Innovation from thin air & four little questions

Jonathan Yates continues the story of his own entrepreneurial journey and marvels at the impact on his startup of asking four little questions.

2nd November 2009 at 6:26 pm

After spending time with my mentor and deciding the concept I had was a good one, I felt relieved I’d at last shared my idea and received some very positive feedback. It can be very lonely when you’re the only person holding all the cards.

I had de-risked the opportunity for myself, my family and an independent mentor and now I had to set about creating a product and getting it to market to generate some revenue.

So the idea was to create a product in powder form which, when added to a refilled bottle of water, turned it into a healthy award winning alternative to soft drinks, squashes, vitamin drinks etc.

I wanted the world to become healthier by drinking more water everyday. A really simple idea. However I’m a salesman with a background of 12 years in IT and had no idea how to make a powdered soft drink in a sachet.

The first thing I did was apply to the government for a grant for researching an innovative idea (which is no longer available, I believe). There was an awful lot of paperwork involved but I wanted to make sure I was creating a product that appealed to the mass market.

I’d found that, through a national opinion poll, I could ask, for the princely sum of £1,500, 1,000 people four Yes/No questions.

So the government stumped up half the cash and I sowed in my half to book the questions on the next research round.

The questions were:

  1. Would you use a powdered flavoured drink to help you drink more water?
  2. Would a powdered drink with added vitamins be something you would buy to help you drink more water?
  3. Would you buy a powdered drink with added vitamins and a light refreshing flavor for a family member to help them drink more water?
  4. Do you refill ready to drink water bottles from the water cooler or the tap?

I can honestly say this was the best money I ever spent. The reams of research produced by the NOP report from these 4 little questions opened up avenues I thought impossible when I started out.

Quality research opens doors. Investors may believe you and invest in your emotions but they also require hard facts. The NOP poll gave me hard facts.

Armed with this data I was buoyed by the apparent need for my new undeveloped product. So instead of mucking about and spending ages learning how to be a technical food developer, I flew out to Geneva on EasyJet to an ingredients show to see if I could work out how to put together my new market ready product.

The first stand I went to I asked the question “I’m looking to develop a powdered vitamin and mineral drink that is sold in sachets and dissolves clear in water with low calories and no nasties in it, what do I need?” and the man at the desk gave me a lit of ingredients and where to get hold of them.

Really, truly that’s how the first formulation was developed. No three years at food technical college for me thank you very much. I just asked for some help and the guy gave it to me.

I honestly couldn’t believe my luck. He even wrote a proposed formulation on a piece of paper and wished me well. Sometimes it’s luck that helps us overcome difficult hurdles.

Back in the UK I contacted three companies, found through Business Link. I created a brief and asked each company to come up with a formulation that would satisfy my criteria at a reasonable price.

They did, I chose one and we worked on the formulation, taste and solubility for 3 months to get it just right before searching for a co-packer.

The essence of this blog is all about taking a chance backed up with real business sense and making sure those involved understand the research has been done and you can all move forward to the next step knowing that you’re on the right track.

I often look back at the research results from NOP and marvel at how far they got me.

Jonathan Yates

An accomplished athlete, Jonathan Yates was keen to discover a way of keeping properly hydrated. In training for a gruelling marathon he was struck with an idea and invented a product to add to refilled water bottles. Santeau was founded in his back bedroom and four years later he sold the business. His product is now stocked in major supermarkets. Jon's first book 'All Time Essentials For Entrepreneurs' was published in 2009.

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