Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: July 2013 (Page 1 of 2)

Our team is our magic (new video)

A short and sweet video of Brandon Viebrock of Cowbell Burger & Bar, Mortimer’s Cafe & Pub, Leroy Fox in Charlotte talking about his team being the magic behind his restaurants’ success…

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

You can view more videos of Brandon and other successful owners sharing their stories and providing advice, widsom, and inspiration on our Vimeo channel or our Twitter stream.

We’ll be in Asbury Park, NJ the next few days filming more vids. I’ll post some pics.


Growing your business with passion

Brandon Viebrock co-owns three very successful restaurants (Cowbell Burger & Bar, Mortimer’s Cafe & Pub, Leroy Fox) in Charlotte, and he talks here about how he and his partners are keeping the passion and culture they cultivated from the very beginning as they grow.

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

We’ve got one more video featuring Brandon and we’ll have it ready soon. Then we’re off next week to the Jersey shore to film our next owner, Marilyn Schlossbach of Langosta Lounge.


If you like this video, you can follow the entire series on Vimeo or Twitter. We’ve made around 35 videos so far. 

Lead by example (new vid)

When Luke and I filmed Brandon Viebrock’s Restaurant Owners Uncorked interview recently, Brandon talked about leading by example. In my experience, lots of people say they lead by example, but only a rare few do it consistently and do it with gusto, passion, and a true conviction that there is no other way to go about it.

It was clear that Brandon and his partner, Shawn Wilfong, both set the example in their restaurants. They don’t ask anybody to do something they haven’t done themselves, and they work extremely hard to show teammates how to do things, rather than just tell them. (Shawn is also the owner I blogged about in the exploding ketchup bottle post I wrote a few months ago.)

Enjoy this short video of Brandon discussing why he and Shawn believe in this leadership style, along with some footage of him doing it. (Shawn was out of town when we filmed so we only captured Brandon, but both of those guys set a high standard in their three awesome restaurants).

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

We’ve got two more videos of Brandon coming soon. You can follow them here or on our Twitter feed.


Terror and clapping on my street

Right around the corner from my house (slash office) in Wilmington NC is Screen Gems studios – where they film all kinds of movies and tv shows. Our neighborhood is an old neighborhood with some cool old houses and they frequently leave the studio and film at houses in our hood. When they film near us, someone comes around and asks everyone in the neighborhood to sign a document saying we are ok with the film crew taking over the street. It’s nuts to see how much stuff they need to film for even just one day. There are dozens of giant trucks with equipment, miles of cable, cranes and tractors with cameras mounted on them, dressing room trucks, tents with food and tons of people. I’ve seen some big stars milling around too – my favorite so far has been Kenny Powers (and his sweet truck). They film eastbound and down here.

Well last winter – 3 doors down from our house – they were filming at a small, dark (and kind of creepy) house that had been vacant for awhile. When they asked us to sign the thing they bring by I always ask “who’s in it??”. Sometimes they say a name I recognize, usually not. This particular movie had no one I had ever heard of – but they said it was a horror film based on a true story. I thought that sounded creepy, but of course I signed it and they left. A few days later the crew and the set took over the street. They mostly filmed at night and had these insanely bright lights shining most of the night – and my bedroom faced the set – so it was like daytime in my room for a few nights. Other than the lights, everything else about it seemed dark and dreary. They even created a fake rain storm one night – a fire truck had its hose hooked up to a big crane and showered the set while they filmed. It was cool to watch how all that works.

I never thought anything else about it until today when I found out it was the movie – “The Conjuring”.

It looks absolutely terrifying. I guarantee watching them film that fake storm scene from the street is as close as I’ll ever get to watching it.


5 great reasons to NOT raise money

I blogged this about a year ago and thought it was worth a re-post:

People who invest money in your business have 3 words to describe why they are doing it. “Return On Investment”. But as a small business owner there are so many other enjoyable things about the journey – like the freedom and the ability to go in any direction at any time. As much as an investor might say it and want it to be true…the people don’t really matter, the culture doesn’t really matter. The return is what matters. It makes sense. I mean think about your own investments. Do you care if the people in the trenches running the business are enjoying their lives? Do you care about their insignificant milestones and the fun they are having on their journey? Probably not. You care about the return.

So anyway – on to 5 things that are great about building a business without the help of outside investors (if it’s an option to do so).

1. You can design your company to make yourself happy, your family happy and your employees happy – which makes customers happy. People love to do business with happy, enthusiastic people. Investors ultimately do not care about your long-term happiness, they care about a return on their investment. Your customers can tell when you’re not happy.

