Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: September 2014

"The Pastry Chef" (new video)

“The more you do to something, the more somebody is going to be able to tell that you did things to it.” So says Andrew Ullom of Ashley Christensen Restaurants in Raleigh, N.C. as he talks about using high quality ingredients and keeping his food simple. Enjoy this short video featuring Andrew sharing his story and his love for what he does.

The Schedulefly Crew

Why mess with a good thing?

My friend who owns burger-centric restaurant tells me that one of his non-operating investor partners wants to use a lower quality, less expensive beef in order to shave 2% off of food costs. My buddy pushed back, saying they can measure food costs, but they’d risk losing customers and doing possibly irreparable harm to their reputation for serving high-end burgers.

Why take that risk? Sure, their food costs are a little higher than average, but who cares about averages?!?! Business is good. They are profitable. The restaurant is well-respected and popular. They have a great word of mouth reputation. So, all of these aspects are above average!

Those types of stories baffle me. What would drive this person to want to cut food costs in this situation? I guess it’s greed. Perhaps he mistakenly believes you can build a reputation on serving a quality product, then turn around and cheapen the product yet still maintain your excellent reputation and then pocket more money? I don’t know. It just doesn’t make sense. Seems so myopic.

Yet this stuff happens all of the time in business. We focus on measurables (food costs, overhead, etc.) and forget that while we can tinker with them to show a direct result, we also inevitably alter the immeasurables (reputation, word-of-mouth, etc.) in the process. For my money, I’ll always bet on those things we can’t measure but that are typically the lifeblood of a successful business.

Wil

What you should expect if you use Schedulefly

Wes and I were talking this morning about what people who use Schedulefly should expect. Here’s what we quickly agreed on…

1. software that does what you need it to do and is very easy to use
2. great customer support and a company that is extremely easy to do business with
3. nobody trying to cross-sell you anything (we have one product and it’s all-inclusive)

That’s pretty much it. We try to keep things simple around here.

Since the third item will never happen, we think if we focus relentlessly on the first two items and get them right day after day, customer after customer, then our users will be happy. And that’s all that matters to the five people on our team, because if y’all are happy, the rest will take care of itself.

Wil

What we don’t do is important too

On our story page, we say that “We are on a mission to build a brand independent restaurants admire and love.” We talk about this a lot and wanted to put that on the site because it’s true and (frankly) something that not many companies that serve restaurants probably care about. Achieving this of course doesn’t just happen one day after years of hard work, it happens very slowly as we go. It happens here and there along the way – which is cool, because it’s actually a never ending goal. In fact, it’s happening some now. We often get unsolicited feedback via phone and email from a customer about how much they like doing business with us. They often use the word love and tell us that they admire what we are doing and the way we are doing it. Now I understand that it would be impossible for all of our customers to feel this way and that’s ok. But the more that do – the better. That is why we focus so hard and try to bring on the perfect customer and encourage the wrong ones to keep looking. The last thing we want is a bunch of the wrong kinds of businesses becoming customers – just to make more money – only ending up with a company that frustrates customers and one that we eventually don’t enjoy running anymore. Most people think I am an idiot when I tell them I’d rather have 10 perfect customers come on board than 100 “sort of” perfect. Over time, the steady drum beat of bringing on perfect customers helps us with our goal – and also makes word of mouth marketing that much stronger – with others that are perfect. 10 happy customers spread much better word of mouth than 100 frustrated ones. I cringe thinking of a perfect customer hearing something bad from someone who should have never used it in the first place.

So the interesting thing about this is that I can think of 3X as many things that we should NOT do – than we should do – in order to keep making progress on this mission. Really, the only things we should do (and we talk about often) are 1) keep our software simple, 2) take great care of our customers and 3) do things that help our industry grow too – like our book and video series. That’s 3 things we should do. I can think of 9 things that we should not do. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Lose our laser focus on serving independent restaurants and start serving everyone in the world who needs scheduling.
2. Take investment from people outside our company. Here are 5 great reasons to not do it.
3. Hire tons of people. More people leads to a more complicated business and eventually crappier service. Not always, but often.
4. Do traditional selling, advertising and marketing. People are tired of hearing about how great a company thinks it is.
5. Partner with others companies. The other companies have different goals and different definitions of great service and simple software.
6. Force people to use our software because it was sold to a corporate office and required at each restaurant. People don’t usually love that kind of software.
7. Add more features to try and retain restaurants that have outgrown us. Here is a great post from Wil about that.
8. Integrate our software with other software to make it more valuable, only making it less reliable.
9. Do things we just aren’t good at and don’t enjoy doing. It’s frustrating for customers when companies have unhappy employees.

