For something that captures so many headlines and national attention, there sure isn’t a ton of entertainment revolving around startups or entrepreneurship. For someone as obsessed with the topic as I am, you have to get a bit creative.
I’ve found my favorite content about entrepreneurship in an unexpected place.
Specifically shows like Chef’s Table that do a deep dive into a chef’s history and the journey that brought them to build the world-class restaurants they preside over today. I believe there is a lot that we can learn about entrepreneurship from cooking and from chefs that are at the top of their own game of creating something new.
Entrepreneur de Cuisine
I love the model for entrepreneurship that a kitchen provides.
In the kitchen, the head chef is the chief facilitator. He sets the tone. He designs the menu. He may even put the finishing touches on certain dishes, but if you peek into the top kitchens in the world, you will find that the chef spends little time doing much of the actual cooking itself. It simply isn’t possible in any restaurant with more than a few tables. Instead, there is a horde of more junior chefs and assistants that take care of all necessary aspects of creating a great dish.
The chef will orchestrate the incredibly complex process of coordinating multiple dishes so that everything comes out at exactly the same time. His role is vital, but it is not sufficient for success. Even the best chef in the world will fail if he doesn’t have a team that can execute and works well together.
A founder is not so different. Even with all the talent in the world and an amazing idea, entrepreneurship at any sort of meaningful scale is a team sport. If a leader doesn’t create an environment where their team can be successful, their venture will be as doomed as the most dysfunctional kitchen. My wife and I recently watched the movie Burnt, starring Bradley Cooper as a troubled chef working his way towards the redemption of his third Michelin star. Without spoiling too much, the main character only begins to attain success when he learns to trust the other chefs on his team and stops trying to do everything himself.
Founders take note. Your success will depend every bit as much on your ability to manage, lead, and create an environment where the best and brightest can flourish as it will on your talent, grit, or world-changing ideas.
If changing the world was easy, everyone would do it
Something that becomes abundantly clear for anyone who spends much time learning about the culinary arts is just how brutally difficult it is to build a restaurant that truly makes a significant impact. Chefs train their entire lives for a shot and every single successful chef will have their fair share of scars and near-death experiences.
The path to success is just so brutally difficult.
The hardest part of all?
You can never rest on your laurels. The second that you stop innovating, creating, and moving your craft forward, the world will pass you by. The thing I am most consistently amazed by while learning about the world’s greatest chefs is just how relentless their drive and passion is. They never give up and they never stop pushing the envelope forward. If they did, they would no longer be great. They are only able to do this by creating from a place of genuine Instinctual Originality.
These observations ring every bit as true in kitchens as they do in the hip co-working spaces or innovation centers that startups call home. Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. If it was, everyone would do it. It is a daily knife fight where if you let your guard down for one second, someone younger, faster, and hungrier will come along to replace you.
Companies need to constantly reinvent the wheel to stay relevant. It takes all the running you can do, just to keep in the same place.
Sears. Polaroid. Xerox. Blackberry. Nokia.
Each at some point was absolutely on top of the world.
And then they stopped moving their craft forward.
And the world passed them by.
Entrepreneurship for all
The last thing I love about examining entrepreneurship through the lens of cooking is that it expands the definition of what entrepreneurship could look like. In the startup tech world, I believe we too often paint entrepreneurship into this little box that we like to call “Venture Fundable”. Look, I will be the first to tell you that venture capital is not for everyone. To conflate a company’s funding mechanism with its identity is dangerous at worst and short-sighted at best. Just because the venture model is not right for someone or their business does not make them any less of an entrepreneur!
In a recent post, I called startups Churches of Entrepreneurship and claimed that the only real requirement for a company to be a startup is that the Spirit of Entrepreneurship resides within it.
Restaurants are a great example of the truth in that. At the highest level, a chef uses their restaurant to create things the world has never seen before. They utilize familiar ingredients and techniques bring something into being that is completely new.
If that isn’t entrepreneurship, I don’t know what is.
Acknowledging the entrepreneurship inherent in world-class cooking opens your eyes to see the myriad of other businesses and entrepreneurs that capture this same spirit. Just because a company doesn’t look like a startup doesn’t mean that it is any less entrepreneurial. Viewed through this lens I believe that the question must be asked of whether we are doing enough as investors. Is our current conception about how to build businesses broad enough? Maybe there are gaps out there? I have found myself increasingly fascinated by the accelerating trend of permanent capital and how it might be applied to the world of tech startups. If fund structures are a prime source for incentive misalignment, what happens when you get rid of them?
Anyways, these are questions for another day.
Founders, learn the lessons that chefs can teach.
Build a team that you can trust to get the job done.
Innovate by creating from a place of Instinctual Originality.
Acknowledge that there is more to entrepreneurship than twenty-somethings in thick-rimmed glasses and hoodies drinking nitro cold brew and discussing the finer points of C++.
And most of all…
Keep on cooking.