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June 22, 2022

Sabir x Michael Lastoria

TL; DR

Michael Lastoria is the founder of &pizza, an innovative company dedicated to both its consumers and its employees. It’s a brand that’s trying to make a difference, and so far, it’s doing just that.

I spoke with Lastoria during the latest episode of This Week With Sabir, using his experience and journey to create some valuable lessons for entrepreneurs, including:

  • Do Fewer Things with Better Intentions: Less is more. Focus your creative efforts on fewer things and make them perfect. Not only will it improve the quality of your products and the efficiency of your business, but it will help you to stay focused on your purpose as you scale.
  • Fight Through Difficulty: All successful entrepreneurs have faced difficulty at some point in their careers. The same was true for Lastoria. When something unfavorable happens, look at what you can learn, how you can improve, and where you can go. Don’t let it defeat you.
  • Treat Your Employees Better: Your employees are the heart and soul of your business. Pay them more, treat them better, and they will drive your business forward.
  • Be Unique: The fact that you’re new to an industry doesn’t have to be a negative. It could be your superpower, as it means you’re not restricted by industry standards and the “usual” way of doing business.

If you read to the end of the following guide or watch to the end of the video, you’ll see Michael Lastoria’s $100,000 insight, a piece of advice that every entrepreneur needs to see.

How Michael Lastoria Went From A Small Town To A Big Success

Michael Lastoria is the founder of &pizza, a fast-growing company devoted to making a difference in the food industry. He has been on an incredible journey, going from humble roots in a small New York hamlet to one of the most innovative business owners in the country.

In the latest episode of This Week With Sabir, I sat down with Michael Lastoria to talk about his career, business, and goals.

As an entrepreneur, there’s a lot that you can learn from someone like Michael Lastoria. Not only has he been there, done that, and collected a closet full of t-shirts, but his devotion to bettering the world makes him an inspiration that everyone should aspire to emulate.

You can watch my interview with Michael in the embedded video below. Alternatively, take a look at the following guide, where I go over some of the points that Michael discussed and highlight the messages and lessons within.

Finding Opportunity In Difficulty: How To Succeed At All Costs

Michael Lastoria grew up in a very small town, a “hamlet”, as he describes it. In other words, his hometown was so small it didn’t even qualify as a town.

He moved to New York in his early twenties, stayed with a friend for a week, and took a $1,500 cash advance on his credit card.

He didn’t have a job, a home, or much money, but he made it work.

He found a job that he describes as “one of the worst” he has ever had, and he created his first business as a means of escaping that dreadful 9 to 5.

From there, Michael still had his struggles and he no doubt experienced a lot more difficulties and stresses to go along with his successes.

But it was sheer grit and determination that helped him to traverse that bumpy road and make him the successful entrepreneur that he is today.

It’s a story that many entrepreneurs have and one you should keep in mind the next time you find yourself in a difficult situation and the next time life seemingly kicks you when you’re down.

Michael was miserable in his first job. It was an experience that proved incredibly difficult at the time and one that no doubt tarnished the image he had of NYC as being a city of opportunity and possibility.

But if not for that experience, if not for the difficulties he faced and the misery he endured, he wouldn’t have pushed himself to start his first business.

That business wasn’t &pizza and it actually revolved around selling ad space in taxi cabs, but it was the first step in a journey that led him to &pizza and to everything else that has followed it.

The takeaway from this story—and others like it—is that you should always look for the opportunity. No matter how bleak and hopeless things seem, there is a light at the end of the tunnel if you have the will and determination to find it.

You might lose your job today, but maybe that will be the catalyst you need to change your life. That job might be putting food on the table and keeping a roof over your head, but it’s also the thing that consumes every minute of your time, and the extra time you have could be just what you need to launch a successful business or start a career as an author, artist, actor, or musician.

That doesn’t mean you should quit your job and make life difficult for yourself. Rather, it means you shouldn’t give up just because you encounter some difficulty.

There is opportunity there…somewhere. You just need to find it.

