How to innovate through ‘failure’

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Failure isn’t very popular. It’s rarely admitted to and you seldom see it on social media, where everyone is a ‘winner‘. When it does happen on a grand scale, it tends to be celebrated by the media.

When we were starting out, Emma and I were new entrants into the fast moving consumer goods sector in Australia. We were trying to use premium ingredients, in innovative packaging, without anything artificial and no preservatives. Early on in the Emma & Tom’s years, every failure felt like a total body blow. Every call was the dreaded feeling of; “what could it be now?”.

We hadn’t even launched when we were told that our bottling plant couldn’t label our smart new square bottle. Round bottles being easier to label. We found a contract labeller, shipped our empty square bottles from plant to plant, and we were in business. We quickly learnt with every little fail, we were lifting our game and turning road blocks into stepping stones to success.

Our biggest fail was our initial business model. Yep, we got it wrong from the outset. We were totally reliant upon one distributor and as a result of this relationship, were losing 40% of our customers every year. We were on our knees.

We quickly realised that we would have to take over distribution ourselves, to match a premium product with a premium service. The customers loved it and sales took off. Wearing a ‘distribution cap’, we then wanted to sell more to each café, deli or supermarket that we delivered to. We realised that people may not buy two bottles of juice, but hey, they might buy a juice and a raw fruit, nut Life Bar, or a coffee and a Life Bar!

Our distribution platform has spawned eight years of new product innovation as we have innovated and developed more healthy drinks and snacks, buoyed by consumer demand and what we learn from being closer to our customers. That initial massive fail has set the scene for the growth of the business, in what is a very competitive landscape.

We quickly learnt to constantly assess our business model and be very open to change. What did I learn? No one will give you the ‘complete answer’, but we learn a little bit from every conversation we have.

Emma and I take the view that there is a solution to everything. Despite being up against large multi nationals our mindset is that of a victor, not a victim. We know that there will always be problems, that’s just the way it is, but it’s how we react to them and what we learn along the way that’s really important.

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