How An Aerospace Engineer Decided To Reengineer The Ice Cream Scooper

The Story of Midnight Scoop

Hello! Who are you and what are you working on?

My name is Michael Chou, and I am an aerospace engineer by trade.

It’s always bothered me how difficult it was to scoop hard ice cream. I hated trying to melt the ice cream using heated spoons, or the microwave. I just knew there was a better way. It took me years to develop the most perfect ice cream scoop.

There is definitely blood sweat and tears in the product. Heck, we call it the Midnight Scoop because I spent so many nights obsessing about it and losing so much sleep.

We started with a bad idea initially, but through a lot of trial and error, we developed the product into something successful. We went from zero sales to $18K in sales per month after the first month upon release.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

Having scooped ice cream for years for my children, I knew there had to be a better way to go about it. I hated struggling scooping hard ice cream.

I knew that it was an age old problem though. Scoops have been invented for decades already and it’s always been difficult to scoop hard ice cream. I also knew I wasn’t the only one that tried to think of a solution. But with my aerospace engineering background, I knew I could have a good chance of trying to solve it.

I knew if I worked hard to try and solve this idea, I could possibly find a solution. Obviously there is no guarantees, but I obsessed over it and finally was able to find a solution.

Small entrepreneurs have an advantage where they can be nimble and shift directions quickly where big business might not be quick enough to adapt to the current times.

I went through hundreds of different ideas and prototypes. I really thought outside the box. I used my engineering background and used the skills I was good at and developed a new way to scoop ice cream. It’s the proper way to scoop ice cream.

I discovered that current ice cream scoops uses weak wrists to “pry” at ice cream. And because you’re using weak wrists, your brain actually tries and protect wrist. So that struggle is what makes scooping ice cream difficult.

So, I invented a way to use your muscles to scoop ice cream. You keep your wrists straight and protected and “push” your way into hard ice cream using your stronger muscles.

Now, you’re not fighting it anymore. You can push as hard as you want and don’t have to worry about straining anything. It’s the proper way to scoop ice cream.

So that’s how the Midnight Scoop was born. Our ice cream scoop has a curved feature where you can hold the scoop in a way to “push” into ice cream. It’s how the scoop should have been made the first time.

Describe the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing the product.

I went through hundreds of different prototypes to get the ice cream scoop just right.

Designing and prototyping

At the beginning, we were so far off. Why not heat a spoon or use one of the ice cream scoops that can heat the ice cream. I realized that most people do not like melted ice cream. What is the point of ice cream when it’s all soft and melted anyway?

So, I knew had to make a more ergonomic scoop. Once we realized that we needed to test the design with a lot of different hand sizes to make sure that the feel of the scoop is perfect for everyone (young and old).

I went to dozens of ice cream parlors and also to all of my friends and family to test the scoop. I wanted everyone to be happy with it. From commercial use to household use. I knew that my friends and family would mostly be supportive.

But there is something enlightening about going to strangers and asking them for their opinion. They usually won’t sugar coat it. You end up learning a lot from strangers this way. They have no reason to lie to you. So I knew once we got everyone on board, we had something special.

midnight-scoop

What we also learned when we talked with people about our scoop is that the weight of the scoop was very critical.

Because you are pushing down on the scoop into the ice cream, we wanted it to be a little heavier to help with the scooping. Let gravity do some of the work. So the material of the scoop is not just for looks and durability, it also serves a function.

We really put this product through the paces before we launched it. We thought of everything to make sure we release the product with a bang.

Manufacturing

Manufacturing this scoop has been difficult.

The entire scoop is made of stainless steel. We did not want to introduce other materials if we didn’t have to. We knew that stainless steel is a proven safe material.

Also, the stainless steel weight helped with the function of the scoop. Not only that, the material is ultra durable and has long lasting lustre.

We didn’t worry too much on the aesthetics of the scoop. We knew that if we designed it to function perfectly, the look of the scoop will show--and it did.

The hard part was finding a manufacturer. Most wanted to find the most efficient way to make the scoop. But we didn’t want to sacrifice the quality and function at all on our scoop. We wanted this ice cream scoop to last a lifetime and we wanted it to be manufactured perfectly.

Cost was not the main priority. We were making something new and novel. We wanted it to be make right and then worry about the cost later. Our scoop is more of a high end ice cream scoop. But that is because the entire ice cream scoop is made of stainless steel--a very expensive material.

While our manufacture balked the whole time, we fought to keep it like it. I feel that is why we are so successful. We wanted to make something special...even if it costs more.

Describe the process of launching the business.

We launched our product first on Kickstarter.

We did all of the prototyping and testing before hand and we knew had a great product. Since we did all of the initial leg work, we did great on kickstarter as we gained a lot of media attention.

The Daily Mail were the first to pick up our story. Then Huffington Post picked it up. And the rest was history. After those two huge news outlets wrote about us, we were featured everywhere.

Eventually, even Oprah heard about it and loved our ice cream scoop. We raised $168K in a month on kickstarted. Way more than we were expecting.

Once the Kickstarter ended, there was a lull. We did not have much of a secondary plan after kickstarter. We didn’t know what was going to happen after kickstarter and we weren’t really prepared for what happens next.

A lot of people forgot about us. We were out of people's minds. We also learned that even with the media attention we had, less than 1% of the population heard about us.