Every entrepreneur who worked their way up from the bottom can think back to a moment of great difficulty that ultimately led them to where they are today.

I recently spoke with Danna Olivo, who talked about the difficulties she faced with a couple of small businesses. They didn’t work out for her, but rather than letting the failures defeat her, she continued to learn and improve.

Eventually, she gained enough experience to become a master of small business success, and she now makes a career out of helping other businesses to avoid failure.

It was a similar story for Kristina Bucaram. She was operating a successful little business until a complaint threw a spanner in the works and nearly ended everything she had worked hard to build.

She was distraught, but in the end, it worked out for the best as she was able to move to a new location and create a brand that made her a raw food superstar.

How To Progress As An Entrepreneur And Business Owner

Once upon a time, the United States was built on manufacturing. Jobs were high-paying and provided employees with a number of benefits, including the ability to climb through the ranks.

These days, it’s all about food service jobs.

They are underpaid (often relying on customer tips) and under-appreciated. They are also low-skill and don’t offer much opportunity for personal growth or job satisfaction.

In launching &pizza, Michael Lastoria wanted to provide “good jobs” in the United States, and the food industry in particular. He wanted to restore the opportunities that were available to older generations but lost to younger ones.

In the beginning, &pizza received over 1,000 job applications per location. It’s a company that people wanted to work for and one that people didn’t want to leave, and that’s practically unheard of in the food industry.

When was the last time you heard an employee raving about their job working as a cook, server, or delivery driver for a fast-food chain? When have you ever heard someone aspire to work for a big chain?

Never. It doesn’t happen, but because of the way &pizza treats its employees and the benefits that it provides them, it has become the perfect employer.

It’s a brand that employees are proud to work for, and that’s incredibly rare in the food industry.

The ampersand comes from the brand’s unity, which was created during the company’s launch and has become the thing it’s recognized for. It’s well on its way to becoming iconic, and that’s key.

It’s also something that Michael perhaps wouldn’t have created if not for his background in advertising, and that brings me to the next point: everything that you do as an entrepreneur, whether it succeeds or fails, will teach you and prepare you for the next step.

Take the Magic Spoon story as an example.

Before the founders focused their efforts on healthy cereal, they created a protein bar made from cricket protein.

It was a unique product and that gave them an opportunity to shape the marketplace while tapping into trends such as low-fat, high-protein, and sustainability.

It seemed like the perfect idea, but they had overlooked some major issues, including the lack of a supply chain (which made sourcing quality cricket protein difficult) and the fact that US consumers weren’t comfortable eating insects.

They made it work in the end and they eventually sold the company. More importantly, they took what they learned from that brand and built another, one that is currently more successful and is no doubt worth a lot more money.

Michael Lastoria’s journey was similar. He built and sold two companies in the advertisement sector but was always keen to learn more.

He wanted to launch a brand with purpose, and once he had the skills, experience, and money to do so, he founded &pizza and grew it quickly.

These things teach you, even if they fail. As long as you give it your all and let it run its course.

Michael went from ads to pizza, an extreme shift that would seem absurd to many. But it was a pizza shop built on a solid foundation, something that was different, just like his other companies, and something that relied heavily on advertising and tech, both of which Michael knew very well.

After all, a pizza shop is more than a pizza shop. In &pizza’s case, it’s built on original software that helps the business to run fluidly. It’s also growing at a rapid rate, with more than 60 locations, and that sort of growth requires an immense amount of work, complex and effective systems, and a workforce that is prepared to do everything it takes to make your business successful.

As a hands-on pizzeria owner used to making pizzas and serving customers, Michael might not have had the experience, confidence, or skills needed to facilitate such rapid growth. But because of his varied background, all of those things were second nature.

Keep that in mind the next time that you have a deep passion to launch a new business but don’t feel that you have the required experience. That “lack of experience” could be the thing you need to stand out and be creative. It means you’ll be approaching the business from a unique perspective and won’t be bound by the unwritten rules of the industry.

If Michael had experience in the fast-food industry and not the ad industry, he may have had the tools needed to create the rapid growth that the business has seen. But would he have created such advanced systems and established a strong workplace culture?

