Sarah is a researcher studying bear populations in an extremely remote section of Alaska. She just moved to a small town in the Arctic Circle for work. This is the type of place with no roads in or out. Everything comes by boat or airplane. The town is pretty utility focused. Consisting mainly of housing and some public services. Food in the town mainly consists of wild caught meats and summer-grown plants. Occasionally, the town gets a small delivery of other food by airplane or boat.
Sarah is going to be studying bear populations for several seasons so she’ll be in this town for some time. Wild salmon and berries are delicious, but like any person she can only eat so much of the same thing before getting sick of it.
Sarah grew up in her parents' restaurant. During summer break, she practically lived at that tiny, 10 table pub on the corner. Fresh baked craft pizza, chicken wings drizzled with Mom’s homemade southern tang sauce, and Dad’s semi-famous reuben sandwich.
Being an intrepid researcher, Sarah sits down to look at her options for infusing a bit a home into life in above the Arctic Circle. After a bit of deliberation, she decides that the best path is operating a small pizza stand. Carbohydrates are in short supply compared to the abundance of proteins, ingredients can be transported without spoiling, and pizza can be cooked in a standard oven. Plus, people love pizza.
Sarah works out a deal with the owner of the towns only establishment - Ray’s, a small pub that many of the town’s population gathers at. Ray, the owner, is happy to have more foot traffic and expand the menu beyond burgers and fries. In exchange for bringing in more foot traffic, Sarah can use the corner booth that is always empty - even on busy Saturday nights when the local band is playing.
It’s not the ideal place. The corner booth isn’t very glamorous and Ray's “kitchen” is a tabletop electric griddle, a toaster, and a deep fryer. However, Sarah is in business. She has a place to sell her pizza. She can prep and bake the pizza in her apartment a few buildings down.
Sarah sits down to start working out a menu. Her mind immediately jumps to the craft pizzas her parents made in their pub. Margarita with globs of fresh mozzarella and crisp basil; gluten-free vegetable lover's with farm-to-table peppers, tomatoes, and olives; and Hawaiian with Applewood bacon and juicy dalops of pineapple.
As she reminisces, Sarah quickly realizes that she lacks many of the ingredients for her parents’ craft recipes. The grocer, if you could even call it that, carries only the bare essential, the airplane only delivers once a month and the boat takes a week to travel up the river. She can’t count on either to keep goods refrigerated - ruling out many fresh ingredients that are critical to nailing her family’s recipes.
While disappointed that she cannot initially accomplish her aspirations of bringing her parent’s craft pizzas to the Arctic Circle, Sarah decides that she can start with garlic bread. She has many of the ingredients available. Flour, salt, sugar, yeast, and butter can be brought up river on the boat. Herbs and spices preserve well and can be easily flown in. Grated Parmesan cheese in a shaker bottle can be used during the months when fresh cheese is not available.
Sarah’s story is that of nearly every startup company. While this story is a bit of an exaggeration since few startups are facing the challenge of operating in the Arctic Circle. Many startups face similar constraints to Sarah. Limited time, resources, and capital means nearly every startup needs to consolidate it’s vision. Founders need to focus on the core values before moving on to tougher challenges.
In Sarah’s story, we see this with the solution to make garlic bread instead craft pizza. While garlic bread lacks sauces and toppings that sets pizza apart, garlic bread still accomplishes Sarah’s core goal. By baking garlic bread, Sarah is still delivering a taste of home - warm, doughy carbohydrates. It would be unwise for Sarah overlook garlic bread as a viable solution for the “pizza stand". Compared to garlic bread, pizza presents drastic challenges for acquiring additional ingredients and delivers only an incremental value.
In future installments, I will be looking at startup concepts from the perspective of Sarah’s pizza stand. I will focus on how she can continue to improve and overcome challenges that she will inevitably face.
I will also spend some time looking at how Carol Health focuses on making garlic bread before moving onto making pizza. While the examples will be specific to our product, the underlying concepts should serve as practical examples of how a startup can focus on quickly delivering its core value before transitioning to more complex challenges.
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash