Thursday, July 15, 2004

The Startup Garden 

I haven't read The Startup Garden yet, but I read an interview for it at re:invention, inc.

As I read these blogs on businesses and entreprenuership, duct tape marketing and so forth, I feel increasingly confident that what Manager is doing will be successful, that what she's done so far in preparation will make a favorable impression on those whom she'll be asking to invest in her business.

And invest is the right word to use.

KCC of  re:invention, inc. said there are levels of gift-giving and investment. Banks, after all, are profit centers. They don't want to lose the money they lend. So, according to re:invention, inc (paraphrasing Carol Nichols, co-founder of TWVF and more), these are the levels:

Gift: giving money to someone without a plan and an unproven business concept.

Placing a Bet: giving money to someone with a plan and a good idea, but no customers.

Making an Investment: giving money to someone who has a plan, a good idea, and a few initial customers. That's Manager.

A smart loan: Giving a 4% interest loan to someone with a 2 year old busniess with 20 customers and aggressively scaling to grow.

The first two are tough, not a lot of hope. But Manager's in the last 2 categories, where people are willing to invest. She's got some customers just begging her to open, she's got a great idea, and a solid way to implement it. All she needs is an adequate infusion of cash to jump-start it. Once it's going, it will show a profit, will be successful, will repay the investors, and will become an important part of the culture in Oklahoma City.

The idea is solid: a bakery and coffeehouse that provides a delicious little break in the day, one that lingers happily in the memory and the tastebuds, and can be carried home for extended indulgence. The ambiance is planned to induce the customers to linger to listen to the performers (or to be a performer), to enjoy pretty artwork (and a famous sports photographer has asked if we'll offer him hang space in the bakery - his sports photographs of the OU Sooners football team are breathtaking and amazing - and I don't like sports...), to sip special gourmet coffees or even just a plain cuppa joe and accompany it with a yummy handpie or a delicious pastry. People will want to return to repeat the experience. They'll share it with friends. They'll speed order from the internet and dash in for a special party pick-up or to fill a need for an unexpected guest at dinner, or just because they want to surprise their family with a special treat. Or maybe because they worked late and feel they and/or their family deserve the quality dinner with a handpie or soup, bread, and pastries the Cracked Cauldron offers.

The location is solid: just off a major highway, on a major thoroughfare, between some large office buildings, near several major crossroads, easy access, and highly visible. Not to mention several large hotels are nearby and 2, yes that was two large shopping malls and a major shopping strip mall are within easy walking distance (for anyone but Oklahomans, that is!). There's a well established comfortably incomed housing development just a bit south, making the Cracked Cauldron a clear choice for a place to relax, a place to party, or a place to grab a quick take-home treat or meal. And since we plan to put a map on the back of our business cards and advertising brochures and coupons, we will make it even easier for our customers to find us.

As a side note here: what is it with businesses who don't give their address on their ads? How do they expect customers to find them? Osmosis? I don't know how many times I've gotten a mail flyer with a coupon to someplace that sounded really interesting, only to be frustrated because they don't put on a phone number, or an address, and I can't find them anywhere. They don't have a web presence, they don't have a listing in the phone book because they've just opened, and I, the customer, will not spend my money calling the phone company to get their number, then spend even more time waiting for them to answer their phone just to shop there. If I've never been there before, these barriers will likely prevent me from going. Oh, sure, I might someday stumble across them, but unless they get wildly popular, chances are all I'll fidn then is a vacant building.

That happened with one of my favorite restaurants once. We accidentally stumbled on them driving down the street, ate there, loved it, and were never able to find it again because they didn't have a phone listing (this was pre-internet days) and no one we knew had ever heard of them. When we next accidentally drove in the same neighborhood, we came across it again - and all that was left was the sign. The building was long vacant. That was such a pity, because I think it would have been sucessful, if only we could have found it again.

Back on track: She has a loyal, if small, following of customers. The bacon bread we bake is in a higher demand than we can supply with a home kitchen. We get requests for orders of the Celtic Knot rolls that exceed what my home kitchen can prepare. The Mediterannean Olive Sandwich rolls disappear faster than we can bake them in my kitchen. Her cinnamon orange rolls are in demand for volunteer appreciation teas. Her former Latin classmates desperately want her to open up so they can enjoy the treats they taste-tested last year. There are a few small groups who want her to open so they can schedule their meetings there. And there are a few small businesses that want to order their company break snacks from her. And her brownie bottomed pies (especially the lemon meringue one) is a hit with a lot of people.

And it's not just that she already has customers counting the days until she opens, she has already planned for what is now coming out in the trade journals as the coming trend: individual portions. Her recipes and equipment are designed to cater to single sized portions of cakes, pies, tartlettes, breads, handpies, and tortes. According the Baking Business's latest magazine, portion control is playing an increasingly important part of the bakery business. People no longer want mega-sized cookies and family sized pies. They want bite sized cookies, and individual cakes so they don't over-eat. Since Manager also plans to list the nutritional content of her offerings, people will be able to make intelligent choices - or splurge on a little indulgence. She's already planning to fill a burgeoning need.

And our quest for a good coffee roaster makes a difference. As she's not tied to specific franching needs, she can order from specialty coffee roasters in small lots, customizing coffees to her customers' tastes. We can brew coffees to match the season and the specials she'll have.

Stepping into the Cracked Cauldron will be a sensuous sensory experience, a combination of sights, sounds, and smells that will be fulfilled in the tastes and textures we offer, and smoothed by outstanding customer service.

She has the basic management skills needed to run it, a good starting staff with experience, and she has some outstanding people (like J.) willing to fill in the gaps she has and to help educate her. More importantly, she doesn't hesitate to seek help early on, before things get out of hand.

She's young and healthy - a definite plus.

And then, the community service she wants to use is directly realted to her business, and one that will appeal to customers. She'll make it easy for them to participate in supporting their community through her and her Cracked Cauldron. In reading about women and small businesses (and many of her customers will be women), women customers are more likely to frequent places which make them feel good about being there. Knowing their vanilla latte and sweet fairy cake will contribute back to their community in a visble way mitigates the guilt of that indulgence.

All she lacks is time - she doesn't have the 2 years of operating the Cracked Cauldron already behind her.

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