Opposites Attract – and Succeed

There’s a first time for everything on the blog – so it’s time to talk about burritos. 

Photographer Jennifer Causey, Food Stylist Chelsea Zimmer Prop Stylist Claire Spollen

Yes, that burrito, one of the staples of any good Tex-Mex restaurant. 

Specifically, I want to talk about a London burrito chain called Chilango.

A couple of months ago I stumbled across an article in City AM that discussed Chilango and their fundraising – what was termed the ‘Burrito Bond.’ 

The owners of the business had raised money by selling the £500 bonds, which paid an 8% rate of interest, as well as giving bondholders bonus rewards of free food. 

It sounds like a great idea. Would I buy a £500 Star Inn the City bond if it gave a similar return? Yes, almost certainly. 

Unsurprisingly, the Burrito Bonds smashed their targets, raising over £1m in the first 24 hours and a total of £3m. At a time when it is commonly acknowledged that there’s too much competition in the restaurant market (witness the recent fate of Jamie’s Italian) that is a real vote of confidence from Chilango’s fans and customers – who, very clearly, will now be ambassadors for the brand. 

It is also a vote of confidence in the management team. They must have spent years in the industry before they launched Chilango. They probably trained with some of the biggest and best names in the casual dining sector.

Except they didn’t…

Eric Partaker and Dan Houghton were working together at Skype when Partaker – from Chicago and not being able to find a high class burrito in London – suggested they go into business together. 

You might think that Skype isn’t ideal training for the food business, but Partaker argues that there’s an important parallel. “VOIP had existed for ten years before Skype’s arrival, so why did it succeed? Because it focused on an awesome product and wrapped it in a brand that people loved.” 

But in the same interview he makes what I think is an even more important point – and one that I think will be increasingly relevant in today’s tech-driven business world. 

“Dan and I worked super-well together,” he says. “We were very, very lucky in that on psychometric tests we test quite oppositely to each other. The partnerships that don’t work out, I think, are the ones where the people are too similar. That really worked in our favour at both Skype and Chilango.”

That’s the real point I want to make this week. We are living in an era where business is becoming ever more dominated by tech. The skills that are necessary for tech success are probably not the skills that the traditional entrepreneur possesses – and finding your ‘perfect partner’ is going to become increasingly important. 

A couple of weeks ago I read this article– splendidly titled, The Rise of the Nerds. It makes that point about tech very clearly. CEOs and MDs are becoming more tech focused than they’ve ever been. More CEOs/MDs have a background in technology and those that don’t clearly need to know about it. But the majority – and that certainly includes me – are never going to be experts. 

We may pay far more attention to tech than we ever did, we spend a lot more time reading about it – but we are never going to do the coding. 

And that’s why partnerships are becoming more and more relevant, but – as this week’s title suggests – finding someone with an opposite set of skills and a different personality to you is going to be crucial. 

I’m currently reading The People vs. Tech by Jamie Bartlett. It’s a slightly dystopian view of the battle between the internet and democracy, with one of the chapters entitled Driverless Democracy: what happens to citizens when AI takes all the work. 

Leaving aside the argument that I don’t believe AI will take all the work, Bartlett illustrates his idea by discussing the US trucking firm Starsky Robotics. Go ahead, take a ride in one of their self-driving trucks…

In an exact parallel with Chilango, Starsky is run by Kartik Tiwari (the tech/AI guy) and Stefan Seltz-Axmacher, the serial entrepreneur. ‘Neither,’ as Bartlett points out, ‘specialise in trucking.’ 

…But they are unquestionably ‘disrupting’ the trucking industry. Like Chilango, it’s starting to seem that it’s not previous experience that’s a pre-requisite for success, but finding the right – and very different – partner.

That’s certainly how it is at TAB UK. Mags and I are complete opposites (I may as well pre-empt the inevitable comments: she’s organised, focused and has no interest in golf…) and so are our two managers, Suzanne and Rena. The key point for any successful working relationship is to recognise your different strengths – and make sure the right person is doing the right job. And as always, effective communication is the key. 

Anyway, all this writing about food – especially first thing in the morning – has made me hungry. In fact, what better way to start your day than a breakfast burrito

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