Introducing Lean Production Scale-Up

Lean Production Scale-Up is a four-step model designed for companies operating in untested markets with untested technology. The purpose of the model is the reduce the high capital risk that is associated especially with companies using new technology and innovations. The model enables the company to make its technology investments as soon as possible time-wise, but as late as possible in the learning curve.

I developed the model based on my experiences in production development in various startup companies both in the medical and food industries.

While the Lean Startup movement serves many types of startups, there is one aspect that has not been included in the broader public discussion. Lean Startup concentrates on finding the market fit for the untested product or service as efficiently as possible but assumes that the same level of uncertainty does not exist in the internal operations of the company. Companies like Spotify, Dropbox, and Facebook, had critical and untested assumptions regarding their business models when they started, but they did not need to doubt if the product was doable technically once market fit was confirmed.

The situation is critically different for companies that are involved in a business where the product or the production process is involving an innovation. Industries like 3D printing and food grown in bioreactors are operating in untested markets, but they are also working with unproven technology.

Build- Measure- Learn Double Loop.

Lean Startup focuses on optimizing learning by using the Build-Measure-Learn loop. For companies also having internal unknowns, a second loop is needed that is for the production process.

An Information Technology or service company must look into improving their working process for improvement as well, but in most cases, a software company is using existing coding languages, software, and hardware. When working with building new physical products with new machines and machine setups, new raw materials and so on the need for internal learning and improving the working process in the company is multiplied. Together, the two Build-Measure-Learn Loops form the Build-Measure-Learn Double Loop.

double loop

Figure 1: Build-Measure-Learn Double Loop

Lean Production Scale-Up Model

By using this model, a company with new innovation can navigate its way from an idea to full-scale production. Alternatively, in the case that innovation or the business model using it does not add value to customers or is not technically feasible, the company can identify this as soon as possible.

The Lean Production Scale-Up model consists of four steps. The model is divided into these exact four questions to maximize the efficiency of the scale-up process. Each step asks the question that the company must answer by using the Build-Measure-Learn Double Loop. The questions are answered one-by-one in the specific order.

The primary goal of the early production when working with innovation is not to generate profit for the company, and it is not to have a positive gross margin, but to reach the learning goals of each step and taking those steps as fast as possible. If you do something else than what is necessary at that step at hand, you increase your expenditure, risks, and what is worst you slow down learning and business assumption validation.

  • Step 1: Is there a demand? The question is quite similar to step 2, but asking first is there any demand at all, key assumptions can be invalidated without the need of financial commitments to production space and machinery that must be in place in step 2.
  • Step 2: Is the demand sustainable and scalable? After confirming that there is some interest comes the time to validate that the demand is not limited to too small customer segments and that the customers will turn into returning customers and advocates. Some investments are now needed, but only the ones that are necessary to collect the learnings are taken. All development ideas related to improving production efficiency are postponed.
  • Step 3: Is positive gross margin achievable? Once demand and market fit are clear, its time to confirm not only that the product can be produced on an industrial scale, but also that it can be done with a positive gross margin. At this stage when still operating with suboptimal machinery (the quick & dirty solution you have put in place so far) actually having positive gross margin is difficult, but you can collect evidence that positive gross margin can be reached. For example, changing too small warehouse to a larger one and investing in an automated packing line will improve your operational costs significantly.
  • Step 4: Continuous development. The company acquires the full-scale profit-generating production line. Learning is still essential for the young company, but the learning curve starts to slow down, and development starts to resemble established company: The development in the production process is now numerous small steps, while in the previous steps it was mostly fewer, but substantial steps. At this stage, the Lean Production Scale-Up has run its course and hands the control over to Lean Management that is specialized in continuous development.

By following the four-step model, a company with new physical innovation can navigate its way from an idea to full-scale production. Alternatively, in the case that innovation or the business model using it does not add value to customers or is not technically feasible, the company can identify this as soon as possible.

A major part of the financial risk involved in the production scale-up is associated with the relatively large upfront investments. Setting up a workshop, let alone a laboratory requires a set of tools and machines. Acquiring suitable working space and required tools is intensive investment wise. Making these investments as soon as possible time-wise, but as late as possible in the learning curve is the goal of Lean Production Scale-Up.

