Last year, we listened to lessons from corporate leaders from Kraft Heinz, JPMorgan Chase, ascena retail, and more as they discussed their industry-specific challenges and first-hand experiences from enabling their Bigcos to operate like startups.

The Garage Group is excited to organize and host a special Courageous Minds Only chat on Operating Like a Startup in a Bigco to kick off the new year with special guest, Beth Comstock, the former Vice Chair and head of marketing and innovation at GE, and author of Imagine it Forward. 

Beth has trailblazed the way forward for Bigco innovators and leaders through her experiences shifting GE toward a new digital future and a more innovative culture. In Imagine it Forward, she shares much of that battle-tested perspective. Join us on Wednesday, January 23 from 6:30-8: 30 pm as she continues to share her thoughts on how to tackle Bigco challenges in the face of uncertainty.

More About Beth Comstock: 

Beth Comstock‘s mission is to understand what’s next, navigate change and help people and organizations do the same. By cultivating a habit of seeking out new ideas, people and places, she built a career path from storyteller to chief marketer to GE Vice Chair. In nearly three decades at GE, she led efforts to accelerate new growth and innovation, initiated GE’s digital and clean-energy transformation, seeded new businesses and enhanced GE’s brand value and inventive culture. As President of Integrated Media at NBC Universal, Beth oversaw TV ad revenue and new digital efforts, including the early development of Beth is a director at Nike, trustee of The National Geographic Society and former board president of the Cooper Hewitt Smithsonian National Design Museum. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in biology.

Join us on January 23 at 1460 Broadway, New York, NY 10036. Register below.

Below is the event agenda:

Event costs have been covered by The Garage Group so it is free to attend the event. There will be beer, wine, and light snacks provided. Registration is required as this event will likely reach capacity.

IIeX Behavior in Chicago featured a great glimpse into how Behavioral Science, Behavioral Economics, Behavioral Design, and Neuromarketing are integrating into Market Research application. Bigcos like Pepsico, Kellogg’s, and Kimberly Clark shared practical case stories for how they’ve applied these fields to their day-to-day practice of Market Research.

What is Behavioral Science?

While many in the research industry think of behavioral science as a separate application, Terrae Schroeder (Kellogg’s) reframed that behavioral science isn’t a method or a tool, but instead influences how we think about all of the tests and experiments we’re doing.

Behavioral science can involve tech and devices like GSR (galvanic skin response), HRV (heart rate variability) and eye tracking. Presenters cautioned against DIY use of these tools because they’re complicated, many require calibration, and the back-end data doesn’t simply feed into a streamlined decision. A true professional is required. One of the audience members, from the academic world, asked about market research application, emphasizing the challenge: “In academia we have years to conduct the studies you’re discussing, but in market research, you only have weeks or months.” With startup competitors in this volatile market landscape, we’d argue that weeks or months are even a luxury Bigcos don’t necessarily have.

The Garage Group’s application of behavioral science comes to life in a much quicker, cheaper, yet rigorous way: Assumption-Based Development. Teams systematically identify the riskiest assumption that they’re not yet willing to bet their paycheck on before launching a new product or service to market. With the riskiest assumption in mind, teams then design an experiment that sets up a real-world context where the consumer needs to make a decision and have more skin in the game than typical research modes asking about purchase intent. This approach bypasses the research facility, behavioral science lab, and expensive, complicated back-end data outputs from eye tracking, GSR, and more. Rather than create a virtual store and have the consumer shop with a VR headset on, we seek to put the new product in a small set of real test stores. Startup leaders like Alex Osterwalder refer to this as “do” vs “say” testing.

Of the IIeX speakers, this approach is most similar to that discussed by Tyson Labs and their Yappah! launch via IndieGoGo. Stephen Mathews of Tyson Labs shared about their partnership with IoT-backed smart label provider Tyson Labs attached these smart labels to 100 products and shipped them to backers of their Indiegogo campaign to test in-use consumption, tracking things like when the product was consumed, where the product was consumed, with who the product was consumed (social or individual), and more. Instead of having to rely on recall or participants recording their consumption occasions, smart label technology opens up lots of experiment possibilities for testing assumptions about when/where/how consumers will use new products.

Challenges of Behavioral Science Methods

In this new era of behavioral science-informed data, traditional KPIs like purchase intent are overhauled. Speakers in the Insights function talked about the challenge of delivering this new, less universalized data to their multi-functional counterparts. One benefit that likely keeps organizations relying on metrics like purchase intent is simply that there is a shared language that everyone understands. In this new era, KPIs aren’t as unified but with a bit of extra work to bridge the gap and explain the value of these new metrics, corporate innovators resoundingly said that the fight for better data is worth it. So, as we move forward, we expect to need to tell more of a story to support the pivot, perish and persevere decisions teams are recommending based on these new experiments, as opposed to typical metrics.

