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Friday, September 12, 2014

Hot dog eating contests and the 1952 Olympics

The Nathan's Coney Island Annual Hot Dog Eating Contest has been taking place in the same location on July 4th since 1972. Contestants eat as many hot dogs and buns as they can in 12 minutes. For 23 years the record crept up incrementally, and going into the competition on July 4, 2006 it stood at 25. That's 25 hot dogs and buns in 12 minutes. When the bell rung at the end of the competition that day, first-time entrant Takeru Kobayashi from Japan had eaten 50 hot dogs and buns. 50! He literally doubled a record that conventional wisdom would have you believe could only possibly increase by a hot dog to two per year. Yet Kobayashi didn't let previous records define his ambition. He had planned to crush the record all along.

For a year leading up to the competition, Kobayashi quietly trained in his home in Japan. But unlike every other competitor, he didn't simply try to figure out how to eat more hot dogs and buns the normal way you eat hot dogs and buns. Rather, he figured out a entirely new way to consume them. The first thing he did was decide to eat the hot dogs and the buns independent of each other. First hot dog, then bun. Next, he split each dog in half. Through trial and error he learned that he could get it down faster that way. Finally, he dipped the bun in water. Competitors are allowed to have fluid to help wash down their food, and he realized that dipping the buns in water helped them slide down his throat much faster. He also took training very seriously and decided if he was going to make the trip from Japan to Coney Island, he wanted to win. And win big he did. Event organizers literally ran out of signs displaying the number he had consumed. Nobody had even imagined 50 was at all possible.

Next we turn to 1952 and the Helsinki summer Olympics, when for the only time in history, one man won the men's 5,000 meter race, 10,000 meter race, and marathon. His name was Emil Zatopek, and like Kobayashi, he trained very differently from his competitors. While everybody else ran long distances at sustained paces to train for long distance races, Zatopkek used interval training. He would ran 800 meters as fast as he could, stop to rest, then do it again. Over and over. This was a very unusual method, and some even credit Zatopek with inventing it. But that wasn't all. As Wikipedia states, "Zatopek's running style was distinctive and very much at odds with what was considered to be an efficient style at the time. His head would often roll, face contorted with effort, while his torso swung from side to side. He often wheezed and panted audibly while running, which earned him the nicknames of 'Emil the Terrible' or the 'Czech Locomotive'." Finally, he did odd stuff like running in deep snow wearing work boots, rather than running on tracks with running shoes. Basically, Zatopek did everything wrong according to the standard, conventional training methods at the time. Nevertheless, not only did he win those three races, but the marathon was his first ever marathon. That's right, Emil Zatopek had never competed in a marathon in his life, and decided at the last minute to enter the Olympic event and won it. Oh, and not only did he win, he set an Olympic record in the process!

I love stories like these. I love it when everybody is doing something one way, trying to marginally beat their competitors, and then somebody comes along with a different mindset and using different methodologies, and literally sets a new standard. But it's not easy to be the person who takes a new path. As I quoted from one of my all-time favorite books, "Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd," in this post, "Great ideas, novel ideas, original ideas ... are tenuous at birth. And the reason for that is that, early on, they are often indistinguishable from crazy, impractical ideas."

You have to have a significant amount of self confidence and trust your instincts to pursue these seemingly ridiculous ideas. So people like Takeru Kobayashi and Emil Zatopek are fun to read about, and serve as great sources of inspiration for those of us that sometimes feel like we might seem crazy, but believe deep down that we are onto something worth pursuing.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

We are successful to be together

7 Years ago, my friend Douglas sent an email to me and another friend just before our yearly fall fly fishing trip to Cape Lookout NC and a special place called "the hook". I re-read it last night and wanted to share it here because it's just awesome and much more fun to read than some boring business related blog post. In fact, when I am old and thinking back on my life, I bet I won't wish I had written more software or been in more meetings or made more business connections or been involved in more stuff that may have made me more successful but didn't really make life any better. I bet I'll think about family and friends and outings like these...


So many things in life let us down: our internet connection goes haywire, all 4 tires on our cars do not make it 50,000 miles, customers forget about the concept of loyalty, and our pets don’t live forever. But fellas, the calendar does not let us down. Fall is here and we all know what that means. To fanatics like us, thinking about a North Carolina fall does not conjur up images of a Southern Living magazine cover with rustic barns, trees fading from gold to burn orange, and breezy blue skies. Nope. Fall doesn’t remind us of leaf piles in our yards for our kids to play in. Fall does not probe us to consider our third quarter standings and quotas at work. Not that. Fall means cooling water temps at the coast. Fall means bait being herded into constantly moving balls of motion. Fall means it is time to dust off the vise and tie up a few small baitfish patterns to fill up the fly box. Fall means it is time to grip the cork on the 10 wt and stash the spinning rods until next summer. Fall means insane oceanic migrators creating whitewater that would make a class 2 rapid envious. Yessir, fall means albies – busting albies!

