And more advice from Allison Robicelli, Founder of Robicelli Studio
Robicelli Studio builds on over 30 years of combined hospitality experience, as well as a decade of notoriety as being at the creative forefront of the independent food scene. Allison is a consultant, an author, a creator of culinary content, a speaker, and an on-air personality with a James Beard nomination for food writing under her belt. Allison considers herself a "quintessential Brooklynite and Broad with a capital B." She now resides in Baltimore, which she discovered is very much like the long-gone New York City of her youth, with her husband, Matt and their two children.
1. If you can be talked out of being an entrepreneur, then it may not be the path for you.
Every time I have given a panel about entrepreneurship, the first thing I tell everybody is "don't do it!" Some people come up to me and say that was really negative, really terrible. If I speak to you for half an hour, and I talk you out of it, you have no business doing this. If I list all these reasons, and you are still going to do it, then you already have a spark of crazy. That's your first hurdle. If not eating every so often is okay; then entrepreneurship is for you! If putting everyone's needs in front of your own; then entrepreneurship is for you! I have missed birthdays, weddings, and bridal showers. People forget that your life isn't yours. My life belongs to all the people that I serve. You may find that your best friends will also be entrepreneurs because no one else will be able to relate to your life. It is an entire lifestyle change. It's not as simple as just opening a business. You hear those romance stories of people quitting their jobs to sell cookies and being incredibly successful. That's kind of like that one person who wanted to be an actor and got an Oscar straight away. Your odds are practically non-existent that this is going to happen. You really need to have a good plan. You have to understand that quitting your job and following you dreams may not be a good idea. If you are on the fence, start something part-time. Get your feet wet. Go work for a startup. Go work for a small business. Go work for somebody else who is doing it. You will get so much training. You will at least decide if it is for you. Or you may decide that you just want to work for somebody else's startup, so you get the excitement of it without taking on all the risk.
2. Don't be afraid to put down a project and walk away.
If something fails, that's fine. That just means that it is a start of something new. You have a new opportunity to create something extraordinary. Who wants to be doing the same thing their entire life? Here I was working for myself (Robicelli's Bakery), and I hated it. I hated what we had become, of what we built. I hated the future projections of this business. The food business in New York City had grown unattainable. Even as successful as we were, the cost of everything had become so high. We were barely breaking even. If you sell two pieces or two billion pieces, it is still kind of the same thing. It was my husband and me running everything for a long time, and it became exhausting. You might realize that you are unhappy. And, if you are unhappy, you should quit. You shouldn't feel like a failure over it. This isn't why you went into business. At the beginning of the bakery, I had been really happy. Sometimes things run their course. It has been nice since I have been away from it for a while. I wrote another book. I spent two years writing down my bucket list. All of the different things that I wanted to try professionally. I wanted to do some consulting; I wanted to work in advertising; I wanted to work as a tour guide; I wanted to write a book, but not on food. I got nominated for a James Beard award for writing. I got to have all these little adventures. I got to try a bunch of stuff, some of it was great, and some of it was not for me. Going back into the restaurant industry knowing all that I have learned is very valuable. I know exactly that this is where I belong.
3. Never ask people what they want.
When you say that you are doing market research, and you are polling people, everybody is lying to you. They give you want they think is the right answer. Also, they give you unrealistic requests, and they expect you to follow through on these requests. Ten years ago, I was opening a gourmet shop in Brooklyn. I asked people what they wanted. People started saying, "we want organic chicken, but make it 99 cents a pound." But, I was buying it at $4.99 a pound. Your customers don't understand supply chains. They don't know how business works. If you keep trying to make them happy, it is not possible. You have to focus on your vision and what makes you happy. The customers who understand that will be your audience. Everyone is not going to be your audience.
4. Don't think that your product will not be replicated.
I have seen my stuff ripped off all over the world. Whole Foods ripped off my stuff. This happened to a lot of companies I know. A friend of mine has a pickle company. He was speaking to Target and Walmart about going into their stores. They wanted to pay him less than it was costing him to produce his product. They told him that eventually it would pay off because of the volume. He said that he really couldn't do that. So, they just replicated his product. That happens a lot. I have seen my concept and my stuff in Japan. A lot of us in the Brooklyn food scene have kind of been used in a way.
5. Don't let your company get pigeonholed.
People will just notice you for one thing. We weren't just a cupcake business; we were a bakery. And, all of a sudden all of your other professional accomplishments disappear. When we invented Nutella Lasagna, it went viral. Everyone was like, you are the Nutella Lasagna people. They wanted us on TV. It was a joke. We were making fun of the Cronut. But we also have all these accolades for all the other things we have done. We got this award and that award, but you made that one thing, and people think that's it. People really pigeonhole you, and it is very aggravating. And then three weeks later, the media is on to something else.
6. Don't forget to carve out some personal time.
Four of five years ago, my husband started forcing me to watch television. "You are on your computer all the time," he exclaimed. "There has to be a time when you shut it off." Now Netflix is the only thing that can shut down everything else for me. Don't overwork yourself. It can be a yoga class, something that is a distraction. It can be going to the zoo. Going to the zoo is fantastic! Every time my kids were bored, I decided to take them to the zoo. And then I realized how wonderful it is to go to the zoo! That is not something you think about very often. But, you can't be upset if you are in a room full of monkeys! You have to find those outlets. You have to be able to separate your personal life from your business.