Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: March 2013

Hiring with patience and why character trumps experience (new vid)

Tad Peelen of Joe’s Real BBQ talks about why he’s learned to be patient when hiring, and why character trumps experience…


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

By the way, we’re having a blast producing these videos, and we are very excited about how much great advice and wisdom we are capturing in each one. Last year we interviewed five owners. We’ll probably wind up with around eight this year. Here’s the whole video series so far.

Why Joe’s Real BBQ provides awesome benefits to part-timers (new vid)

Tad Peelen of Joe’s Real BBQ talks about why they provide really aggressive benefits to their team (such as a 401k plan for part-timers!). I love it when businesses buck convention and do things because they believe they are the right thing to do, not because they think they’ll see an immediate impact on the bottom line. (Ironically, it’s those businesses that almost always have the healthiest bottom lines, because they are making wise long-term decisions).


(If you are reading this post in an email and don’t see the video, it’s here)

Wil

Here’s the entire Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, which now has 25 videos!

How to hire the right people for your restaurant (new video)

Joe Johnston (Joe’s Farm Grill, Joe’s Real BBQ, Liberty Market) discusses hiring based on character, and why it’s so important not to decouple the words “restaurant” and “business”…


(If you are reading this post in an email and don’t see the video, it’s here)

If you like this video, check out the whole series (over 20 videos) here. Also, the series was inspired by our book of a similar nature, Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success.

A great review of our book…

Two years ago we self-published our book, “Restaurant Owners Uncorked: Twenty Owners Share Their Recipes for Success.” We felt like it would be useful to people who were considering starting a restaurant, but we had no idea how much people would like it, how many copies it would sell, and so on.

Suffice it to say we’ve been constantly pleased with the number of books we sell every month (around 300) and the feedback we’ve received. There are 17 customer reviews on Amazon (14 people gave us 5 stars and 3 people gave us 4 stars). I check the reviews frequently to see what people are saying, and I often respond to thank them. Here’s the most recent one, a 5-star review titled “Absolutely Amazing”…

“As someone who’s been in the industry for a bit but just about to open their first spot, this book is absolutely amazing. It’s not something written by some consultant who was indispensable to the growth of Applebee’s or a professor who’s done a study of 300 restaurants but hasn’t opened one himself.

This book talks to a wide variety of owners, in a wide variety of market-types, and comes away with so many great things to keep in mind as you delve in to the world of restaurant-opening and operating. You get candid conversations with owners about how they succeeded and what exactly they screwed up (and you can avoid it yourself).

The book is done in interview form so it’s not an author’s interpretation of what they thought was the owner’s most important information. To the contrary, the weakest part of the book is when the author does a few short “key points” at the end of each interview to give you the takeaways. Take those or leave ’em, you’ll probably get something different than he did.

If you have a restaurant book library, this needs to be in it. If you only read 3 books before you open a restaurant (please read at least 3), then this needs to be one of those 3.”

I highlighted my favorite sentence in the review. I like that one because the reviewer absolutely nails the reason why we thought this book would be so useful. This is not a book based on theory, and it’s not a book with a central theme or a “here’s the key to success” style, but rather it’s a simple compilation of practical advice and lessons learned by a group of people who’ve had varying levels of success.

In fact the only undeniable observation I made from conducting the interviews was that there simply is no single formula for success in the restaurant business. Rather, the business is much like making pizza: there are a thousand ways to get it right – or to screw it up. Other than a few common ingredients (pizzas need dough, restaurants need to treat staff with respect), you can create your own recipe for success, and hopefully the book (and our video series) will help you figure out which ingredients you would like to include.

Wil

Building your restaurant as an institution (new video)

Joe Johnston’s three restaurants (Joe’s Farm Grill, Joe’s Real BBQ, Liberty Market) are each institutions in Gilbert, AZ. And the word “institution” is no exaggeration. I went to all three and saw for myself. People come from all over the place to eat at them, and they are constantly busy.

For instance, Luke Pearson (of Lift Films) and I literally watched a line one night at Joe’s Real BBQ that was consistently 75 people deep all evening. They served 850 meals that night – a random Wednesday night in January!

Here is Joe talking about why he never plans to grow any of his concepts, which is of course why each one will continue to be an institution, rather than the “original location” of a chain.


(If you are reading this in an email and don’t see the video, it’s here)

Wil

If you like this video, we have a bunch more of Joe and other owners in our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series.

