Baguette About It: Three Questions to Ask About Your Idea and Why I'm Not Starting a Restaurant
Published: Apr. 18, 2017
I’m leaving Tacklebox to start a restaurant. It’s called “Baguette About It,” and I’m psyched.
Stay with me…
Everyone in the restaurant gets a baguette. Next, they order a few bowls of sauce — bolognese, vodka, cheese, etc. The only items on the menu are there to dip bread in. Done.
Be honest — you’d eat there. I certainly would.
Before you send that gently worded email telling me I’m making a huge mistake, I’m not actually leaving Tacklebox. I know I shouldn’t start Baguette About It. It’d be a huge mistake and I shouldn’t spend more than five non-joking minutes thinking about it.
Founders pitch me ideas that sound a lot less silly — but are just as dangerous — all the time. They tell me they’re leaving their jobs to pursue them.
These ideas are rarely as obvious to spot as Baguette About It, but answering three simple questions about your idea can shine a pretty bright light on it’s potential. I didn’t think these questions up, but I’ll show you how they expose my idea.
QUESTION 1: WHY ME?
What do I know that makes me uniquely well positioned to thrive with Baguette About It?
Well, I thought of the concept.
This isn’t a terrible start. Every successful thing — whether it’s a startup idea, a restaurant, a book, or a dinner — needs a cohesive concept to be great. Concepts are deceptively hard. A good concept will inform every decision you make as a company and anchor customer expectations.
As a potential customer, hearing the one sentence pitch about Baguette About It helps me picture the rest. I see a boisterous place that’s great for groups. I see people using their hands to dip bread into communal bowls of sauce. I don’t see a snooty atmosphere — I see people letting their guards down.
A strong concept lets the customer envision the personal benefits of the product. I can picture the exact group of friends I’d go with. I can see us laughing over bottles of wine and bowls of vodka sauce.
Most importantly, a strong concept lets me answer the most important question — “do people like me do things like this?” It helps me opt-in or out. Most concepts are too weak to get a reaction either way, and founders are stuck in idea purgatory.
Ok — the concept for Baguette About It is potentially memorable. It’s a decent building block. Sadly, that’s where it falls apart.
A concept, while important, cannot be your differentiator. Your differentiator needs to be you. Your unique skills / network / insight need to be the foundation that supports the concept in a way no one else can. You need to be the best positioned person alive to pursue this opportunity, or the concept is irrelevant. As it is here.
In this way, good concepts can be more dangerous than bad ones. Tons of people told me they’d eat at Baguette About It when I told them the idea. This is a disaster — a false read on this being a good opportunity to pursue. It’s easy to mistake a strong concept with a concept you’re the best person to execute.
I’ve never run a restaurant before. I’ve never managed a food supply chain or dealt with the FDA. I don’t understand food economies of scale or the waiter labor market. I’d spend all my time learning the nuances of the industry or hiring people to help. My value — the concept — is severely limited.
Your startup is your opportunity to show off what you’re amazing at. What you’ve been preparing your whole life to do. The honest answer to “why me” for this idea is… no reason.
“Why Me” Grade: C-
QUESTION 2: WHY NOW?
However great your idea is, someone has thought of it before.
With that in mind, what’s changed recently that makes now the right time to pursue it?
This usually stems from a deep understanding of your market, customer, or technology. Growth in AI is huge. I honestly don’t know what it is about the technology that led to the change, but if you were a data scientist who identified this coming shift two years ago, you’d have had a huge advantage.
For Baguette, is there new tech that allows me to get locally sourced tomatoes for half the price as they were five years ago? Has the real estate market changed enough to make leasing in SoHo now worth it? Are my customers tastes shifting towards this type of restaurant?
Again — I don’t know enough about the market, the supply chain, or the industry to even venture a guess. The answer to “Why Now” is simply because I thought of the idea last week. That’s…not good.
“Why Now” Grade: F
QUESTION 3: WHY AT ALL?
Time to flex your muscles on how well you understand the customer you’re building for.
I’m done building products customers buy once, and you should be, too. It’s unimaginably hard to get someone to buy something and have a great experience — you’re setting the bar too high if you’re just going to sell it to them once. So with that in mind: why is this problem systemic, why does it need a real solution, and why will that solution support an entire company? Why does this need to exist?
For Baguette, why would people come back twice a month for the next ten years?
I just don’t see it. There’s no shortage of restaurants to go in groups. The customer segment isn’t specific at all. This simply doesn’t need to exist.
A good rule of thumb here :
B2C (selling to consumers): Only build something if it’s solving the biggest, most pressing need/problem in a specific group of customer’s lives at some identifiable moment.
B2B (selling to businesses): Only build something if it will get a specific person inside a company promoted, and if they don’t have access to it they might get fired.
Only build things that really matter, because those are the only things people will pay for before there are testimonials. Things people need when they don’t exist, and things people will miss when they’re gone. It can be for a small amount of people, but they need to care.
“Why at all” Grade: F
Oof. The report card is not looking good. Baguette About It? Fugghedaboutit (had to, sorry).
I’ll stick to my day job (of helping you not stick to your day job).
Give a shout here if you’ve got a startup idea and you have a good answer for the three questions above. We start there, then we build.