Monthly Archives: November 2017

What Restaurateurs And Founders Share

It’s Foodie Friday, and this week an article on a restaurant trade site caught my eye. It’s all about the things restaurant owners wished they’d known when they decided to open a place. Having spent a lot of time working with startups, what I find interesting is that many of their statements are not unique to the restaurant business. In fact, I’m willing to bet that you will nod your head in agreement with these if you’ve even started a business or worked with one in its early stages. You can read the entire piece by clicking through here.

Photo by Bank Phrom

First and foremost, the time involved. One owner said she wished she’d known “That I was going to spend the first couple months basically living in the store and two years married to the business. 86 my social life!” I’m often amused at the founders who still have side gigs, especially if those gigs are not consulting positions that are very flexible. One startup with which I’m working has two founders who don’t seem to be able to focus enough time on their company, and as a result, their progress is very slow. What should have taken them several months has taken them a couple of years. In part it’s a financial decision – the gigs help fund the startup – but I sometimes feel as if they don’t really get that you need to be married to the business, as this owner says.

Another owner wishes he’d known “To have enough money reserved to be able to wait to open the doors to the public.” There is something to be said for throwing a lot of tests out there and iterating, but I’m a believer in making sure you’re putting your best foot forward. That doesn’t mean every beta has to be perfect but it does mean, to paraphrase the words of the old Paul Masson commercial, not selling any product before its time. The world is too cluttered and I’m not sure any business gets multiple chances after a bad customer experience (think about how many apps you’ve deleted recently or a restaurant at which your first meal was your last).

Then there is the point never underestimate the value of private dining. As the owner put it, people wanted a place where it was quiet and personal. I think that makes it as much about the experience as it does the product. Personalization is key!

Finally, I love another owner’s point: “To build your squad. We always knew that having good people was important, but I’m not sure we realized how important.” As any business grows, the founders can only do so much and your success is in the hands of the people you’ve brought in and trained. Your job as a manager is to help your team to do their jobs, but it’s also to be sure that every person is carrying their load. Nothing will bring a business down faster than a weak link in the chain that causes resentment among the rest of the team. Hire well, don’t be afraid to admit you’ve made a mistake with a hire if you have, and do everything in your power to retain great talent.

Yes, the food service business is different in many ways (you probably don’t have the health department visiting nor do you deal with many cuts and burns), but as the piece demonstrates, every startup faces many of the same challenges, don’t they?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Thinking Aloud

Digital Graffiti

Suppose you own a building and someone sprays a message on the facade. Maybe the message is as benign as just the “artist’s” tag or maybe it’s hate speech or maybe it’s as simple as pasting a sticker promoting some commercial venture. Whether you might find the message offensive or not, you probably wouldn’t hold the building’s owner responsible for the message unless you notified them that the message was there and they didn’t remove it. In NY, it’s illegal for landlords to leave graffiti up and the city will come and remove it for you at no cost. Of course, the city will also fine you once they’ve been told your building is hosting graffiti and you’re doing nothing about it.

English: Graffiti tag on train station buildin...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You might be wondering what this has to do with your business since you probably don’t own a building. In my mind, the same principle applies when users post links to content on a particular platform or when a news site reports on content hosted elsewhere and links to it. This very notion is at the center of a lawsuit filed by Playboy against Boing Boing. The latter posted a story about someone aggregating all of the Playboy centerfolds. As  Techdirt reported:

it’s a blog post titled “Every Playboy Playmate Centerfold Ever.” There’s a very short paragraph that reads:

Some wonderful person uploaded scans of every Playboy Playmate centerfold to imgur. It’s an amazing collection, whether your interests are prurient or lofty. Kind of amazing to see how our standards of hotness, and the art of commercial erotic photography, have changed over time.

Boing Boing then linked to the images and a video, both of which were off-site (on Imgur and YouTube, respectively). Playboy is suing for copyright infringement even though it’s pretty obvious that Boing Boing didn’t create or host any of the material. They merely reported on it (fair use, kids). I’ll let the lawyers decide if this is what’s known as a SLAPP action (designed to intimidate and be costly) or whether it has any merit, but it’s not unique. Web hosting companies have been sued for hosting pirate sites that stream copyrighted material.

You might know that under the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), Internet service providers (ISPs) may not be liable for copyright infringement from copyrighted material passing through their systems if they take certain steps to police infringement on their site(s). There are some requirements for you to claim this protection, but generally, if you didn’t post it and take it down when you’re told about it, you’re fine. It’s the equivalent of digital graffiti in NYC. Clean up the eyesore when you’re told about it and you’re not penalized.

I can pretty much guarantee that your business has a website. It might have a public-facing comments section or some other place where consumers can post things. You need to monitor and moderate it, and if you’re notified that someone is posting digital graffiti – whether it’s infringing materials or worse – you need to take action. Yes, fair use and the DCMA can protect you up to a point but ultimately you want all of your digital presences to reflect well on you and your brand. Being covered in graffiti doesn’t get you there, does it?

