Early in the life of a business, founders will do just about anything to keep the monthly burn manageable. This famously includes the "ramen noodle, PB&J" diet: low in nutrition, but also low in cost. Sometime in 2013-2014, I had to scotch the monetary hemorrhage. So I went for it and rejected the delectable delights of New York City by ceremoniously deleting my Seamless account. It was time to watch every penny of cash flow.
What I quickly realized was that the so-called "Founders Diet" has a dirty little secret that no one talks about. You are susceptible to dangerous bouts of scurvy if you strictly adhere to the guidelines. Not wanting to bring this upon myself, I opted for equally cheap meal options in the form of 2 for $6 frozen dinners. Much to my surprise, I found a few that potentially rivaled three-star New York restaurants. Not too bad! I would buy 30 at a time and eat them for lunch and dinner every day and stay scurvy-free. Then, one day I walked into the store and the packaging had changed. I should have felt the ominous cloud over head, but I naively believed the copy "NEW Grilled White Meat Chicken." Big mistake! It was inedible.
If I had to hazard a guess, the company had clearly started sourcing their meat from cheaper farms. Presumably, it came from the same protein factories as our favorite QSR. And, there were more problems than just the mangy meat. The pasta sauces were so watered down that they were tasteless. I think the gruel that Oliver Twist received at the orphanage was higher quality than this New and Improved Recipe.
Loathing this new recipe, I did something I almost never do. I went on their website to complain. Much to my satisfaction, I wasn't the only one. Many others who loved the original product had come to the site to air their grievances. A product that was once 5 stars quickly dropped to 3. Management gave the same stale corporate answer to every bad review --"We are so sorry to hear you are not pleased with the new recipe. We will pass this on to our team." With no change in the product, I sadly abandoned all hope and slinked over to Trader Joe's. But I think there is a major lesson to learn from this company's mistake.
Get User Feedback
Just about every tech company I have worked with or consulted for collects user feedback before making significant product changes (or even seemingly inconsequential ones). A/B testing is of paramount importance. Companies do dozens of tests to try and optimize their product and sales funnel. They do focus groups of current users and send out surveys to elicit feedback before launching a new version or feature. This is common practice and it has proven results.
Based on the scathing reviews, management of our frozen dinner company completely neglected this practice. If the company had done its due diligence, it would have found that I would rather pay $1 more for the old recipe than the same price for a lower quality product. Instead, they lost me as a very loyal customer.
A Company That Did It Right
Many of you may remember the slate of commercials that aired back in 2010 of Domino's new CEO Patrick Doyle apologizing for the poor quality of the pizza. He said "We hear you, America" and we are going to make it better. Domino's management went back to the drawing board, did focus groups and tasting panels. In the end, Domino's presented the American public with a real New and Improved Recipe. How do we know it worked? The stock climbed from $13 per share to over $110 in 5 years and Domino's is at a run rate of $4 billion in sales.
So remember, A/B testing and user feedback work. You are trying to please your customers and they know what they want way better than you do.