Friday, January 23, 2015
Thursday, January 15, 2015
"But Daddy, the flowers aren't under the soil!"
My son was watering some flowers recently, and he was watering the buds and the leaves. I told him to poor the water onto the soil around the stem. That made no sense to him, so I tried to explain. But he's five. And it still made sense to put the water on the petals. So that's what he did. And then when he got bored and moved on, I watered the soil.
Isn't business often similar? We focus on the pretty extremities - our logo, our social media presence, our PR coverage, our web site look and feel, our "branding" - and forget that what sustains the business and helps it endure is often "underground," unseen. It's easy to get distracted with the colorful petals, but they will shrivel and die if the roots aren't watered.
The care we give to consistently providing a great product and enhancing it with great service to each customer we interact with, taking great care of the people on our team, making sure we have a handle on the financial side of the business, etc. These our the "roots" of any successful business, and we should give them daily attention to ensure they help the business blossom.
Thursday, January 8, 2015
I just finished a book about startups called "Zero to One" by Peter Thiel. Peter co-founded PayPal and was the first outside investor in Facebook. He's a sharp guy and I recommend his book if you are into books about startups.
My favorite two sentences in the book, and perhaps my favorite two sentences I've ever red about startups, are "For a company to be valuable it must grow and endure, but many entrepreneurs focus only on short-term growth. They have an easy excuse: growth is easy to measure, but durability isn't."
I couldn't agree more. I love this idea, and while I agree that growth is measurable and durability isn't, I don't think that's why most startups focus on growth. I think most startups focus on growth because that's what you are supposed to focus on. It's what everybody asks... "How fast are you growing?" It's the commonly accepted measuring stick for success.
But it's often the brightest flames that burn out the fastest. Companies obsessing over growth may grow fast for a while but often forget the fundamentals. Great customer service. Easy to do business with. Happy staff who are treated well. Making each customer experience memorable. These are some of the "basics" that often are left on the side of the road as we speed ahead with a singular focus on growth. At first we don't realize we've left them behind, but eventually our growth begins to stall, and we wonder why. And we then look around and realize that we've forgotten all of those things that were obvious at first but were gradually lost in our obsession with doubling last year's sales, or whatever measurable calculus we've decided to use to determine if we are successful.
In Nov. 2012 I wrote a post titled "The tortoise, the hare, and why I'm glad we've grown (relatively) slowly." I had forgotten about it until I wrote the previous paragraph. I just looked it up so I could link to it, and realized it was a very similar post. Here's a comment I made in it:
"It's my experience that most enduring, successful businesses grew 'slowly' only when you compare them to stories the media tells us about 'viral' apps and companies like Groupon skyrocketing into the business limelight overnight." Like I said, it's often the brightest flames that burn out that fastest. I don't mean to pick on Groupon, but their story fits with the flame metaphor. We all know many more examples. I can think of another hugely popular current example that you've probably all heard of, but I hear their CEO goes after people who use their company name in anything but a positive light, so I'll leave them un-named. They've grown amazingly fast and everybody I know talks about them. I'd be amazed if that's the case three years from now.
Anyway, when you start your software business or your restaurant or whatever business you decide to start, think about this idea. Think about whether what you're doing, and the team you plan to do it with, will be able to endure for 10, 20, 30 years. Don't worry about how fast you are growing as much as that you are nailing the fundamentals and the basics every single day, every week, every year. If you do, you'll endure. And if you endure, you'll grow at the right pace.
Monday, January 5, 2015
I was going through some of the videos we've shot over the last few years, and I was reminded how much I love this short, inspiring video. I just had to re-post it.
I bet I've watched this video twenty times. Jake Wolf of Capital Club 16 in Raleigh, N.C. gets into a riff on what it takes to be a successful restaurant owner, and it's pure poetry...
(If you are reading this post in an email and don't see the vid, it's here.)
If you love this video as much as we do, please share it with people who own or hope to own restaurants, or people who manage or work in restaurants, or, heck, anybody who might appreciate great business advice from an awesome guy like Jake.
You can drop it into Facebook or Tweet it or email it with this link here: http://vimeo.com/55639685
Thanks so much for watching these vids. We'll keep 'em coming in 2013.