Walking out of Potter’s back screen door on the first morning, what do we see?

Mist dancing above the surface of Taylor’s creek, dock in the foreground, and steam coming off of that fresh cup of coffee. The sun is still hiding but has allowed a few beams to begin to light the sky. A jones brothers and a whaler are moored to the dock pilings, resting before racing each other out the inlet. Gear bags are velcro’d shut and rods are stacked up on the back porch lightly dewed from the night before. Wild ponies graze out of focus in the background, blurred by the storm-battered trees on Carrot island. A distant quick flash of white light from the east just below the clouds is where we are headed. And what we have been praying for is staring down at us - a flag barely fluttering in the gentle northeast breeze: a promise of fair seas and false albacore on the feed.

Making our way towards the end of the dock, what do we hear?

Water gently slapping against dock pilings and barnacles as the tide charges in. The sailboat at anchor just north of Potter’s house rattles the rigging on its mast. An ignition switch turns and an outboard roars into the quiet morning. A combination of duck boots and sperry’s shuffle down the splintered dock boards as we begin to load up. Foul weather gear rubs against itself as we walk- a reminder that it will keep us dry and warm when the whitecaps crash the party later in the day. Bags of ice shatter into coolers and are locked shut. Battery switches click on, and our voices begin to express our anticipation and excitement for what the day may bring. The vhf radio crackles. Bow and stern lines fall on the dock. No fly reel drags have begun to sing the song of fine-tuned friction when an albie sounds for freedom. Yet.

Stepping aboard, what do we feel?

We feel the strength of an outboard vibrating the deck of the boat. We feel the stability of the ground and dock give way to the constant motion of floating fiberglass. Hopefully our sea legs will quickly take over. The grabrail and steering wheel are cold to the touch. We consider putting on one more layer of fleece and a toboggan before the boat planes out in the cool morning. Inside we feel nothing but anticipation. Anticipation for a day off the clock ; freedom from emails, cell phones, co-worker interruptions, and finding solutions. We begin to second guess the chosen fly we have already tied on to the end of our tippet and which inlet to run out of. We feel excited to try to take our place at the top of the Cape Lookout food chain. And we cannot deny that we feel tired and a little dehydrated. Our reunion and game of throwing insults went into the wee hours last nite after a great meal in downtown Beaufort. Too many glasses were filled and emptied with bourbon drinks and too many empty longnecks were sent to the recycle bin. But that tinge of exhaustion will not halt the enthusiasm this morning. Nope, today may be the day for our best personal record albacore. We are ready to enter the competition just outside of Barden’s Inlet. The competition is not between anglers or boats, but each angler against each fish. Individual anglers dueling for sport and individual fish fighting for their lives! Ultimately connected by a thin, clear length of line, controlled by thin walls of graphite.

Idling past the docks, against the tide, and towards the sunrise, what do we smell?

The aroma of Weston’s fresh cup of black coffee is soon overpowered by outboard exhaust. No it doesn’t smell great, but fortunately that internal combustion bolted to the transom will help as we recklessly race from flocks of screeching birds, to schools of fleeing bait, to saltwater transformed into foam by feeding false albacore. We smell the slight must on the collar of our jacket. This jacket does not sport the odor of new apparel freshly purchased from a store, but a hint of the outdoors, sweat, man, time, and fish slime. As we idle to the end of the creek, we pass the menhaden factory and a cluster of seabirds squawking in a tangle of liveoaks. The birds and the old factory reek of digested bait. We are encouraged that the birds will once again find the bait today, showing us where the false albacore are dining. Today is not the time for chasing the tides and the sharp smell of pluff mud and burping oysters in the marsh and creeks. The redfish are free to push, wake, and tail at their leisure. We are headed to the deeper clearer waters where the Atlantic meets the sand. Where the fat alberts roam.

The throttles are pushed opposite the boat wake and each boat jumps on plane. What do we taste?

Our tongues recognize the taste of that last sip of morning caffeine and droplets of dew blown from the bow. Salt spray frosting the gunnels remind us that wooly buggers, mountain streams, and 8” rainbow trout are a million miles away. Unlike a more gentile type of fly fishing, we want to watch our rods bend to the cork and feel the reel handles abuse our knuckles after we strip set a clouser in the mouth of a false albacore. Moreover we each taste success. We have all juggled our calendars, stacked miles on our vehicles, saved up boat gas money, put off work priorities, retied knots, and hired childcare to plan for this moment to motor towards the inlet right now. We are successful to be here chasing false albacore. We are successful to hide from life’s responsibilities for a couple of days. We are successful to be together.

