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Start Small, Start Smart, And Watch It Go Big

This is a story I use in some of my programs, where I had a student that was going to open a Mediterranean restaurant. He needed about $130,000 to do that. He was all excited about it and was confident in its ability to be a huge success.

When you get an idea that you’re passionate about, you better feel that way. If you don’t, how can you expect anybody else to? The thing is…while that’s good, you gotta use your head, too, or else you can end up losing your ass!

So this student says to me, “I have the best shawarma,” a kind of a pita filled with roasted lamb or chicken. He says, “I have the best recipe. It comes handed down from generations.” I asked him if he had ever done this before.

“No, but I’ve got the recipe. I make this at home all the time, so now I’m going to open up my restaurant.”

The obvious question is: how would he know the restaurant’s going to work?

“Well of course it’s going to work. It’s the best shawarma.”

This guy didn’t have any money, so I advised him that instead of taking a huge risk by taking out this huge loan, why not try it out first and then see if people really do like it? I encouraged him to try this recipe out on the public in a smaller way, say, catering a picnic? Or maybe get a stand at a fair or something like that.

He actually took my advice and went to a county fair, a small one. It only cost him $30 for a table and the whole bit. He brought his rotisserie thing from his house, the one that he actually uses, brought his pitas and all that. He sets up a booth, and you know what happens? Not too many people liked it.

He’d give them little tasters and few people were turning around and saying, “Okay, I’ll take the whole thing.”

“I don’t know what happened, ” he says. “I mean, I made it exactly the same.” When I asked where the fair was where he was selling his shawarma, sure enough, his audience were Protestant or Catholic-types, not the audience he really needed: people who know and like shawarma or people who are perhaps a little more culturally curious. Different strokes for different folks.

I advised him to try again in a neighborhood that’s more similar to where he lives. When he went to the multicultural areas of town, he couldn’t keep the stuff on the shelves, so to speak.

When he was explaining this newfound success to me, tears were coming down from his eyes. “Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.” I asked, “Well what for?”

He told me that the location of the restaurant he was going to open–by borrowing $130,000–was going to be in the heart of what he thought would be the biggest traffic area in the city: the Protestant, Catholic part. He would have lost everything.

He had been telling himself that people who are multicultural and/or Middle Eastern would already know how to make this stuff themselves, so why would they need him? Clearly, his assumption was mistaken.

Another amazing thing he noticed? For the people that did take his samples and liked it, they’d congregate around his stand and actually engage each other in conversation. They were networking and talking about their homelands, whereas those in his first trial run took a sample and just walked away.

He realized that the restaurant he needed to build and create couldn’t just be like a normal restaurant, where tables tend to be set up so that people have their “privacy”: in other words, separate and further apart.

The place he needed to create would have to be a bar-type of thing where people can congregate and talk, schmooze, with a substantial outside patio, tables closer together, etc.

Guess what? He’s opened his sixth restaurant as you read this. Nice, yes?

Start small and start smart. Know whose problem you’re solving, what they’re like, what they seem to enjoy and respond to, and don’t lose your ass doing it. The smaller you start, the more important things you can learn about your audience and your product, the more you give yourself a chance to grow fast!

Any experience with this yourself? Tell us your story…we want to hear from you!

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35 thoughts on “Start Small, Start Smart, And Watch It Go Big”

  1. Salim Sayyid says:

    A thought provoking story relating to a target audience apt for the business that one contemplates doing. Very well narrated.

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  2. Harv very true one should always try it out small,get the feel of it and then expand.

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  3. This is super awesome advice Harv, I just love it! Validate and test an idea first, BEFORE going all in! Thanks!

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  4. Jay Castillo says:

    This is super awesome advice Harv, I just love it! Validate and test an idea first, BEFORE going all in!

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  5. I make paintings and I do very well at it by starting small. I let customers choose their business cards. The business cards have my sketches and my ideas for larger paintings on them. In seeing which ones are snapped up for free, I save my self heartache and work by focusing on popular colors and designs.

    Testing the waters without the full blown expense is definitely a Harv Eker rule to follow.

