Like a Rockstar Engineer: How It Feels for a Food Company to Release a New Product

We're releasing a new condiment, an Indian-inspired ketchup. This is our sixth product and the first we've released in several months. It's delicious, we've worked hard on it, and we're excited to finally share it with the world. Upon receiving the final batch, a friend asked us how it felt to release a new food product. Somewhere between being a rockstar and an engineer... though not as cool as either.

More Soulful Than an Engineer

At my previous tech company the development team would release code every few weeks. After the company's first few releases, the engineers had the process down to a science. Cram for a few nights prior, rigorously QA and debug the code, prep the music for the release announcement. Things rarely went wrong and the celebrations only lasted twenty minutes before everyone was back to work. For an engineer, birthing new products into the wild is a primary essence of workplace existence - so the joy (or dispair) from a successful (or failed) launch is typically limited to the next release deadline.

Similarly, we rigorously tested our recipes and food combinations to assure our ketchup was a culinary masterwork. We'd stay up late cramming french fries into our mouths to assure quality and will be thrilled when this hits the market. However, because food is a much more sensuous experience than most computer code, it's easy to become really attached to our food products. A few of the subtle spices in our ketchup remind me of a childhood trip I had taken 25 years ago, and I find myself sneaking to off to the kitchen in the middle of the night to taste another spoonful of our samples. Though we are extremely diligent with our creation process, our products should ideally strike an emotional chord with our customers so we will commonly add an ingredient simply because it feels good.

We are much more emotionally tied into this release than an average engineer and will party like rockstars if it does well.

More Controlled Than a Rockstar

I used to be a (crappy) amateur musician. Whenever I'd share a new song with friends, it was typically preceded by a tremendous amount of anxiety. "Will people like this song? No, its too cheesy. People are gonna hate it. I'm a fraud." I've spoken with many other creatives who also experience this type of nervousness when releasing new material. As music and artwork are emotional outlets, a new release of material means exposing the world to a new part of your soul. If the people love it, it means elatedness, drug binges, and fast cars. If the people hate it, sorrow and despair.

Though we similarly poured our souls into the making of the ketchup, we feel more akin to corporate music sellouts than true rockstars. Instead of singing from the heart, we systematically made small iterations to our product after our rounds of focus groups. Oh, does our 18-35 year old demographic think it's too loud? Okay, we'll turn it down. Just like Jimi Hendrix... sigh. Our products are sold in mainstream chains like Whole Foods and Safeway, so we need to assure that our products are appropriate for the shoppers at these stores.

This isn't to say we won't be ecstatic if this does well or bummed if it does not - we will definitely trash some hotel rooms either way. Point is that the run-up to releasing a food product is equal parts standardized testing and poetic lyrics. When our new ketchup is released, you'll taste both.