Pizza Science: Nailing your Purpose

Richard Branson advises people to ask themselves two simple questions when trying to find their life’s purpose:

What do you love?

What do you dislike?

Seems simple enough.

If you love creating bespoke artisan pizzas and sweating your ass off in front of a scorching 800-degree wood-burning oven on wheels, your purpose might be owning and managing the next best pizza truck on the planet. And if you’re Josh and Dena Leigh of Dunedin, Florida, you already knew that.

The story of Corvo Bianco Woodfire Cookery actually began many, many years ago and you can read all about that here. The Leighs love for food and family, and bringing that love to their community, is the foundation of their business. (Veterans, active duty, and first responders get a 10% discount.) Ingredients are locally sourced and responsibly imported, and everything is made to order. My mouth is watering just thinking about the “Ronni” right now. Fresh mozzarella, savory spinach, salty black olives…but I digress.

Back to the first question Branson suggests we ask ourselves: What do you love?

From a pizza truck perspective, it might seem like the answer is obvious: pizza, cooking, sweating immensely.

But to succeed at this business, not surprisingly, there are other things you must also love: meticulously defining your strategy, testing your product ad nauseum, torturing data, pushing yourself to extremes, taking huge risks, and putting your pride on the line.

These things cannot live in your dislike bucket either. Neither can fear, uncomfortableness, precision, repetition, or scrupulous data entry. You must love those things also.

Making pizzas is not a business, it is a science. Just like giving killer main stage presentations, closing huge deals, and nailing marketing campaigns. Acing these things requires practice, keen observation, data analysis, tremendous dedication, and the perfect touch of bravado.

We may not all own our own business, but we do own our destiny. Your ‘product’ might not be pizza, but it might public speaking or marketing or configurations. You might not be selling 37 Fahgettabouits an hour, but you are selling yourself every day, all day.

So what can a pizza truck operation teach us about our purpose?

Practice makes perfect: Prior to their first interaction with the public, Josh and Dena spent countless hours making and remaking discs of pizza dough, testing it in the intense humidity of Florida, experimenting with ratios of flour to water, thickness, chew, and cooking times. (Reminiscent of the Friends episode where Monica tries to recreate Phoebe’s grandmother’s recipe. Except way more successful!)

Each variable could alter their course dramatically (remember batch 16 that Ross could not handle?). With each round they honed their craft until the perfect, just-right-chew, exquisitely charred, pristine pizza crust was ready for prime time.

Practices allows us to work seamlessly, without our brain having to step in every 5 minutes and sort shit out. Practice transforms an idea into a skill, a skill into a talent, and a talent into a well-oiled machine.

Practice allows you to present without visual triggers, close a deal without selling your customer to death, write copy that captures your audience the first time, build a product that actually makes sense. Practice gives us foresight. It gives us the ability to anticipate a need and fill it quickly. It makes us agile, it gives us Teflon-like strength.

Practice makes us perfect.

Replication like a boss: The organization factor required to run a food truck is immense. Not only must you create a perfect product, you must replicate it infinitely. Replication is easy if done by a programmed contraption, but handmade, Neapolitan pizzas aren’t mastered that way, and neither is your purpose.  

How do you repeat something endlessly? Organizing your system like it’s your job. Because it is.

Dena arranged and rearranged her pizza ingredients, dough boxes, corn meal, and pizza pans in 568 different patterns until she found the system that worked. And by worked, I mean everything was in reach, ingredients were in the right order, everything flowed like it was set to her own personal badass sound track.

Repeatable perfection equates to happy customers horking down their identically delicious “Kevies” day after day.  

For those of you that have a morning routine or a managed schedule, you already know the benefits of a system. Self-management drives success. Organization parallels governance. And when you control the system, you control the outcomes.

Precision is key: Another huge factor in repeatability is precision. A product must be scalable and do to that requires precision. As we all know, customers are an insatiable, immediate-gratification seeking bunch. They have to be served exactly what they want very quickly. This is true for any industry.

The time between ordering and receiving a handmade, cooked-to-order Corvo Bianco pizza hovers under three minutes.   

This was achieved, again, by testing, timing, adjusting and also mastering the art of controlling the temperature of an oven heated by hand-fed wood.

Think about that for a second. Controlling the temperature of an oven heated by gas or by electricity is easy. You set it and forget it (if you will forgive my plagiarism of that phrase!) But you cannot do that with fire. And you cannot do that with customers, pipeline, audiences, executives, channel partners, the market or any other source of energy that is not designed to be controlled.

Josh built and rebuilt his fires, constantly monitoring the heat, removing a log, adding a log, edging the pizzas around the embers searching for the perfect pattern, rotating methodically so every bite of every pie was flawless. He calculated how much wood he’d need to maintain business for an hour, five hours, or until 2am on an especially busy night.

In business, we do this all the time. We pull levers until we find the combination that solves a pain point, closes deals, gets the leads, smashes the competition, creates a buzz, trends. And then we try to repeat that again and again. You can do this with your own purpose. What makes you tick? What gathers a crowd at your door? How can you capitalize on this?

The Leighs scaled their business by turning a dream into a goal (three minutes to perfect pizza) and then practicing their repeatable process until they made it a reality.

If you’re looking to define your purpose, start with those Branson questions: What do you love? and What do you dislike? Build upon or create your system, refine it, enhance it, make it perfect.

Then get out there and kill it.