My startup mentor owns a restaurant. It’s small, with nine tables.
When we first met he was working behind a burger stand at a Sunday farmer’s market. In three years he has opened two restaurants, sold one, and this year his catering business generated $1 million in revenue, he says. Next year he says he’s on track to double it.
So what can a restaurateur teach you about startups? A whole heaping helping.
This is post is part of a Startup Edition series on where to find advice
Mentors are all around us. It’s a matter of looking in the right places or asking the right questions of important people already in our lives.
Startups benefit from mentors and advisors with specific domain expertise. But the most unlikely people are often those with the most valuable life advice.
What I talk about with my mentor
My mentor and I talk about spirituality, family, and the nature of being human. And it’s through our conversations I’ve learned about what it means to be a caterer, and to show compassion through food.
Though he never complains, I know how brutal the restaurant business is. The cost of food and supplies, rent, utilities and employee wages all must be tallied before the owners see their first penny.
San Francisco has more restaurants per capita than almost any city in the world, so the competition is fierce. But the people of San Francisco love to eat. And my mentor loves them back through the natural, nutritious food he serves. It’s a healing act. His joy is not the money, but the ability to interact with the people. And the money comes.
How consulting is like the restaurant business
As I listen to my mentor talk about his restaurant, I learn more about running a startup than if I asked business-specific questions. And through the act of listening I see my own journey in new ways.
Just as a restaurant’s income is limited by the number of tables, my consulting business cannot scale beyond the 24 billable hours in any day. This is to say nothing of how many hours I want to spend working.
How my mentor taught me to think like a caterer
My mentor has inspired me to think like a caterer. Unlike the typical restaurant owner whose earning potential is constricted by serving hours and location, a caterer can take advantage of economies of scale and serve hundreds or thousands of meals per day.
My mentor caters to startups at their offices, and his company is a huge hit on ZeroCater and Cater2Me. His restaurant only serves dinner, but it’s a great word of mouth advertisement for his catering service.
Just like restaurants, all startups have an infrastructure. A kitchen has stoves, tools, freezers and food. A startup has brainpower–engineers, product specialists and marketers. A startup that isn’t fully utilizing its team is losing potential profits, just as a restaurant that doesn’t operate certain days of the week, or at certain times. These sunken costs drag down the bottom line.
Like exclusive restaurants, startups that provide high-touch services can never achieve massive scale. Exclusivity might mean high margins, but lower throughput.
Product-based companies are limited only by the size of their market. Delivering a consistent product at an attractive price allows a startup team to focus on achieving profitability by finding more customers, and reducing operating costs. It’s all about product/market fit.
Not all restaurants are interested in catering, and that’s fine. But we all have the same 24 hours. Why not make hay while the sun shines?
How I plan to start catering to startups
In the weeks and months ahead I intend to launch my own products. This will be a first for me, so bear with.
I love helping entrepreneurs, and the act of blogging daily allows me to interact with new people, and to listen to the market. Catering to the market through products allows me to scale what I do, reach more people in the same amount of time. It’s one way to work smart, be lazy and unapologetic
I don’t only have one mentor, I have several. From each one I learn something different. The beauty of today’s age is that we can access mentors we may never meet, by simply dialing one up on Clarity. But more important, I think, is that there are people ready and willing to give us a fresh view of our own lives who may have no connection to our business, to technology or the the startup world. We just have to see them an accept them.
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