Avoid outsourcing

What happens throughout the Lean Production Scale-Up model is a lot of learning in two equally important sectors: From the market and customers’ needs (the market build-measure-learn loop), but also about the production process (the production build-measure-learn loop). It is tempting to outsource production or parts of it to speed up the development and reduce the need for capital investment. Subcontracting can indeed offer very tangible and tempting benefits: Facilities and supply chains are ready, no need for upfront investments or hiring production operators to name a few but looking for these benefits are not the purpose of the early stage production. If production is done by a subcontractor at an early stage, the learning will happen at the subcontractor, not internally at the company. All work must focus on optimizing the learning process that can be best achieved when the production is done in-house. When using a subcontractor in the early stages of development, the company will also find it difficult to continue to the later stages of scale-up because the subcontracting partners hold the tacit knowledge and thus the negotiation power in the developing partnership.

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Here you got a glance at what my Lean Production Scale-Up- book project is about! The idea is still fresh is only now starting to take shape. So far I have some 30 pages about the topic going more in detail how the four steps would look like in practice and what are the dos and don’ts for the starting company that is operating in the untested market with untested technology.

Edit: Second part of introducing the model can be found here: Do Not Outsource! But If You Do, Remember These 3 Things

Would you like to read more on the topic? Any feedback on this blog post? Please get in touch by email or twitter!

Your friend, Ilkka Taponen

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The Two Compromises Limiting Alt-Protein Product Development

Future proteins, meat alternatives, sustainable proteins. The category of new products entering the market to replace the traditional and unsustainable meat in our diets has many names. Latest big article on the topic calling it the alt-protein sector was released in The Guardian on 30th of April 2018. You can read the article here.

In the article, some of the main players in the industry are interviewed. The main message given by the companies is clear: The most important thing in attracting large audiences and saving the planet is the taste.

“I don’t think mayonnaise, even ours, is healthy at all,” “I’d much rather people have a box of carrots if they are concerned about health, without question.” Josh Tetrick of Just.

“From our perspective, health is not the point,” said Bruce Friedrich of Good Food Institute.

The widely accepted approach shared by the interviewees seems to be that two clear compromises must be accepted in order to introduce these better options for meat eaters.

Compromise no 1: Healthiness

These modern food companies like the interviewed Just and Impossible Foods have a clean slate to do almost anything imaginable in the field of food technology but they have selected a path where healthiness is not the main factor. Is this really the best way? These companies might answer no, but at the same time, it is a must in order to attract large masses. Obviously, everyone would like to do very healthy products, but it has been accepted that as long as the taste is good, health- questions can be put aside.

Compromise no 2: Variety

When looking at companies like Just, Impossible Foods and Beyond Meat, there is another question that they have accepted as fact: For wide customer base acceptance, their products must resemble known animal-based products they are aiming to replace. The products are aiming to resemble animal-based products not only by taste but also by how they look, feel and smell.

The thinking behind these compromises suggests that it is easier to market people familiar, but inferior product instead of an unfamiliar superior one. It is important to notice here that we are not talking here about production costs as the motivation for these compromises, but marketing.

These two compromises might be well justified, but they are very limiting from product development’s perspective. The management of these companies are telling their R&D- departments: Let’s do a sustainable product that tastes good but it must look, feel and taste like this other thing. When working from the point of view where you are copying something, not making the best possible product, you are incentified to sacrifice not only health but also the optimal environmental impact.

What if the management’s message to R&D would be the following: Let’s do a product that is sustainable, tastes good and is healthy? What kind of amazing products could these companies create if they would work without these listed compromises?

The clean meat industry is a different story. Clean meat- companies are not copying animal-based products, they are making the original thing but in a more sustainable way. Producing muscle-cells in bioreactor instead of rearing an animal brings an impressive list of improvements in comparison to the traditional method of producing animal flesh: No manure-derived issues, no use of antibiotics, the end product is free of animal-based pathogens to name a few. Even though the clean meat is a new process for a traditional product, the new process allows improvements that are not possible traditionally. For example, the amount of fat and the type of fat in the product can be changed as desired.

The justification for the need of clean meat products comes from the well-founded assumption that people must have a meat option and to provide that to them the bioreactor way is a clearly better way than rearing the full animal.

