Comet Coffee – Innovation Matrix Case Study

Note: This is part of a series of posts discussing The Innovation Matrix. See this post for a description of the full model and what can be done with it.

This morning I gave a talk on The Innovation Matrix up in Mackay. It was great to see that the ideas in it resonated with people up there, even though the business environment there is a bit different from many of the other places that I work.

After the talk, I dropped by Comet Coffee to have a coffee and a chat with owner Jane Turner, who I met at the talk. She started Comet about a year ago. As we talked about what she’s done in that time, I realised that Comet Coffee makes a pretty interesting case study of how firms move through The Innovation Matrix.

As a startup, Comet Coffee began as an Accidental Innovator. They were founded with two initial innovations, but they did not have any kind of systematic innovation processes in place.

Their first innovation was in bringing high quality coffee to Mackay. This was probably viewed as a bit risky – was there enough of a market? Schumpeter talks about opening up a new market as a form of innovation, and this is a good example. The second innovation was a new service – starting their day at 5:30, a time when not much else was open in Mackay.

And both ideas worked.

Since then, Jane and company have done a great job of developing a culture of experimentation, combined with a good sense of what their customers value. The outcome has been a deepening of the relationships they have with their core customers, along with good levels of organic growth.

One example of experimenting is their installation of airplane seats. Jane said that when they first put them in, people didn’t take to the idea immediately. But soon, the seats became popular as a comfortable place to sit while you wait for your coffee. They’ve continued to test ideas too – not all of them work, but enough do to continue to improve the experience.

They’ve listened to customers by introducing a series of environmental initiatives, including serving all of their coffee in biodegradable cups.

As I left today, I asked Jane where she thought Comet Coffee fit on The Innovation Matrix. She said that they were probably just moving into the Fit for Purpose category. That’s exactly what I had been thinking.

The culture of experimenting has led to a more explicit embrace of innovation as a core culture (even though they don’t necessarily think of it as “innovation”) – indicating an increasing Innovation Commitment. But while this has happened, they have maintained their reasonably high level of Innovation Competence.

Comet Coffee is an interesting case study, which illustrates some key points:

  • Their evolution follows a desirable path. This is pretty much the ideal path for a startup to follow. Some startups get caught up in putting business processes in place that end up killing the innovative spirit that was there at the beginning. The route that Comet Coffee has followed is better. They have increased both their Innovation Commitment and their Innovation Competence in the year that they have been operating. This bodes well for the future.
  • Anyone can innovate. A coffee shop is not a high tech venture – they’re not inventing new to the world technology. And yet, Comet Coffee introduced a number of new ideas successfully. They developed a novel value proposition within their environment – and that’s innovative. If they can do this, so can you.
  • Many Fit for Purpose innovators are not high profile. I heard about another great thing today, which is the Tropical Innovation Awards. Check out their website – they’re doing really interesting work. Many of their award winners are also in unglamorous industries. One of the key messages with The Innovation Matrix is that you can be an effective innovator without being Apple or Google. Comet Coffee and the firms involved in the Tropical Innovation Awards are great examples of this.

    This is why the Fit for Purpose category is so important. If you are not aiming to differentiate yourself based primarily on innovation, this is a reasonable place to be. As long your innovation supports your primary source of differentiation, you can be successful without having to be a World Class Innovator.

All in all, I had a very enjoyable trip up to Mackay. I learned a lot, met some great people, and heard some interesting stories. Next time I’m up that way, I’m looking forward to seeing what Comet Coffee will come up with next.

Student and teacher of innovation - University of Queensland Business School - links to academic papers, twitter, and so on can be found here.

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