Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: June 2012

New ROU Video: Scott Maitland, part I

We continue the Restaurant Owners Uncorked (ROU) video series with Scott Maitland, owner of Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Scott started his restaurant fifteen years ago to prevent a chain restaurant from opening in one of the premier restaurant locations in Chapel Hill. He now runs a $7,000,000 per year business with over 120 employees, and will soon open North Carolina’s first from scratch micro-distillery.

In this 3-minute video, Scott discusses the business of running your business, a day in his life as a restaurant owner, and why independent restaurants are important repositories for culture in their towns.

It’s an awesome, awesome, awesome vid. Enjoy…

This is the first of seven videos we’re producing from our interview with Scott. Stay tuned…

Wil

I think of Schedulefly as a "Lifegrowth Business"

The internet has changed business forever. Just 8 or 10 years ago, there would be no way in the world that Schedulefly would have people from Europe and Australia and New Zealand trying our software – or even NYC, or LA or Miami. Yet they all do now. How would they know about it without us hiring a bunch of sales people to fly around the planet with their laptops and show it to people? Short of a happy customer, in my backyard here in North Carolina, moving to Australia and then installing Schedulefly there, it would not happen without sales people and overhead and complexity. And I say “installing”, because just a few years ago software was all premise based – shrink wrapped in a box with training documentation and physically installed on-site. Not anymore. Some bar owner in Vietnam can do a Google search for restaurant staff scheduling, click through to us, sign up to check it out and start communicating with her staff online before her restaurant opens for dinner. No direct mail landing on her desk from us. No annoying phone calls or visits from us. No CD-ROM to stick in her Mac to load up Schedulefly. No hardware or software at all. We are confident when she is ready, she will find us (and others too) and make the call if we are the right tool. If we are – she will like it and likely tell someone else in Vietnam about us…she and all her staff too.

I bring this up because, recently, the topic of a lifestyle business vs. a growth business came up. A lifestyle business (which is how some view Schedulefly…me included) is traditionally one where the owners have created a business that supports the things they enjoy doing in life and if faced with a decision to hire and bring on more complexity (that might wreck their enjoyable lifestyle) in order to grow and meet the demands of new business and new revenue – they would pass. They have designed the business to bring a nice income and flexibility in their schedule and would focus on keeping that in tact. So a growth business, traditionally, would hire and scale and become more complex in order to grow and meet the demands of new business and hopefully create value and a nice exit for the shareholders at some point down the road. The latter sounds great and terrible….I bet there is an in between.

Well, the internet is enabling an in between – especially for those who provide a simple service (that requires little to no training or help to use and does not require something to be made or manufactured for each sale) to a large market. I am not arguing that Schedulefly is not a lifestyle company – in fact I like to think of it that way since I (and my partners) do enjoy my (our) life because of it – but I am arguing that growth will not require many of the traditional things that it has in the past like more production, capital investment, hundreds of employees and offices with managers and executives. Growth will only require patience, focus, time, and a continued steady drum beat of awareness that we are here. It will of course also require a scalable software and hardware platform and a product and service that makes people happy when they use it. Happy enough to talk about it to others….maybe even when they are not asked about it. So yeah, we are going to hire a few more people as we grow – but not enough where we need managers or executives or offices filled with people who are creating an atmosphere that makes us all want to do what we “used” to do years ago.

So I think we are a hybrid of a Lifestyle business and a Growth business – let’s call it a Growstyle business. Nah, let’s call it a Lifegrowth business. A business that can keep growing as long as the market is there and the team that runs it and the people who use it enjoy what they do and enjoy their life.

Like Charles Barkley’s memoir was titled…I may be wrong, but I doubt it.

Wes

p.s I used the overseas examples to add distance for effect – we focus on the US and Canada but occasionally have interest from other countries. If we are what they need, we are happy to serve them!

What do restaurants think we do?

When restaurants sign up for our free trial, we ask them what they hope Schedulefly will do for their team. It might seem like a silly question to some who signup – but most people actually do answer the question. We like asking because we are curious. It gives us a good idea right off the bat if we are going to be a good fit for them. And maybe more importantly we can use their comments to determine if our message on our website is clear. Is it clear what we say we are doing for our customers? It needs to be gin clear. Do they think we do something that we don’t? Occasionally (not often) they may say they hope we do “x” – and we don’t. So it gives us an opportunity to save all of us some time by encouraging them to keep looking around and also gives us an option to further sharpen our message to people who come to our website for the first time. We want the right people to use our software – period. We want them to be happy with our software and feel like it fits the bill. This, of course, not only helps them, but it also saves us time and helps strengthen our brand name in the industry.

Anyway…today I thought I’d input the comments that have been left just in the last few week’s trial signups into wordle so the commonly used words would appear bigger. I literally copied and pasted the comments into worldle and it created this….

It’s cool to look at it this way…I feel like we are on track with our message.

Wes

Our New Video

We just finished putting together our new promotional video and it’s awesome! A big thanks to Luke Pearson at Lift Films and the crew at Top of the Hill Restaurant & Brewery in Chapel Hill NC. Check it out!

Wes

This vid is so good it’s worth re-posting…

If you haven’t watched the first Dave Query video from the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, it’s below. You gotta watch it. If you have watched it, watch again. All of Dave Query’s videos in this series are GREAT, but this one in particular strikes me because it contains such incredible business wisdom for any owner of any business in any industry. Quotes like this are just incredibly wise and powerful…

“One of the things I’ve learned that’s helped me be successful, is shutting my mouth. You just gotta shut up and listen. If you’ve got really smart people that you’re working with, you hired them for a reason. They’re on your team with intention. You gotta learn to just listen.”

“Ego is a killer. Humility wins in the long term every time.”

