Startup lessons from a travelling restaurant


Along with a couple of friends, I ran a recurring pop-up restaurant as a hobby for a couple of years.

It was a part of an international food festival called Restaurant Day that started in Helsinki. The idea of the festival is that four times a year anyone can start a restaurant anywhere they want for a day. We did ten consecutive Restaurant Days.

Originally, it was about the food and about having fun with friends, with no real business perspective. However, after the first, very successful day, it was obvious we were onto something more than just sweating all day to break even. After ten times, we retired victorious. It was very small scale, but I like to think that we learned some valuable lessons from the experience. Of the things I learned, I thought, what could I apply to my work here at Salesframe?

A pop-up restaurant and a small company benefit from a few common practices. Chief among them is, without a doubt, agility. In practice, this requires a few key things. A small, versatile and flexible team. The biggest cost in any operation is always manpower and when you need to keep costs low, you need people who can wear many hats and take on tasks and responsibilities outside their core competencies. In a pop-up restaurant this means that everyone cooks, everyone serves and everyone sells. In a tech company this means that, if need be, the engineer comes to a sales meeting and the salesperson is a beta tester. In both cases it means that sometimes nobody goes home until a project is finished. Whether that’s a presentation, a piece of software or ten kilos of pulled pork is irrelevant.

Another form of agility is the ability to think on your feet. A small operation has to be able to transform instantly. To improvise when the situation changes. Out of coleslaw? Replace it with kimchi, now it’s Korean fusion. A programmer falls ill? No worries, finish the mockup layout and lead with that in the next meeting. This also needs to be a scalable ability. A small, agile operation can completely change direction when the market changes or when new opportunities arise.

It’s also extremely important to be able to say “why not?” When you or anyone in your team has a good idea, you have to have the brass pair to give it a shot, even if it’s not a guaranteed success. You won’t know if you don’t try. What’s the worst that could happen? It fails miserably and you go back to doing what you did before? Go for it.

Most of all, I think it’s all about personal responsibility and having a sense of humor. Being frugal and flexible is important, but whatever you do in a small operation always comes back to you. When resources are limited and there’s no large corporation with deep pockets behind you to catch you if you fall, you work with what you’ve got. You make do and you make it work. You can’t blame your boss when the buck stops at you.

Lauri Ruhala