We like Shark Tank. In terms of popularity, it’s king of the growinginvestainment sector. Aspiring entrepreneurs would be wise to heed the morsels of wisdom offered by the sharks when building and financing their businesses. In fact, in the past few months, the show has been referenced a few times in meetings we've had with institutional professionals. It's not just for mom-and-pops. It's watched by the pros too, and featuring guest sharks like Chris Sacca will further its stature.
Still, we think there's a better show for people looking to TV for their entrepreneurial insights. That show is found on the Food Network, Cutthroat Kitchen.
Hosted by the sadistic Alton Brown, the show features experienced chefs--many of whom own their own restaurants--who have 30 minutes to prepare the same meal from an onstage pantry that is open for just 60 seconds at the beginning of the segment. The chefs are also awarded $25,000 to bid on sabotages that arise during the food preparation process. Throughout the segment, Brown interrupts the chefs so that they can bid on the increasingly nasty sabotages that can be directed against the other contestants. Examples of sabotages include:
1) Forcing another chef to cook with a hollowed-out frying pain, necessitating that the unfortunate recipient fry food on the rim of the pan.
2) Taking away a foundational ingredient, such as salt or sugar, from another chef.
3) Forcing a competitor to prepare a meal with a dog cone around his neck.
4) Requiring a chef to incorporate an unusual ingredient such as a cup of banana-flavored candies into her dessert.
Watching these chefs navigate increasingly onerous obstacles to make their dish while plotting against their competitors is great entertainment. But the best part is seeing how the chefs present their final dishes to a judge who is not privy to the specific obstacles that each chef overcame. The chefs, therefore, are forced to present their dishes in the best possible light and make their choices seem intentional.
For an aspiring entrepreneur, Cutthroat Kitchen cuts right to the chase with several great lessons:
1) Don’t work with blinders on. Your opponents are going to want to sabotage your dish (i.e., your product). You should stay focused on building your business, but in an intensely competitive environment, you can’t afford to ignore the competition.
2) Embrace your inadequate resources and view them as gifts to spur creativity. Feeling sorry for yourself because other CEOs do not have to face the equivalent of preparing their courses with miniature utensils saps valuable energy. Energy isn't limitless and it should be used as efficiently and creatively as possible.
3) Assume that your product will not speak for itself. Marketing is as essential as cooking, and the more effective chefs do a great job of putting their cheeseless lasagna in the most compelling light possible. Keep in mind that marketing and cosmetics are different. Giving yourself a ridiculous title like “chief idea sommelier” doesn’t count as marketing.
4) Stay calm when trouble comes. Brown (i.e., the government) will impose unwelcomed surprises on you right in the middle of your plans to launch. It's annoying, but it's a reality of the show and the business world. The best way to deal with trouble is serenely and with a sense of humor if possible.
5) Allocate your capital with great care. Chefs who use too much money to purchase one of the first sabotages often run out of ammunition for the later rounds; however, chefs who wait too long to aggressively bid on a sabotage often find themselves knocked out of contention. Make sure to watch every dollar but spend when necessary.
Whether you’re an aspiring foodtech or fintech entrepreneur, you’ll benefit by watching these chefs actually have to create something on this show, not just pitch. And like entrepreneurs, the contestants work without a safety net, so their choices are exposed for all to see.
So what separates the winning chef from the others? Quite often, the victor is the scrappiest chef who treats having to cook with a pumpkin on his head as just another day in the kitchen. Now that’s our kind of entrepreneur.