Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: January 2013

Fly fishing and the pursuit of getting better

I love the similarities in fly fishing and our business. We’ve created a product with a very specific kind of customer in mind. Like tying a fly for a red drum, we crafted it for a certain kind of customer – not just any hungry fish. And like catching a fish with a fly rod, success takes time and relentless focus. And also like fly fisherman, we spend a bunch of energy in creatively finding the target customer and hopefully presenting our offering in a natural way. A way that makes them feel curious and comfortable with trying us. Fly fishing is just like this – especially in shallow water. Fish are easily spooked in shallow water and suspect of nearly everything they see. Fly anglers spend a ton of time (tying flies, practicing casting etc.) on the never ending pursuit of getting better at what they do.

When a opportunity arises to catch a fish with a fly rod, you can’t just smack the fly on their head – they will spook – never to be seen again. You can’t place it behind them – they won’t see it. You have to present it in just the right spot and then hope the timing is right and the action you impart on the fly looks natural and makes them feel good about trying it. The cool thing is, the more time and energy fly anglers spend at trying to catch fish on fly, the more success they start having. They learn more about a specific species of fish and it’s habits. They learn where they like to hang out, what turns them off and what turns them on. It’s really fascinating to focus and learn and get better. Same with our business…

So I took my son Joel fly fishing for red drum for the first time last fall on a big full moon flood tide where Red Drum have a short window to cruise up on muddy marsh flats looking for crabs to eat. Here is a cool video of a fish making his way towards us. Each time his tail sticks up – he is chasing and trying to eat a crab hiding in the mud. To get him to bite a steel hook with feathers and glue is no joke. The fly has to be put in the perfect spot…and usually is not. Sometimes too, it takes a few casts.

Here is the video if you can’t see it in an email.

Wes

p.s This red drum was admired for a few minutes and then released unharmed…

Quick vid message for Schedulefly customers…


(If you’re viewing this post in an email and don’t see the video, check it out here.)

How one restaurant creates a memorable experience

My wife and I had dinner recently at a great Italian restaurant in Wilmington NC called Roko. After our first visit (on my wife’s birthday), we had such a good time that I wanted to not only tell my family/friends about it, but blog about it and share a short list of things they did to make it so good. But I figured I’d wait until we ate there again and see if it was the same. Well we’ve been 3 times now, and for a tiny place in an unassuming strip mall, it’s currently the best dining experience in Wilmington (in my book anyway). While they make is seem so easy to pull off, we know it’s a ton of work to pull off a consistent show night after night.

Here are a few of the things we noticed that created such a great experience…

– Both owners (husband and wife team from Croatia) are apparently there every evening – at the host stand warmly welcoming and chatting with guests, behind the bar helping the bartenders with ice, busing tables, in the kitchen preparing, inspecting and running food to guests. It was fun to watch them. They did not stop moving. I am certain they were sweating, but they definitely didn’t appear to be!

– The owner, who welcomed us when we walked in, told us there would be a wait. She then asked if she could bring us a drink – right there – on a seat next to the host stand. That was cool. Most places, at best, would send us to the already crowded bar.

– The staff were great, provided excellent service and they remembered us. Our server (from our first visit a few months prior) smiled, stuck out his hand and said “Hey, you’re back!”. As packed as they’ve been each time, that was a surprise.

– The restaurant lighting and aroma and sound was spot on the entire time. It made us want to keep ordering more wine and not leave.

– Oh, almost forgot. The homemade dishes are insanely delicious.

If you ask me, the great food was a small part of why we will be going back. Clearly the presence and involvement of the owners in every detail is the reason we had such a good time. They run a great restaurant and have high expectations of their staff. I think this is such a great lesson for any business. It certainly inspires me and our business!

Wes
Schedulefly

Do nothing

I really love this scene from HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. In fact I even used it in another post.


(If you are reading this post in an email and don’t see the vid, click here)

I was reminded of it recently when I read this quote from Charlie Munger, who is business partners with Warren Buffet and is one of the most successful investors in history. Munger was talking about what separates the very few people who have consistently beaten the market from the vast majority who, while occasionally having good years, have failed to beat the market over long periods of time.

“And the one thing that all those winning betters in the whole history of people who’ve beaten the pari-mutuel system have is quite simple. They bet very seldom.

It’s not given to human beings to have such talent that they can just know everything about everything all the time. But it is given to human beings who work hard at it — who look and sift the world for a mispriced be — that they can occasionally find one.

And the wise ones bet heavily when the world offers them that opportunity. They bet big when they have the odds. And the rest of the time, they don’t. It’s just that simple.”

The character Arnold Rothstein and the real Charlie Munger know that it is critical to wait, plan, think, be patient, and make sure they are as positive as possible that they’ll be right before they make their bets. So once they’ve gotten to the point where they are ready to make a bet, they bet big.

We try to run our business in much the same way. We’re not sitting around daily thinking of what features we should add, or having whiteboard sessions where we all throw out ideas and then we feel compelled to do at least a few of them, or coming up with lists of potential industries we could sell into and then picking some and then hiring people to go do it.

Rather, we made our bet years ago on focusing on serving independent restaurants, and we bet big. We also bet big on keeping our app simple and clean and not filling it with bells and whistles and settings. We bet big on having extremely talented and committed people on our team (5 total people) to take care of our customers when they need anything. And, finally, we bet big on not having sales people and not doing traditional marketing, and instead focusing on things like creating the Restaurant Owners Uncorked book and video series.

