It was strange. As Todd Stern spoke he reminded me a lot of myself growing up. He spoke of doing yard work in the neighborhood at a young age and knowing what an entrepreneur was and wanting to be one long before anyone his age had gone beyond wanting to be a doctor or a fireman. I had all but forgotten that in elementary school I had been the same way. It was only somewhere in middle school that counselors, teachers and peers all but convinced me that picking a “career” was a must. It wasn’t until high school that the entrepreneur passion came back for me. Oddly, in a similar way it went with Todd. He began working for small quick serve food establishments and was trusted with the responsibility to manage the establishment a much younger age than typical.
Todd continued to stay in the industry and work his way up. From dishwasher to general manager he had the opportunity to work the restaurant industry from top to bottom. He was good at his jobs and was being paid well, but had to pursue his dream and open small plates. Despite construction outside his establishment for years, he was able to create a profitable business with over a million in revenue.
Two other things I saw Todd and I had were what we see as important aspects of business development: A strong vision and strong networking skills. Beyond this Todd had lots of great advice to give. Similar to Dan Gilbert and many of the other speakers we’ve had he believes in creating a great environment for employees. And to create opportunity within the company for people to move up is vital to employee retention.
He also had two very unique pieces of advice that I hadn’t heard before but were great. The first was to create a list of things that excite us about the city. He mentioned this in response to a question Andrew had on how to convince outside businesses to team up with us to do things in the city. The other piece of advice that I think was the best advice he gave was not to grow too quickly. Through all the speakers I had heard this is something I don’t recall hearing. In the world of seemingly overnight success and dot com explosions like Facebook and You Tube the idea of not growing until the company has key people in place that can support the business is something I think I have overlooked. All and all, Todd was great and so was his lunch.