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What Flamin’ Hot Can Teach Us About Entrepreneurship

Very loosely based on actual events but Flamin’ Hot can teach us a few things about entrepreneurship.

Flamin’ Hot is a fictionalized dramatization of how the wildly popular Flamin’ Hot line of products was created. A more detailed account of the creation of Flamin’ Hot Cheetos and related products can be found in this LA Times article. Although it is very loosely based on actual events, the film can teach us a few things about entrepreneurship.

Warning Spoilers Ahead

Entrepreneurial Spirit

Richard Montañez, the supposed creator was a natural entrepreneur since childhood. In the film, he was bullied by his classmates about his burrito lunch. He persuaded them to try it and got them to buy burritos from him. Richard then sold burritos to the entire school. Richard also showed interest in machinery early on which helped him understand the chip manufacturing process.

Not everyone is born with the traits and proclivities to create something new, but if you are, it’s a big advantage.

No Shame

Selling drugs got Richard in trouble with the law which limited his career options. So he pleaded his way into a janitorial job. Richard swallowed his pride and did the work.

Our perceptions about our self, how we think others perceive us, where we think we should be in life, pride, shame, etc. are all factors that can sometimes limit us. Overcoming this is probably more important than being a natural entrepreneur.

Industry and Market Research

Richard learned his job as a janitor but also learned how the chips were made. He also asked questions about chip manufacturing to people that were not in his department; thus crossing over departmental “cliques” — sanitation doesn’t mingle with engineers, etc. This allowed him to learn more about chip manufacturing than almost anyone. His willingness to overcome shame/embarrassment, in this case overcome corporate culture, also allowed him to access knowledge that others were unwilling/uninterested in learning.

Additionally, Richard’s Mexican-American background gave him exposure to spicy food and awareness about the large Latin-American population. In 1980, 6.5% of the US Population was Hispanic; by 1990, it grew to 8.8% as the total US population grew 22 million in that time. He saw how his friends and family would add spicy seasoning to their foods. Richard also saw, when he was on a delivery run with a coworker, that mainstream snacks were the only option in neighborhoods like his. A large and rapidly growing market did not have a spicy option.

This is all part of industry and market research.

In reality, Fred Lindsay, a Frito-Lay salesman that worked the Chicago and Great Lakes region noticed spicy products from regional competitors out-selling Frito-Lay.

Learn everything you can about your business, other people’s businesses, your customers, their customers. Knowledge is power.

New Product/Service Creation

It is important to note that Flamin’ Hot Cheetos (according to the movie) did not happen over the course of a couple of years. Richard was working at the plant for over 8 years when the idea came to him. Also, in the movie, Richard’s wife Judy, developed the recipe in what seems like less than a year.

In reality, Lynne Greenfeld and a team of product developers at Frito-Lay was assigned in 1989 to create a snack designed to compete with spicy snacks sold in the inner-city mini marts of the Midwest. Greenfeld would go on a field marketing tour throughout the Midwest and bring back 50 different bags of snacks that were all new to her. Eventually, she and her team honed in on a flavor combination and chubby devil branding that we know today. This process took around a year.

Bootstrapping

With the recipe in hand, Richard needed to acquire chips to coat the newly developed spicy slurry with. At the Frito-Lay factory, brown chips were thrown out because they only wanted the lighter colored chips. Richard took the discarded chips to create his first batch.

Finding inexpensive solutions is a crucial task in entrepreneurship.

Pitching

A pivotal moment in the movie happened when Richard looked up the contact info of Roger Enrico, CEO and Chairman of PepsiCo Inc., the corporate owner of Frito-Lay, to pitch the idea to him.

In the movie, Richard stumbles when asked about market share and product yield. This is where our services come in. Our industry leading pitch decks come with industry and market overviews, projected sales, and much more. Companies from a wide range of industries have used our pitch decks to raise funds from banks, SBA, and angel investors.

Guerrilla Marketing

Even after convincing Enrico to launch the Flamin’ Hot line, it was not all smooth sailing. In the movie, Frito-Lay did not launch an advertising campaign as most companies do for most products and services. As a result, the products were not selling.

