Posts Tagged science

A sweet scoop on innovation

Innovative ice cream - Smitten

As a child, I wasn’t allowed to eat ice cream until I was six because I had a history of asthma, and ice cream was on the no-no food list. I am convinced this had a direct impact on my now slightly obsessive relationship with ice cream. When I moved to SF last year, I was overjoyed to find that it was not only me, but the whole city who embraced gourmet ice cream with open arms.

One of the most buzzed about ice cream spots in town is Smitten. I remember the first time I was there, I stood outside the outdoor shed-like store in Hayes Valley, with the incredibly long queue of eager customers looking on with delight as the ice cream counter emitted whimsical puffs of nitrogen vapor as their orders were prepared fresh before their eyes.

Innovative Smitten Ice Cream Store in Hayes

I later learned the inspiring story behind Smitten’s success, one that warms my own heart.  Before Robyn Sue Fisher founded Smitten, she was known as the “ice cream girl” during her time at Stanford Business School.  After graduation, she applied to two jobs: IDEO and the FBI. When IDEO rejected her, she had the choice of either working for the FBI, or making her ice cream dream a reality. Smitten now serves 17,000 happy customers a month.

You would think that ice cream is a relatively simple business to start and run, but Robyn was determined to perfect ice cream through experimenting, iterating, and piloting her ideas quickly.

As she describes her journey, she identified two consumer needs that weren’t being addressed by ice cream makers on the market:

1) Natural and fresh ice cream. The distribution chain ice cream makes it very difficult to keep the products fresh.

2) A true ‘creaminess’ that prior to Smitten, was not on the market yet.

Robyn got “nerdy” about the science of ice cream, and dedicated herself to creating the perfectly smooth consistency of her dream ice cream. This “nerdiness” led to a series of experiments with liquid nitrogen to minimize the size of ice crystals in the ice cream. Starting with a liquid nitrogen machine in her backyard, she then spent the next 2 years in a basement with an engineer partner to keep iterating and perfecting the technology, and then testing the flavors by selling ice cream on streets across San Francisco for 9 months.

When the queues for Smitten ice cream seemed to go on and on, she opened her first store in Hayes Valley out of a repurposed warehouse container, which has now become a much beloved ice cream icon in the city.

So what does Robyn’s Smitten story teach us about innovation?

1. Try quickly, fail quickly, learn, and try again
Many companies get stuck at the innovation process because of fear – fear that the idea is not perfect to launch before you give it a chance to live on. When you try to perfect an idea before you put it in front of consumers, you will have invested too much, too soon, for it to fail. The key to successful innovation is to create small-scale experiments which minimize risk and can be piloted quickly, get real time feedback, then improve and try again, as what Robyn did when she sold batches on the streets of San Francisco. This iterative process actually accelerates innovation success as you build on live feedback and push the idea through.

2. Know your consumers, and deliver beyond their current needs
One of the keys to Smitten’s success was the insistence on breaking from current products in the market. Instead of creating another product that’s incrementally new, Robyn insisted on a whole new approach to ice cream – pushing the science, and offering consumers a completely fresh experience to see their ice cream being created before their own eyes, using only the highest quality ingredients.

3. Lean on passion to push through when the going gets tough
Innovation is a long and difficult journey. For Robyn, it wasn’t until year four before she had any sort of business success, and if it wasn’t for her personal passion for ice cream, Smitten might not be what it is today. For innovation to succeed, there needs to be passion behind the project to push and champion it through when you are met with naysayers and stage gate hurdles. Going after the ideas your team has personal passion for can make the difference between a good idea on a piece of paper, and a real innovation that gets launched.

Smitten’s story is truly inspiring for the innovator in all of us. We look forward to interacting with adventurous innovations sooner, and companies approaching innovation with a truly experimental and iterative mindset.

To learn about antedote’s new platform, Idea Accelerator, that allows you to explore and iterate concepts, packaging designs and communications with consumers globally and in real time, please click below:

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Image credit: Wired’s The Blue Bottle of Ice Cream
Image credit: flickr user drbrett (cc)
Image credit: flickr user rotron (cc)

Big Hero 6 – Celebrating the Maker

Big_Hero_6_Innovation_Maker

I finally watched Disney’s latest animation hit based after the Marvel comic, Big Hero 6, which takes place in the amalgamous city “SanFransokyo” and stars a talented 14 year old robotocist, Hiro Hamada, and his budding friendship with his robot, Baymax.

Beyond the pride of seeing recognizable structures from the city I love and live in, I absolutely enjoyed and appreciated the beautiful storytelling of what can happen when passion, purpose, and an innovative mindset are used for the betterment of society.

Unlike other super heroes of past animated Disney movies (like Incredibles), this team is a quirky group of self-acclaimed “nerds” from the pseudo “SF Tech of Institute”.  They don’t have super powers like super strength or invisibility. Their super powers come from their intellect, curiosity, creativity, and their commitment to innovation.

True markers of a Maker.

Makers, the global movement of independent hackers, artists and inventors creating their own goods, are being recognized for pushing the barriers of innovation. Makers are stretching category definitions and changing consumers’ relationships with and expectations of products and services – from the taste and sensory experience through to the emotional connection and layers of engagement.

Last year, we talked about how channeling a Maker mindset and using their principles can spark innovation within your company. Check out our tips on How to Apply Maker’s Principles Within Your Organization.

It is refreshing to see these principles portrayed in the mainstream by the animated characters of Disney’s latest hit. From the first scenes, we are introduced to the team’s love for technology: Wasabi’s addiction to lasers, Go-Go’s passion for magnetic levitation, Honey Lemon’s experimentation with chemical reactions, and of course protagonist Hiro’s obsession for robotics.

We can be excited that the next generation of kids can look up to and admire the new modern day superheroes of our time. And they will not be the one donning capes and masks. They will be the inventors and the tinkerers, innovating a better future for society through their creativity and passion.

BIG HERO 6

antedote is a strategic insights and innovation consultancy based in San Francisco, and we have helped many of the world’s leading brands like Pepsico and Unilever to garner deeper insights about their consumers and identify opportunities to grow their brands. To learn about antedote’s latest award-winning innovation and insight tool, please click below for a free demo:

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