John Schnatter always had a thing for pizza.
In 1976, at the age of 15, he got a job washing dishes at Rocky’s, a pizza and sub joint in his hometown of Jeffersonville, Indiana.
“I hated doing that,” he tells Business Insider. “I wanted to make pizza, but if you weren’t one of the Fondrisi brothers, you didn’t get to make pizza.” Luckily, Rocky’s was written up in the paper a few months later and business exploded. “They needed help keeping up with demand, so I got promoted to making pizza. And I loved it.”
Schnatter worked at another pizza shop in college and even considered dropping out of Ball State University to open his own restaurant, but his parents wouldn’t allow it.
So, in 1984, while Schnatter was running the bar he co-owned with his father in Jeffersonville, he decided to take a leap of faith and turn the tavern’s broom closet into a pizza business.
To make it happen, he sold his beloved Camaro Z28 for $2,800 to buy $1,600 worth of used restaurant equipment.
The sacrifice paid off.
The broom closet pizza shop eventually turned into the empire known today as Papa John’s Pizza — the third largest pizza chain in the world, with 4,700 restaurants around the globe and a market capitalisation of $2.2 billion.
Schnatter says there were a few things he did early on in his journey that allowed him to stay focused and productive — and helped him grow his company into what it is today.
Here are three of his favourite productivity tricks that he recommends all entrepreneurs and small-business owners should try:
1. Hire for attitude, train for aptitude.
“You can’t make good wine from bad grapes,” he says. “Early on, I built my business by surrounding myself with quality people who are passionate about what they do. A great lesson I learned from my dad was to ‘hire for attitude, train for aptitude.'”
When you hire quality employees with phenomenal attitudes, they have the capacity to quickly develop aptitude for their job, and they often stick around for the long haul, Schnatter says. “In fact, Papa John’s first employee is still with the company today.”
“The truth is, passion and motivation are contagious,” he says. “It sounds simple, but when you’re surrounded by passionate, purposeful people who understand the scaffolding of the business, you can focus on moving forward and getting things done efficiently.”
2. Keep the main thing the main thing.
“Don’t lose sight of why you started your business in the first place,” Schnatter advises. “It’s all about keeping the main thing the main thing — for us, that’s better pizza.”
He says the success Papa John’s has had over the years is a result of the company’s “unrelenting commitment to quality.”
“By keeping the main thing the main thing, you will end up focusing your time and energy on what will really advance your business — and productivity and success will follow.”
3. Tinker. A lot.
“You have to tinker — learn through trial and error,” he explains. “Many of humanity’s greatest innovations come from what were considered ‘mistakes’ or ‘failures.'”
As a business owner, Schnatter says he has instilled a culture of “tinkering” that allows his employees to take risks and not be afraid of failure.
Fear, of course, will hold you back, hijack your focus, and prevent you from productively moving forward. But when you’ve got a “tinkering culture” in place, Schnatter says “discoveries happen that increase efficiency, productivity, and ultimately, innovation.”
“Our ability to innovate as we go is born out a culture of collaboration, curiosity, and a shared belief in ‘Better.’ If Papa John’s had a dartboard of every mistake you could make, we’d have a full board,” he says. “But we learn, we course-correct, and we move forward.”
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