Your Thing Can Work, But Maybe Not the Way You Started

Kara Goldin loves to recount her tale of being laughed at and mocked by ex-Pepsi executives when she discussed selling non-carbonated flavored water. “That’ll never work. No one will ever make it for you. Not scalable.” These were the knee-jerk operational objections she heard from a mansplaining crowd of fuddy-duds.

Imagine if Hamdi Ulukaya or Dan Lubetsky had listened to this kind of silliness? Each of them had a product that violated established manufacturing standards in their respective categories. Greek yogurt is known to dairy geeks as a shallow margin product class due to the amount of milk involved…until you get to $500M, it doesn’t matter much.

If there’s one thing I know about consulting with early-stage innovators, it’s that it’s pretty bloody stupid to look at a new brand and declare it pointless because of this or that current operational challenge it faces. It’s also pretty easy to be right in predicting any given startup will fail. Most do. But operational challenges are almost meant to be overcome, somehow with the right partners. This is what innovators do at their core.

The difference between intelligent advisors and bloviating, hot-air machines is that the former see non-standard innovation and ask questions about what it would take to make it work. How could we make it work? What are the trade-offs? What is the long-term upside of pursuing this idea? When does it become profitable? Who are the early adopters who can generate heavy repeat early on? This is how intelligent innovators design and grow consumer businesses. Savvy consultants get them to ask the right questions and focus founders on the correct variables to drive the experiment forward. It’s always optimistic, though never wildly so.

Don’t pay attention to anyone who has pontificated non-experimental thinking like “that’ll never work!” That’s the condescending, self-serving comment of someone living in the past who has stopped learning and who should move to Scottsdale and leave us all alone.

If your consultant has stopped learning, God help you. Ask for a refund.

Dr. James Richardson

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