We recently hosted a few virtual discussions about how startup natural product brands have increasingly disrupting established food, beverage, beauty, pet, and beverage Bigcos. In addition to our official 2018 Natural Products Expo Trends & Insights report, we are releasing our report of breakthrough innovation in the Beauty, Pet, and Oral care categories.
This report includes information and brand examples for the following:
To download the report please enter your email and information in the form below.
Ever since Erin Faulk left her job at Procter & Gamble to join us almost two years ago, she’s been an absolute powerhouse. Not only has she added to our culture with her infectious smile, endless positivity, and quick wit, she’s quickly innovated new approaches and optimized existing ones. The Strategy Sprint approach she pioneered enables teams to tackle tough strategic challenges in just 10 days — learning new skills and building their teams in the process. And, her recent work with Taylor Lowry and other members of our team to create a 5-day Innovation Pipeline Accelerator approach is enabling teams to develop strong ideas, rooted in deep consumer empathy and solid Jobs to be Done. Bigco teams value her ownership and strategic thinking, and our team values her collaborative nature and boundless energy.
So effective June 1, we’re not only excited to announce the launch of our Chicago office, we’re also excited to announce Erin’s promotion to Vice President of Lean Growth. In this role, Erin will trailblaze and grow the Chicago Region team, and continue to work with our Bigco clients to help them innovate and grow by leveraging startup-inspired approaches.
We sat down with Erin to learn more about her experiences at The Garage Group and what advice she has for Bigco teams and aspiring entrepreneurial leaders.
My biggest learning has been the conscious adoption of a founder’s mindset. While I have never lacked passion, accountability, or dedication, my transition to TGG made me aware of mental barriers I had unconsciously built over time that hindered me from truly thinking like an owner. Among many things, those barriers included hierarchical guardrails present at many companies, fear of overstepping set roles, and reward systems of promotions based on running a clearly defined playbook. At TGG, Ann and Jason have created a culture of dependence and co-ownership that is pervasive across the company.
At TGG, we leverage the entrepreneurial tool of infusing external inspiration in the form of Trends & Analogs into the Bigco Ideation process. By forcing teams to think about a problem from multiple perspectives, it enables teams to think expansively about solutions by collecting and connecting dots in new ways.
This thinking has had a strong impact on my personal life. For one, I can’t help myself from mentally cataloging new Trend & Analog examples across business challenges when I’m at Starbucks, at a restaurant, or at the movies. Additionally, when faced with a tough problem on my own, I find myself thinking “What problem am I really trying to solve?” Next, “What are all of the logical options I have today?” Finally, “Where else is a similar problem being solved?”
The power of starting small. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the pressure to disrupt existing category norms, operationalize entrepreneurial thinking, and strive for organizational transformation. By starting small – tackling a single business challenge on a single brand – you build momentum. This momentum accelerates across brands, categories, functions, and leaders.
Every day, I am pushed outside of my comfort zone and forced to learn something new. At TGG, success looks like getting comfortable with the uncomfortable, staying humble, and embracing a growth mindset. As a result, I have the courage and conviction to push myself, my team, and our clients harder, to think more boldly, to see problems from new perspectives, and to challenge the status quo.
Internally, my most memorable experiences at TGG always include a white-board – from collaborating on new-to-the-world capabilities, vetting new approaches to tackling client challenges, or mapping out our strategy to beat Jason in foosball.
Externally, my favorite part of working with client teams is on Day 3 of a Sprint. Across industries, across business challenges, Day 3 is when teams have landed in the unclear, uncomfortable “muddiness.” This is the day where teams tend to lose steam. It is hard and scary, and it is easy to reclaim a fixed mindset and revert back to what is known. By challenging the teams to stay focused on the objective and holding them accountable for the Entrepreneurial Rules of Engagement we agreed to uphold, we get through the day – together.
Maybe it’s because it’s the most athletically-relevant Hustle behavior, but I most align with Showcasing Agility. I thrive on creative problem-solving, but I am a rule follower. As a result, I start by clarifying the objective and then identifying guardrails. Without commitment to a single path forward, I’m well-positioned to pivot when roadblocks appear, with flexibility to uncover new opportunities along the way.
