Pizza is one of the most popular foods in the world. It’s delicious. It’s nutritious. It even has its own day (February 9th is National Pizza Day).
It also presents an apt metaphor for building a business.
Sure, you can learn a lot of entrepreneurial lessons by working in a pizza stand at one of the largest county fairs in the country. But you don’t have to put in those 16-hour days to learn from pizza. You just have to know what makes up a pizza.
A pizza is something that you can customize to your own liking, with different toppings and ingredients. You can also have a pizza delivered right to your doorstep. When you’re running a business, you want to be more like a pizza. You want to offer your customers something that they can customize to their own liking. And you want to deliver your product right to their doorstep. That’s what makes a business successful.
“Pizza is an experience,” says Iza Correll, CEO & Founder at OVI Healthcare in Somerset, Kentucky. “Something about the combination of dough, sauce, and cheese hits the spot. Just like a pizza, my business is greater than the sum of its parts.”
At its very basic core, a pizza contains five easy pieces to understand: the dough, the sauce, the cheese, the pepperoni, and other toppings. Each of these five components symbolizes an important element you’ll need to consider whether you’re aiming to start a side hustle or a full-time business.
Tip #1: You knead the dough.
The dough is the foundation of the pizza, and it represents the foundation of your business. You can build a sustainable start-up by first focusing on the nuts and bolts of your business model.
“The dough represents the operations,” says Dwayne Vera, Founder of DwayneVera.com in Tampa Bay. “This is the underlying factor that allows everything else to fall into place. If your operation has holes, then everything else will fall through the cracks. Operations means policies, technology, customer journey, HR, accounting, and all things that have an impact on all aspects of the business. Good pizza places know that quality crust makes or breaks your pizza (despite what sauce people say).”
Speaking of sauce…
Tip #2: Get saucy because it sets you apart.
Yes, you need a firm crust, but it’s the sauce that most flavors the pizza. This taste makes it unique. Similarly, in order to achieve ongoing success, your business needs to have a differentiator that sets it apart from the competition.
“The sauce of a pizza delivers a lot of the taste and flavor,” says Yoni Mazor Co-Founder & CGO of GETIDA in Teaneck, New Jersey. “Therefore, much like a business, the knowledge of the people in the organization, the intelligence and elegance of how the organization takes action to perform its mission is much like a pizza sauce, in my opinion. The culture and chemistry of the people of an organization and having a good atmosphere between an organization and the rest of its stakeholders can be very hard to replicate. If done well, it creates a great experience and good flavor at every point.”
Tip #3: Understand the big cheese.
The cheese holds the pizza together. It bridges the foundation and the unique differentiator with the product and benefits. In this way, it represents the substance of your business. This can include company goodwill, that immeasurable part of your business that might be likened to “reputation” or “credibility.”
“The cheese represents the company’s culture,” says Scott Winstead, Founder of MyElearningWorld.com in Houston. “A company’s culture is like cheese in that it binds everything together and gives the business its flavor.”
Human resources signify a vital part of this culture. This includes you, any employees you might have, as well as any third-party vendors your customers may interact with. This isn’t a “feel good” tip. This is a financial reality.
“Cheese is the most expensive ingredient of a pizza, just like labor is the greatest expense in your business,” says Shawn Plummer, CEO of The Annuity Expert in Atlanta. “High-quality cheese can make or break a pizza just like talented employees bring your business to the next level. Be careful, though. Over-cheese a pizza, and you’re spending unnecessarily without giving your pizza much added flavor. In fact, a lot of the cheese might just fall off uneaten if you put on too much. Same goes for your employees—you need to make sure you’re hiring the right amount and not overhiring. And you can always add parmesan (freelancers) if you need a little extra flavor boost.”
Tip #4: Pep up your publicity campaign.
When most people think of pizza, they see spicy pepperoni topping it. Yes, there are other toppings (more on that next), but pepperoni has become the standard.
Have you ever been to a pizza party and been the last in line? Were you disappointed to discover the people ahead of you took all the pepperoni slices?
Then you know the importance of pepperoni.
It’s the same with businesses of all sizes, from Fortune 100 to your $100-a-month senior side hustle. You need the sizzle of pepperoni to sell the steak of your business.
“Pepperoni and all the other toppings are marketing and your unique selling point,” says Plummer. “They get mixed together, but they all serve the same function—bringing in new business and keeping existing customers.”
About those other toppings…
Tip #5: Take Requests.
The other toppings represent the complete array of products and services you offer. Your business needs a variety of products and services to appeal to the complete spectrum of customers in your market. Think of this as continuous improvement through effortless market research. Rather than actively seeking input, you are passively gaining information from existing and prospective customers.
“The other toppings are what make a company versatile, its point of difference,” says Amit Gupta, CEO of Aeroseal in Miamisburg, Ohio. “In our case, we are always adding new toppings to the menu—our product development pipeline is very active this year with multiple new product introductions. These new products, along with our global network of contractors who use our technology are what help set us apart.”
For ages, the classic lemonade stand stood as the archetypical symbol of operating a business. Perhaps there’s a tastier comparison.
“A better metaphor for business is a pizza because you can get as creative with it as you want, yet all pizza starts with the same basic elements which are a dough-type base, a sauce, and toppings,” says Fadi Swaida, a Dentist at Bond Street Dental in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “A business is the same way. It has a foundation of a business plan, basic financial business setups with some limited choices, and then all the products and services. Those products and services can be anything and as creative as you desire.”
So, the next time you take that slice of pizza from the pie, look at it closely. It may contain a winning idea for your full-time business or side hustle.