Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: January 2016

How else could you spend those hundreds of hours and that $15,000?

About this time in 2009, we began planning to exhibit at the annual National Restaurant Association trade show in Chicago. We paid to rent a booth, began the process of designing a backdrop and our collateral, and started the 5-month process of getting ready for the show. Fast forward to early June, and we had spent hundreds of hours planning for + attending the show, and around $15,000, and we didn’t have much to show for it. It was a total waste. A complete failure. I still shutter at the thought.

We’ve written here and here about why we no longer attend trade shows, so I won’t dive back down that well again. But one thing worth considering before you make a big decision that will require significant amounts of your time and/or dollars is, “What else could we do with the hours it will take do complete this project and/or the money it will cost us?”

We never asked that question in 2009, and frankly had we done so at the time we may have said “We’d do exactly what we are doing with that time and money. This is the right thing to do!” We thought that then, we later realized we had been wrong, and now we know we will never make the same mistake. But having been through that process, and making other mistakes with time and money over the years, I think we are pretty good now at stopping ourselves before we proceed with any significant commitment.

We rarely do anything now that costs much money, outside of investing in our hardware and software on the back end. But on occasion we still have new product ideas – additional tools that would be “very cool!” Fortunately, we always realize quickly that the new feature we are considering today will wind up taking tons of hours to build, add to our support levels, could confuse customers, could water down our core solution (make restaurant scheduling and communication easy), and so on.

Nevertheless, if we ever again get started down a road that leads to spending hundreds of hours of time and $15,000, I guarantee we’ll ask the most important question we could possibly ask before proceeding: “How else could we spend those hours and that $15,000?” In our case, the answer would probably be, “The hours could be spent with our families and the $15,000 could be divided amongst our team, and we can just keep doing what we are doing.”

How will you answer that question the next time you have a chance to?


Wil

P.s. I’m not anti-trade shows – just anti-trade shows for Schedulefly. They can be a good investment for some companies. I have friends who swear by them. They just aren’t the right fit for a small company selling $40/month subscriptions to a web-based software. Or at least not for this one.

We’d split it 3 ways and keep doing what we do

This morning I am sitting in the kitchen typing this post while my two boys are running around the house like crazy people listening to the song Happy by Pharrell Williams – at volume 10. I started thinking about how happy we actually are and how happy I am about Schedulefly and what it has become. Honestly it’s becoming exactly what I thought it could become and that’s a company that’s like no other company I’ve ever heard of.

I started thinking back to all the things we were told we should do. It’s almost as if all companies getting started are similar in many ways because they’ve been told or read how to get started. And over time (some of them) are able to break out of the mold and become something very different….but many don’t. They go down the path someone lays out for them – versus doing what they set out to do. For example – if you start your own business (maybe because your tired of following someone else’s dream) and ask for advice or are given advice by smart people who have had success before you – they will no doubt suggest things that they’ve seen work. Makes sense. And they can work…but they set you on a path to be more like others and less like the one you set out to build. More like that person’s dream and not yours.

Most of these things we were advised to do – we did. Maybe once or twice – only to eventually shed them from our outfit like Superman taking off his stuffy Clark Kent tie and dress shirt and then flying off into the atmosphere in a skin tight red and blue suit to go save the world.

The things were classic proven, successful things like:

* Being encouraged to go to the giant National Restaurant Association annual trade show – which we did once 9 years ago. Here you can read why we only did that once and never will again.

* Being encouraged to partner with a large organization with troops on the ground that are already inside restaurants and can push our product – along with all the other products they sell to restaurants. We did this with a large billion dollar food service business. Food. Really? People selling food and now leaving a flyer about our software too. I don’t do drugs, but sometimes I wonder if someone slipped me some back then. We quickly realized what a bad idea that was and that it wasn’t what we wanted to do and we unwound it. Here you can read why we won’t ever partner with anyone again.

* Being encouraged to send mass emails to expensive curated lists that we purchased. This – were were told – has really lousy results – unless you continue to bang these people over the head over and over and over. Seriously! How could something I personally hate work for our business? Here you can read why it was wrong for us and just not worth the negative affect it could have on our brand long term.

* Being encouraged to set up an advisory board of sorts – something like a board of directors I guess? Geez. Really? I hated this idea and thank goodness that was something that we never even tried once.

* Being asked by an investor what we would do with a million dollars he wanted to give us. We said we would split it 3 ways (just 3 of us back then) and keep doing what made us happy.

* Being encouraged to setup social media accounts. Actually I think that was more of something we just thought we should do to help spread awareness and as it turns out – we did not have to.

