If you live in Canberra, chances are you have had a burrito from Zambrero, mexican quick service restaurants. If you are at ANU, chances are you have also heard of Dr. Sam Prince ,the founder of Zambrero. Although he is not officially an ANU alumnus, he is well-known on campus for his entrepreneurial efforts and for his philanthropy. His story is one to inspire other young adults to take on the challenge of starting a business.
Prince started Zambrero when he was 21 years old. It should be noted, however, that most entrepreneurs exhibit entrepreneurial behaviour long before they embark on their first business venture. Prince likes to tell the story of his 11-year-old self buying two trash-and-treasure bikes at Canberra’s Jamison Markets for $5 a pop. He then went to a bike shop and, with an additional $20, traded the two bikes in for a brand new mountain bike worth $250. His enterprising streak would only continue from there.
At the age of 21, Prince was at Medical School and worked as a chef in a Mexican restaurant to pay his way through university. It was in that restaurant that he found his passion for Mexican food and for the customers that came to the restaurant. This passion for the product and service is evident in both Zambrero and Mejico – the latter being his Mexican market-to-table restaurant in Sydney.
The first Zambrero was opened on Lonsdale St, Braddon, in 2005. As Prince tells it, it was a “bootstrap” start-up with only $12,000 of funds, but money was not the biggest issue.
“Choosing the right people is the major challenge,” says Prince, “It is an art in itself and is not something taught in Med School.” Sam started Zambrero with Katie Radojkovic, who helped develop Zambrero’s products and to this day remains a close friend. On the other hand, Prince had a difficult experience with a “nitwit restaurant manager” who was part of the operation in Zambrero’s early days.
“You can get into bed with the wrong people,” Prince says, “But eventually, you start making more right decisions than wrong decisions.” Prince attributes his success to “structure, discipline, picking the right people and [creating] the right culture.” Zambrero Braddon would eventually gain a cult following and pave way for more restaurants in Canberra and throughout the country.
Apart from his fresh Mexican franchise and restaurant, Prince is deeply involved in social entrepreneurship and philanthropy. Prince created The Emagine Foundation – which has equipped rural Sri Lankan villages with IT learning centres to promote education – and is also Chairman of One Disease – which aims to eradicate infectious diseases in Australia and to improve the health of remote Indigenous communities.
Nonetheless, Prince argues that entrepreneurship does not necessarily imply philanthropy. “I take an unconventional view to philanthropy,” he explains. In Prince’s view, “There is no onus on people operating in free markets to give back.”
For Prince, his philanthropy tells the story of something “authentic in [his] own experience”. Prince’s family comes from Sri Lanka and their story is “a migrant story and a beautiful struggle”. Prince recognises the importance of human rights, healthcare and the free education that helped his family escape poverty, and these things were “a kindness to my family passed on to me and my sister – and I choose to continue to make it a part of my story. Entrepreneurship and philanthropy, in my world, are linked.”
Prince’s advice to students who wish to pursue entrepreneurship is well thought-out and strongly philosophical.
“One lesson that I learnt once from an entrepreneur is that if you’re a smart kid, then you will lead. No question about that. But when you’re in a room full of leaders, who will lead the leaders?
“It’s a philosophical thing. It comes down to someone saying, ‘I have a value set. I’ve thought about it, and through introspection, analysis and examination of my life, I have come to a set of coherent life philosophies. I’ve tested them out and I believe them and will stick to them more strongly than anyone else in the room. So when the world is burning and the chips are down, I will stick to my value set. If you believe in me then you will be led by me.’”
Prince says that aspiring entrepreneurs need to “understand that the road is hard” and that they will face “competing interests.” In the face of such challenges, “Your compass is your value set.”