At Rabobank’s FoodBytes! pitch slam in New York City earlier this fall, Justin Weinstein explained that creating a product that consumers want – let alone perfecting it – it is practically impossible without their input, which is why he advises startups to go to market with a minimally viable new product with a plan to actively solicit feedback and make changes based what shoppers say.
For RISE Brewing Co. this meant taking a chance and launching its first nitro cold brew in a bar in Brooklyn and opening a pop-up café where it could test different batches and flavor combinations – knowing full well that the recipes would need to be tweaked and re-tested before they were canned for retail sale.
“The biggest thing I have learned is that it is a lot of trial and error. This whole process. And you are not going to get it right every time. You are probably not going to get it right the first time, the second time, but it is what keeps you going is that you want to get it right,” Weinstein explained to FoodNavigator-USA in this episode of Investing in the Future of Food.
He explained that RISE iterated its nitro cold brew coffees over and over based on feedback that it gained from consumers who visited its pop-up coffee shop on the lower east side of New York City.
For example, by listening to consumers at the pop-up, the company came up with the idea to offer a non-dairy nitro cold brew latte using oat milk, which was the most popular among all the non-dairy milks it tested with consumers at the shop. The oat milk latte is a one of a trio of nitro lattes that the company launched this fall along with a Mocha and a Classic option.
Try new things, but also set boundaries
While continually innovating is key component of the company’s initial success, so is having firm parameters on what the brand represents.
“What set us apart is the actual nitro aspect of our coffee,” Weinstein noted. “We focus on that. We don’t do a concentrated version, which we could do. We could do ready-to-drink normal version of cold brew. But we want to be the leaders in the nitro cold brew space, and that is what we have done from the start and we have never veered off from that – even though it has been tempting.”
Engage with consumers
Not all startups can afford to open a pop-up or run a focus group, but that doesn’t mean they need to fly blindly. Weinstein says there are plenty of ways to solicit feedback on a budget – including asking friends and family. Although he cautions it is good to get advice from a diverse group of strangers in order to better understand what consumers truly think about a product.
“I always tell our friends and family who are giving us feedback … please be honest because that is the only way we are going to get better and we can improve,” he said.
Other low-cost strategies to gather consumer feedback that Weinstein recommends is marketing a product online and paying close attention to the reviews, or sampling a product in public space and asking people what they think.
“You shouldn’t be scared to test out the market and see what people think. You know, even before you have a finished, polished product,” he advises.
Go all in if you want it all
Another element of Rise’s early success is the commitment the founders made to the company early in the process.
“While we were trying to develop this, we all had one foot in and one foot out of our day jobs because it was scary to take that leap. But it wasn’t until we really, all three of us, went full-in and said we are committing to RISE … that is when everything really started to click,” he said.
He explained when entrepreneurs’ attention is divided between two jobs, they are more likely to let something slip through the cracks, miss an opportunity or make a costly mistake.
Rise is open to what the future holds
Rise’s approach to innovation has helped the young brand quickly gain loyal followers nationwide, and to ensure that it can meet their increasing demand for nitro coffee, the company is in the middle of its Series A fundraise.
And while Weinstein says he isn’t sure what the future will hold exactly, he says there is plenty of room additional growth and he and the other founders are keeping an open mind about how best to maximize the brand’s potential – either on their own or with partners.
“We are really just touching the surface” in terms of innovation potential and business development, he said, noting the team has their collective “head down” and is doing their best with the belief that if they focus on quality and business development “things will kind of fall into place.”
Weinstein added the company is not actively seeking an exit, but “if it makes sense to join forces with someone else who has the experience or has the different avenues that will help us grow in a way that we want to grow, then that would make sense.”