Eat Me: The World on Small Plates

Everybody in the class of 2019 knew that entrepreneurship forms a core part of the MBA programme here at IMD, but our first lecture on the subject wasted no time in revealing the reality of what today has become almost a mythologised pursuit.

The subject of our first case was Eat Me, a very popular restaurant here in Lausanne and winner of the coveted Best Swiss Gastro Award for 2018. This was the only time a restaurant from the French-speaking part of Switzerland had won the award. As it happens, I was already very familiar with Eat Me, having visited the restaurant numerous times over previous travels to Lausanne. Eat Me offers a novel concept, best described as international tapas. Guests choose multiple dishes to share, each coming from a different region of the world and country within that region. I can vouch that this format makes for a unique evening of exploring and discussing new tastes, with the added bonus that the food is delicious!

Despite Lausanne’s restaurant scene offering a lot more in the way of variety in recent years vs 7-10 years ago (so I’m told), I found myself going back to Eat Me again and again. So imagine my curiosity at learning how this amazing place came about and indeed who better to hear from than the founders themselves, Serena Shamash and her husband Mark Brownell, who put in a surprise visit towards the end of our lecture. To describe in full the many insights Serena and Mark shared with us would fail to do them justice, not to mention make this post a little lengthy, but some key messages resonated with us.

Do not live the Deferred Life Plan

The deferred life plan (all creative rights to Mr Randy Komissar) is simple and, not surprisingly, signs up not-so-enthusiastic participants everywhere. It goes:

Step 1 – do what you have to do
Step 2 – do what you want to do

…..or so they tell you. But Serena Shamash had no such intention after completing her MBA at IMD in 2007 and knew her real passion lay in building things. Specifically Serena had a passion for creating and developing concepts. She also had a passion for travel and food. During a stint at BCG in Zurich, Serena realised that those two passions could be united to address what she assessed to be a significant problem in Switzerland  – a lack of restaurant variety and uninteresting customer experience at most restaurants of that time. She decided to do something about it.

I think this message resonated with all of us. It is easy to fall into the trap, often neatly camouflaged by societal norms, of believing that in order to pursue our passions, we must first pay dues in the form of a reliable job that we may not like. We are here at IMD precisely because we do not intend to fall into that trap.

Do what you love, even if it’s not quite where you expected

Serena admitted that opening a restaurant was not the exact entrepreneurial endeavour she had imagined when thinking where to apply her passion for concept development, but the landscape of the Swiss restaurant market offered a problem that needed solving. This was also a major lesson for us in understanding entrepreneurship: Opportunities may present themselves in forms and places that you never expect, but you nevertheless have the ability to recognise and take advantage of them. Serena believed that her love of travel and international upbringing placed her perfectly for designing small international plates that would allow her customers not simply to consume food, but to discover it. She had gathered evidence from her network in Switzerland that there was a real desire and need for a restaurant format like this and she decided to make it a reality. I, for one, am glad she did…

Starting a business is not hard work, it’s really hard work

After finalising her concept and developing a working financial model for Eat Me, it took Serena two years to find a location. Rather a long time. Over the period Serena learned to become a hardened negotiator and not to let emotion get the better of her logic in pressured situations. Any would-be entrepreneurs would be wise to heed that lesson, for it is in the most highly charged emotional situations that the biggest mistakes are made.

It took two years to find a location, because it took that long to find a price that made sense. Serena might easily have succumbed to a desire to get going and have paid whatever, but I suspect we wouldn’t have heard from her during our lecture if she had. The dedication required to keep going and stay committed to her vision, despite setback after setback, is awe inspiring.

Serena also shared that, after finding a location in Lausanne and successfully opening Eat Me, she worked 9am to 4am, 7 days a week for a year or so. Creating something is difficult, very difficult, and it requires courage and unparalleled work ethic. Anyone who might have believed in the popular portrayal of entrepreneurship as a teenager creating an app in his bedroom and selling it to Google for $30m a couple of months later would have been rudely awoken by the reality described by Serena that entrepreneurship is about being all-in all of the time and taking knocks on the chin as they come…and they will come.

You need support

Everyone needs the support of those close to them, especially entrepreneurs! Eat Me was the creation of both Serena and Mark. Indeed Mark has now joined Eat Me full-time, having supported Serena and helped build the business hitherto while working a demanding job as an executive. This part of the story of Eat Me resonated strongly, for arguably without Mark’s support over the years, Serena would not have been able to become the entrepreneur she has and we wouldn’t have Eat Me. I think the wider point is that people around entrepreneurs and the support networks entrepreneurs have are often overlooked in popular accounts. We all need support to have courage. Mark and Serena now run Eat Me together, which is in itself an admirable feat for a married couple (I’m not sure I could work with my wife…!).

