Cat Cora is a dynamo. She’s the first female Iron Chef and cookbook author, restaurateur, and co-host of BRAVO’s “Around the World in 80 Plates.” Plus she has a cookware line, two food product lines and even a line of women’s lifestyle shoes. She’s also built her multiple businesses from the ground up and is a stellar example of entrepreneurial drive.
We spoke to her briefly about her businesses and how she built them, the challenges she faced and the advice she has for other would-be entrepreneurs.
YSB Advisor: "Can you tell us a little bit about your various businesses - what they are and which are important to you?"
Cat Cora: "They are all important. We get lots of opportunities and the ones that I collaborate and partner with are the ones that have the same philosophies and goals, the same work ethic. That’s really important. What is this going to do for us and where is it going to take us?
Take the food products [Cat Cora’s Kitchen]. One is with Gaea, a company out of Greece that does products out of Greece and the Greek Islands and keeps them very authentic and very natural. And the second one is with Grecian Delight that’s all about flatbreads that are all natural and spreads and hummus. Then the cookware – we are with Starfrit, a company that uses high-end and eco-friendly materials that are very high quality. And then there is the new shoe line – a women’s lifestyle line that is also eco-friendly and is all about living your optimal lifestyle and life around food. Then, of course, our restaurants – it’s the same kind of thing – working with farmers, all local, all sustainable – the same philosophy."
YSB Advisor: "What led you to go into business for yourself? Was there a defining moment or a motivation that helped you be entrepreneurial?"
Cat Cora: "I think it has always been something I wanted to do. I’ve always felt within myself the strength to be my own boss, be entrepreneurial, build a company that I could be proud of. I’m self-made, I didn’t come from a silver spoon.
It is critical to surround yourself with a great team - people who can help you realize your goals and your dreams. Over the years, that’s what I’ve done, is surround myself with great people. People that think outside the box, that think big, that are innovative, that can help you realize your goals and your dreams.
A defining moment was when I was at Postino in Lafayette in the Bay Area. I did my first cookbook there. I started my first show there, did my first commercial and that’s when things just started to grow. And as things grew, I knew that I needed to branch out and start my company because you can’t really do both. You can’t work for someone else in a small restaurant and also build a big brand for your own business.
I knew it wasn’t forever when I started there [at Postino]. It was a great launching point for me in a lot of ways. It was time. I kind of knew. It was time to do this – now or never.
You can’t explain how you know – you will just instinctively know if that’s something that’s inside you. It’s a very personal fire in your belly and you have to have that, especially to be an entrepreneur. To be an entrepreneur, you are taking risks, you are taking gambles, you don’t necessarily have the comfort of a cushion to fall back on so it’s really spreading your wings.
But you also have to be somewhat strategic and I tried to be as strategic as possible about it. It has to be the right timing – you have to make sure. At the time I had had time to make something of a name for myself with the cookbook and that first show and I made sure I had a team behind me and an agent and I made sure I had that in place before I made that move."
YSB Advisor: "What were the biggest challenges you faced in starting out as a business owner?"
Cat Cora: "I think the biggest challenges were that you really just have to work hard. You have to market yourself, you have to put yourself out there and be knocking on doors, really beat the pavement. You have to be in the moment and in the present. You have to be a self starter. You can’t sit there and wait for things to happen, you have go out there.
You also have to have patience and let your team do their work. It is a fine balance between pushing and pushing to make things happen and then being patient . I think those are the biggest challenges – making sure that people know you are there, that you are out there working hard to make things happen and being proactive. That takes a lot of energy, a lot of time, a lot of confidence. You’ll have doubts but you have to push them aside and be driven and be confident and keep pushing.
And you have to be prepared for when that opportunity comes along. Be prepared, be ready, show upon time and when you are working, giving 1000%.
Never believe your press. Never believe that you have made it and that you can rest on your laurels. Because once that happens it can be really tragic. You become complacent and you can never be complacent. There is always someone just behind you that wants what you have. So it’s also about reinventing yourself constantly and being active and strategic – all those things."
YSB Advisor: "What would you tell a person starting out to set up their own business? What practical advice and what inspirations can they use that can help them succeed"
Cat Cora: "I think the biggest thing is to go into any situation with a plan – there has to be a plan in some way shape or form. It doesn’t have to necessarily be a formal strategy or anything like that but you have to have a plan
You need a team – it can just be one person or one or two people that believe in you that are getting up in the morning and saying ‘what can I do for you to help you be successful.’
Never settle for second or third best. Set your goals and try to meet those goals. If one door shuts there’s always going to be another door that is open so go after them. Have faith in yourself and belief in yourself even when it is the hardest time in the world to do that. Even when you have the biggest doubts and the biggest fears you have to keep going.
Be humble and work your ass off when you do get an opportunity. One of the biggest things that sounds so simple is being on time. It goes a long way and shows people your attitude. Be on time, be attentive, be present. Look good when you are going to a meeting. Be sharp and ask questions. Don’t have a sense of entitlement. If something is worthwhile you are going to have to work for it. That’s a big message for people starting out. Go in there, be humble and work hard and it’ll go a long way.
You have to have a faith and a belief in yourself. It’s really about in any situation you are in, go in and work hard and don’t give up too soon. Nothing has changed in the last hundred years in how to be successful in a lot of ways. Stick with your philosophy you believe in and standards and values – stick to those. Don’t sell out. It’s not going to get you any further if you do. I really believe that. Stick to your values and philosophy and integrity in business."
You can find out more about Cat Cora at her website, catcora.com.
[Please join us for a live Twitter chat. Cat Cora shares tips on turning a passion into a business in a tweet chat Live at 1 p.m. PST 7/18 on @YSmallBusiness and #GoSMB or after the event search for the hashtags to follow the discussion.]