The Woeful Adventure of Building "THE" Burrito Kickstand
When I was in college I joined this certificate program based on "Product Innovation." Through a series of classes, everyone involved was given a hearty skillset encompassing art, engineering, and business which would help them become good at making things.
While the program was here and there and I came out of it with basically zero knowledge to even the first principles of Engineering (I was already an art/biz guy), I did find myself working on something mildly fun.
The Burrito Kickstand.
The burrito kickstand had a clear goal: reduce the anxiety of putting down a burrito.
Burritos are huge. And they're hard to eat. Sometimes they take two hands. Yet, every burrito eater knows that anxiety of putting it down in fear their precious cargo will begin to unravel. We've all been there, especially at Chipotle. We take our heaping burrito and in an effort to free our hands of this chore, we aim with precision for the edge of the basket to ensure the burrito not only stays together but also keeps in the ingredients in our freight ship.
Usually, though, it doesn't go so well.
This is what I set out to solve.
The journey began with a drawing as like any modern day Picasso would tackle a new project.
At this point, I was still in the Product Innovation program. It seemed silly, but I was having fun and I got to use the program as a scapegoat for my dumb project.
Soon, I moved onto prototyping. Luckily, there was a 7-11 next door and I was able to acquire some of the finest resources for free.
With a little help from my professor, I pivoted the design and I came out with the first prototype of the burrito kickstand.
Things were looking and feeling good.
At this point, I did mild testing and a lot of customer interviews. Like any crazy man, I hopped around my campus, the local Chipotle and the local Qdoba and talked to people as they ate their burritos.
I asked them why they order burritos, what they like about the experience, what they would change etc.
Eventually, I would present them with my 7-11 paper cup prototype and get feedback. Through this process, I legitimately interviewed almost 50 people. I was pretty serious about making it at this point. I was having a lot of fun too. Innovation is easy when you have no bills to pay.
Alongside my escapades in the burrito joint dining halls, I also found myself evaluating the market for the burrito kickstand. Am I selling to burrito joints? Or am I selling directly to customers?
I determined the viability of this most fit for burrito joints. So I intended to create my next prototype in their name. I actually ended up meeting with a Regional Manager of Chipotle and he shared that one their greatest losses (beyond stolen napkins and hot sauce) was the red baskets getting thrown away.
I didn't think the Burrito Kickstand was going to solve that, but it was cool to know.
Here are some photos I used to map out where the BKS (burrito kickstand) could be stored and how I was measuring up the competition (the flimsy red basket).
Here were my considerations when making the next prototype:
- Stackability: the BKS had to be economical in its storage.
- Ability to hold: it had to actually work
- Low price at scale: has to be cheap to supply every restaurant
- One piece: more than one piece is just complicated
- Sanitation: has to have a sense of cleanliness
- Cleaning: Easy to clean
- Can't melt in washer: likely source of cleaning
From here, I built out my final prototype for the class which was cardboard. A lot of exciting stuff happened at this point, so I've put together a slideshow.
Included are design, iteration, painting, and presentation.
Most importantly, IT WORKED!
At this point, the class was over. I wasn't done, though. I had a semester left of college and endless energy, so I took it to the next level and found myself printing this damn thing on a 3D printer.
I had a lot of fun in our lab that final semester. I printed all sorts of things but most importantly, a final prototype for the Burrito Kickstand.
Here are two versions I printed. One with a bottom and one without.
I played around with this design for a while, talked to more people and realized it kind of sucked. I spoke with a professional 3D Designer and together he helped me through CAD to get out the next iteration.
And when I say we worked together, I used Snapchat to draw little measurements on what I wanted. Here is that design process.
Eventually, I came out with this final design that worked pretty well.
It was at this point I thought I truly had the secret sauce. It was cheap, one piece, stackable, could be made out of anything and WORKED!
I started pitching burrito joints all about. I scraped emails and used LinkedIn to contact executives of Chipotle and Qdoba. After a lot of persistence I got through to some executives at Chipotle. Eventually, one of them shared with me that Steve Ells, the CEO and Founder of Chipotle has a pretty absurd obsession with his flimsy red baskets and intends to never use anything else.
I was shut down. Despite Chipotle being in the midst of their whole big sanitary scare, there was no leverage to try a new branding tactic.
Unfortunately, Qdoba was impossible to get in contact with even though they already hosted a variety of weird things, specifically the Taco Stand, to hold tacos.
I got creative and determined if these guys didn't want the BKS, I would sell the BKS to the guys that sold them the flimsy red basket.
A quick trip to Chipotle and I had my answer.
Tablecraft Product Company in GURNEE ILLINOIS!
I got back to email scraping and LinkedIn. I reached out to about 10 salesmen and eventually made contact and was passed along to the VP of Product.
I didn't know what I was doing at all. I didn't want them to jack my cool idea, either. I consulted with a few local hardware entrepreneurs in Richmond, Virginia and found myself in the hands of a Non-Disclose Agreement (NDA) and advice on how to file a provisional patent.
So there I was, spending my weekend fixing up my NDA and filing a provisional patent.
Come the following week, it was game time. I had the call with the VP of Product. I was pretty nervous, so even though I was just a phone call, I still put on a blazer to feel prepared.
I pitched. We chatted. I was super nervous. Probably stuttered at least a little.
By the end, my friends at Tablecraft decided to take it to Consumer Testing. I sent over my CAD Files and they took care of the rest.
A few months went by and I got the news.
The product was not doing well in consumer testing. People didn't know what to do with it.
Bummed out, I had to move on.
By this point, I was packing my bags and preparing for my big move across the country to San Francisco. I didn't have much bandwidth but it hit me.
Putting down the burrito isn't the root of the problem. The tortilla is the problem.
Despite a packed up house, I aimed to take on last jab at the burrito problem.
While I still believed in the burrito kickstand, I began to see it as more of a side meal than the main course. The tortilla was the main course.
With hair pins, scissors and a bag of the finest tortillas, I put together the unnamed Tortilla innovation.
The root problem of burritos falling apart is that the ingredients are laid horizontally and leave no more than an inch to fold the edges of the tortilla. That inch of tortilla ultimately becomes the ceiling and the floor to your cargo ship! What a bad design!!
This new design provides a plentiful flap to ensure while you munch your way down the burrito, the pressure from your thumb ensures your burrito stays tightly wound through the entire experience.
What a wonderful concept!
The new tortilla design reminds in prototyping.
And as tested, works perfectly with a burrito kickstand.