Here are a few books we added to reading list after this conference:

We’ve been going to Lean Startup Conference for the past three years, always returning home with a notebook full of ways to optimize approaches and new leaders that we can follow and learn from. The conference is always chock-full of lessons to enable startups and enterprises big and small to operate more lean and entrepreneurial in the face of uncertainty. Innovation leaders, industry experts, and startup founders share their stories of how they have applied the Lean Startup approach to their businesses, and how they have had to move more quickly and strategically to stay ahead of the competition.

Here are a few of our top notes from this year’s conference: 

1. Experiment to make better decisions.

While MVP (minimum viable product) has been the emphasis in past years, many have realized that even the MVP itself can be an over-build before experimenting; so the conversation has shifted to conducting smart, fast, iterative experiments. Giff Constable defined an experiment as “a test designed to help you answer the questions ‘Should we do this?’ or ‘Am I right about this?’” Some key advice when running experiments was to think like a hacker, not a product person and to remember the goal is to learn! We’re big fans of Giff’s book, Testing with Humans, because it fleshes out a variety of experiment types.

2. Know where you play on the adoption curve and don’t scale prematurely.

Start by reaching Innovators, then Early Adopters (on the Rogers Adoption Curve) and figure out smaller scale launches. Eric Ries emphasized that Bigcos don’t know how to do small/medium-sized launches and approvals well; they just know million dollar approval processes. Now, more than ever, we’re targeting smaller markets and need smaller launches. It’s crucial to ensure we are making stuff that people will want to tell others about. A key underutilized metric is WOM (word of mouth) and whether Early Adopters are telling the Early Majority about the product/service.

3. Disrupting Traditional Accounting: Innovation Accounting.

Dave Binetti shared a great analogy for Innovation Accounting and the future of how finance needs to think. He explained it’s similar to a life insurance policy – nobody hopes to die, but we all have life insurance coverage for those just-in-case moments. Think of Innovation Accounting like profit insurance for those just-in-case moments when a new, disruptive idea starts impeding on our billion dollar business or product. Putting multiple ideas through metered funding with metrics that show iterative de-risking future-proofs the organization and is a form of insurance. We liked that this analog re-frames how crucial putting bets on more than one idea is. We wouldn’t go without car or home insurance, would we?

4. Lean Startup applies to product/service innovation but also to the organizational structure.

Lean Startup has obvious application to products and services, but the conversation evolved this year to hacking outdated organizational structures that are slowing innovation down. Aaron Dignan shared several cases of teams that have been given autonomy within Bigcos, to operate with speed and agility instead of layered decision-making. These teams act as thousands of “bets” the Bigco is taking. Haier, Handelsbanken, Buurfzorg, and Morningstar Tomato were shared as examples of teams uniquely structured with autonomy to drive their own experiments to yield better products and services.

5. Drive for outcomes instead of giving teams specific “this is how you need to do this” instructions.

Josh Seiden and Cindy Alvarez talked about empowering teams through goals instead of granular maps for how to get there. Cindy Alvarez utilizes simple templates to ensure everyone knows the “why” and where we are heading. For example: “The problem is        . We know it’s a problem because         . If we don’t fix it,         will happen. When we fix it, we’ll get        .” We recognized Jobs to Be Done thinking here: instead of telling teams the solution, explain the Job to Be Done and commission them with finding a solution to that Job.

The practice of Lean Startup itself is iterative in nature – getting more and more honed over time. We were refreshed on the mindset of experimenting at every stage, and a renewed desire to learn more about how other organizations are applying Lean Startup. Here’s a peek at some of the books we heard about at the conference, and are adding to our booklist to read in 2019:

Our team is always striving to become better entrepreneurial leaders. We learn from books, podcasts, and most importantly, from our clients and TGG teammates. Recently, six of our team members were recognized for their tremendous growth and recognizable leadership, and were promoted to new roles:

Each with a unique path toward growth as an entrepreneurial leader, they took some time to share stories, advice, and lessons learned for those who are on their own journey.

Sara Valasek

Senior Director, Lean Growth

“Sara deeply cares about her clients and their needs, going beyond what is expected of her. Clients fall in love with Sara and trust her with their most difficult challenges, knowing that Sara will strategically think about the best approach to tackle them. It has been really inspiring to see Sara in action, balancing empathy and strategic thinking in each one of her engagements with clients!”