Clean meat- companies and the “plant-based meat imitators” are in the same line in the way that both want to introduce meat alternative to meat eaters. It is absolutely clear that there is a huge demand for this. In clean meat’s case, we don’t need to think of the issue of the product being familiar or not because the end product is the very same meat we eat today.  In the plant-based product’s case, this conclusion that product quality should be sacrificed for marketing purposes should be seriously questioned. If the imitator- companies follow the chosen path they are bound to find it to be a dead end. Eventually, the clean meat technology matures and the products hit the market shelves with comparable prices to the imitators. At this stage, the plant-based meat imitators have nothing on clean meat when marketing to meat eater audience. On the other hand, if meat imitators reach “good enough” stage with a fraction of the cost compared the clean meat, clean meat will become only a marginal high-end product.

For more detailed comparison of clean meat, plant-based meat imitators and plant-based meat replacements read my earlier blog post here:  https://ilkkataponen.com/2017/07/27/imitators-replacements-and-clean-meat/

 

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The 3 Most Exciting Startups You Haven’t Heard of

Every day we are bombarded by ever greater promises of startup revolutionizing this and disrupting that. You are not alone to wonder how on earth you can navigate through the hype and where the value really is. In the world world of Uber, SpaceX, and Libra, for example, we might forget about the startups that are not working on something sexy or their project is not related directly to our daily lives.

I try to do my part and present to you three very interesting startups.  These teams are all working on projects that have the potential to truly change the world in the background away from direct contact with end consumers.

aurinko

LTSE, The Long-Term Stock Exchange

Long-Term Stock Exchange was founded by Eric Ries, the author of Lean Startup. LTSE is a stock exchange just like Nasdaq for example but unlike the traditional stock exchanges, LTSE encourages long-term investments over the short-term.  How stocks are traded today leads to financial incentives that encourage companies to forget about what will happen in a couple of years as the bonuses and stock prices are tight to the results of the next quarter.

One of the things that I was not able to figure out before learning about Lean Startup and LTSE is that how can it be possible that time after time, in every industry,  even the wealthiest companies are being disrupted by tiny startups. I believe the answer is misaligned incentives in the large established companies and the reason for the misalignment is the short-term thinking stemming from traditional stock trading. If LTSE can fix this problem the impact on the markets will be staggering and it could even spark worldwide economic growth.

LTSE homepage.

TED talk on LTSE.

Avalon Energia

Once seen as the super dangerous monster, nuclear power is again a concrete option for sustainable energy globally.

The mission of Avalon Energia is to raise public support for international nuclear waste repositories in Finland, amend Finnish nuclear energy legislation, identify the repository municipalities and establish relationships with international partners in the nuclear energy sector. After political and public opinion obstacles in Finland are removed, Avalon Energia could take charge of the 1-trillion-euro business of disposing of international High-Level Waste in a network of deep geological repositories in Finland with existing safe methods and technologies (see Olkiluoto Repository). Lastly, Finland and its international partners could reprocess the spent nuclear fuel (which has 97% of its energy content left) to power the entire planet without emissions for the next century.

Finland is already the global leader in the nuclear waste sector and arguably the only country in the world where international nuclear waste repositories are possible due to politics, public opinion, and stable geology. Finland can solve the global High-Level Waste disposal problem. In doing so, the world gets an opportunity to build more carbon-free nuclear power, win over climate change.

Quite a promise, right? The work Avalon has ahead is gigantic and far away from traditional businesses. The problem and the solution Avalon offers are both very unique. Robert Nemlander and his team have exciting times and ahead and they deserve all the attention and support they can get.

Avalon Energy

Introduction video.

Solar Foods

What if I tell you there is a way to make food out of thin air? Well, that’s what Solar Foods is doing! Their fermentation process uses only CO2, electricity, and water to produce high-protein food product. What makes the process even more exciting is that it does not require any arable land and it is not dependent on weather, irrigation or soil. All these factors make Solar Foods an excellent choice for areas in the world struggling for example of droughts. Moreover, the applications of the process are not limited only to this planet. Solar Foods is already working together with ESA to discover options of using Solar Foods’ solution in space flights.

Solar Foods is not alone in this space, but their approach of decentralized production and aiming specifically for human food outputs makes it one of the three most interesting startups out there today.