Wednesday, December 3, 2014
We have some great posts from the last 6 years or so that are timeless - in the sense that we still believe what we wrote - and they are still relevant. I've spent the last few hours reading some old ones and find it fascinating to think about the years past and how the things we've shared have shaped what we are and who we serve today. Some posts talk about things we did (or did not do) that are more than just a story - they are more like inflection points in our journey - and I think they help people understand what is important to us and why we are here. Seeing how some of these are 2 or 3 or more years old - I thought it would be cool to share them again - especially since we have so many new readers. I'll start with one of my favorites that Wil wrote back in 2011.....
"Are you crazy? Do you realize how much money you left on the table?" That's what somebody asked me when I told them the following story:
A couple of months ago a large restaurant chain called us. They were already very familiar with Schedulefly, liked it a lot, and wanted to consider rolling it out to their locations across the U.S. They'd pilot it in about 10% of the locations over the next month, and assuming the pilot went well, deploy it nationally.
I'll admit I got a bit excited at the possibility at first, so instead of going ahead right then and telling them to call another company in our space that was built to serve chains, I entertained this idea and quoted them $250,000 per year. What can I say? I got momentarily focused on the wrong thing - the money - and forgot about the cost to our business, and to our lifestyles, if we decided to take this on. It was a mistake.
Wes and I spoke about it, and he got me thinking straight again. The next day I told the nice gentleman at this chain that we just aren't in the business of serving chains, and I referred them to a "competitor" (this company focuses on chains, we focus on independent restaurants and franchisees, so we're in the same space but I don't see us as competitors). I said that serving chains is not what we're passionate about. It's not what our company was built to do. It's not something we are hoping to do. You see, serving chains is not something we believe we are the best at, and if we can't be the best at it, we don't want to do it.
Besides, we're here for the long term. We'll bring in that same amount of money by bringing in restaurant customers one at a time. And if we do it our way, we'll be able to keep our software simple because we won't have to add the things a chain would inevitably need us to add. We won't have to hire a new employee to help serve a large customer who could leave us any time, and conversely cause us to have to let that person go. We won't have to build out a roll out plan.
But perhaps most importantly, we won't run into the inevitable scenario of people being forced to use Schedulefly when they don't want to. As we're set up now, restaurants use our free trial to determine if our software will work for them. They don't get any sales pressure. They don't deal with somebody on our crew trying to convince them why they should pay us their hard earned money. Rather, we simply let the app speak for itself, we provide excellent service if it's needed during their trial, and we let them determine on their own if they will love Schedulefly like our paying customers do. If they choose to subscribe, GREAT! We're stoked to serve them for as long as Schedulefly helps their restaurant run better and makes their team members' lives easier. If they choose not to subscribe, no worries. It wasn't the right fit for whatever reason. We understand. They move on and we move on, and we're confident that if things change down the road, they'll give it another try.
You see, all of our customers are paying us by choice, so we have great word-of-mouth going for us. There's no animosity towards our brand. People that use Schedulefly love Schedulely - because it's their choice! But if a bunch of people were forced to use it because somebody back in headquarters decided they should? Well, that would be a different story. And it's not a story we want to be a part of.
So while we left a couple of hundred thousand dollars on the table (or possibly a million dollars if you consider it over four years), we also left a million headaches on the table, we kept our focus on being the best at what we do, and we left ourselves the flexibility to take time to enjoy life every day.
It's 10:52am on a Friday. Rather than working through a rollout plan right now, I'm going to take my kids to the park.
That's what I was asked the other day when telling someone about our business. He said, and I quote, "That's it? Do you have a patent on it? It seems like anyone could just copy what your doing."
Hmm, I thought. Maybe he had a good point and we went (and are going) about this the wrong way? Maybe we should have simply tried to patent employee scheduling for independent restaurants and discourage any more innovation and a bigger market from forming? Like some sinister Dr. Evil type of guy who's decided that his solution to a simple problem should be the only option the world should ever know?
I like what we've built, but I don't like it enough to assume it's the best invention ever. It's not an invention and it's right for the right people. It's not for everyone. I guess maybe if we had invented those cool peel back ketchup packets that Chic-Fil-A uses, we might try to be the only one in town....that seems like an invention. But for us, other companies offering a similar software is great for our growth because people learn about us after hearing from them. They look around to see all their options and end up finding us and feeling like our solution is the best fit. They get to make a choice and that's huge. I think they are much more likely to be a long time happy customer if they get to choose us.
The bottom line is: we want people to find exactly what they need (no matter who they heard about first) and I can't imagine that happening in an industry where companies are trying to be the one and only solution for everyone.