Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: November 2012 (Page 1 of 2)

Customers gravitate towards businesses they feel good about…

Restaurant owner Dave Query (Big Red F Restaurant Group)is a veritable fountain of business wisdom. I interviewed him for our book and our video series, and I’ve learned a lifetime’s worth of advice from him.

Here’s something he said in this video that really stuck out to me as a philosophy any business in any industry should abide by…

“Customers gravitate towards businesses they feel good about supporting. You have to let your customers know you’re conscious of what you’re doing, you’re trying to do a good thing, you’re not leaving a huge footprint. For instance, you make your back alley look as good as your front door, so that when a customer walks down that back alley once a month they notice you are hosing it down so that they don’t step over a beer bottle or a lemon slice, or anything. Every effort you make to impress upon your customers what you’re trying to do and how you’re walking through the world makes a big impression. Because they’re watching.”

It’s as true for software businesses as it is for restaurants. We believe people tha are meant to use our restaurant scheduling app will gravitate towards us not because of great salesmanship or excellent marketing on our part, but rather because we are open and honest about who we are and what we are trying to do, and it makes them feel good about doing business with us.

Wil

If you like this post, you mighty enjoy watching Dave and other owners dishing wisdom and advice in our Restaurant Owners Uncorked videos series.

Ferris Bueller, Daniel Holzman, and why you should grow your restaurant half as fast as you think you need to…

Ferris Beuller is famous for this quote: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Daniel Holzman, co-owner of The Meatball Shop in NYC, said something similar in his interview for our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series….

“When you’re moving forward it seems like you’re crawling at a snails pace. Everything seems like it’s moving too slow. And from the outside there’s all of this pressure to open more restaurants and strike while the iron is hot. But from the inside, looking back, we feel like we’re moving so quickly. Almost too quickly! If you would have asked us a year ago we’d say we should have five restaurants by now. But looking back on it we realize that we’ve only been open two years and we already have three restaurants. When you grow quickly there are a bunch of things you’re not going to realize have fallen through the cracks until they fall through the cracks, and the only way you can minimize those mistakes is by moving a little bit more slowly than you would feel comfortable with. So however fast you think you can move, if you cut it in half you have a better chance of catching things before they are out of control.”

I love that advice. It’s so easy to be too focused on growing fast. And faster. And even faster!!! Better to slow down. Be patient. Get it right before you worry about growing. You may think you’re missing opportunities, but what you’re really doing is building your business on a strong foundation. It’s not fragile. It’s prepared for the stressors that every growing business must endure.

But I’ll be honest, there were times when I wanted Schedulefly to grow faster. I didn’t want to hit 2,500 customers in 2012. I wanted to hit that many in 2010. Or sooner! But the reality is that if we had done that, we would have been unprepared to handle the volume. We would let things fall through the cracks. Service would have suffered. Problems would have arisen. So while we may have gotten to some arbitrary number of customers faster, our most important asset – our reputation – would have suffered. And I can almost guarantee that five years from now, we would have wound up with fewer customers than we will have if we keep growing at a pace we are prepared to handle.

If you combine what Ferris and Daniel said, it might go like this: “Life and business both move pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss life. And ruin your business.”

Wil

If you like this post, you might also like The tortoise, the hare, and why I’m glad we’ve grown (relatively) slowly.

"Free"

“If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” — Andrew Lewis

I don’t know who Andrew Lewis is, but I love this quote.

Wil

Schedulefly Stickers!

We ordered a small number of Schedulefly stickers to see how we liked them, before we placed a larger order. They look great! I’m planning on ordering more and driving around the United States and visiting restaurants who still schedule on paper (those who make staff call or drive to the restaurant to check their schedule) and sticking one on the bumper of the scheduling manager’s car.

If you like stickers and Schedulefly, shoot me an email with your address to waiken@schedulefly and I’ll mail you a few!

Wes

p.s I ordered the stickers from http://www.stickermule.com/. Those guys are great and make it super easy to create your own stickers.

It’s gettin’ real in the Whole Foods cafe

While having lunch yesterday at Whole Foods with my partner Tyler and a brand new member of our team (more on that later), we talked about our philosophy and strategy as it relates to our focus. It felt so incredibly good to tell our new team member (who like all of us, will inevitably be talking to customers and prospects) how we speak to prospects. We told him that we don’t try and jam a square peg in a round hole and sell our product to people we know are not the right fit. And to go even further, we say nice things about other companies who are better suited to serve people we are not and we even recommend they go give them a try. I mean if you think about it, not only does this make the prospect feel good and that you are more concerned about their happiness and less about more revenue, but it also gives us a much better chance at creating a higher % of very happy customers who speak highly of us and ultimately creating a higher subscription renewal rate….which we have at it’s 99% every month.