To raise awareness for the product, Richard resorted to guerrilla marketing. He rallied his friends, family, and coworkers to start giving away unsold bags for free to anyone in the neighborhood. This strategy, more specifically, is called product sampling, and is commonly used by companies to raise awareness and increase the chances of initial purchases.

In reality, the Flamin’ Hot line of products had the full force of Frito-Lay’s marketing department. Unfortunately for most entrepreneurs, they do not have a large corporation driving awareness for their newly launched product.


Contact us today for help with your new product development.

The Floppy Disk Business

Talk about being in a niche market! This fascinating article talks about Tom Persky the self-proclaimed “last man standing in the floppy disk business.”

See a Need, Fill a Need

Leveraging his experience outside of the floppy disk business as a tax attorney and software developer, Persky found opportunities to offer sales, recycling, and data transfer services.

Because we were a tax-oriented company and had specific tax filing deadlines, we only used our duplication equipment once every quarter. For 89 days in a row, the machines would be unused and then, on a single day, we would punch out thousands and thousands of floppy disks. At some point, I looked at the machines and how they were unused for so much of the time, and I had the idea to take in other people’s laundry.

Client Feedback

Persky had a business model in mind but shrewdly pivoted to include other service offerings at the request of his customers. Clearly a business should not listen to every whim of their customers. However, the service should be added if the cost-benefit analysis indicates a profitable expansion. Contact us for help with this analysis.

In the beginning, I figured we would do floppy disks, but never CDs. Eventually, we got into CDs and I said we’d never do DVDs. A couple of years went by and I started duplicating DVDs. Now I’m also duplicating USB drives. You can see from this conversation that I’m not exactly a person with great vision. I just follow what our customers want us to do. When people ask me: “Why are you into floppy disks today?” the answer is: “Because I forgot to get out of the business.” Everybody else in the world looked at the future and came to the conclusion that this was a dying industry.

Luck

Luck is ALWAYS a factor in business. However, it takes skill to be able to survive long enough for a chance for luck to come your way.

Over time, the total number of floppy users has gone down. However, the number of people who provided the product went down even faster. If you look at those two curves, you see that there is a growing market share for the last man standing in the business, and that man is me.

Circling back to seeing a need and listening to customers. Opportunities will present themselves when you keep your eyes and ears open.

Another thing that happened organically was the start of our floppy disk recycling service. We give people the opportunity to send us floppy disks and we recycle them, rather than put them into a landfill. The sheer volume of floppy disks we get in has really surprised me, it’s sometimes a 1,000 disks a day.

Know Your Market

Persky knows his market. A.K.A. customers. Your market (customers) are not only those that you’ve identified but also those you did not know use your (or your competitor’s) product. Knowing your market takes a lot of research and asking questions.

Take the airline industry for example. Probably half of the air fleet in the world today is more than 20 years old and still uses floppy disks in some of the avionics. That’s a huge consumer. There’s also medical equipment, which requires floppy disks to get the information in and out of medical devices. The biggest customer of all is probably the embroidery business though. Thousands and thousands of machines that use floppy disks were made for this, and they still use these.

Tom Persky truly fell into the floppy disk business but made smart decisions to capitalize on the opportunities that came up. Part of it is luck, but part of it is also making the right decisions long enough to be lucky.

See our posts: Importance of Niche-ing, See a Need, Fill a Need, and Product Life Cycle for more related information.

New Product Development Flowchart

This new product development flowchart provides a general macro view of a complex and variable process. Each decision and process step is an entire field of study in itself, with significant details and nuances beyond the scope of this flowchart. Please note that every decision and process step may require significant costs and expenses.

Flowchart of new product development process - Your Startup Guru
A general macro flowchart of the new product development process

This process is applicable to new product development in a wide range of industries. For example, in 1920, candy store owner Christian Kent Nelson invented an ice cream brick with a chocolate coating. Because he did not have the know-how or means to mass-produce his invention, he secured an agreement with local chocolate producer Russell C. Stover of Russell Stover Candies to mass-produce them under the new trademarked name “Eskimo Pie.” The dessert was rebranded to Edy’s Pie in 2021 because the original name contained a derogatory term.