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Filed under digital media, Helpful Hints

Bad Coaching

Most of us seek advice of some sort. It can be as simple as reading product reviews before we make a purchase or a restaurant reservation or as complicated as hiring a business advisor or a life coach. It’s information that adds to our own opinions as we make decisions, and one of the most important life skills is figuring out what’s good information and what’s not.

I thought of this while I watched this video from the European Tour. It’s 4 minutes of that tour’s golf professionals giving advice to a series of amateurs. The advice ranges from the nutty to the idiotic and every one of the amateurs follows it to the best of their ability. It’s silly stuff, ranging from stretching your eyeballs as part of your warm-up to piling grass on the ball to swinging blindfolded to throwing the club.

Here is the thing that resonated: the amateurs hung on every word of this bogus advice because it came from credible sources, tour pros. It reminded me of several clients I’ve had who had been given demonstrably wrong information from consultants or companies that positioned themselves as experts. Unlike the golf example, this wasn’t done as a joke and it did have negative consequences for my clients.

So here are a few things to think about. First, do your due diligence. Make sure the person giving you advice is qualified to do so. Not that there aren’t smart young people, but it’s less likely that a person with two or three years of business experience will have the broad perspective of someone with twenty or thirty years.

Next, avoid generic solutions. Good advice is tailored to the recipient. Golf pros who give the same lessons to everyone are generally horrible teachers. Your business is as personal as your golf swing, and any advice you get must be tailored to you.

If your advisor talks a lot more than he or she listens, dump them. In the video, some of the amateurs question the “tip” they’ve been given but the pro keeps chattering away, ignoring the questions.

I think that’s all good advice!

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Filed under Consulting, Helpful Hints

Offer Fewer Fries

This Foodie Friday, I want us to think about less being more. Specifically, it’s the balance between quality and quantity. I’m of the opinion that when it comes to food, high-quality ingredients expertly prepared are more satisfying than a large portion of bland, low-quality food.

Photo by Stephanie McCabe

For example, think about a bread basket that arrives at your table. Rich, dense bread slathered in high-quality butter is not something you’d eat much of. Compare that with a bunch of Wonder Bread and store-brand butter that you might have at home. The latter is tasteless and not satisfying and I’ll bet you eat more of it.

McDonald’s proved this point in 1990 when they stopped frying their fries in beef tallow. It was a knee-jerk reaction to people believing that trans fats were better than natural fats (turned out to be totally wrong). The fries never tasted the same and, more importantly for our discussion today, were not as filling. I’m convinced that the reason we have supersized portions is that the current fries are so unfulfilling. It’s probably why we have an obesity problem as well. I suspect there were cost-savings too, but are those savings worth ruining the reputation of your signature product?

Look at Europe. France and Italy, two fantastic food cultures, don’t serve you big portions and yet it’s hard to walk away from a meal in either place still hungry. The dishes are rich and tasty. High fat? Sure. Caloric? Yes, but you don’t eat as much. For the restaurant, this can mean lower food costs (smaller portions) which might be taken as higher margins or passed along to customers. You can’t really eat a huge portion of fries cooked in duck fat, believe me.

This is a principle which I believe any business can use. Consumers don’t want (or need) tons of low-quality products. Sure, they might be duped into thinking of them as great values (“Look at that portion!”), but over time your customers realize that they’re not really satisfied.

Example: think of Word or Excel. They are extremely complex products and yet most users take advantage of a tiny amount of that complexity. Why not offer a simpler product to the masses that cost less and save the complex version for those people who really need it (and charge them accordingly?). You can find articles dating back over a decade complaining about Word’s complexity and yet it wasn’t made simpler.

Less can be a lot more. Think about offering fewer, but much better, fries. People can be satisfied with less as long as it’s top quality at an affordable price. I’d rather be sated and healthy than hungry and sick. You?

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Filed under food, Huh?

Keeping It Real

Back in 2015, an engineer at Twitter asked his security team to look into fake accounts. He said he was stunned to find that a significant percentage of the total accounts created on Twitter had Russian and Ukrainian IP addresses and he also found that they were, for the most part, fake. They were “bots”.

Photo by Alex Knight on Unsplash

No, today isn’t a political rant about how our Democracy might just have been hijacked by a foreign power. Rather, what happened next, as told in this piece by Bloomberg, is instructive to any of us in business because it raises a few issues that are common to us all.

The engineer was part of the security team. That team was tasked with keeping the platform secure. He took his findings to another team – the growth team – which had the responsibility for increasing the user base. That user base number is critical for every business since how the business is valued is based in part on how many users (we can’t really say people in this case, can we?) are active. Discovering that a significant percentage of the user base was fake could have a negative effect on the business’ balance sheet, and in this, we begin to see the problem.

There is a misalignment of goals. If part of security is keeping the platform free from spambots, the people responsible for deleting the spambots can’t have any goals which make deleting those bots counterproductive. In this case, the engineer was told to “stay in his lane”. In other words, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain – the reality of our user numbers – it’s not your job.

No organization should have these kinds of silos. No organization can base its public statements about growth and user engagement on numbers it knows are fake. It’s one thing for users to inflate their follower numbers by buying fake followers but it’s quite another for Twitter itself to be aware of these non-human accounts and to do nothing about them because they want to keep their user numbers up.

