The image above is the full-scale set of drawings for the Duomo36 cardboard pizza oven mold.

When I founded and ran a PR and marketing consulting firm in Silicon Valley in the 1980s and 1990s, we worked with a large number of exciting companies full of smart, hardworking people—many of the them engineers. When we started with Alteon Web Systems, who went on to have a home run, billion dollar IPO and was later acquired by Nortel, we were their first marketing staff. The company had 8 engineers, and our primary contact inside the company wasn’t the VP of marketing, we worked with the head of engineering. It was fun working with someone who had a technical and highly rational mind, helping him get is mind wrapped around the idea of marketing.

We talked a lot about the “burning house” problem they were solving and how their approach was the only real solution. He learned, we did great things together, they hired a good VP of Marketing and the rest is history—including Nortel’s great failure during the Internet bust in the early 2000s.

Fast forward nearly 30 years, and I’m working on another start-up. My own. Biscotto di Sorrento. And I’m thinking about the maturing pizza oven business, how Forno Bravo broke a lot of new ground, and has since been copied by some shameless copycats — read Belforno, Californo, Forno Piombo and a few Chinese companies. Blind knocks from companies who aren’t really clear how the thing they’re copying really works. That the definition of “to ape”.

Ooni and Gozney, on the other hand, knew exactly what they were doing, and they too broke new ground—this time much larger than the entire precast pizza oven business.

But what is the true “core” of the precast oven business? What is each company’s “crown jewels”? Is it the factory, or finding a company (read Resco) to supply refractory castable? Is it understanding the different types of insulation and finding good suppliers? Building durable molds?

I would argue that the real intellectual property for our own cast in place pizza ovens is the knowledge built into the mold. The information contained in the drawings for each Duomo pizza oven mold defines the aspects of a pizza oven that truly matter — the shape of the dome, it’s height and inward curvature, the size of the oven opening, it’s height to width ratio, the dome height to opening height ratio, the thickness of the dome materials. Forno Bravo got all of these design elements right a long time ago, and it’s the foundation of their place in the market.

What makes Biscotto di Sorrento so unique is that we provide all of this knowledge, all of this intellectual property, in something as simple as a cardboard mold. And we sell that mold at a very reasonable price, and we let backyard oven builders buy their own materials, and take advantage of all that knowledge, without forcing them to buy a complete oven.

All of which ties back to the start of this posting. My PR firm was pretty darn expensive. We only worked with clients who were willing to pay a minimum monthly fee, that included strategic consulting, marketing writing, media relations, analyst relations, media tracking, and reporting. The company’s intellectual property was our strategic consulting, but the only way a company could get access to that was to buy the whole package. I could have told companies what to do, and then said, “go do it on your own.” But we didn’t. We wanted the whole thing.

And until the Duomo came along, pizza ovens pretty much worked the same way. The precast oven producers basically said, “our molds are our intellectual property, they provide you with the right dimensions, etc., but the only way to get that is to buy everything. You need to buy a $3,500 kit.” No one has been willing to say, “here’s was you need, it costs $250. You can take it from here.”

Until now. We’re selling our molds, at a profit much smaller than if we sold the entire pizza oven kit. We’re unbundling our intellectual property from the product that embodies it (and makes the bigger profit). I think it’s the right thing to do. There are some people out there who want to do it their own way, who want to use the old fashioned materials and insulators, and we can help them. And besides, they probably wouldn’t buy a pizza oven kit anyway.

Perhaps we’ll sell lots of Duomo pizza oven molds. Maybe we’ll sell a lot more Duomo pizza oven kits. We’ll see.

Follow along.