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Why you should lower your ambitions for the first time at startups

How many times have you read the entertainment section of a newspaper only to read a restaurant review that begins with something like:

“The owner of this aspiring Michelin Guide restaurant, which opens for the first time this week, says that not only have they never started a restaurant before, but they have been in the hospitality industry for less than 18 months. Originally trained as lawyers, they were inspired to change careers when they became frustrated with how difficult it is to get great modern Tunisian food in this city.”

“The more I looked at it, the more convinced I became that the world needs a great modern Tunisian restaurant,” they said.

“So I read a lot of blog posts about how to start a restaurant, listened to a few podcasts, spent my savings on the first year lease and decor, and hired a chef who DMed me when I said I looking for a chef in a facebook group they have never been a chef, never cooked tunisian food either, but they seem to know how to chop and reheat vegetables, and they assure me that all proteins fundamentally very similar.”

“We’ve only known each other for half a year and to be honest I don’t really understand what they do, or how to do it myself. But I have experience with the problem and a clear vision for what we need to achieve. Anyway, now we’re there hoping to show enough booking revenue growth so that we can raise some money from investors and go global as soon as possible.

If you were to book a table at that restaurant on opening night, how good would your dining experience be?

If you were reviewing that restaurant for the newspaper, would you be constructively critical enough to help the new restaurant owner raise capital for his business, or would you write something like, “Who the hell would expect to succeed without prior experience in the hospitality industry and hiring a chef who learned on-the-job how to cook the world’s best Tunisian cuisine? Worst. Meal. Ever.”

How to found

If you don’t “get” my analogy yet, let me be clear: the first restaurant owner is you, if you’ve changed careers (or just graduated from college) and your goal is to become a successful startup founder to become.

Your chef is your first tech hire, if they’ve previously worked as an engineer or product manager, but have never built such a startup before or never co-founded technology.

There’s no question that the potential rewards for the first founders of tech startups who succeed despite the odds are likely far greater than the potential rewards for opening a chain of successful restaurants.

Still, they’re just potential rewards, with the odds stacked so high against you that you’d be just as likely to succeed if you decided to pivot and open a gourmet restaurant instead. The most likely rewards for a first-time founder and their first co-founder are probably some valuable lessons learned from how and why their startup failed.

So if the educated person who wants to enter the startup industry doesn’t come up with an idea for a startup, find a co-founder and start reading blogs*, what should they do?

The answer is surprisingly simple: try to get an entry-level role in a startup, using some of the skills and experience you already possess.

Get paid a probably modest salary (which is better than no salary at all, as a new founder) and focus on learning all you can from the people at that startup who are more experienced than you.

It doesn’t even have to be a successful startup as you are probably smart enough to learn from what not do and what you should do.

You don’t even have to join a startup very early in the journey, if it’s still really a startup (my definition of a startup is “a company that’s not yet viable, with an organizational culture that’s more interested in chasing of the potential opportunity rather than reduce the potential risk”).

While I have a good game being Yahoo’s second employee in Australia, I was the 118th globally, and yet I had plenty of opportunity to learn through experimentation, lots to design from scratch, and more independence and autonomy than I really should have.

The five years I spent at Yahoo were life-changing, both in terms of skills and experience and personal financial circumstances.

You wouldn’t risk your career and put all your savings into starting a restaurant; you would do a quick training and try to find a role in the front-of-house team or the kitchen of a fast-growing joint run by a few bright people from whom you can learn. Then you would work hard, learn as much as you can and trust that if you keep it up, luck will eventually give you the next chance on your way to becoming a successful restaurateur.

If Australian startups have only one perception they need to solve, it’s this: most of us want to start out as chefs or restaurateurs.

* You must, of course, read StartupDaily absolutely daily and click on all ads.


Shreya has been with australiabusinessblog.com for 3 years, writing copy for client websites, blog posts, EDMs and other mediums to engage readers and encourage action. By collaborating with clients, our SEO manager and the wider australiabusinessblog.com, Shreya seeks to understand an audience before creating memorable, persuasive copy.

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