Could you provide a brief recap of your career since graduating from Owen?
I had been interested in starting a company for a long time. When I was at Owen, I was in the Entrepreneurship Club and I didn’t have a specific MBA concentration. I picked and chose classes that were the most interesting to me and that I thought would set me up the best for starting a company. After graduating I spent 5 years working at Healthcare Bluebook as VP of Analytics and Innovation. I worked directly for the co-founder and led a small team to analyze and report on the value we were delivering to our clients and to find opportunities for innovation. We would prototype new product features or product lines and try them with clients. It was a blend of analytics, product management, and business development. I got to work and learn from some excellent people, and I loved the diversity of the work but I had been vetting quite a few business ideas. I later left to pursue these.
What is your company and where did the idea come from? What served as the biggest motivator or influence in starting your company?
Picknic is an app that connects people with food allergies, celiac disease, and other dietary restrictions with restaurants that can serve their needs. I was diagnosed with celiac disease five years ago and found myself spending over an hour researching and calling restaurants anytime I wanted to eat out. It was even worse when traveling for work when I had to find a restaurant for my colleagues or guests. I eventually realized that this is an issue for many other people. In the U.S. an estimated 32 million people have food allergies and 3 million have celiac disease. These numbers are growing, having doubled since the 90s. Add this to the lifestyle gluten-free, plant-based, and other diets, and the market becomes pretty large.
I love creating and building things. It’s why I spent my early career as a singer-songwriter and my mid-career remodeling houses. I’ve also loved the idea of starting and running a business since I was in my 20’s. My dad owned a small business, as did my grandparents and great-grandparents. I’ve had two failed businesses before, so I’ve learned a lot of things the hard way.
Before starting Picknic I vetted ten different business ideas on a small scale. Three of those businesses made it to an MVP (minimum viable product)/prototype state so I could test the market. Picknic wasn’t my favorite of the three, but it was the one that showed the most promise. I did small-scale testing for two years before quitting my job at Healthcare Bluebook. I already had a few restaurant partnerships and a lot of user feedback on mockups at that point.
What is the most challenging thing about being an entrepreneur and how have you worked to overcome this challenge?
I think the biggest challenges are knowing what to focus on and ignoring distractions. It’s kind of a metaskill for entrepreneurship — you’re accountable for a lot of things getting done and you’re constantly on the learning curve. You continually have to think about what you really need to be doing.
Another challenge for us was COVID. I started working full-time on Picknic in early 2019. When COVID hit, our entire vision of building partnerships with restaurants was crushed. For our app to be valuable we need data for our users, and to get that data we originally planned on building partnerships with restaurants. No restaurant would even speak to us for months. That forced us to find a way to get data for restaurants without partnering with them. We figured that out, and it has actually accelerated our ability to build our app.
What qualities are most important to possess as an entrepreneur?
There are multiple qualities important to possess. First, you have to be a fast learner because you are constantly doing something you’ve never done before. This also means you have to be curious and willing to ask for help.
Being very disciplined about sorting what is critical from what is important is essential. Only do the critical things. Finally, you can’t know what’s critical if you aren’t crystal clear what your goals are. You have to have a defined vision.
What are you most proud of about your business?
It’s a hard question to answer because as a startup it’s not guaranteed that we’re going to last. I’m being optimistic and I think we’re doing well. Until we get to a point where we are successful financially, I am proud of the things that we’ve learned in 2020 because it was a really difficult year to do what we’re doing. On one hand, restaurants want to talk to us, but on the other, nobody needs what we’re doing because people aren’t eating out. We’ve learned an extreme amount in 2020 and have a much better understanding of what our consumers want so I’m proud of that.
What advice do you have for students as they launch their business? Are there any tools you consistently use as an entrepreneur?
For students, I recommend beginning by validating your business concept. Write out all of the critical assumptions that have to be true for your business to succeed. Then find a way to validate those without spending too much time or money. For some businesses that may mean simply getting started offering your service or product. For others, that will mean conversations and research before you start building.
For tools, some of the best are prompts or questions to ask yourself to clarify your thinking and help find solutions to problems. Here are some of my favorites:
- If I had to complete X project in 10% of the time I think it will take, how would I do that?
- What would my ideal self do in this situation?
- What advice would my 80 year old self give me?
- What opportunity is this situation presenting?
Imagine you’re on your deathbed. It’s about to be over, and there’s nothing you can do to change the past. Now imagine that you have somehow teleported back to the current moment and get to live this one day over. Now go!
What do you do to live a balanced life? Do you have any interesting or fun hobbies?
Building my business and spending time with my family are my hobbies.