2. You can ignore your competition completely – ultimately ending up with a very unique product influenced by no outside forces. Investors will worry their butts off about your competition, constantly reading about them and will likely “ping” you (often) about what they are up to and who they are now serving etc. It will distract you from your vision. (P.S the word ping is so tired, but it’s relevant to this post).

3. You can be truly unconventional in all aspects of your business. While investors are definitely risk takers by nature, they are not risky when it comes to execution. They will encourage you to be very conventional, doing things that have worked well for their other “investments” – only making your business more like everyone elses.

4. You can grow at a pace that is comfortable (and fun) for you to scale – and learn while you grow. It’s fun as heck to learn while you grow and figure stuff out along the way. Stuff you may undo – or you may keep. Investors don’t want you to learn while you go. That’s too risky. They will recommend people to help you, people who will hand you a playbook.

5. You can enjoy the journey. Growing a small business is an incredible journey with milestones that literally happen every week. Milestones that are fun to celebrate with your team and your family. Since we celebrate along the way and enjoy the journey, it’s not a means to an end. It’s incredibly satisfying to celebrate each and every milestone, no matter how small they are. Investors don’t care about insignificant milestones and having fun along the way. They want your business to become as valuable as it can be, as fast as it can, so they can exit and get their return.

I am loving the pace, the milestones and the journey. I am loving the fun of doing unconventional things without any pressure to do what has worked for others. I am pretty sure our customers appreciate it.

Here’s to waking up every day and not answering to investors.


How we make the Restaurant Owners Uncorked videos

Here is is picture Luke Pearson of Lift Films just sent me. He’s working on our latest videos for our series about successful restaurant owners, and that’s Brandon Viebrock there on Luke’s screen. (Brandon co-owns three very popular restaurants in Charlotte.) When he sent it to me, I felt inspired to write a post about how we make these videos.

Having filmed ten owners over the last 18 months, we’ve gotten our process relatively fine-tuned. We produce three 1-2 minute videos about each owner, and we film them over a 2-3 day span.

We typically hop on a flight on a Tuesday morning and show up at the restaurant(s) that afternoon to scope things out. We look at the layout, the lighting, the flow of people, and then try to figure out where we might film the interview. If there is more than one location, we try to check each of them to determine where we can get the best shot for the interview.

We like filming shots with a good amount depth (distance from the person we are filming and the wall or background behind them), so we often film near the front of the restaurant. We also like to have really cool backgrounds, so we try to find a shot with not only good depth, but with something fun and unique and memorable behind the owner. Check our videos and you’ll get a good sense of what I mean – the background for Matt Frey’s interviews at Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream is really cool.

Once we’ve determined where we’ll film the interview early the next morning, we spend the rest of the afternoon and evening getting “b-roll,” which is the background footage you see as the owner is talking. It’s a little tricky getting b-roll prior to the interview, because we try to match the b-roll with the content. If an owner is discussing his incredible staff, we want shots of smiling staff members on the screen at the same time. Nevertheless, we can pretty much assume we’ll need footage of customers smiling, staff members serving and bar tending and cooking, and the owner in action, so we get as much of that as we can on Tuesday.

On Wednesday morning, we try to film as early as possible to make sure nobody is there but us and the owner when we do the interview. That typically means some pretty early mornings, because we need around an hour to set up (or, really, Luke needs an hour to set up while I head off to find us breakfast and coffee), and then we film for about 30-45 minutes. It’s really important to us to not have any background noise during the interview (no pots and pans rattling as they are being washed, no prep work, etc.) because the mikes are very sensitive and we want the audio of the interview to be very crisp and clean.

Given that we often start so early, the owner might still be a little tired (or hung over on occasion), and I sometimes have to get him warmed up a bit. Luke will fiddle with the lighting and I’ll just rap about anything with the owner to kinda get them going and let the caffeine from their coffee soak in. Once we think the person is ready, we turn on the camera.

Now, one thing I’ve learned is that sometimes even the most out-going, free-spirited people tighten up a bit when a camera is on. It just happens. There’s no way to know who it will happen to, but you can tell in the first 10 seconds. If that’s the case, then I’ve learned I have to try to keep the interview low key at first, and attempt to be really casual. I’ll literally change my posture by maybe slouching a bit, or laying back in my chair, and just talk about random stuff – things we probably wouldn’t want to put into a video. Basically I do anything I can to help give the person time to loosen up and get over any stage fright they might be feeling.

Once that happens, we just talk about the restaurant business. I ask lots of open-ended questions about what it’s like to be a restaurant owner, what aspects of the business the owner loves, why her restaurants are special, what he thinks are keys to being successful, why she got into the restaurant business, and so on. I have a list of topics I want to cover, but I don’t always stick to it. I try to let the conversation go where it would go naturally, as if I were sitting with the owner and having a beer and just learning about him. I just think that’s much more interesting than forcing through a laundry list of questions, because normally the conversation leads to something I had not previously thought to ask about, and that’s often the best stuff.

