Data-Defying Hotdogs

Have you heard of Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs?  If not, you’ve almost certainly heard of its proprietor. He’s the 13-year-old young man in Minneapolis, MN, who, in the summer of 2016, started selling hot dogs from his front porch to pay for school clothes.  


His name is Jaequan Faulkner and his story has captured the attention of millions of people across the U.S recently -- including ours here at Spotlight.

The story has gained national attention because, as Jaequan was ramping up hotdog sales this summer (his third summer in business) a neighbor reported him to the city for failing to have the proper permit. For a moment it looked like Jaequan might get shut down, but lucky for him the Minneapolis Department of Health decided to help him out.

In an unlikely turn of events, instead of shutting him down, city officials actually helped Jaequan pay the $87 permit fee.  They also trained him in proper food handling technique and helped him acquire the necessary equipment, including a tent and a handwashing station, to run his hotdog stand legally.

At Spotlight, Jaequan’s ambition and ingenuity really resonate with us as entrepreneurs.  And his courage to tackle new and bigger challenges is thrilling to watch as educators who have invested in students and encouraged them to be fearless. But these aren’t the only reasons we took notice of Mr. Faulkner’s Old Fashioned Hot Dogs.

We took notice of Jaequan because his story is one of those that defies the data.  At Spotlight, data is our business. We turn data into stories. We believe that most institutions that produce data are missing key insights from it, so we mine their data for insights that can predict results and guide action to yield better outcomes.

And yet, the data couldn’t have predicted Jaequan.

For most kids, when their entrepreneurial endeavors run into trouble, they get reported to the city, or a neighbor yells at them, that’s the end. The data would say that Jaequan should have already given up.

Moreover, for the city it simply doesn’t pencil out to cover the permit fee and provide training and equipment for every kid who wants to set up a lemonade stand, or sell hotdogs from his front porch.  The data would say there’s no way that the city would step in to help Jaequan.

In spite of all that, Jaequan has defied the odds and today his business is booming.  It’s truly an incredible, and uplifting story.

For those of us who work with data for a living, Jaequan’s story reminds us that people can defy the data.  They can beat the odds. It reminds us that however conclusive the data might be, we should leave room for incredible data-defying stories like Jaequan’s, because life is better when we leave room for the underdog.