Photos and Words by Corinne Ognibene
It’s not every day you get to meet and take advice from multiple of your favorite celebrities and lifelong inspirations. Well, on October 22nd, I was lucky enough to do just that.
At Martha Stewart’s American Made Awards, held at Martha Stewart Headquarters in New York City, influential innovators, celebrity entrepreneurs, and successful small business owners were brought together to inspire. The Summit was aimed at potential makers, small-business owners, and entrepreneurs, or those looking to take what they already have to the next level. Some of the celebrity speakers included Jessica Alba, Geoffrey Zakarian, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Jim Cramer, Emeril Lagasse, and Zac Posen.
One panel discussion, called “Stirring up and Industry: Food Innovators”, was of particular interest to me, and should be to anyone interested in starting a food business some day. This panel was moderated by celebrity chef, Geoffrey Zakarian, and included Nicolas Jammet, the co-creator and CEO of Sweetgreen. Nicolas spoke about his tremendous business success, which stemmed from an idea that was born in his college dorm room. He said his idea came from his, and two of his friends’, problem of not having access to the healthy food they desired at the right price. So what did they do? They rethought the economic model of fast food by focusing on the value proposition to the customer. They knew that there were a lot of other college students, like him and his friends, who would see the value in affordable, quick, and nutritional salads (not all salads are created equal). In addition to that, they connected the dots between regional supply chains, with trusted farmers for each city, to connect people back to the community through food. Nicolas made it clear to the audience that Sweetgreen doesn’t sell lettuce, it sells a set of values that are centered around sustainability and doing things the right way instead of the easy way.
Jim Cramer also had some especially great tips for aspiring small-business owners. Based on his experience in owning a restaurant, and success as an entrepreneur, he suggested the following:
Your first hire should always be your accountant. Bringing in an accountant first increases your odds of success by 62%.
If you are going into business with friends and/or family, assume it will end badly. He said, “of course you start with love, but you have to have a document in case something goes wrong. Figure out what happens if [the business] fails or you hate each other.”
Go to a friend, family member, or bank before seeking an angel investor, because they “may want your business”. Also, make sure you have several months of cash flow in savings. Martha Stewart added, “don’t go to the bank, go to your dad”.
Think about your potential enemies a lot. Make friends with anyone who could “eat” or “stop” you.
“Traffic is the most important thing”, he said. He mentioned that his restaurant is located near an F train stop, which causes a lot of foot traffic.
Make sure your website looks professional because “if your website looks amateurish, people will think you're amateurish,” he said.
Social media is a huge part of a small business. Cramer said he does all of his own social media because he doesn’t trust anyone else to do it for him.
If you hire from craigslist, make sure you check references. Also, if you are running a restaurant or other cash business, you should show up randomly and surprise people.
You must be careful about payroll. He suggests using a service to avoid attention from the government. If you do it yourself you could become a target for auditing.
If you disappoint a customer, this could lead to a bad Yelp review, which could sink your business, so it is important to make it up to them. He said, “There is a trick that works with Americans, a free beer.”
This summit is held every year in New York City, so if you are thinking about starting your own business or have already started one, I highly suggest it! It is a great platform for networking and there are even opportunities to meet some of the speakers. Not to mention, it is a fantastic learning experience and it just might challenge you to change the way you think about business.