As the Chief Carrot Lover and co-founder of my skin care company, Yes To (makers of the Yes To Carrots skin care line), I’m the product guy. I love big ideas--and I like to think that I have a pretty good understanding of the ones our customers will love.
But a few years ago, I learned a couple of key product lessons that every founder must learn early on:
a) You're not always right, and
b) Sometimes the best ideas come from unexpected sources.
Here’s what happened.
The Idea That Wouldn’t Go Away
My co-founder is Lance Kalish, and he’s also our resident finance wiz and operations guy. One day, he approached me with what he called “a game-changing idea.” Usually when Lance comes to me with grandiose ideas for products, marketing concepts, or PR stunts--all of the areas of the business I handle--I simply smile, nod, and pretend to take him seriously. (And in full disclosure, I know he does the same when I ramble on to him about my big ideas regarding the balance sheet.)
But this time, he was more persistent than usual. He said he had watched his wife go through pack after pack of crappy facial cleansing wipes. He had decided that not only should Yes To enter this product category but also that we could do it better than anyone else. I gave him my usual response: “Yeah, sounds great, mate. We’ll keep that one on the back burner.” Disposable wipes didn’t exactly fit our mission to be earth-friendly, so this struck me as a terrible move for our company to make.
Lance proceeded to bring the idea up to me weekly for the next couple of months (to my mild annoyance). Finally, to quiet him down, I agreed to add it to our new product development pipeline and promised to show the idea to one of our key retailers at an upcoming strategic session.
In the meantime, our product team did a bit of research and learned that it was possible to create wipes that were compostable, hypoallergenic, and 98% natural. We mocked up the packaging and prepared to show it to the retailer.
I was still not completely convinced that the retailer would be interested, so I buried the pitch at the end of the presentation. When we finally got to this slide, I watched Lance’s face brighten up. This was his big moment. I cautiously started to describe the product, thinking I’d hear crickets.
To my total surprise (and Lance’s delight), the buyer stopped me halfway through my pitch. “Mark my words,” he said. “This will be your No. 1 item next year.” I was dumbfounded. Then the buyer added, “I want it in three months. Can you do that?” We looked around the room at one another and then responded in typical Yes To fashion--with a big "Yes!"
The Making of a Bestseller
Our team went into overdrive to finalize the product. Anyone in product development knows the process usually takes around 12 months. Needless to say, this was a very chaotic, though creative, cycle. My favorite part was our fragrance-selection process: I sent an intern to our favorite San Francisco watering hole with three different product samples and enough money to buy a few pitchers of magaritas for patrons willing to cast their vote. Very scientific!
In the end, we pulled it off. Three months later, the Yes To Cucumbers Facial Towelettes were on shelves, and they quickly became the No. 1 product in the entire category.
Lance has had a field day with this one ever since.
So, my advice is simple: You’re brimming with brilliant ideas and sound insight into your customers’ behaviors and desires. But you’re not the only one. Keep your eyes and ears open to ideas from everyone--even the finance guy. They could be brainstorming your next big thing.