Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: June 2014

We send 6.5 million monthly emails (none of them for sales or marketing)

Charles told me a couple of days ago that we send 6.5 million monthly emails. I had absolutely no idea it was that many. But then again, it makes sense.

We have nearly 200,000 active users of Schedulefly, and they can choose to receive emails for all kinds of triggers. Not only do most of them have their weekly schedules emailed to them, but between managers and staff, they can get emails for time off requests and approvals/declines, shift trade requests and approvals/declines, daily crib sheets, schedule changes, inbox alerts, message wall posts, and more. Schedulefly is the forum for, as one customer told me, “a 24 hour conversation” in each of the 4,100+ restaurants that subscribe to our service. The communication continues all day and often through the night, and much of it results in (opt-in) emails.

For me, the best part of that 6.5 million number is that 0 of those emails are for sales and marketing. We don’t buy any lists (Granted, we’ve tried some of that stuff but it never worked very well and, more importantly, its just not something we enjoy doing or feel good about). We don’t have sales people, so there aren’t any email pitches or requests for phone appointments or online demos, etc. And, heck, we really don’t send emails to trial participants accept when their trials are about to end and we send the link to pay, should they choose to continue. Not only that, but we have nothing else to sell existing customers – no “premium” packages or additional products or features, no partnerships with other companies whose products we need to promote, etc. – so we’re never trying to get their attention for any reason.

The second best part of that 6.5 million number is that all of those emails are received by request. Employees don’t have to input an email address into Schedulefly, and if they do they are able to decide whether they want to receive their schedule and other items via email.

We take pride in staying out of the way, so to speak. We don’t want to be part of the noise. We don’t bombard non-customers with emails and sales calls and online advertisements that follow them as the move around the internet, and we absolutely don’t bother our customers with emails they don’t want. We think that in a world where you have to give your email address to nearly everybody you do business with, and wind up getting recurring sales/marketing emails from most of them, it’s better to take a fresh approach and just get out of the way. We’re trying to build a brand that restaurant people love, and banging them over the head frequently with emails is one guaranteed way to prevent us from doing it. So you can bet that when 6.5 million grows to 10 million one day, none of them will be for sales or marketing or anything other than sending along information our users have requested.


P.s. The last sales email I ever sent was in Feb. 2012. Here it is. It worked, and that restaurant is still a customer. But the thing is, we believe they would have become a customer at some point anyway because we solved a problem they had, and had I not infiltrated Brandon’s email with my sales pitch, he would have gone looking for a solution when the timing was right, and we would have been here waiting for him.

Oh, and one more thing. Writing this post reminded me to unsubscribe to a bunch of recurring emails I don’t want. That felt good. I had to laugh when several of them sent unsubscribe confirmation emails to let me know I had successfully unsubscribed. Really?! Then how did I get yet another email from them. I thought that was funny. I like irony.

New video series: "The people of indie restaurants"

Meet Hayley, Justin and Jen. They are the stars of the first video in our new “People of indie restaurants” series. We filmed last week at Leroy Fox and Cowbell Burger & Whiskey Bar, and asked each of them to tell us what they love about their job, what’s special about the restaurant they work for, and why they enjoy being a part of an independently owned restaurant.

We’ve enjoyed the heck out of making the Restaurant Owners Uncorked series, and we may continue it. But for now we are focusing the spotlight on some of the many amazing people that make independent restaurants so special. Luke is cranking out the video this week, so look for it soon.

Why we don’t try to convert more trials

A coffee shop is currently running a free Schedulefly trial. Chris, the owner, signed up a few weeks ago, but he hasn’t logged in yet. The trial will expire soon. The coffee shop won’t become a Schedulefly customer. At least, not yet.

In this case, I happen to know the owner. I drink his coffee daily. He has been extremely busy lately, focused on opening his second and third location. He intended to get Schedulefly set up to help make that transition easier for himself and his team, but he simply hasn’t had the time to sit down and do it. At some point, he’ll get around to it. He’ll do it when scheduling and communicating with his staff becomes unbearable – when we have the solution to his number one problem. But right now, he has other issues to tackle.

