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The art of the pivot: 5 essential questions

Preux & Proper bar interior
Photo from Preux & Proper

What does it feel like when your entire industry—the industry that raised you—gets cancelled? 

Imagine if what happened to hospitality happened to any other industry. Doctors stop practicing medicine. Lawyers stop practicing law. Farmers stop farming. It’s inconceivable… until it happens to you. 

I saw what was coming more than a week before the mandatory shut down of restaurants in California. The mood had changed in the dining room. There was a weight, a paranoia I had never felt before. People were scared—both our team and our guests. Sensing the change and the difficulties to come, we shut down Preux & Proper prior to the statewide mandate. The next morning, with a two-year-old daughter and a wife depending on me, I took a walk and came up with a plan for the next phase of my life. 

My next move would be determined by the answers to the following five questions. I encourage you to answer them for yourself.

Who do I want to serve?

I can’t serve the folks of Los Angeles, at least not in the same capacity that I had been. Who needs help? Who would I be passionate about helping? The answer came quickly: the hospitality industry as a whole. The pivot was seamless. I would do my best to help people just like me, who were struggling with the same issues I was, who were looking for the same answers. 

Where are the opportunities in this moment?

As the pandemic spread, there was a cultural shift within the industry that happened almost immediately. For decades, the hospitality industry had been a closed-off community. No one ever spoke publicly about their professional struggles. Everyone was having the best, most profitable year of their life until the day they went out of business. The pandemic changed that overnight. Communities and coalitions began to spring up in every major city. People were talking; people were listening.

This was my opportunity: I had a voice, and this was my chance to share it. As an industry, we went from working 80 to100-hours per week to the unemployment line. 

Suddenly, everyone had time to listen, and I had something to say.

How can I be of service?

The hospitality industry needed answers to tough questions. I did too. How did we get here? How do we get out? How do we end up better off than before?

My strategy was simple: reach out to the brightest minds, ask them these questions, record the conversations, and post them online. 

I looked to the authors of my favorite books, the restaurateurs and chefs I idolized, and thought leaders and teachers I had followed for years. I worked to become the vessel through which their messages could resonate across the industry. 

What resources are at my disposal?

What would I need to execute my plan? I started by taking inventory: I fired up my laptop, borrowed a microphone from a friend, downloaded some free editing software, and was off to the races. Next was distribution: What’s the point in creating great content if no one hears it?

Enter Yelp. The universe has a way of providing what we need at just the right moment. As I was working to create a new podcast, Yelp was looking for ways to support the restaurant industry. With our goals aligned, a partnership was formed, and the Full Comp podcast was born. 

How do I define success?

Let’s recap: I’ve decided to do a podcast. I have an overall theme for the show. I know who I want to target as guests. I’ve found a sponsor and strategic partner. What’s missing? 

I need a quantifiable goal. I need a metric to determine whether the project is a success or not. If the ultimate goal is to positively impact the lives of as many people as possible, the best metric to track would be the number of “listens” the show gets per month. I set a BHAG and worked backwards from there. What’s a BHAG, you ask? A “big, hairy audacious goal.” Go big or go home, right? My BHAG is 250,000 listens per month. It’s big and inspiring—but also achievable. 

Have I accomplished my BHAG? Not yet, but I’m much closer than you’d think just four months into the project. That’s not what satisfies me though. 

I’ve spent my whole life rushing from fire to fire, from project to project, and from task to task. The pandemic gave me the time I needed to ask myself these incredibly important questions that, to be honest, I should have asked myself years ago. 

I spend a lot more time thinking than I do working these days. I take a lot more time to make sure I’m sure. I try to come up with new and better questions instead of spending all of my time searching for answers.

How would you answer the questions above? The answers may surprise you.

About the author: Josh Kopel is an entrepreneur, restaurateur, and host of Full Comp, a podcast for the hospitality industry.

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