    But I have found some designs need to be done at a certain scale, some can’t get bigger and some need to be large to be effective. Do you ever find that scale of a business is important?

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  6. Kari says:

    For me, this has been a hard lesson. In the story, it sounds so simple – so obvious!

    I think the hardest part is getting over the idea that I know everything. I like to think I know what other people want, so sometimes I may overlook their real feelings about what I’m offering in order to validate mine.

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  7. Tasneem Rasool says:

    Yes, you are right Harv.

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  8. Have an idea, and TEST, TEST, TEST until you are sure it is going to work. Awesome story for a powerful example of what the Start Small concept really means. Thank you Harv! Thank you, Thank you, Thank you!

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  9. I have a business and it is growing faster since we started following your advice. Thank you for being part of our future wealth. ?

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  10. yolene pierre says:

    Thank you Superbly for sharing yourself and your experiences.

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  11. N. Tashara says:

    Thank you for reinforcing that lesson because sometimes although common sense tells us it is better to start small, the excitement and passion, and also the conviction that one can immediately go big and make quick fortune is quite hard to override with sensible approach.

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  12. Annette says:

    Thank you. I focus on identifying my niche before growing. Timely and valuable advice.

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  13. jacob says:

    sport on,a goood tip indeed

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  14. Great advise Harv. I run a mobile apps company and part of our business is the production of mobile apps for people wanting to start new businesses or to enhance or expand existing businesses. Often their concept and reason for having a new app is based on a ‘nice to have’ idea based on a belief that if only people will download the app they will love it. This aImost never works and I always strongly recommend that the our clients clearly identify an existing pain point or inconvenience gap that can be solved by using their new app and design the 1st version of the app to do just this. Keep it simple to start.

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    1. Ken says:

      Agreed.. I have a fancy of travel apps but after a ground check, there’re a lot in the market and need really to validate why people are looking into such niche…

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  15. D says:

    Great and poignant story, with a happy ending:-)

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  16. Brilliant common-sense advice, thanks, Harv, for all you share!

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  17. Em says:

    10 years ago, Harv, I attended an evening Millionaire Mind seminar hosted by a guy in NYC talking about how you (or someone on your team, I suppose) had advised him to quit his job so he could wholeheartedly promote the MM seminars and books and strategies. Back then, I was jobless myself, but this advice sounded worrisome although the guy claimed he’d never looked back.

    Today, I’m back in Canada, making a 6 figure income, and still terrified to start my own business.

    I sometimes wonder how that guy did. WAS it a good decision to quit the day j.o.b.?

    I don’t know, obviously.

    Harv, what would you tell him today? Do you still require your team to give up the day job in order to focus on the commission sales? How does this work out for them? How does this story today relate to that requirement?

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    1. Mahi says:

      Read Harv’s “Secrets of Millionaire mind” till the end, not to become as Millionaire but at least to overcome what is holding you back. It will be really useful for you and then you can decide what you want to do.

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  18. Awesome advice T. Harv. It’s always good to test an idea first before going all in. Thanks for sharing. Can you please give me some advice about my website, somehow I’m not getting sales as I used to…ever since I changed my hosting.

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  19. Anna Gray says:

    I used to use “Just do it” approach before. As a result, six of my previous businesses miserably failed and I accumulated over half million dollars in debt. After that I finally started using my head. Seventh business not only succeeded but generated six figures in profit during its first year. So, three is not always a magic number; for me, it was seven 🙂

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    1. Mahi says:

      So how did the 7 th one started, plz share your experience.

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      1. Anna Gray says:

        I researched the market (a very tough one at that, a ton of competition) and found areas that even competition was not doing. I abandoned a one stop shop approach and focused on these very few areas. I collected what money I could from people I knew (because banks wouldn’t already lend me anything) and opened real offices. For some businesses, being only online is OK, for mine – people tend to trust more those who have a real life presence. Started doing the hardest cases that competitors were scared to do. It went up from there.

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        1. Cheryl says:

          I was actually giving a thumbs up. This piece was very positive for me. I am a Personal Dev. Coach and it has become so competitive. What could I do differently?

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  20. Angela says:

    You’ve said it right Harv. It’s a principle anyone starting a new business must not ignore.

