My parents have agreed to invest in my business,” says my student Juan (not his real name), “and we want you to be our consultant.”
Juan was a brilliant Management major, graduating with honors. He did well in my math classes, and often regaled me with dreams of making it big in the food industry.
“I am a foodie,” he says, before launching into the latest cookbook or restaurant.
Smart, well-connected, wealthy, Juan is on the verge of stardom. He talks about making his new eating place a success (with his permission, I am discussing the major points of our discussion, but I cannot divulge operational details).
I grill him on the details. Feasibility study? Check. Resources? Check. Staffing, location, suppliers? Everything seems above board.
I am about to sign on when Juan says, “And then after one year, we will open another branch. Then another in this area, which I know is set to boom. In 10 years, I will be king of this industry.”
“Whoa, hold on!” I say. “You haven’t opened your first place yet.”
“But you’ve always told us to dream big, ma’am! And to plan for the long term, which is what I am doing.”
“I did tell you to dream, but dreams should be grounded in reality. The food business is not easy—there are many risks involved. I am glad you see the upside, but don’t count your chickens before they hatch.”
“You sound just like my dad, ma’am! No offense. But we want you on board because you understand young people. I thought you are not old-fashioned.”
“Neither am I foolhardy,” I reply. “There is a reason why Eric Schmidt had to come aboard Google. Sergei Brin and Larry Page had the vision, but they needed someone who could save them from themselves.”
“But the Google boys dreamed big. So did Kalanick and Murdoch. They would not have succeeded if they had limited themselves to a small project.”
“I am not telling you to limit yourself in any way. But it is premature to think about 100 outlets if you haven’t even opened one.”
“Uber has revolutionized the world,” I continue, “but Travis Kalanick, as you know, has had his share of troubles. Would you want such horrendous publicity for your business?”
“The Murdoch family had one scandal after another. They probably grew so quickly that they lost control of the details. They lost News of the World, their UK print jewel. They fired their FoxNews CEO for unwise remarks. Siblings James and Lachlan are often at odds, while father Rupert strives to maintain control. Now a lot wiser and less rash, their conglomerate Sky is hopefully on the mend.”
I tell Juan to read US software company founder Jason Fried’s piece in Inc. Magazine, which says: “Something’s changed in what’s expected of the entrepreneur. Ten years ago, people were excited to just start a business, create their own thing, so they didn’t have to go work for someone else. They wanted to make a good living, buy a house, and be able to pay for their kids’ college.
“But now, entrepreneurship seems like a sport. And the score depends on scale. How big can you get? How fast can you get big? How much power can you amass in the shortest possible time?”
Fried blames business schools for “pumping pipe dreams” and reality TV and social media for “fuel[ing] the fire.”
“This narrative is out of whack,” says Fried. “Yet many entrepreneurs believe they can rush right to the top, skip the fundamental work, and just scale, baby … It sets [them] up to fail from day one.”
“Make your first place a success,” I tell Juan. “Only then we can talk about the second.”