Saturday, January 2, 2010

Successful Innovative Companies: Volume 13

The Successful Innovative Company of the week is: GU Energy!
What they do right: they were the first company to produce an energy gel in 1991. This one single invention revolutionized endurance sports. In athletic competitions longer than an hour it is beneficial to consume some calories during the event. Competitions of a longer length use up about all of the glycogen in your muscles and to keep going without bonking you need more fuel.

Basically GU energy gel is a blend of maltodextrin and some other stuff. The sugars are more complex than simple and thus distributes the energy over a longer length of time than simple sugars. In essence they concentrated gatorade and put it in a 100 calorie package that you can carry almost anywhere. This one invention was so successful that something that started with triathletes progressed to marathoners, mountaineers, and probably sports I don't even know about.

Since 91 they have come up with other products as well. They now have a full range of energy and recovery products including more solid chomp pieces and drink mixes. They also sponsor a number of athletes in several sports.

For me personally, once I tried energy gels I was hooked. They give you a blast of energy and really help you keep going longer. In fact I buy energy gels in bulk.

What they could improve: their outreach (not necessarily marketing) could be better. Many of my friends never try GU until the night before their first marathon. Some also don't use GU in marathon. As a veteran of many runs over 2.5 hours and hikes and climbs in the 12 or more hour range I greatly appreciate GU. However, they don't always make it easy to get to GU. Often at races they are not at a convenient locations and they aren't promoted in training very often. Perhaps GU could partner with a shoe company to offer a free gel with the purchase of a new pair of shoes. That way people could try a gel before a race. Or perhaps with your marathon entry they would send you a packet with two gels a month or two before the race so that you could practice eating them, or decide if you need to buy more.

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