In every success story, you will find someone who has made a courageous decision.
Peter F. Drucker
What does it take to be a successful culinary entrepreneur?
Some say persistence, talent, innovation, or someone who knows how to hustle. In the time spent with Matt Tortora, we’ve uncovered all of the above mentioned and much more.
His story is extremely unique, to say the least. From a nuclear missile technician to chef, and now CEO of Crave Food Services, Matt is well into his entrepreneurial journey. He and his team are working diligently to provide real solutions for an industry in need.
While his full story and loads of advice for culinary entrepreneurs will be published in the upcoming issue of Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine, we’ve pulled seven entrepreneurial tips to share with you today.
1. Find a Problem to Solve
Entrepreneurs, at the end of the day, are problem solvers. Everything from providing convenience, enhancing an experience, to saving time or money, finding a real problem to solve is at the core of your entrepreneurial success.
Matt took a hard look around while working in a restaurant and identified a real problem that needed to be solved. Here’s what he had to say:
I was spending more time sourcing food than I was actually cooking it. I was all about farm-to-table, but it made efficiency almost impossible. Being I was focused on having my own establishment and I was paying someone else to spend time ordering food, it would just add to my food cost. When I totaled it up to about $14,600, I thought, “There’s gotta be a better way.” I immediately focused on how technology may be the solution.
I think to be a good entrepreneur, whether you are running an ice cream shop or a tech company, it’s really having the capability to wrap your arms around the problem and understand how to innovate towards a solution.
2. Create a Plan
Personally, I think nothing truly starts until you create a plan. Whether it’s a decked out 30-page business plan or an in-depth whiteboard diagram, the point is to create a plan.
I’m a fan of the business plan route because it forces you to articulate all aspects of the business, vet your idea, and provide concrete goals and deadlines.
In Matt’s case, the business plan’s executive summary was a key driver for securing capital from investors, as he mentions below.
What I spent a lot of time getting crafty with was my executive summary. It was a two-page outline of everything we were doing. It had great design, graphics, and it was the document I most commonly shared with investors, which would prove to help raise money.
3. Leverage Technology for Solutions
Both Matt and I agree, technology hasn’t truly infiltrated the culinary industry. There are problems the industry faces today and technological solutions just waiting to be discovered.
And though Matt’s not much of a “technologist,” he was able to partner with someone who was, and they ultimately built a solution.
With not being much of a technologist, ultimate success was really about meeting the right people.
My [now] co-founder Will Araujo, was much more versed in today’s technology, in terms of Web and mobile applications. When I met him, we talked about the idea, he said, “With an app, we could help streamline purchasing, and make discovering new sources simple by creating a marketplace online to bring everything together in a network.”
We began throwing the idea around and then decided to build it over the course of a year, after thinking about it day-in and day-out for 4 or 5 months.
WhatsGood is an online marketplace, which connects wholesale buyers to local wholesale producers. It’s an online marketplace that enables an environment to exist, where purchasers can streamline their procurement operations and helps to match local and regional producers to demand they can grow for.
Buyers have access to all of the local producers in a comprehensive directory, combined with e-commerce, so they discover who’s got what product around them, see the prices and available inventory in real-time, and can make purchases directly with the producers.
4. Understand the Market
For entrepreneurs, so many things can look like viable business opportunities. Yet, some prove to be shiny objects that simply distract. The main question is, “do you understand the market, or are you just allured by the opportunity.”
Understanding the market, feeling the pulse, and providing a real solution is a key element to success.
As Matt says:
Having a good understanding of the market is what I believe gave me the right tools to move forward from the point of validation that there were other chefs out there who shared the same problem I did.
Being in the industry, knowing what was happening, and being able to look at competitors, was helpful for us to get moving in the right direction with little risk of making the same costly mistakes everyone else was making.
5. Overestimate on Expenses (Underestimate Revenue)
There is something that can kill an idea during the startup phase, running out of capital. Goodness is that the death of a small business.
When you plan, overestimate on expenses, trust me (and Matt). Doing so will help offset the depletion of capital and can be the difference between a successful or unsuccessful venture.
Matt shares his thoughts on the matter:
Looking back, I would say learning to overestimate your cost is a big thing. Overestimating on your cost and underestimating on your revenue, provides a good basis for how to maintain credibility with potential investors.
Too often, I think entrepreneurs are too optimistic with their numbers and estimations for the investors to truly believe in. If you do this, and your numbers still look good, you are probably on to something which can grow some legs.
6. Find an Advisor or Mentor
There are times when you become completely lost for answers, it happens. Whether while starting out, or when you’re well on your way. In these moments, it’s helpful to have somebody in your corner to not only bounce ideas off of, but to also get sound advice. These individuals can think objectively and help pinpoint real solutions.
For Matt, he has a great mentor in his corner:
I had a great mentor at Johnson and Wales who really was the first one to say, “You know you need to move on this idea with WhatsGood and with Crave Foods,” and that is the former Executive Director, John Robitaille.
John is an advisor to my company now, and he’s given us a lot of great insights which have helped in making the right decisions in business. From a day-to-day standpoint, he’s just a great person to throw ideas around with and to get his opinion on things. Having a resource like that, who can be your ‘sounding-board’, I believe is crucial to having a strong likelihood of success.
7. Maintain Balance
It’s completely possible to get burned out or hit a productivity plateau because you don’t have balance in your life. Keep in mind, everything has an opportunity cost. As such, you should evaluate areas of your life potentially suffering as a result of your entrepreneurial venture and work to find balance.
At the end of the day, we all need balance. And when found, it can be pivotal to your overall success.
For Matt, he makes sure to schedule his time accordingly.
It’s a challenge managing and balancing personal life with work, it’s hard. I’m married with two kids, and it’s certainly a challenge to balance things, but crucial that you put effort into figuring out what makes sense for you and your particular situation.
To attempt this balance, I try to carve out time on my calendar for my family time, just the same as I would for events or client meetings. As sad as it sounds, to put an event for your family on your calendar sets a priority standard equal to your work. It helps me stick to it and spend more time.
As I mentioned earlier, Matt has an incredible story and tons of advice for both aspiring culinary entrepreneurs, and those well on their way. His full interview and advice will be featured in the upcoming issue of Entrepreneurial Chef Magazine, and you won’t want to miss it so stay tuned!
Thanks for taking the time to read and I look forward to any comments you have below!
Also, grab a copy of the 10 Rules of Entrepreneurship, which touches on some of the tips we gleaned from Matt today.
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