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  21. sandra says:

    great piece of advice, thank you so much harv you are really helping me a lot with all your stuff.

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  22. I would argue that it depends on the business you plan to open. In my case, I like to do videos as a hobby, but I plan to make a business out of it. My dream is to be a Hollywood director and to make movies with real meaning as I believe it is something Hollywood has lost over the years.

    In order to do this, I can’t just jump straight into Hollywood and make a film. I start even smaller than small because I am not even investing any money into my film work.

    In terms of YouTube, I have a AdSense account which means, for every viewer who goes to my channel I earn profit. I don’t have a big profit. Just $3.40 in my account right now, but if I were to grow my views to billions, I’d make bigger money.

    I’m in no rush though and I am not going to just rely on YouTube for an income. My plan after film college is to get more involved in casting crews and help out with movies that will be sold. If you want an example of starting small, use mine.

    I started smaller than small. I started with no investment of any kind. With parents who hammer me for everything I am. With a pathetic Nintendo 3DS camera. I had to gain my parents approval through doing well at school to have access to a new better quality camera and tripod.

    I had to use the allowance money my parents gave me to buy off a better computer so I could make Epic Adventure and not get mocked for using their computer. I literally was only allowed school time at the beginning to making my film.

    I had to slowly gain their approval for being able to do my film over the summer at the end of grade 11 and this was for getting one member which I credit my friend for finding. When grade 12 started and Newgrounds shunned my work, I had to tolerate my parents while taking advantage of my luck of finding a professional director named Alim.

    I had to go against my parents to be friend Alim who later gave me that Future Of Heated Obsession video which got me accepted into film college. Start small, but remember that at the end of it all, whatever you seek will come. Trust me on that.

    I’m 18 now and I of all people say, the smaller you start, the greater your success. If you want to see some of these videos, you could go to YouTube right now. Future Of Heated Obsession is highly recommended.

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  23. You are right Harv, this is absolutely true. Like Angela said before it’s a principle anyone starting a new business must not ignore. I have my own graphic design business and followed this principle and things are going well.

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  24. wilfred lobo says:

    Hi, this advice is absolutely right.

    I was in a similar situation some time ago.
    I attended a training session where they taught how to make domestic candles. I wanted to keep myself busy. I assumed it was darn easy and I calculated my profits, it was all possible.
    I bought, candle making moults, parafin wax and got tables fabricated, bought a gas stove and all that is necessary.
    Soon i realized that i could not even cover my daily expenses. Now i am sitting with almost $10,000 worth of equipment, and no one wants it even at half of the price.

    Now, i am learning online trading and like Harv suggested, i am starting small, but, first, learning as much about it as possible.

    Cheers. thank you Harve.

    Wilfred.

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  25. Jim says:

    Thanks for another great tip.

    Have a great day!

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  26. Mario says:

    Great advice! Basically it is very well known that you should test it out first but the example / the story is very easy to follow. It also shows that a product might only be successful when sold to certain people. Again obvious but it is good to get such a reminder and it is great that in the end success came. However I guess in his restaurant, Shawarma was not the only product.

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  27. Darcy says:

    Amazing timing! I just started training for a new business and my trainer said the same thing. Test the waters with your product before you go all out.

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  28. Matheus says:

    awesome! thank you Harv!

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  29. Perfect account of market testing that everyone can apply. Simple and practical. Thanks for a great post Mr. Eker!

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  30. Maureen Gan says:

    in the IT world, cloud transformation is the message these days.
    It is a noisy world with the vendors and service providers.

    In reality, companies had to deal with years of legacy of IT systems comprising of different brands, products, data centres and infrastructure.

    To the new staff – integration with cloud apps, migration to cloud environment and on-premises application is a scary thought.

    At the end of the day – it’s about risks and businesses had enough of cyber attacks, reliability issues and up time or down time failures.

    On the business side – we want to protect our investments.

    for those who can start on a fresh piece of paper – cloud offers a cost effective platform, is efficient and provides real time reporting.

    mission critical systems should be tested deployed onto cloud environment.

    walk in the shoes of the customer

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