What Little Miss BBQ Can Teach Tech Entrepreneurs about Running a Successful Business


Great food, more specifically great BBQ, is special. It is hard to find, it brings people together from all walks of life, and it can teach valuable lessons in the fine art of running a successful business. Recently, the CEI staff visited an unknown gem of a BBQ restaurant in Phoenix, Little Miss BBQ. With moist brisket, incredible short ribs (Fridays only!) and the perfect sweet finisher in smoked pecan pie, it rivals some of the best food in the state of Arizona and compares favorably with some of the best BBQ west of Texas. Our bellies painfully full, we began pondering how something so simple could become a beacon of BBQ with lines around the corner and people willing to wait an hour-and-a-half just for a taste. 

The answers are as simple as the succulent meat cooked in their smokers and offer some insight for tech entrepreneurs building their startups.

It Takes Years to Perfect your Craft

In the case of Little Miss BBQ, it takes both hours AND years. Regardless, the message is simple: it takes time. Entrepreneur Magazine, in citing Harvard Business School research, noted that serial entrepreneurs have a greater chance at success than first-time business owners; moreover, successful entrepreneurs display skill in starting the right company at the right time. Experience and effort can only enhance your chances for developing a strong business. 

I spoke briefly with the man behind the meat while he was soaking the briskets every half hour with his special “spray” to keep them moist, and he said he put the meat on at 7am in the morning and likely would not take it off until midnight that evening. It was a time-tested tradition derived through a lot of trial and error. Furthermore, as the story goes, the Little Miss BBQ team began as a competitive outfit that went through numerous disastrous competitions before earning its initial success. They even sampled other competitors to get a flavor on successful BBQ places. As they acknowledge: “Much like competition barbecue we became obsessed trying this, that and everything in between to perfect our recipes.” They endured early failures, which are common if not a pre-requisite for most startups, but they turned those struggles into an improved product offering.


Build a Simple, Validated Solution Rather Than a Solution that is Searching for a Problem

Too often entrepreneurs strive to develop the “perfect” product before they even hit the market or do any kind of customer validation; as a result, the product tends to be riddled with unnecessary features that they spent months researching, developing and implementing for very little gain. You have to solve a problem with a simple (as opposed to bloated) solution. In this case, LEAN does not just describe Little Miss BBQ’s less-fatty brisket but also an effective business approach. Lean Startup principles state that entrepreneurs should develop a product/service that solves for a customer’s need and continually refine it through the feedback loop. 

The Little Miss BBQ team validated their efforts at those early competitions before going all in with the restaurant. When you look at the menu, they do not have a listing of superfluous items; instead they have a small handful of meats, sides, and only one dessert – all expertly prepared and demanded by the cavalry of customers that line up to wait for them. 

Surprisingly the Little Miss BBQ crew also innovates when appropriate. As they state on their website: “Our quest is still continuing to put out a better product whether it's a new meat producer, a new addition or deletion to the rubs and sauce, or a new technique on the smoker. Barbecue is simple but there sure are a lot of things to consider.” Entrepreneurs cannot rest on their laurels after experiencing success. They incorrectly assume that the product/service has been perfected and forget that customers’ tastes can change. The fact is evolving market conditions and the Lean Startup "build-measure-learn" feedback loop should inspire reinvention.

A Great Product Will Get People in the Door, but Great Service Will Keep Them Coming Back

The food is tremendous, absolutely worth the lengthy wait…that ONE time. But chances are most people will not stand in line again, unless there is something truly special about what you offer. The product gets people in the line, but it is the exemplary customer service that will keep them coming back. How does Little Miss BBQ accomplish this? They have a parking attendant greeting people and helping people secure spots as they become available; they have another employee passing out small bottles of water as people wait; the owner is cutting the meat, conversing with his customers, and even passing out burnt ends as samples. All are simple gestures breeding loyalty and a lasting impact in the decision-making efforts of the consumer.

Take note, entrepreneurs: responsiveness and service will build brand loyalty in your clients’ minds. You can have a wonderful product, but you must also continue to delight the customer after the purchase. In fact, 65% of consumers surveyed in the 2014 Parature State of Multichannel Customer Service Survey stated they broke ties with a company as a result of a SINGLE poor customer service experience. Do not ever give them a reason to leave your brand.

Let your Customers Share your Story

HubSpot’s “cocktail party rule” of marketing emphasizes sharing valuable and interesting content 80% of the time and self-promotional advertising the remaining 20%. From this, you can deduce an important entrepreneurial lesson: shouting to the world how wonderful your business is does not offer the same effectiveness as allowing your customers to highlight your success. One look at Yelp online for Little Miss BBQ shows a litany of 4- and 5-star reviews that all cite the great food and the customer service. Before we even committed to going, we looked at these and other reviews across the internet and social media, and they ultimately converted us into Little Miss BBQ connoisseurs.

Tell us about your entrepreneurial tips for success! Or just tell us about great BBQ restaurants – we want to hear about both!

Greg BullockComment