By CASSIE MCKEE, Four Points News
After working in the restaurant industry for many years, local residents David Cantu and Ray Pawlikowski saw a need for a technology platform that would help with one of the most tedious jobs of the restaurant industry — shift scheduling. That idea has led to the development of a thriving international company with nearly 500 employees.
As a manager at P.F. Chang’s in Austin in the late 90s, Cantu said he spent four hours a week creating a schedule for 65 employees. It was during that time that he met Pawlikowski, who he hired as a bartender at the restaurant. Cantu remembers Pawlikowski continually calling to find out his work schedule for the week. At that time, employees had to drive to the restaurant each week and write down their schedules.
Pawlikowski saw an opportunity to make the process more efficient by creating a website specifically to post staff schedules. Each week, Cantu would email him the new schedules.
“I’d email him, he’d post it on his website and when staff called we’d give them the web address,” Cantu said.
Even that process soon became overwhelming, though, as there were times when Pawlikowski got backed up and couldn’t post the schedule on time, meaning he was the one receiving all the phone calls. He then had a different idea.
“He came to me and asked if I was interested in starting a business with him focusing on the scheduling,” Cantu said. “I said no way, but I’d be happy to help.”
The idea lingered though and Cantu said he began to think of other restaurant processes that could be made more efficient. Though he didn’t have a tech background, Cantu decided he was in. So in 1999, the two wrote their first business plan.
“It was focused on delivering technology to the restaurant industry because at that time there was a void,” Cantu said. “There were a lot of point-of-sale companies that provided software but it was clunky software that wasn’t really built for restaurateurs.”
They named their product HotSchedules and launched it in 2000 at P.F. Chang’s. Within three to four months, 15 restaurants were using it. Austin-based Iron Cactus was one of their first customers. The continued to grow with the help of investors and within four or five years, 50 restaurants were using the HotSchedules software.
Business continued to grow and Johnny Carino’s was the first chain restaurant to begin using their software, followed by The Cheesecake Factory and P.F. Chang’s in 2006-07.
“So we had two of the greatest brands, Cheesecake Factory and PF Chang’s,” Cantu said. “And it seemed like everybody wanted to do what those two were doing.”
For the next five years, the company continued to grow, but technology was developing fast.
“Around 2011, we looked up and we had a great business, a great culture and a great company we were building, but the technology was quickly evolving, centered on mobile (technology),” Cantu said.
They created the HotSchedules mobile app which is now rated the second most popular business app on I-Tunes.
“For HotSchedules users, about 60 percent of the access is coming directly from the apps,” Cantu said.
With a successful business, they wanted to develop more products but knew they would need help. Through a venture capital firm, Cantu and Pawlikowski were introduced to John Chidsey, the former CEO of Burger King. Chidsey introduced the pair to global investment firm TPG.
As part of a large acquisition, TPG acquired HotSchedules and four other companies and in January 2013 announced the launch of Red Book Connect, the first-of-its-kind comprehensive, cloud-based technology platform for the restaurant, hospitality and retail industries. Chidsey became the executive chairman of the board. Cantu is now chief customer officer and Pawlikowski is now chief operating officer for Red Book Connect.
The company now has 180 employees in its Austin office and nearly 500 worldwide. For three years, it has been named one of the best places to work in Austin by the Austin American-Statesman. Cantu said they will soon outgrow their office space off Loop 360.
“The focus for us has always been on service,” Cantu said. “For us coming from the restaurant industry, that’s just ingrained in us. It’s hiring the right people who fit our values. We have a set of core values that we focus on when we’re hiring. That really excites me because we didn’t do that with a lot of investment or money. That’s just truly taking care of people.”
They try to create a fun culture by organizing events such as the first Friday of each month, when they and the rest of the executive team cook lunch for all the employees in their outdoor courtyard.
“It was easy about three years ago when we had about 50 employees,” Cantu said with a laugh. “With 180, it’s almost like an all-night thing.”
When he isn’t working, Cantu stays busy with his family. He lives in the Westminster Glen neighborhood with his wife and two young children who both attend River Place Elementary. They a baby on the way.
Pawlikowski lives in Steiner Ranch where he and his wife also stay busy with a newborn and two toddlers.