One of the best things about working with emerging food and beverage brands is the passion, drive, and commitment entrepreneurs and their teams possess. I work every day with people who believe they are doing something important by disrupting an industry, changing the way we feed the world, creating wealth building opportunities for themselves and their teams. It’s awesome.
One of the hardest things about working with them is telling those same founders and their teams the bad news. For example, when there isn’t a product/market fit if it doesn’t taste good, or the packaging is poor. Or, when the category is too saturated, cost of goods too high, and the business model not scalable. Delivering that kind of message is like telling proud new parents that they had an ugly baby. It’s horrible.
Recently, I attended an event with some folks in the industry. On the tables in the room were products from approximately 60+ emerging brands. Each package held the hopes, beliefs, and dreams of their founders. Sadly, for many of the reasons mentioned above and others, most of those brands will fail.
That same passion and belief that they are doing something big and important, can be blinding. Convinced of the market’s need and want for their product, they overlook fundamental flaws.
These entrepreneurs are risking everything. But, unfortunately, sleepless nights, tireless effort, and passion still won’t deliver a flawed product to market in a sustainable manner.
Too often, a ton of money, effort, and heartache is wasted on a fool’s errand. I recognize that sounds harsh but it is true. It’s preventable but not always digestible (pun intended).
When my wife and I are getting ready for a night out with friends or for an event, she is quick, although gentle, to let me know if my outfit doesn’t match, is ill fitting, or inappropriate for that evening’s plans. It sometimes hurts and is often frustrating. But, it’s what I need to hear, and trusting her judgment, I adjust.
Founders need to do the same thing. They need to take their product in its early form get it in front of people and then listen. I am not just talking about purported industry experts. More importantly, it needs to be the intended consumers.
Early on, it’s important to get in front of consumers. Farmers’ markets are a great way to get that done. Local independent retailers willing to allow products on a shelf for a day or two while the team hangs out in the store is another. Demos can also be a strong feedback loop so long as they staff by members of the team. E-commerce can also work, but some of the direct interaction that can be so helpful is lost.
The tough part is asking the hard questions and accepting what is heard. Negative feedback shouldn’t be scary. It could save a lot of money, effort, and heartache. If it is overwhelmingly negative, it’s not necessarily a death sentence for the brand. Rather, it could be the insight required to make the needed revisions and adjustments.
This is a challenging business. Consumers are very particular with whom and how they spend their money. Fervent entrepreneurs who out work just about anybody and have great teams still won’t launch a brand successfully if their consumers don’t want to buy it. Passion can be a blinding force. A wise founder is one who finds others that can help her see.
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Elliot Begoun is the Principal of The Intertwine Group, a practice focused on helping emerging food and beverage brands grow. He works with clients to design and execute customized route-to-market and go-to-market strategies that build velocity, gain distribution, and win share of stomach. His articles appear in publications such as the Huffington Post, SmartBrief, and FoodDive.