I’m excited to tackle my next challenge! Chicago will be our first office outside of Cincinnati, so there is no playbook, and there are many more questions than we have answers. But, we’re taking our own medicine, and learning from startups that add value in the face of uncertainty. Professionally, I’m excited for the opportunity to expand my network and build out a team. Personally, I’m excited for carry-out from Athenian Room and long runs along the lake.
We’ll miss Erin here at the Cincinnati office, but we’re proud for Erin to make the move! Come congratulate her at the Fireside Chat on May 30th. Follow the link for more details.
We are proud to have been recently named as finalists for Cincinnati’s 2018 Fast 55 Awards, which recognizes the 55 fastest-growing private companies headquartered in Greater Cincinnati that saw the highest percentage of revenue growth from 2015 and 2017, and cracking the 2017 Inc 500 list at #307 of the fastest-growing companies in America.
Thanks to our team who put the work in and our clients who believe in us. And congratulations to the other finalists.
As we sprint towards our Chicago office launch this summer, led by Erin Faulk, VP of Lean Growth, and reflect on this most recent achievement, it is hard not to get nostalgic about the almost 8 years of hustle and grit that it took to get here. We sat down with co-founders, Ann and Jason, to learn more about the early days at TGG, from Madison Road to Longworth Hall, and what it means to have experienced this incredible growth as we set our sights on Kinzie St, Chicago, IL.
It’s been almost 8 years since you started The Garage Group. What has changed since then and what have you learned?
Ann: Wow! A lot has changed in the past 8 years! The market has continued to change rapidly, but the concept of being entrepreneurial within a Bigco has become not only more relevant but more urgent in the past couple of years. We’ve learned many things, but among them:
Jason: What hasn’t changed is the transform Bigcos mission we’re on and the values we operate from. If anything, we have more conviction than ever on those things. What has changed, is literally everything else. We had early hypotheses for how we’d add value for enterprise clients, took our own medicine and quickly tested those, learned, strengthen what worked, and stopped doing stuff that didn’t add value. That same mentality continues with our amazing, entrepreneurial team today. And, each level of “success” creates new opportunities to learn and grow for us as leaders, and for our team. That’s why I love entrepreneurship because it’s the context for personal and market transformation. Persistently have a vision, hustle your ass off (backed with faith), and keep pushing forward, getting clearer on how you add value with each step.
Tell us a little bit about The Garage Group’s first project and what you learned from it that you still apply today.
Ann: Our first project taught us so much about partnering with our client to develop empathy for the organizational culture, the business challenges, and the people before attempting to suggest change. As we worked with the client, a multi-functional team working to innovate their business model to adapt to the changing needs of their customer, we developed many of the customer-centric approaches we still use today to define opportunities, benchmark external thinking to explore possible ways to solve challenges, and then iteratively build, test and optimize solutions.
Jason: Building on Ann’s context. The lesson we learned in landing and delivering our first project was one of the mindsets we teach through our Hustle Handbook today…squeeze the juice out of your resources…your strengths, network, and assets. When we were first starting eight years ago, The Garage Group was a logo and domain name…it didn’t stand for much else at the time. But, what we were able to leverage early on was Ann’s tremendous personal brand and corporate network (strong connection to P&G), and insights around successfully partnering with Bigcos. And, since we’ve bootstrapped TGG, that “squeeze the juice out of your resources” mentality cuts across how we operate to this day. From leaning on each other’s strengths and experiences to the mastery of Lean Growth approaches we leverage on client challenges, to the tremendous relationships and partnerships we’ve built. We’re always squeezing the juice out of our resources.
What do you think Bigcos need to be paying more attention to?
Jason: The impact of the “persistent, practical doing” of solving tough growth challenges as sustainable building blocks for transforming culture. Too often leaders want the easy answer of a quick training or ideation session that fits neatly into the day-to-day cadence of the business. Where, in reality, impact quickly dissipates. When you double down on “persistent, practical doing”, you create experiences for application of emerging concepts that push leaders out of their comfort zones. And, that’s where the transformation actually takes place. If you set the right foundation for operating like a startup, and drive to immediate activation of concepts, your team gets to amazing results faster than you could ever think possible, and you create a platform that ignites a fire and passion for a new way of working that will transform your organization if you let it.
