Donal Reddington on mass customization, crowdsourcing and digital manufacturing


More links for 25 February

1.  If you’re a parent of a young baby or toddler, this press release might be of interest to you:  A company called MyPacifier will sell you a child’s pacifier with the name of the child on it – probably most useful if your child is in a creche or playschool.  The press release tells the story of the company:

The MyPacifier Personalized Pacifier story started when a young mother in Denmark experienced the pacifier swap problem.  Pia Callesen, the creator of MyPacifier Personalized Pacifiers, says, “When I went to day care to pick up my son Frederik, more often than not I found that his pacifier had disappeared and Frederik had another child’s pacifier in his mouth.  I began searching for a pacifier product with a name on it, but I got the same answer in all the shops, ‘buy a permanent marker pen and write his name on the pacifier.’  I thought it should be possible for all parents to buy a quality pacifier with their child’s name engraved on it.  Apart from looking good, it could then also survive repeated sterilization.”

Pia Callesen went on to invent the world’s first personalized pacifier, something she thought was sorely needed for mothers everywhere.  Callesen spent months researching to find the right mix of a quality pacifier and the best-possible engraving equipment.”

The company trades in Denmark and Sweden under the name Navnesutten.dk, and in co-operation with Kim and Carol Pedersen of Fremont, California, the product is available to American parents at MyPacifier.com.

2.  Deborah Gage, writing in SFGate (the online version of the San Francisco Chronicle), describes how the paper invited readers to submit business ideas for assessment by venture capitalists.  One of the companies that made it through initial screening, to reach the venture capitalists’ evaluation, was Mojamix, a service that allows customers to mass customize breakfast cereals.  The service is somewhat similar to that of My Way Cereal, previously covered on this site.

A venture capitalist, David Pakman notes:

I’m skeptical that consumers at scale actually know enough about what ingredients go together to make a breakfast cereal or granola they will like and will taste good.  If I pick dried cranberries over raisins, will I like it less or more? Kinda have to taste it to know.

Mass customization of food products is indeed an interesting trend, but I wonder if it is better to focus on areas where the customer does not have to taste it to know if they will like it.

Margins in food products are low and are thus only interesting at scale, so Mojamix would need to demonstrate that the lifetime value of a customer is large enough to afford the customer acquisition costs that would be required to attract lots of customers.

The alternative is to make it a niche business with high margins and high prices, which are generally not interesting businesses for venture investors.

It is difficult to argue with this analysis:  there is a question mark over whether companies offering customised food products for delivery can achieve the scale required to move from being an artisan product to a mass customized one.  I do not know of any company relying on this business model that has achieved significant scale in terms of sales.  I’m open to correction on this.

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