Nick Kokonas – Know What You Are Selling – [Founder’s Field Guide, EP.8]

My guest today is Nick Kokonas, the co-founder of the 3 of the best restaurants and bars in America – Alinea, Next, and The Aviary as well as the co-founder and CEO of Tock, a comprehensive booking system for restaurants. This was one of my favorite conversations in the history of the show. Nick is a philosophy major turned derivatives trader that is now one of the most well-known names in the restaurant and hospitality industry. We cover so many topics I can’t list them here, but I’ll remember it for why it’s so important for a business to really know what it’s selling and then actually sell it. Nick also pulls back the curtain on why restaurants and even book publishers can be great businesses if you do them in the right way. I felt like this conversation could have gone on for hours and I hope you enjoy it.

This episode is brought to you by Microsoft for Startups. Microsoft for Startups is a global program dedicated to helping “enterprise-ready” B2B startups successfully scale their companies. If you’re a founder running a B2B company targeting the enterprise, you should definitely check them out.

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Show Notes

(3:02) – (First question) – Why he thinks it’s so important to own something

(4:35) – Make decisions that have outcomes

(7:00) – His interest in the restaurant business

(8:54) – Why restaurants are so tough 

(12:05) – How their business mindset changed their running of the restaurant

(14:35) – Words they would avoid in the restaurant 

(16:19) – Asking the right questions in the restaurant business

(20:40) – Importance in taking the right risks

(22:02) – Coming up with innovative strategies for ticketing, selling meals ahead of time, and dynamic pricing

(30:08) – Can dynamic pricing be extended to other businesses

(31:20) – Origin of Tock

(36:17) – Early days of Tock and identifying the right customers/challenges

(41:33) – Importance of the first customer 

(44:22) – The typical restaurant business model

(49:23) – Lessons from Tock and the importance of knowing what your selling

(53:47) – Lessons from publishing

(55:44) – Other aspects of business that people know but do nothing about 

(1:00:19) – Their response to Covid and lessons learned

(1:07:43) – The real impact to the food delivery companies

(1:09:24) – How businesses communicate their end processes to their customers

(1:14:07) – Kindest thing anyone has done for him

Learn More

For more episodes go to

Sign up for the book club and new email newsletter called “Inside the Episode” at

Follow Patrick on Twitter at @patrick_oshag