How do you know if your idea is good?
This was the big question Jonathan Zilber and Collin Shapiro of Philly Style Bagels asked themselves when they signed up for Business Plan Boot Camp. They recently reflected on their journey from slinging espresso to owning the bagel shop that produces restaurant critic Craig LaBan’s favorite bagel in the city. As baristas and beer aficionados, Jon and Collin spent a lot of time bonding over their love of food while serving coffee or stocking the beer cooler at their bottle shop job. They bemoaned the lack of good bagels in Philadelphia and began experimenting at home with making a better bagel.
After catering events during the Hidden City Festival in 2013, they wanted to prove to themselves that their idea was serious, and signed up for Business Plan Boot Camp. As food industry veterans, who had never owned a business before, they had seen the high failure rate of new food businesses, and wanted to ensure they were digging into every area of business to really get a sense of what was possible.
During Boot Camp, they saw that the numbers worked and gained the confidence to move from idea to Philly Style Bagels’ beginnings. They found focus, figured out their profit margins, and learned how to talk about what makes their product the best in the city. As Jonathan reflected, “when you have an idea in your head that you’re stuck on, it can start to sound like gibberish if you don’t get it all written down.”
“If you came to me with an idea, I’d say, run the numbers”
Rather than rushing into finding a space and raising the money for a shop, they created a plan to run Philly Style Bagels as a pop up for a year, building customer loyalty and putting money in the bank. The plan paid off. They laugh now about how much they underestimated themselves during the Boot Camp process; they couldn’t imagine at that time that they would have a slew of employees and be rolling over a thousand bagels on a Saturday.
Their plan has been their foundation as they scaled from their initial modest plans to a thriving shop.They still use it as a reference document to ask themselves questions like, where did we come from? Are we matching our vision? How is our vision changing?
As Collin says, “opening a business is overwhelming. When you have a million things you have to do, plotting on a timeline and having a plan is so important.”
And Jonathan’s final words of wisdom, to anyone with an idea or thinking of starting a business are good ones? Run the numbers.