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Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Making something that matters

A buddy of mine sent me an email with a quote from a book he is reading - a book written by a well known VC investor in Silicon Valley. I’ve not read this book so I am not sure the exact context around this quote - but to me it kind of stands out on it’s own.

“If you want to build an important company, then at some point you have to scale.” Then after quoting something about how many employees Google and Facebook has today, he goes on to say “So, if you want to do something that matters, then you are going to have to learn the art of scaling a human organization.” Really? It's just a shame that people read this and believe it. I feel sorry for young sharp kids graduating from college who think they must raise money and hire tons of people in order to matter to customers.

What does building something of importance and something that matters have to do with how many employees your business has? Or the profits it creates? Absolutely nothing. Except to investors like him.

People are building things that matter to a ton of other people - scaling their business (at their own manageable pace) and doing it without thousands of employees. They are building amazingly important things that this particular investor will never hear about. Thank goodness.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

"I never thought I'd open a restaurant"

Van Nolintha began applying for jobs at the height of the recession after finishing both undergraduate school and graduate school. He was turned down nearly 300 times, so he and his younger sister, Vanvisa, returned to his home country, Laos, to reconnect with their roots. Returning home reminded him that much of his early life centered around food, so when he and Vanvisa later returned to the U.S. to Raleigh, N.C., they decided to start a restaurant. Having no restaurant experience, Van bought a copy of "How to Open a Restaurant for Dummies" and sent heartfelt emails to several of the most highly regarded restaurant owners in Raleigh, asking for advice and mentoring. They all agreed to help. In 2012, with little capital and lots of sweat, donations, and help from around 75 friends to complete their build-out, Van and Vanvisa opened Bida Manda. Today it's one of the most loved restaurants in Raleigh. Of all of the stories I've heard from 5 years of interviewing restaurant owners, this is the most memorable. If you have dreams of opening your own restaurant but believe there are obstacles in your way, listen to this interview. You will finish it believing there is nothing that can stop you...

I can't emphasize enough how inspired I was by Van. I asked him if we could tell his story on film, and he agreed! We haven't made a video in a while, and this story is well worth reviving our video series for.

Thanks for reading,

All of our podcast episodes are here on iTunes, and all of our videos are here on Vimeo.

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Thursday, May 28, 2015

You only come through here once (shared a second time)

This is a re-post of a story I shared about 3.5 years ago. Frequently I am reminded of the phrase "You only come through here once" when faced with a decision to do or not do something and today I was I thought it was worth telling once more!

That’s what an old, well known, Fly Fisherman from the Florida Keys told me once as I pondered buying a classic fly rod that is not made any longer. It was used, in great shape and hard to find....yet the last thing I needed was another expensive fly rod. As I held it and felt the action on it, my cousin Mark and I chatted with "Bonefish Bob" (Robert E. Berger) about the old days of bonefishing in Islamorada - he even told me about the fly fishing guide who owned that rod and all the Tarpon that had been caught using it. Who knows if that were true - but I loved hearing about it. Bob was known for his fly fishing passion, his tackle shop (Ye Old Tackle Shop it as called) and the stories he told while you were there. He told us stories for about an hour - stories of his childhood and of leaving his shop every afternoon back in the 60’s and 70's fly fishing with the great Ted Williams and catching 12lb bonefish with him like they were bass fishing in a pond out back. It was mesmerizing to listen to him talk while looking through his amazing eclectic collection of old and new fly fishing tackle and art.

So anyway, maybe he was just a damn fine salesman or maybe what he said to me hit home – either way - this was his plan. He said (as I was putting the fly rod back on the rack and clearly not going to get it)...”Wes, you only come through here once”. At first, I thought he meant his shop. Then I thought he meant Islamorada. Then, after a moment of silence, I realized he meant life. You only come through here once. He was right. And given the scene I was a part of that day – talking to him as if he were a friend – in his fly shop – looking at a classic fly rod not made any longer that had been connected to countless Tarpon....I had to buy it. I had no other choice. It was a perfect cast he made to me...and I ate the fly.

