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Guerilla Research Improves the Boba Guys' Taste

After our taste buds went haywire one summer night following a 10-hour taste-testing marathon, we turned to our customers.

Over the past few weeks, we have been working on a new formula for our main flavor, a traditional boba milk tea. Instead of working on the formula in our “lab” like we did prior to launch, we decided to bring the R&D process to the public.

When we were shaping our vision for Boba Guys, we always talked about interesting ways to engage our community. When we decided to go back and update our main flavor, we knew it was the perfect opportunity to exercise our vision for transparency while scaling the number of taste testers. After our taste buds went haywire one summer night following a 10-hour taste-testing marathon, we vowed to limit our daily milk tea intake.

Our approach to the taste tests were not at all meant to be grounded in empirical evidence. Each tasting session (or “boba flight,” if we felt a bit obnoxious) included anywhere from seven to 20 people, hardly enough for a statistically valid experiment. Since we both work in the consumer goods industry, we knew that focus groups and other research instruments can be misleading. But we did not want to over-think the tastings—they were simply our way of borrowing working taste buds.

Our goal was to make the tea flavor stronger. In the first week of public tastings, we used 10 types of tea. Everyone tasted each variant together and gave their thoughts. It was refreshing to hear what our customers had to say. Andrew, the business mind, was secretly hoping that the crowd would sway toward the cheaper teas, but as the afternoon drew to an end, we told them, “I guess our fans have expensive taste, because you all picked the most expensive tea!”

The results did not surprise us. We had also preferred the winning tea during previous tastings, but had always wondered if people could identify the quality of tea. Perhaps all black teas taste to the same to most people? Apparently, most testers could taste the difference. That was enough to convince us! The definitive results spared us from a week of caffeine shakes.

Next, we picked the top four teas and mixed each with various combinations of milk and syrup. The expensive teas were included and came out on top again. As we proceed into the final weeks of public testing, we wanted to summarize our learning thus far because it might be relevant to your business.

  • Testing new products with your customers is fun, but time consuming. It took a lot of preparation to make the tastings work, even when we made it casual.
  • Make sure you test the big ideas on key products. We could have tested our other flavors or ingredients, but we had to draw the line on what was most important.
  • Listen to your most loyal customers, because they are usually right. Many of our regulars came out to participate in the taste tests. They gave us great, candid feedback, which was invaluable. Had we picked the tea in a vacuum, we would have ended up with an inferior tea. Kudos to them for keeping us on the ball.
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The Boba Guys share their adventures in food enterprise every Monday.

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