Ann: Smart Bigco leaders are great listeners. They listen to their employees, customers, and partners and see opportunities to make things better holistically and to solve the real challenge rather than symptoms. I’d love to see Bigco leaders simply listen more, to better understand what their customers, employees, and partners want and need to accomplish, and then design solutions (products/services) around those needs. They’d see a need for increased speed, relevancy and adaptability across the board.
What is your favorite part about The Garage Group?
Jason: The entrepreneurial leadership capacity of our team is quite remarkable and gives me confidence we’ll not only continue to add value in the short-term for our clients, but we’ll continue to make amazing progress living out our mission for helping large enterprises to operate like startups. Our team sets the bold vision, and sprints to make it a reality…through humility, hustle, vulnerability in getting feedback on early MVPs, seeking guidance when we don’t have all the answers, leaning on the collective strengths of our emerging team to get to the best outcomes for our clients, and fearlessly building the next generation offerings we’re looking to have even bigger, enterprise-wide impact with.
Ann: I have to second Jason. I love our team! Their growth, individually, and our growth as a team gives me energy every day. Each person brings a different perspective and different experiences, but we all share a passion for the mission of making Bigcos operate more like startups.
What are you most excited about as you launch the Chicago office this summer?
Ann: I’m most excited about the opportunity to grow our talent network — new team members who will be able to join us because of our office in Chicago; and the opportunity to jump into the ecosystem of great companies — startups and Bigcos in Chicago and to join the conversations already happening about introducing entrepreneurial leadership and approaches into Bigcos.
Jason: As we’ve had some level of “success” to date, it’s critical we continue to live out our Courageous Minds Only attitude. Leaning into bold, new challenges like regional expansion will keep our team learning and growing, allows us to develop even stronger relationships with current and future clients, and hooks us into the amazing Chicago ecosystem.
You can’t have a conversation about lean innovation without bringing author Ash Maurya to the table… so we did! We recently joined Ash Maurya for a Facebook Live chat to explore corporate innovation and growth space.
Ash’s books, Running Lean (2010) and Scaling Lean (2016) have revolutionized the world of lean innovation. As an expert in all things lean, Ash shares his words of wisdom in the 30-minute recording from our Facebook Live chat below.
We’ve also highlighted a few of his answers to share with teams that are looking to ask (and answer!) the right questions while running and scaling lean.
It’s been about a decade since your first book, Running Lean. Since then, what has changed in how entrepreneurs and Bigcos are building disruptive ideas?
Ash: Yeah, I can’t believe it’s already been almost a decade. Time flies, I guess, when you’re having fun. But yeah, so a lot of The Lean Startup kind of burst on the scene really trying to describe challenges of building products under conditions of extreme uncertainty. A lot of the early adopters were startups; hence, The Lean Startup. But what I found is that a lot of the trends had been already occurring. You see, companies like Amazon and Facebook, and they already embraced this notion of rapid experimentation, rapid innovation; a And they are the models when we look at the large companies.
But to your question, I would say a lot of this came out from recognizing that there were these newer, fundamental approaches to building a product. It wasn’t enough just to build a product; You had to uncover what to build. You had to include customer engagement continuously throughout the process, and those were some of the core principles.
A lot of the early ideas that were in The Lean Startup book and also Running Leanwere about getting outside the building, how to engage customers, and that’s what I spent a lot of my early years kind of trying to figure out.
So it’s obviously kind of the genesis of what’s new and why you felt you had to write “Scaling Lean.” Could you talk about some principles as you’ve observed over the years? What has stayed most consistent? What are the most important mindsets that have stayed the same over the years?
Ash: The notion that customers have the answers but they can’t give them to you. I think that’s been something we have known for a while is you can’t simply ask customers what they want. Often times they too are solution-based. So they say, “Why don’t you go build this?” And you build that and that still doesn’t work.
