Servcorp hosted Zambrero’s Dr Sam Prince as part of their Business Shorts series at the 36th floor of their impressive Gateway Building location. This is an increasingly common trend amongst corporates who seek to bring entrepreneurs and visionaries into their fold in the hopes of adding some street cred to their brand. Most of the time, the results can be incongruent and highly amusing. If you saw that episode of Friends where Ross buys leather pants, you’ll get the idea.
This event sat decisively on the fence.
The Servcorp Business Shorts are predominantly a corporate events aimed at finance and capital professionals. This was quite the departure from the pitch events and hackathons we usually cover. I clearly was not in Kansas anymore: I had left the comfort of Surry Hills coffee meetings and funding pitches to wander back into the corporate world for the evening.
As I walked into the Servcorp offices, an ocean of suits and pencil skirts swallowed me whole. I had rocked up in jeans, a fancy denim shirt and a jacket. Everyone else must have thought I was there to fix someone’s boat. It was semi traumatic. But hey, the view was great!
The Servcorp Business Shorts series are ostensibly networking events. As we waited for Sam’s presentation, waiters passed around sushi and canapés as guests passed around their business cards. I felt very fancy.
A few people noticed the “Startup Daily” on my name tag and immediately started pitching me their business ideas. The pattern here was “Uber for….”: Uber for dogs, Uber for the elderly, Uber for motorboats. A lady wanted wanted to disrupt the doona business (with more doonas). Three different people asked me if I was related to our speaker Sam Prince. As he’s a Scottish-born man with Sri Lankan ancestry and I’m a Peruvian woman, we must look exactly alike to middle-aged bankers. Easy mistake.
At exactly 6:30pm, Dr Sam Prince was introduced to the crowd by a Servcorp representative as a “visionary entrepreneur.” I couldn’t have agreed more. Sam Prince is the founder of Zambrero, the fastest growing food franchise in Australia. Presumably he was there to retell his journey as a businessman and entrepreneur. In reality, he was there as a humanitarian. His NGO, One Disease, is a biomedical company aiming to cure “non-sexy” diseases – namely anything that does not look good in a bumper sticker.
All the money raised by the Business Shorts tickets were going towards One Disease fund. People like Sam are silent heroes; no one is throwing them a parade or making movies about them. He steadily builds a better world through hard work and a clear vision. There are no bells and whistles, just perseverance and applied smarts.
Sam’s story has the distinctive advantage of being simultaneously unique and familiar. We can easily recognise the talking points around perseverance, hard work and dedication in the rags-to-riches narrative. What makes Sam unique is his focus on the human side of entrepreneurship, the serendipitous nature of the business and the catharsis of collaboration. He also spends the majority of the time talking about other people, which is unheard of in our startup circles. There is no humble-braggy mythology in his narrative. He uses personal parables to illustrate lessons others have taught him. It’s a very refreshing point of view.
Here are some highlights from Sam’s journey:
Don’t be scared to be vulnerable
Sam told a story about a family who drove through the entire USA in a beat-up old car. Curious about the journey and its purpose, Sam asked the family’s patriarch how they managed such a feat, including giving birth to one of their children in the back of the car. The father’s answer was simple: “Our dream was to drive cross-country in this car but we had no idea how. So everywhere we went, we stopped to talk to people and tell them our story. We learned to let people know what your dreams are. They will want to help you.”
The power of sharing is of vital importance to our startup ecosystem. No NDA is going to stop your business from failing. On the contrary, sharing your dreams will allow people to step up and help you achieve them. Let your guard down and be prepared to be pleasantly surprised.
The people who can help are everywhere
The Zambrero franchise empire was made possible by a man Sam randomly met at Bunnings. Sam was at the hardware store running errands and bumped into a man with a sad family story in need for a sympathetic ear to vent on. Sam listened empathically, gave him advice and a firm handshake and they went their separate ways. A few weeks later Sam was approached by a man who offered to franchise his Mexican restaurant but was later discouraged to do so by his financial advisors and lawyers. Crestfallen, Sam resigned himself to find another way to make this dream come true.
Shortly after, the same man came back to Sam with renewed enthusiasm and a half-million dollar cheque. He had spoken to his best friend about Sam’s dream and vision and his best friend recommended they went ahead with the deal. The investor’s best friend was the guy Sam had met at Bunnings. Good karma had come full circle. The moral of the story is to be nice; not because it’s good for you (that would be way too selfish a lesson for Sam Prince), but because it’s a good practice. Try it – it just might work.
Don’t jump to judge
On the other hand, Sam advises all business people to do their due diligence and have contingency plans when possible. As he puts it “just because a person is poor, that doesn’t mean they are good. You can get ripped off by a poor person just as easily as by a rich one.” This is his way of saying that not all unprivileged people are noble and not all rich people are crooks. Make sure you get to know everyone for who they are, not just from your own worldview. It’s worth the effort.
Know your material
This was not part of the official lessons on the talk but I thought it is worth mentioning, especially for those who pitch for a living. To prepare for the event, I watched some of Sam’s talks on YouTube. As he started to speak at the Servcorp event, it became clear it was the exact same talk he gave at TEDxCanberra. I noticed Guy Kawasaki did the same thing when he was invited to the Canva breakfast back in July. His presentation was almost word-for-word an exact replica of his TEDxUSCD talk back in 2013. Both speakers were right on message, always on brand, got to the point and got out. As startuppers, we should applaud this. If you have validated material, you should use it as much as you can!
Sam Prince is a great example of humane entrepreneurship. Even though he ended his talk by saying “the Servcorp offices are full of dreamers on their way to fulfil their dreams” (hey, he has to pay the bills!), his heart is firmly planted in the right place. If you want to learn more about Sam’s story and how you can help, visit the One Disease website or listen to his talks easily searchable on YouTube.