For leaders of growing public companies (Meyer is not Shake Shack's CEO, but is its founder and chairman), it's easy to get ahead of oneself. It's tempting to plow the influx of cash raised in the initial stock sale into over-expansion. And it's easy to succumb to the pressure from Wall Street to grow quickly at any cost.
Because of the business Meyer is in, it will be even more important for him to guard against this than it is for other founders behind hot public offerings. He'll need to manage the pressures of growing to meet investors' expectations, all while guarding his Manhattan-roots lifestyle brand from overexposure and upscale burger-joint glut.
Meyers seems as well positioned as anyone to do so. For one, Meyer has an honest aversion to growing too fast. As a child, he watched his father, who owned a travel tour company, go through bankruptcy after over-extending his business. "It worked to my benefit professionally," he told the New York Times last year. "I was certain that expansion equals failure."
Second, Meyer's approach to growth so far gives a sense of how he and his team might manage it in the future. Yes, the prospectus outlines that Shake Shack plans to open 10 new locations each year in the United States, to reach a total of at least 450 domestic outposts. But it's also telling to examine the way Shake Shack has been expanding abroad. Of the 63 current Shake locations, 27 are already overseas in cities like Dubai, London and Istanbul.
That focus on international expansion "might prove to be paradoxically savvy: Spreading out across the globe, rather than packing American cities with franchises, means each outlet still feels somewhat unique," Clint Rainey wrote on New York Magazine's Grub Street blog in 2013. Growth is happening, "but customers don't actually 'see' it, thus keeping each new Shake Shack something of a novelty."
Finally, Meyer has already instilled the go-slow approach into one of the company's standing mantras. At four places in the company's prospectus, and hanging on the wall of executives' offices, is this line: "The bigger we get, the smaller we need to act." This speaks well to the company's awareness that, if left unchecked, getting big can be the enemy of the kind of community-minded, employee-driven, hospitality-focused business they want to run.
Staying true to a brand's roots, and saying no more than yes, just gets harder and harder after going public. By baking that stay-small mentality into the way Shake Shack talks about its culture, its decisions and its approach to customers, Meyer has at least given the company a shot at avoiding the overexposed, mission-drifting fate of too many companies.