What Startups And Restaurants Can Learn From Each Other About Making Customers Happy

Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger and April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin dish on the surprisingly similar ways they keep pushing their businesses to improve.

What Startups And Restaurants Can Learn From Each Other About Making Customers Happy
Chef April Bloomfield, left, and Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger [Image: Alice Truong]

When Instagram cofounder Mike Krieger decided to speak at Fast Company‘s Innovation Uncensored conference in San Francisco, he wanted to share the stage with someone from the culinary world. After all, the photo-sharing app and food go hand in hand–if you didn’t Instagram it, did you really eat it?


Turns out the connection runs deeper than that. Comparing notes against April Bloomfield of The Spotted Pig and The Breslin, both Michelin-starred restaurants, it became apparent the two face a number of the same issues as leaders.

Stay hungry

Bloomfield has a morning routine where she wakes up next to a stack of cookbooks by her bed, thumbs through them, and jots down notes for cooking inspiration. In the process of dreaming up a new dish for later that day, she also gets hungry. “I get really inspired by this kind of interaction between the cookbook and me feeling hungry,” she said. Instagram, too, has its own sense of hunger. As a younger company, there was “a hunger of the unknown,” Krieger said. But as Instagram matured, staying hungry became more of a challenge. “What’s difficult is there are people with you early on who are not hungry for challenges later on. You have to deal with this in growing. It’s a challenge. Some people change their hunger, change their appetite,” he said.

Tailor your leadership style

Bloomfield considers herself a nurturer, a mother, and a psychologist to her employees. “You have to tailor yourself to everybody. Sometimes people need a firmer hand, some people you can have a laugh with and they concentrate more,” she said. Krieger, meanwhile, said his management coach helped him realize his staff didn’t need reassurance about the quality of their work. “What they needed was more certainty about the future of the company,” he said. How does a billion-dollar exit sound for certainty?

Understand that simple is better

“My food is very simple,” said Bloomfield. “I think three ingredients on a plate makes for a wonderful dish. Why do you have to complicate that with 10 other ingredients? That’s the philosophy I live by.” Instagram, too, strives for simplicity in order to ship apps sooner, the idea being that time in customers’ hands is more valuable than the time spent adding new frills. “What we do when we start any product development, we have a list of what we’re not doing,” Krieger said, noting it’s “very easy to come up with a complicated version” of new apps. Instagram keeps a running list of “non-goals” to keep the company on track.

Have the right attitude about criticism

Michelin stars aside, top chefs still get bad reviews. For Bloomfield, it came from Pete Wells at The New York Times. Her response? Emailing to thank him for his review and helping her improve. “That’s part of growing and pushing and being better,” she said. In the app world, the loudest critics are often the users. “I love going on iTunes, and you can sort the [Instagram] reviews by most recent and most critical,” Krieger said. What he takes away from the reviewers most furious about a change or feature of the app: “It means they really, really care about [Instagram].”

About the author

Based in San Francisco, Alice Truong is Fast Company's West Coast correspondent. She previously reported in Chicago, Washington D.C., New York and most recently Hong Kong, where she (left her heart and) worked as a reporter for the Wall Street Journal.