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The Wisdom of Failure

June 29, 2017

by Charmian Christie, The Messy Baker

Tired of winning? Samuel West, founder of Sweden’s Museum of Failure, certainly is. While the museum doesn’t honour incompetence, shoddy practices, or flat-out bad ideas, it does recognize the role failure plays in success — if you’re tenacious and willing to learn. To put West’s philosophy to the test, we spoke with three Food Starter members about the challenges they faced developing their product, and asked them to share what they learned from their non-successes.

A Confusion of Crickets

Esther Jiang’s business, Gyrllies is built on crickets. “Insects are edgy, out there,” Esther says. “They will get the conversation going.” Despite widespread public concern for the environment, basing her company on environmentally-friendly, sustainable, cricket protein proved challenging in many ways. Initially, Esther was advised to hide the fact her food contained crickets, or market her product as a weight loss food. The mentoring message was clear, just don’t market it as an alternative protein made from insects.

Unsure which direction to take, Esther went back to the roots of her idea. “The reason we started was for the environment. I liked how bold it [the cricket protein idea] was.” she says. “Boldness was the common personality trait of the original team, so I knew this would resonate with a certain sector.”

However, boldness alone wasn’t enough. Her original concept, a cricket-based mixture designed to be blended into burgers, didn’t give her tasters the heebie-jeebies. It confused them. Many didn’t purchase beef to begin with. Others thought the product was a cricket protein powder for smoothies. If crickets pushed the boundaries, adding them to a product no one currently used, tipped the idea over the edge. Esther listened to the feedback, and the cricket mix didn’t make it to market.

Undeterred, she mined the confused response for a clue. Consumers were excited about the protein, not its application. So, Esther looked at familiar foods that lack protein. The solution was pasta sauce, a pantry staple to which 80% of consumers add their own protein —usually beef. Now, Gyrllies adds the protein for them.

Esther’s Best Advice: In Her Own Words

  1. “Know who your customer is. If you don’t know who you are selling to you can’t cater it to them.”
  2. “Before launching, get a small amount of product out there and see how the customer interacts with it.”


We All Scream for Ice Lollies

Fressy Bessie is the little baby food company that grew — into organic fruit ice lollies. While her healthy baby food business wasn’t failing, its growth was slow. “You have to recognize that when an idea doesn’t work for one thing it might work for another.” Jackie says. “Always keep your eyes open!”

Unlike Gyrllies, who had to fine-tune an unusual product to a niche consumer, Fressy Bessie’s kid-friendly ice pops appealed to a far wider demographic than originally imagined. Jackie created her lollies with health-conscious parents in mind, but found diabetics, dieters, seniors, sugar-shunners, and those with food allergies were equally eager for the organic, sugar-free treat.

Her problem quickly became fulfillment and distribution. In March, Food Starter’s Accelerator became available, and Jackie ramped up production. Thanks to connections she made in the Food Starter kitchen and networking, she located two elusive ingredients — locally grown organic apples and pears. Now the only thing holding her back is distribution. “Either that or purchasing my own truck,” Jackie says with a laugh.

Jackie’s Best Advice: In Her Own Words

  1. “Keep moving because the goal is to sell product and if the thing you’ve chosen doesn’t sell then look to new ventures.”
  2. “If your first idea doesn’t do what you think, rethink. You might have the most brilliant idea on the planet, but if no one buys it, it’s not so brilliant.”


Not-So-Hot Sauce

Joanna Tang’s hot sauce wasn’t the hot commodity she’d hoped for. While the product proved competitive in taste tests, its price point wasn’t. “I just couldn’t get the price where I needed it,” Joanna says. “So, I dropped it.”

Having failed at earlier ventures because she rushed in, Joanna has learned to be more cautious. Her new-found measured approach included taking Food Starter courses — even though she didn’t have an actual product ready to sell. “Food Starter made me more realistic,” Joanna says. “I looked at ingredients, costing of material, getting marketing right, co-packers, food brokers…” 

When it was obvious the hot sauce wasn’t going to make money, Joanna revisited the snacking category looking for a gap to fill. After re-examining the food niche, Joanna realized the answer might lie in lentils. “We are using a lot of lentils in Canada, but we could use more in chips and cereal.” With at least one lentil chip hitting the market recently, Joanna takes it as a sign she’s on the right track. She’ll see if the numbers back her up.

Joanna’s Best Advice: In Her Own Words

  1. “Do your homework. Failing costs a lot. And it’s not just materials; it costs your time.”
  2. “Most of all, do not give up!”