Our Latest Thinking

by The Garage Group
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kerinewco

On July 21st, the Cincinnati startup community came together for its second annual #NewCoCincy event, a showcase of purpose-focused businesses that are driving industry transformation and community connection in our city. Started by John Battelle (founding editor at Wired magazine and former CEO) and Brian Monahan (former Marketing VP at Walmart), NewCo is self-described as a meeting of the minds with “the focus of a business conference, the feel of a music festival, and the model of an artist open studio.” Cincinnati is honored to be one of 12 NewCo host cities stationed around the world. Last week, over 95 companies (from startups, to breweries, to Fortune 500 corporations) opened their doors to the Cincinnati region to share insights, tips and tricks for smarter innovation, growth and development. We’re excited to make it even bigger and better in the years to come! Still not sure what it means to be a NewCo? This blog post from NewCo’s website provides a great explanation.

The Garage Group was excited to be part of NewCo once again this year. We hosted over 40 people in our Longworth Hall office to talk about five truths and actionable hacks for bringing startup thinking to bigcos. If you missed out, don’t worry–we captured the whole presentation on video, which you can access below.

Thanks to all participating companies and attendees at #NewCoCincy2016! We’re looking forward to knocking it out of the park again next year.

The Garage Group enables corporates to innovate and grow like startups.

by The Garage Group
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pokemongo

Unless you’ve been avoiding the internet and all other news outlets for the past couple of weeks, you’ve probably heard about Pokemon GO, the instantly viral mobile app sensation that has spread across the U.S., New Zealand and Australia. Since its launch earlier this month, the joint smartphone app from Nintendo and Google spinoff Niantic has inspired throngs of people to gather together and explore their cities to catch virtual monsters in augmented reality (AR). Unlike virtual reality (VR), which even further separates gamers from the outside world, it turns out that AR could be a widely-accessible answer to humanizing interactions in the virtual world. In a staggering few weeks, Pokemon GO has become one of the most viral mobile apps of all time–and has opened the floodgates of game innovation with a new IP that could potentially change the way we game forever.

The creators of Pokemon GO were incredibly thoughtful in the way they designed the game, and we noticed a few hallmarks of entrepreneurial innovation that were instrumental to the success this new phenomenon:

  • They teamed up to combine key strengths. Entrepreneurs are largely self-starters, but they’re also smart about how and when they ask for help. Pokemon GO isn’t the first AR game that’s been on the market; Niantic previously launched a similar game called Ingress several years ago. The game was based on the concept of walking around and collecting virtual objects in real-life settings, but it was too niche and overly complicated. Niantic knew there was something there; it just needed a bit of cleaning up and branding help, and that’s where Nintendo came in. By using the original user-generated content from Ingress, but replacing the original game’s theme with a simpler Pokemon focus, the game instantly went from being esoteric to irresistibly engaging. Niantic brought the tech, but Ingress couldn’t stand alone without a bigger hook to draw in a wider consumer base. They couldn’t have executed such a successful product without Nintendo there to bring the brand.

    The Takeaway: Entrepreneurs don’t have to do everything alone. Maybe the missing piece to your puzzle is a key partnership or a dose of external perspective.

  • They tapped into insights about their target audience. According to a recent PewResearch Study, 68% of American adults own a smartphone. Perhaps more importantly, 86% of millennials own a smartphone–which happens to be the generation that grew up with the explosively popular original Pokemon card game and franchise. By resurrecting a childhood favorite “nostalgia bomb” in a new way and making it accessible to a vast majority of the population, the game was set up for success from the beginning.

    The Takeaway: Many great innovations are results of “perfect storms.” What different consumer insights might you be overlooking that you could combine to make something completely new?

  • They built a fast MVP. Pokemon GO is far from the most polished game on the market. The graphics are passable, but not stunning; many gameplay elements are poorly explained, and server issues have crippled the game more than once. The creators could have wasted years perfecting those details, but they were confident that the core concept was well-realized and would hold the interest of its players more than some fancy graphics or extra bells and whistles. Getting into the market was the priority, and rightly so: not only does it give Niantic first mover advantage over the flood of AR and VR games on the horizon, but they are now able to leverage real-world data and feedback to inform what features to add or improve first. This insight is already leading to the addition of in-game trading, and it will help ensure the success of Pokemon GO Plus, a premium physical peripheral for the games’ most involved fans.

