I spent last week in the Bay Area. I enjoyed the 70 degree weather, amazing food and wine (I’ve changed…), presented a “Brown Bag Lunch” on Dashfire to Stanford GSB students, and had awesome meetings with partners, investors, and friends. In many of my conversations , we discussed the concept of pivoting or the ability for a company to quickly change direction upon recognizing that an idea or product was not working. It reminded me of one of my favorite posts written by a close friend of mine (and founder of great company called Moogi) from Georgetown in December of 2008. The article was ahead of its time and is extremely relevant to new and lean startups. Enjoy!
Baking Without An Oven
December 19, 2008
Heat-up a charcoal grill as you normally would if you were grilling burgers. Let it sit to ripen the fire. Set aside a cast-iron skillet, deep and wide enough to hold a 12 inch cake-pan.
Vegetable oil, sugar, vanilla extract, all purpose flower, baking flower, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, a bunch of carrots (grated), and pecans – hold the Pecans. I hate nuts in cake. In a large bowl, combine and mix the ingredients, then pour the batter into the lightly oiled cake-pan. Now comes the tricky part. Carefully set the cake-pan in which the batter is contained, at the bottom of the cast-iron skillet. Carry the cast-iron skillet to the grill. Invert the cast-iron lid then use it to cover the skillet. Finally slide the covered skillet over the grill. Use a large metal cook-spoon or whatever you have at your disposal to scoop half of the well lit coal over the cast-iron lid until it’s completely covered. Now step-back and don’t touch anything for 45 minutes. This, my friends, is how you bake without an oven. I learned this when I was ten. Why? Apparently ovens were scarce in the slums of Dakar and therefore, you make due with what you have.
In the hyper consumerist society that is America, old-fashion ingenuity has been completely erased and instead replaced with settling for upgrades. Has entrepreneurship in America, a country known for incubating groundbreaking ideas, matured to the utmost level that what once was must once again be reborn and masked as innovation? Kindly indulge me some level of freedom to reflect on the absence of innovation in the western world, in spite of the fact that there are indeed phenomenal ideas being born every day. This is of course evident in this and last year’s roster of Nobel laureates and even in Inc.’s 500, published in September. But those are not the entrepreneurial solutions to which I refer.
An oven, for example, is such a fundamental element of cooking that even at ten I knew that a freshly mixed cake batter plus an oven, equals goodness. Why? Because twentieth and twenty first century consumer branding forced us to associate the word, with the technology. There’s nothing wrong with that, except for the fact that every attempt at reinventing the device results in yet another thirty-by-thirty inch box, maybe covered in stainless steel and glass, with numbers scrolling all over it. So, are the scrolling numbers the latest innovation or is it the marriage of stainless steel, glass and touch-screens? The same could be said of the automotive industry. Their insistence that cars must be fueled by gas and only gas, and refusal to acknowledge and act on the need for innovation in the direction of alternative sources of fuel drove the industry towards its current predicament. The television industry presents an interesting case of its own, one that I may have to spend another issue discussing. The industry’s refusal to acknowledge the presence of alternative, consumer driven revenue strategies outside of their beloved 30 second commercial revenue slots left networks in frenzy when TiVO and DVR makers entered the market. Now, I’d argue that TV viewers with DVRs in their residence never actually watch TV commercials (Duh). Yes, networks are diversifying towards the web but come-on, no one has figured-out that space (sorry Hulu, you’re an awesome platform but please rebut if you care about this lowly constituent).
I learned the easy way, and pretty quickly, that Kitchen Aids are not the only devices capable of baking. Automakers are learning the hard way that gas is not the only source of fuel for their cars and of course, DVR makers and now the web keeps teaching broadcast and cable networks that the 30 second commercial revenue model is slowly becoming an endangered species. My point is simple: The coattails of past innovators, worn and torn, are no longer strong enough to sustain the weight of so many free loaders. Don’t go baking a cake on your charcoal grill on my account. But take a second to look and digest what’s around you. At any and every moment, a new idea can be born. Evolution can be injected into dated ideas, rather than simply retooled and repackaged. Act on your desire to create, even if it is as minute as converting a cardboard box into a spatula in order to flip pancakes. Don’t just be satisfied with the identities branded on ideas. Maybe then you too will find a hot, freshly baked carrot cake waiting for you in an old cast-iron skillet. Until next time, experiences, thoughts and ideas are always welcome…