I don’t mean to single out Twitter. The same issue persists on Facebook and other social platforms and it’s way more insidious than research can find. There is a term – dark social – that refers to sharing activity among the network’s members that isn’t easily measured. Let’s say a fake account spreads a lie and maybe even buys an ad to do so. We can see how many impressions the ad had or how many followers the fake account has. What we can’t easily see is the network effect. I see the post and am outraged about it. I tell five friends, who tell five of their friends, etc., particularly when it’s shared off the network itself via email or text.

I am fairly certain that each of these networks could identify and stop this activity despite what you might have seen in Congress last week. Those were the lawyers testifying, not the engineers. The point for your business is to keep everyone’s goals in alignment, don’t build silos, and to be honest with yourself and with your investors. These are public companies who might just be committing fraud, but every company has the same responsibility for honesty and transparency.  You with me?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Thinking Aloud

Are We In An Information Death Spiral?

Sometimes I wonder if we’re in an informational death spiral. That’s when an aircraft is out of control, loses lift, and heads in a corkscrew motion toward the ground. My pilot friends say they usually begin with a random, increasing roll and airspeed. That’s where I think we all just might be with respect to information. We’ve had a random, increasing rolling of what “real” information is and the speed at which it is generated is increasing.

Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Why this matters to you, both in business and in life, is that it’s becoming increasingly impossible to tell fact from fiction. The revelation that the Russian government created thousands of fake accounts across the social sphere to generate and amplify “news” items that were made up out of whole cloth is devastating to anyone who tries to figure out fact from fiction. That devastation is multiplied by the findings of this year’s Pew study which found:

Two-thirds of Americans (66%) use Facebook, and a majority of those users get news on the site, similar to 2016. Looked at as a portion of all U.S. adults, this translates into just under half (45%) of Americans getting news on Facebook. While a large share of its users get news on [Twitter} (74% say they do), its audience is significantly smaller overall. This means that overall, fewer Americans get news on Twitter (11% of U.S. adults).

In other words, we’re increasingly relying on the least reliable sources for news and information. Imagine if you were doing this in your business. Rather than looking at actual revenues, you based your appraisal of how things were going on how full your warehouse seemed or how busy your staff was. Sure, a warehouse that’s becoming empty can signal great sales but it can also signal an issue with your supply chain or with your accounting department who hasn’t been paying suppliers. Maybe it’s a collections issue. You don’t know until you get the real facts.

Being able to separate fact from fiction is the basis of being an educated, competent person. When others are out there trying as hard as they can to mask facts or to impose fiction, that job is thrown into a death spiral. When Facebook changed from being a place when you could focus on friends and family to a platform for news and information, the spiral began. When their algorithm began to reward the click bait that was able to deceive enough people by being outrageous, our collective noses headed toward the ground.

Don’t be fooled by fake news, either in the office or out of it. Find the facts, level off your wings, and fly on.

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Filed under digital media, Reality checks, Thinking Aloud

Does Your Business Serve Pu-Pu Platters?

This Foodie Friday, I’m inspired by the memory of a long-closed (by the Health Department as it turns out) restaurant called South Seas. It served very large “exotic” drinks – Zombies, Scorpion Bowls, the full range of tiki bar delights – and the first pu-pu platter I’d ever encountered.

My high school friends and I would often meet up at South Seas to gather in front of a glowing pu-pu platter. The center was a grill, fueled by Sterno I think, on which we could cook something from the mound of delights surrounding it. Of course, everything had been fried and I was never quite sure why one would want to further cook an egg roll, but it was very foreign and wonderful. Of course, since they would serve both the food and the drinks to anyone (the drinking age was 18 but our 18th birthdays were a few years away – sorry Mom), I might be misrecalling how good the food was, but I really loved it.

It’s the pu-pu platter that triggered the business thought. While most of us had after-school or weekend jobs of some sort, none of us really had a ton of disposable income for food. The Pu-pu platter solved that problem by being a cost-effective alternative to having to order several different plates. We could graze as we saw fit without having to commit to one dish. As I think about it now, many other types of cuisine offer their version of a pu-pu plater: the mixed antipasto (hot or cold) most Italian places serve, the popularity of tapas places  (you’re sort of constructing your own pu-pu platter as your order many different little plates), heck, even the canape platters they pass around a cocktail parties are pu-pu platters in my mind. And I think there’s something your business can take away from that.

The pu-pu platter or antipasto plate lets the customer sample multiple facets of your kitchen. It lets them understand the quality and variety of what you offer without their having to make a major commitment. That’s not a bad idea for any business. Free consultations and low- or no-cost trial periods are one way to deliver this. Offering a little bit of everything, much like a country store does, might be another. I hasten to add that anything you do offer needs to be of the same high-quality as your main product or service offerings.

When I see a pu-pu platter on a menu these days, I’m still tempted to order one so I can have a little taste of everything. Keeping a pu-pu platter mindset might just be a way to grow your business, don’t you think?

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Filed under Consulting, food, Growing up