The Mint Blog
On Monday we attempted a quiet launch for Boomf, our new Instagram marshmallow business. It went round the world in a flash:
"Boomf's Marshmallows Give New Meaning to Instagramming Your Food" - ABC News
"It takes an unusual company to create such an unusual product, so it's no surprise Mint Digital is the brain behind this operation." - CNet
Instagrams, for all the things they are, are decidedly not one other thing: edible. And that's largely because Instagrams are not, strictly speaking, things.
Whenever Mint has a gap in our client work, we build and launch self-funded products. That's not uncommon amongst digital agencies. What is perhaps uncommon is our persistence. In eight years, we've launched eleven would-be businesses. Many were succailures, to use a word coined by Mills at USTWO, another London agency with a track record in this area. Succailures are great for learning, valuable in terms of PR, energizing for the agency... but ultimately failures as businesses.
Currently we are working on about 10 ideas simultaneously. A radically devolved structure maximizes the number of experiments we can launch.
Then, over the last two years, something wonderful happened. We hit upon an unmitigated success. StickyGram, our Instagram magnet printing service, sold over a million magnets to 90 countries and then was bought by PhotoBox in June (for an undisclosed sum that I wish I could tell you)
Prototypes sound good: they suggest innovation and flexibility, without the cost of setting anything in stone.
As a digital innovation agency, we’ve built a good few prototypes for our clients. Alas, these prototypes have been some of our least satisfying projects.
Yes, we've been inspired by the initial vision. Yes, we’ve worked hard to make the client happy. Yes, we’ve gone the extra mile to delight. And yet, and yet... something has never quite clicked.
What goes wrong?
Well, believe it or not, Mint has them fixed! And the solution came from an unlikely direction, meaning it took us a while to realise we had a solution.
With no go-live date, difficult decisions get delayed.
There are bigger ambitions for a prototype than for a normal project. Freed from the constraints of shipping code, everyone hopes to create something game-changing. Extra features get added as the team grasp towards that big ambition.
Lack of Focus
Not wanting to blame the client, but... usually there’s no one at the client firm who is totally focused on the prototype. A prototype is often a bit of a hobby, somewhere down the to-do list.
Good digital products are often simple ideas kept sharp by hard design decisions. Prototypes pull in the opposite direction.
Robert Peston recently discussed how to get businesses borrowing more. He says the problem for banks is:
“businesses they deem to be creditworthy simply don't want to borrow right now.”
The view from this small business is rather different.
Mint is small, fast-growing digital product development company. In eight years, we’ve gone from 2 people to 35. With access to a bank loan, we would have grown more quickly, hired more people and reduced the risk that a cashflow hiccup could capsize us.
At several points in our history we’ve gone round the banks, looking for a loan. We’ve tried them all: from the high street names to specialists like Coutts and Silicon Valley Bank.
We have always been turned down.