    The Takeaway: Don’t get tripped up over the details. If the concept is solid, then prototype, test and get an MVP out to market; you can always tweak it later using real-world insights. Nobody likes coming in second place.

  • They leveraged a current technology in an unprecedented way. We all have mobile devices on us 24/7 and look at them periodically throughout the day. The Pokemon GO creators made sure that the game was designed so that we could use it in the way we tend to use our phones–in quick bursts throughout the day–while also giving it the functionality to use it for longer periods. Players can pick up Pokemon GO at any time of the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes at a time, just as they might browse social media or send off a text message while waiting in line. Pokemon GO capitalizes on the ways we’ve already been conditioned to use our phones, so it feels like a natural extension.

    The Takeaway: What insights about human behavior can you apply to your own product and/or business? How do people already naturally behave? How can you tap into that?

  • They reimagined the traditional consumer experience. Truly great innovation not only leverages current thinking, but levels it up to a whole new plane. Gaming has long been a relatively sedentary and solitary activity, and Pokemon GO has managed to motivate people to get up and out of their homes in droves, prompting social interaction and physical activity. (Could Pokemon GO be an unexpected solution to America’s obesity epidemic?)

    The Takeaway: Pokemon GO could have been a regular mobile app game, but the developers stretched their thinking to create something unprecedented with the addition of an AR experience. Ideate outside your context and look at unexpected places for inspiration.

It will be fascinating to see the implications Pokemon GO has for other unique gamified experiences. What other applications could there be in this space for consumer education about health problems or awareness of certain causes, for example? Could Niantic’s IP be the answer to a new wave of widespread human interaction and/or education? And furthermore, how can brands potentially use this new platform as a monetization vehicle? We’re excited to find out.

The Garage Group helps corporates innovate and grow like startups with ideation that disrupts industries.

Photo credit: Creative Commons 2.0 user Eduardo Woo

by The Garage Group
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jordan1

Help us give a warm welcome to our newest team member, Jordan Hildebrandt! Jordan brings a creative, strategic eye with her background in industrial design, innovation strategy, trend work and marketing. Happy to have you join our team, Jordan!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
As a Cincinnati native, I’m very passionate about my community and people. By participating in regional leadership programs and working with the students of UC as an adjunct professor, I’m able to do what I love—connect unique ideas with the right people and continuously discover, create, and grow. And as a naturally creative person and big-picture thinker, I enjoy working with creative and strategic teams to build original solutions for business strategy and design, turning insights into executable design. One of the most enjoyable parts of what I do is leading and collaborating with cross-disciplinary teams to bring early-stage ideas to life. Between my co-op experiences and studying abroad, I have lived all over the world. A professional designer and self-described foodie, I call Cincinnati’s community-centric and gastro-paradise, Over-the-Rhine, home.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I’m an avid backpacker and camper. Basically, I love anything outdoors. Camping combines my obsession for adventure, discovery and badass gadget design.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
This will be my second startup experience, and I’m thrilled to work more lean and with an entrepreneurial mindset. There has been quite a buzz about TGG going around Cincinnati from both startups and the corporate side, so I’m enthusiastic about joining the initiative and contributing to the buzz-worthy work TGG produces. I’m excited to help businesses grow and innovate, but even more excited to be a part of The Garage Group’s bright and exciting future.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
At its core, I believe it means “just going for it.” In my experience, I’ve seen  innovation projects waste time and money on perfecting an idea, which typically causes the idea to become irrelevant and never make it to market. I’m excited to utilize a more lean approach to innovation and focus on growing businesses and brands.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
Open innovation is something I’ve become very interested in, and I have recently participated in a campaign utilizing open innovation models through a program called FirstBuild. Typically, open innovation models include product platforming, crowdsourcing, open source competitions, consumer co-creation, university-sponsored research and innovation networks.  FirstBuild innovates by letting a community influence the product from the very beginning and then quickly developing better products that improve the lives of consumers. FirstBuild’s process was like nothing I’d ever experienced before. Instead of confidentially and steadily developing a product, participants posted every idea and aspect online, opening up the field for feedback from consumers, designers and engineers,  ultimately producing a product in just two months. FirstBuild’s mentality is, “First to market, not first to patent.” We’re seeing larger companies utilize open innovation, which will continue to grow as innovation is discovered.

