For Entrepreneurs To Lead Their Businesses To Success, They Should Learn To Get Out Of Their Own Way

Those who find solutions (and not blame other factors) will navigate their teams to success during the most difficult times.

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Throughout my career, mentors have advised me that I could find great success if I would “get out of my own way.” While I may have never fully appreciated what they meant, now, in hindsight, I realize that they were advising me to get my ego under control. While getting out of one’s own way is a piece of advice that’s unique to an individual or their particular circumstances, it generally means that to achieve a higher level of performance, you must search for answers internally.

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For a person facing adversity, this could mean remembering why you are doing something in the first place (your purpose), while for another person, it would be to stop comparing yourself to others when it feels like your results pale in comparison. Recently, while reading the book Ego Is The Enemy by Ryan Holiday, I was reminded of this expression while experiencing another bout with adversity. On this occasion, my own performance was stagnant and it had translated into mediocre results at my company. Our investor was not impressed with the company’s performance, and morale was on the decline.

I realized then that it was time to explore what was wrong from within. Perhaps I was getting in my own way? For many months, my focus was on the perceived failure of the performance of our third party logistics provider when, in fact, it was our company value proposition that required a considerable overhaul. Internal examination revealed that I was guilty of investing half my time fighting over circumstances that were outside of my control, and arguing over points that did not matter to the company in the long run. I was convinced that external factors were impacting company results, and I was not looking at the opportunities within. Indeed, my ego was getting in the way of my performance.

Often times, I had argued that as a pioneer of the virtual/ghost kitchen business model, my perspectives were always correct, and that others should be impressed with my expertise in the industry. Eventually, I realized that no one cared what I had accomplished in the past, and one’s only present performance mattered. Sure, my domain expertise initially secured a seed funding round, but from that point on, it was performance that fueled incremental rounds of funding. When COVID-19 and the resulting geo-political events in MENA thwarted unit expansion and revenue growth, I allowed myself to become a victim of my circumstances, and placed the blame for stagnation on the environment I was in, e.g. third party logistics and COVID-19 restrictions.

Related: Winning With Customization: Lessons From A Startup's Expansion Into The Middle East's Logistics Sector

That’s when I recalled that no one cares about circumstances, only results. The exceptional do not look for excuses, we find solutions. Sure, the landscape was having an adverse impact on our performance, but that was true for everyone. I was going to have to find a path to success that did not rely upon a change in my external surroundings. Everyone in a leadership position striving for continued growth will run into a variety of obstacles on their journey, but only those that find solutions (and not blame other factors) will navigate their teams to success during the most difficult times.

So, what did I do? We started by removing low performance brands and cuisines from our offerings. Data revealed that we had a variety of cuisines and items with low return rates and clickthrough rates, so those were removed from menus. Our menu design required adjustment to give the consumer a better ordering experience, and several in-house tastings revealed opportunities for taste, quality, process, and staff training improvement. Once we put maximum effort into correcting what was in our control, the results were impossible to ignore. We doubled revenue in 90 days, while improving gross margin by 17%, smashing every key performance indicator we measured our business against.

We then proceeded to enter Kuwait and opened four units in a six-week period. Our eighth UAE unit opened in Sharjah in May, and that means we will have expanded from five UAE units in November last year, to 20 units across MENA by the end of the third quarter of thus year. This is a key achievement for us, when considering that our external circumstances have not improved whatsoever; in fact, one could argue they deteriorated further. But what we have learned from this experience is that while we cannot influence our external circumstances, we can always control (and usually improve) our own performance- and that’s what will lead to success in the long term.

Related: Competitive Advantage: Serial Entrepreneur Peter Schatzberg, Founder And CEO, Sweetheart Kitchen

Peter Schatzberg

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Peter Schatzberg is the founder and CEO of Sweetheart Kitchen.

He is the pioneer of virtual kitchens by launching rapidly evolving iterations of his business model on three different continents since creating the first “delivery only” multi-brand virtual kitchen (Green Summit Group) in 2013 in New York City. Green Summit Group (GSG) had a portfolio of 12 food brands and scaled to US$10 million in run rate within three years of launching with just $3 million of funding. Schatzberg left GSG in 2017 to explore opportunities outside the United States where food delivery platforms (aggregators) and investors alike were more receptive to the innovative virtual kitchen model.

Most recently, Schatzberg started Sweetheart Kitchen (bySWHK), a collection of 21 unique food brands that incorporate proprietary routing and manufacturing software into the kitchen procurement, production and assembly processes. His Six-Sigma (lean manufacturing) approach to kitchen design results in reduced lead times, less process variation and a measurement system that tracks operations performance remotely and in real time. His creative approach to brand development, menu design, and ingredient selection results in high inventory turnover ensuring ingredients are always fresh, high quality, and low cost.

Schatzberg recruited an executive team from companies including Emirates, Careem, Nestle, GE Oil & Gas, and Moodys and has ambitious plans to scale bySWHK to several hundred units by 2021 across the Middle East and Asia. To date, the company has raised over $34 million from strategic investors in the food industry. Since launching in Dubai in March 2019, the company has seven Dubai units live, four in Kuwait, and one central manufacturing unit in each country, while Schatzberg is currently planning Saudi expansion.