Would he have paid his employees more, made them love the business, and earned their full support, or would he have just taken the typical fast-food route and kept their wages low, their skills minimal, and their prospects zero?

Even if he had wanted to make a difference, he may have felt that he was unable to do so, restricted as he was by the industry standards and the “usual” way of doing things.

As it happens, his background wasn’t in the food industry and that gave him a fresh perspective that allowed him to take things in a new and exciting direction.

Treat Your Employees Right And Try To Make A Big Difference In The World

Your employees are the heart and soul of your business.

Companies often throw money at their consumers and completely neglect their customers. Even major brands like Amazon have been accused of doing this. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a US household that doesn’t use Amazon, but a simple Google search will tell you that their employees don’t share the same sentiments.

It doesn’t matter how much your competitors pay and whether you’re paying more or not. No one will praise you just because you pay your employees 5 cents more an hour than your biggest competitor.

Do what’s right by your employees and stop thinking about what everyone else is doing.

Michael recommends moving some of your consumer spend toward your employees and says that if you’re not on the path to paying $20 an hour within the next decade, you’re lagging behind the times.

When you pay your employees more, you’ll waste less resources on finding, hiring, and training new staff members. You’ll earn a better reputation within the local community and will never need to worry about a shortage of applicants.

It can also benefit your customers, creating a “Cheers effect”, whereby regular customers see a friendly and familiar face every time they enter.

Never underestimate the value that customers place on familiarity and loyalty.

Your competitor could have the best food in the world. It could have a frier operated by Gordon Ramsay and a bar staffed by the ghost of Jack Daniels himself, but if your staff have been there for years and know their names, orders, and kids’ ages, that’s where customers will be every week.

Focus On What’s Important: Don’t Neglect Your Health And Family

Never lose sight of family and health. Just because you have a business to run and targets to meet doesn’t mean you should start neglecting the things that really matter.

The same is true for your employees—don’t assume that they will put your business before themselves, and don’t expect them to, either.

COVID has emphasized this issue.

Employers previously had the mindset that employees would always show up, as that’s what they were being paid to do. But once you add the threat of contagion and lockdowns to the mix; once employees have the excuse or even the choice, they won’t show up if they don’t believe they need to.

Employees are starting to realize that their job at a fast-food chain isn’t worth exposing themselves to the threat of infection, and it definitely isn’t worth risking their sanity and safety by dealing with angry customers who want to start a fight just because someone asked them to wear a mask.

They are more prone to just throwing their hands in the air and saying, “It’s not worth it”.

The same is true if you’re asking them to beat rush hour traffic just to spend a few hours at work on Friday morning, even though they could perform that role from home.

I recently spoke with a friend who completely lost faith in her place of work because they asked her to attend a 1-hour meeting in person mere days after a lockdown in a city with high infection rates. To her, and to any other sane person, it was a ridiculous request, as the same meeting could have taken place online. But the employers were so wrapped up in the red tape and BS that they didn’t see the sense and, as a result, they completely lost the support of a valued employee.

She’s not the only one, either. I have lost count of how many friends and acquaintances have lost faith in their employers because of equally ridiculous requests.

We’re in the middle of an employee revolution right now. The days of making unreasonable requests and expecting employees to meet them are long gone. If you want to progress as a company and you want to build a strong and supportive team, you need to be part of the solution and not the problem.

Make decisions that put your employees first, and if red tape is getting in the way, find a way to break through. It’s your company. You make the decisions. And if you’re making the right decisions, your employees will appreciate you more.

The $100,000 Question

Be fearlessly weird.

That was Michael’s answer when I asked for his $100,000 advice.

Be unique. Don’t be scared of breaking the mold. Don’t try to copy another brand. Find your purpose, follow it, and do whatever it takes to meet your goals, no matter how “weird” those goals seem.

Michael’s journey was far from standard, and his ideas were vastly different from the norm. But that didn’t stop him, and in many ways, his devotion to doing things differently is one of the reasons he has achieved so much.

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