Launch and Grow Your Business

Contact us today to optimize the new product development process for your business.

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses

Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses - Your Startup Guru
Lipstick on a pig and recession-proof businesses – Your Startup Guru

Welp, there’s no need to put lipstick on a pig. Today’s GDP data released by the US Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that real gross domestic product (GDP) decreased at an annual rate of 32.9 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to the “advance” estimate released by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. In the first quarter, real GDP decreased 5.0 percent.

Chart showing Real GDP: Percent change from preceding quarter

This is really bad news which means figuring out how to mitigate damage and making all adjustments by bootstrapping. Many businesses such as bookstores, farms, and clothing manufacturers pivoted their business models to adapt to the impact of COVID-19.

One thing I learned while working with my client KiloNiner several years ago is that pet products were largely recession-proof during the 2007-2009 recession. This is because people view their pets as family members so cutting back was avoided. There are many other businesses are that recession-proof as long as adjustments are made to accommodate social-distancing requirements:

  • Repair/maintenance services: People will still need their plumbing to work, their lights to turn on, and their car engines to run
  • Dry cleaning/laundry: Laundered clothing and materials will always be needed as long as people wear clothes and don’t have in-house machines. Dry cleaning for clothing might decline as formal wear is reduced but will not go away as people still wear jackets, etc. on occasion.
  • Professional services: Accountants, lawyers, and other administrative professionals are still needed for the economy to run.
  • Funeral/Memorial services: A natural consequence of life is death. Particularly with the unsettlingly high mortality numbers associated with COVID-19, demand will likely be high for a very long time.

There are many more industries and even sectors/value-chain-links within floundering industries that are somewhat insulated from recessions. Your Startup Guru provides industry/market research as well as a wide range of other services for businesses to help navigate this turbulent economic climate.

Contact us and let’s figure out a plan for you.

Healthcare Strategy Consulting

Businesses face difficult decisions every day about what direction to go.  Eskenazi Health came to Your Startup Guru needing strategy consulting that involved an opportunity cost analysis and risk matrix to help their form their decision. We conducted an analysis that clearly mapped out their best and worst options which allowed them to strategically plan for the future.
Eskenazi Health is a comprehensive safety-net public health system with an acute-care hospital, a network of primary care centers, mental health services, community education programs, and many other services. Located in downtown Indianapolis, Eskenazi Health’s mission is to advocate, care, teach, and serve with special emphasis on the vulnerable populations of Marion County.

Contact us for help with you healthcare company.

The Importance of Planning

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Excess inventory, cost management, and other issues are a reality for most businesses.  When uncontrolled, a business can face inadequate cash reserves and even bankruptcy.

To mitigate these issues, proper industry and market research coupled with financial planning for contingencies is crucial for any business.  Whether you’re in the ideation phase or are already up and running, knowing how much to allocate to the various activities a business engages in is difficult so contact me and let’s create a strategy that works for your business.

Business Consulting for Shrink Wrap Company

Your Startup Guru provided business consulting for Shrink Wrap Pros, a commercial shrink wrap company based in Ventura, CA. Their customers require cars, boats, helicopters, etc., sealed in a polymer wrap.

Your Startup Guru helped Shrink Wrap Pros expand with their enterprise and CRM software needs, including making the transition from Excel to Access.  We also helped them improve their budgeting by refining their contribution margin calculations.

If you’re in Ventura and need any large items wrapped, give them a call!

Contact us today if you need help with your budgeting needs.

Sport Chalet is closing

Vestis Retail Group, the parent company of sports equipment and apparel stores Sport Chalet, Eastern Mountain Sports, and  Bob’s Stores has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection today.

