Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: August 2015

Remove what doesn’t look like David

While marveling at Michelangelo’s brilliant sculpture, David, the Pope asked how he knew what to chip away from his block of stone to get to his final work. The sculptor’s reply, “It’s easy. I just remove everything that doesn’t look like David.”

It’s common to think you need to add things to your business. But just as Michelangelo looked at a giant stone block, pictured David in his mind, and began taking away things until he turned his vision into a reality, it can be better to focus more on taking away. We tried many things early on that we quickly realized didn’t look like our vision of Schedulefly. We tried them because they were things you think you are supposed to do since everybody else is doing them. Email marketing. PR. Trade shows. Partnerships. Cold calling. Social Media.

But those were not things we dreamed of when we pictured Schedulefly in our minds. We didn’t like doing them. We weren’t good at them (because we didn’t like doing them). And we realized they were additions, while we were better off making subtractions. Once we began chipping things away, making Schedulefly the way we wanted it became easy.


The most important question to ask interviewees

Kimberly Shingledecker started Pies & Pints along with partner David Bailey in Fayetteville, WV in 2003 in the basement of a house. By 2005 they had two-hour waits and needed to buy a building with more space. The growth hasn’t slowed down much since, and today there are eight locations with a ninth opening soon. Kimberly and I talked about consistency being key, never closing earlier than the time posted on your door, the challenge of educating your market – and your staff – when you are doing something new, the importance of finding a way to say “yes” to customers, being kid-friendly, and the most important question to ask people interviewing for jobs. Enjoy…

If you are reading this on your phone or in an email, you won’t see the podcast player. Click here to listen on iTunes. 

The two lists

I graduated from the UNCW Cameron Business School in 1998. Until my last year of school – which was 6 or 7 years into my on/off college career – I just didn’t enjoy what I was being taught. I was taking classes that I was supposed to take and was skipping tons of them due to a lack of interest – causing my grades to be terrible. I flunked classes, made some D’s and plenty of C’s. It wasn’t because I had tried and failed – it was because I just wasn’t interested and therefore was not really trying. But in my last year after spending a semester over in the computer science department learning C, VB and the Java programming languages – I started to get really interested. Building things on the computer was interesting to me.

I remember many of the programming projects I had done and a few in particular stand out. One of the first ones was a Visual Basic (VB) programming project where I had to create two lists side by side on an empty screen. The list on the left had to have 10 items in it – like food items on a grocery store shelf. Milk, Eggs, Cheese etc. The list on the right was empty. Between the two lists I had to add two buttons with arrows on them indicating that you could move items from one list to another. That’s it – just move stuff from one list to another and vice versa. And when you moved an item from the left to the right – it was supposed to disappear from the left as well as appear on the right – in alphabetical order. It was an Aha moment for me when I finally got it working and I recall thinking how cool it would be if I could figure out how to populate those lists using data from a database and then maybe that seemingly useless tool could be a useful utility for something. Although just learning how to code that turned out to be pretty useful. And that’s how it began. That simple coding project turned me on to much more over the years and allowed me to finish my degree in Information Systems with flying colors. But of course flying colors for a few semesters doesn’t have too big of an effect on a GPA that was molded with years and years of C’s. Oh well, eventually grades don’t matter anyway right?

From then on I became addicted to learning more about how to create simple screens that allowed me to enter some information and submit that info so it could be stored in a database. And then screens to pull up the information – change it or move it around and then save it back. The details of all that – the database and the screens and the plumbing in between were what I focused on for the next 10 years or so. I just did it over and over for various companies and with each project I learned new techniques from people smarter than me until one day I decided to sit down and create Schedulefly. That was 10 years ago.

Well today I noticed something really interesting and had never really thought about it. Out of all the screens and features that Schedulefly now has – the one thing that is the core of Schedulefly – and the very first screen I wrote when starting to code has two big lists on it. The list on the left contains all of the available employees at a particular restaurant – and the list on the right is the list of people working on a particular day. I looked at it today – and realized – it’s the two lists! To schedule employees, the manager clicks a button to move them from the left list to the right. And of course they can remove them from being scheduled that day by clicking a button to take them off of the right list – making them available on the left again. I wrote that little thing in 2005 and now more than 5,300 restaurants use it to move staff from one list to another. Ha!! Amazing….you never know when something might stick and you might actually apply what you’ve learned. I just realized I did.