So what I find, and this is, again, looking back at even my work across “The Lean Canvas,” and even the second book, I found this recurring theme, which is the thing that is universal is that as innovators, as entrepreneurs, we rush to solutions too quickly and we are biased ourselves. Also, when we talk to customers, we try to show them the solution too quickly and bias them. Sometimes we can even get them excited by a surface solution to a problem, but the real challenge is trying to solve the more, kind of, deeper root causes of problems.
So a lot of what I’m focused on these days, and what I’m trying to write, or the mindset shift that I try to get people to have is this notion of loving the problem, not the solution; and really always looking for evidence of the problem. So you may have the best idea in the world, but if you can’t find evidence that others are either struggling with a job to be done or an outcome that they’re trying to achieve, where you can do something better, it’s going to be an uphill battle. So to me, that is kind of the core thing that hasn’t really changed is start with problems and then go onto solutions.
And then other things like speed,: speed of leaning, kind of rapid experimentation, and rapid innovation are all required in this new way of working. I have this image that I like to show often, and it’s that as we’ve seen product teams embrace a lot of these iterative methodologies like agile, or even “Lean Startup,” they have moved ahead,; but unfortunately business planning is still stuck in waterfall. And you can’t have that dual motive– you’re doing business planning in waterfall andyou’re telling the teams to go fast– it just doesn’t work.
We would love to hear more from you about the challenge you describe of just defining the problem or defining the opportunity that’s out there. Because in scaling, we give a lot of awesome tools to take something that can feel very big and nebulous, and hard to define, and break it down into very actionable, concrete steps. Can you talk about that?
Ash: Sure. Yeah, so I guess the first step that I always go through is really take a snapshot of the idea. And the favorite tool of, you know, we’re obviously bias is read The Lean Canvas. But what I like about that is it’s a very simple exercise. We actually timebox it to 20 or 30 minutes, or interview a client, or interview an entrepreneur. And the idea is to see the idea from their point of view but then start asking questions like, “How would the customer look at this?”
So fundamentally, there is a transformation that happens where usually an innovator says, you know, “I want to do something, and with this technology. It’s gotta be blockchain, it’s gotta be this, it’s gotta be that.” But when you start asking yourself, “Well, who is the early adopter of this? And then what are they using today and what are they trying to get done?” You begin to sometimes see that maybe the tech itself is not enough. You’ve got to kind of look at things from the perspective of the customer problem. So for me, that usually is step one. And that opens, kind of, the window for doing more problem exploration.
Interviewer: Yeah, that’s great. And so you had mentioned it’s definitely about what they do, not what they say, and we at The Garage Group are very firm believers of that as well. And we focus on transactional research, so measuring those behaviors is truly “what they do.” Are there any tips or ways that you get an idea to a point that you can measure “what they’re doing” versus “what they’re saying?”
Ash: Before you run any experiment, you have to get to that point, which is, “What am I going to measure for this experiment?” Sometimes people throw this in as an after effect, and by then, it’s usually too late because you’re not instrumented for that and you just don’t know how to measure if the experiment works or not. So that’s a very important best practice is to declare outcomes up front and clearly identify a metric to measure.
Now I’m a big fan of the pirate metrics, the AARRR metrics that I think a number of people have definitely run into. In the Scaling Lean book, I redraw that slightly different. I call it “The Customer Factory Blueprint.” But the idea is that it works like a system. There are some set stages that customers go through from when they’re unaware about a product or a feature to when they first become aware.:
So whenever we’re running an experiment, I usually like to target one of those five things. Ideally, we’d always like to target revenue, but sometimes when you’re running an experiment in three weeks, you can’t get all the way to the end. You might start with testing for interest and then for activation, so you might kind of walk that kind of step-by-step.
So, if I were building an iPhone app, for instance, and say I have already an audience and I have a web app, the first experiment I might run in three weeks is not build the app, because that’s gonna take me three months or six months. I might actually just start with a teaser. I might start with a screenshot, email my audience, and do an in-app message saying, “We’re building this iPhone app. Vote up or down if you’d like us to build it.” And that would be what I’d measure.
