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Schnatter tells aspiring entrepreneurs it’s OK to make mistakes

by John R. Karman III, communications and marketing last modified Mar 27, 2014 03:51 PM

John Schnatter has done a lot right in creating the third-largest pizza chain in the country. But the founder and CEO of Louisville-based Papa John’s International Inc. told a group of aspiring entrepreneurs on March 26 that his company embraces “a culture of mistakes.”

“You can’t innovate if you don’t mess things up,” Schnatter told the owners of budding businesses. “That’s how you learn to get better.”

Schnatter talked about how he built his company and took questions from the audience during an event this week at iHub, a shared workspace for start-up companies located in downtown Louisville.

The iHub is operated by Nucleus: Kentucky’s Innovation Center. Nucleus is the research, innovation and commercialization arm of the University of Louisville Foundation Inc.

Schnatter’s talk was part of the Entrepreneurs Meet Innovators series through which Nucleus is connecting start-up business owners with CEOs. The hour-long discussion with Schnatter was recorded by KET and will be broadcast at a later time.

Schnatter told the audience the story of how he – at age 22 – knocked down the broom closet in his father’s tavern in Jeffersonville, Ind., bought $1,600 worth of used restaurant equipment and began delivering pizzas from the back of the bar.

From those humble beginnings, Schnatter created the first Papa John’s restaurant in 1984. Today, the chain has grown to 4,400 locations in 50 states and 35 countries.

“We just believed in quality from the get go,” Schnatter said, as he listed his keys to success.

Among the other pieces of advice Schnatter gave to the entrepreneurs was to stay focused.

“Find something you’re good at,” he said. “Just bounce around until you find something that clicks.”

It’s also important to be patient, Schnatter said, noting that he hasn’t always had that quality.

“I used to be pretty dictatorial,” he said. “It used to be my way or the highway. That just doesn’t work.”

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