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Learning Through Risk

Rachael Schwartz, General Manager at Keurig Connect

— March 9, 2017 — Business
Trend Hunter spoke with Rachael Swartz, the General Manager at Keurig Connect, about how to spark innovation, the draws of diversity, celebrating failure, and how looking outside of one’s industry can lead to better results.

What can you tell us about your role at Keurig?

I have been at Keurig for six years now in the innovation group, which really focuses on building new businesses within Keurig that can create new opportunities for the company. Over the past two years I’ve devoted my attention to my role as the General Manager for Keurig Connect, which is a connected brewer platform that we’re currently building.

How does your team generate great ideas? Do you have certain rituals to make creativity happen?

We use a lot of different sources for ideas. Sometimes we get them from executives or board members, and a lot of the time we’re inspired by competitive products that we see. We go to the Houseware Show and CES annually as well, which helps us to gage what else is available in the marketplace, what we can improve on, and what kinds of technology we can use to enhance our brewers. Often, our suppliers and small companies will come to us with ideas too.

What are some barriers to innovation? How do you get around them?

There’s a lot of ideas out there, and sometimes it’s difficult to figure out what exactly you should be focusing on. It takes time to evaluate and research each idea to find out which is the most valuable. It’s a challenge to make those cuts and identify which ideas or products are really worth giving a lot of time to.

Has there ever been an instance where another industry has influenced an innovation at your company?

We’re constantly looking at all connected products to get a full understanding of how to bring the best experience possible to consumers, and what kind of value we can provide to the company from that. Although there’s not many connected brewers available specifically right now, we find that looking at different products that make use of similar technology is really helpful in deciding where to take innovations of our own.

What are some examples of things you can do to create a culture of innovation?

We make sure to celebrate failure. There’s a whole mantra that says if you don’t have failures, then you haven’t pushed yourself far along enough on the spectrum of innovation. So every time we have a project that we’ve decided to not move along with, we have a party to celebrate what we’ve learned from it and how it will make us stronger as a company. Due to this, we see this type of failure as a success, in that we managed to bring it to a certain point that enabled us to learn. This also encourages people to really push the boundaries of innovation.

In addition, we’re always encouraging people to go to innovation conferences, learn from different industries, and present their findings to the rest of the team. We then discuss these findings as a group so that we’re all able to learn and grow stronger together.

What do you think your industry will look like in 10 years?

I think small kitchen appliances will be a lot smarter and more intuitive in the future. They’ll able to collect data on who an individual is and how they behave so that the whole customer experience is much more seamless. I also think they will follow European designs, in that they’ll be sleeker, make use of higher end materials, and will be more elegant looking overall. This will likely be the case for products even on the lower end of the price point.

By what means does your brand explore firsthand consumer experiences?

Putting ourselves in the shoes of consumers is a key part to all of our new product development. We do a lot of work with consumers to ensure that what we’re developing is truly focused on those that we’re looking to appeal to. We look at how they behave, how they use products that are similar, and do other qualitative work to make sure that what we’re developing really addresses their needs.

What’s an example of a successful innovation and what did you learn from it?

Our most recent success was the slimmer version of our K200 series of brewers. This version has a smaller water reservoir that’s at the back of the brewer rather than at the side. The launch of this product showed us that the width of the brewer is a critical aspect when it comes to consumer satisfaction, as it frees up counter space. This is something that we’ve learned to apply to our future brewers as a result.

To what extent do the personal experiences of those on your team impact your innovation strategies?

We have a diverse team of people who come from different industries and backgrounds, so occasionally they’ll provide us with ideas that might not normally come up within our industry. One of our newest team members has a lot of knowledge on voice activation, and that’s helped us to think of how we can apply it to our own products. Another person on our team used to work for Motorola, and he supplies us with a lot of ideas concerning user interfaces.