The list goes on and I guess my point for this post is that nearly everything we were encouraged to do – we didn’t really like and only made us feel like we were doing them because we were supposed to. I really believe that the reason we have such a fun, special business that’s different than any I’ve ever heard of is because we did not continue to do those things.

What’s ironic about all this (and my last comment about all this) is that most people who now ask me/us things like “How in the world do you have so much time?” and “How do you not have an office and still get work done?” and “Is Schedulefly the only thing you do?” are often the same people who would recommend all of the above.

Wes

p.s If you liked this, you might like this really awesome article on keeping your business small in order to really enjoy your life.

Build a brand your customers want to be a part of

Yesterday I ate some of the best pulled pork BBQ I’ve ever had, at Buxton Hall in Asheville, NC. I’ve been eating BBQ since I was old enough to eat solid food, and this is as good as it gets.

As I was enjoying some delicious banana pudding after my meal, I talked to owner Meherwn Irani and his business partner Michael Files. They expressed amazement that our team of five not only doesn’t work in the same office or live in the same town, but that we rarely see each other. I explained what I mentioned in a blog post I wrote in 2011 titled “Here’s to distance,” which is that we believe our company is successful in part because we don’t work in the same place, not in spite of that. I said that we do many things differently that most software companies, and that’s one of them.

After I finished explaining our philosophy, Meherwan paused, ran his hand through his hair and looked perplexed. He then said, “You know what, Wil? You talk about being software company but I have never really thought of Schedulefly as a software company. I mean, I know it’s your product, so of course you are a software company. But I’ve always just thought of Schedulefly as a cool company that I like doing business with.” When he said that all I could do was smile. THAT is exactly what we have always aspired to be, and to hear it flow out of a customer’s mouth literally made my day.

You can do that in any business. Whether you sell software or food or coolers or clothing, you can build something that’s much bigger and more important than the product you sell. If you are authentic and genuine. If you focus on being a great company vs. being a big company. If you do things that might not have a measurable ROI but that you are proud of. If you truly want to, you can build a brand that customers want to affiliate themselves with not just because they like your product, but because they believe in what you stand for and how you do business.

Ironically, as great as the BBQ was at Buxton Hall, what made me come home and rave about it to my family and tell my friends about it was the whole experience. The food, the people, the atmosphere. It all added up to me not really thinking if Buxton Hall as a restaurant, but as a cool place where I want to spend a lot of time.

Wil

Buxton Hall 

Just do what works

In 8th grade my basketball coach was constantly correcting me because I didn’t have the correct form when I shot the ball. I’m right handed, and my right elbow bowed out to the right side when I shot. He told me it should be directly below my hand. He showed me several examples of college and professional players that shot with the correct form. “You need to have your elbow in, like this guy … and this guy … and this guy!” I kept trying to change my shot, but it was uncomfortable didn’t feel natural to me. It really upset me because had convinced me I needed to follow his formula to achieve success, but when I shot that way I missed the basket most of the time.

Then, by an amazing stoke of luck, I got to spend a Saturday morning alone on a playground park with David Thompson. David played for N.C. State in the 1970’s and is widely regarded as one of the best players ever in college basketball. (Injuries and substance abuse cut his professional career very short, but he did make the All Star game four times and once scored 73 points in a game). David was long-retired when I met him, but still made shot after shot after shot as he went around the perimeter. And here’s how he shot the ball…

After watching him shoot with his elbow bowed out, I asked why he didn’t use the “correct form.” He said, “I just do what works.” I went back to shooting my way from that day forward. I wasn’t going to follow somebody else’e formula for success in basketball, I was going to do what worked for me.

Several years ago, we published a book, “Restaurant Owners Uncorked.” It’s a collection of interviews with 20 successful restaurant owners. When we started working on the book, I wanted to uncover a formula for success – a common set of rules or philosophies that all 20 owners shared. My hope was to be able to weave it all together and tell the readers the formula they should follow to succeed in the restaurant business. I had high hopes and looked forward to figuring it out.

After doing all of the interviews I realized I was trying to be like my 8th grade basketball coach. “Do it like this guy….and this gal…and thus guy, and you’ll succeed.” But here wasn’t a shared formula, no common thread. In fact those owners all did things so differently that it was refreshing to see how you can be successful in the restaurant business so many different ways. Some of the owners have a top-down leadership style. Some have a very collaborative approach. Some spend a lot of money on advertising. Some spend nothing. Some of them carefully manage every financial detail. Some don’t use a single spreadsheet. Some lay out specific rules and processes for employees to follow. Some give them rules of thumb and trust they will do the right thing.

