I love McDonald’s. Besides making the most addictive fries on the planet, McDonald’s also has unmatched customer success: If you like fast food, they deliver every time. And engrained (or beaten) into every employee are the core lessons that make great entrepreneurs – testing assumptions, exceptional service and managing up. Put together, you have a pretty solid recipe for starting your first company — which is why I recommend every aspiring founder spend at least a summer working under the Golden Arches.
Here’s what I learned:
1) Treat all new products like students – test them religiously.
Ever wonder how the Big Mac made it onto the McDonald’s menu? Well it wasn’t through prayer (although, some times I do pray to have a Big Mac in my belly). Successful products happen rarely ever by chance and you definitely do not become the best selling item on a multibillion dollar restaurant menu by accident. Luckily, I got to see both successful and unsuccessful McDonalds items. I worked at a HQ location where they tested every new item to see how it would perform before putting it on the menu of every store. Remember the McPizza? (if you don’t, you missed out!). The McPizza was a hit, customers loved it and people still talk about it today when they’re reminiscing about the good old days, and it’s been off the menu for over 10 years. So why would they take down a popular, revenue producing product? It turns out that making a pizza took 11 whole minutes (that’s half an episode of Big Bang Theory). Not only did the longer cooking time go against McDonald’s branding of fast service, slower food also meant a slower turnover rate of new customers and ultimately less revenue to the bottom line. Lesson here: testing performance is the only way to validate a product, not spraying and praying. And knowing what to test for to scale your operating model, is essential.
2) Create delightful moments for your customers.
When I took orders at the register, one thing became really clear: people love free stuff, especially when they’re not expecting it. My best customers always got an extra order of fries (or an apple pie if my enemy was working the fries station that day). That kept them coming back more often, and when they came back, guess whose register they ended up lining in front of :). In a short while, my daily transactions were higher than every one of my co-workers, and more than made up for the cost of a few apples. Customer loyalty is how you build long-lasting revenue and creating delightful moments is one of the best ways to make sure your customers keep coming back.
3) Manage up. And know how you’re performing, BEFORE receiving your report card
Here I was, working extra hard and going above and beyond for my customers. I was ready to be praised! I had deserved it right? Well six weeks later, I found myself jobless and unemployable. “Wait, what?!” “How could that be, Rahim?” I was so focused on the needs of the customer that I forgot about the needs of my employer (my other customer). McDonalds wanted the fastest, most efficient workers and I was a slow, methodical employee. As a founder, we often forget that we have two kinds of customers – investors and end-consumers. And in the early beginnings, your investors are often your only paying customers. Manage up to your investors. Don’t do what I did. Understand all expectations and perform accordingly because trying to find a job after being fired from McDonalds is like trying to eat just one french fry – hopeless and damn near impossible.
There are some amazing entrepreneurial teachers out there – Seth Godin, Tony Hsieh, BJ Fogg, Ben Casnocha. But for me, right along side them is Ronald McDonald. Sure, paying for business school might teach you these lessons but a lot of people can get paid to learn. If you want to be a great entrepreneur, testing assumptions, exceptional service and managing up are critical so put on your hairnet, tuck in your uniform, smile and repeat “would you like fries with that?”