I’ve never considered myself a sophisticated business person. Several years ago (albeit, after interviewing more than a dozen MBAs) I decided against going to graduate school in business, focusing instead on a less tradition career of which business is more the necessity than the focus.
That said, I enjoy learning. And “business” – encompassing everything from tax law through client sales – have increasingly become a part of my daily life. And still I’ve carried around the idea that compared to those who make the study of business their life’s work, I’m an amateur.
So it was that after 4 cups of coffee on a recent flight from New York City to San Francisco, as I was stretching in the back of the airplane that I got to talking with the flight attendant. He had a menu displayed on his computer and we started talking. It turned out that he and his partner run a Soul Food Truck in the San Francisco Bay Area, and I began to ask questions about his food, employees, marketing efforts, revenue and more.
My questions weren’t sophisticate, just curious, but over the course of our short acquaintanceship we delved into details about his customers, what they enjoy, and how to better serve them. We discussed how many food trucks have dark interiors, which leads to some hesitancy about the quality of food preparation going on inside. My new friend had chosen a white interior, which showed stains but was worth the difference in public perception. We discussed who his most loyal customers are, and why, and what they like in addition to Soul Food.
Let me reiterate, especially for those readers to whom my questions sounds complicated, that I was just being curious. Nothing I asked couldn’t be an area very well researched in an hour of Googling “start-up” “business” and “customer.” But my enthusiasm, combined with, apparently, the value that the airline steward derived from our fourty-five minute conversation at the back of the plane, was sufficient that he asked for my contact information to follow up on our conversation. Then, at the end of the flight, he brought me a bottle of champagne in thanks.
I’ve been thinking about this incident since it occurred a week ago, and am struck by how much that simple exchange has changed my own self-perceptions. I know how much more there is to learn in this area. Business is fun, and I know enough to be dangerous, and then maybe just enough more keep myself on my feet. But now, thanks to the outside recognition of a someone who has invested in a “side business” of a $100,000 food truck business, I realize that I have some additional value to provide.
Should my opinion of my value in marketing and business development be based on a stranger’s appreciation? Of course not. And yet, feedback, especially on a variable schedule, is a essential part of recognition and improvement. For better or worse, the airline steward’s feedback has changed my own self-perception. And I’m enjoying his champagne.