This single example is why I’m so thankful we don’t try to manipulate the organic nature of our free trials. Conventional wisdom would indicate we should hire somebody dedicated to “increasing our trial closure rate.” (I put that in quotations because we could never phrase it that way, but that’s how most business people would phrase it – and it’s what investors would say to us, if we had investors: “You need to increase your trial conversion rates. Arrrrrrrggghhhhhh!!!!” O.K., they probably wouldn’t say the Arrrrgghhhhh part.) Anyway, about 33% of our free trials “convert,” which means if we have 300 trials running at any given time, about 100 of those restaurants become customers. That’s pretty awesome as far as we’re concerned, and it gets even better when you look closer at it, because many of those “converted” trials are restaurants that had already run a free trial once or twice (or more times!) in the past, and it didn’t work for them at the time.

Which brings us back to Chris. I’m not sure when his coffee shops will run another free trial, and it doesn’t matter. He’ll do it when he’s ready, not when we want him to. And that’s exactly why we won’t ever be myopic and try to “move the needle” (another common business phrase I would never use) by having sales people who are incented to turn more trials into customers. But couldn’t we realistically go from 33% to 40%, meaning an increase of 240 more new paying customers per year? Maybe. Maybe we could. We certainly could measure it, and pat ourselves on the backs if we were successful.

But we believe in silent evidence, the evidence you can’t measure. How many people would be turned off by our pressure during their trial, deciding to look at other options because we were trying so hard to get them to pay us? We have no idea. We can’t measure that. Or, more importantly, how many people would become customers because they ultimately decided they like our software, but that didn’t enjoy the whole experience because we annoyed them during the trial, and therefore wouldn’t say the words “I love Schedulefly!” or highly recommend us to their friends? Again, we have no way to measure that. And that’s the issue, because that’s a very important part of all of this. You see, we are not trying to build a big company, we are trying to build a great business and a brand people love. You can’t do that if people buy your product begrudgingly due to a lack of other good options, or because you pressured them into it. But you can do it if you get out of the way, and let people buy when they are ready. (You clearly have to do a lot of other things well to build a great business and a loved brand, but this is a critical piece of the puzzle.)

There are other reasons we’ll never try to manufacture a higher conversion rate (we don’t want to have a sales person offering discounts and incentives to get people to convert, we want to keep our small crew of just five guys at just five guys for as long as possible, etc), but the most important reason is that we are here for the long haul. We are patiently growing, one customer at a time. We don’t intend to ask restaurant people to use Schedulefly on our time frame. Rather, we intend to be here when – and only when – they are ready.


Saying "no" quickly (but politely) is the right thing for us and them

A guy called me last week to discuss his idea for a partnership between our businesses. I quickly, but very politely, told him “Thanks, but we aren’t interested.” I made it clear that my swift rejection had nothing to do with him, and that we simply don’t entertain any partnership ideas. And I was deliberately polite about it, because, well … because I can never understand people that aren’t kind in these situations. It’s disrespectful and induces bad karma when you are curt or rude. Why not let somebody down easily?

Nevertheless, he persisted. I thought that was cool. He has a startup business, and he is being scrappy and hustling and didn’t want to just take “no” for an answer. He tried to help me understand how his idea would be both simple as well as beneficial to Schedulefly. I nodded knowingly as he talked, remembering when I’ve been on the other side of that type of call. I’ve played his role many times, so I admired and related to his passion for his business, and his effort help me see why we should continue the conversation. But I once again thanked him and told him no, in a very nice way.

He then asked if I’d be willing to just view a demo of his software, to make sure I knew what I was turning down before making a final decision. That’s when he almost had me. I started to feel bad and was considering relenting, but thankfully for him and me, I held the line. I explained it would have been be disrespectful to him to lend hope by agreeing to the demo, knowing all along what the final outcome would be. Three years ago I would have agreed to view the demo because I wouldn’t have wanted to seem like a jerk. But after spending lots of time on those types of calls, I finally figured that while it made me feel momentarily good about myself to allow the conversation to continue, it wasn’t the right thing to do because it only delayed the inevitable and wasted a lot of people’s time.

It’s good to have non-negotiable lines in the sand for certain aspects of your business. Doing so helps you stay focused and makes decisions easy. So I’m glad we don’t have any wiggle room on this topic. Our answer to partnership offers is No, and I can always say it quickly and definitively – but politely. It’s the right thing for us and for any aspiring partners.


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