So anyway – I thought that was cool and I also wanted to say to the parents out there that actually read this entire thing – that if you have children who aren’t really interested in what they are learning yet – don’t lose hope – something will stick eventually.


"My lack of experience helped"

Rob Ward and his three business partners started Cantina 76 in Columbia, S.C. in November, 2009. They had no experience owning restaurants, and not much experience in the restaurant business at all. They now have two locations and recently opened Za’s Brickoven Pizza. Their restaurants are successful and well-liked in Columbia, and it was fun learning how Rob approached owning and running restaurant when he had never even managed one. Tune in to hear an inspiring story of how Rob learned on the job, made some mistakes, drew in crowds without a marketing budget, and benefited from a lack of experience.

If you are reading this on your phone or in an email, you won’t see the podcast player. Click here to listen on iTunes. 

Write your own playbook

I couldn’t believe how lucky I had just gotten. It was the fall of 2008 here in Charlotte, and I walked into the door of the nearby location of a large fast casual fresh-mex restaurant franchise, and there was Paul. I had worked for Paul a dozen years earlier, making salsa at a similar fast casual place in Ponte Vedra Beach, FL. He taught me a ton about the restaurant business, like when I would leave spilled shredded cheese on the counter and he would walk by, pinch it in his fingers, hold it up to me and say “money, money, money!” He taught me the restaurant business is a business of pennies. He was also a genuinely nice, humble, hard working guy who I admired.

Back in the early days of Schedulefly in 2008, I was trying to figure out how to drum up business. At the time, we didn’t know we would never have sales people and we didn’t know we’d never serve chains. To the contrary, I spent my days attempting to get decision makers at large restaurant groups and restaurant chains to hear our story, convinced that if they gave me the chance to make a business case, they’d become customers. So I was thrilled when I saw Paul and he told me he worked in this franchise organization’s corporate office, helping new stores during their opening months. Bingo! An in with the corporate office. I felt the forces of serendipity working for me.

Fortunately, that organization didn’t show any interest in our software, but more importantly, Paul gave me bad advice. Well, not bad advice, just advice that made sense from his perspective. I ate lunch with him one day and asked him a bunch of questions about how to sell products to restaurant people. How do sales people get your attention? How many sales people do you normally meet with in person? What have you seen people do well? What has not worked well? How about advertising? Etc. As I was leaving that day, I asked Paul to call me if he thought of any other ideas.

Several days later he left me a voice mail. “Wil, this is Paul. I have an idea for you. A vehicle wrap. We have all of our franchise owners wrap their vehicles with our brand and its a great way to create brand visibility as they drive around town. You should give it a shot! People would see the Schedulefly brand everywhere you drive.”

I’ll be honest, I thought he was joking at first and waited for the punch line. There wasn’t one. I laughed anyway. A vehicle wrap? What?! How would that help me create awareness for restaurant people, who are my target audience? More importantly, how would it help me do that anywhere but Charlotte?

It hit me immediately. Paul was giving me advice that made sense to him in his world, based on his experiences. And how could I possibly expect him to give me an idea that would help us move mountains? At the time, I was spending 100% of every day thinking about that stuff, and I couldn’t figure it out, yet I was asking a guy who had spent 0.00000000001% of his day thinking about it, and who had zero experience doing what we are doing, no vested interest in our success, to come up with an idea? It was nice enough of Paul to even call me back. Most people would have just moved on. But there is simply no way Paul could have helped me.

I knew at that point we would have to figure this stuff out on our own, through trial and error. That’s just how these things go. Sure, it’s good to learn from people and keep an open mind, especially if it’s from somebody who has done what you are doing. If you want to start a restaurant, speak to other restaurant owners. Don’t speak to successful business people from other professions. They have zero context for what you are trying to do. Paul had no context to help me.

But even when you speak to somebody who has successfully done what you are trying to do, be careful. What worked for one person may not work for you. When I worked on our book, I interviewed a guy who used very provocative billboards to polarize people, cause protests, and generate free publicity. That worked for him, but there’s no way I would do that if I started a restaurant. I don’t have the stomach for that.

But the larger point here is we often seek advice because we are unsure of how to go about something, and we are looking for a quick answer to a complex problem. We think are looking for a magic “Aha!” moment. But that’s rarely going to happen anywhere but in your own mind. We also have fear. Sure, we believe in ourselves, but there is some lingering uncertainty deep down that we are trying to overcome. That’s natural. It’s not comfortable, but it’s natural. And the sooner you learn to embrace it vs. trying to escape it, the better off you will be.

