What I learned about business from learning how to cook

Growing up with three brothers and young parents, our house was fun — oftentimes a funhouse. So I cooked a lot as a kid, because it gave me some control over the chaos. My repertoire wasn’t broad. I was twelve, but it was a big help to my mother who had recently gong back to work full-time. Initially, most of my recipes came from the back of a jar, but I eventually got the hang of more complex entrees that required boiling water or grilling cheese.

Cooking as an adult still taps something in my brain that it tapped back then. Curiosity: knowing how stuff works. Creativity: needing an outlet to get non-linear. Challenge: feeling in over my head and working my way back to safety.

Today, we have big Sunday dinners, and we host family and friends for the holidays where dinner is a competitive sport.  Reflecting on the process of dreaming- up and executing these meals, I see plenty of parallels in the work I do as a private equity investor helping entrepreneurs build technology companies.

Connecting the dots between my two passions gave some new perspectives on entrepreneurship.

Constraints drive creativity: You start with endless possibilities: a blank shopping list, stacks of cookbooks and a grocery store full of food. Limiting yourself is where the real innovation begins. It’s what you leave out that oftentimes counts the most. So ditch the superfluous extras and focus on the core first, then build out only what is necessary from there.

Mise en place: While it’s fun to jump right in, you’ll be better off if you lay out everything in front of you. Prepare, take stock, adjust, and then jump in. There’s nothing worse than missing a key ingredient at crunch time; a poor substitution can ruin the end product.

Nail the basics: Like an abstract painter who can’t draw the human form, you aren’t a real cook until you master an omelet. Sure the flourishes are fun, but serious people learn the fundamentals first. Sweat the small stuff until it becomes automatic. In times of stress you don’t rise to the occasion, you actually sink to the level of your training so deliberately practice the fundamentals first.

Embrace the chaos: Something will go wrong. Anticipate it; deal with it; or power through it. Just keep your cool, and no one will notice.

Orchestrate: Having everything land on the table at once isn’t easy. But it isn’t magic either. Learn how to coordinate competing forces and practice parallel processing to keep things on track.

Set the table: Optics matter. Presentation matters. Things go down better when you nail the pitch. Tell a good story, and you’ll get the benefit of the doubt.

Deliver the goods: Some call this product/market fit. I just know it has to be tasty, or it will be in a napkin under the table and your guests won’t be back for your next dinner party. Always under-promise and over-deliver for your guests and your customers.

Focus = Mastery: You will get too ambitious in the early days showing off your versatility, but you will eventually realize that things work out best when you stick to your strengths.

Enjoy it: What’s the point if it feels like work? If you don’t love it, someone else will be happy to take your spot in front of the stove. The most successful executives and the best cooks I know can’t imagine themselves doing anything else.