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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"The Pastry Chef" (new video)

"The more you do to something, the more somebody is going to be able to tell that you did things to it." So says Andrew Ullom of Ashley Christensen Restaurants in Raleigh, N.C. as he talks about using high quality ingredients and keeping his food simple. Enjoy this short video featuring Andrew sharing his story and his love for what he does.

The Schedulefly Crew

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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Why mess with a good thing?

My friend who owns burger-centric restaurant tells me that one of his non-operating investor partners wants to use a lower quality, less expensive beef in order to shave 2% off of food costs. My buddy pushed back, saying they can measure food costs, but they'd risk losing customers and doing possibly irreparable harm to their reputation for serving high-end burgers.

Why take that risk? Sure, their food costs are a little higher than average, but who cares about averages?!?! Business is good. They are profitable. The restaurant is well-respected and popular. They have a great word of mouth reputation. So, all of these aspects are above average!

Those types of stories baffle me. What would drive this person to want to cut food costs in this situation? I guess it's greed. Perhaps he mistakenly believes you can build a reputation on serving a quality product, then turn around and cheapen the product yet still maintain your excellent reputation and then pocket more money? I don't know. It just doesn't make sense. Seems so myopic.

Yet this stuff happens all of the time in business. We focus on measurables (food costs, overhead, etc.) and forget that while we can tinker with them to show a direct result, we also inevitably alter the immeasurables (reputation, word-of-mouth, etc.) in the process. For my money, I'll always bet on those things we can't measure but that are typically the lifeblood of a successful business.


Wednesday, September 24, 2014

What you should expect if you use Schedulefly

Wes and I were talking this morning about what people who use Schedulefly should expect. Here's what we quickly agreed on...

1. software that does what you need it to do and is very easy to use
2. great customer support and a company that is extremely easy to do business with
3. nobody trying to cross-sell you anything (we have one product and it's all-inclusive)

That's pretty much it. We try to keep things simple around here.

Since the third item will never happen, we think if we focus relentlessly on the first two items and get them right day after day, customer after customer, then our users will be happy. And that's all that matters to the five people on our team, because if y'all are happy, the rest will take care of itself.


Friday, September 19, 2014

What we don't do is important too

On our story page, we say that "We are on a mission to build a brand independent restaurants admire and love." We talk about this a lot and wanted to put that on the site because it's true and (frankly) something that not many companies that serve restaurants probably care about. Achieving this of course doesn't just happen one day after years of hard work, it happens very slowly as we go. It happens here and there along the way - which is cool, because it's actually a never ending goal. In fact, it's happening some now. We often get unsolicited feedback via phone and email from a customer about how much they like doing business with us. They often use the word love and tell us that they admire what we are doing and the way we are doing it. Now I understand that it would be impossible for all of our customers to feel this way and that's ok. But the more that do - the better. That is why we focus so hard and try to bring on the perfect customer and encourage the wrong ones to keep looking. The last thing we want is a bunch of the wrong kinds of businesses becoming customers - just to make more money - only ending up with a company that frustrates customers and one that we eventually don't enjoy running anymore. Most people think I am an idiot when I tell them I'd rather have 10 perfect customers come on board than 100 "sort of" perfect. Over time, the steady drum beat of bringing on perfect customers helps us with our goal - and also makes word of mouth marketing that much stronger - with others that are perfect. 10 happy customers spread much better word of mouth than 100 frustrated ones. I cringe thinking of a perfect customer hearing something bad from someone who should have never used it in the first place.

So the interesting thing about this is that I can think of 3X as many things that we should NOT do - than we should do - in order to keep making progress on this mission. Really, the only things we should do (and we talk about often) are 1) keep our software simple, 2) take great care of our customers and 3) do things that help our industry grow too - like our book and video series. That's 3 things we should do. I can think of 9 things that we should not do. Here they are in no particular order:

1. Lose our laser focus on serving independent restaurants and start serving everyone in the world who needs scheduling.
2. Take investment from people outside our company. Here are 5 great reasons to not do it.
3. Hire tons of people. More people leads to a more complicated business and eventually crappier service. Not always, but often.
4. Do traditional selling, advertising and marketing. People are tired of hearing about how great a company thinks it is.
5. Partner with others companies. The other companies have different goals and different definitions of great service and simple software.
6. Force people to use our software because it was sold to a corporate office and required at each restaurant. People don't usually love that kind of software.
7. Add more features to try and retain restaurants that have outgrown us. Here is a great post from Wil about that.
8. Integrate our software with other software to make it more valuable, only making it less reliable.
9. Do things we just aren't good at and don't enjoy doing. It's frustrating for customers when companies have unhappy employees.

The great thing is, it's easy to not do those things and focus on the other 3.


Thursday, September 18, 2014

A really long text

My friend asked my advice on a software business he is helping launch. He wanted me to check out their web site and offer my opinion. This morning I ripped through a few cups of coffee and did what he asked. Apparently the caffeine took over my brain and fingertips, because my response was the below ridiculously long text message. Since I know he's reading this post I'll confess this is an edited version for clarity - having re-read my rapid-fire response, I see it was at times nonsensical. Anyway, hopefully there is something in here you enjoy...

"1. You have good content but it gets a little long. People bail quickly on reading content unless its very crisp and to the point. Brevity is key.

2. Be very authentic and honest. Under-promise while over-delivering. Many businesses do the opposite these days, and people know that. And they are tired of it. Be a breath of fresh air in a world of b.s.

3. I think your "Our Story" page will be important as well. People like stories (again, if they are clearly authentic). Make it clear y'all are a small team. Don't hide from that - highlight it! It's to your advantage IMO that you aren't some VC-backed firm with a technology that will apparently save the world and make us all happy like many software companies seem to want us to believe, but rather you are just a small team of a few people trying to help solve a common business problem with a simple technology.

Now keep in mind all of this comes without me asking millions of questions that would be necessary to ask for me to offer anything potentially more meaningful than this off-the-cuff, shoot-from-the-hip advice. So therefore I may be offering stupid advice. In addition to that, my opinion is just an opinion, and everybody has an opinion, and the more opinions you get the more susceptible to groupthink you will be. And groupthink is bad. It leads to mediocrity. I would suggest instead to just make decisions and try stuff to see what works and adjust as you go, because nobody has all of the facts and insight that you have have so their opinions are probably not really that useful in the end. Plus, asking lots of people for opinions is sometimes just a way to avoid starting. Just start. You'll figure it out.

We tried all sorts of stuff at Schedulefly early on from exhibiting at trade shows, to partnerships, to wearing ties and flying to L.A. to present to a large chain. It took us several years to figure out who we are, or, maybe I should say, who we AREN'T, so while we have very clear awareness of what works for us now, we damn sure didn't early on. We had to try stuff and see what worked, as well as be honest with ourselves about whether we wanted to do certain things. And that was critical. I think we were pretty good early on at saying "this doesn't feel right so lets stop doing it because it's not what turns us on, and if we do stuff like trade shows - which we hate doing - then we'll burn out and not enjoy this business." So we stopped doing a half-ass job of the things we didn't enjoy and weren't good at, and focused all of our energy on the things we enjoy and are good at.

Take the long view and do it your way vs. following convention or how others say you should do it. That will be the difference between success and happiness or stress and frustration.

Sorry for sending the longest text anybody has ever sent."

On another note, Luke is cranking out our next video, called "the pastry chef." It's a new format for us, focused on one staff member's story and his passion for his work. You'll see it here within a week.


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