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Lesson #3: Become an Experimental Entrepreneur
“I was so overloaded with work that I am conscious that very little, if any of it, was performed satisfactorily,” recalled Kellogg of his days working for his brother. “I did the work as business manager of the Sanitarium and got no glory and very little money.”
Earning just $3 a day at the time, little might have changed for Kellogg had it not been for one experimental night, when he kept himself busy in the test kitchen of the Sanitarium. He had prepared a large mass of wheat dough, boiled it and then pressed it into large sheets. It was business as usual until Kellogg decided to try something different.
One night, Kellogg left the dough out overnight before he rolled it. The next morning, when he returned to the kitchen, he tried to roll it into a flat sheet, but it would not take. Instead, the dough broke into flakes. Kellogg did not know why it had happened, but he was sure about one thing: he was going to make the most of it.
Whereas anyone else in that kitchen that day might have simply thrown out the flakes, disregarding them as a recipe gone bad, Kellogg decided to try his luck. He served them the next day at the Sanitarium and they were a huge hit. Now, he not only had a new, popular recipe on his hand, but a developing business. By 1896, he had sold 113,400 pounds of corn flakes simply by word of mouth.
But Kellogg did not just leave it at that. He continued to experiment with different recipes and ingredients, such as oat and barley. He tried adding sugar to his flakes, something that was strictly prohibited by his brother at the Sanitarium. He conducted lengthy experiments, trying whatever he could think of to expand his product line and boost his business.
Kellogg was an insomniac, whose sleepless nights were made all the more difficult thanks to his thorough, near-photographic memory. He would spend his nights going over the previous day’s experiments in excruciating detail, and scribble down notes and ideas for the next day.
Not every idea Kellogg had was a valuable one or one that could be taken to market. He conducted much test market research and decided which products to run with and which to stop. But what distinguished Kellogg from many of his competitors was that he never stopped trying to come up with new ideas. It was precisely this cycle of innovation and experimentation that kept him a household name for decades.
Soon Kellogg found his products more popular than even he expected. As back orders piled up, he began running “apology ads” in national magazines. He asked customers to “stop buying, and give your neighbours a chance.” The result was only an increase in orders pouring in.
In the beginning, everyone, even his brother, was telling Kellogg to forget his flaked cereal in the face of rising competition. But Kellogg continued to experiment and perfect his recipe, and proved it could be a hit.
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