Timing is everything

Recently we got our 10,000th restaurant to start a free trial at Schedulefly. It took us the better part of 6 years to get 10,000 to try it. The cool thing is just over 3,000 have liked it enough to pay for it. Basically 30% of the 10,000 have signed up – I like that conversion rate a lot – especially when I think about how we are really just getting started and the more great restaurants that use and love it – the more will use it in the future. Great business owners run in tight circles – they share information and help each other. I can see 50,000+ trying us over the next 3 or 4 years. 30% of 50,000 sounds like a pretty fantastic business for 5 or 6 people to run…

While 6 years is a long time, I am really glad that it has taken this long to get 10,000 restaurants to try us – because I believe that if we had manufactured that kind of curiosity (by spending big bucks on marketing or doing something crazy to create awareness like going on shark tank) we would have converted only a small percent of them. We might have gotten 10,000 to try us much quicker – but I’d bet no where near 30% would have decided to become a customer. The reason is – they would have tried us out of curiosity – not because they heard from a trusted friend in the business or because they truly needed to fin a solution to a problem they are having. No way 30% would would have signed up. Maybe 1% or so….and then what? Hope our 1st impression was great and that they come back later and try us again when they really have a pain that we solve? Maybe they would, but then what’s the point of wasting that 1st impression when they were not really ready?

I really believe that if we keep positioning ourselves to be found when the timing is right for the restaurant (vs for us) and making sure our current customers absolutely love us – then over time we will have created a very awesome brand and business.

Here’s to the 10,000 forward thinking restaurants who’ve tried us so far – thanks for checking us out!!

Wes

The importance of keeping things simple

My six year old son’s baseball coach sent the parents a list of things to work on with our boys at home. I initially copied the list to this post so you’d see I’m not exaggerating when I emphasize how long the list is, but that would have resulted in the longest post in the history of the Schedulefly blog. The email was broken down into three segments: Throwing & Catching; Defensive Mindset; and Batting. Just as an example, here’s item “G” in the Batting segment….

“g) if the above is done, the bat literally should fall right into the “line” that the ball is coming on; can’t dip / chop / drop then hands or the bat will only “cross the line that the ball is on”; we want the bat to be on the same plane / line that the ball is coming as long as possible, therefore if they swing fast the ball will go down the 3rd base line, if they swing medium the ball will go up the middle, and if they swing slow they still can hit the ball towards the 1st base side of the field.”

Again, these kids are six. Yet we’re talking about the swing plane for the bat and directional hitting. Really? I’ll just be happy if my son runs to first base instead of third base when he makes contact. What happened to just saying, “Keep your eye on the ball”?

Then, in the “Defensive Mindset” segment, he lists all of the many things the boys need to be thinking about before each pitch. Yes, it’s a list – a long list. Heck, when I was six and in the field I was thinking about stuff like, “This Big League Chew gum is good but I put waaaaay too much in my mouth and my jaw is sore from chewing it.” Or, “I really have to pee, could this kid just strike out already so I don’t wet my pants!!!”

Meanwhile, my nine year old daughter rides horses. She’s been riding two years, and two years into it all I hear her coach saying each practice are the same three things, over and over. “Keep your heels down.” “Look ahead.” “Shorten your reigns.” Heck, I almost feel like I could ride a horse now just by listening to those three things over and over. I know I couldn’t of course, but that coach keeps things so simple that I feel like I could, and that’s the point! My daughter has learned fifty other points about riding a horse that she couldn’t even articulate, but they’ve all come naturally from focusing on those three things.

And that’s why my daughter’s coach is a great coach – she has figured out how to keep it simple. It’s a philosophy we share at Schedulefly. We have focused relentlessly on keeping our app simple, our pricing simple, our support simple, and every aspect of how we run our business…simple!

For instance, within our app we focus more on cutting things out than on adding things. Trust me, it’s much easier to add than to cut – much easier to say, “Sure, let’s just add that feature, why not?” than to say “Yeah, some people use this tool but it’s not critical to solving the core problem our app was built to solve and in the interest of keeping things simple, let’s eliminate it.”

There’s still so much for me to learn about how to be successful in life, business, parenting, etc., but one thing I’m sure about: In any aspect of life, when you are able to see through the fog of details and focus on the critical aspects – “Heels down….look ahead…shorten your reigns” – the other stuff will fall into place naturally.

I’m about to head out to a field near my house with my son. We’ll take a bat, a few baseballs, and our gloves. My guess is the only thing I’ll say, whether he is catching or hitting, is “Keep your eye on the ball.”

Wil

If you like this post you might also like KISS!

