Innovators: Peter Newell of REI on Co-op Product Innovation

At SXSW 2018 we hosted the official Future of Retail workshop. My colleague Geoff Knox & I  led an enthusiastic group of retail professionals through Clearhead’s PSM framework and  had the opportunity to meet forward-thinkers like Peter Newell; he works on the intersection between product, innovation and technology at REI. Together we discussed how REI thinks about product innovation and test + learn culture.

When testing and building a product, what’s the most important thing to concentrate on?   

Peter: At REI we often lead with the customer journey, where in the process are they, what are they needing in that moment, what are their goals and expectations. Being rooted in the customer journey and seeking feedback often enables us to feel better about the product we’re building every step of the way.

When testing and building a product, what’s the biggest mistake people make?

Peter: Premature limiting of potential impact—cutting innovative features to get to an MVP simply because they’re not yet as well understood. Getting to an MVP is great, but don’t lose sight of the big ideas that can follow, maybe have your team vote on which magical feature to take a stab at as a prize for delivering 1.0.

When launching a product, what’s the key to a solid go-to-market strategy?

Peter: Not waiting until launch to find out what your customer thinks about what you’ve built. There may be a time and place for a grand reveal, but working with customers throughout the development process will help steer your product to the market on-ramp.

What are the top 3-4 things that people launching/building product could learn from what you’ve done at REI?


  1. Be intentional with your innovation, get as diverse of a group together as possible, seed them with a customer problem and some resources, and just see what comes out. We’ve done this for a few years now in a quarterly event dubbed Innovation Days, the most recent visible output being our ZipAll product launch for April Fools.  
  2. Don’t assume that your best ideas will come out of your current process and priorities, make time to mix it up!
  3. Sanctioned time to work without boundaries is important for building bridges that break down organizational silos.
  4. Sanctioned time to work on ideas you’re passionate about pays dividends beyond whatever hourly rate your time is billed at internally.

What would be the top three things you would want entrepreneurs and intraprenuers to know before launching their product?


  1. What low hanging fruit of human technological achievement could massively transform the way you solve your customer’s problems?
  2. How have customer behaviors and expectations changed since the last time a solution was sought to the problem your product is solving?
  3. For the last decade, I’ve followed the following advice from Sam Brown of ExplodingDog: It’s only complicated when you make it complicated. Don’t let the idea of complicated things keep you from exploring them or making the most of them.


After seeing a glimpse of what REI is doing to build a test and learn culture, what small steps are you taking to drive an innovative, customer-centric culture within your own organization?