If you’ve seen The Founder, you might be forgiven for thinking that Ray Kroc, the driving force behind the growth of McDonald’s, owed his success entirely to luck.

The story the movie tells is this:

  • Kroc was a bit of a loser
  • One day, he happened to meet the McDonald brothers
  • He was impressed by the unique fast-food diner they’d created
  • Kroc recognised that their small business had big potential
  • So he ruthlessly seized control from the brothers 
  • Inevitably, he turned their amazing creativity into enormous commercial success

However, Kroc’s autobiography, Grinding it Out, tells a very different story – one that small business owners would do well to heed.

The harder Kroc worked, the luckier he got

Obviously, Kroc has positive things to say about himself – you’d expect that in an autobiography. But one point that comes across loud and clear is that there was far more to his extraordinary success than just being at the right place at the right time. 

Yes, it was a lucky break that Kroc happened to meet the McDonald brothers in his role as a travelling seller of milkshake machinery. However, the reason that Kroc scored that meeting was because he’d spent decades working hard, honing his craft and climbing the sales ranks.

The reason Kroc was able to recognise the potential of what the McDonald brothers had created – potential that they themselves didn’t recognise – was because he’d spent decades talking to small business owners about marketing, operations and strategy. 

The reason he was able to then turn their idea into one of the world’s greatest businesses is because he’d spent decades accumulating knowledge, taking risks and aiming ever-higher.

Keep hustling, keep learning, keep taking risks

That’s why small business owners can take a lot from Kroc’s autobiography.

Every time Kroc tried something different, he learned new skills. Every time he took a step forward in his career, he saw the path ahead of him open up. Every time he took a risk, he strengthened his resolve.

Very few people would’ve realised, on meeting the McDonald brothers, that they had come up with an idea capable of conquering the world. Even fewer people would’ve had the skill to make it happen. And fewer people still would’ve had the determination to fight through the innumerable obstacles along the way.

So, no, Kroc’s success wasn’t just a matter of dumb luck. Yes, he got a lucky break. But it was only thanks to his years of hard work and self-improvement that he was able to capitalise on that luck.

The lesson for small business owners is clear: keep hustling, keep learning, keep taking risks.