The Sacrificial Pancake

Neal Sáles-Griffin
4 min readMar 9, 2015

My co-founder and nearly five-year roommate Mike McGee is a crazy person. Before we started our company together, we lived and worked out of the apartment I grew up in on the South Side of Chicago in Hyde Park. We typically woke up around 5am to make breakfast and workout, separately. The rest of the day was spent working on our startup ideas and teaching ourselves how to design and program our ideas into web applications.

Here’s a photo of me (left) and Mike (right):

There are similarities and differences. But what’s important here is just how naturally slender Mike is. And believe me when I tell you, this dude can EAT. He must have the metabolism of a Honey Badger because he’d regularly make a mound of pancakes, french toast, ham, eggs, potatoes, bacon and just crush it all.

He had me like:

He had a brilliant kitchen setup too. He’d have his iPad propped up next to the stove to binge watch X-files and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And to top it all off, he talked to himself extensively…about everything. One day I came home and thought Mike was hosting a party with some friends, I walked into the living room only to see Mike kneeled down in front of the television with 90 seconds left in the Green Bay Packers game — he was having a loud, extensive conversation with himself as the 12th man of the Pack. Impressive.

One cold winter morning I stumble into the kitchen around 5:15 am as Mike was preparing his feast. I heard him murmur to himself:

“Ugh, this is my sacrificial pancake.”

I crack a curious grin. What ever could that mean? So I ask. Mike casually responds:

“You know how that first pancake you make just doesn’t come out right? The batter is too runny or too thick, the oil/butter ratio is off, the heat of the skillet isn’t right, and you flip it too soon. Every time it’s that first pancake that turns out bad.”

He was right. I could recall most times making pancakes myself, the first one always comes out strange — it’s burnt, uneven, or undercooked. Every now and then you nail it on the first try, but on the whole you’ve got to screw it up first to get it right the rest of the time.

This lesson from Mike that morning stuck with me. As we charged forth to build The Starter League and teach beginners how to do meaningful work with software, I found myself speaking at lots of conferences, events, and classrooms about our story. At one of these events, someone asked me how to get good at pitching their idea to get feedback, advice, and investment in their business. They explained how they were nervous and weren’t sure how to get good at explaining their work. And that they perceived me to be just naturally good at it.

This is when the light bulb pops up over my head.

I shared Mike’s sacrificial pancake story with them. And how I think this culinary lesson rings true for business too. When you first set out to do something, it’s going to suck. The first time you try to explain your idea to someone else you’re going to stumble, you may not be entirely sure what to say exactly. But that’s alright. It’s your sacrificial pancake. You can make many more of them once you’ve got the right mixture of things through practice and experimentation.

I’ve had to sacrifice more pancakes than I can count. But it’s because I tried to make them at all that they turn into things like this masterpiece:

What will you try for the first time today? What’s your sacrificial pancake? Let me know on twitter!

Neal Sáles-Griffin

Managing Director @Techstars Chicago, happy to be here.