Check out the product that was produced by FirstBuild:

http://www.prismacoldbrew.com/

What’s inspiring you right now?
Becoming an adjunct professor. Currently, I teach Design Communications to a group of 27 juniors at DAAP. Although it’s tough to balance a workflow of consulting and teaching, I have truly valued and enjoyed every second of it. I’m inspired by the sheer talent and drive of these young people. As a graduate and undergraduate instructor,  I truly believe teaching is a synergy of challenges from both the students and myself. I’m constantly pushing them to new places with their skills and they definitely keep my on my toes, as well.

What is your spirit animal?
Definitely a wolf . Collaboration and teamwork are two things that are extremely important to me, as well as my ability to stand on my own. Similar to a wolf, I feel my priority is to support and nurture the pack while still having the agility and independence to be on my own.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Belly dancing should be an Olympic sport. Trust me, it’s the most physically challenging thing ever.

What’s your favorite innovation that’s come out in the past year?
I was lucky enough to receive an Amazon Echo early last year; the device itself is really amazing and fun. But this year, the device has more abilities like its ability to pair with and control other devices. Now in 2016, Echo can control both the  Philips’s Hue light bulbs and Belkin WeMo Switch (among other smart home devices). When devices are linked you can turn your lights on and off with your voice. I think IOT is an innovation in itself, but from a brand perspective, Amazon has reached a new level of  innovation by entering the category of consumer electronics in this way.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
Stemming from my education in fine arts, I love contemporary art.
Oxtail is one of my favorite foods.
I had 29 different roommates throughout college.

by The Garage Group
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dennis1

Please join us in welcoming Dennis Furia, our newest Innovation and Growth Strategist! Dennis comes to The Garage Group with six years of brand management and digital strategy experience from Procter & Gamble and #StartupCincy. Welcome, Dennis!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m a Cincinnati native that has over six years of experience leading strategy, marketing, and innovation with both Procter & Gamble and the Cincinnati startup scene. I married my high school sweetheart in 2011, and we now have two boys under two years old. Starting a family is the greatest adventure I’ve ever been on, and it keeps me running! When I do have down time, you can find me recording for my podcast or working out at our local CrossFit box.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
I was homeschooled through 8th grade.  It was a great experience that taught me as much about HOW to learn as it did about the material itself. I was given a lot of freedom to pursue things that interested me (for example, in second grade I dove deep enough on the immune system to hold an in-depth conversation about immunotherapy advances with an M.D. family member), and that curiosity has stuck with me ever since.

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
More than anything, I was looking for good people who are passionate about what they do, and The Garage Group has that in spades! In addition, I’ve never seen a company that’s better about trying new things. TGG really walks the walk on innovation and is better for it.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
It means being expectant instead of having expectations. Too often, people go into research or innovation with pre-conceived notions of what will come out. It breaks my heart to see A/B testing when we should be asking consumers, “What’s your favorite letter?” I cringe every time a company touts “groundbreaking innovation” that’s been on their roadmap for five years. These conventions have their place, but they close us off to anything outside our expectations.

The entrepreneur goes into research or innovation without expectations, but is expectant that something good will come out of it. They’re open to and excited for the yet-undiscovered truth, even if that truth requires them to make a radical pivot. That’s the entrepreneurial approach: to be on high alert for the next great idea while pre-supposing as little as possible about what that idea looks like.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
I see a lot large corporations creating “startups” within themselves. These teams are 100% dedicated to a goal and are given almost complete autonomy to pursue it. They check in with the main organization like a startup might check in with investors, but from day-to-day they are free to innovate and pursue their goal away from the typical red tape. It takes the right people and a lot of trust, but the result can combine the agility of a startup with the resources of a huge company.

What’s inspiring you right now?
Five Marks of a Man by Brian Tome. There’s a lot of talk in our culture right now about toxic masculinity, and rightly so! The problem is that it’s nearly impossible for people to simply reject a negative without substituting a positive change to work towards. The result is that people cling to a negative identity because, hey, it’s better than no identity. Five Marks articulates a model for positive masculinity that simultaneously calls out the toxic side AND gives guys something better to strive for.

What is your spirit animal?
A Mongoose (Rikki Tikki Tavi was one of my favorite stories as a kid)

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Fun: Stand Up is one of Dave Matthews Band’s better albums!