The nervous waiter and the credit card debacle

I recently wrote about how we would occasionally see celebrities in the restaurant where I worked in college. A few, who were often in town for movies they were filming, were quite the regulars. Well one such couple was Alec Baldwin and Kim Basinger – back in 1993 to 1994-ish. I saw them in the restaurant numerous times (rumor had it they owned a beach home nearby) – usually together – and I was their waiter more than once. After the 2nd time, when they came in a 3rd time, Alec called me by name. Ha! We were boys! To this day, when my wife and I watch 30 Rock or see Alec on that Capital One commercial – she says – just as I am about to open my mouth…”I know, I know, you’ve told me – you guys are buddies”. Hee hee. Yeah right.

The 1st time I waited on them it was just the two of them – sitting on the water front. I was incredibly nervous walking out to their table to greet them and to tell them the specials…almost so nervous that I considered giving the table to another server. Picture yourself walking out there to speak to them like they are just normal people – which I did – but it was weird. I am sure I sounded like an idiot – I don’t recall – but they immediately put me at ease by just being normal, cool people. They were nice and their dining experience went off without a hitch.

So at the end of that meal, after Alec had given me his card, it came back declined. F&^%! What? The dude is a star – declined? Oh no I thought. It’s never pleasant to have to walk back out to a table and let the card owner know that their card was declined – especially when they are on a date – and especially when the date is Kim Basinger! Crap….what am I going to say – “Do you have another card we can try?”. “Kim? You?”.

So I grabbed the owner, Jim, and told him the deal. I was so nervous I asked him to go out here and tell him for me. His response was of course “Sorry, Wes….get on out there buddy”. Well long story short, they were cool and Alec followed me back to Jim’s office so he could use the telephone to call AMEX – he knew it was something unusual that just needed a call (I guess he left his 1993 motorola bag phone at the beach house). Funny too – while he got settled and began to look for the number on the back of the card I was just standing there looking at him….he looked up at me, smiled and I realized – oh – maybe I’ll see myself out. Good luck I thought…

Well of course all was just fine. He had been in LA the day before and it was a routine security precaution they take…they just blocked it in case it had been stolen.

I still smile when I think about how normal and every day that situation was – yet because of the people involved – it was certainly the most memorable and nerve-wracking experience as I can recall while being a waiter.

Wes

Interdependence and finding the right biz partner (new ROU vid)

Joe Johnston (Joe’s Farm Grill, Joe’s Real BBQ, Liberty Market in Gilbert, AZ) nails it with comments about finding the right person to be your business partner and about the importance of interdependence.

My observation has been that these two ideas are often overlooked in business until people figure them out the hard way. Listen to Joe – I promise his advice is incredibly valuable and will save you tons of time, headaches, heartaches, and money.


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

Wil

If you like this video, here’s the rest of the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series.

It was a smarter decision than we thought

For the first few years of Schedulefly, we were pretty much in a constant state of change based on feedback. As I look back – I think we kept (and still keep) a nice balance of making changes that made/make good sense both for our customers and also for us. The decision to not do certain things was definitely much more difficult back then – but we often did not. Our customers and prospects had great ideas for making the software better – and we had to balance what they wanted with what we wanted for us and for our business. For example – there were occasional requests (and still are) for integration with Point-of-Sale systems and payroll systems – and we explored them early on. We decided not only was the effort (to integrate with archaic, mostly premise based software systems) likely not worth it, but that it would also jeopardize the integrity and up-time of our system. We work very hard to ensure we can grow and be fast and available – and that’s hard enough without hoping the other outside companies and people (you integrate with) feel the same way. And the thought of finger-pointing with other technology companies over whose system is the source of the problem and the possibility of having features that we charge for not available due problems out of our control is scary.

I think our decision early on (to focus on restaurants only – and not even all restaurants) was a decision that was much smarter than we thought it was going to be – because now – when faced with a decision of whether or not to make a change – it’s very easy. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to [not] make changes if we were trying to serve a bunch of different kinds of businesses. Heck – even if just focused on restaurants – but with a version to serve smaller restaurants and a more complicated super powered version to serve corporate chains (with pricing for each) – which one would we work on and try the hardest to sell? Which one would evolve and eventually be the one we focused on? The one that pays us more money? Definitely. So we went ahead and decided back then which one would be more fun.

So these days the feedback is a tiny fraction of what it once was, but we do still receive some that makes good sense for everyone we are trying to serve and we do it. I’m just so happy we have a laser focus and have chosen to blaze our own path – with no partners or others who will encourage us to do it differently. It makes running our business incredibly fun, and frankly, not like most businesses that I hear or read about.

If you’re running a small business the way you like – and there are plenty of customers to go after – put on your blinders and go!

Wes
Schedulefly

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