Finding Innovation In Declining Categories with Kodiak Cakes Owners Joel Clark and Cameron Smith


Passion and Transparency Produce a Culture of Innovation

Are you looking for innovation in the wrong place? Our guests on Inside LaunchStreet, Joel Clark and Cameron Smith, owners of the knocking it out of the park food brand Kodiak Cakes, think we might be. In fact, they grew Kodiak from a boutique to a $100 million business. The key? They look at categories in decline as an opportunity versus chasing high growth areas that we think we want to jump into. Definitely a mindshift and there’s proof to back it up. We talk about managing doubt from others and in yourself. We even validate some of your gut decisions when we talk about how decisions that don’t have data are often the times you see the trends and patterns before someone has the chance to turn them into data. Joel and Cameron also share how they built a culture of innovation on passion and transparency.


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Key Takeaways:

[2:23] You might be surprised that Joel has a phobia of bears. He stays awake all night while camping. Cameron also shares a fear of animals. He grew a love for Nebraska sports selling pop on Saturdays.

[5:10] Joel and Cameron talk about how Kodiak Cakes first got started. Joel started selling Kodiak cakes in brown paper bags out of his little red wagon as an eight-year-old.

[7:14] Why did Joel and Cameron go into a category that was rapidly declining? Listen in as they talk about what motivated them to continue.

[10:58] Find out what changed after Joel and Cameron appeared on Shark Tank.

[13:22] Joel and Cameron believe that the perfect opportunity to bring people back into the category is during a decline. How did they convince stores to get their product on the shelves?

[17:24] Tamara was recently in the grocery store and was overwhelmed at the choices in the breakfast aisle. She asked Joel and Cameron how do you stand out to the customers? Cameron talks about how the protein powder pancake was an unanticipated explosion. He talks about the doubters and non-believers. He advises listeners to go with your gut and believe it’s going to work.

[22:08] Joel shares an experience about when they first started out. Some people doubted buyers would pay the extra money for the product. As entrepreneurs, you have to make irrational decisions and act on those. Tamara shares that lots of times, the trends are ahead of the data.

[26:20] Kodiak Cakes has experienced rapid growth since appearing on Shark Tank. How are Joel and Cameron building their culture so that they’re innovative and continue to grow?

[28:50] Kodiak Cakes believes transparency is key so that all employees feel free to innovate and create. Tamara reiterates that if the employees feel invested, the passion to innovate is huge.

[33:42] Kodiak Cakes is super excited that they are expanding their baking products. Look for various microwave products in a cup. They are looking for categories that need innovation, and need healthier options. Tamara reminds listeners of the importance of looking for products that need innovation and finding the gap.

[37:14] What are the downsides and risk of investing in declining categories?

[38:34] How do you decrease the adoption curve? Social media can help drive awareness and trial.

[40:38] Connect with Joel and Cameron at Kodiak Cakes and on Instagram.

[41:10] Joel reminds listeners that sometimes things take time. A lot more time than you think. Success requires patience and perseverance. Cameron tells listeners that you must have confidence in yourself. His biggest ‘aha’ is that you have to believe in yourself.

[45:06] Tamara really loved the part about leading with transparency. It’s key to getting ownership within the team. She invites listeners to go to the Inside Launchshtreet Blog, watch a video and implement one thing that will help build your innovative culture.


Mentioned In This Episode:

Kodiak Cakes Homepage