Solar Foods homepage.

Solar Food explained in 8 minutes.

 

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Automation Is the Last Thing a Startup Needs.

Scaling up production of a new company that involves untested parts is a challenging and risky task. Unlike in the digital world, when working with physical processes production requires more upfront investments. When a company has to commit to significant investments in the early stages with limited experience and knowledge, there is an increased risk of those investments going wrong. How a company can mitigate this risk was discussed in my earlier blog post that you can find here. In the previous text, I suggested what you should do. In this one, I suggest what you should not do: Automation.

Early automation of a production process has many downsides. When production is carried out by human operators instead of machines, they can use all their senses to learn and improve the process. While running the process, the operators do not only learn about the process and get ideas for improvements; they also do quality control. Learning from where the failures are originating from first hand gives the company better position comparing to fully automated production line where the raw materials go in one end and the ready and faulty products out from the other. First-hand knowledge from the production line is essential for process development. In the early stages when the understanding of the production process is low, long hours of human labor are needed to learn what could be automated in the first place. Automating too early in the learning curve will hinder the learning for the presented reasons. Additionally, machines and other types of automation hardware are costly, acquiring them involves long lead-times, machines are not readily adaptable, and they have a high risk of becoming obsolete when build-measure-learn loops are completed.

Instead of automation a cheap and fast way to improve the output of production and to reduce the workload of human operators are Karakuri- methods. Karakuri is Japanese and literal translation of the word to English is “mechanism.” Small makeshift automation solutions in a production line are examples of Karakuri. Let’s say an operator needs to move a heavy machine to her workstation frequently, but it must be returned after using because it would be blocking the operator from executing the next process step. The machine moves on wheels a small distance back and forth, but the high frequency of moving makes it exhausting for the operator. Instead of building larger workstation (expensive!) or automating the movement of the machine by a motor (very expensive!) wire can be attached to the machine on one end and a bucket full of sand to the other. Also, a rail is placed on the floor for the wheels to move on. Now, the operator can pull the machine to her and lock it in place while in use. After using the weight of the heavy sand, the bucket will pull the machine pack automatically (and cheaply!). A more straightforward example of Karakuri- solutions are shelves that are tilted to a small angle making the products on the shelf to fall to the edge closer to the operator. In general, shelf-made Karakuri solutions are cheaper, easy to maintain and easy to improve compared to purchased automation solutions.

One of the only places where automation can be recommended early on is data collection. Data collection and analyzing tools such as data loggers and analyzing software are relatively cheap, but they are also a lot more reliable than human operators. Data is in the core of the learning process, unlike improving the speed or quality of the production where automation could be considered as well.

ilkka-kastehelmikone

Do Not Outsource! But If You Do, Remember These 3 Things

Ok, maybe the title is a bit provocative – this applies first and foremost to startup companies. This text is part two of Introduction to Lean Production Scale-Up Model. You can find the first part here.

What happens throughout the production scaling of a startup is a lot of learning in two equally essential sectors: From the market and customers’ needs (the market build-measure-learn loop), but also about the production process (the production build-measure-learn loop).

double loop

In the early stages of production scale-up, all work must focus on optimizing the learning process that can be best achieved when the production is done in-house. When using a subcontractor in the early stages of development, the company will also find it difficult to continue to the later stages of scale-up because the subcontracting partners hold the tacit knowledge and thus the negotiation power in the developing partnership.

It is tempting to outsource production or parts of it to speed up the development and reduce the need for capital investment. Subcontracting can indeed offer very tangible and attractive benefits: Facilities and supply chains are ready, and the need for upfront investments is limited to name a few, but these benefits are not related to the primary goal that is the efficient learning. If a subcontractor does the production at an early stage, the learning will happen at the subcontractor, not internally at the company.

Using a subcontractor also fights against some of the Lean principles. A subcontractor adds additional layers of management and material handling that do not add value to the customer. Additional material handling is especially the case if the subcontractor is used to do only some parts of the production. In such an arrangement, materials are loaded and unloaded between a different location that does not serve as a value-adding function.