Sadly, Bonefish Bob took his own life the next year (this was 5 or 6 years ago). We found this out as we motored out of the famous Bud and Mary’s marina headed out to find some Tarpon and were reminiscing about our trip last year and a visit to his shop. I was holding the fly rod I bought from Bob, telling our friend and guide about it. He told us he was gone.

I think about that advice he gave me now and then when faced with a decision. It’s so simple, yet so applicable to just about anything in your life. I am so glad I bought that rod and I am glad I got to meet Bob.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

"Stand for something"

Seth Gross has been in the restaurant business for 27 years. He currently owns Bull City Burgers & Brewery as well as Pompieri Pizza, both in Durham, NC. One thing that's clear when you speak to Seth: he believes in standing for something. For instance, he only uses grass-fed beef for his burgers, and has vowed that if he ever has to resort to corn-fed beef, he will close his restaurant. He also won't use tomatoes on his burgers or pizzas during the winter months, because he can't get fresh, local tomatoes then. More examples abound in this really fun, inspiring conversation. And you'll also learn how he's been able to get customers to tattoo themselves with his logo. Enjoy....

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Monday, May 11, 2015

Making an impact

Occasionally we receive an email from someone that likes what we are doing and likes the future of the industry we are serving and wants to invest in our company. In 8 years, we’ve never considered it because we simply don’t need it. Even if we did take the cash, we would really have no use for it because our growth strategy would stay exactly the same as it’s been this whole time. And that’s because it’s fun and pretty predictable and definitely manageable.

More recently, we were contacted by someone who suggested that taking capital and/or becoming a tool in a broader suite of tools could help us make a bigger impact on the independent restaurant industry. Hmm. It’s hard to tell exactly what was meant by that - but I can tell you that our definition of making a bigger impact is much different. The impact we see us having on our industry is one that money just can’t buy. It’s not a sexy, newsworthy created by the assembly of companies and people and investors that everyone hears about. It’s an impact made by saying no to complication and broader solutions and saying yes to staying the course and making the perfect customers really happy - one at a time.

So where does that leave us for the future? Not making a big enough impact over time? Maybe. Or maybe I should I ask the woman who recently signed up for a new account for her new restaurant and told us (via email) that she has used us in the past and said “WE LITERALLY CAN”T LIVE WITHOUT YOU”. She used all caps too. I don’t know, I feel we’ve made a big impact on her and her business. Or maybe I should call the guy who recently gave my parents his business card while dining at Mellow Mushroom and told them that Schedulefly was the greatest thing ever created. He said that - I laugh at it because it really isn’t - but his enthusiasm for us is so awesome. He was sitting at the bar having dinner and overhead my parents talking about it with the bartender and said he used to use it. He gave my Dad his card because he wanted to sell Schedulefly. He knew we didn’t have sales people yet felt so strongly about the value it added at his restaurant that he just knew he could be successful at selling it. Seemed like a big impact was made. For the record, still no sales people.

And it goes on. Nearly every day someone new says something that would make us believe an impact had been made. And these days - 8 years into our journey - if 15 new restaurants sign up each day for a trial run of our software - 10 of them (atleast) say they heard good things about us from someone in the industry or that they have used us in the past. We don’t pay people to talk about us. We don’t even make it easy for them to talk about us - becuase we are not on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram or any social media site at all. But we do try to make the experience for them enjoyable enough that they will say something great. So we just focus 110% on being really easy to do business with and offering a fast, uncluttered, focused, useful software application that makes life for people in our industry a tad easier.

The bottom line is, I really feel like we are exactly like many of the customers we serve. We serve THE BEST local independent restaurants in cities all over the country. They are known for their narrow focus on what they serve and their service. They don’t serve everything. Most don’t have huge menus, but smaller ones with a clear focused list of quality choices brought to you by knowledgable staff that make the experience of being a customer easier and more awesome. I even read about one that didn't allow take out - because they knew the overall experience could only be controlled when the customer was seated in the restaurant. While that's a bit unusual, I admire them for taking a stand and not trying to make everyone happy. They are saying no, in order to make a bigger, better impact over time.


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