Finding Customers: Tips From an 85-year-old Sushi Master

A couple of months ago Jiro the 85-year-old sushi master video went viral. At the age of 9, Jiro was kicked out of his home and went to live on the streets. How did he go from that to running a three-star Michelin restaurant with no marketing budget, no menu and no social media?  Today we’ll look at how Jiro goes about finding customers and how we can use his methods to do the same.

Here’s the video, if you have not yet seen it:

Jiro runs a small boutique restaurant with only 10 seats located at Tokyo subway station (Sukiyahashi). If you want to eat with Jiro, you need to book months in advance, and people fly in from across the world, paying over $300 dollars a person to devour his mouth-watering dishes.

So how does Jiro do it? More importantly, how can you go about finding customers who will go to such great lengths to use your products or services?

Although we live in a digitally overloaded world with so many things happening so fast, there is no short-cut to being an expert. Malcolm Galdwell’s Outliers said that to become an expert you need 10,000 hours and Jiro is living proof of that. If you spend a lot of time doing something you will eventually become better at it. I saw that when I started painting at the age of 13. By time I had completed high school, my style, my technique had evolved and ultimately I had become a better artist.

You may be wondering whether Jiro has it all figured out – after all, he has been doing it for 75 years, from sunrise to sunset, but he doesn’t believe he has become the almighty guru.

That is not his goal; instead, he is more focused on how he can continuously improve his process.  He is thinking about how to improve the customer experience. How to make sure the rice is the perfect fluff. How to improve the atmosphere in his restaurant. How to ensure that he continuously gets the best quality ingredient. Jiro’s customer-centered orientation is his key to finding customers, and it is working for him. The same orientation will work for you and me.

Jiro’s #1 Key to Finding Customers

For Jiro, being good is not good enough. He looks at every part of his operations, from the supply chain, to preparation to serving and sees how he can not only improve but also innovate the process.

Jiro does not believe in a quick guide to doing things, you might have the training and it can teach you the foundation, but you need to try it over and over again to get it better. Many of my clients come to me saying, “Maybe I’m not good enough; maybe I’m not meant to be a small business owner. Should I just quit?”

But to master any process, you need to do it over and over again.

Challenge: You may be multi-passionate, but what is the one core expertise you would like to build?

The key concept to understand is that there are no really new concepts in this world, all we have is to take existing concepts and evolve them. Mark Zuckerburg didn’t invent social networking – he just evolved it. Innovation is the first step to finding customers who want something new -> you keep on innovation -> you keep finding customers and so your business grows to new heights.

Zuckerburg is no different to Jiro. Sushi has been made for centuries. But that doesn’t mean that Jiro couldn’t improve and transform the process. Jiro has always spoken highly of his masters, he did point out that many of them were afraid to use their creativity and originality in their work.

Jiro feels comfortable to remove, add, or alter ingredients in a way the dishes are prepared, to explore if there is a better way of doing things.

Challenge: Which areas of your business do you want to try to innovate this week? Do you want to re-visit customer process? Do you want to explore supply chain? Do you want to look at how you are going to improve your product or service?

This weekend I was in Melaka, staying at a wonderful guesthouse, when I picked up one of my favorite books of Napolean Hill, Think and Grow Rich. The book uses examples of Donald Trump, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, Theodore Roosevelt and many more. I thought that Jiro should probably be on the list, too.

I started thinking about what all these people have in common and realized that they didn’t have a backup plan. They didn’t think that it wouldn’t work out; they were open to trying and dying for what they wanted to do. We are always taught to think of plan B. Even looking at Henry Ford, who wanted to build a 6 cylinder car – he didn’t give his engineers an option. They just had to build it, and in the end what was thought impossible was done.

Jiro became successful because at such a young age, he was forced to provide for himself. He didn’t have an option to have a plan B.  He had a passion for food and that became what he breathed, what he dreamed, and what he did.

Challenge: If you could do anything you wanted to do – what would it be? Don’t get bogged down by thinking about marketing or funding, etc. Just think about how many lives would you impact if you were living and giving your gift.

If you like this article, please like it and share it with someone who might find this content valuable.

I would love to hear in the comments below: What  is the biggest challenge/fear/frustration you are facing, and what do you think Jiro, Oprah, Edison and their contemporaries would tell you on how to address those issues?

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