Who: Mehdi Moutahir, Associate Professor of Management and College of Management Department Chair with Johnson & Wales University, Providence
Agree or Disagree with Article: Disagree
His Defense: One of my favorite quotes of all times is from entrepreneur Derek Sivers: “If information was the answer, then we’d all be billionaires with perfect abs.”
Simplifying the complex and dynamic world of entrepreneurship, in general, and food entrepreneurship, in particular, is unnecessarily misleading. To achieve entrepreneurial success, it may require significant self-awareness; the capacity to understands, visualize, and navigate complex systems; a strong willingness to rapidly prototype solutions and continuously adjust; and, of course, some luck for good measure.
In her Huffington Post article, Susan Liang outlines “10 Steps to Becoming a Food Entrepreneur.” In my opinion, the article should be titled “10 Things I Learned from My Own Food Start-Up Journey,” as these steps (or tips, as listed later in the article) seem to stem from Liang’s personal experience as founder of natural-foods company Asulia, rather than commonly accepted entrepreneurship principles.
While it might be useful to learn from the opinions and experiences of successful (as well as unsuccessful) entrepreneurs, it is critical to understand that such opinions and experiences are rooted in very specific contexts and ecosystems, and, as a consequence, are often biased views of what works and what doesn’t.
As a scholar-practitioner, I would like to suggest four alternative steps:
Step 1: Self-awareness
Develop a comprehensive map of personal strengths, weaknesses, and inclinations. Many psychometric tools, as well as entrepreneurship readiness assessments, are available for free online. For the abstract thinkers that like to make connections between various aspects of life, my favorite model is ikigai — such mapping will help you clarify if entrepreneurship is the right path for you.
Step 2: Shadowing
You have determined that entrepreneurship is for you, and you want to start a food business. Great news! Before you start planning and pitching your ideas, go explore the field. Find an internship and/or work experiences in the area you have an interest in. Shadowing entrepreneurs is a great opportunity to uncover the less attractive aspects of entrepreneurship that may include, but are not limited to, long hours, employee/payroll issues, angry customers, liabilities, and administrative functions that have nothing to do with food (or area you are passionate about) but are nonetheless part of being a business owner.
Step 3: Value proposition, design, and business modeling
After your hands-on shadowing experience, you are convinced that you were born to be an entrepreneur and you have an amazing food business idea. Perfect! Let’s put your idea to the test by answering the following questions: What problem are you solving and how are you going to make money by doing so? Forget the traditional business plan and say hello to the business model canvas. Developed by Alexander Osterwalder and popularized by Steve Blank, the business model is one of the most popular and commonly accepted entrepreneurial frameworks that helps entrepreneurs visualize the nine most important building blocks of your business model. These include key activities, key resources, key partners, value proposition, customer segments, customer channels, customer relationships, costs, and revenues. The visual canvas supports creative thinking, and most importantly, facilitates the fourth and final step.
Step 4: Hypothesis testing and rapid prototyping
Ideas are worth a dime a dozen, and there are numerous crowd-sourced websites, such as IdeasWatch, that share great ideas for free. Your awesome business plan and elevator pitch are worthless unless you can demonstrate your capacity to quickly test business hypotheses and pivot quickly based on the lessons you have learned. These tests could include surveys or small and inexpensive experiments that can validate or challenge your assumptions about what works or what customers want. My favorite book on the topic is The Lean Startup by Eric Ries. For instance, renting space in a culinary incubator to test recipes with a small customer group could be an inexpensive alternative to opening a restaurant based on business-plan assumptions. The incubator experience may teach you key lessons about your process and your customers that may influence and/or radically change your initial business idea.
In conclusion, (1) make sure you understand why you want to be an entrepreneur; (2) test the waters by working in the industry you are interested in; (3) learn to design effective value propositions and visualize them in business models canvas; and (4) continuously and rapidly prototype and test minimal viable solutions, learn, adjust, repeat.
Want to learn more about earning your BSBA – Entrepreneurship degree or BS – Food & Beverage Entrepreneurship degree online with JWU College of Online Education? For more information, complete the “Request Info” form on this page or call 855-JWU-1881.