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By Ryan Buchanan

There is a fantastic entrepreneurial $100M+ company in Salem, Oregon called Kettle Foods. Cameron Healy, Kettle’s founder, does business the right way by focusing on his people and creating a sustainable entity that is deeply committed to its customers and the community. In January 2005, Kettle launched its first “People’s Choice” online campaign where it allowed its customers to vote on the next flavor of potato chips to make.

Over a 10 week period, 10,000 people voted online and the winning flavors were Cheddar Beer and Spicy Thai. Kettle rightly believes in the notion that customers own their brand, not Kettle. Customers co-create the next generation of products that Kettle has to offer. From this belief, Kettle has created a cult-like following of brand evangelists.

Let’s fast-forward to today (actually yesterday, Nov 1, 2006). Kettle Foods launched a campaign called “Passport to Flavor.” The Flash website offers an interactive experience where you vote on flavors that include “Aztec Chocolate” (a chocolate potato chip?) and “Dragon 5 Spice.” You can also enter in comments on the flavors and see the thousands of comments of people before you.

Our company, eROI, helped Kettle launch this website yesterday and experienced first-hand the exhiliration of web traffic, votes, comments, online sales of the flavor pack, and then the fear of being too popular. Within 24 hours of launching the site, there were over 60 gigabytes of Internet bandwidth that was continually spiking. We had a contingency plan, but the technical fix of moving to another server took many hours.

Fortunately, we could adapt to the wildly popular website (that continues to be passed along by word of mouth both offline and online), but the last couple days have been “all hands on deck” to deal with an onslaught of web traffic and sales. As an entrepreneur or a startup, create a unique concept to “go viral” but be prepared if it does take off. Even when you are prepared like we were, it still takes a lot of energy to support and monitor it. Be ready to feed the beast because there is no way to tame it.

Ryan Buchanan is the CEO of eROI.

Ryan Buchanan is the CEO and Founder of eROI.
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