Our goal is to capture sequences where the owner is in flow – instances where I’ve touched on a hot button or an important issue and the owner replies passionately and with conviction. That’s where they really come alive, and that’s what makes good video. In fact, it was those riffs that I kept hearing when interviewing people for our book that gave me the idea for the video series. (Unlike everybody else that reads the book, I read it while hearing the voices of each owner. I know when they got fired up and passionate, and nobody else who reads the book possibly could, which I think is unfortunate because it was those moments that captivated me the most during the interviews. We knew film could capture those moments, so we started this video series to do just that.)

After we’ve finished the interview, we spend the rest of the day – and I do mean the rest of the day, often from 9am to 10 or 11pm or so – filming b-roll, while also doing a lot of standing around and waiting for good lighting and good shots. We get as much film as we can because that’s our only chance to get it. In fact we get so much that we often get asked in a semi-joking way by a staff member whose seen us there all day if we are filming a short video or a movie. Ha!

By the end of the day we are typically pretty worn out, but it’s a good worn out because it means we’ve done what we came to do. We pack up the camera and tripod, and often find ourselves holding a glass of bourbon and enjoying a few minutes of time hanging out with the owner.

We fly out Thursday morning to head home and begin the production process. Luke uploads the entire video for me to review, and I look for what I believe are the best three 1-2 minute segments. This is hard for me because I think 95% of what most of these owners say is film-worthy. That’s why we made like 5 or 6 videos for each of the first two owners we filmed, and each video was 3-4 minutes long. Looking back, I now realize we used way to much content because I just sucked at editing it.

I’ve gotten to the point where I can identify the 5 or 6 segments I like best, then simply pair them up and force myself to decide. Basically, by setting limits for myself (no more than three videos, and no video can be longer than 2.5 minutes), I make the process easier. It’s still tough to make the choices, but it makes the final product better.

Once I’ve sent Luke the segments I want to use, he picks the b-roll and music and produces the video. And he’s absolutely brilliant at it. As I mentioned, we film hours and hours and hours of b-roll, and he has to comb through it and match it up to the interview content. But not only that, he has to find the best b-roll of hours of similar footage. For instance, we might have an hour of footage of staff, and we may use 30 seconds of it. He has to find that best 30 seconds. It’s painstaking.

Then he has to decide how much of the b-roll to show vs. how much of the owner talking, and piece it all together. And frankly there’s a lot more to it than that and I should probably have Luke write a guest post about it some day, but trust me that it’s hard, hard work, and he he is brilliant at it. (Luke is as talented, and professional and devoted to his craft as anybody we could ever hope to work with us on these projects. I mean I seriously don’t have words to express how thankful we are that he is our partner in this, because the videos we produce are absolutely phenomenal, and we could never produce something that good without him.)

Finally, as will happen here in the next few days, we’ll have three new videos. Luke will post them on our Vimeo page, and then we’ll post them here on our blog and on our ROUvids Twitter feed, and Restaurant Hospitality will run them on their web site (they like the vids a lot and run all of them, which we are stoked about). We’re also finishing up a new Restaurant Owners Uncorked web site, and all of the videos will be housed there (I’ll post about this site another time – still finishing up some details).

And then we plan for our next trip. In two weeks, Luke and I will be in Asbury Park, NJ, filming Marilyn Schlossbach at one of her restaurants, Langosta Lounge. Then to Chicago in August, L.A. in September, and hopefully Boston and San Diego to wrap up the year. As with every trip we make for this series, we can’t wait to get to N.J. and begin this process all over again!


Sign this NDA for our RFP so we can CYA

Recently I received a call from the corporate office of a franchise organization. The nice gentleman on the phone told me that a few dozen of their franchisees were using Schedulefly and liked it, so the organization would like to invite us to participate in their RFP (request for proposal) to become that organization’s preferred restaurant employee scheduling vendor. He would be happy to tell me more, but first I’d just need to sign their Non-disclosure agreement (NDA), and it would be good to sign quickly because other restaurant scheduling providers had already been invited and had signed, and the process would start soon.

I took this in, paused, and said, “We really are excited to hear that your franchisees that use Schedulefly like our software and like doing business with us, and we really appreciate you calling to invite us into your process. But we prefer not to participate in these types of things. Nothing against you or your organization of course. We just don’t do RFPs.”

(several moments of uncomfortable silence as the guy tried to figure out if I were joking)

“Well Wil, I admire you sticking to your philosophy of not participating in RFP’s, but I hope you’ll reconsider?”

