Entrepreneur Zone: Meet Dr Sam Prince, Mexican food guru and Aboriginal health advocate

Doctor of medicine, feeder of the needy and franchiser, Dr Sam Prince is a model entrepreneur, with 36 Mexican food franchises opened since 2005 and plans to open 100 by December next year.

With every burrito and bowl of food the Zambrero Fresh Mex Grill sells, they give a plate of food to people who need it through charity Stop Hunger Now. Prince also founded One Disease at a Time, an organisation aiming to eliminate disease from Aboriginal communities. He is also writing books on entrepreneurship.

Prince does all this and more while working full time as a doctor in the ACT. If you’re thinking about making a new year’s resolution to do more good, read on.

I am busy, that is right. I always find time to do what I’m passionate about.

Honestly, I didn’t really balance my life at all [during start-up], I just tried to do both [medicine and small business] at the same time. It just killed any kind of social life or any other pursuit outside of it.

You need to have a clear vision. Secondly, you need toughness and tenacity. If you are birthing an idea from nothing then you will get pushback and resistance from the world.

You need to have a tenacity that will allow you to weather any storms.

I think you need to have curiosity about the people around you and the world around you.

I think you need instinct, and you need to trust instinct.

In business, you can buy low and sell high, and that’s a tool that you can use in entrepreneurship, but it’s not, in itself, entrepreneurship. I think entrepreneurship is when you close your eyes and have a vision, you know, a reality that is not ordered by external reality, and then you apply yourself, all of your talents and skills and effort, to give that vision shape, purpose and reality, and that’s why I call entrepreneurship an absolute art form.

I think the stronger entrepreneurs are those who can actually create something, create a process where they build something from nothing. They see it in their minds. It’s not supported by an external way of doing things or how things have always been done. Instead, they’re relying on their own imagination.

The more closed-eye vision you get, the more creative and imaginative you get, the more uncertain the picture gets on the outside.

One of the most innovative things that we’ve done at the Zambrero group was we changed from a Mexican restaurant group that happened to do a bit of humanitarian work into a humanitarian organisation that happened to do a bit of Mexican food. 

I thought it would be a good vehicle to make a bit of cash and try to go back into the charity world. I didn’t think we would join the two up at the hip, so to speak, until later on.

While you can have an ambition to open that many restaurants, hell, you can have an ambition to treat Aboriginal people’s illnesses.

The fundamental growing pains have been around people, and finding the right people and retaining the great ones, and getting rid of the duds.

Really, you don’t matter as much as the marketplace. And the marketplace will tell you its ambitions.

We’re actually fairly conservative as a business, believe it or not. I think that not having cash at the beginning isn’t always a bad thing. It breeds more toughness. There’s no real problems that can’t be solved in start-up without cash. 

Anyone who tells you they don’t have cash flow issues at the beginning of their business is either lying or they started off with a lot of cash.

The game of franchising is a tricky game of when to put the accelerator down and when to brake.

You want to invest ahead of the curve because, if you don’t, you end up with a whole bunch of operational issues with underserving a growth business.

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