Entrepreneurs

Zambrero founder Sam Prince on giving away 15 million meals, and how Australia should be teaching entrepreneurs better

Emma Koehn /

Zambrero founder Dr Sam Prince.

Zambrero founder Dr Sam Prince. Source: Supplied

The founder of Mexican fast food business Zambrero says young Aussie entrepreneurs need to be protected from “charlatans” who promise to teach the skills of business but lack experience themselves.

In the rush to embrace innovation and business growth, young rich lister Dr Sam Prince says more focus needs to be put on teaching entrepreneurship as a “beautiful craft”.

“There are people out there that are swindling young entrepreneurs, junior entrepreneurs. When I look back, I only had $12,000 to spend to start my restaurant, that’s all I had,” Prince says.

With so many teachers and business coaches keen to pass on knowledge, Prince believes not everyone in the space actually has the runs of the board needed to be telling others what to do.

“If I was to spend that [amount] on some of these charlatans that say they’re teaching entrepreneurship, I think that would be a real shame. We need to be more discerning, about who teaches it.”

For his part, much of Prince’s activities as a serial entrepreneur, which have contributed to growing his net worth to an estimated $294 million, have been motivated by his own family’s experiences. As well as founding Zambrero, Prince is the founder of genetics testing company Life Letters and charity One Disease.

“My parents came from the developing world .. .my mum then used that education to get to university and beyond. If you reconcile to reality and work out what happened there, trajectory of my family was someone campaigning for education.”

From the very beginning of growing the Zambrero chain back in 2005, Prince says he’s used that knowledge to ensure the business delivers a sustainable contribution to projects, including indigenous health projects and global nutrition.

The company’s “Plate 4 Plate” initiative, which delivers one meal to an individual in the developing world for each meal sold in Australia, has this week cracked 15 million “plates” given to the cause.

Prince says the project is less about traditional “corporate social responsibility” initiatives and more a key priority for driving the business further, preferring to focus on passing “kindness” on to others.

“I think the point of being a retailer is having a personality and showing it to the customer. It was the ability to let people in and what kinds of things we do in our spare time — and I would say it’s important to be authentic about what you’re doing.”

Looking back, Prince says the business has even put a pause on accelerating growth in the past to focus on funding social projects.

“Zambrero had some very difficult times growing because it underwrote a crusted scabies campaign in Australia,” he says.

“We had to pay for a very expensive medical outfit, we believed no child should die from that in Australia.”

Even within those constraints, the Zambrero chain has managed to pop up on lists of fast growing franchise businesses, including the BRW Fast 100. By 2014 the company was turning over more than $10 million, and while Prince is now very tight-lipped on revenue, he says it is growing.

The chain now has more than 150 restaurants across Australia.

Prince says now that the business has scaled to a point where it’s having “a real impact on aid”, the biggest hurdle is growing the team so it keeps the kind of grass-roots energy the business saw in its early days.

“When you’re building a team, it’s about keeping the culture positive. And it feels like Manhattan sometimes, Zambrero — like, 2 million people in there who want to change the world. It will be about protecting that.”

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Emma Koehn

Emma Koehn is SmartCompany's senior journalist.

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