Startup Impossible

On the Food Network television show “Restaurant Impossible”, celebrity chef Robert Irvine takes a failing business and turns it out around in two days on a $10,000 budget.

Unlike other Food Network shows, this one isn’t just a food competition. Restaurant Impossible touches on all the aspects of running a business, including hiring, management, service, revenue, and more.

The similarities between restaurants and a startup are incredible.

Starting a restaurant and starting a tech startup seem super glamorous. Everyone dreams of being the boss at their own restaurant, sitting back with a Manhattan while the place runs itself and customers pour in.

And if you read TechCrunch every day, you will get the impression that starting a company is easy. Everyone is raising tons of money and gaining traction.

But that’s wrong. It’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. It doesn’t matter how many employees you have. You have to give it 110%.

The most common scenario on “Restaurant Impossible” is when a restaurant that was once thriving has lost its way. The reasons are almost identical to why a startup might fail:

  1. The business stops innovating. You can’t let this happen. You have to keep changing and evolving. Your comptition will.
  2. Employee quality goes down. You might make a mediocre hire, then another, then another. All of a sudden the quality of your team is way down. You need to cut them loose.
  3. Your design gets stale. You must always be refreshing and giving customers something new and exciting.
  4. The business is not metrics driven. There is no way to scale a company if you aren’t looking at metrics. Even restaurants need to understand their “users”.
  5. Service quality goes down. It’s hard to scale this, but it’s important to keep overall sentiment and word of mouth positive.
  6. The business owner loses motivation. You can’t give up. It’s up to you to keep pushing forward and keep your team excited.
  7. Pricing doesn’t sustain the business. Often restaurants don’t raise their prices for years, even though costs have gone up. Similarly, startups sometimes never even find a business model.

A business owner or startup founder/CEO is trying to keep an existing business running, while still looking ahead to where the business needs to be in 3 or 5 years.

If you stop moving forward, you’ll slowly see that you’re actually moving backwards, as users leave and go elsewhere.



  1. One other comment that I would add to the mix, as I use the restaurant analogy frequently wrt entrepreneurship, is this. There is a tendency in tech to confuse "ingredients," or attributes, with composite outcomes.A great restaurant is a by-product of high-quality ingredients, great recipes and execution of the recipes by exemplar chefs. The presentation of the food, both in terms of the service and the ambience of the space goes a long way towards what we think of as a memorable dining experience.You can see the battle between Android and iOS in this regards, whereas the former is very focused on ingredients (speeds and feeds), and the latter is all about delivering the composite experience. Thus, it’s unsurprising where the profits, loyalty, leverage and durability is coming from.One last comment that comes to mind from a friend in the restaurant biz is that a linchpin of many successful restaurants is creating one or two "crave-able" dishes, such that the customer is thinking how they’re craving that dish today, here, NOW. Apple is particularly good at creating these crave-able "dishes."

  2. <html><head></head><body style="word-wrap: break-word; -webkit-nbsp-mode: space; -webkit-line-break: after-white-space; ">Thanks Mark! Great comment.<br><div><div></div></div></body></html>

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