7 or 8 years ago Wil and I visited a few restaurant groups in Charleston SC one afternoon to show them Schedulefly. Wil had pre-arranged these meetings so they weren’t cold call type meetings – but they also weren’t very warm. These were early days when we were just getting started and still in the mode of doing things that had worked for us in the past – at previous companies – so why not try to sell inexpensive subscription based internet accessible software door to door in person? In our defense – it’s all we knew – and previously we sold a more expensive software that required more work on the front end to really explain the value – so selling was much more important. But now – we were selling a $30/mo software that really didn’t require a whole lot of explaining and end user training at all – if any. But again – it was early on and speaking to people in person and learning about their issues with employee scheduling was still a worthwhile exercise. If anything – it helped us figure out the types of restaurants we did not want to serve.
Our first stop was the main office for a well known (small) chain with about 10 locations up and down the east coast – all the same concept – same kind of place. While I don’t remember as much about this meeting as I do the next one – I do recall it feeling corporate and a bit uncomfortable. It was a nice office with plenty of people – but we were not in a restaurant. This office was more like it’s own business. It was in the business of managing the restaurants. In hindsight I should have trusted my gut that this operation seemed more complicated than who we would likely help most – but again – with scant revenue and a somewhat cloudy vision at this point – we stayed and gave the HR lady a short demo. I think she liked it ok – but the whole thing felt a blind date with someone who was totally wrong. We tried, but it was not right. So like a couple of vacuum cleaner salesmen, we packed our things, hopped in Wil’s 2000 Toyota 4-Runner, manually rolled down the windows and skedaddled. Next.
The 2nd stop was another small chain of similar size on the other side of town. This group had different concepts – but all seemingly right just based on number of employees at each – so in we go. Little did I know – this meeting in person and showing Schedulefly to someone would be our last. So it’s fitting how funny it went down. Wil and I pulled up to the address we had been given and it appeared we were in the wrong place. We were parked in front of what looked like someone’s residence – but we knew this group had an office and weren’t a group of people working out of their home. We curiously walked up and knocked on the door to be warmly greeted by a nice woman whom I believe had HR in her title. Doesn’t matter. What did matter was this office reminded us of Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. The whole office felt like it was on a slant. Like we might tip over if we didn’t focus on walking. I think I passed a room with wallpaper that moved. And I remember being led down a hallway that felt as if it was getting smaller the further we went – only to pop into a conference room that was full size again. We took our seats.
After a brief wait of the owners of the group and his “IT” guy walked in and joined us at the table. Now remember this was back in probably 2008 before social media and the internet explosion for restaurants – so our web based scheduling software (and in general being on the internet to do business) was not as mainstream as it is today – so we were met with very curious, yet skeptical eyes. What ended up making this encounter the most interesting was the IT guy. From the get go – the IT guy almost seemed uncomfortable. He was definitely there to size up what we had built and offer his thoughts….which is exactly what he did. After a short demo and some awkward back and forth – the IT guy told his boss that he could write something very similar. What we had just presented was easy to write and they could do it in house. Hmm. So while we did actually agree with him – we made a few comments about this being what we do as a business – and maybe they would rather consider paying $30/mo to get going today versus spending 3-4 months writing a software application that they would then own and maintain forever. But that day – they did not – and at that point I was more ready to get out of there than I would have been in a burning house. So we rolled. I remember telling Wil…dude, if a restaurant has an IT department – they probably aren’t right for us. It was a good lesson. The only thing that would have made that meeting better would have been if they escorted us to a glass elevator that had one red button in it that when pressed would race us skyward and crashing through a glass ceiling into the air where we were then treated a tour of Charleston and the surrounding beaches from 1500ft above. Instead – Wil and I drove to a bar.
Ironically – that 2nd group did end up becoming a customer a few years later (when the timing was right for them) only to eventually leave – likely for a better fit.
There is a small teeny tiny part of me that wishes we had made more sales calls in the early days – just so I could tell more stories like this one.