After working as a sales representative for 4 years, Jim Tselikis decided to risk it all with his partner Sabin Lomas to start a food truck business called Cousins Maine Lobster. Eight years later, this one food truck has exploded into a franchise business that now has almost 40 locations around the United States. Their high-quality food is all tailored around fresh-caught lobsters off of Maine’s coast.
How did you know you had the right idea with Cousins Maine Lobster?
I don’t know that we knew we had the right idea. 1 out of 37 startups fail, so it was pretty hard to think it would succeed. Honestly, I’d be cautious of someone that does think that way.
We thought Maine didn’t exist in LA, the food truck scene was exploding here, and investment
for a food truck is less than a restaurant. Successful people lend themselves to hard work and
hustle. We thought if we found those things, worked hard, and backed it up with a great brand,
we could create something really special.
What do you wish you knew before you started Cousins Maine Lobster?
Everything. Ha! There are a million facets to owning your own business that nothing prepares you for. Up until that point you have a specialty focus (whether that be your major in school or a position at a company), but when you own your own company, you need to be taught all the different facets— HR, operations, marketing, profits & losses, etc. you’re in control of it all. We surrounded ourselves with people with knowledge so we could learn from them and eventually speak eloquently about it.
What is some of the best advice you ever received?
Here are my top 2:
#1- Not every opportunity is a good opportunity.
When you start a business there are “shiny objects” that come in front of you, but generally,
they are distractions. Some examples are groups trying to get your phone service, the need to
get celebrity endorsements, going to the Grammys, etc. Sometimes, these things derail you.
#2- If you’re prepared, you have nothing to worry about.
This goes for everything- interviews, tests, pitches… Going into Shark Tank, if a deal wasn’t
meant to happen it wasn’t going to happen, but we went in prepared. We were ready.
Preparation is important, whether it was playing D1 hockey in college, or the medical device
sales job after college… At that job I had to meet sales quotas at Stryker, learn how to speak to
a very different group of people (doctors and surgeons). As a hockey player, I had to practice,
practice, practice to develop skills… Whether you have a job or start your own business, you’ll
inevitably have those traits if you have the mentality of always fine tuning your skills, working hard, and repetition to build your character.
In such a crowded food market, why do you think you have been so successful? What
has been the “key” to your success?
Regardless of the space you go into, you’re always creating a brand-new market; there’s
competitors in every industry— beauty, booze, fashion… food – there’s a lot out there. But hey,
you’re entering a market and trying to take market share. For us, it was coming in with a niche,
high quality product that is an affordable luxury—something people can buy to treat themselves and not bury their pockets. We made CML’s brand fun, with a family aspect, tied to
Maine… not a ‘corporate-style’ company. Ultimately, there are people/groups that do things
the right way and the wrong way. According to me, the right way is having a quality product,
service, having good people in the franchise system and having good customers. At the end of
the day, we want to provide the customers with the best.
When you own your own business you are in control of everything - you need to know operations, marketing, sales, etc…
Surround yourself with people smarter than you
Always be prepared
Focus on providing the customers with the best you can offer
My Favorite Quotes:
“Successful people lend themselves to hard work and hustle. We thought if we found those things, worked hard, and backed it up with a great brand, we could create something really special.”
“We surrounded ourselves with people with knowledge so we could learn from them and eventually speak eloquently about it.”
“According to me, the right way is having a quality product, service, having good people in the franchise system and having good customers.”