The Cold Truth About Early Adoption
He brought a gigantic block of ice to the Caribbean for the first time in history. No one from there had seen this before. The people who lived there had no real concept of “cold”. He thought they would of course be impressed by this ice and offer him a fortune. Accept they didn’t. At least not at first.
Meet Fredrick Tudor. The Bostonian man who in the early 1800’s thought it would be a great market opportunity to bring ice to a place where it never got cold. This was well before refrigerators and air conditioners. For some people on these Caribbean islands, the idea of cold, a manipulated cold, was like finding a new color. A bit incomprehensible to say the least.
Though it’s tricky to imagine, Tudor took a big block of ice down to one of the hottest parts of the planet on a ship. It would be a fancy item for the lavish, he thought. “In a country where at some seasons of the year the heat is almost unsupportable,” he wrote “…ice must be considered as out doing most other luxuries.”
Once he arrived, he realized that this block of ice was too radical for the status quo of the land. Sure. It was interesting. But people had been living without it, and they weren’t sure they were supposed to do with this ice. Tudor was so enamored by his vision of potential wealth, he didn’t take much time to think about the process of adoption for these supposed customers who were going to give it to him.
It’s easy to assume that if you stick something scarce and relatively valuable in an environment with little to no supply, then you should be entitled to a surplus of riches. Maybe even enough that you could inflate the margin price value. But the humorous and fantastical beauty about human nature is that as a species, we need time to adopt ideas.
That long trip Tudor took to Martinique resulted with him having his fortune literally melt in front of his eyes. He got a few people to try some ice cream made from his ice but it didn’t really take. With no demand for his product and a failure to arrange how he’d store the ice, he had to deal with what a lot of entrepreneurs have to deal with. A big fat loss.
I have to say, I admire Tudor for his ambition. I get it, right? It makes sense. Bring “cold” somewhere hot and get rich. Seems logical to me. But the big lesson here is understanding the importance of adoption and how ideas spread. Sometimes the roll of the business man is not to just offer a product but to showcase it’s value. You can literally plop ice in the middle of a hot island, and it can be ignored.
People forget that the internet went public for commercial use in 1992 and even though the growth of use of it grew in a relatively quick time, it still took time. Most people thought computers were for only for dorks and perverts. It took years and conditioning for the idea of the internet being a part of everyday life.
Tudor didn’t give up on his idea. Although tragically defeated and taking a $4,000 loss (which a LOT of money in 1805) he decided to try again. He knew people would want this ice. He just had to equip them on how to take advantage of it. It took him multiple trips of failing. More melted ice. More failed attempts in getting people to try it out. In 1813, he was thrown in debtor’s prison.
Finally, after he was released, he got creative about how to better insulate the ice. The good news is that his product was virtually free which gave him more room to compensate the tremendous risk he was taking on. The costs were around maintaining, transporting and storing it.
Him and his team figured out that padding the ice with saw dust helped keep it insulated. This way, once he arrived to the islands, he bought himself more time. During his trips, he introduced a few curious merchants to ice cream and the people were starting to catch on or in other terms, adopt.
It’d been fifteen years after his first voyage, and he finally started to turn a profit! Most people give up nowadays after fifteen minutes. By the time he died, he collected a fortune of $200 million in today’s dollar. He grew his market to not just the Caribbean but to the hot parts of the southern states. You can still feel the influence of Tudor’s ambitions jiggling around in the amount of ice used in a classic American lemonade or iced tea.
Ice went from a luxury item into a necessity. Once the demand started to spread, people got more clever in how to store it, preserve it an manipulate it. Thus, the inventions of ice boxes, refrigerators and air conditioners got introduced to the market. This revolutionized the food and health industry, allowing for more sanitary and fresher ways to store items vulnerable to rotting.
There are so many lessons to be learned from Tudor’s story. It’s a story of perseverance, innovation and valuing the art of idea spreading. It’s a reminder to not underestimate the power of early adoption and creatively inviting others to voluntarily enjoy something new, cool and refreshing.