What a startup can learn from a restaurant menu

It’s often said that one of the biggest challenges for an entrepreneur is focus. Naturally, this is coupled with multiple challenges like cash flow, growth management, and your general sanity.

It’s also said that the great thing about being an entrepreneur is the freedom that comes with it. However, that freedom is largely illusionary unless you are running a lifestyle company or you’ve hit the megabucks early. Most entrepreneurs find themselves shackled by other responsibilities: Responsibility for the talent in the organisation, strategic direction of the company, trying to build more with less, the demanding pace of the new startup and, perhaps, just the pressure to succeed.

But one of the biggest challenges of them all is focus. I’m an opportunistic, competitive and creative person by nature. I want to do everything and constantly feel like time is running out. I’ll have a new idea or see a problem in a new light which gets me inspired and passionate. I feel that bee buzzing under my bonnet, and I want to tackle it now!

The Jerry Maguire moment where you drop everything to pursue another path does happen, but is rare. Experience has taught me to write the idea down and give it time, and that I need to focus on the task at hand.

Ignorance is a wonderful thing, because you don’t realise most of the time how ignorant you are. On a philosophical level, intelligent people operate with this paradigm in mind. In a nutshell, the more you know, the more you realise you don’t know. It means that to truly get to grips with a project or business, you need to immerse yourself in it: Come at it from all angles, give it time, truly understand the complexity of it… and focus.

Web people often make this mistake. Products and online businesses often appear simple and easy from the outside. We underestimate the business and relationships that need to be built behind it.

And so we live under the illusion that we can juggle multiple projects and businesses. Where does this belief come from? In my experience, it’s a function of three things: Ignorance, optimism and perhaps also a consequence of playing in smaller markets outside China, USA and Japan. (Small markets don’t require as much complexity in scale and user management — so perhaps this is an argument in mitigation?)

But unless you have a large, established and structured infrastructure, it remains an illusion to think you can be on top of everything, all at once. You are probably dropping balls without realising it.

Your restaurant has the answer
It hit home for me while scanning a menu at quite a good restaurant. The quality restaurants with quality food focus on just a few menu items. The quality is high and their offering is unique. They do a few things, and they do them properly.

If I think of the poorer quality restaurants that I’ve come across, they tend to have pages and pages of dishes on offer. They do everything from pizza to steak to Mexican. Instinctively I avoid these places. I don’t trust that they can do so much, so well and consequently their food quality is low. This is not a good, differentiated business with a good offering.

Restaurants that do multiple offerings well are the fast food establishments or the chains. But these are not entrepreneurial startups, they are corporates. They can afford to do this as they have structured their business to ensure a common culture and the knowledge-base is well-established and permeates throughout the company among its many employees.

Apply this thinking to the online service you are building or the core offering of your company. It’s obvious isn’t it, so why don’t we apply it? It’s because it goes against most entrepreneurs’ inquisitive, searching, ambitious natures — and it’s a struggle.

Find that balance and you will find success.

Matthew Buckland: Publisher


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