5 Takeaways to Turn Passion into Business
Think you have what it takes to transform your passion into a successful business? Celebrated chef, author, podcaster, and founder of the Momofuku empire, David Chang shares the good, the bad, and the risky on how passion can be harnessed into a driving force to propel your career forward. Not without financial and personal uncertainties and challenges, here are five of his key takeaways.
Take the Nontraditional Route
What led David Chang to culinary school? It was not until he exhausted a few other options that Chang fully allowed himself to pursue his cooking passion. From his father’s initial discouragement to brief stints in finance and teaching, it's not until he found himself “rudderless” that he went full steam ahead into cooking.
He found a sense of belonging among the intense and eccentric personalities in professional kitchens and realized that doing something meaningful was more important to him than pursuing what society deemed important. “I wanted to do something that was meaningful to me and I've never really looked back,” Chang says of his choice.
Find your passion and commit to it with laser focus — even if it turns into a career path that others don’t fully understand or appreciate.
Embrace Calculated Risks
At the time, opening a ramen shop may have been seen as a risk. But to Chang, it was an opportunity to be unique. After spending time in Japan teaching, he discovered his love for ramen and became fascinated with how the dish was understood in Japan — similar to how Americans viewed foods such as barbecue, pizza, or hamburgers.
Despite honing fine dining techniques and being surrounded by French and European haute cuisine, Chang decided to do something that no one else wanted to do.
“Let’s just roll the dice and see what happens,” he says of his decision. “Let’s try to open a ramen shop.” Although it was a calculated risk, Chang concedes he wasn’t quite thinking in dollar and cents terms, but he was fully committed to making the restaurant work and survive.
As they say, fortune favors the bold. In order to be a trailblazer in your respective field, go all in and be prepared to face uncertainties head on.
Define What Success Looks LikeWhat does success mean? Maybe it’s making a certain amount in annual revenue or the number of restaurant locations that are opened, but to Chang, success meant being able to provide healthcare to all of his employees.
As a new business, his approach was constantly evolving and included making mistakes, taking risks, and doing what he says “would scare the bejesus out of somebody that taught hospitality.”
Going against the grain and figuring things out as they went along, he adds that he and his team “followed our own gut, our own intuition.” And although sales were coming in and popularity was rising, that sense of success didn’t feel tangible until he was able to offer health insurance for the entire team — which was the catalyst behind Momofuku’s expansion.
Success looks different to everyone and the road to get there will be nonlinear. Trust your gut, even if that means doing things differently than industry standards.
Evolve Your Management Style
Running a business like a family can work initially, but Chang concedes that he needed to evolve as a leader and manager in order for Momofuku to sustain growth.
“If you want to grow and you want to be successful, you’ve got to get rid of how you used to do things … what made you successful might be the demise of your business.” Chang realized he needed to recalibrate his management style along with embracing more corporate practices to better take care of his nascent team.
On receiving and implementing feedback from employees? These are things that can take time to re-wire. Be patient, but continue to work at it. “I thought that could change overnight,” Chang says of his communication style as a manager, “but I'm still in the process of being better at curving my default settings.”
Processes that worked at the onset of your business may be subject to growing pains as your company scales. As a leader, be humble, flexible, adaptable, and ready to implement necessary changes.
Choose the Right Business OpportunitiesIn addition to the Momofuku empire, Chang formed Majordomo Media and is a man that wears many hats: chef, entrepreneur, author, podcaster, and TV personality to name a few. When it comes to partnerships and other opportunities, how does he select which to pursue?
“I think ultimately it has to be something that enhances the brand.” He puts a lot of importance on innovation, education, and enhancing the brand whenever a new venture or endeavor presents itself.
At the onset, Chang says growth was organic and decisions were made more on interest versus profit — as the company scaled, he realized he had to adapt his decision-making process accordingly with strategy versus throwing caution to the wind.
You can’t say yes to everything — be thoughtful and strategic when considering new partnerships and opportunities, ensuring that missions are aligned.
Harnessing your passion into a business can take on a nonlinear route, but by staying committed, taking on calculated risks, and being thoughtful when opportunities come your way, it can prove to be the right business path. For those who are actively growing businesses, Chang’s takeaways shine a light on the need to be nimble and adaptable — landscapes can quickly change but evolving with an agile mindset will keep you ahead.
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