Whether it’s Philadelphia’s “Wing Bowl” or Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest on Coney Island in New York City, there’s something grotesquely appealing about watching participants chow down on massive quantities of food.
If you’re sitting on the other side of the table, competing in a frenetic bout of glutinous glory, it’s a serious sport for those with ironclad stomachs.
In a former career, I was polishing off countless cheesesteaks, donuts and hot peppers in various eating contests. Though retired, it’s ironic that I still have my hands full with a company that’s developing tests for detecting foodborne pathogens and other microscopic bacteria.
As the co-founder and chief business officer of Invisible Sentinel, a biotech company based at Philadelphia’s University City Science Center, I’ve learned a lot about growing a business from scratch. Here are some pointers.
1. Be perceptively patient. No matter how big the problem appears to be in front of you, it’s about creating a strategic plan of attack. Several times it seemed as if our company had hit a dead end, but it’s about pushing through when you think you’ve hit a wall. There are always going to be hurdles, but it’s about managing each bite and understanding the long-term objective.
2. Set realistic goals. I was never going to be the caliber eater that Adam Richman is, but I understood that. We all create benchmarks for many reasons -- most importantly to feel good about achieving success. Many eating challenges track the success rate of people who can complete the challenge. Competitions with a failure rate greater than 90 percent were off limits for me. Sometimes it’s a matter of tempering your passion by delivering a clear set of milestones achievable with the capital and time you have allotted. This will not only build personal confidence, but trust with investors.
3. Observe and adapt to change. In an eating competition, tasting the same element over and over again causes the brain to tell the body to stop eating. You have to change the taste of the food during a competition to overcome the “full sensation.” It’s the same in business. As an entrepreneur, there are no constants and your product and business model is going to change from your initial concept. At Invisible Sentinel, we saw an opportunity to test for a “bug” found in wine known as Brettanomyces. It was different than what we’d previously been testing for, but the discovery would lead to a partnership with a winery.
4. Choose your partner wisely. If the competition allows you to have a partner or teammates, make sure they can pull their weight -- literally. Eight years ago, I met my business partner and co-founder Nick Siciliano, the CEO of Invisible Sentinel. I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for him. He is the eternal pessimist, and I am the eternal optimist. Together we make a great team and it’s helped us to see problems differently, support each other during difficult times, and learn from one another.
5. It’s OK to sweat a little. This is your life’s work, it’s not supposed to be easy. There will be good days and bad days, so appreciate the journey. In spicy-food competitions, you’re going to perspire like crazy. You eat as quickly as possible just to make the pain go away. People will be watching through it all, but if you stay composed it will pass. As an entrepreneur, you’ll endure a myriad of high pressure situations, but practice makes perfect. Just make sure you have a glass of milk handy.
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