Serious: There’s no such thing as being too open or transparent. Personally, this means that when people meet me, they meet the WHOLE me; with both the good parts and the work-in-progress parts proudly on display. Professionally, this means an intense distaste for “corporatese” or trying to “spin” the consumer. Nothing is more transparent than when a company isn’t being transparent!

What’s your favorite innovation that’s come out in the past year?
The Chuck Taylor All Star II. Chucks are loved by their fans (myself included) because they have a timeless style that’s impossible to imitate. That’s why, when I heard that Converse was making a “sequel” to the shoe, I was convinced it would be a disaster. The whole point of a timeless look is that it doesn’t need modernizing or re-imagining!

Thankfully, Converse proved me wrong. They walked the tightrope of improving the functional aspects of the shoe (yay arch support!) while remaining true to the style of the original. It feels like Converse invested the time to understand what NOT to change as well as what to change, and the result is a shoe that feels improved without losing any of its authenticity.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I accidentally punched Nick Lachey once
I had a stroke while on vacation in California
I was ranked number 8 in the world in Guitar Hero

by The Garage Group
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ethan1

We are excited to bring on Ethan Fleck to The Garage Group team as our newest Project Manager! Ethan brings valuable experience in engineering and project management, and we can’t wait to start working with him. Welcome aboard, Ethan!

Tell us a bit about yourself.
I grew up in Dayton, Ohio and was there for 18 years. Growing up, I didn’t really play any sports or anything, so I just worked a lot and developed my work ethic. I knew college was in the cards, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do. Since I was good at math and science, I was nudged toward engineering and ended up with an industrial engineering degree. I noticed there was a big lack of manufacturing talent in my area, so I ended up going that route and working for Toyota Boshoku. Later, I got a chance to do more on the planning side when I started working on 5-7 year pipelines for vehicle creation. That’s where I got more involved and interested in managing projects. A couple years ago, I decided to start looking for work that was more meaningful to me where I could also impact people on a more personal level. Luckily, there’s a great startup community here in Cincinnati that fosters companies with similar mindsets.

Something interesting people might not know about you?
When I first started running, I jumped from doing 5Ks straight to The Flying Pig marathon when my friend asked me to run with him. At the time, I was looking to get healthier, and I had recently lost my sister to suicide, so I said to myself that running in her honor would be a great reason to run a marathon. I’ve been running The Pig ever since, and I want to do it for at least 10 years.  

So, you jumped into The Garage Group. What made you decide to join us?
I went to the first Product Camp conference in 2014, and I was just starting to dip my toe into the waters of entrepreneurship. I saw The Garage Group’s presentation that day, and I found it so interesting that there was a company that could present to other business owners in a way that’s fresh and exciting; that presentation stood out to me the most that day. I really admire the way that Ann and Jason have driven their ideas to reality. I also believe that you don’t get the freedom to say what you know is right at a lot of bigger companies, and I’m looking forward to having that freedom to forge my own path in a lot of ways.

What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
At the heart of it, I think it means cutting through red tape. Time is one of the most important commodities, and I’ve seen so much time, money and effort wasted on projects. Taking an entrepreneurial approach helps speed things up in a good way and rekindles the reason why you first wanted your business to succeed in the first place.

What trends do you see in marketing, branding, or innovation at large companies that lend well to a more entrepreneurial approach?
I’ve seen a lot of brands putting out sneaky marketing campaigns; it’s really hard for people to tell what an ad is anymore. Snapchat ads are a great example. Brands have to be so sticky due to our short attention spans. They also have to approach their target consumers, develop a relationship in multiple locations and develop an authentic story for the brand and company. They have to find different avenues, make the message just the right length, and be consistent and genuine. It’s totally different from 10 years ago where you could throw an ad on TV or in the newspaper. It’s a 24/7 world, and you have to be everywhere–and truly be who you say you are.

What’s inspiring you right now?
I listen to Eric Thomas almost every day. He is a motivational speaker and business owner who was homeless and dropped out of high school, and just this last year he finished his Ph.D after 12 years of undergrad, 5 years of grad school and then 5-7 years of getting a Ph.D. He created a business making videos on YouTube, and now he’s an author and speaker. To me, watching his videos refuels me and helps me stay driven; it’s just like putting gas in a car.

What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
I’ve heard from multiple people in my industry that you can never really leave automotive; people stuck around at my former company for 10 or 20 years. But it doesn’t have to be a sentence. You can always change and create whatever you want to be, and I don’t think a lot of people with my background believe that.

