The secret to turning your business around from a champion BBQ pitmaster

We had millions of dollars in profits, but were bleeding customers. I had to do something, and fast. But what? A killer new design? Disruptive new features?

Pic form Health Guage

September 2012, Cadbury, a London-based chocolate and candy company, changed its Dairy Milk Chocolate bar. The bar had been the same since its debut in 1905. Customers were furious. The new bars were now too sweet.

But here’s the thing. The recipe didn’t change! It was the same exact chocolate and ingredients. So what happened?

David Cook, a flavor chemist, does a great amount of research on why food tastes the way it does. In 2003, David discovered that as the texture of a liquid becomes thicker in your mouth, it seems less sweet. Even though it has the same exact amount of sugar.

What changed with Cadbury’s Dairy Milk bar? It’s shape.

The bar became rounder. Cadbury claimed it was to create a better “melt in your mouth experience”. (coincidentally the new rounded bar was 4 grams lighter than its predecessor, saving Cadbury money).

The recipe remained unchanged, but that “melt in your mouth experience” changed its texture, and, as David has shown, impacted on flavor.

Melissa Cookston, in a recent Wall Street Journal article, sums up the science in a secret to how she’s now dominating a previously male-only club — competitive BBQ:

I think competition barbecue is more about consistency and texture. Flavor is so subjective.

Flavor is what you think of first. Texture and consistency aren’t as sexy, but they are often neglected opportunities that can make all the difference.

And that’s been the secret to our turnaround.

Highrise spun-off from Basecamp in 2014, 6 months after Basecamp shifted to focus on their flagship. But customers assumed the announcement meant a shutdown of Highrise was near. That didn’t bode well for customer retention. What should we do? Talk to customers.

But Highrise has a large swath of customers: lawyers, real estate agents, startup founders, artists, even geologists. Talk to any one of them, and you’d hear five must-have features. Another with a different five. There were commonalities, but requests varied widely across our entire customer base.

Then Bingo! In talking to customers and reading through cancellation surveys an interesting thing popped up. People often weren’t cancelling because the product didn’t do what it needed to do. They cancelled for reasons like: “I couldn’t tell if anyone was still running the company.” “I didn’t think it was being updated.”

The feature selection, design, even the price — those often weren’t the complaints. We had the right flavor; what the company needed was the right consistency and texture.


So what’s consistency in a business? Customers simply want to know someone is there, consistently caring for them. We made it our priority to ship 3 things every 3 weeks. It didn’t really matter what they were. We tried to pick common asks, but we cherry picked features that allowed us to make fast and consistent progress. We updated our blog and in app announcements to make sure we had dates easily scannable so you knew there was recent activity and progress. We started sending out regular newsletters with changes and updates relevant to our account owners. We did everything we could think of to make sure our customers knew we were there.


How many businesses do you deal with that all feel the same? Similar website designs, stock photos of professional models, emails that sound like a group committee picked out the language. That feel of a business is its texture.

At Highrise we’ve made an enormous effort to ensure our business has a unique texture. If you get an email from us for signing up, or feature announcements, you’re very likely going to get a picture of my family or news about our weekend:

I let our customers know there’s a team of real humans behind Highrise, who just like them might be lacking sleep because their 2 year old had a bad dream at 3 AM. 🙂 We also know what it’s like when someone might need an extra few weeks to pay a bill but can’t lose access, or needs a helping hand to work through an import.

The results from this focus have been incredible. Immediately our customer retention climbed. I get emails now from customers about their children and grandchildren. And most importantly the business has been growing again.

It’s not easy. But when everyone else is looking at improving flavor, paying attention to consistency and texture might just be what you need to turn your business around too.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us make better decisions. And if you find yourself overwhelmed while organizing your own small business, check out how Highrise can help!