We are deeply grateful to Serena and Mark for sharing their story with us and imparting just some of the passion and dedication required to create a business. This was a fascinating introduction to entrepreneurship and, looking ahead, our start-up projects will be kicking off imminently. The 90 of us are looking forward to getting stuck in.

Mark, Serena and Professor Benoit Leleux

For anyone in Lausanne or Geneva, my advice would be try out this place called Eat Me.

Richard Pickering, British, MBA Candidate 2019

Inferring the Niagara from a drop of water

What is common between well-known Mr. Sherlock Holmes and an IMD MBA candidate? Strategy classes have started and we need to apply deductive reasoning in problem solving. A simple dating riddle may become a hard strategic dilemma: temptation for inductive conclusion from a qualitative analysis should be challenged through a deductive quantitative check. The numbers might be approximated, but once they show that your sophisticated multilayer reasoning doesn’t make sense, because a beautifully differentiated product provides no financial benefit on the market, forget the business idea. The logic is pure and beautiful.

Then comes a leadership class and we discuss organizational frameworks. What is it like to persuade the whole group of people, when you have an opposite opinion? Again inductive vs deductive. Are you capable as a leader to make this change? Someone just made a logical mistake, but the other might have a psychological defense – how do you deal with those at once? And what kind of miracle happened to the British Museum in early 2000s? For the last several days while on my way I listen to the archived BBC radio-programs of Mr. Neil MacGregor “A History of the World in 100 objects”: stories, that connect functionality and beauty of artefacts with changing us. By the way, this thesis is just a part of a vision of a leader, who succeeded to attract millions of visitors and changed our perception of museums.

During the break my classmates discuss the central role of energy in economy. Later on I listen to another radio program of Neil MacGregor: supposedly 50 million years ago humans started creating arts – a connection to imaginary and abstract thinking – this might be related to the fact that normally around 20% of energy consumption of a human serves brain needs. Energy is for us and not the other way round. It’s us, who create, who progress, who doubt, who make mistakes…

At the beginning of this week we presented our start-up solutions to the jury and, thus, finished entrepreneurship classes and… changed our groups. Turning to another page of our incredible journey at the IMD,

Till soon,

Aysylu

 

Motivation, Inspiration and some advise – Just another day at IMD

Entrepreneurship stream formally came to a close today but not without leaving us with some valuable learnings. Over the past many weeks we had the privilege to vicariously live and experience the lives of many entrepreneurs through the case studies. While “Eat me” introduced us to the trials and tribulations of Serena as she successfully persevered to realise her dream of starting a concept restaurant in Lausanne, Govworks.com narrated a tragedy of Shakespearean proportion as we witnessed Kaleil Isaza’s metoric rise to fame and eventual fall from grace.
From Tumi’s take over by Samsonite, to Venkatesh’s LBO of a division of his employer everything was on the menu.
We had the privilege to meet many of these entrepreneurs in flesh and blood as they recounted their journeys to us and patiently answered flurry of our hurried questions.
This morning Professor Benoit orchestrated perhaps the most appropriate conclusion to this stream by sharing with us the remarkable story of WIPHOLD (http://www.wiphold.com/), an example of how Private Equity can be a force for good and not just a source of profits. These stories motivated us to dig deep into our own passions and unearth those great ideas that we have been holding back perhaps a tad bit too long.
After such a motivational start to our day, in the afternoon, we got a chance to talk to a panel of senior HR managers from several companies. In those 4 hours we received some valuable career advice. Engaging with these people helped us to see the world from their perspective. It helped us to understand how best to position ourselves so as to maximize our chances of landing our dream jobs.
The best however was left for the last. We were paid a visit by a friendly neighbour. One of Nestle’s best employees took time out of his busy schedule to come and speak to us. He was none other than Paul Bulcke, the CEO, himself.
There cannot be anything more inspiring for business students, like us, than to be able to meet and learn from the stalwarts of the industry. Paul has spent 8 years at the helm of one of the World’s largest corporations and tonight we had the opportunity to ask him all about the remarkable journey that he has been through. No wonder we were falling over each other in order to ask our questions. Paul took all questions – easy ones, difficult ones, personal ones and professional ones. He answered them with utmost conviction and authenticity.
Much of his advice around careers was simple but profound. He urged us to find happiness in our work and not to see it simply as a means of getting to some future position. Perhaps the most important piece of advise from my point of view was that we should not look to work for our boss rather we should work for our peers and subordinates.
Such advice is often not found in business books or literature but can only be garnered through talking to someone like Paul who has seen it all, made it to the top and has kept the perspective on what is important.
How do you summarize such a rich day at school?
All I can say is this: More motivation, more advise and more inspiration – just another day at IMD.
Kunal

Reflections on my MBA admission journey

Blog posts are getting a bit irregular as some of you might have noticed- a sign of things to come. As mentioned in my previous post, the honeymoon period is over and now is the time to deliver. Deliver on projects, integrative, start-ups and shortly on exams too. We are fully embedded in IMD now and there has been no better reminder of this fact than all the queries I and my classmates are receiving from potential candidates on our MBA experience.

