Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: May 2013

Why Bub’s owner teaches staff to treat his business like it’s their business (Raw video)

Here’s a cool unedited clip from the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video shoot with Matt Frey of Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream


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

Wil

Photo of the Schedulefly Crew

We got a great photo yesterday of all 5 of us at Tower 7 Baja Mexican Grill in Wrightsville Beach NC. I thought I’d share because it’s always cool to see the people who run a company. From left to right around the table it’s myself, Hank, Wil, Charles & Tyler. It’s a great team that, for just 5 people, is moving mountains…

Wes

Matt Frey of Bub’s talks shop (new video)

You’ll notice a bunch of shots of smiling staff (and customers) in this video of Matt Frey, owner of Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream and Bub’s Cafe. Those shots were not staged – nobody knew they were being filmed at the time because we typically film from far away, through windows, etc. Those happy folks are what you see all day every day at Bub’s, and it’s because Matt and his team know a lot about what it takes to run a successful business – and their business just happens to be a restaurant.

(If you’re viewing this in an email and don’t see the vid, it’s here)

If you liked this video, we have over 30 others in the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series, and they’re all as awesome as this one.

Wil

Great vs. Big

A few years ago we outlined a few goals for our company. They had nothing to do with metrics, like number of customers or revenues or whatever. Rather, they were things like “Be the most beloved brand that serves the restaurant industry” (which I’ll blog about soon) and the reason for today’s post: “Build a great business, not necessarily a big business.” Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive, but we’d much rather Schedulefly be viewed as a great company vs. a really big company.

When I think of great businesses, I think of ones that are really easy to do business with, ones that put pride into their product and don’t settle for volume over quality, ones that make life easier or more enjoyable for their customers and make them smile, ones where every team member is genuinely appreciative of that fact they even have customers, and that customers have choices and have chosen to spend their hard-earned money on their product/service, ones where the people who work there are happy and enjoy what they do every day and aren’t there just to have a job, but rather to do something they are excited about, ones where the people understand they are part of something special and are thankful to have the opportunity, ones that don’t focus first and foremost on growth as the primary objective, ones where the people all have the autonomy to make decisions to do the right thing for their customers without having to get permission, ones where people appreciate each other’s work and try learn from each other, ones where everybody understands that there is no side of the business that is more important than the other, ones where people work hard when they are working but also have balance in their lives and don’t have to spend every waking hour working their ass off while their kids grow up and around them and they miss it, ones where people won’t look back one day and think “I wish I had done something different in my career,” ones where money isn’t spent just to be spent, but rather money is saved and spent wisely and only when all other creative ideas have been depleted, ones where there are no outside investors, or at least no investors attempting to bully the operators into running the business a certain way (I totally get that any businesses simply have to get outside investors and it’s definitely possible to find good ones who are patient, but that’s rare, and we count ourselves as lucky to have bootstrapped Schedulefly), ones that are willing to take risks and buck conventional wisdom to do things their own way, ones where there is no master plan but rather a never-ending effort to keep getting a little better and learn something new every day, ones where the people are both confident and optimistic but never arrogant or self-righteous about their success, ones where the people are proud of their work but never satisfied and always tweaking things to keep improving, ones that are bold enough to know who they want to serve and are willing to be clear about that both internally and externally, ones that don’t try to be all things to all people, ones that have an opinion and aren’t afraid to share it, and, finally, ones that don’t take themselves too seriously.

Our entire team is getting together tomorrow. We have five people right now, and it’s the first time we will all be together at the same time (I’m in Charlotte, Tyler is in Raleigh, Wes, Hank and Charles are in Wilmington – these cities are all in N.C. but they are each a few hours each other). I wouldn’t call it a meeting – rather, it’s just a chance for us to hang out for a few hours and have some fun and talk about what we can do to stay focused on making Schedulefly a great business for our customers, and for each of us. In some ways I think Schedulefly is a great business already, but there will always be things we want to do even better – things from that laundry list I rattled off above – so it’s cool to rap about how we can accomplish that.

We’re growing nicely and I’m sure we’ll grow bigger – meaning we’ll keep growing the number of restaurants we serve and, over time, we’ll add more people (though very, very slowly and we’ll keep the team at five as long as we can) – but that will only come as a by-product of focusing on being great, which is all we really care about.

Wil

A great quote about happiness and fear

Yesterday a friend and I were talking about how powerful of an emotion fear is and why it’s easy to let fear get into the way of doing the things you want to do and being the person you want to be. After a few exchanges, he sent me this text…

“Essentially modern life is set up so you work for things that won’t make you happy and constantly fear things that would not really make you unhappy.”

I was walking when I read that, and I immediately stopped in my tracks. I re-read it, and just nodded. It’s so true. So very, very true.

Think about it.

Has anything you bought ever made you truly and deeply happy (for more than a short period of time)? Or has anything you feared made you as profoundly unhappy as you thought it would (for more than a short period)?

No?

Then why keep pursuing the former and worrying about the latter?