– Fadia Perez Cruz, VP of Lean Growth

What practices do you use when mentoring others in becoming entrepreneurial leaders?

It can feel very overwhelming to keep up with the constantly changing business landscape. Also, being an “entrepreneurial leader” seems like a classification that is out of reach for some. I have a bit of a mantra that I am constantly saying to myself, my co-workers, and clients: “How do you eat an elephant? The answer is one bite at a time.” Reminding ourselves that becoming anything different than we are takes time, patience, and a commitment to practice. I’ve also found that when we can connect our work back to the consumers we serve, finding the energy to becoming anything new reignites a sense of purpose and clears a path for tremendous growth and progress.


Sarah Shiffman

Strategist, Lean Growth

“Sarah embodies the courageous mentality at the core of TGG. She boldly takes on every challenge that comes her way and hustles to get the best possible results from herself and others. Most importantly, her approach is always rooted in deep empathy for both the clients we work with and the consumers they serve. Sarah has a keen sense for the heart behind people’s motivations, and a talent for speaking directly to it.” – Dennis Furia, Senior Director, Lean Growth

What are you doing to ensure you continue to grow and develop as an entrepreneurial leader?

I love to surround myself with people who are not only good at their jobs, but are wonderful people. I learn the most through collaboration and relationships, so my growth often happens from observing others, working with others and being challenged by others. I never really saw myself as an entrepreneur before joining The Garage Group, but having been here for a year, I know that I am most entrepreneurial when I am confident enough to just try – taking time to invest in myself and in the relationships around me. The best way I set myself up for any entrepreneurial endeavor is to invest in those around me and to care for myself. That way, if the (inevitable) failure/barrier/challenge comes, I’m strong enough and supported enough to pick myself back up and try again.

Molly Baldwin

Strategist, Lean Growth

“Molly is a powerhouse at TGG! She is grace and action, diligent and thoughtful, intuitive and persistent. All grounded in a kind soul. Molly jumps at new challenges and is quick to contribute in whatever way is needed. She is fantastic at her work and she excels with people. Her very real and humble approach make her outstanding at connecting with clients, co-workers and the consumers we all serve. Molly is the teammate we’re all excited to have who supports us, teaches us, and laughs with us all.”

– Sara Valasek, Senior Director, Lean Growth

Do you have any advice to others who might be experiencing challenges as they work toward adopting and maintaining a growth mindset?

Put yourself out there. Do things that make you uncomfortable. Make a point to raise your hand and speak up in those moments that you previously would have shied away from. Talk about your failures, but highlight the fact that you tried and the identify optimizations for next time. All of these things make it easier to be vulnerable in the future.

Finally, if you still don’t feel comfortable challenging yourself to new ways of thinking, you’re probably surrounding yourself with the wrong people. At TGG, we support growth and curiosity not just in what we say, but in the actions we take as a team. I’m constantly surrounded by people that showcase agility, hustle in smart ways (and not at the expense of a successful outcome), and operate with an open mind–the keys to maintaining a growth mindset.


Justine Daley

Director of Growth Hacking

“Justine is an amazing and critical part of our team, enabling current and future growth. She came in just under a year ago and has taken everything we do on the marketing front to the next level, and has extended us into strong new spaces. And, she has a strong vision to keep pushing TGG forward as we look to continue to grow. As many of you know, she’s not only active at TGG, she’ll be AMA Cincy’s President next year, and is always looking to add value outside of this place.”

– Jason Hauer, Co-CEO

Which of The Garage Group’s values do you most align with in your leadership style? I have always felt most aligned with “Connection” which encompasses operating with an external focus and open hand. I grow most when I am looking externally and learning from the experiences of others. I recognized this at a very early stage in my career; I worked previously for a small, niche-focused company, and I knew that in order to bring new ideas in and learn more than just my industry, I had to go outside of my office and speak with people who were doing very different things than me. I was lucky enough to be in a work environment that supported this external learning. This enabled me to strengthen my Associative Thinking muscles, quickly applying external learnings to my own strategic challenges. I’ve been able to consistently do this through my volunteerism with the American Marketing Association – Cincinnati; I’m constantly learning from other members and through my contributions to the organization itself. I’m also constantly trying to soak up as much as I can from my TGG team; everyone is so strong, in different areas and from different backgrounds. Thanks to my TGG teammates, I really feel like I live up to that phrase “You learn something new every day.”