I don’t have the financials for Bob’s Stores or Eastern Mountain Sports, but if the numbers for them looks like that of Sport Chalet, it looks like it’s another victim of passing trends and Amazon.  I wrote about the bankruptcy of Quiksilver and how it can save itself, and about Amazon‘s effect on Walmart.

sport chalet

Mountain sports presents another challenge above its sea-level cousin, surfing.  It costs a LOT more money to go skiing.  Skis, jacket, goggles, beanies, gas, food, etc.  The list goes on and on.  With the slow economic recovery putting Vestis’s holdings on a slower expansion pace, downsizing and keeping only strategic stores in wealthier markets would have slowed the cash flow hemorrhage.  Another factor unique to snow sports is the abnormally warm winters with little snowfall.  This climate factor greatly hurt sales.

Who knows what the boardroom meetings were like when CEO Mark Walsh, CFO Susan Riley, and others were meeting; nonetheless they should’ve listened to the decision-maker that had a closer eye on industry, market, and environmental trends.

In every business plan, I include industry and market analysis that covers the trends, threats, and emerging opportunities for every business.

What is Strategy Consulting?

Strategy

One of the services we offer is strategy consulting.  However, the name is quite vague so what is strategy consulting?  It is a lot of things.  It varies by the needs of the client.  Some clients need help developing an overall strategy for the business.

Say they have a product but not much else.  So they need everything from naming of their product, research on where to sell their product, team building, etc.  Naming might require a psychographic analysis of branding.

If they are a little farther along, it can be an audit of what they’re already doing, or analysis of where to go next.  A business might be looking at weighing the pros and cons of expanding to a new market, introducing a new product, do a product overhaul, etc.  Product overhaul might require a net present value calculation of multiple alternatives.

Every situation is unique so contact us and let’s figure out what you need.

Product extension

When you think of McDonald’s food you think of burgers.  Maybe other things too but mainly burgers.  However, back in the late-80s/early-90s the Golden Arches tried to expand into pizzas.

mcdonalds_pizza
Image Credit:  Collecingcandy.com

This was ultimately an unsuccessful expansion for reasons beyond a confusing palate.  They failed because they expanded beyond their core competency:  making hamburgers.

Operations

From an operational stand point hamburgers are different than pizzas.  Making pizzas require different equipment and ingredients.  One reason for McDonald’s profitability at relatively inexpensive pricing is due to cost efficiencies from economies of scale; every inch of a McDonald’s kitchen is optimized.  Fry pans have a designated size that fit with the size of the patty, that are heat up at a certain rate.  Pizzas don’t need frying pans.  They need ovens.  Ovens that are expensive to put into existing restaurants and take up valuable kitchen space.  Pizzas also took longer to prepare than the fast food burger.  People had to wait longer; an unusual thing for a fast food company to ask of their customers.  Lastly, pizzas not fit through the drive through window as easily as a bag of burgers and fries.

Marketing

They could’ve had success with pizzas if they approached it from a different angle.  McDonald’s found success with a production expansion with the Egg McMuffin.  Originally, skeptically received, breakfast is a McDonald’s staple now.  Burgers are lunch thing, but they successfully introduced breakfast.  Pizza is a dinner thing.  Therefore, instead of pizzas, McDonald’s should have brought in pizza by the slice (a very well-known concept at pizzerias) or at least personal sized /small pizzas.  A slice of pizza for lunch is not a foreign concept.  An entire pizza for lunch is.  

The difficulty in making and selling different types of food is probably why even large chain restaurants choose to differentiate different palates under different brands as Pizza Hut is doing with WingStreet and Carl’s Jr. with Green Burrito.

pizzahutwingstreetcarlsjrgreenburrito

Now it will be harder to reintroduce pizzas because McDonald’s is busy rebranding itself to health with marginal success.  Pizzas aren’t considered to be healthy.  Nonetheless, it is not hitting their market value with a 5 year high at $118/share.

mcd stock price

McDonald’s might set up for another go at extension but instead of a product extension (i.e. new product), they might go brand extension (i.e. new company).  The popularity of fast casual dining such as Chipotle (before the e-coli debacle) and Blaze Pizza might be an attractive direction to expand McDonald’s.

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