If nobody wants the app, then why even bother building anything? So there I’m measuring that acquisition trigger, and that’s an example of how one would break the experiment into multiple experiments where you are additively trying to get towards the goal instead of trying to get it all at once.
Where do you get your inspiration from?
Ash: I would say that I started by really looking, searching for problems really for myself. I would love to say I wrote for others, but I wrote really for myself. My blog was really a bunch of questions I was struggling with as an entrepreneur, and I actually hoped that by exposing myself, people would have pity and come and give me some answers in the comments and steer me along the way. And that’s how I started; there was always this search for solutions to things I was running into.
I think you’ll find that lean startup is that way, and that’s why the community, I believe, grew so quickly, is that people weren’t here saying, “I have figured this out. This is how you go do it.” They were all sharing their learning, and together, we were able to see a bit further, and then we codify that into a set of principles.
And that’s what I continue to do– I spend a lot of time with entrepreneurs. I still run into problems. I want to hear about their problems and really dig into them. That allows me to better understand the problem. And quoting Charles Kettering, “If you can do that, you’re halfway there.”
So then, I throw a bunch of solutions, and my books are examples of that. They start off as usually blog posts, some of them work, some of them don’t work, some book titles work, some concepts work, and those are all the failures that no one hears about or a few people, the poor souls, hear about. But then you find better solutions, and that really is my process. So that’s generally how things surface to books or the platform that we built.
Thanks for reading and tuning in to the Facebook live chat! Make sure you subscribe to our newsletter and follow us on Facebook so you can catch the next one.
The more we grow, the more we need trailblazing doers like Sarah Blemker to continue to develop our operational infrastructure and enable our client engagements to go smoothly and efficiently. We are so excited to welcome her as our newest Project Manager!
A little bit about Sarah…
I was born and raised in Cincinnati, Ohio and grew up in a Market Research household. My father started his own MR firm in 1983 and I went to work for him after I graduated from Indiana University. I quickly realized that project management and operations was where I wanted to be, despite what he wanted me to do (sales). After he retired and sold the company I went to work for two larger Global firms (Ipsos and dunnhumby). After 10-12 years at these larger organizations, raising a daughter (now 10), and taking a few years off work I am excited to jump into The Garage Group. My daughter keeps me busy with her activities, but in my free time, I am a cheer coach, involved in a Garden Club, and needlepoint.
What is your MO?
I’m Coop, a doer, multi-tasker, and trailblazer. I have a “get it done” attitude. I can juggle a lot. I am intuitive, practical, and perceptive.
What is your work philosophy?
Work hard, make connections, build relationships internally and externally, challenge yourself, and share knowledge.
How do you apply your entrepreneurial mindset to your personal life? Tell us a story/example!
I think that being a parent requires an entrepreneurial mindset, and I find myself applying it in so many ways. My entrepreneurial mindset has enabled me to be independent and accountable, but still be scrappy, especially when acting in face of uncertainty. I think that my “doer” mentality really enables me to jump in and figure it out, even when details aren’t clear.
What does an “entrepreneurial approach to research and innovation” mean to you?
I think that entrepreneurs need to have an appetite to understand, challenge themselves and others, innovate, learn and share. By taking an entrepreneurial approach, you can quickly identify gaps and ways to improve. This is something I have always exercised and been passionate about.
What shows are you currently watching?
I watch a lot of criminal (Criminal Minds) and suspense shows (Revenge and Scandal.) I am also a big fan of Survivor.
What is your spirit animal? Why?
My spirit animal is a bird. They are independent and can see the world from above. My Dad was an avid birdwatcher and pilot and wrote books on his experiences traveling around the country birdwatching and flying his plane. Cardinals (one of his favorite) always appear at important times in my life. I believe it is him watching over me. It reminds me that I should look at the big picture, the whole picture.
What is something you believe that almost nobody agrees with you on?
Boxed wine is good 🙂
What’s your favorite innovation that’s come out in the past year?
I am so thankful for the innovation in the food delivery and money exchange spaces. Food delivery apps truly make my life more efficient and convenient!