“One common qualities we share with other successful restaurants is that we’ve not forgotten that the customer is king. Those companies that are paying attention to their customers, listening, and responding … are the ones that are going to be successful.”

Anyway, the list goes on. Dave is a very successful man for good reason. Pay attention. This stuff is priceless…

Wil

The Simpsons and why we don’t partner with anybody (part II)

Recently I wrote a post about why we don’t partner with anybody. The point was that it’s hard to ever really know your potential partner’s true agenda, so be wary of partnerships.

Likewise, its not uncommon to be approached by a potential partner who sings your praises, makes you feel great about your business, and promises the moon. They tell you how they can sell your product to all of their customers, easily, because their customer have been asking for something just like what you provide! It’s a perfect fit. A match made in heaven!

You buy into their hype, and you think they must know something you don’t, because even though you believe it will be harder than they think, their promises are so bold and they are so confident in their ability to fulfill them, you start to believe them.

It reminds me of this great scene from The Simpsons, when Lyle Langley convinces the people of Springfield that they need a monorail…

Marge is the only voice of reason in the crowd, and she is ignored, just as you might not heed the doubts of the second guessers in your business who have doubts about your potential partners. I’ve done that. And I’ve learned my lesson.

Of course, Marge was right to be skeptical, and the monorail became a disaster. Just as many partnerships do (more fail than work – trust me).

Trust your gut. Trust your teammates. And be careful of trusting a potential partner who has a lot of upside and a little downside if the partnership fails.

I’m not saying all partnerships are bad. But I am saying from experience that they rarely work out like you believe they will, and you may be better off focusing your time, energy, and money elsewhere for a better return.

Wil

One of Schedulefly’s role models is my daughter’s second grade teacher…

My daughter just finished 2nd grade. She had an absolutely amazing teacher who has been teaching for 37 years. Mrs. Owen.

As you might imagine, it was a special year because Mrs. Owen is the best at what she does. After all those years, she knows exactly what second graders need. She knows how to teach them. How to manage them. How to love them. If you could create the perfect second grade teacher, it would be Mrs. Owen. Period.

It occurred to me that Schedulefly is similar to Mrs. Owen in several ways, and she is a great role model for us. Like her, we have a laser focus. She focuses on second graders, we focus on independent restaurants. She wants to be the best at teaching second grade, just as we want to be the best at serving indie restaurants.

Also, Mrs. Owen doesn’t try to grow with our students. She doesn’t try to learn to teach third grade, then fourth grade, and so on so that she can follow her students all the way through their growth. She knows she would never be the best at teaching those grades, and that’s not where her heart is. She’d always be trying to catch up, always trying to add to her teaching repertoire, and so on. Rather, she waves goodbye and wishes them well and waits for the next round of second graders to come through. When they do, she welcomes them with a smile. And knows she’s doing exactly what she was meant to do.

Likewise, we don’t try to grow with our customers. Every now and then we have a customer that has grown to the point of needing more complex systems versus a simple scheduling and communication app. They need some feature or integration that we don’t provide, and they grow into solutions from other companies. We don’t try to make our app more complex to try to keep up, and get into things we would have to learn, or that we aren’t the best at. That’s not where out heart is. Rather, we wave goodbye and wish them well and wait for the next new, independent restaurant to open its doors for the first time and sign up for a Schedulefly trial. When they do, we’ll welcome them with a smile. And know we’re doing exactly what we were meant to do.

Wil

P.s. Last week we hit a cool milestone of 2,000 customers. We’re so thankful to serve all of you, and can’t thank you enough for your business!

Why word-of-mouth matters more than ever…

We need a new refrigerator in our house, and after spending a ton of time this week trying to determine which fridge to purchase by visiting appliance stores, doing research on manufacturer’s web sites, and reading online product reviews from people I don’t know and have no reason to trust, I decided to send an email to my neighborhood distribution list and ask who recently bought a refrigerator and would recommend it.

By doing this I’ll cut out the incentive that both sales people and product web sites have to convince me to buy, as well as the anonymity and low credibility of online reviews. I’ll be able to get answers from people I know and people who have no incentive to trick or pressure me. The email will go to about 100 people, and I suspect I’ll get 4-5 responses. I’ll ask those people a few questions about features that are important to my family, and I’ll make a decision. I’ll avoid two problems I ran into before I decided to send the email…

I had my guard up.
Don’t you kind of have your guard up more now than ever? Don’t you feel like you are being sold to everywhere you turn? High pressure sales people. Emails. Phone calls. Newspaper/magazine ads. TV commercials. Product placements in movies. Online banner ads. It just never stops, and it’s easier than ever before in history to get in your face or in front of your eyeballs. You get burned a few times by falling for the hype, or the marketing, or the smoke and mirrors, and you get a little jaded. Your guard goes up. You don’t know who to trust.

Too many choices, too much information.
There seems to be an endless supply of choices of anything you buy. Want a refrigerator at this price point? No problem, here are 25 to choose from! Need a place to listen to free music online? Cool, here’s 15 sites to check out! Need some new running shoes? Awesome, here’s 300 of them! And while it’s great to have the Internet at your fingertips, with so much information, it’s nearly impossible to do the research yourself, especially if you need objective opinions from people you trust.

So for these reasons, people are turning back to good ole’ fashioned word-of-mouth to let down their guards, sift through the noise, and find the right product or service for them. And that’s why in my case, the company that makes a great refrigerator that works and lives up to the promise of the brand will win. Not the companies who tried to trick me, or pressure me, or offer me huge discounts to get me to buy…now!

It just seems so simple: Focus on making a great product, and take great care of your customers. Just be really good at those two things, and you’ll love the value of word-of-mouth, which is becoming more and more powerful every day…

Wil

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