The great thing is, it’s easy to not do those things and focus on the other 3.

Wes

A really long text

My friend asked my advice on a software business he is helping launch. He wanted me to check out their web site and offer my opinion. This morning I ripped through a few cups of coffee and did what he asked. Apparently the caffeine took over my brain and fingertips, because my response was the below ridiculously long text message. Since I know he’s reading this post I’ll confess this is an edited version for clarity – having re-read my rapid-fire response, I see it was at times nonsensical. Anyway, hopefully there is something in here you enjoy…

“1. You have good content but it gets a little long. People bail quickly on reading content unless its very crisp and to the point. Brevity is key.

2. Be very authentic and honest. Under-promise while over-delivering. Many businesses do the opposite these days, and people know that. And they are tired of it. Be a breath of fresh air in a world of b.s.

3. I think your “Our Story” page will be important as well. People like stories (again, if they are clearly authentic). Make it clear y’all are a small team. Don’t hide from that – highlight it! It’s to your advantage IMO that you aren’t some VC-backed firm with a technology that will apparently save the world and make us all happy like many software companies seem to want us to believe, but rather you are just a small team of a few people trying to help solve a common business problem with a simple technology.

Now keep in mind all of this comes without me asking millions of questions that would be necessary to ask for me to offer anything potentially more meaningful than this off-the-cuff, shoot-from-the-hip advice. So therefore I may be offering stupid advice. In addition to that, my opinion is just an opinion, and everybody has an opinion, and the more opinions you get the more susceptible to groupthink you will be. And groupthink is bad. It leads to mediocrity. I would suggest instead to just make decisions and try stuff to see what works and adjust as you go, because nobody has all of the facts and insight that you have have so their opinions are probably not really that useful in the end. Plus, asking lots of people for opinions is sometimes just a way to avoid starting. Just start. You’ll figure it out.

We tried all sorts of stuff at Schedulefly early on from exhibiting at trade shows, to partnerships, to wearing ties and flying to L.A. to present to a large chain. It took us several years to figure out who we are, or, maybe I should say, who we AREN’T, so while we have very clear awareness of what works for us now, we damn sure didn’t early on. We had to try stuff and see what worked, as well as be honest with ourselves about whether we wanted to do certain things. And that was critical. I think we were pretty good early on at saying “this doesn’t feel right so lets stop doing it because it’s not what turns us on, and if we do stuff like trade shows – which we hate doing – then we’ll burn out and not enjoy this business.” So we stopped doing a half-ass job of the things we didn’t enjoy and weren’t good at, and focused all of our energy on the things we enjoy and are good at.

Take the long view and do it your way vs. following convention or how others say you should do it. That will be the difference between success and happiness or stress and frustration.

Sorry for sending the longest text anybody has ever sent.”

On another note, Luke is cranking out our next video, called “the pastry chef.” It’s a new format for us, focused on one staff member’s story and his passion for his work. You’ll see it here within a week.

Wil

Hot dog eating contests and the 1952 Olympics

The Nathan’s Coney Island Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest has been taking place in the same location on July 4th since 1972. Contestants eat as many hot dogs and buns as they can in 12 minutes. For 23 years the record crept up incrementally, and going into the competition on July 4, 2006 it stood at 25. That’s 25 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. When the bell rung at the end of the competition that day, first-time entrant Takeru Kobayashi from Japan had eaten 50 hot dogs and buns. 50! He literally doubled a record that conventional wisdom would have you believe could only possibly increase by a hot dog to two per year. Yet Kobayashi didn’t let previous records define his ambition. He had planned to crush the record all along.

