when they sign up for free Schedulelfly trials. We ask this question: “What do you hope Schedulefly will do for you and your staff?”

Most people simply write “Make life easier.” That’s it. It’s really that simple. They just want Schedulefly to take away the headaches and hassles and pain involved with scheduling and communication and make life a little bit easier. There’s just not much more to it.

We of course see all kinds of comments, and these are a few of the other common ones…

“Make scheduling easy”
“Improve communication”
“Organize”

But of course all of these are subsets of the overall goal of just making life easier. And that’s what we’re here to do. Life is so rushed and busy and hectic these days. It’s unfortunate. But it’s true. And because of that, you don’t have to dream up a once-in-a-lifetime invention to make people’s lives easier.

Rather, if you can resolve a simple, recurring frustration that you face at home or in business, and if you can do it in a simple way, you have the opportunity to make life easier for tons of other people.

Just keep the solution simple. Be very responsive. Don’t over-promise. And be easy to do business with.

Do these things and people will be happy to pay you a fair amount every month for your solution. In fact, not only will they pay you every month, they’ll proactively tell lots of other people about your solution, and some will even send you videos like these.

Wil

Here’s the kind of stuff Wes and I email to each other…

Yesterday morning I sat down with my first cup of coffee and checked the new trial requests that had come in overnight. I noticed one from a restaurant in Charleston, SC. Charleston is home to some of the best food and the coolest independent restaurants in the country, yet we have a relatively small presence there. A few restaurants use Schedulefly, but not nearly enough when you consider how many great places call Charleston home. But the pace has picked up lately. For some reason, a few more than normal are signing up for free trials.

It’s interesting to watch our growth in various cities. As you can see on this image in Wes’s recent post, we have a lot of customers in New York, San Francisco, Chicago and Raleigh. We’ve done nothing to promote that growth other than to follow this strategy, so we never really know when or where Schedulefly will begin to take off. However, once a few of the most well known, popular restaurants in a city become customers, many others tend to follow.

With the resent activity in Charleston comes anticipation that we may start to serve some of our favorite restaurants. You see, Wes and I like spending time in Charleston with our families and enjoying the many incredible indie restaurants that line the city’s streets. We both love it there and look forward to “Charleston” being very prominent in the above-referenced image.

There is one particular restaurant we would be absolutely stoked to serve. Great food, great service, cool vibe … you name it, this place has it. It’s like an indie restaurant perfected. So when I saw another Charleston trial sign up today, I sent Wes the below email. (I won’t name the restaurant or the owner to avoid jinxing ourselves, so I changed the owner’s name to “Jean” for this post.)

“Jean is hearing about something new around him. Right now it’s nothing more than whispers. The thing servers speak of out back during smoking breaks. They talk of easier lives and dream of simplicity. But the story they tell is so fragile that it vanishes with their Marlboro plumes.

Aye, Jean currently has no idea that before long those whispers will turn to the battlecry of every restaurant staffer in the Low Country, and he’ll be leading the charge.”

I know. I know. It’s a silly email. But I like opening the curtain all of the way sometimes, and this is a real example if the kind of stuff Wes and I send each other. Part joke. Part serious. All in fun. But with honest hopes and humble confidence that the Charleston restaurant scene will soon be filled with Schedulefly chatter.

Wil

P.s. The “Low Country” is what the beautiful low lying land in and around Charleston is known as. If you’ve never been to the Low Country, go. You won’t regret it. In fact by your second day there you’ll probably start trying to figure out how to move there.

You can’t please them all and you won’t please those you do, forever

I believe with every ounce of my heart and soul that I personally (and our company) can’t please everyone. We could try, but we would end up with a few happy people, some “sort of” happy people and a bunch of people who wish they had something else. If know if we focus 100% on people that we can please (and are already pleasing) and seek them out, specifically, with a laser focus – our company will be successful. A big part of this focus is being OK with people outgrowing us when their needs change. Rather than change our software and our strategy to grow (or possibly die) with them and ruin it for those who like us now and those who are about to find us, we must stand still. We must be here for those who are about to grow into us. Fortunately there are many more people growing into us than there are outgrowing us.

The reason I blogged this today was because I re-read a blog post (from 6 years ago) from the guys at 37signals. It’s about their philosophy on embracing the fact that customers will outgrow their software. Not many businesses have the leadership and the courage to embrace that eminent event – but these guys always have. Rather than claw and scratch and add features and drop prices and whatever else it takes to keep their business (only to make their products harder for new people to buy) they are happy to see them find a better solution.

Here is the post! http://37signals.com/svn/archives2/growing_in_vs_growing_out.php

Wes
Schedulefly

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