Carlo Ruggiero | Crain's Orlando

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Carlo Ruggiero

Background:  

Kono Pizza is an imported restaurant concept selling cone-shaped pizza, which Carlo Ruggerio brought to the U.S. from Italy in 2013. Kono Pizza operates in Orlando, Fla.; Arlington, Mesquite and Houston, Texas; Boise, Idaho; Lancaster, S.C.; and Jersey City and Cherry Hill, N.J.; and is expecting to open several more franchises this year.

The Mistake:

Because of my Italian background – you know, where every meal is a feast and we spend 10 hours with a million friends around a table – I thought that bigger was better [when we brought Kono Pizza franchises from Italy to the U.S.]. I thought about it with seating, with candles, where people would actually come in and spend hours, but obviously I was wrong. It slowed our initial growth, because it took forever to find a location. Real estate was tough to find; initial setup costs were too high.

I didn't conduct enough market research for our product, especially because Kono Pizza was a new product that was coming from another country. Bringing it here it felt like I was driving a car from point A to point B without direction. We missed a crucial step.

I believe the biggest step that we missed was not studying and interviewing the right prospects. I had friends saying to me that they loved the concept, they loved the product, “Oh my God, you'll do so well” … instead of talking to real customers about their needs and expectations of Kono Pizza.

It's not about what I like to eat, it's about the market.

The Lesson:

I love this quote: “Patience, this is the greatest business asset. Wait for the right time to make your moves.” And obviously, I didn't. I rushed it. I rushed Kono.

We now take our time and conduct all types of market research and collect as much data as possible. Before we launch anything—even a menu item—we taste it, we ask the corporate stores, we try it for a couple months and ask if the customers' feedback was positive, and if not, then we're not going to do it.

It's not about what I like to eat, it's about the market—and 99 percent of the market is different from what I would like to eat.

Follow Kono Pizza's flagship store on Twitter at @konopizzanj

Pictured: Carlo Ruggiero | Photo courtesy of Kono Pizza.

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