Chef Duff Goldman's 7 Simple Ingredients to Running a Successful Biz


You probably know chef Duff Goldman from his very successful cake show, Ace of Cakes and irreverent style as one of The Food Network's biggest stars. But you may not know about Duff's humble beginnings as a creative but troubled youth looking for an outlet for his talents.

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Here are the 7 simple ingredients I learned from Duff about how he turned a little start up idea into a thriving international business:

1. Don't overthink your business or idea.

When Duff was thinking about starting his company, he asked his dad who has a graduate degree from UCLA about how to run his new cake biz. His dad said, "Sell a cake son, start from there." In other words keep it simple. Don't get into the analysis paralysis rut. Get busy. Do good work. Prove the model. Rinse and repeat.

2. Be fearless.

Duff explains being fearless like the cartoon character Wile E. Coyote chasing the Roadrunner at times. You have to be willing to give it all you've got and not worry that you might get hurt once in a while in pursuit of your goal. Be willing fail but always come back for another fight if you get knocked down. Get comfortable with being uncomfortable. Don't panic about what you can't see around the corner. And definitely don't fret about stuff that hasn't happened yet.

3. Live within your means.

Duff bootstrapped most of his early days baking and running his biz out of his small apartment. He spent $2,600 and bought his first large mixer AFTER-- not before, he sold his first big cake order. When that mixer broke with only limited use, he also learned that it's cheaper to by the $6,000 mixer once vs. the cheaper version 4 or 5 times a year. Duff said, "If you can't afford it, you don't need it." I see too many start ups waste money on swag and t-shirts with their logo on it when they should be banking that cash or spending it on good people or things they really need.

4. Make great stuff.

Seems obvious by it's not always the case. Duff said that no matter how great the product or experience was last month, he's always judged by the last cake he makes. In his case, a sub-par product will literally leave a bad taste in mouth of customers and that's the quickest way to go out of business.

5. Be kind to people.

This one seems like a no-brainer but so many companies seem to get this wrong. Why is the cashier or customer service counter person usually the lowest paid and most disrespected? Is it really a surprise that they are so angry when I bring in a return? Why is it so difficult to get through to my cell phone or cable TV provider when I have a problem? Duff said that being kind also applies to treating your employees with the respect they deserve. Take care of the people who take care of you. But also be nice to people who seemingly can't do anything for you. This is the higher law but part of being a good human being. We can probably all afford to be a little more kind to each other, no?

6. If you feel capable of doing something, do it.

Why do most people get stuck? Is it fear of what others will say? Fear of failure? Not trying something just because you've never done it before is a terrible excuse. If you think you can, weigh the risks and rewards and determine whether or not you should give it a shot. I'm guessing more often than not, we could figure it out if we really put our heart and mind into it. Duff was asked to make a life-size cake in the shape of an elephant. That was his first one. But he felt capable of pulling it off and so he did it. Think about it. Everyone starts out as a novice or amateur. The experts are the people who started with the desire to try and either studied or practiced (aka failed) enough until they got it right. Side note, this is why I'll never get laser surgery on my eyes from a new doctor--he hasn't had time to fail enough to master his art.

7. Beware of shame tactics.

There will be critics everywhere you go. Your friends. Your family. You might even be your own worst enemy. Steve Pressfield calls this "the resistance." The voices in your head that try and convince you that you're somehow not enough. Author Brene Brown writes extensively about what shame looks and sounds like. Does any of this sound familiar? "What gives you the right to..." "Who do you think you are..." What qualifies you to...." and other nonsense. Just because you failed once, doesn't mean you'll fail the next time. The opposite is also true. We can't let fear block us from our goals. Remember what Steve Jobs and others have said about this-- "the people who think they are crazy enough to change the world are the ones that usually do."