For a year leading up to the competition, Kobayashi quietly trained in his home in Japan. But unlike every other competitor, he didn’t simply try to figure out how to eat more hot dogs and buns the normal way you eat hot dogs and buns. Rather, he figured out a entirely new way to consume them. The first thing he did was decide to eat the hot dogs and the buns independent of each other. First hot dog, then bun. Next, he split each dog in half. Through trial and error he learned that he could get it down faster that way. Finally, he dipped the bun in water. Competitors are allowed to have fluid to help wash down their food, and he realized that dipping the buns in water helped them slide down his throat much faster. He also took training very seriously and decided if he was going to make the trip from Japan to Coney Island, he wanted to win. And win big he did. Event organizers literally ran out of signs displaying the number he had consumed. Nobody had even imagined 50 was at all possible.

Next we turn to 1952 and the Helsinki summer Olympics, when for the only time in history, one man won the men’s 5,000 meter race, 10,000 meter race, and marathon. His name was Emil Zatopek, and like Kobayashi, he trained very differently from his competitors. While everybody else ran long distances at sustained paces to train for long distance races, Zatopkek used interval training. He would ran 800 meters as fast as he could, stop to rest, then do it again. Over and over. This was a very unusual method, and some even credit Zatopek with inventing it. But that wasn’t all. As Wikipedia states, “Zatopek’s running style was distinctive and very much at odds with what was considered to be an efficient style at the time. His head would often roll, face contorted with effort, while his torso swung from side to side. He often wheezed and panted audibly while running, which earned him the nicknames of ‘Emil the Terrible’ or the ‘Czech Locomotive’.” Finally, he did odd stuff like running in deep snow wearing work boots, rather than running on tracks with running shoes. Basically, Zatopek did everything wrong according to the standard, conventional training methods at the time. Nevertheless, not only did he win those three races, but the marathon was his first ever marathon. That’s right, Emil Zatopek had never competed in a marathon in his life, and decided at the last minute to enter the Olympic event and won it. Oh, and not only did he win, he set an Olympic record in the process!

I love stories like these. I love it when everybody is doing something one way, trying to marginally beat their competitors, and then somebody comes along with a different mindset and using different methodologies, and literally sets a new standard. But it’s not easy to be the person who takes a new path. As I quoted from one of my all-time favorite books, “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd,” in this post, “Great ideas, novel ideas, original ideas … are tenuous at birth. And the reason for that is that, early on, they are often indistinguishable from crazy, impractical ideas.”

You have to have a significant amount of self confidence and trust your instincts to pursue these seemingly ridiculous ideas. So people like Takeru Kobayashi and Emil Zatopek are fun to read about, and serve as great sources of inspiration for those of us that sometimes feel like we might seem crazy, but believe deep down that we are onto something worth pursuing.

Wil

We are successful to be together

7 Years ago, my friend Douglas sent an email to me and another friend just before our yearly fall fly fishing trip to Cape Lookout NC and a special place called “the hook”. I re-read it last night and wanted to share it here because it’s just awesome and much more fun to read than some boring business related blog post. In fact, when I am old and thinking back on my life, I bet I won’t wish I had written more software or been in more meetings or made more business connections or been involved in more stuff that may have made me more successful but didn’t really make life any better. I bet I’ll think about family and friends and outings like these…

LETTER TO THE GROUP GOING TO HARKERS WITH “TEAM POTTER” 2007:

So many things in life let us down: our internet connection goes haywire, all 4 tires on our cars do not make it 50,000 miles, customers forget about the concept of loyalty, and our pets don’t live forever. But fellas, the calendar does not let us down. Fall is here and we all know what that means. To fanatics like us, thinking about a North Carolina fall does not conjur up images of a Southern Living magazine cover with rustic barns, trees fading from gold to burn orange, and breezy blue skies. Nope. Fall doesn’t remind us of leaf piles in our yards for our kids to play in. Fall does not probe us to consider our third quarter standings and quotas at work. Not that. Fall means cooling water temps at the coast. Fall means bait being herded into constantly moving balls of motion. Fall means it is time to dust off the vise and tie up a few small baitfish patterns to fill up the fly box. Fall means it is time to grip the cork on the 10 wt and stash the spinning rods until next summer. Fall means insane oceanic migrators creating whitewater that would make a class 2 rapid envious. Yessir, fall means albies – busting albies!

