The Birth of an Idea
Living in Australia, Kim and Jason Graham-Nye found the most innovative, sustainable and remarkable high-technology product they could imagine. No, not teleportation, or even the next generation iPad. They were using baby diapers they could safely flush down the toilet. As new parents, they were aware of the environmental impact of disposable diapers, and the inconvenience of cloth. Flushable diapers would clearly be a big deal. So the Graham-Nyes licensed global rights to the product from the inventor in Tasmania and set off on their mission of helping other parents care for the environment without the mess of cloth diapers. Their deal excluded the Australia and New Zealand markets, so they moved to environmentally friendly Portland Oregon, set up gDiapers (www.gDiapers.com), and prepared for success.
But new ventures can prove difficult offspring, and what the Graham-Nyes met instead was surprise. As soon as they launched they began to learn more about the US plumbing system than you or I might care to know. Specifications in the U.S. are less robust than those in Australia, raising a question about whether the innovative disposable interior material would indeed be flushable outside its native pipes. This first surprise caused the Graham-Nyes to conduct broad tests and meet with experts in the area. Through the process, they learned that not only would their product pass the US plumbing, it was also eligible to be certified as 100% biodegradable. The new information provided them an added benefit to sell to ecologically minded parents and help them bring on retail partners as well.
Once they started selling, their second surprise was the emergence of a group of super users – die hard customers – loyal champions of their product that would come to be known as gMums. Attentive to their children, pragmatic about diapers and dying to find a way to avoid plastic disposables, gMums went online without encouragement, compensation or even permission from the Graham-Nyes and began promoting the product. Once the community started, these parents would also actively report stock outs back to the Graham-Nyes, provide other parents details about the user experience, and even attend events wherever the Graham-Nyes would travel. Today the company has 35,000 active Facebook fans and 6,000 gMums.
The emergence of gMums drove a third big surprise. Online sales. The Graham-Nyes had devoted much of their attention to selling their product through retail stores. Their efforts produced agreements with strong outlets like Babies R Us, and Whole Foods (a high end grocery store offering natural and organic products). But direct internet sales make up the majority of their revenue, and with better margins than through retail. This positive financial surprise has generated more surprise in how they set up their website, as well as how they manage inventory and distribution.
Any of us with children know that they are born with their own personalities – sometimes very strong ones – and gDiapers is no exception. As the firm is a reflection of its founders who ran the first 5 years out of their house with new babies underfoot, the firm today provides employees with onsite daycare, a family atmosphere, and a statement of ‘fair dinkum’ on their website. For those of you not from Australia, this is a colloquialism that reflects authenticity – being genuine in your dealings with others. Indeed, the Graham-Nyes have turned down investors that do not share their environmental and family perspective, and for similar reasons have elected not distribute gDiapers through big box retailers.
The only thing clear about what lies ahead for gDiapers is more surprise. On the agenda are possibilities that include expanding beyond the the UK (www.gNappies.co.uk), considering how they might deal with bigger retail chains, and growing into cloth diapers. With each step, uncertainties are sure to arise. As they do, the Graham-Nyes will continue to be challenged to view each as the basis of a new opportunity, rather than simply as speed bumps and headaches opposing a fixed plan.
What has surprised you today?
Publication: British Airways Business Life
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