During his college days, Dustin Dodd said he added chocolate chips to peanut butter in an attempt to make the spread better. Recently, he started adding trail mix to peanut butter, a healthier concoction dubbed Peanut Better. The product is now being sold online (currently for North Carolina residents only).
The way that Peanut Better found its way into jars is a win for entrepreneurial employees. Dodd works as an art director at The Variable, a North Carolina-based advertising agency. A few months ago, the firm's leadership held what it calls "The Good Idea Fair," in which every person at the company had to submit an idea on a triptych (so, for example, a video expert wouldn't compete with a Photoshop expert). The competition's judges chose Dodd's creation to bring to market.
The Variable's leadership laid out up front that each person's ideas would still be theirs, and they could share the potential profits.
"We made it clear that even though most work done within an advertising agency is covered under a work-for-hire agreement that basically says anything that you invent while we're paying you is ours -- we think that's just bad and inhibits innovation," said Joe Parrish, a partner and chief creative officer at The Variable. "We made it clear up front that any idea you put forward, you own 100 percent. We may come to you with an offer, but you absolutely have the opportunity to say 'that's terrible.' With that off the table, we thought everybody would put their best ideas forward."
The intellectual property of Peanut Better is mostly be owned by The Variable. Dodd received a one-time payment of $3,000, as well at least 3 percent equity in the company that could increase to 10 percent if he becomes more involved with it. He currently holds 7 percent equity of Peanut Better. But the creation of the company benefits all of The Variable's employees: the more it succeeds, the more the members of its team earn in bonuses.
Parrish said deals like this help solve one of the biggest issues for creatives, in that they often don't benefit when they present great ideas to clients.
"That's why advertising agencies are losing their best creative minds to Silicon Valley," he said. "We're trying to build a place that can get the best and brightest thinkers by allowing them the opportunity to be exposed to the same upside, because it's hard to get somebody to take a bet on your idea."
This isn't the first product The Variable has brought to market. About five years, the firm's leadership launched Sunshine, a better-for-you energy drink. The Variable spun off the company after finding an investor.
"It now lives two blocks up the road, has 13 full time employees and is doing really well," Parrish said. "Based on that success, we were like, gosh, advertising is full of really smart people that see opportunities that [other] people wouldn't necessarily see. We understand the power of brand. We understand the power of putting the customer at the center of everything you do."
The Variable's goal is similar for Peanut Better.