Wil

A Big Ugly Burger, a unique independent restaurant, and a fun trip…

Last week, Luke Pearson of Lift Films and I traveled to Carmel, IN to film for the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series. We shot an interview with Matt Frey, owner of Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream and Bub’s Cafe
We are SO….DARN….PROUD to serve awesome restaurants like Bub’s. Incredible food, great service delivered by smiling, happy teams of people, and a fun, unique, memorable experience. I’m so stoked that we decided to produce our video series, because it gives us the chance to hang with some of the many incredible people who use Schedulefly. Making life easier at cool places like Bub’s is why we do what we do at Schedulefly. It’s why we exist. Just knowing that we provide something that is useful to and helps nice people like the ones Luke and I got to know last week – people we admire and respect and enjoy being around – is what we wake up excited about around here every day.
Anyway, I’m trying to be good about taking pics while we’re on these trips, to document the experience and to have something fun to share on our blog. Here’s a few I liked…
This is a “Big Ugly Burger”(BUB). It’s one pound after cooked plus a half pound bun and toppings. As you can see by the three slices of cheese covering it, this thing is no joke. It stares at you and dares you to try to take it down. You nod your head and confidently say, “I got this,” while you are thinking to yourself, “Dude, are you really about to try to eat THIS?” If you clean your plate, they take your picture and put it on their wall…

So, of course, Luke and I now have our picture on their wall…

About four hours after knocking back that gigantic burger, I sat on the front porch of Bub’s and enjoyed a Peanut Butter Moose Tracks ice cream cone and snapped this pic…

Bub’s was packed inside and out almost constantly from open to close…
We couldn’t believe they are able to crank out as many burgers as they do in a very small kitchen, so we had to film it. It’s awesome to watch and you’ll see footage on the upcoming vids. Notice the replica stack of a dozen 10″ pancakes. That’s the “challenge meal” at Bub’s Cafe, and nobody has ever cleaned their plates. Luke and I didn’t even bother to try…
This old timer was playing some awesome blues music for about five hours one afternoon and evening. He was happy to let us film him, and I bet we’ll figure out a way to get his footage into one of the vids…
Luke’s probably thinking, “Dang, that one-pound burger is sitting mighty heavy right now…
This pic was taken right before we split town…

Another incredible trip! Thanks for taking the time to read this, and if you like this kind of stuff, make sure to stay tuned for the upcoming videos we’re producing of Matt discussing what it takes to start and run successful restaurants like Bub’s.

Wil

We don’t open for 15 more minutes

Yesterday my family and I had lunch out – after church – and the experience made me think about some really great advice shared in one of our Restaurant Owners Uncorked videos. We arrived 15 minutes earlier than they opened (although the doors were open – so it appeared open) thinking they had a Sunday brunch that started at 9am. It was about 10:45am – and on this day – they opened at 11am for lunch. Well, the nice young woman (who was a server) greeted us warmly and told us they did not open for 15 more minutes. About that same time – the GM walked over and said “Hey guys – welcome! Please, grab a seat wherever you like and I’ll go into the kitchen and tell the crew that we are now open”. He said it with a smile as if to say “You know what, when you guys walked in, we opened”. For sure if they truly had not been ready – or if we had walked in 1 hour early – he would not have said that. So we sat down, ordered pretty quickly and were served right around 11am. Now I must add that we are about as low maintenance as a family gets and had no intention of getting there even just 1 minute before they opened expecting that they serve us before they were ready. That’s totally not our style. In fact – we felt bad for being confused about brunch and walking in early and were about to leave and wait a bit – which meant we would have likely done something else for lunch.

The point of this is that even though I know that server cares about the restaurant where she works and was just doing her job by telling us they were not open yet – she still was about to send us elsewhere. She was not empowered to make the decision to go ahead and seat us and gets things going a tad early…..but the GM was. The moral of this story is something that Jake Wolf talks about in his Restaurant Owner’s Uncorked video. He said “One of the main things that keeps restaurants going and having success is the presence of an owner or a manager or someone on staff who feels like it’s theirs…”. It’s so true and it’s such great advice – for any business. Someone has to always have the ball and be able to pivot when needed – almost as if it’s more than a job – but a livelihood. When you think about the best independent restaurants you’ve been too – they definitely serve great food – but they also have people consistently present that know how to run a great business too. In fact, the more owners we interview the clearer it is that the toughest part about the restaurant business – is that it is a business.

Here is the video again – it is so good!

Wes

3000+ restaurants. I can’t imagine doing it any other way.

Back in 2007 Tyler and I had a short meeting (in my old office – at another company where we worked together) that lasted about 15 minutes. He was leaving and we decided to make Schedulefly a real business and we talked about how to get started. Schedulefly was something I had written back in 2005-ish and had no idea how to make it a business. It was about as simple of a meeting as I had ever had in my life. Other than incorporating it, there were 2 main goals…or baby steps I guess.

