Schedulefly Stories

Growing a software business one restaurant at a time

Month: May 2016

The day we ended all of our partnerships

One afternoon in 2009 I placed three phone calls. Each call was to a partner of Schedulefly. I cancelled all three partnerships within a few minutes. It felt great.

Early days, we weren’t sure what would work to help us get more customers. We decided to try a few partnerships. One partner was a guy in Canada who promised the moon but didn’t produce anything. Another was an office of a large food distributor. We even had to pay to be in that one-year program. It was such a disaster that we cancelled before the year was up. We would have been better offer burning the money and saving the time and energy I had put into it. The last one was a regional food distributor. That partnership was only a few months old on the day I made my calls, but we’ve never stuck with something for long if it wasn’t working or if we didn’t enjoy it, or both. Partnerships fell into both categories, so when we made the decision to wind them down, we did it without hesitation, without remorse.

Since then, lots of potential partners have requested to schedule calls with us. We quickly decline each opportunity. We won’t do another partnership. Some reasons…

1. Too much time – I spent a lot of time on those partnerships. I got on planes to fly places and conduct training sessions. I had a lot of conference calls. I put together tip sheets and marketing materials. It was a lot of work and took a lot of my focus, which kept me from focusing on other things that worked better and that I enjoyed.

2. Somebody else speaking for your brand – Partners speak for your product, your company, your brand. I don’t like that. How do I know what they are saying? Or how the are portraying us? If you care to your core about what your brand stands for, why would you entrust any communication about it to anybody but your team? My last business went through an acquisition. I couldn’t stand the way the people from the acquiring company spoke about our company, and they had every incentive to get it right! How can some group of people that have no connection with your business other than some executive they report up to telling them to try to sell your product to their customers be good at representing your brand? They can’t. I promise.

3. Referrals are best when natural and referrer has no skin in the game – If we pay people to tell their customers about Schedulefly, then is their recommendation an honest, unbiased recommendation? Of course not. It can’t be. End of story. We have grown through word of mouth all along, and it’s a natural, organic process. We don’t pay people to spread the word. Heck we don’t even ask people to spread the word. They do it for whatever reasons they do it, and that’s the only way to know a referral is honest and real.

I won’t dive into how complicated our business would be today if we had a bunch of partnerships. We might (I emphasize “might”) have more customers, but we’d also have a lot more headaches and I’d be spending most of every day managing them. Building a business is hard enough, but if you are in it for the long haul, be very careful before you consider any partnerships. If this post hasn’t convinced you to avoid them, read this one and this one.

Wil

How 1 becomes 260

Last week a customer called and asked me if we would add a check box for something he would like to have included in our software. He said, “I know you are trying to keep Schedulefly simple, but this is just one checkbox.” I told him we’d love to, but we needed to pass because we are relentless about making sure our app is straightforward, clean and simple. He said, “But Wil, it’s just one checkbox.”

I could tell he felt like we were being unreasonable, so I explained how 1 can quickly turn into 260. You see, every week we get a call or email asking for a “small addition” to Schedulefly. A check box. A link. A setting. A field. It’s always a seemingly minor addition, and it’s almost always a first-time request – something that particular person would like to see that nobody else has requested. Sure, we could add each of thee requests, but then in 1 month we’d have four or five new buttons, checkboxes, etc. In six months we’d have 26. In a year, 52. And in five years, 260. Our software would almost overnight go from being simple, clean, crisp, and straightforward to a clunky, complicated mess. And the people who love it today for it’s virtues would wind up despising it.

Back in 2008 I asked Wes if he kept a notebook with a list of suggestions. We were still making regular changes to the software and we received tons of suggestions at that time. I assumed the answer was an obvious “Yes.” But he just shook his head and said, “Nope.” Wes knew even then that we would never add something unless it was in very, very high demand and presented a clear gap in the app. We didn’t need a list, we just needed to pay attention. The necessary changes unveiled themselves. Eight years later, we might make a small tweak here and there, but for the most part Schedulefly is what it is. It’s not perfect for everybody, but it’s perfect for the perfect customer, and close enough for the rest.

When I explained the 1 to 260 scenario to the guy who called, he laughed and said, “Wil, I never thought of it that way. I’m so glad y’all look at it like that. Man, no worries at all. Please don’t change anything – I love what you are doing!”

Wil

It’s not terribly sexy, but it’s one of a kind

3 years ago (this month) I wrote this post about the 5 of us here at Schedulefly reaching 3,000 customers. At that time I was writing about it because of how unusual it was to have grown to that point and with that many customers and have just 5 people in the company…who were not in the same office and had actually only once been in the same room together.

Previously we all worked together for a business in Raleigh and worked in offices and saw each other much more. It was a much different company with a company hierarchy where everyone had titles and there were loads of meetings and team lunches and a product roadmap etc. It was a great business – just different. Looking back at those days and then that post from 3 years ago and now today….it’s almost as if fate brought us all together back then as way of ensuring that our future could be different. Maybe even better. I swear – that wasn’t an accident. It was fate. I really believe that. Not many things in life line up like the 5 of us have.

So today I am writing about this because in the coming week or so the 5 of us will be serving 6,000 customers. Still just us 5 – but twice the business.

I am writing about it because we have grown significantly and nothing about our growth has anything to do with hiring or opening offices or expanding internally in any way. Most of what you read on the internet now about technology companies (especially software companies) is about massive amounts of funding and hiring and growing internally. Even if new paying customers are slowly trickling in. That’s crazy, but that’s sexy growth. It’s what the media is looking to write about. It’s sexy for them to post and share Instagram photos of really cool company offices with giant 27in Apple Monitors on office desks and laptops on small tables with loads of employees sitting on bean bags and eating pizza and having stand up meetings where people are literally writing on the dry erase chalkboards that also function as the room’s walls. It’s sexy for them to talk about the recent round of funding that company just received and how they expect to spend it. It makes sense and it’s why we all read about it. It’s fun to read and look at – but damn the overhead and expenses must be stressful to at least one or two people there. I can’t imagine the stress of pulling up to a really cool office filled with smart people and the building pressure of finding customers to pay for it all. I think the stress of being forced to bring on paying customers in order to pay for it would do me in.

For that reason – we still don’t have an office. We have no plans to hire anyone until it’s necessary. We still don’t meet. We still don’t spend a bunch of money. It’s pretty amazing and I thank the other 4 guys for all of it. The cool thing and the reason we can do this is that each year more and more companies enter our market with a similar service and that gives restaurants better choices. These better choices help our relentless effort in staying simple and bringing on the right customers and letting what may be the wrong customer find a better solution. You see – customers that are not just perfect need more from us and have more questions. I’d rather them find a better solution and free up the 5 of us to welcome the right ones. That way we can grow without having to add more overhead.

To finish this up – my main point here is clearly that there are other ways to grow and while it may be much slower and way less sexy, I’d argue that over time that it’s less risky and overall less stressful and can still end up being a really great business. Because it has. I’ve been asked dozens of times why we don’t do grow differently and do things to grow faster and I think it’s because I don’t appear to be stressed and they’ve never heard of us.

So here’s to the other 4 guys in this business and for reaching 6,000 subscribing customers and for staying in our lane. 10,000 is just a matter of time.

Wes

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