See you at The Hook..

Thursday, September 4, 2014

the people of indie restaurants: Ashley Christensen Restaurants (new video)

I just love this video....


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Wednesday, September 3, 2014

I remember

Today Wil and I were texting about some random funny stuff and one of the serious things was that it’s now September and we have 325+ restaurants in a free trial right now. We thought it was cool because normally by the 4th quarter of the year we start to slow down a tad when restaurants are thinking less about change around their restaurant and more about the rest of the year and the upcoming holiday season – or at least that’s my explanation. We’ve watched that trend for 7 or 8 years and understand it and don’t try force more business than we should naturally be getting – so it's predictable and expected - but it’s cool to see each season stronger than the last.

Anyway – talking about this made me think about memories I have had over the years about small milestones along the way and it’s crazy to see think how far it has come – just one day at a time. For instance, I remember having more free trials than paying customers and was so excited for the day to some when the paying number would reach and surpass the trial number. Today we have 325 trials and 4,385 paying customers.

I remember me and Charles frantically working one night about 7 years ago (when we had just a few paying customers – 5 or 10 or so) when our “shared” server that we were currently leasing ran out of disk space. What. A simple problem and a terrible problem all at once. Like a plane running out of gas or something. It was time to move. P.S - Charles had another job and was not responsible - I was.

I remember being on vacation with my wife’s family and toasting our 100th paying customer that summer.

I remember the next day (after hitting 100 customers) telling Tyler how cool I thought that was and he said “Sure. But I’ve always thought when we hit 1,000, then we have something special”. I then remember 1,000 a few years later.

I remember Charles coming on board full time when we had about 1,600 customers. That day I started to sleep better and have slept great since.

I remember the day I realized I don't like getting emails from companies I've never heard of telling me about their products. It's not how I buy stuff for our business and I was (stubbornly) certain restaurant owners felt the same. I remember deciding we'd never send another email again.

I remember Wil deciding to join our company and Tyler sending me an email with the subject “Wil!!!!!!!!!!!”. Nothing in the body. That’s the most excited I’ve ever seen Tyler. In fact, when we hit 1,000 customers he didn’t say anything. I figured maybe he changed his number to 2,000.

I remember Hank joining our team and realizing that the 5 of us were back together again – we all used to work together years before. That was cool to see it happen all over again. What are the chances?

I remember a chain of 250 restaurants telling me Schedulefly looked too simple. Within minutes I went from panic to calm.

I remember, later, turning down a few chain restaurant opportunities that would have been good for revenue in the short run, but terrible for our business in the long run.

I remember people telling us they don't like our software and the very same day other people telling us they love it. I remember the calm that came over me when I finally realized I (we) can't please everyone. Don't ever try.

I remember our 1st paying customer inviting me over to demo Schedulefly in person....a mutual friend had introduced us. It was a Mellow Mushroom in Raleigh run by a guy who is now a friend and now uses us at all 4 of his locations. He said after 5 minutes or so – “I like it, let’s do it”. Over the years we’ve added 72 more Mellow Mushrooms via word of mouth only.

I remember our 2nd paying customer – Café Luna in Raleigh – inviting me over to demo the software – in the stock room/office back near the kitchen. I remember them frantically searching for their Ethernet cable so I could plug in my laptop – back in July 2007 when wireless was not everywhere. I showed it to them and the owner said “How much?” I said, “Um, $30 a month?”. He said “Great, set us up”.

I remember after that meeting at Café Luna – our 2nd customer - I never demo’d Schedulefly (in person or on some webinar) to anyone ever again.

I feel fortunate to have a business with so many fun memories and am really proud of what 5 guys have built over the years.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Meet the stars of our upcoming videos filmed at Ashley Christensen Restaurants

Meet Jeramy(bartender), Ashley(GM), and Andrew(pastry chef). They work for Ashley Christensen Restaurants in Raleigh, N.C. and they will be featured across two upcoming videos we are making. In "the people of indie restaurants: Ashley Christensen Restaurants" we'll introduce you to Jeramy, a bartender who is also a singer/songwriter and an actor, and Ashley, a recently-promoted GM who loves growing within their restaurant group and dreams of owning her own restaurant one day. In "the pastry chef," we'll shine the spotlight on Andrew, who oozes passion for what he does and takes great pride in helping guests recall memories from their past with the deserts he and his team create.

It was clear on our visit that Ashley Christensen has built a team of people who treat each other like family, love what they do, and are excited about creating amazing experiences for the customers who dine in their restaurants. We can't wait to share some of what we saw and heard on film!

The Schedulefly Crew
Wes, Tyler, Wil, Charles and Hank

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