Whether you’re trying to transform transportation in the tech industry or sling a new cocktail in the restaurant industry, the odds are stacked against you. Nearly 80 percent of entrepreneurs who start businesses fail within the first 18 months. Anyone crazy enough to be an entrepreneur has plenty they can teach you, which is why I always advise young entrepreneurs to speak with founders across multiple sectors. There is plenty to learn.
To give you some insight to my background, I talk with a lot of young people as a mentor at MIT. The vast majority believe tennis shoes and hoodies are the official uniform for any entrepreneur. Admittedly, having spent my career in the tech sector, I agreed with them at first.
Then I started Adored, a loyalty experience platform, and began selling to the food and beverage community. Suddenly, I realized that restaurant and bar owners radiate the same traits — hustle, determination, anxiety, passion, etc. — that I previously thought were reserved for the Mark Zuckerbergs of the world. It made me think about the common denominators across different industries and what they teach us about entrepreneurship. Here are four connections I’ve made:
1. Nurture the ecosystem. The tech community is obsessed with building ecosystems. It seems like every city from Charleston, S.C., to Manchester, N.H., wants to be called the Silicon Something as an homage to Silicon Valley.
Many of these ecosystems already have thriving food and beverage industries. Most cities have a few anchor establishments — a sports arena, a theater venue, etc. — with a bunch of restaurants, bars and music venues surrounding them. Although these venues compete against each other, they can also contribute to your success as well. If the end goal of a night out is a good experience by the consumer, then a restaurant should be supportive of its competitors.
Collaborating and creating a desirable ecosystem for consumers means that people will be more willing to go out on a regular basis. That is good for everyone, and it’s applicable to the tech industry — or any industry for that matter. Go out and introduce yourself, get to know your neighbors, do joint marketing and build that ecosystem.
2. Understand the customer lifecycle. Restaurants and bars are obsessed with customer service. It’s important to remember that someone is a customer long before they ever step into your establishment and long after they leave. Engage with them.
Yellow page ads, sandwich boards, local newsletters and bulletin boards are all methods restaurants, coffee shops and bars use to communicate with customers. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But acknowledge that new customers are consuming information in different ways. Eighty-five percent of consumers are using the internet to find local businesses, whether it is directly through search results, Yelp or other apps. Word of mouth can no longer be relied upon to ensure that new customers find your business. Without an online presence, your company might as well not exist, so make sure you’re mixing in new technologies too. Sure, they might fail, but the risk of not trying is much greater. And as our friends in Silicon Valley like to say, “Fail fast, fail often.”
3. Tailor your message. When you run a restaurant, you have multiple constituents that you have to engage. There are casual customers who are looking for a novel experience, regulars who need to be continually enticed, and your staff. All of these people have different expectations and different experiences when they engage with your brand. But all are equally important and contribute to your success.
The key is to create a unified message about what your company stands for and then share that message based on the audience. For example, if you implement a new technology to increase customer engagement, you may need to go in depth on how it works so your marketing manager understands the value it brings. But when training your hostesses or bartenders, don’t get bogged down in details. Focus on how this makes their job easier instead. While the end goal (doing what is best for your company) is always the same, the path to tailor their needs may get lost. Here’s the takeaway: Employees, customers, VCs and the media are all different audiences. Speak with them in their language and your message will resonate.
4. Treat money like it’s real. There is an old joke that goes something like this: A new bar opened in Silicon Valley. A million people came. No one bought anything. It was deemed a huge success.
In the tech world, we often look at money like we’re playing a game of Monopoly. We’re not. The key to creating a successful business is to offer something people want to spend money on. Getting people to part with their money is hard. The food and drink industry knows this. They also know about competition. Yet most of these establishments aren’t flush with millions in funding. They need to be smart with the way they promote their brand and get the word out — and that sort of marketing scrutiny could be very beneficial for any startup.