Build Your Own McDonald’s

I watched The Founder for the first time last night. It is the story of how Ray Kroc built McDonald’s from one restaurant owned by the McDonald brothers into an international powerhouse. Like Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, Ray is made out to be a bit of a villain in the movie. A lot of movies create extra drama to keep butts in seats, but no matter if the drama is true or false there are lots of entrepreneurial insights in the movie, and one, in particular, I want to focus on in this post.

Ray was a 52-year-old milkshake mixing machine salesman before he joined with the McDonald brothers to franchise their restaurant in 1954. 52!

He was living a quality middle class life traveling and selling milkshake mixers. You would have had no idea that he was setting up to make hundreds of millions of dollars over the next three decades. But, by simply by doing what he did well, he opened himself up to opportunities.

He learned how to sell and practiced for thousands of hours. He drove around the country and saw thousands of restaurants and learned about the issues in the market. He worked with thousands of business owners and opened himself up to all sorts of opportunities.

Ray was able to realize the opportunity with McDonald’s, because of his experience selling mixers for a decade. The McDonald brothers had hit on a great idea and build a successful business, but they didn’t have the capacity or the desire to take their business to a national level. Ray sold them on it; then he sold franchisees on it; then he sold investors on it; then he sold more and more and more franchisees and built a hamburger empire.

Ray’s story is a great contrast to the anxiety young wantrapreneurs face today. He didn’t set out at twenty to disrupt the food service industry and chase after investors, funding, and TED talks. He learned how to sell, learned how to create value, and always exercised his entrepreneurial streak. He was able to seize the opportunity with McDonald’s because he knew the food service industry so well and he knew how to sell.

The lesson from Ray’s story is, instead of sitting around waiting for philosophical insight about which industry you can disrupt, start working on something. Start creating value for others, start learning, and keep your eyes open for opportunities. Remember that odds are you will be working for 40, 50, or 60 more years and you have a ton of time to learn and encounter great opportunities.

Trust that by doing what you are doing now very well, you are gaining skills that will help you take on bigger and better opportunities when they appear. Don’t fixate on building McDonald’s, trust the process and work day by day to build your own version of McDonald’s.

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