The funny thing is this strategy goes against all conventional wisdom about how your supposed to sell. You don’t send people elsewhere, that’s insane. You’d be fired on the spot. Well we do, and we know in the long run it’s going to help us become the most beloved brand in our industry. If nothing else, it just feels like the right thing to do.

Wes

If you liked this post, you might also like We don’t sell that fire engine, but our competition does

p.s Speaking of Whole Foods, have you ever seen this rap song/video about it? It is hilarious.

The time I cried in my car

In the spring of 2001 I was sitting in a Toyota Corolla that my wife and I shared as our only car, parked in a Blockbuster Video parking lot in Burbank, CA. I was 26 years old, I had been married one year, we were living 3,000 miles from our families back in N.C., and I was fifteen months into a job with a young star-up business.

I was in sales, but I hadn’t sold much in those fifteen months. Not nearly the amount I would have expected to have sold by that point. And we were so broke that we had a speadsheet on our refrigerator that we used to write in every single dime we spent, including when one of us bought a Coke in the vending machine down the hall from our apartment. It was a humbling but necessary means of keeping us focused on spending only what we had to.

I got a call from yet another prospect telling me thanks for the presentation, but they were going to pass on our product for now. Another in a string of strikeouts for me. I put down my cell phone, and a wave of emotion came over me. Pent up stuff that I had been holding in for months. I began sobbing. Hard. For a long time. It seemed like my world was crashing down around me, like I had made mistake after mistake after mistake. Why had we moved across the country? Why had I left a good job at the bank to get involved with a start-up? Why coulnd’t I close any sales? Why? Why? Why?….

I was at my wit’s end. It was brutal. I don’t know if anybody saw me, but at the time I didn’t care. I had completely lost control of my emotions. But it was also one of the most important moments in my life so far. The perverbial skies cleared and I had a moment of clarity. I realized I wasn’t falling into the an abyss of failure, but I was merely at a crossroads.

I could either let myself follow a path leading to self-pity, blame, fear, anger (and every other negative emotion), or I could pick myself up off the ground, roll up my sleeves, and get busy working as hard as it took and doing whatever it took to conquer my self-doubts and follow the road to success. So therefore that moment is forever seared into my memory as the moment I laid claim to my future.

Why am I writing about this? Well, I’m not really sure. I just had a premonition or some kind of feeling that somebody needed to read this story today. Plus I feel like it’s important to reveal lessons you’ve learned in tough times along with ones you’ve learned in awesome times when you are endeavoring to build an audience through honesty and authenticity.

Success in business is fun, but it rarely comes without (often significant) bumps in the road, cuts, scrapes, bruises, and scars. Just remember, when you experience your equivalent of my crying-in-the-car episode, go ahead and get it out of your system. But don’t be fooled into believing you are a failure. You are merely at a crossroads.

Pick yourself up, brush yourself off, and don’t let anybody stop you from following the road to fulfilling your dreams.

Wil

If you like this post, you might also like What if we were broke?

The tortoise, the hare, and why I’m glad we’ve grown (relatively)slowly…

We’re super-stoked that over 2,500 restaurants are now using our restaurant employee scheduling and communication app to make life easier for their owners, managers, and staff. Thank you all very much for your business. We’re so genuinely thrilled to serve each and every one of you!

We don’t use customer-count milestones as the critical yardsticks to measure our success (we prefer considering things like profitability, life/work balance, how much fun we’re having, and other more subjective measurements), but that number is a fun number because we’ve gotten there one customer at a time over five and a half years. And getting there over that time frame has been much more valuable to our business than had we done it in one year. In other words, I’m glad we’ve done it like a tortoise, and not like a hare.

The tortoise approach of getting to 2,500 customers relatively(*) slowly has taught us the value of patience and the importance of realistic expectations, and has also enabled us to focus on one of the most critical aspects of our business: providing incredible customer service.

