Tuesday, May 3, 2016
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Friday, April 1, 2016
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.
Wednesday, March 9, 2016
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.
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
We've written before about why we elect to pass on partnership opportunities. Last week I got another reminder of why they are often wise to avoid. We received an email from a guy who requested time to discuss a partnership. I changed his name and the name of the company and took out some details, but I've left in the relevant parts to my point. Here's the email...
Hi, I am from Slyco, a company serving the US restaurant industry. I'm interested in connecting with you to discuss potential partnership. We have a few thousand customers and multiple POS integrations. Like to see if there is a way we could work together to achieve some mutual growth.
Let's break down each of the four sentences, and the concerns that were firing in my head as I read them.
1. "Hi, I'm from Slyco." No names in the salutation? We clearly tell you on the Our Adventure page that there are only five of us, and we list all of our names. Heck, couldn't this guy have at lest said "Hi Guys" to indicate that he knew we were a small team of guys? He also started with "I'm" so he's putting the focus on him, not us. Conversely, if his sentence started with "You" and referenced something he had learned about us on our web site, I'd at least nod in approval and want to see what he said next. Ok, enough on that. Let's move along.
2. "I'm interested in connecting with you to discuss potential partnership." Yet another sentence starting with "I". Why? That's nice if he's interested, but why should we care? We clearly state on Our Adventure that we don't have partnerships. At this point I already know how I'm going to reply, but let's read on...
3. "We have a few thousand customers and multiple POS integrations." Ok, this doesn't start with "I," but "We" is close enough. And while I understand that he's trying to build quick credibility with mention they have a few thousand customers and lots of integrations, he's been so focused on his company so far I'm really losing interest in continuing at this point.
4. "Like to see if there is a way we could work together to achieve some mutual growth." Well, this sentence doesn't technically start with "I" but it's because he just implied it and started with "Like." What he meant was "I'd like..." So here we are, the fourth out of four sentences starting with a focus on him/his company. And at this point, it's what I call a "Crazy Train" email. Ever heard Crazy Train by Ozzy Osbourne? It starts out with him saying "Aye..Aye..Ay..Aye" (sounds like "I..I..I..I"). Hahaha. Ok, jokes aside, this was a very self-centered email other than the "mutual growth" line. And my point is, that's a red flag.
Now you might think I'm being over the top in dissecting this email and reading into it like this. But in my opinion that's exactly what you should do when a company approaches you, unsolicited, for a partnership. Or to sell you something. Or to invest in your business. Or for any unsolicited reason. Why? Because you have a business to run, and your time is precious. Why spend it on anybody who doesn't have the right focus from the start? The question to ask is, Does it appear from their email they are they are in it for them, or for you? Or, quite frankly I'd want to see them be in it for the dang CUSTOMERS! That's right. Why not put the focus on doing something that will help our mutual customers - restaurants - instead of focusing on a goal of "mutual growth." We look at growth as a by-product around here, not the goal. Anyway, I congratulated this guy on his company's success so far, and politely declined. Honestly, he lost us at "Hi", but the other signals were very concerning, so even if we were open to partnerships, we would have passed on this one.
So here's the type of email I hope you expect when somebody attempts to partner with you or sell you something. It should be focused on you. Something like this...
"Wes, Tyler, Wil, Charles and Hank - Congratulations on what you've built at Schedulefly. Your story is very interesting, and you've carved out a nice niche with a clear focus. You mention on the Our Adventure page that you don't have partnerships, which I respect. Partnerships can be messy if the customer isn't always the center of focus. Our company, Slyco, also has a laser focus on restaurants, and we have an idea of an offering we could create together that we believe could enable you and us to benefit them even more together than we do independently. Would you be open to hearing our idea?"
We don't plan to partner with anybody, but if we ever did you can bet they would need to have this type of mentality from the start. And if you plan to spend your precious time and energy considering a somebody else's unsolicited pitch, I hope you'll have the same high expectations of your suitor.
This morning on the way to drop my son off at school - we were talking about only worrying about ourselves and doing our best. I think all adults would agree this is a good thing to practice as a kid. He’s in 2nd grade and like many kids his age - he’s noticing that some kids are faster and some get better grades. We talk often about taking our time - forgetting about the other kids - and just doing the best we can do. It takes a long time to learn and I think it’s because not worrying about others requires focus and confidence. Two things that a typical 2nd grader doesn’t yet have. But anyway - he’ll get there.
So let’s fast forward 10 years and pretend he has done well and has been accepted by a university and will attend business school - like I did. In business school and in business - he will slowly be taught to forget what he has learned as a kid - and to worry about what other people are doing and to over analyze the competition. Literally - projects will require in depth analysis of what other companies are doing.
Business school tried to teach me to think a lot about competition and how what I was going to offer stacked up against other people and other companies. And maybe because I was still a kid at heart - I had a really hard time thinking that was important. It's almost as if fear was the reason I was supposed to do this. It didn’t make sense to waste any time thinking about what other people are doing. And maybe that’s why my grades mostly sucked.
So at the very end - my entire business school experience culminated with a group project in a business management class where we created a business plan for a make believe business. We were required to do the proven (yet very tired) SWOT analysis and utlimately give a stressful presentation to our class at the end of the semester - detailing who was out there that might threaten us and how we would compete in that market. Our grade in the class was determined by how well we did on that final project. All that hard work in trying to identify threats to what we were going to do and weaknesses in our approach and comparing ourselves to other people who had their own reason for being in business was just so lame. I really can't believe I went through with it. Thank goodness I did not carry this strategy with me after I graduated.
Looking back I find it ironic that when I was a kid, like my son, I was taught to only worry about myself - and that was a really tough thing to do. Then as an adult in college (and beyond) I was taught to worry about others and over analyze the competition - which was very easy for me NOT to do. Weird. Maybe I just don’t like to be told what to do and how to do it? Could be.
Moral of that story? I am not sure - but I think it's that you really don’t have to care about what other people are doing in order to be successful.