Master of Munchies
October 7th, 2009 by Kristin Ladd, Entrepreneur.com
Inventor and entrepreneur Keith Mullin will be the first to tell you that getting your butt kicked by your 10-year-old daughter (in a video game that is) can be quite motivating. “My daughter was a lot better at gaming than I am,” Mullin says, laughing. “I needed some help. I started thinking about various designs of different ways to snack while you’re computer gaming or multi-tasking.” He needed a low-grease, non-crumb-causing snack with a performance-enhancing edge. Hello, Gamer Grub.
An invention competition with General Mills got Mullin to start seriously experimenting with his idea for the snack. He didn’t win the competition, but he was a finalist, which inspired him to proceed on his own. After starting in March of 2008, Gamer Grub is now sold in tech stores and websites (80 locations in all), such as CompUSA and thinkgeek.com, and sales are tripling every month.
It was more of a collaborative effort rather than me trying to do it and working with the gaming community to help evolve it from the original idea,” Mullin says. As it turns out, putting his time in with the gaming community made Gamer Grub into what it is today. “What was actually delivered to market was significantly different.”
Because General Mills already knew all the components of his product, Mullin knew he had to act fast and couldn’t let funding troubles slow him down. He got some financial help from family and friends; he took out two SBA loans, found an Angel Investor and is seeking a Series II funding round to expand the company.
The first flavor, peanut butter and jelly, was developed in Mullin’s mother’s kitchen. He started out by creating a vitamin pre-mix of neurotransmitter supplements: L-Glutamic Acid, Vitamins A, B3, C and E, Choline and Magnesium. “I’d heard that there’s this plan in doing research on the food products that the functional food category within the snack industry is growing,” he says. “That, with research on existing data about what’s happening, and then also, wouldn’t it be cool if I had a little bit of an edge?”
After months of work on the prototypes, Mullin began going to gaming conventions and handing out samples of the still unnamed snack food. He says that direct contact with his target market was one of the key aspects to his success. “The most effective way to really get out a food item is to be in front of your customer, watch them taste it, watch them understand what you’re doing,” Mullin says. “If you’re developing a product in a kind of vacuum or a lab somewhere, there’s no way you can get that first-person interaction. You have to be out there.. we have given out at least 16,000 samples, so there are a lot of people who have tried it. I’ve just watched their reactions, talked about it and absorbed what they’re saying about it.”
And what is the main thing satisfied customers like about Gamer Grub? “That it’s delicious,” Mullin says. “Once they taste peanut butter and jelly or pizza, they’re just like, ‘Wow.’ If you get that ‘Wow’ reaction, that’s a really good thing in product development.”
In narrowing down the taste field at the gamer conventions, Mullin also began to sponsor individual gamers, gamer teams and gamer leagues, “kind of like NASCAR,” he says, and became the official snack supplier of the Cyber Games to boot. All that was left was an official name.
Despite its allure for anyone who wants to keep their work station clean, how did he finally decide to give its name to the gamers? Mullin says much of the credit goes to a 12-year-old kid from Georgia who called him up with suggestions. “I just asked him, What do you think of the name Gamer Grub?’ And he was just really cute and thought about it for a minute, then he said, ‘Well, what else would it be?’ Sounds like the world of snacking isn’t going to be the only industry that’s taking its inspiration from kids, marketing might have to learn a thing or two from them, too.