Step 1 was to get the server (actually just a PC where Schedulefly was currently running) out of a closet at my house and move it to a real web hosting company. I had 2 restaurants using Schedulefly- both were owned by friends who would treat me to a round of golf or a pizza in trade for using it. Our new server at a real host was going to be $400 a month. Since we currently had zero revenue – I remember telling Tyler that surely he and I could go get 10, full service independent, restaurants to pay us $40 a month. 10 customers. Ten. If we can’t do that – then we should just unplug the Schedulefly server forever. Tyler would tell me a few years later that in his mind (during that first meeting) 1,000 restaurants meant we had something special. So I thought 10 and he thought 1000. I am glad he is a patient guy.

Step 2 was to pitch it to some restaurants. Neither of us were sales guys so we emailed mostly. We got people to check it out and a few signed up – and many told us how terrible it was and that we had no idea how a restaurant schedules staff. Since I had actually written a schedule for 40 (20-something) waiters – and would have cut off my arm for what we were offering – I felt differently. But still, I knew we were about 50% where we needed to be in features to appeal to a lot of restaurants – so we started added stuff like betting alerting, better labor cost reporting, time off requests etc. Actually, now that I think about it – it was a ton of stuff….but it was necessary core stuff – not bells and whistles. The system stayed simple. Tyler somehow got us that 10.

Well for the rest of 2007 (about 6 months) Tyler muscled his way through it (I was still working for another business) and brought on about 60 customers or so. That fall Wil joined us and we were on our way to 100. By the following summer (with the help of a lucky timing front page article in NRN) – we had brought on 100+ customers. I remember that day because I was on vacation with my wife’s family and my brother-in-law and I toasted the milestone. So in a year we brought on 100 customers – that felt pretty cool.

So I’ll skip the next 5 years because there were never any significant moments where we brought on a giant number of customers – and for many reasons – we are thankful for that. We have literally added customers one a time and tweaked the software as needed – taking baby steps the whole way. I do remember hitting 500 and 1,000 was huge too. 1,000 customers meant Tyler thought we had something valuable. That was sweet! I remember 2,000 too….about a year ago.

Today I changed our website to “Over 3,000 restaurants use Schedulefly”. Unreal. I remember 10 being my goal. Ten! Now there are 5 of us working on this business – 5 people who spend quality time every day with their families. 5 people who don’t work together in an office and who rarely travel (actually Wil is the only one who travels when filming customers) and don’t work with partners and are not pressured by a commission based sales team to add more features in order to meet quarterly goals. I am so proud of that and I am writing about it because 99% of what I read in the media about how companies get started and acquire customers is very different. It’s usually done by spending lots of other people’s money and hiring etc. If you created a business plan based on how we’ve done it so far – you’d probably fail business school – which is funny because if it were not for the UNCW business school having a computer focused area of study – I would have. Now, looking back 6 years, I really can’t imagine getting to this point any other way.

Wes

If you liked this post, you might like Blaze Your Own Path – which I wrote back in 2010.

Subcultures

I was on the water a few days ago with my son and he was pointing out every single boat he saw – and which ones he liked and which ones he did not. He is 5 and already favors certain kinds of boats. Of course his favorites right now are the big ones and the ones he thinks might have a toilet on them. So we both commented on all the different types and sizes and shapes of water craft we saw. We saw small skiffs, 60ft fishing boats, sail boats, pontoon boats, kayaks, paddle boards, jet skis, etc. It’s crazy, there is literally a vessel that floats for every kind of person out there.

I love seeing the subcultures that exist for the owners of all these kinds of boats. They all have one. Sailing subcultures, paddle boarding, offshore fishing etc. Like minded people who are passionate about the same thing and hang out together and learn from each other and grow the industry and the culture together. Heck – they even dress the same…..because companies exist that focus on them and make great products designed for them.

It made me think about how these successful companies (that serve these sub cultures) are often created by people from within that culture. People who had a real need for something that did not exist – so they created it in hopes of making the experience better for themselves – and then through word of mouth over time – maybe others who shares that same passion. And it happens – not overnight and not due to fancy marketing– but due to buzz in the subculture (slowly). And over time the company becomes more than just a product. The customers they bring on become customers because they want to be a part of something they love and to show support for it and to be included in the subculture. They are loyal and they are proud to say that they are a customer.

And what’s interesting is that the competing companies who come along later (that see the success and are only after the money) and offer a knock-off or a similar product (but have no idea about the subculture because they were never in it) usually never make a real impact on the industry. They might have a valuable product and sell enough to hang around – but the majority of the customers they are trying to target are really after more than just a product.

Wes

Why you need to set up partnership agreements (new video)

Chris Sommers (Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis and Washington, D.C. and Gringo in St. Louis) talks about why it’s so important to have the right types of partnership agreements in place. Not a sexy topic, but the kind of thing that could save you lots of time, headaches, and money one day…


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

That’s a wrap for our vids with Chris. Next up in the Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series is Matt Frey of Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream and Bub’s Cafe in Carmel, IN.

The Schedulefly Crew

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