We are indeed, finally living those “plans” that once seemed eternally futuristic. All the apprehensions, hopes, concerns and expectations we had from an MBA program are unfolding in front of our eyes one after the other and therefore it is only natural that those who aspire to be on this campus next year look to us for counsel. So let me use this post to share some advise I received from my IMD seniors when I was doing my application.

1) Get clarity on why you want to do an MBA – it took me a while to polarize this question. I could always come up with alternative narratives for my career that included and excluded an MBA. There are many different models to think about one’s future career. We can think of our career as a “business venture” in which we make investments and hope to get back financial returns. We can think of it as a continuous learning journey where at each next step we seek new knowledge or as my senior suggested we can think of it as an athelete’s pursuit – where we will do all that it will take to make us perform at our full potential. None of these models are right or wrong but it is worth noting that you have to find the metaphor for your career which will be distinct from others and see how an MBA fits into it.

2) Know your MBA college – It is critical that once you have made your mind to do an MBA you must put in a lot of effort to fully understand which college works best for you. This is important not only because you have to spend 1 or 2 years of your life in that place but also because for the rest of your life that college remains a part of you – what do you want that part to stand for?  My senior advised me that an MBA admission is not a one way selection process. It is in fact a test for compatibility. Use every opportunity to know the school, just as the school is trying to use every opportunity to know you (oh yes!  those casual chats at the end of the assessment day were not so casual after all – be in your element always). Talk to current students, spend a lot of time on the website, talk to alumni and make your own decision. Find your inspiration to join that school.

3) Stop second guessing the admission officer’s mind – One question I seem to be getting quite often these days is “Kunal, I have a poor GPA but my GMAT is high, do you think the admission officer will overlook my grades?” or something similar. The honest answer to all such questions is – I dont know. And in fact I can bet you no one knows what is going through the admission officer’s mind and it shouldnt be your concern at all, simply because you cannot influence it. You can only spend your valuable energy worrying about it. What you can influence though is your application. You can put up for consideration your best self as reflected in the application and that is where you must focus your energy.

4) Take pride in yourself – This last piece of advise I received from my senior was quite critical. Often when we read sample essays etc. we tend to walk away with a feeling that we must put up a story that is completely ironed, spotless and smells of prodigious talent. We tend to find ways to hide our failures and amplify our successes. But in fact we must take pride in our failures and successes alike. We must spend time thinking what have we learnt from our experiences and showcase the learning journey. Taking pride in our journey does not mean being arrogant rather having a silent confidence that we are better off for “all” our experiences.

I hope some of this is useful and in passing on this advise, I have done justice to the message of my senior. It is worthwhile to highlight though that these were the things I personally found valuable in my journey and not all of this will be applicable to every future candidate. But the point is to know what really matters and focus your energies on that. Continue your quest that will hopefully guide you to your decisions. And lastly, dont forget to find your inspiration.

 

Kunal

​What you give is what you get

So… the famous leadership experiential took place last week! Our class was split in two Cohorts and switched between regular classes and the 3,5 days full on experiential.

I was impressed by the quality of the entire experience and especially our coaches. Really great, top-notch global professionals that were there with us full time. IMD MBA is the most junior group they coach, all of them are used to working with global leaders in the C-level, not to mention military, government, etc… Outstanding staff!

The focus of this stage was to understand ourselves in a group setting (self in group) rather than going into group dynamics, which is the next step.

I believe any leadership or self knowledge experience is a “what you give is what you get” experience.

If you want to stay locked into your safety armor or don’t want to be exposed to your own “darkness”, it won’t have as much impact… No one can do it for you except yourself!

For me personally, the key lesson was that suppressing who we are is never a good idea. I was trying to do things differently than I would naturally (sort of trying to write with the wrong hand) but in the process I left also my own personality and my strengths behind…  My group was great in pointing that out and giving me an important wake up call for the entire year.

I realize it’s not by changing who I am that I’ll evolve. It is by being myself in a more conscious, polished and balanced way! So let’s aim for that 🙂

After the experiential it was time to dive back into our Start up Project and Industry Analysis… It was great to see how our group already started working together in a different and more open way.

One thing I was super curious before I came to IMD was about life in the “dungeons” and the study rooms. So here is a little peek into our group life when we were all super concentrated in finding data to support our assumptions about the future of Transport Infrastructure 🙂

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Group 8 clockwise: Me, Luca Gianaschi, Nicolas Martinez, Philipp DeAngelis, Roraj Pradhananga, Vladimir Petrenko

An amazing week to y’all,

SS