I thanked him again and told him good luck, but we would take our chances with not being a part of the process. There was a slightly awkward end to the conversation (I could tell he was thinking, “Really? Is this guy for real?”), and then we hung up.

All I could do was smile. No NDAs. No RFPs. No other acronyms to think about other than OMG I’m glad we don’t get involved in that stuff. You see, we have no problem being a preferred vendor for franchise organizations. In fact, we are just that for two or three of them. But in those cases we simply got a call from the organization and we were told they had checked with their franchisees and dome some due diligence and wanted to tell the rest of their organization about us. I think the calls those franchise organizations have made to us were just to check the last box on their list: “Make sure there are real people running this business and they aren’t morons.”

Seriously, it was that simple. So when I start hearing acronyms and think about signing some document I’d have to pay an attorney to review before I put my name on it, I get anxious. I get disinterested. And I get very focused on ending the conversation as soon as possible and politely thanking the person for the opportunity, and then declining.

We run a simple business built for restaurants and restaurant people with simple needs. We know we are not the right fit for everybody, and rather than trying to prove otherwise, we are happy to know who we are.

And who we aren’t.


Fun pics from our recent video shoot…

I snapped a few pics while we were at Cowbell in Charlotte last week interviewing co-owner Brandon Viebrock for our Restaurant Owners Uncorked video series…

We’ll be finished with Brandon’s videos in the next week or so, and they are gonna be great!


p.s. We’ve made around 35 professionally produced, 1-3 minute videos for the series so far. They’re all on our Vimeo channel or our Twitter feed.

We’re (sort of) on Twitter!

Recently I created a Twitter account to help spread our Restaurant Owners Uncorked (ROU) videos. It’s @ROUvids. While we don’t have a Schedulefly presence on Twitter, it seemed like a great tool to help people share videos they enjoy.

We’ve made around 35 vids so far, and I’ve tweeted all of them. They’re professionally produced, 1- to 3-minutes long, and feature successful independent restaurant owners sharing their stories and offering advice and wisdom on what it takes to make it in such a tough business.

Here’s a cool example with Matt Frey of Bub’s Burgers & Ice Cream in Carmel, IN:

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

We’ll be posting three more videos soon, and then a new set of three just about every month going forward. You can keep up with them here on our blog, or follow us on Twitter if that’s easier.


Growing slow and natural is awesome

I don’t buy anything because someone I’ve never met before sends me an email about it – or calls me about it – or leaves a flier on my front porch about it. Now if it’s a friend or my mother – I’ll always check it out – but even then – I probably wont buy it – and that’s mainly because the timing is not right. But in that case – the awareness was created in a more natural human kind of way – a non manufactured way. I now know about something because it was recommended by a trusted person. I may check it out later – I may even tell someone else about it – even if I never look at it – think about that! I just know that my friends and family feel good enough about it to tell me about it and I want to know about it – even if the timing is not right. And also – if my Mom happened to be using this product she was recommending and was getting some referral fee – I’d be like “Come on mom….is it because you think I’ll like it – or is it the cash?” {a.k.a manufactured recommendations}. You don’t need to do that unless you think people don’t love what you do. If they love it, they will tell their family and friends.

But a stranger (usually someone who works for the company – and of no fault of theirs) leaving me some recommendation is a complete waste of my time. In 2013 – it’s not how I discover and buy – and I suspect it’s not how many people discover and buy. People are tired of companies invading their space and pitching their products. Of course these companies think their product will make my life easier. Of course they think I will enjoy being a customer like thousands of others – with case studies to prove it. And it might – in fact – it probably would – but I’m still not buying it because it’s not how I acquire what I want or need.

So maybe it’s because I am older and have become an old grumpy consumer – or maybe it’s because I’ve tried it – because it’s something we are “supposed to do” as a business and it has failed miserably. Either way – I’m a firm believer in running your business and doing things that line up with your personal beliefs. I can’t wake up excited about our business if I don’t.

I can tell you that we (Schedulefly) will never send a stranger an unsolicited pitch about our business ever again. We’ve tried a few times because it’s what you learn in business school and it’s what has worked (with an exhausting, expensive effort) in the past – but the results are dismal and I know people in this day and age are tired of it – even to the point of having a bad feeling about your brand. How awful is that? They have never been a customer and they still don’t like what you do. Crazy.

I want every customer we bring on from this day forward to hear about us from their trusted friend – or their mom.

Here’s to growing slow and natural!


p.s I should add – that if I am a happy customer already and they are sending something to let me know (because I asked them to) about new stuff like their fall 2014 line of fly rods – that usually works 🙂

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