After 41 years of life and 15 years in the entrepreneurial world as a part of two successful startups (which followed very different paths to success), one thing I’ve learned is there is no formula for success. Not in basketball. And certainly not in business.

Just do what works.

Wil

If you like this post, you might also like “Blaze Your Own Path” which Wes wrote six years ago and is still one of my favorite posts on our blog.

Why we aren’t slaves to growth

A couple of years ago a CEO of another company called (we’ll call him John) and said he’d like to partner with us. He told me his company has 20,000 restaurant customers and he said he could get us connected with them and help us get from the 4,000 customers we had at the time to 20,000 customers. I said “Thanks, but no thanks” like we do every time we get a call like this. John said, “But don’t you want to grow faster?” and I said, “No, we don’t.” He was silent for a significant number of seconds and then said, “Well, please give it some thought. I don’t understand why you wouldn’t want to get to 20,000 faster,” to which I replied, “John, I don’t know if we even want to get to 20,000 at all.”

After an extended awkward silence, the call ended. I laughed, and my guess is he sat at his desk and thought we are clueless. But you see, John is a slave to growth. Business is about one thing: growing. Companies that have somebody with the “CEO” title have a team of executives, all with 3-letter titles, and their collective job is to figure out how to grow. Us? We’re just five dudes trying to build a great business by focusing on taking great care of the customers we have and on maintaining a sense of balance in our lives, letting any growth that occurs occur naturally.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve been thrilled to add about 1,000 more customers than we lose each year. We have around 5,700 customers right now, and we can pretty accurately predict that we’ll hit 6,000 in April/May. And then 7,000 by April/May 2017. And 8,000 by April/May 2018. And so on. Or at least that’s been the trend for a few years now. We can manage that level of growth pretty darn well without having to add people and processes and the things that come with rapid growth.

Anyway, maybe we’ll level off by starting to lose as many customers as we gain per year. Or maybe we’ll get to 20,000 naturally with this crew of five guys, and still be incredibly easy to do business with, offer amazing, personable customer support, and keep our business simple. We have no clue what will happen, but we darn sure don’t want to add the complexity of a partnership to try to get there. Heck, we’re more apt slow our growth to ensure we keep control of the things that matter to us than we are to try to accelerate it.

We don’t want to be slaves to growth. We want to be its master.

Wil

Here’s our new video "The Barista"

We took last year off of making videos, but we’re back it in 2016 and we’re stoked as heck to present “The Barista.” Enjoy…

https://player.vimeo.com/video/150449974
(If you’re viewing this in an email and don’t see the video, hit this link.

We’ve got a few more vids planned this year. If you like this, here’s our “people of indie restaurants” channel on Vimeo.

The Schedulefly Crew

Top 10 things we did not do in 2015

Last day of 2015! What a great year for our company. I wanted to thank the almost 1,800 new restaurants that started subscribing to Schedulefly in 2015. Wow! We truly appreciate you choosing us to help make life just a little easier at your restaurants.

2016 will be our 9th year as a company and with such awesome continued growth rather than list all of the things we did this year at Schedulefly – I thought I’d flip it upside down and be different and make a top 10 list of the things we did not do this year.

Here goes….

1.  We did not have meetings – not once was our team of 5 people in the same city this year. There wasn’t a reason to meet.
2.  We did not hire anyone – we started the year with 5 people and are still 5. Hiring and growth don’t always have to be linear.
3.  We did not open any offices – we all still work at home. It’s actually wildly productive.
4.  We did not partner with any other companies – it’s still just us. Like my Mom use to tell me as a kid, just worry about yourself.
5.  We did not add any features to Schedulefly – the problem we solve hasn’t changed.
6.  We did not spend much money – outside of investing into our hardware and software on the back end.
7.  We did not attend any trade shows or conferences or networking type events – we just don’t enjoy them.
8.  We did not post a single social media post about our company – we don’t have any social media accounts. Makes it easy.
9.  We did not have a company trip or company holiday party – we texted happy holidays to each other.
10.  We did not send a single email blast to customers or to prospects – if you think about 1-9 above – there was really nothing to say to people we already know and telling people we don’t know (about ourselves) is not something we find attractive.

I realize we have a very unique business and a team that is ok with the above – and yes – had we done the above we would have probably grown a little bit more. But the complication and work that would have resulted from doing them would have made this business less fun for us and for our customers.

Happy New Year!
Wes

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