Paul was not the first person I asked for advice, but he was the last. I guess I did have an “Aha!” moment. Upon listening to his idea, I immediately realized I had to stop asking for advice. Tyler and Wes realized this long before me. They weren’t seeking advice, they were tinkering and trusting their own instincts. I’m glad I finally figured that out as well. And I’m so thankful we decided to follow our own ideas, not others’. If we had done what smart, successful people have (mostly unsolicited) told us we should do, we’d have 20 people in our company by now, not 5. We’d have sales people and marketing people and PR people. We’d have partnerships. We’d have “strategic alliances.” We’d belong to restaurant associations. We’d have investors so we could “raise capital to accelerate growth.” And I would drive a Toyota 4-Runner wrapped in the Schedulefly logo.

We’d be following everybody else’s playbook vs. writing our own.


Wes wrote a great post on a similar topic a few years ago. It’s awesome, and it’s here.

Selling it is not the only way

Years ago we decided that we just didn’t like trying to sell people on Schedulefly. We decided instead to just let them try it (when the timing was right for them) and if they liked it – they would become a customer. Our course we do work hard to make sure that it is clear what they need to do when they sign up to try it and how they can reach us if needed. But other than that, it’s up to them. In fact, there have only been a few times that I have actually mentioned Schedulefly to people when I am at a restaurant. I even recall one time – sitting at a Mellow Mushroom bar – chatting and being asked by the bartender what I did for a living. I told him I worked at a bank.

The main reason we decided to just let them come to this conclusion on their own (versus us bothering them via phone and email about signing up) was – well because it just seemed annoying to do it any other way. I mean it’s really as simple as thinking about ourselves in their shoes and trying to treat them just the way we would want to be treated. We didn’t liked to be bothered by a sales person when we tried new stuff – so why would we do that to those trying Schedulefly? We even decided to discourage larger organizations that liked us from requiring their restaurants to use Schedulefly. We just felt so much better about those restaurants making their own decisions – because – again – that’s how we would want to be treated and it’s just a more natural way to do business.

There were other reasons such as understanding that timing is everything and that selling stuff to people is sort of old school. Today, most people (that we are trying to serve) seek out a solution to their problem – when it’s the right time for them and when the problem is actually there. And then – when they do buy – they feel good that they made the decision and that it’s the right one – versus being sold on it.

The reason I am thinking about this again today is because I noticed a few more franchise customers come on board that are a part of a large restaurant organization with over 400 locations. We started serving one of them about 7 years ago and as of today we serve 138 of them. 138! I just think that’s awesome since we’ve not had a single conversation with any corporate office about mentioning our product to those who run their restaurants. And since they have not been forced to use us – they like us. They chose us. They didn’t have to use us – but they decided to. Isn’t that they way life should be?

I understand that most businesses can’t operate this way. They are under pressure to sell more and acquire more customers and reach goals that have been set for them. An opportunity to serve over 400 locations most certainly can’t be left to chance. I am just so thankful that we get to do it another way….that we get to let them choose us and let them decide that we are the company they want do business with. It makes the relationship we have with them so much better.


p.s Wil has talked about this before (about 4 years ago) and did a nice video blog talking about it. Our strategy has not changed. You can
watch that here
if you’d like to hear more on this topic.

"Do something common uncommonly well"

Dave Query started Big Red F Restaurant Group in 1993 and has turned it into a highly successful business with five concepts and soon-to-be thirteen total locations. In the five years I’ve been interviewing restaurant owners, Dave has always been one of my favorites. He’s transparent, honest, wise, and able to articulate his beliefs and philosophies as well as anybody I’ve come across in the business. In this interview, Dave and I discussed everything from choosing the right types of investors, to growth, to humility, to competition. Enjoy…

If you have a podcast player, you can listen to all of our interviews on iTunes here. We’ve recorded 20 so far.

"If you jump in with both feet, doors will open"

Rayme Rossello is a very positive and inspiring person, who first co-owned a restaurant in 1999. That restaurant was very successful and grew to five locations over seven years, but Rayme sold her share of the business to her partner to try something different. After an unsuccessful partnership in a french bistro, she questioned herself and what was next, even considering going back to waiting tables. Tune in to hear her inspiring story of starting Comida with her pink taco truck in Boulder in 2010 and growing that to two successful restaurant locations and a third on the way.

All of our podcast episodes are available here on iTunes.

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