Had we taken off out of the gate like a hare and grown too quickly, we would not have been able to keep up with the service. Balls would have been dropped. Stuff would have slipped through the cracks. And customers would have been frustrated. Or cancelled their accounts. Or cancelled their accounts AND told a bunch of people that we were awful to do business with. Then we would have had to quickly hire more people to keep up with it all – people we needed to put a finger in the dam, rather than people we hired because we anticipated they would be long term, happy, successful, fulfilled members of our team.

I don’t like to call out other companies in a negative way, so I won’t mention this company’s name. But I witnessed a “hare” experience when I bought a very popular iPhone case a couple of years ago. They were growing too fast for their own good and couldn’t keep up with customer support issues. I couldn’t get an email reply. Phone calls were dropped. It was essentially impossible to speak to anybody at the company. It was an absolute train wreck, I’ll never buy one of their cases again, and it made me really understand deeply how much I would rather Schedulefly have great customer service with slower growth than the opposite.

So while there were times we tried to develop partnerships or attempted other means of accelerating growth, I’m glad they didn’t work out. I’m glad we’ve had to learn patience. And I’m glad we’ve learned over five and a half years to stick to what we know best: keeping our app really simple, staying focused on serving our niche market (independent restaurants), providing excellent customer service, and investing back into the industry we serve by creating valuable content that is educational and enjoyable. These things may not lead to explosive virality, but they serve as the foundation of a business that is built to last.

I believe if we stay patient and humble and focused, and if we keep a long term view for Schedulefly, we’ll just keep growing. One. Customer. At a time.

And more importantly, our customers will always be excited to be part of the Schedulefly family.

Wil

(* I say we’ve grown “relatively” slowly, but I guess that’s all relative. It’s my experience that most enduring, successful businesses grew “slowly” only when you compare them to stories the media tells us about “viral” apps and companies like Groupon skyrocketing into the business limelight overnight. Frankly, when you are having fun and your customers are happy, 5.5 years goes by in a flash.)

If you like this post, you might like $80,000,000 and Why we left $250,000 (and a million headaches) on the table.

What to say if you want a restaurant job…

I was just sitting in a nearby pizza joint and listened to a 17-year old high school student ask for a job. She approached the register (next to my table) and asked if there were any openings. She was told there weren’t, but that the owner could speak with her and get her contact info.

When the owner came out, her pitch went something like this: “Here’s my name and number. Please hire me when you have an opening. I really need the money. I live only five minutes from here and I really need to make some money!”

He thanked her and let her know he’d keep her contact info. She walked out the door, probably thinking: “He’ll call me. He knows I will work hard because I need the money.” But the owner was probably thinking: “She is in this for her, not for my business. No way I’m calling her.”

Now let me clarify that I’m not giving her a hard time. In fact, I readily admit that her pitch was a lot better than mine would have been at the same age. But just as I recently wrote about advice I’d give a 22-year old me who was close to graduating college, this post would apply to advice I’d give a 17-year old me who was trying to find a part-time job at a restaurant (or anywhere, for that matter). Read these two quotes and think about who you would hire…

“Give me a job because I need money!”

“Give me a job because I am a hard worker and I will work my tail off for you to make sure your customers are happy and your business thrives.”

Remember, when you are trying to convince somebody to hire you (or buy your product, or do anything for you, for that matter), it’s not about YOU. It’s all about THEM. Focus on what you can do for them, not on what you need. It won’t get you every job. But I can guarantee it will give you a better chance.

Wil

If you like this post, you might like this video. You also might like our book, “Restaurant Owners Uncorked,” which features 20 independent restaurant owners sharing their thoughts and wisdom on a wide range of topics, including how they find the right people for their teams.

You can learn something from everybody you meet

Wes and I once had a meeting with a guy who we thought might make a good referral partner for Schedulefly. This was before we decided to never do any partnerships – in fact this meeting helped us come to that decision.

Anyway, the meeting took about three hours, and during that three hours I probably said 50 words. Wes probably said 25. (Ever heard that the smartest guy in the room does the least talking? It’s true. Wes is at least twice as smart as I am.) But that leaves a big gap to fill if the meeting was three hours, right? It sure does. And the guy we met with filled every bit of it.

That’s right, over the course of three hours we listened to him talk almost the entire time. In over 15 years of professional business experience, I’ve never born witness to somebody talking that much. It was, to put it nicely, exhausting. And it goes without saying that the partnership didn’t work out.

