Welcome to Conversations with Chief Innovators, in which our CEO Pat Sheridan discusses innovation in business with transformational leaders across industries. In the second episode, we bring you Tom Klaff, CEO of Revolution Cooking.
Watch the full episode below:
That’s the market value of a 10,000-year-old industry — small kitchen appliances.
However, there hasn’t been much innovation in kitchen appliances in the past few decades. Take toasters for example. Innovation in toasters has been around industrial design, levers, and knobs — not performance.
Tom Klaff, CEO of Revolution Cooking, is trying to change that. Their smart toasters are much faster than regular toasters, powered by algorithms for over 34 bread types. These toasters have created a buzz with all the right influencers like The Oprah Magazine and The View.
Oh, and they also have a sleek touchscreen interface.
I sat down for a chat with Tom about innovating in a traditionally stagnant industry. Here are a few excerpts from our conversation:
1. How do you find the right team when you want to innovate in a plateaued industry?
My model has always been to identify a large industry with little innovation and find a problem that can be solved with a better user experience, ROI, and economics — to find riches in niches.
The innovation in toasters has focused on industrial design, knobs, and levers, not performance. The core technology hasn’t changed much since the 19th century. That’s where I saw the opportunity and decided to apply my learnings to the kitchen appliance industry.
I didn’t know anything about cooking when I started, but you find the subject matter experts — people who can identify problems, talent, and innovation in the industry. It’s about getting literate about the market and then getting introduced to key talent. And through that team-building exercise, I found an innovation partner to help me disrupt this industry.
2. When is innovation ready for prime time?
Our initial manufacturing cost was substantial as we are delivering a product that is an order of magnitude more complex than anything else on the market today. Our goal was to deliver a different experience, but we also couldn’t charge more than the product’s perceived value.
Therefore, we went back to the drawing board multiple times to optimize production and improve our margins. Once we had achieved the right balance of cost and product design, we were ready to launch.
3. Did you go the D2C or omnichannel route with marketing?
I can’t name many D2C brands that are making money. Trying to build brand relevance alone and then converting people on your website is enormously expensive. Therefore, we chose to build our brand first with retailers. We were willing to give up margin for that as it reduced overall risk and afforded us brand acceleration.
4. How do you deliver on user experience?
We want to deliver a premium experience, so our design includes an innovative touch screen, the ability to see how your toast will look when toasted, a beautiful clock face, and even a happy chime at the end. Everything was designed with the user in mind. In addition, our marketing focuses on storytelling and building a tribe of users that appreciate beautiful and high-performing products.
I reach out to about 20 customers a week to check-in. We also do a quarterly pulse check. Hearing directly from our customers helps me make better decisions for the business.
5. Any advice for transformational leaders and disruptors
Normal things deliver normal results. You have to be bold and willing to assume risk. The incumbent leaders have the brand, cash, and tribe on their side. They won’t take notice unless you do something remarkable. If you can’t, don’t even try competing with them. Also, remember that innovation isn’t just about growth. It’s about building a successful platform, proving technology, and creating a viable business model.
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