Walking out of Potter’s back screen door on the first morning, what do we see?

Mist dancing above the surface of Taylor’s creek, dock in the foreground, and steam coming off of that fresh cup of coffee. The sun is still hiding but has allowed a few beams to begin to light the sky. A jones brothers and a whaler are moored to the dock pilings, resting before racing each other out the inlet. Gear bags are velcro’d shut and rods are stacked up on the back porch lightly dewed from the night before. Wild ponies graze out of focus in the background, blurred by the storm-battered trees on Carrot island. A distant quick flash of white light from the east just below the clouds is where we are headed. And what we have been praying for is staring down at us – a flag barely fluttering in the gentle northeast breeze: a promise of fair seas and false albacore on the feed.

Making our way towards the end of the dock, what do we hear?

Water gently slapping against dock pilings and barnacles as the tide charges in. The sailboat at anchor just north of Potter’s house rattles the rigging on its mast. An ignition switch turns and an outboard roars into the quiet morning. A combination of duck boots and sperry’s shuffle down the splintered dock boards as we begin to load up. Foul weather gear rubs against itself as we walk- a reminder that it will keep us dry and warm when the whitecaps crash the party later in the day. Bags of ice shatter into coolers and are locked shut. Battery switches click on, and our voices begin to express our anticipation and excitement for what the day may bring. The vhf radio crackles. Bow and stern lines fall on the dock. No fly reel drags have begun to sing the song of fine-tuned friction when an albie sounds for freedom. Yet.

Stepping aboard, what do we feel?

We feel the strength of an outboard vibrating the deck of the boat. We feel the stability of the ground and dock give way to the constant motion of floating fiberglass. Hopefully our sea legs will quickly take over. The grabrail and steering wheel are cold to the touch. We consider putting on one more layer of fleece and a toboggan before the boat planes out in the cool morning. Inside we feel nothing but anticipation. Anticipation for a day off the clock ; freedom from emails, cell phones, co-worker interruptions, and finding solutions. We begin to second guess the chosen fly we have already tied on to the end of our tippet and which inlet to run out of. We feel excited to try to take our place at the top of the Cape Lookout food chain. And we cannot deny that we feel tired and a little dehydrated. Our reunion and game of throwing insults went into the wee hours last nite after a great meal in downtown Beaufort. Too many glasses were filled and emptied with bourbon drinks and too many empty longnecks were sent to the recycle bin. But that tinge of exhaustion will not halt the enthusiasm this morning. Nope, today may be the day for our best personal record albacore. We are ready to enter the competition just outside of Barden’s Inlet. The competition is not between anglers or boats, but each angler against each fish. Individual anglers dueling for sport and individual fish fighting for their lives! Ultimately connected by a thin, clear length of line, controlled by thin walls of graphite.

Idling past the docks, against the tide, and towards the sunrise, what do we smell?

The aroma of Weston’s fresh cup of black coffee is soon overpowered by outboard exhaust. No it doesn’t smell great, but fortunately that internal combustion bolted to the transom will help as we recklessly race from flocks of screeching birds, to schools of fleeing bait, to saltwater transformed into foam by feeding false albacore. We smell the slight must on the collar of our jacket. This jacket does not sport the odor of new apparel freshly purchased from a store, but a hint of the outdoors, sweat, man, time, and fish slime. As we idle to the end of the creek, we pass the menhaden factory and a cluster of seabirds squawking in a tangle of liveoaks. The birds and the old factory reek of digested bait. We are encouraged that the birds will once again find the bait today, showing us where the false albacore are dining. Today is not the time for chasing the tides and the sharp smell of pluff mud and burping oysters in the marsh and creeks. The redfish are free to push, wake, and tail at their leisure. We are headed to the deeper clearer waters where the Atlantic meets the sand. Where the fat alberts roam.

The throttles are pushed opposite the boat wake and each boat jumps on plane. What do we taste?