An additional difficulty of using subcontractors in the early stage is the lack of incentives for the subcontractor to do continuous development of the production process and the suboptimal operational infrastructure of the subcontractor. Example of misaligned interests and operational infrastructure between the company and the subcontractor could be a situation where the company learns the clients want to pick up products evening time, but the subcontractor has nobody working after office hours. When you are the only client the subcontractor has requested this change in working hours you know completing this change will cost you a lot. In general, the subcontractor has minimal incentives to modify its operations to match the needs of one small client the best possible way.

One clear benefit a subcontractor can have is access to better prices and hard-to-acquire parts and machines. If this is the case, a subcontractor could be used to produce subassemblies involving these parts and machines. Yes, this would be a step for more complex and expensive, most likely also slower, production, but if this way is seen as the fastest way to learn, then it is the correct way.

If in-house production is not an option.

There are certain environments where in-house production is not a feasible option. Examples of these are regulated industries where you might have very long and expensive processes to get a certified production facility working from scratch.

Have your own people at the subcontractor.

If using a subcontractor is a must, the best possible option would be having the company’s own employees to run the production at the subcontractor’s facility. The need of hiring own employees can be restricted to the core functions of the production and to the parts that are related to the innovation, but the broader the scope of collected knowledge from the day-to-day work, the better. Warehouse management, packing, maintenance, and logistics are examples of the areas that could be left for the subcontractor to handle.

Use multiple subcontractors.

Hiring more than one subcontracting company is a method to position the hiring company better in long term negotiations. When the subcontractor is not the only one with the needed skills and machinery in place, the hiring company has a good position when difficulties eventually arise. In case of poor performance of subcontractor or if the subcontractor wants to charge you more of their work, having an alternative or two gives the hiring company good negotiation power. Having a second subcontractor means some increase in cost related to managing the co-operating, but the costs should not double.

Form a partnership with the subcontractor.

 

As explained earlier, one of the risks in working with subcontractors is the level of commitment for long-term co-operation. Financial investments for the joint project of production development by both parties can lower the risk. The subcontractor could invest in the hiring company and thus creating a clear incentive for developing the production together in the long-term. Other option could be establishing a common production company owned collectively by the innovation owner and the subcontractor. In the new company, the day-to-day management would be handled by the production professionals from the subcontractor, and the innovation owner would concentrate on research and development, marketing and other aspects of the business. The co-ownership would give both parties security as the success of the owners of the newly created company are intertwined.

Two Clean Meat Companies Lead the Way on Social Media

A while back we took a look with Underhood how insect companies are doing online on different social media platforms and the results were mostly appalling. The statistics show most companies are lazy to reach out to their audiences. You can find the article here. Underhood (underhood.co) is a Finnish startup that is measuring social performance of thousands of brands. Currently, there are about ten thousand companies, organizations or other brands analyzed daily on the service.

Another emerging new food business is Clean Meat, meat produced in bioreactors without the need of rearing and slaughtering of animals.  Clean meat- industry has a lot in common with insect-for-and-feed business: Both are high protein food sources that are offering a more sustainable alternative for traditional animal agriculture. Moreover, both are unknown to the wide audience and are facing the challenge of how to convince people of the safety and benefits their products offer.

Here below are 10 clean meat companies ranked by Underhood. Brands are analyzed by their social performance (language analysis, engagement numbers, and visibility) and given a social score. The scale is from 1 to 10 and you can click on any brand to see the full social analysis. The score is updated daily, the data shown below is from 11th of November 2018.

top 10 clean meat

Underhood’s ranking as in 11th of November 2018

The two largest companies in the field are also the best-performing companies in social media. Scoring above six tells of a good social media strategy that is being executed consistently. Just is updating their social media channels almost daily and they have a good number of likes on Facebook; over 300.000. Looking at Just’s numbers it can be seen that Just is very consistent how to they are communicating, but what doesn’t work so well is that people are not reacting to the posts.

just

What is an interesting difference between Just and Memphis Meats is that Just is succeeding nicely in Facebook, while Memphis’s most successful posts are on Twitter. Twitter is nice and good to have, but Facebook is clearly the most important platform that should be priority number one.

Looking closer to New Age Meats- company interesting things can be found that others could learn from. From the top ten posts that have collected most likes, shares, and comments nine were done by New Age Meats.

new age

Top 4 posts in the past 30 days from the 10 listed companies as in 11th of November 2018. All four were posted by New Age Meats.