Well that leaves us with lots of chunks of time where we “do nothing.” Or, rather, where we “do nothing new.” It seems unnatural in these busy, hectic, fast-paced times to not be constantly adding things, doing more. To “do nothing” is uncomfortable at first.

But if you learn to wait, plan, think, be patient, and only make (big) bets when you are confident they will pay off, you’ll never look back. In fact you’ll wonder how you ever were able to do it any other way.

Wil

If you like this post you might also like Why we don’t exhibit at trade shows…

The beauty of simple solutions

I’m reading a great book titled “Thinking, Fast and Slow.” It’s a little dense but is extremely interesting and discusses how we tend to rely to heavily on our “System 1” (intuitive) thinking and not enough on our “System 2” (deliberative, logical) thinking.

Anyway, I found the image in that pic fascinating. Click it to enlarge it so you can see the graph. So here’s the deal… some psychologists ran an experiment in an office place where they had an honor box for people who drank the office coffee. A sign next to the coffee asked people to please place money into the box if they poured themselves a cup.

The sign worked well by itself, but for 10 weeks these psychologists placed a new weekly image above the sign. As you see in the pic, there was an image of a set of eyes every other week, and an image of flowers every other week.

Notice how much more money people put into the box when the “eyes” images were used than when the flowers images were used. I think it’s fascinating that the eyes made such a big difference, and when I saw this image it reminded me that sometimes there are simple solutions that can lead to significant results.

I was reminded of this scenario the other day as I stood at a restaurant bar awaiting takeout. On the POS terminal was a message in the top left corner of the screen: “Please don’t clock in until the time you are scheduled for.” I’m sure people sometimes still clock in a little early, but I bet that simple message leads to at least 50% fewer early clockins than if there were no message at all. An elegant solution indeed.

Maybe they should ask their POS provider for an “eyes” image to add to it!

Wil

P.s. I’m going to start posting about books I’m reading every now and then when I come across something that I believe you might find interesting.

I’d relate the reason for my email to their story

Over the last few years we’ve been contacted a few times by people wanting to learn more about our company. Not people that want to use it, but people from companies that, I guess, want to invest in it or partner with us in some way. I am always amazed at the lack of awareness in the person’s email. Well, maybe I am crazy, and I am certainly no salesman, so I don’t really know what I am talking about…but IF it were me contacting a company with the intent to “sell” them on why they should give me ownership in their business – or whatever it is I am contacting them about – I would try to make a better 1st impression. More like I would if I were contacting a start-up company about getting a job.

I’d try to make the email stand out from the hundreds of others that are surely in that owner’s Inbox. I’d try to make it sound less like it’s from a complete stranger wanting to buy into something that the team there has clearly been laser focused on for years. Why would they look up from that focus and even waste 10 seconds to respond to my email that says “Hi, I want to learn more about what your doing, can we talk?” In fact, here I am wasting 30 minutes writing about it – which is kind of funny. Honestly, I’d be afraid to press send on that email if I were truly interested in investing in (or working with) their company. Instead, I’d scour their website for the company’s story. Anything, but definitely the names of the people who started the business and why they started it. There has to be a reason the owners decided to hang out their shingle and take such a huge risk, especially in this economy. I could not imagine anyone ever responding to me if I made it sound like I did not care why.

So after I had spent 10-12 minutes doing that, I would craft a very humble email that did not sound like I was shopping for a quick return on my investment and not like an email that was blasted to 15 other companies that day. I’d definitely address the owners, maybe give them some props for the success they’ve had so far and somehow relate the reason for my email to their story. Not to their product, but to their story.

I don’t know, it probably still would not work, but it would not be because of a lack of 15 minutes of effort to sound like I was truly interested.

Wes

If you liked this post, you might like reading Blaze your own path or Don’t mess with my margins.

A simple tool running on a server in a bedroom closet…

5 and 1/2 years ago Tyler and I sat down in my office at the company we used to work for and had a chat. He was leaving the business. He knew I had created Schedulefly a couple of years prior and had 2 or 3 restaurants in Raleigh using it. They liked it, he had seen it and asked what I was planning on doing with it. I said “I don’t know, why, do you want to make it what you do next?” He said “Sure”. It was the easiest, simplest conversation I’ve ever had and it felt right. We decided we would get a simple website up and a free trial page up and he would start contacting some more restaurants to see if they had any interest in trying it. We also agreed (while laughing) that I should probably move the software to a real web host and unplug the personal computer that it was running on at my house…in the closet in the bedroom.

So we did. We moved it and started getting restaurants to try it. We got our first paying customer shortly after and this forced us to figure out billing, credit card processing, an admin site to manage accounts and all the back end stuff we would need to run the business. We were off and running…and a year or so later I joined him full time.

Well here we are on January 1st, 2013 – a really great team of 5 now that all worked together before Sfly (Wil, Tyler, Charles, Hank and Me) – and more than 3,000 restaurants have joined Schedulefly and started paying us. Course, we lose customers now and then (about 1% a month), but that leaves us just shy of 3,000 current subscribing restaurants.

Last week Charles and I visited our data center and slid 2 new servers into our rack (pic above). While we were wiring everything up, we chatted about how much fun it is to look at that rack knowing that we have built it from scratch. We hand write the software, hand pick out the hardware we want to run it on and carefully assemble it. I just can’t describe how rewarding that is and I am so proud of the simple approach we’ve taken to get here.

Happy New Year…we are really looking forward to it!

Wes

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