So we needed to get a plan going on how we were going to sell this again. We thought kickstarter was going to propel us into stardom but what we learned is that we were quickly back at ground zero again.

We needed to create a website. We needed to go out and sell our product to big box stores, boutiques, distributors, retailers etc. We needed to basically start over and start selling again.

We probably should have started our website sooner and also tried to get into retail/wholesales side sooner than wait until after kickstarter.

Once we got in retail/wholesale, we slowly grew month to month to the success we’re at today. It took a lot of hard work and patience. It wasn’t an overnight success. The product sold itself. We just needed to get it in front of people.

Another lesson we learned is that because the design is very unique, it takes some time to teach someone how to properly use the scoop. So that has been a challenge. We have made videos and instruction booklets to help with that.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

We tried a lot of different methods in selling/marketing. We tried google adwords, SEO, social media.

Email marketing & the holidays

What has worked for us is retaining emails from our customers and email blasting a few times a year around the holidays. Our product is very giftable and usually we have huge spikes in our sales during the holidays.

We collect emails through our website by enticing visitors with a coupon offer. Our customers usually purchase their first scoop through our website. Once they buy the scoop, I know that they will love it.

Building this email list is helpful not just for our current product, but for our future products as well. It helps our brand building.

So once we have their emails, we will email them again in the future once there is a holiday. We remind them of their purchase and we suggest them to purchase more scoops as gifts during the holidays. This helps a lot. The email serves as a reminder for them especially during the busy holiday season where people have difficulty knowing what could be a good gift.

Our list now has over 10K subscribers. We get more every day. We do lose a couple everytime we email out. But we try not to email our subscribers too much. We don’t want to email every month. We just do a few a year.

Next year, we are releasing a new product. So this holiday season, we will send out a teaser photo of our new product. It’s going to be great and it will get everyone excited. We will do another email blast once we release this new product so we can start off quickly with the release of the new product.

Building this email list is helpful not just for our current product, but for our future products as well. It helps our brand building.

Amazon

Another area that we have been successful is through Amazon. Everyone who buys our scoop loves it and we get great reviews.

Our Amazon sales slightly increase month to month. We are currently working more on SEO to try and get some traction there. It’s difficult to break into SEO though. It takes time and patience.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

We are growing at a good steady pace. No huge spikes. Slowly, as people know our product, they are also telling their friends/family about us.

So we get a lot of word of mouth sales. That’s important. If you offer a service or product that is great and better than the rest, usually your existing customers are your best salespeople.

midnight-scoop

Our sales are at $18K per month and at this time next year we should be around $25K per month for just the ice cream scoop that we make. As we grow our email contact list, we are also trying to grow our social media followers. We have over 12K instagram followers now. We feel like we don’t get as much conversions through instagram as emails. We will need to grow our followers 4X more than our email list in order to get the same amount of conversions. I think people on instagram are less likely to get converted. They are on instagram for other reasons. When they’re on email, it’s work mode. They are much more likely to purchase things through emails. That has been what we have noticed anyways.

We feel we really need to try and push web traffic. We get about 50 to 75 users per day. We should be able to get more. We need to do more website optimization and put more content on our website. This is what we are concentrating now on to drive up more visitors.

We have a few new products that will be coming out next year. Of our email list, we will start notifying everyone of our new product to drum up excitement for our new launch. We hope that this product will show that we’re not just a one trick pony. But in fact a manufacture of perfectly engineered kitchen tools.

We will be building our brand now. Retaining lifelong fans of ours. Building our base….our foundation. I think that is important for the longevity of a successful company. We want to make sure not to disappoint them though and potentially lose them. So we are taking our time to make sure that our next products will be just as awesome as our first.

Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I would say our perseverance is what made our company successful. I did not have a good idea for a product initially. I just knew that there was a problem to be solved. I made hundreds of prototypes and ran through just as many crazy ideas on trying to solve this puzzle.

Once I found the solution, it wasn’t even that easy to sell. Sometimes a new idea is difficult to explain to the average consumer. So we had a lot of road blocks. But we never over extended ourselves.

We just kept pushing forward. That’s our mantra: push forward. Just like how our scoop functions, we do here at the office of the Midnight Scoop Inc…..push forward.

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

We use shopify for our website. We like it because it updates itself. They keep a small percentage of sales but we don’t have to worry about the site going down or getting hacked really. So it’s worth it for us.

What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

I really like Andrew from EcommerceFuel. He has email newsletters and also does a podcast. It’s based around ecommerce.

He does a good job in sharing information about how small companies can be successful in this digital age.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

Perseverance. Just putting your head down and doing the work. If you want it bad enough, you will get it. Our work your competitors.

Small entrepreneurs have an advantage where they can be nimble and shift directions quickly where big business might not be quick enough to adapt to the current times.

If you see an opportunity, go for it. Do it quick. Work hard.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

We are always looking for sales people to help us sell our products. If you’re a good sales person, you’ll never starve. There just aren’t many good ones out there. But most companies are always looking for good ones.

Where can we go to learn more?

Midnightscoop.com

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Comments


Michael Chou
2 months ago

Hey, it's Michael and I am the founder of Midnight Scoop. Thanks Pat for all your work putting this together. I'm happy to answer any questions.

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