Posted by: rongeri | October 12, 2009

The Challenge of Changing Times–Part VI

VI.       Two Examples of  Entrepreneurial Product Innovation

 A.        Woolen Underwear[i]:                                          

 An example that illuminates the concept of entrepreneurial marketing action is provided by Joseph B. Lassiter, III, in the following striking but true case involving the sale of “woolen underwear”:

“A young entrepreneur in New Zealand named Jeremy Moon created a company called Icebreaker. Everybody knows that wool underwear is terrible: it’s itchy, it smells bad, it gets oily—just a whole bunch of problems. So Jeremy Moon runs across a pair of wool underwear made not out of everyday sheep’s wool, but from the merino sheep, whose long, fine wool is used for suits and ties at the high end of the market. He sees that a product can be created that’s light, not itchy, and captures no odor. Of his first $200,000 in seed financing, he spends a $100,000 creating a “brand blueprint,” an architecture for what the brand needs to look like some day to exploit this advantage in natural fiber. He then thinks “backward” to identify what he can do to get started building a global brand. Again, he sees the technology, what’s available from the wool. He understands what outdoor athletic people or design-conscious people might want. He makes assumptions about how these are going to fit together over time, and in the end, he turns that strand of wool into the tapestry of a brand. You see that way of realizing the core product-customer link, and then going out and building an alliance with merino suppliers, so that he’s got a steady supply of a rare product, and with machine providers so that the product can be spun and worked into outdoor gear. He builds up a worldwide supply chain by recruiting people who want to gamble that there is a customer need not being met by polyester.”[ii]


A profile of John Osher observed that his SpinBrush toothbrush solved the problem created by his SpinPop lollipop. SpinBrush was the first low-cost, mass-marketed mechanical toothbrush.[iii] Though electric toothbrushes had been around for many years, the price was about $80. Osher’s team decided to focus on “trying to design up from 80 cents, while everybody else was trying to design down from $79.[iv][v].  Here is the story in a nutshell:

 “Tom Coleman and Bill Schlotter, two postal delivery men, were inspired on Halloween night 1987. They saw a kid carrying one of those bright, green=glowing cyalume light sticks. What else could these light sticks be used for? Have you considered glowing candy? If you mount a lollipop on top of one of those sticks, the light would sine through the candy, creating a weird and fun effect. Coleman and Schlotter sold their Glow Pop to Cap Candy. Their next innovation was an even bigger hit. Licking a lollipop is so much work. To make that job easier, they developed the Spin Pop, a motorized lollipop holder that spins the candy around to make it ever so much easier to lick. Spin Pop was a wild success, the first hit candy holder since the Pez dispenser Yet, John Osher, who headed Cap Candy, felt that the Spin Pop had not even hit its full potential. After Hasbro acquired Cap Candy, Osher left to look for new problems that the simple spinner motor might lick…..Why not create a $5 electric brush using the Spin Pop. The result was the Spinbrush…In a little under four years, Osher and his team turned a $1.5 million investment into a $475 million payout when Proctor & Gamble bought them out.”[vi]



[i]           See Icebreaker new releases (“Launched in 1994, Icebreaker was the first company in the world to develop a merino wool layering system for the outdoors. It was also the first outdoor apparel company in the world to source merino direct from growers, a system it began in 1997. There are now 10 distinct pure merino fabrics in the Icebreaker system, covering underwear, mid layer, and outerwear. Icebreaker is sold in nearly 2000 stores in 24 countries throughout Europe, Asia, Australasia and North America. Based in Wellington, New Zealand, Icebreaker uses only pure merino hand-picked from 120 high country stations in the country’s Southern Alps to create edgy outdoor clothing that combines nature’s work with human technology and design “) See also and (“Compared to traditional wool, the Merino fibre is a fraction of the diameter which is one of the reasons why Icebreaker doesn’t itch. The large scales on traditional wool act like barbs against your skin. Merino feels like silk. Outstanding Warmth: Icebreaker is so warm because of the millions of tiny air pockets in the fabric, which trap air and lock in body heat. Temperature Regulation: Your Icebreaker can warm and cool your body by absorbing and releasing moisture. Breathable: With Icebreaker the fibres breathe as well as the fabric, keeping you dry and comfortable. Icebreaker pulls moisture away from your body. No Odour: The natural Anti-Microbial properties of Icebreaker mean an odor free undergarment. Good for you and for those around you! Warm When Wet: Damp or wet, it still insulates, restricting loss of body heat at vital times. Bio Electrical Harmony: In tune with your body’s bioelectrical fields, so no static cling.”)


[ii]           Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge, “Turning High Potential into Real Reward”, interview with Joseph B. Lassiter, III.


[iii]          Toys and Spinning Brushes: How John Osher Found His Way To Profits”, November 19, 2003, Knowledge@Wharton


[v]           Id.


[vi]          “Einstein You’re Not—and don’t Have to Be”, Harvard Business School, Working Knowledge, November 3, 2003. ttp://

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