Tell me two truths and a lie about yourself.
I’ve run the Flying Pig 7 years in a row; I’ve moved 13 times since college; I would love to eat Chinese food every day.

What is your spirit animal?
I have the agility and scrappiness of a gazelle, but I’m working on becoming a lion.

by The Garage Group
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car2

The auto industry experienced substantial growth in the early 20th century when Henry Ford found a way to make the mass production of automobiles more agile and efficient. Innovation happens when consumer needs are married with possibilities, and Ford’s innovative solution was successful because he understood the root of the problem (the current solution wasn’t fast enough) and married it with the possibilities of solving the problem (technological advancements).  

From the 1920s to the 1960s, engines grew and cars got faster, louder and more beautiful. Presently defunct brands like Plymouth, Pontiac, AMC, and Willy’s all flourished, meeting consumers’ needs for utility, cost efficiency and luxury. Inventions like the headlight, the turn signal and the windshield wiper entered the scene quickly as autos became a large part of daily life.

This icon of American culture hit its first roadblock in the 1970s. The Oil Embargo of 1973 resulted in a massive shortage of oil in America and forced the industry to change its thinking. The shortage was an awakening for policymakers, and it charted the course of auto innovation toward environmental protection and fuel economy. The 70s gave rise to emission standards, fuel economy standards and effectively killed American “muscle” with the regulation of the carburetor in 1973. The trend from the 70s until the late 2000s seemed to be something along the lines of “working to get more efficient.” Sure, there were new inventions, but nothing radically changed.

For the most part, the last 45+ years of the American auto industry has been constrained by rising fuel costs and consumer demand for fuel-efficient vehicles. Foreign cars got smaller and lighter, and people more readily purchased efficient cars manufactured overseas. The exception was everyone’s favorite giant, The Hummer, which would become a caricature for the events and mismanagement leading to the collapse of the industry and eventual bailout in 2008. The collapse, in short, was caused by corporate inability to change quickly and truly match consumer need for fuel efficiency.

Since then, corporations have caught on for the most part and have been working to up those MPGs. But auto industry innovation is starting to rapidly reach beyond fuel economy. Although the need for fuel efficiency still exists, companies are finding ways to marry that specific consumer need with new possibilities, just as Henry Ford did in the beginning. In the past few years, three substantial innovations have started to change the pace of change in the industry and promise a far greater vision for innovation than the lackluster attempt at advanced fuel economy we’ve seen over the past 45+ years:

  • Ride Hailing (Lyft, Uber) You can share a vehicle with a driver and/or another rider with a few taps of your phone screen. This collaborative economy has essentially made car ownership optional.
  • Autonomous Vehicles (Google, Apple, Tesla, Uber) Getting from A to B will soon be as simple as hopping in a driverless vehicle and telling it where to take you. Not to mention the innovations that are sure to arise when drivers no longer have to be distracted by things like… driving.
  • Electric Vehicles (Tesla, Coda, Think) Zero emissions and a sub-3 second 0 to 60. Goodbye American muscle, hello American wattage.

In 2008, when the auto industry was in shambles, it was not easy to imagine hailing an autonomous electric vehicle from your phone, having it pick you up, and take you anywhere you needed. That future case is not that hard to imagine, thanks to the startups that were able to look at an industry and decide to innovate outside the traditional efficiency trend.

These next few decades in the auto industry will be shaped by advancements in mobile technology, machine learning, AI and 3D printing. All of these technological advancements will impact tangential industries as well, perhaps in ways even more exciting than the auto industry. The auto industry is no longer limited to the confines of building a more efficient combustion engine.

Are you thinking about future tech and how it can/will impact your industry? One lesson we can learn from the auto industry is that when significant change occurs, it is hard for the traditional players to catch up without drastically changing the way they think. Henry Ford once famously said, “If I had asked my customers what they wanted, they would have said a faster horse.” How can you merge current consumer needs with possibilities in the way that Ford did so many years ago? Start by asking yourself these three questions:

  • What is the need that you’re truly solving for?
  • What are all of the possibilities?
  • What possibilities marry the best with your need?

Ready for breakthrough strategy and ideas that deliver infinite miles per gallon? Learn more about The Garage Group’s work.

Photo credit: Unsplash user Benjamin Child