The Van Vacter Factor

I would like to tell you more about how I used the RealOpen TM innovation management system in my own business. In addition to being a management consultant working for some of the best corporations and universities in the world, I also own several businesses. A few years back I started a gourmet kitchen gadget company. I started it because I wanted to combine my expertise in handheld surgical ergonomics with my love for gourmet food.

The company I started is called Van Vacter. Van Vacter was named after my grandfather, a Dutch immigrant. The idea was to create unique and special tools that allowed for improved ergonomics and to provide better ways to achieve food preparation.

In the process of developing the company, the first thing we had to do was to follow the RealOpen TM system and to create an innovation platform. Before you can begin to innovate, you have to know what it is you want to invent. So we began by looking at the market and the competitive environment, and we settled on a platform in the general area we wanted to target. Once we did that, we set up an online innovation submission portal allowing people to submit their innovations.

We then marketed the innovation portal to the micro-crowds, getting access to the experts on kitchen gadgets. We connected to gourmet chefs and other experts in the food preparation environment. Once we had a well-defined platform and an online innovation submission portal, we began the process of working on our own internal methods, using, first and foremost, Innovation Safaris. We spent a great deal of time with gourmet chefs in Napa, California. We traveled around the country to look at regional foods to identify emerging food trends. Once we’d completed our Innovation Safaris, we went back to our office and conduct “ideation” sessions. As a result, we were able to create some amazing products. Meanwhile, our innovation submission portal, which was providing pre-filtered innovations was filling up quickly – so fast in fact, we had to take it offline because we were getting so many great ideas we simply didn’t have the resources to develop them all.

Once we began to assimilate our external ideas coupled with our internal ideas, we used our fast-track methodology to move them forward or to forget them quickly. Once we passed the ideas through we were able to quickly develop the technologies. In fact, as a result of using “Project Xs,” in which we looked at competitive technologies, we actually created a company called “Hanz” for the purpose of being our phantom competitor. We developed competitive technologies, some of which, not surprisingly, ended up becoming part of our product portfolio.

As a result of using these various techniques – Project Xs, Frontline Innovation, Innovation Safaris and all of the other tools within our “Find” program, we were able to access hundreds of ideas and technologies in unbelievably short periods of time. Because we committed to “fast track” methodologies through our Forward or Forget program, we were able to move those with lightening speed. In fact, our largest competitor was a $500M a year company with dozens of people in its R&D department. On our side, there were only two of us – myself and an industrial designer – and in that period of time we launched a new successful product every month for the first 12 months. During that same time, our large competitor had only launched two products. So the system was working and working with mathematical certainty.

From the beginning of the process all the way to commercialization, we referenced the Webb Triangle to make sure there was a genuinely recognizable need, a problem or an opportunity we could take advantage of. We always looked at manufacturability in context of price sensitivity . And of course we had the tools in place to keep us connected to the market environment and competitive scenarios, so as we were moving products forward we were getting real time information to help us make intelligent decisions.

But even as we would move toward commercialization, we constantly tried to identify ways to layer new value. Oftentimes products were forgotten. We gave them a decent burial, grieved for a few hours, and then realized forgetting technologies at any stage of the process was fundamentally necessary in order to have the necessary resources to develop market-leading technologies.

Even as we moved towards commercialization, we also looked at ways to layer the value for launch. Our most popular product, for example – the 4-in-1 garlic press – was a tremendous product. For years, people have been trying to create a multifunctional garlic press. We did it! But not for just two functions, but for four functions. However, as we began to test it with our customers before launching it, we identified that it was hard to clean. So we immediately designed a cap that also served as a cleaner. Again, this resulted in a product that has been so popular it is sold by more than 800 retailers worldwide and is constantly in demand.

So – the process works. We didn’t use all the tools, and in the beginning, we used a different set of tools. As the company began to mature, we relied more on “hardwiring” the systems to our frontline people and creating ongoing ideation sessions and pasteboard programs. You’ll find when you use the RealOpen ™ system, you’ll customize it in a way where it becomes truly part of your organization. You’ll also find you constantly rearrange it, just like the icons on your desktop, to optimize usage.

Over the past year, we’ve begun to use other tools in the RealOpen™framework that we have used with our other clients over the years. We’re finding now that we’re looking to “float” innovations online and we have set up an innovation “digital command center” that allows us to manage our online reputation and access new ideas and to “float” ideas to potential buyers before we put them to development.

So as you can see, RealOpen ™is a system that is “custom designed” for your organization. Whether you are financial services company, a medical device company, a software supplier, a university, or a research organization, the bottom line is companies and their organizations are so unique they must have a configurable system that allows for a prescribed approach towards accessing, filtering, evaluating, developing, and commercializing ideas. I was excited to see that RealOpen ™worked as well on my kitchen gadget company as it has for micro-silicone implants and Class III medical devices.

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