What You Can Learn From The Founder


I recently watched The Founder and was totally transfixed.  The Founder is a film about Ray Kroc, a struggling businessman who, while failing to sell milkshake mixers, stumbles upon Mac and Dick McDonald and their restaurant, McDonald’s.  This one restaurant in Southern California was so impressive to Kroc because of their streamlined system in creating food ‘fast’ that he instantly wanted in.  What happened next is a story of legends, in part a cautionary tale and, in others, one of incredible inspiration.  Kroc went on to take McDonald’s from one solitary Southern Californian outpost to a cross-country, then global multi-billion dollar franchise and real estate holdings operation.

Though Kroc was not the founder of McDonald’s, nor the creator, he remains, to this day, the mastermind behind one of the biggest corporations in the world.  Though his tactics are shady, there is so much to learn from Kroc and his practices, neatly condensed in the movie, The Founder.

Here are 5 things I took away:

  1. Don’t give up:  Ray Kroc didn’t find real success until his 50’s.  Yes, that’s correct, his 50’s!  Born in 1902, Kroc started working when he was 15 as an ambulance driver and went on to various sales jobs and didn’t find McDonalds until the 1950’s.  From there he built the business, expanding McDonald’s signature fast food methods and creating a very tight franchise program which upheld strict standards and practices.  Kroc died in 1984 at age 81 when McDonald’s had 7500 locations in 31 countries and was worth, as a company, 8 billion dollars, and Kroc was personally worth 500 million.
  2. Be curious: The only way Kroc took McDonald’s anywhere was through curiosity.  He not only sold McDonald’s their milkshake mixers, but when he saw what they were doing with production of food he was in awe.  In awe and interested enough to learn more.  Sometimes when we get so caught up with the day to day bottom line we forget to lift up our heads and see the bigger picture.  Innovation and greatness comes from curiosity so stay curious, my friends!
  3. Be open: If it really did happen the way it happened in The Founder, Mac and Doug’s biggest failure was not being open enough to see Kroc’s vision.  While they focused on all of the problems, Kroc focused on all of the possibilities.  It can be hard as a business owner to see the forest through the trees, but this story is a great reminder of why you should always be trying to keep your eyes on the bigger picture.
  4. Don’t be afraid to fail: Though Kroc took a whole bunch of L’s, he persevered.  I know I always say get comfortable with failure, but Kroc took it to the next level.  He failed, and failed, and failed again but in the end, all of the failures added up to lessons that you can’t buy nor learn at school.
  5. Partners are important, but pick the right ones:  From the movie you can see the familial bond between Dick and Mac is unbreakable, but the choice to pick Kroc as their third was questionable.  Though he had what it took to grow McDonald’s to what it became, that was never of interest to the brothers; they never had sights on being that big.  When picking a partner or partners make sure your vision is aligned. You don’t have to be best friends (I would argue friendship and business can prove rather difficult) but you do have to have the same hopes, dreams and goals for your business.  And while you’re at it, make sure you have a great partnership agreement and an equally good lawyer.


And lastly, Real Estate, over time, is always a winner.  The single biggest and smartest decision that Kroc made (influenced by eventual business partner, Harry Sonnebon) was to buy and/or lease the land that every McDonald’s franchise would sit upon and then lease the land back to the franchisee, thus making McDonald’s not only a massive franchise, but also one of the biggest Real Estate holdings companies in the US.

This movie is chalk full of lessons that any budding business person can snag multiple lessons from.  Plus I smell a major Michael Keaton comeback.




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