As the co-owner of The Hat Factory, a music venue in Richmond, about a decade ago, Ben Wingrove was in the perfect position to envision his current startup SchedulePop. But we’ll get to that in a minute. First came a winding road that led him to owning that music venue and realizing the full frustrations that can come with scheduling 82 employees—and then solving that problem for others.
During his time in undergrad at UNC, he played in several bands and went on to start and run his own record label upon graduating college. After a big merger in the industry, Wingrove wanted to do something different. First he spent around a year in sales at software company Extensibility just as it was sold to TIBCO before joining the initial team at Morrisville-based Etix in 2001, selling ticketing software to rock clubs. But Wingrove hadn’t shaken the music bug and so wanted to be a client of Etix, not just sell the product to others. Thus his purchase of The Hat Factory.
Wingrove said his wife hated handling staff scheduling, so he began developing something to alleviate her complaints. Fast-forward a few years of tinkering, and eventually Wingrove officially launched Raleigh-based SchedulePop around two and a half years ago (while still working at Etix). SchedulePop is an app platform that easily connects managers and employees for staff scheduling, which addresses the challenges he and his wife faced while running The Hat Factory.
“Okay, well what could we do to make this better?” Wingrove recalled thinking. “And the thing I couldn’t stand was I had a lot of things going on and when I had time to focus in on the club, I never had the data that I needed to make any business decision. I’d be like, okay, do we need to cut people? Do we need to send people home? Are we scheduled enough? There was no way to get that information instantly to make a decision.”
Initially Wingrove believed he was building SchedulePop for music venues alone. By testing it out, the software transformed to improve for venues and also expand to serve several other industries, including restaurants and retail stores but also country clubs and nursing homes.
“I showed it to a couple of restaurants that had agreed to take a look at it and I could tell by the look on their face we built the whole thing wrong,” Wingrove said of when he first developed SchedulePop. “We were just completely wrong. And so we had to go and literally just tear the whole thing apart and rebuild it from scratch. We did that and then we took it back to some restaurants, and they liked it and they started using it. And then after the beta period, they wanted to pay us to keep using it. We’re like, okay, wait, maybe there’s a business here.”
Now more than 100 clients use SchedulePop to make their employee scheduling easier with the ability to swap shifts, instant message between staff and manage costs on the platform.
But there’s also a passion for social good that Wingrove brings to his startup’s mission.
“With this company, one of our big missions is we try to help children,” Wingrove said, adding that 10% of SchedulePop sales go to kids’ charities. “So when you’re meeting with investors and you tell them you’re going to give the money away, I tried to do that up front in case they just wanted to shut their laptop and walk out the door. And that happened a few times.”
LCI Partnership To Create Tech Jobs For The Blind
In the search for investors and partnerships, SchedulePop met a match in nearby Durham-based LCI, one of the largest employers of Americans who are blind. Together, SchedulePop and LCI are hoping to create tech jobs for people who are blind, including a client-success position at SchedulePop that Wingrove said they will announce soon.
Traditionally, Wingrove said, people who are blind have not had as many employment opportunities, with factory assemblies often being one of their main sources of work. SchedulePop’s partnership with LCI (which has also invested in SchedulePop) is aiming to change that by working with tech companies in the Triangle and beyond to find—and create—good positions for blind workers, such as in sales and customer support.
“They’re going to get degrees and they’re bright,” Wingrove said. “There’s nothing wrong with the manufacturing job, but they might want to do something different and before they didn’t have as much of a chance. Now there’s a lot of companies that are coming up with ways to do that and that’s what we’re trying to do is figure out how we can help, and we don’t want to be the only ones doing it. But just maybe if we can figure out some ways to create tech jobs for folks without vision, then other people will do it too.”