Happy Harold’s Hamburgers – An ISV Parable

Harold loved hamburgers. He breathed, slept, and, well, ate hamburgers. Harold made many hamburgers in his parents’ basement and all his friends told him he made the best hamburgers around. Somebody who had tasted Harold’s hamburgers suggested to Harold that he go into the business of making and selling his hamburgers. So he did.

Harold rented a space in a high-traffic location, with seating for 30 and a shiny counter. He planned to offer full service to his customers and would make them any way the customer wanted, offering full in-home hamburger cooking, assembly and “condimentization” – something NONE of his long-established competitors did. Harold would eat their lunch. So to speak.

Harold would sell his hamburgers for $1.59 – 20 cents less than any of his competitors. He had added up the cost of ingredients and knew he was making 10 cents on each and every delicious burger. Harold was happy; he was going to make the best hamburgers ever, and have the happiest customers around.

On opening day, Harold’s first customer called. He ordered Harold’s Super deluxe with golden fries and a cherry cola. So Harold loaded up his portable deep-fryer, mini-grille and soda mix-o-matic. He had already arranged with the customer to pay for his gas, which wouldn’t be much since Harold drove a hybrid.

When Harold arrived, he set up his operation on the kitchen table, and asked the customer where he could plug in. The customer showed him the outlet in the corner, and to Harold’s dismay, he realized that none of his plugs fit the outlet. He pointed this out to the customer. The customer didn’t care, he said Harold had promised him a burger and a burger he expected to get. Cooking it was Harold’s problem. Harold managed to rig a workaround and get his hardware to work at the customer’s house, cooked up the burger, fried each fry to a golden brown, and mixed the cherry cola to taste. By now it was nearly 2 o’clock.

When Harold reached the final step — burger assembly, the customer looked at it and said “Is that bun gluten-free? Because I only allow gluten-free buns in my house.” Harold sighed and drove out to the whole foods store, purchased some gluten-free buns at retail, and returned to finish assembling the hamburger.

Once assembly was complete, Harold left quickly so he could tend to his next customer. Halfway back he got a call from his customer; he was missing a condiment and the tomato and onion were assembled in the wrong order. Harold was getting frustrated, but, wanting a happy customer, he returned. He reassembled the burger in the proper order, put on the required condiment, asked the customer if he needed anything else, and left. When Harold returned to his shop, it was 4:15.

For days and weeks this continued and Harold grew progressively less happy. All this burger customization was costing him time and money; he’d already had to dip into his gaming fund. His few customers who at first were ecstatic to be getting a full-custom hamburger were now not so happy because, as one customer put it in Harold’s online user group: “Harold’s burger are great, but if I order one for lunch, I’m lucky if I get to eat it for supper.”

Three months later, out of money, and out of business, Harold returned to cooking burgers in his parents’ basement, though it seemed they never again tasted quite as good.


Ron makes average-tasting but filling burgers, he makes them one way, and his customers drive thru his chain of burger joints to get them. Ron makes millions and eats only sushi.

Is your shop more like Harold’s or Ron’s?

October 31, 2007 | Registered CommenterWayne Andrews

One Response to “Happy Harold’s Hamburgers – An ISV Parable”

  1. The Startup Guy Says:

    As a relatively new company, we tend to behave like Harold and Ron depending on the opportunity that is presented to us. When something big comes along, we put on our Harold hat and offer to change our product to meet the customer’s needs. This tends to happen more often in scenarios where we see an opportunity to sell large volumes or work with an organization with a well known brand. We fully intend to become more like Ron in the long term. Everyone can see that Harold won’t be successful if he operates offers a fully custom product forever…

    December 7, 2007 | Jason Nessler

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