Ask An Entrepreneur: How To Innovate In A Saturated Market?

Screen Shot 2015-04-02 at 9.57.00 AMAnswer provided by: Nell Waters, Founder of SOAK, an urban bathhouse.

Past Employment: Owner, Whole Body Tonic

Featured Recently in: FastCompany — “This Anti-Spa Is Built Inside Shipping Containers




For over a decade I’ve worked in health and wellness, providing therapeutic solutions to people who suffer serious burnout or injuries. My former business, Whole Body Tonic (2005-2014,) was a staple in ‘curative’ care in San Francisco for people across the entire spectrum of the city, and was the recipient of many awards. I closed that chapter of my professional life to embark on a more ambitious project – to bring back the culture of ‘urban baths’. I wanted to create a place that nurtures creative potential because when people unplug and clear their head, they foster new insights and ideas. Imagine a small steel loft, with roof-top deck, wood sauna, and high-efficiency fixtures. Many treat SOAK as a disrupter in the spa industry. At SOAK, the idea is retrofitted shipping containers that house spa amenities in an ecological and design-driven way.

I come from a family of artists and have a creative background, so when I think about innovating in a saturated market, the beginning point for me is always one of introducing something that is beautiful and simple in its design. At SOAK, the engineering concepts are pioneering but the principles behind them are straightforward. We work with the resources that are already there. In our case, sun (mounted PV cels supply all the energy that SOAK needs to operate), and filtered rainwater catchment. I know, drought makes rainwater use harder to conceive but it’s resource-conscious and that’s a meaningful proof point for our company.

Part of my driving ethos in the beginning was how can we do ‘x’ and make it into ‘y’. In this case, how can we be less opulent and more in line with environmental needs of the future; without sacrificing the customer experience. It definitely helps to be values-driven. This has always kept me on course and allowed me to fully understand the DNA of my company and in turn held me to my vision.

The next place I begin when thinking about innovating in a saturated market is delivering an experience that is artful and authentic. I’m always inspired by what’s not available to me, so I’m usually working against the grain. If I see what exists already, I usually think about all the ways it could be better and improve upon itself. In my process, what is already here is a great starting point for me to think, tinker, and push the envelope on how to make that thing richer and at the same time uncomplicated. Depending on your market, I prefer limiting the services offered. Every service you add is an exponential growth in quality control that must be managed well. But one, or two, or even three things can and should be executed with impeccable standards. This should yield a loyal customer base and enable growth that is mindful and sustainable.

As entrepreneurs, we are the cowboys/cowgirls that our grandchildren will talk about, the innovators and pioneers of new territories. It’s the wild wild west out here. Be different and back that up with a sound business model and a superior product. That should help you take the lead.

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