How 2 Scale Your Business: Lessons and Mistakes with Ian So ‘08
As a new founder, what would you do if your venture’s most valuable asset — let’s say a $19K food truck– went out of commission shortly after you launched your venture? For Babson alumnus Ian So ‘08, this was one of the many entrepreneurial challenges he had to overcome as the co-founder of The Chicken & Rice Guys. In one of our in-person #How2Tuesdays earlier this semester (pre-social distancing), Ian shared stories and insights from his entrepreneurial journey scaling his venture from a single food truck to a growing restaurant brand bringing Middle Eastern street food to Boston and beyond. Here are some of our favorite takeaways from his talk:
“Your Net Worth is Your Network” Ian emphasized the importance of networking to his personal growth and Chicken & Rice Guys’ business success. He recalled how, from his earliest days as a founder, he made sure to attend and help organize events with fellow entrepreneurs, becoming especially involved with the NAAAP (National Association of Asian American Professionals). It was through the NAAAP that he met a fellow restaurateur with a struggling location at 85 Bedford St. in Boston. Seeing opportunity, Ian was able to buy the restaurant and convert it into the first brick and mortar Chicken & Rice Guys restaurant, a location which still serves halal food to Boston today!
To demonstrate networking’s long-term value, Ian showed us a chart tracing back all of his venture’s hires, many of which came from personal referrals! Ian encourages entrepreneurs looking to network by becoming more involved with professional organizations to consider what they can contribute within the framework of “The 3 T’s:” time, talent, and treasure (a.k.a. financial support). As a young founder who could not initially contribute “treasure,” Ian says that the relationships he first built by sharing his time and talents with other entrepreneurs have continued to support the growth of his business.
“Win On Culture” If you’ve ever enjoyed a halal plate from one of Chicken & Rice Guys’ restaurants or food trucks, you probably picked up on the cheery vibes from the team members taking your order and preparing your meal. This positive atmosphere is no accident, as Ian has deliberately made creating an enjoyable work culture for his employees a priority. Why culture? Ian shared that turnover for restaurants can be as high as 100% on a yearly basis, leading to a workplace disengagement which is then manifested in disappointing customer experiences and poor business performance. To defy this difficult industry reality, Ian has set out to create a positive culture for Chicken & Rice Guys by paying competitively, avoiding micromanagement, and regularly surveying his employees’ engagement. For other entrepreneurs or managers looking to adopt similar principles, Ian recommends researching Netflix’s “Culture Document.”
“Your Business is Reflection of Your Leadership” Today, Ian leads a growing fleet of trucks and two brick and mortar locations in Boston, while also overseeing Chicken & Rice Guys’ marketing, operations, and administration. Although the signature halal style plates, which became a hit with their first food truck customers, remain constant, the leadership skills required of Ian as CEO have changed with each stage of the business’s growth: “A lot of things that may have been very important to you in the beginning may not help you succeed later on in the business.” To Ian, knowledge of one’s weaknesses as an entrepreneur is key to evolving as the leader of a growing business. He practiced this as co-founder and CEO by being unafraid to hire people who knew more than him and through reading business books. Ian’s recommended reading for us included The Founder’s Dilemma by Noam Wasserman, Atomic Habits by James Clear, and Traction by Gino Wickman.
We hope you enjoyed these tips from Ian! To learn more about Chicken & Rice Guys and see if their food trucks will be making any stops near you, visit cnrguys.com. For the latest news and more events from the Blank Center, follow Babson Entrepreneurs on Facebook and @babsoneship on Instagram.