Entrepreneurship 101, via Chef Geoff

One of the important components of Advanse’s training programs is business visits. And our departing Summer 2013 SPRINTers had a unique and really enjoyable business visit experience. They got to visit with Chef Geoff Tracy, the very successful founder of the Chef Geoff restaurant empire. (And yes, you didn’t read that wrong, they got to “visit with” him. To visit with someone, to say you “visited” is an American expression for spending time with someone.)

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Summer 2013 SPRINTers visit with Geoff Tracy (far right) of Chef Geoff.

Chef Geoff took time out of his busy schedule to talk to our SPRINTers and share his thoughts on entrepreneurship. And we’re not kidding about the busy part. He runs six restaurants, splits his time between New York city (where his family currently lives) and Washington DC, is married to a high profile journalist with an equally demanding schedule, and has three young children including twins. Did we mention that he had no background in the industry, and in fact, graduated college with a degree in theology?

So how did he get this far and how does he hold it all together? Simple: Tracy epitomizes the saying that if you do what you love, it’ll never feel like work.

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Geoff Tracy answers SPRINTers’ questions on entrepreneurship.

Here are some of the other big themes that came out of the SPRINTers’ conversation with Tracy: 

Don’t be a clockwatcher.

If you’re bored on the job, that’s a sign you should pay attention to. Lots of people have no idea what they’re going to do with their lives. But if you find yourself looking up at the clock and realizing it’s only been a minute since you looked at it last, and that felt like a lifetime ago, it’s definitely a sign that you need to be doing something else. Because if you’re excited about what you do, you’re likely to do a better job and therefore be more successful at it. Makes perfect sense, don’t you think?

Do your homework.

Tracy may have had no family background in the industry, but he’d worked in restaurants since he was 17 (including busboy duty), and attended the Culinary Institute of America. When the opportunity presented itself, he found a mentor who could help him envision what his life would be like if he were to take the leap, start a restaurant, and stay in the business. This is one of the reasons Advanse places huge importance on company visits, mentors, internships, and networking. Talk to people who do what you think you’d like to do. Find out what their lives are like. Find out what their challenges and rewards are, and what their daily routine is like. And then ask if that’s what you really want for yourself. In Tracy’s case, he worked at a famous DC restaurant, to see if he “liked the chaos.”

Recognize the opportunity.

When a location opened up in in DC Tracy jumped at it – even though the it was just after 9/11 and people weren’t feeling all that social. But Tracy saw what others didn’t, a desperate landlord who needed to make rent on the property, and a way for him to start his own restaurant. When an opportunity presents itself, see it for what it is, and take it! 

Sometimes, you just have to jump in, feet first.

Tracy took some big risks and made some big moves. He had $3K to his name, and needed his father to cosign a loan so he could open his first restaurant – which needed serious work before opening. As he puts it, “The previous guy hadn’t paid his bills so we didn’t have any utilities. And we had to do the clean up ourselves, me and friends. Because professional cleaners wouldn’t touch it!” Furthermore, he “opened the door without knowing how to actually run a restaurant.” He jokes about how he made $62 in profit the first month, after working 100 straight days. But sometimes that’s how you start. Deep breath, feet first, and when you come up for air, you find out you’ve built something. 

Ditch the ego and delegate.

Tracy says he had to admit that there were others who were better than him at certain things. And he had to make use of their skills, and focus on what he did best if he wanted to expand. This is where personnel, due diligence, and trust come in. Hire well, and then hand over the keys so you, the entrepreneur, can continue to envision, build, and grow the business. Because no one person is good at everything. 

Fail.

That’s right, fail. Every successful entrepreneur fails, learns how to get up after failure, learns why they failed, how not to fail, and ultimately, how to fail upward. It’s the trait that most distinguishes successful entrepreneurs. Tracy’s the first to admit how things went wrong with one expansion, how he was forced to pivot and make hiring decisions as a result, and just face the fact that his plans weren’t working out. But the key was to recognize there was a problem, and not just fix it and keep going, but to take another chance again when the opportunity presented itself. And that’s the key: Entrepreneurs take chances, they don’t wait for the opportunity to come to them, and they take it knowing it might not work out.

What are you passionate about? What do you love so much that the passion will take you through the toughest day? What will you dare to fail at? Tell us!