Where New Age Meats is not performing well is how they are responding to comments:

new score

At the other end of the scale, things look pretty abysmal and it is obvious that social media is not considered important at all. Aleph farms- company doesn’t even have Facebook or Twitter- page.

As we see it, it is crucial that brands of this new industry get active on social. There are a couple of companies doing it well, but the majority are not doing their part. There is no way we can convince people to take on new food habits if we do not spread the word in the most personal media, meaning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other platforms. It seems the industry players are not taking full advantage of the excellent and cost-effective opportunity to market their new and exciting products. The revolution needs to have evangelists!

 

Taponen’s list is dead, long live the list!

I started building a database about insect food companies in 2015 to find myself an internship position in the field. Later on, I continued upkeeping the list for competitive intelligence and business opportunity reasons.

In 2016, when I published the first version of the list for all to read and download, I never thought how the file would develop in 2,5 years. Today looking at the version 76 of Taponen’s list it is fair to say it is clearly the most comprehensive listing of Insect for Food and Feed- companies. Companies are not only listed but categorized e.g by home country and insect species they are focusing on. The list has been downloaded over 1600 times.

Even though the excel-format has served me and you readers well so far, it has its limitations and this is why the time has come to try something new. I am passing the torch of hosting the list to Golden and the responsibility of updating the list to all of you.

Golden is essentially putting together human knowledge in one easy place to edit and access. I teamed up with the Golden team to kickstart the database by uploading the list version 76 to the Entomophagy page. Also, my entomology patent database can now be found from Golden, that listing is part of Entomology-page. If you want to help edit the page and improve the data please go to this page here.

Taponen’s list is dead, long live the list!

The version 76 published on 14th of July 2018 is still available for download here.

 

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Insect Companies Are Lazy On Social Media

Eating insects is a big thing, even a super trend according to many studies and articles. But there are many obstacles to overcome before we change our attitudes towards the crawling things we many of us consider disgusting or even scary.

Social media is undoubtedly the best forum to spread understanding of the more ethical protein compared to meat-eating that is destroying our planet. But how good are the insect companies in their social media actions? Not so good, it seems.

Underhood (underhood.co) is a Finnish startup that is measuring social performance of thousands of brands. Currently, there are about ten thousand companies, organizations or other brands analyzed daily on the service. Each brand gets a daily social score based on data.

pirkko

Underhood sat down together with insect-business expert Ilkka Taponen to see how the most prominent ento-companies or brands are performing, and here are the results as in 23th of August 2018. You can see daily updating score here:  http://rankings.underhood.co/insect-companies/

Brands are analyzed by their social performance (language analysis, engagement numbers, and visibility) and given a social score. The scale is from 1 to 10 and you can click on any brand to see the full social analysis. The scores are updated daily.

 

Underhood ranking

Underhood’s ranking as in 23th of August 2018

 

The best performers (as in August 23rd) are Jimini’s and Wilder Harrier. They are both selling customer products from insects. While Jimini’s focuses on serving humans, Wilder Harrier makes sustainable insect-treats for dogs.

According to Underhood’s algorithm, Jimini’s is reasonable active on social media – they update their Facebook every second day on average, but Wilder Harrier has something to say to their Facebook audience only once in ten days. That is not enough. Preaching should be louder when the best performing brands on Underhood update their Facebook more than twice a day.

Follower counts need work too. There are only two brands with five-figure follower numbers, Exo (55,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter) and Jimini’s (27,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter). As a rule of thumb, customer brands need large follower bases on social media to boost their sales and spread the knowledge of their products.

So, why are these companies so quiet and modest on social media? Is it because they do not have good communication professionals to help them or do they feel that they don’t have interesting things to say? On social media, it is essential to keep noise. No one remembers the quiet ones when everybody is shouting.

As we see it, it is crucial that brands of this new industry get active on social. There is no way we can change people’s attitudes towards eatable insects if we do not spread the word in the most personal media, meaning Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other platforms. It seems the industry players are wasting an excellent and cost-effective opportunity to market their new and exciting products! Revolution needs to have evangelists.

So, what to post? Here are some best performing posts from the listed companies ranked above.