A lot of eyebrows were raised when Jonathan Kaplan, the founder of camera company Flip which was acquired (and shut down) by Cisco, announced that his next venture would be a chain of grilled cheese restaurants called The Melt. And that Sequoia Capital, the top technology VC firm, invested in the company.
Why are technology entrepreneurs and investors doing a grilled-cheese company?
Now Forbes has an interview and video where Kaplan explains what he’s up to:
What Kaplan never comes outright and says is that chain restaurants are technology companies.
What makes companies like McDonald’s and Starbucks successful is a combination of process and technology.
Perhaps the best comparison is a company like Toyota. Japanese automakers took the world by storm because of superior process and technology, woven together through a principle called kaizen, or continuous improvement. Designing and making each car is about eking out dozens of small operational efficiencies which, overall, amount to noticeably cheaper and better cars. It’s the same thing with McDonald’s. Each burger is really a piece of technology: each ingredient has to be thought through in terms of how it can be procured, sliced and diced, frozen, taken to restaurants all over the world, and then assembled on demand quickly and effortlessly, and how it fits into the whole chain and the company’s offering and brand. Like a new car.
If you go to a Starbucks, each movement by your friendly barista to make your frappuccino is scripted and rehearsed. Everyone everywhere at Starbucks makes things a certain way according to a certain process that has been honed to efficiency. Each kind of drink, each slice of cake, is measured and tested. It’s a manufacturing process. It’s a technology.
The same thing goes with The Melt. Kaplan went with grilled cheeses because he found machines that press and grill a grilled-cheese sandwich in record time, which ensures fast turnover, which improves profitability. The grilled cheese comes with soup because it’s cheap, and easy to store and manufacture. You can order from your iPhone, again, because this improves turnaround time.
It’s a manufacturing and technology process. It’s really not that different from making portable cameras.
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