Megan Milar

Senior Director of Operations

“Megan’s role has continued to grow, as TGG has grown. Megan never shrinks back from a challenge and handles complexity, breadth, and depth with humility, energy, and strategic solutions. In the past year, she’s built a strong culture among her team and formed and led TGG Operations, increasing our discipline, ability to measure and track our progress, make well-timed hiring decisions, build and sustain our culture, and care for our team and our clients well. We are honored to have her strength and strategic thinking as a key part of our leadership!”

– Ann Thompson, Co-CEO

You’ve likely experienced some challenges on your journey toward becoming an entrepreneurial leader. What advice do you have for people on their own journeys?

Journeys are full of seasons. It’s important to be able to adapt to those seasons with ease and to have a growth mindset around the challenges faced during that time. One particular strategy that I apply in both my personal and professional life is to stay closely connected to people who are a season or two ahead of me. For instance, this year I intentionally met with professionals in a relevant position as mine in other small companies that have experienced high growth. I’ve been on a mission to uncover what’s ahead and to learn from their success and failures so we’ll be ready to reapply when the time comes.


Renee Murphy

Senior Director, Lean Research

“Renee has been a pioneer in the field of lean research before it was even termed “lean.” Her practical approaches challenge the traditional market research industry, and give truly actionable insight for teams. This past year, Renee’s role evolved to include building a Lean Research Bootcamp program to equip new TGG Associates, and to help client teams that want to learn and apply these approaches. Her humility, focus on learning, and relentless pursuit of the best approaches continue to elevate her contributions and her stature in the industry.”

– Ann Thompson, Co-CEO

What motivates you? How do you translate that when leading a team?

In October 2017, when the focus of my role changed, I had a significant perspective shift. For more than 10 years, I had been doing the research. I had the opportunity to train and come alongside other research practitioners in those 10 years, but last October I shifted to coaching and scaling research instead of being the doer. Instead of being motivated by seeing a great finished product that I got to do, I’m now motivated by seeing others empowered and equipped to conduct lean research with excellence. I’m motivated by getting to pass on the things others have taught me over the years. Herding Tigers by Todd Henry has been a really helpful resource for me in this transition in mindset.

Farmer’s Fridge is a Chicago startup we’ve featured for years when getting our clients inspired to think outside of the box via our Trends and Analogs. We love Farmer’s Fridge’s courage in bringing fresh food to market in a novel format: a vending machine. When the chance to come alongside this flourishing startup arose, we couldn’t help but join their energetic team for some lean research.

The Challenge: Understand customer Jobs to Be Done to inspire the Farmer’s Fridge innovation pipeline.

The Constraints: This busy team set aside two hours to kick this work off and will pick it up as time allows in the future. As a startup, they don’t have a dedicated research budget like a Bigco has – nor should they. Therefore, the research needed to be free, with a coupon incentive for participants.

The Approach:

Over some snacks from the Fridge (a Spindrift and chocolate trail mix), The Garage Group onboarded the three Farmer’s Fridge team members to a quick Jobs to Be Done primer, so we could all listen in the Jobs to Be Done lens and ask questions that would help uncover Jobs.

Next, customer intercepts were conducted in teams. In the Merchandise Mart at lunch, ample customers came to the Fridge. Using a rough discussion guide about 25 five-minute intercepts were conducted.

When we started hearing the same themes repeated, we sat back down for 30 minutes of debrief. During this time, we re-grounded ourselves in what makes a good Job to Be Done, emphasizing that it’s solution agnostic. Then, we wrote 10+ Jobs to Be Done that we heard various customers express. 

The Farmer’s Fridge team began to dream about what activations of these Jobs to Be Done might look like. Finally, we discussed recommended next steps: a quick quantitative test on the Jobs to Be Done to prioritize and narrow (which can be done via their customer database and a simple/free survey) and a divergent ideation session to help them bring innovation to life under the top Job(s) to Be Done.

In two hours, the Farmer’s Fridge team walked away with a new lens to think through, as well as 10+ customer-informed Jobs to Be Done to frame and prioritize their future innovation pipeline under. While the process isn’t complete, the team will revisit as they’re able, making it an iterative and accessible means of making progress without spending days and thousands of dollars.

Because of their end-to-end ownership of delivery, Farmer’s Fridge will be able to launch-and-learn on new menu items with relative simplicity vs. other commerce channels.

“This methodology is so helpful as we think about future innovation processes and how best to prioritize where we are focusing our efforts!” –Emily Splett, Director of Menu Development, Farmer’s Fridge