Our tongues recognize the taste of that last sip of morning caffeine and droplets of dew blown from the bow. Salt spray frosting the gunnels remind us that wooly buggers, mountain streams, and 8” rainbow trout are a million miles away. Unlike a more gentile type of fly fishing, we want to watch our rods bend to the cork and feel the reel handles abuse our knuckles after we strip set a clouser in the mouth of a false albacore. Moreover we each taste success. We have all juggled our calendars, stacked miles on our vehicles, saved up boat gas money, put off work priorities, retied knots, and hired childcare to plan for this moment to motor towards the inlet right now. We are successful to be here chasing false albacore. We are successful to hide from life’s responsibilities for a couple of days. We are successful to be together.

See you at The Hook..

the people of indie restaurants: Ashley Christensen Restaurants (new video)

I just love this video….

Wil

I remember

Today Wil and I were texting about some random funny stuff and one of the serious things was that it’s now September and we have 325+ restaurants in a free trial right now. We thought it was cool because normally by the 4th quarter of the year we start to slow down a tad when restaurants are thinking less about change around their restaurant and more about the rest of the year and the upcoming holiday season – or at least that’s my explanation. We’ve watched that trend for 7 or 8 years and understand it and don’t try force more business than we should naturally be getting – so it’s predictable and expected – but it’s cool to see each season stronger than the last.

Anyway – talking about this made me think about memories I have had over the years about small milestones along the way and it’s crazy to see think how far it has come – just one day at a time. For instance, I remember having more free trials than paying customers and was so excited for the day to some when the paying number would reach and surpass the trial number. Today we have 325 trials and 4,385 paying customers.

I remember me and Charles frantically working one night about 7 years ago (when we had just a few paying customers – 5 or 10 or so) when our “shared” server that we were currently leasing ran out of disk space. What. A simple problem and a terrible problem all at once. Like a plane running out of gas or something. It was time to move. P.S – Charles had another job and was not responsible – I was.

I remember being on vacation with my wife’s family and toasting our 100th paying customer that summer.

I remember the next day (after hitting 100 customers) telling Tyler how cool I thought that was and he said “Sure. But I’ve always thought when we hit 1,000, then we have something special”. I then remember 1,000 a few years later.

I remember Charles coming on board full time when we had about 1,600 customers. That day I started to sleep better and have slept great since.

I remember the day I realized I don’t like getting emails from companies I’ve never heard of telling me about their products. It’s not how I buy stuff for our business and I was (stubbornly) certain restaurant owners felt the same. I remember deciding we’d never send another email again.

I remember Wil deciding to join our company and Tyler sending me an email with the subject “Wil!!!!!!!!!!!”. Nothing in the body. That’s the most excited I’ve ever seen Tyler. In fact, when we hit 1,000 customers he didn’t say anything. I figured maybe he changed his number to 2,000.

I remember Hank joining our team and realizing that the 5 of us were back together again – we all used to work together years before. That was cool to see it happen all over again. What are the chances?

I remember a chain of 250 restaurants telling me Schedulefly looked too simple. Within minutes I went from panic to calm.

I remember, later, turning down a few chain restaurant opportunities that would have been good for revenue in the short run, but terrible for our business in the long run.

I remember people telling us they don’t like our software and the very same day other people telling us they love it. I remember the calm that came over me when I finally realized I (we) can’t please everyone. Don’t ever try.

I remember our 1st paying customer inviting me over to demo Schedulefly in person….a mutual friend had introduced us. It was a Mellow Mushroom in Raleigh run by a guy who is now a friend and now uses us at all 4 of his locations. He said after 5 minutes or so – “I like it, let’s do it”. Over the years we’ve added 72 more Mellow Mushrooms via word of mouth only.

I remember our 2nd paying customer – Café Luna in Raleigh – inviting me over to demo the software – in the stock room/office back near the kitchen. I remember them frantically searching for their Ethernet cable so I could plug in my laptop – back in July 2007 when wireless was not everywhere. I showed it to them and the owner said “How much?” I said, “Um, $30 a month?”. He said “Great, set us up”.

I remember after that meeting at Café Luna – our 2nd customer – I never demo’d Schedulefly (in person or on some webinar) to anyone ever again.

I feel fortunate to have a business with so many fun memories and am really proud of what 5 guys have built over the years.

Wes

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