Paycheckaholics Anonymous isn’t my first foray into entrepreneurship. A couple of years ago, I started another venture. I encountered many obstacles to its launch, but I also learned some valuable lessons along the way.
At the time, I was traveling frequently. I found myself completely frustrated by the lack of interesting dining options at airports and highway rest stops. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if I could find some fresh, whole foods when traveling? I was willing to pay more for a heartier and more nourishing meal than the usual salads and sandwiches at the airport outlets. I wanted things like rich soups made from bone broth, grass-fed beef burgers, and thick stews. I sought a place where all the ingredients were locally sourced, non-GMO, free range, and organic, but none was to be found. And so the concept of a fast casual, farm-to-airport restaurant–to be called Barefoot Eatery–was born. Until then, I’d never thought of starting my own business, or working in the restaurant industry.
Y ou may not have heard of Barefoot Eatery, and if you Google it, you won’t find one at your nearest airport. That’s because my airport restaurant business never got off the ground. But I don’t consider the experience to be a failure—far from it, in fact. A failure is only a failure if you learn nothing from it. I learned a lot from the venture, and I’d like to share some of those lessons with you.
- Solve a problem. With Barefoot Eatery, I didn’t start by trying to think up an idea for starting a business. Rather, I noticed that there was a need–one that was very personal for me–and the solution seemed obvious. A great new business idea is about solving a problem, not just thinking up a money-making concept. It’s about filling a need for a specific group of people. The best ideas are the ones that make others ask, “Why has no one done this before?” And it’s easier to notice a need in your field of study or practice, your area of passion, where you’re on the leading edge.
- Know your audience. In order to secure the considerable funding needed to open a restaurant, we decided to launch a project on Kickstarter. We prepared well, wrote great content, made a fabulous video, and launched our project. We got a little traction from friends and family as well as a few other supporters, but the amount of money we raised was barely a drop in the bucket of our target of $150,000. We found out later that Kickstarter’s demographic was primarily young single males with no children. They enjoy supporting projects in computers and technology, science, video games, arts and entertainment, and business. That profile did not match the target demographic we had in mind of the ideal Barefoot Eatery customer.
- Build your following. Our Kickstarter project did not fare well. Our video had a few hundred views and a handful of backers, but it was nowhere near being successfully funded. Even though we weren’t targeting the predominant Kickstarter demographic, we might have succeeded if our message had reached hundreds of thousands of people. Our conversion ratio wasn’t bad, but we needed to reach more potential backers. As Seth Godin would say, we needed to build our “tribe”–people who shared our values and ideas about wholesome food.
- Consider whether geographic proximity is important. For some types of businesses, it may be critical to be close to your business partners and to the business itself. Our team worked together virtually from Dallas, Pittsburgh, Colorado Springs, and Washington, D.C. As we worked through the development plans for the restaurant, we realized that it was not a startup that could easily be run by remote control.
- Fewer founders move more swiftly. I began the restaurant venture alone and sought out people to assist me along the way. Over a period of several months, our team grew to four co-founders. This number turned out to be somewhat cumbersome for scheduling and decision-making. When two members of the team decided to leave to pursue other opportunities, we found that we were able to move the project along much faster. Research has shown that partnerships with more than two and fewer than six members are challenged to communicate effectively and execute on strategy.
- Go all-in. Successful startups require more than part-time involvement. At the beginning of our venture, our team met once a week for an hour or two. This was a reasonable commitment in terms of our lives, but it wasn’t a good way to get the business going. Sometimes, it took weeks to reach a decision, and it was only when we doubled the frequency of our meetings that we were able to make steady progress in our venture. Make your business a priority. Your business is your ticket to freedom, so make your freedom a priority.
- Launch in an industry you know. This will save considerable time, as you won’t spend all of your time finding out that “you don’t know what you don’t know.” I began with a concept and with zero knowledge of the restaurant industry, and the learning curve was steep.
- Find the right partner. Just because someone has the industry knowledge that you lack doesn’t necessarily make him or her a good candidate to join your team. There’s much more to it than that. In order to compensate for our lack of industry knowledge, we looked for suitable business partners. It was challenging to find a match, however; we interviewed quite a few people who had industry-specific technical knowledge but didn’t share our vision, or were otherwise not a good fit for the team.
- Be responsive. You never know what kind of connection you can make. At one point, I contacted an industry venture capitalist. Although he promoted himself as someone who was keen to get involved in new ventures, he did not respond to emails and phone calls. It’s a shame; he might have missed the next big trend in the restaurant industry.
Lots of people start businesses, but few truly build businesses. Chances are that your venture may not succeed. Even if your business doesn’t succeed financially, however, it’s important to consider other ways of looking at the situation. A business is not just about what you can earn but about what you can learn. Sometimes success is not measured in dollars (or yuan or pesos or rupees) but in lessons learned.
Maybe you started a business before, and it didn’t work out. Don’t be discouraged. Success is in the definition. Even if you didn’t achieve the original goal with your previous venture, the unintended consequences were probably equally rewarding.
Failure is the lifeblood of success. Those things that try to stop you in your tracks are tests to see whether you’re really serious. It’s why building an asset like a business is valuable; most people are not willing to break through the barriers they face in building such assets. Overcoming these obstacles can teach you valuable lessons that will help you translate your repeated failure into success. What’s in the way often is the way.
Have you started a business—or tried to start a business? What did you learn from it? Share your thoughts in the comments below.