Start Small

In case you have not heard (or the trend has not yet hit your area) food carts and food trucks are all the rage right now.

Throughout Los Angeles for example, food trucks serving high cuisine at low prices continue to explode in popularity. Kogi Korean BBQ alone has four trucks that swarm the city: Serving incredible tacos at $2 a pop, these restaurants-on-wheels typically generate lines that last 45 minutes or more and the trucks rake in millions annually.

Or get this: CNN recently declared that Portland, Oregon has the best street food in the world (topping, among others, Rio, Marrakesh, and even Bangkok). The food cart trend in Portland is so hot that Bing recently launched its first-ever local app – a Portland food cart finder:

Microsoft announced the launch of its first hyper-local Bing product: a food cart finder that provides Portland's food cart-crazy population with access to menus, directions and reviews for over 250 food carts. The service allows users to filter food carts by cuisine, opening hours, ratings and location.

I can personally attest to the great food found at carts in both cities, but more importantly for our purposes, is that restaurateurs who kick-start their business by creating a food cart apparently fare better over the long-haul than many of those who go out, get their MBA, and launch a new restaurant backed by a pricey loan. As someone said recently, “Those food carts actually turn out to be fantastic small business incubators.”

It makes sense, doesn’t it? By starting small, learning the ropes, figuring out what works, and then tweaking and fine-tuning, these food entrepreneurs gain invaluable experience with very low risk.

And that may be the best part.

Of course starting and running a business is a risk – that’s part of the juice and the fun. But the smart money is on the small business owner who knows to limit his or her downside by starting small, risking less, and thereby taking smaller lumps.

After that, then jumping in with both feet makes a heck of a lot more sense.

You may recall a late-night infomercial from years ago where the guy boasted that “one tiny little classified ad can make you rich!” Curious, I once bought that information product ($39.95) to discover the gimmick. Turns out it was no gimmick at all. His plan was this: Find a good product, place some classified ads to test it, uncover an ad that made you even $5 a week, and then roll that ad out into the 500 newspapers across the nation (back when we had newspapers and classifieds.) Do that, and you will see that $5 a week in profit times 500 papers equals almost $150,000 a year.

But you don’t make $150,000 a year off of one tiny classified by placing it in 500 papers first; you only do so by placing it in one paper first instead.

It’s the same as the food cart idea: What works is to start small, tinker and learn, and then go long.


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