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Trial, error helped Learning Experience operator


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Vikram Malpani

Vikram Malpani

So your first days in the system were a little hectic. What happened?

Construction delays on our first location meant that we’d be opening our second location just six months after our first. And another location opened up in that time frame. Corporate called and said we’d like you to buy it. We thought about it and decided it would be really hard for us to do. But my wife and I looked at each other and said, this was an awesome location. So I’m running three locations in the first six months.

Well that’s insane. How did you manage?

For us, it was a lot of experimenting. If it worked in a location we’d scale it to another location. So it was a lot of trial and error in terms of the leadership, the staff and our processes.

Given where you started and where you are now, would you do it all again?

Yes, but differently. I’ve joked with corporate before, saying, ‘Don’t ever let someone do two in six months again.’ They said, ‘We know.’

You got a crash course in scaling a business. What is your best advice for others?

You have to be willing to change everything you did to make yourself successful at the first one, you can’t replicate yourself. You have to be willing to look at your existing way of doing business and radically change it to be successful.

Find ways to do things that don’t rely on you, the franchisee. You can’t be the key person. The thing can’t fall apart if you’re sick for a week or on vacation.

How do you build up those key people?

Find the very best people we possibly can, give them clear directions and support them as much as we can. Then get the heck out of the way. It really is empowering the directors as much as we can. One of the common threads among hires is ‘my old owner was bureaucratic’ or ‘they made all the decisions’ or ‘nothing was getting done.’
When I say get out of the way, I really mean it. I don’t want to be part of that process, not because I don’t want to be involved, but I don’t want to undercut them if they think it’s the right thing to do. That really gets directors excited because they haven’t typically had that freedom before.

How do you balance that support and empowerment?

A lot of the directors have been trained to be their own island, so asking for help is not in their DNA.  We’ve really had to push and train and say, in this world asking for help is not a bad thing. Let me know and we can solve the problem together.

It’s telling them very clearly, ‘please ask for help,’ and if a situation comes up where they didn’t ask for help and showing them that if you had helped, this is how we could have together gotten to a better outcome.

And when they do ask, even if it’s a minor issue, just be really encouraging and positive and thank them. The positive reinforcement of that is the way to get them to see that this actually works and that we’re out there to help them and I’m not bothered.

There’s this one woman who calls and always says, ‘I’m sorry for bothering you’—you’re not bothering me, I’m here to help you!

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