Sunday, April 18, 2010

Introducing Chief Kabob Officer...

“You must lose a fly to catch a trout.” -- George Herbert

So this is my first post on this wonderful blog that Artina has started to chronicle our journey to bring you our new restaurant concept. At first, I liked the idea of Artina updating this blog and this being her ‘baby’ but after prodding from a few friends (or just one…thanks Raju) I realized that this a great way for me to reflect on all the thoughts, feelings and emotions that I’ve been going through as part of my decision to start a restaurant . Not to mention, Raju brought up the brilliant point that if I end up applying to business school down the road this thread would make for wonderful essay content :)

Before I pour my heart…let me give you the quick download on who I am and where I come from…trust me I won’t get into existential expose on the purpose of my being – frankly I’m not that deep (I went to Wharton for college…so that says enough). And in full transparency, I looked up the word ‘existential’ on before inserting it in this post just to make sure I wasn’t using the word incorrectly – which I have a God-given gift for doing. Also, for those of you who know me, I hope you realize that I’m trying really hard to buck the trend of writing everything in bullet form and always having 3-reasons to back-up my points-of-view, even if I only have 1 real reason; you can thank my prior employer, McKinsey & Co., for training me in such eloquent prose.

I grew up in a small town outside of Pittsburgh, PA called Latrobe. It’s the home town of golfing legend, Arnold Palmer, and its where Rolling Rocks Beer got its start… who knows perhaps someday Latrobe will also be referred as the birthplace of the messiah of the Kabob… don’t hold your breath though :) Anyways, when I was 8 my family moved from Latrobe to South Asia (Karachi, Pakistan) and then to the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), before we moved back to the US in 1998, this time to New Jersey – unclear if that was an upgrade or downgrade from Latrobe. Today, I work in the world of Private Equity at a pretty awesome firm in Boston called Advent International (checkout my bio for some shameless self-promotion:

So… I’m 26 now and entering a cross-road in my life. Please don’t read too much into that prior statement. I’m by no means claiming to be going through some cathartic experience in which all of a sudden I now realize the true essence of life. Rather, what I’m trying to say and I imagine many of you reading this post can similarly appreciate; I’m grappling with the age-old conundrum of following the well-trodden path vs. blazing your own trail. The questions and feelings that one goes through in making this kind of decision, regardless of the time, place, and circumstances have to be the same. On the one hand, the well-trodden path offers comfort, security, and allows you to visualize the destination ahead, even if that destination is miles away and you know it won’t always be smooth sailing. Meanwhile, blazing your path is just that – its taking a step back and realizing holy cow you have no idea what the hell you are doing, where you’re going, and where you’ll end up. At the end of the day all you have to hang your hat on is your trust in God, and that you’re going to do whatever it takes to figure things out…


Wednesday, April 14, 2010

To be or not to be..

“We know what happens to people who stay in the middle of the road. They get run over.” -- Aneurin Bevan

Thanks to everyone who took the survey last week! We got some great feedback from you all and also collected 210 completed responses from the United Sample panel. In analyzing the results we were excited to find that the data validated our hypotheses for the most part. Over 80% of our sample said they enjoyed eating kabobs but 75% of that group said they only eat it out sometimes or rarely. The number one reason these people don’t eat kabobs more often is because they don’t know of any good restaurants nearby. Of the people who initially said they don’t enjoy eating kabobs or hadn’t tried it before, over half said it was because they don’t know what it is, don’t know where to get it, or had a bad experience in the past. All of these data points give us greater confidence that there is a definite need for a more mainstream and easily accessible fast-casual kabob restaurant. Enter Saffron Grill! :)

We also received some very constructive feedback on the product concept and sample menu. Turns out our “simple 5-step process” comes across a lot more complex than we thought. Although nearly 90% of the people said it seemed very simple and straightforward or easy to understand the menu, the comments highlighted some key questions for us. One person said, “There is so much information and I don’t know what a lot of the food on the menu is” and another, “Too many choices, need to give sample combinations.” This sprung up a debate amongst our team on the pros and cons of a “do-it-yourself, assembly-line-style” menu versus a more traditional menu with preset items to choose from. Our initial plan was to empower consumers to personalize their order 100% so they could engage with the food and mix and match the different options to their liking. This was inspired by the Chipotles and Qdobas of the world, and lends itself well to a successful scalable model. But clearly kabobs are not as easily understood by Americans as burritos or tacos so we run the risk of confusing people and potentially leading them to have a bad experience if they don’t use the “right” combination of ingredients for their order. Even a friend of ours who is of Pakistani background and is very familiar with this type of cuisine corroborated this point of view. Thanks Khalid :) What are your thoughts on this? Feel free to add your comments on this post!

Overall the survey results were extremely helpful and well-worth the time and investment. We hope to do more market research as we go along and look forward to sharing more insights with you. For now, we know we have a lot more work to do on developing the product and menu further, and need to make some tough decisions on how we want to position Saffron Grill. That’s where a strong chef comes in. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to learn more about our approach to finding the perfect chef!


Sunday, April 4, 2010

Doing our homework, part 2

All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better. -- Ralph Waldo Emerson

Of course doing your due diligence isn’t all fun and games. In addition to eating at various kabob restaurants, we have been working on drafting our own consumer survey to gather primary data on our target market and their eating habits. We constructed a series of questions that will hopefully provide us with key insights along the way. We are also using this as a gauge to validate our concept and hear what consumers think about the idea, the menu, the logo, the tagline, and other specifics. Our goal is to analyze the responses to make strong data-driven decisions as opposed to doing things on a whim or gut feeling. So how exactly are we collecting this data?

Well, it turns out the world of online consumer research is way more complicated than the basic Survey Monkey surveys we all created in college. We first looked into all the different vendors that paid a panel of consumers to take online surveys for market research purposes. We compared Market Tools, United Sample, The Sample Network, Affordable Samples, and Panel Speak. Their quotes ran from $1800 to $4700 to get 200 completed responses from people who fit the demographic and behavioral criteria we specified. We were initially shocked at the wide range and dug a bit deeper into the specific charges. It turned out that 50% of the costs came from programming the questions into a survey tool. Some companies have their own ‘proprietary technologies’ whereas others use vendors like Survey Gizmo, Zoomerang, QuestionPro, and even Survey Monkey. After evaluating the various licenses offered by these companies we realized that the market research vendors were charging a significant premium for the labor costs. So we decided to be scrappy… how hard could it be to program 50 questions into an online tool anyways?

Pretty hard. It took over 20 hours to figure out the QuestionPro system and get the sequence right. Since we wanted to use some advanced features like skip logic and branching it required several attempts to ensure we were asking the right questions to the right people. But in the end it was well worth it because I saved our team a couple hundred dollars and learned a skill that can be leveraged in the future, as we’ll likely want to do more consumer surveys as we launch. Now that the survey is programmed in QuestionPro, we are going to set it live in a few days and collect responses through United Sample. I look forward to sharing the results and insights with you all soon. In the meantime feel free to take the survey yourself and tell us what you really think! We’d really appreciate it and you’ll get a sneak peek into our menu and logo drafts. Just go to – thanks!