While most people would have ended the meeting early, Wes and I politely endured it. Maybe it’s because of that idea of being polite that we have drilled into us growing up in the South? Or maybe we are just suckers? Ha! Probably the latter, but I’m glad we sat through it all because I actually got a valuable piece of advice from that guy. Amidst the twists and turns and rapid subject changes and starts and stops and preaching and pressuring, he mentioned that he and his wife had only one rule for their children: “Do your best.”

For a guy who made what should have been a simple partnership meeting into a complex, meandering journey that I’m confident will go down as the most one-sided, frustrating business meetings I’ll ever have, I have to give him credit that his household rule was quite elegant. Do your best. That’s it. Nothing more.

At the time I had kids too young for rules (other than rapid fire, off the cuff stuff like “don’t hit the dog please”), so I stored it away as an idea to consider when my kids had grown a bit. And this week my wife and I decided to make it the single rule in our house. After all, once your kids are old enough to know that grabbing a toy out of somebody’s hand is clearly not an example of doing their best, this rule can essentially replace any other rule(s). I can look at my daughter when she is talking back to me and simply as, “Are you doing your best right now?” She’ll sigh because she knows she isn’t.

Anyway, my point is that not only is “Do your best” a great rule not for any of us to abide by at home, work, or in any aspect of our lives, but that you can learn something from anybody you meet. No matter how much you might disagree with somebody or how wrong you believe somebody might be, everybody has something to say that’s meaningful. Something that makes you say, “Hmmm. Now that’s interesting. Hadn’t thought of that. That’s a good idea.”

Sometimes it might be like finding a needle in a haystack, as it was when we met with that guy. But it’s always in there somewhere. You just have to listen. And be a sucker to stick around long enough to hear it 🙂

Wil

If you liked this post, you might also like Star Wars and why we don’t partner with anybody… and The Simpsons and why we don’t partner with anybody (part II).

How social media websites help Schedulefly

So while we don’t use social media websites here at Schedulefly (and I don’t personally any longer), I do have to give them a giant shout out because it has definitely helped our business grow. But not really in the way it’s being pitched to help businesses. It’s helping our business because it’s teaching our market and our potential customers that it’s incredibly easy and productive to use the internet to communicate with prospects, customers and employees. It’s bringing them online and making them realize that they can reach customers and employees in ways they never could before. It’s pulling them away from the mindset that they should own software and install it, rather they should subscribe to software over the internet. Ask any software service company that’s been around for more than 5 years and I’ll bet they will tell you that 5 years ago they had to do a lot more convincing (about storing information on the internet and using web based software) than they do today. Today, our potential customers are actively looking for easy tools to help them reach customers, take reservations, take orders, alert wait list people, schedule employees, do payroll etc. It’s mainstream now. And the last thing they are looking for is software on a CD that has to be loaded on a computer at the restaurant and comes with a on-site technician to install it and train the staff. It’s no longer acceptable for any information they need to be on a computer’s hard drive or hanging on the wall at the restaurant.

A quick story to illustrate my point:

About 6 years ago I set out on foot with a laptop to show Schedulefly to a few restaurants in Raleigh NC – the first few that had ever seen it. I am not a sales person and I didn’t like it, but since restaurants were not actively searching for software like ours and were not hearing about it from staff – I had no other choice. Being a lousy sales person was not the worst of it though – I had the unknowns and the scariness of the internet working against me. You see back then there was no Twitter or Facebook (for brands anyway) or Foursquare or Yelp or Groupon. They were no phone apps that let consumers find restaurants near them and read reviews and leave comments and use coupons. Software for restaurants was AT the restaurant (and it was usually hooked to a printer). That’s what they knew. That’s what they were comfortable with. Restaurants were not using the internet to reach customers and employees (except via email). So while I did get lucky and stumble across a few early adopters (who are still customers today!), most of the restaurants I showed it to gave it a once over, didn’t really consider it and showed me the door. Even though I knew they had the pain of scheduling and communicating with their staff effectively, I was a tad early. I was not speaking their language….not quite yet.

Well today we are. We are speaking it loud and clear and so is any internet business offering online services to businesses. It just makes so much sense now.

So here’s to social media and all the smart people behind those sites! Thank you.

Wes

p.s By no means am I saying it’s now easy to sell a software service on the internet. It’s not. Our main competition is still paper or excel or whatever they’ve always done. Convincing people to change will always be a challenge…so will being priced right, creating brand awareness and scaling the business. Sheesh, it’s a wonder how any business becomes successful.

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