In part 1 of this blog, I recounted how the idea for Thermo-Simple as a product came about. In this post, I'll illustrate how the path from idea to product can be less than straightforward.
Like any real life story, product development can have its ugly side and is a roller coaster ride not for the faint of heart. You can be certain of two things. The first is that whatever you think it will cost, you can be certain it will be more, double, triple or much worse. The second is that there will be highs and lows. My uncle gave me great advice many years ago, "never let yourself get too high, or too low" - you need to try to keep your emotions somewhat on an even keel to be able to get through such a process.
With my first prototype ready and most of my money spent, my employer set up a meeting with one of the largest refrigerated case manufacturers in the Industry. We met with the VP of sales and talked for maybe 5 minutes. He was blunt and basically said no way anyone would want to buy it. Ugh. That was definitely a brutal experience!
So I had sold my house, moved with my wife and baby to live with my mom, borrowed money from some of the most special people in my life and built a product - and I was being told that no one would buy it. Positive anticipation during the 4hr flight to that first meeting with my prototype in hand had made it feel like 30 minutes. But the flight home after the meeting the seemed like it took all day.
I remember the phone call to my wife before I got on the plane. She reminded me about how I started down this road with no idea if it would make money, but how I was certain it was a product that would provide value. So either this experienced VP was right and I was barking up the wrong tree - or maybe he was missing something and the idea was still right? It was a make or break moment. It was time to either stop pursuing the idea or change tactics and press on. Perhaps, since the concept was recognized by an end user, it might be better to sell to them instead of trying to sell to the case manufacturers?
A First Trial
My next meeting was set up with the large chain that prompted the idea when they had experienced a major failure. I brought the prototype to them and the corporate office agreed to a test at two locations in LA. The bar was set high at that point since it required building 150 devices, all by hand. Inevitably, there was a higher than expected failure rate and ultimately I would only have enough units for one store. I assembled a team of installers for the weekend - "The Dream Team" - and they definitely made things happen.
Immediately after we switched things on there were countless alarms - but the type of alarms that the product was intended to report! There were ice cream cases running above 10 degrees, meat cases above 43 degrees and so on - none of which had been caught with the previous thermometers. Overall, it had to be counted as a massive success. Except, of course, for the little matter of money - the executive who arranged the project never handled payment. But the positive we all experienced was how well the products had worked for the store.
The Long Road
After that initial trial success, I worked hard on weekends selling to small privately owned markets while also improving the product quality from prototype to finished product. Everything I had was now fully invested into this product, but I was happy that it was finally ready for larger scale production. The breakthrough eventually came in discussions with one of the largest and most successful retailers in the world where they really liked the concept of the device. But, of course, they wanted some changes. I called my engineer to tell him about the meeting. You can probably tell how that went. "I have good news and bad news. The good news is they really like the concept. The bad news is we need to develop a new device." After a very positive meeting I felt both really excited, but at the same time really distraught.
This is actually the point in the story where Refrigeration Innovation was formed, a team assembled, additional funding raised and another round of product development began. With this new version - dubbed Thermo-Simple 2 - we had incorporated features and functions that had never been seen before. The most important new feature was the multi-dimensional color alerting approach. The Thermo-Simple 2 would be the worlds first thermometer capable of "glowing" a color based on a refrigeration condition. The development sample was approved at the corporate office to be installed in a dozen cases. The installation went smoothly and I remember nervously asking the location manager about what he thought. His response was pure gold - "My only problem is that I don't have them in all my cases!"
The International Product
Thermo-Simple 2 was proven, and became a success. Fast forward to 2018 and more than 60,000 Thermo-Simple devices have been manufactured, shipped and installed in more than 24 different countries around the world.
In 2018, it is becoming more evident that the days of the legacy analog thermometer are coming to an end as Thermo-Simple is being evaluated and endorsed by world wide retailers and food service providers at a rapid pace. And we are launching SensorSimple, a new generation of wireless sensors based on IoT technology to improve reach, flexibility and effective monitoring. This was a great question posed by one of our recent customers, "If a thermometer can't tell you where there is a problem, why use it?" Thermo-Simple... Temperature measurement and alerting - Evolved.
Part of our story of course is not just the technology of the thermometer, the impact it can have on food waste and commercial loss. The team at RI have put together an ebook "Five Ways to Eliminate Refrigeration Food Loss" that tries to address some of the lessons we have learned along the way. Please use the link below to download this ebook.