Business and innovation website Springwise has compiled ‘Top 10 Business Ideas in 2006′ under various categories. These lists are an interesting review of the best and most innovative business ideas of the year, but some are of particular interest to this website due to their association with mass customization, outside innovation, crowdsourcing and so on.
Included in the Style and Design category are Unto This Last, described as a ‘mini-Ikea’. The Springwise site describes how:
“Like Ikea, prices are low and many products are sold as flat-packs (pre-assembly optional). Unlike Ikea, everything is manufactured uber-locally, and the designs aren’t overly familiar. The workshop uses the latest 3D modelling software to design and produce innovative and inexpensive furniture, which it sells directly to the public. Orders are manufactured to measure, within a week, at mass-production prices.”
Also of interest in this category is ‘Naked and Angry‘, which crowdsources ideas for wallpaper designs. Springwise describes how:
“Anyone can submit a pattern design, which is scored by other Naked & Angry users. The highest scoring designs are manufactured in limited runs, with patterns providing inspiration for what the actual product will be.”
Perhaps the most important entry in this category is CrowdSpirit, which has taken the outside innovation model into the world of electronic consumer products:
“What blogs, citizen journalism and YouTube have done for media, CrowdSpirit hopes to do for product development. The Scottish-French venture’s focus is on harnessing the power of crowds to allow inventors and adaptors to take their products to market. By involving end-users in every aspect of a product’s life-cycle, CrowdSpirit aims to set off a crowdsourced manufacturing revolution.”
CrowdSpirit is a perfect example of how the social internet has enabled the growth of customerism, extending the original mass customization idea from just configuring your own purchase to direct customer involvement in product development.
In the Entertainment category, two examples from the music industry jump out. The first is “Bands funded by their fans”:
“Sellaband has created a platform that enables fans to sponsor bands, and get a piece of the action in return. How it works: fans, dubbed Believers, find an artist they like on SellaBand.com. For USD 10, they can buy a share, or ‘Part’. Once the band has sold 5,000 parts, SellaBand arranges a professional recording, including top studios, A&R managers and producers.”
While this idea doesn’t really fall under the heading of mass customization, it is a type of crowdsourcing. However, it differs from other examples in that a contender for votes (in this case a band rather than a product design) automatically gets accepted when it reaches a pre-set level of popularity, rather than being a straightforward competition where the most popular entries win. It is also, it should be said, a banker for Sellaband, who get paid the recording costs upfront and know in advance which act is most likely to be successful.
The other idea here that caught my eye is the ‘Retail approach to recording’:
Taiwanese Timestudio (Hua Shi Dai) offers studio recording sessions for everyone. Located in the busiest pedestrian areas in Taipei, Timestudio’s two mini-recording studios let consumers record a professional cd for around USD 30. The studio features a sound booth and a control room manned by a professional audio engineer. A glass wall facing the street means that the ‘artists’ can be seen by passing shoppers, adding an element of momentary fame.”
This is a textbook example of the Experience Economy, where the recording process is what is really being sold. For most customers, the piece of musical cacophany which comes out at the end is (probably) just something to have a laugh with your friends about afterwards.
In the Telecom and Mobile Business category, Springwise notes that “Slowly but surely, established brands are climbing aboard the customer-made bandwagon, inviting consumers to co-create…true co-creation can only blossom if brands share revenues resulting from consumer generated content with those same consumers.” It provides the example of Vodafone Netherlands’ new KijkMij TV (Look at Me TV) initiative, “which not only involves customers uploading their funniest, sexiest or most informative cameraphone)videos, but also pays these minipreneurs 10% of revenues generated when other customers download their video.”
The co-creation/crowdsourcing movement has been viewed with some cynicism by some business observers, who view it as little more than ‘free labour‘. Given the choice between contributing and getting something back, or contributing and getting nothing back, it is fairly obvious which option the co-creators will go for. The rewards may be financial, or some other tangible benefit, but attempts to get something for nothing in an exploitative relationship are doomed to failure.
In the Tourism and Travel category, Springwise include ‘Minipreneur travel agents’ – “Joining the customer made revolution, Belgium tour operator Wasteels has set up a division called Club Tours, which allows amateurs to create travel packages that are sold to the company’s customers.”
The food and beverage category includes Moobella, the made-to-order ice cream vending machine (covered recently on this site), and Austrian manufacturer Frenkenburger, which asked customers to come up with new flavours for its all natural hemp milk drink, Trinkhanf. Creative customers were challenged to create tasty new flavours using fruits, herbs, or other natural ingredients. A panel of judges selected a winner, which would be put into production. Aware that co-creators should share in profits, Frenkenburger will pay the winner one euro-cent per bottle sold.
The Trinkhanf case is probably not true crowdsourcing, in that it is a once-off competition with a single winner. But it does contain the vital ingredient (pardon the pun) for successful crowdsourcing: the winner gets something tangible in return.
All of the categories in Springwise Top 10 Business Ideas are worth reading. They provide a degree of inspiration in that they show how the capacity of people to come up with new ideas is never diminished.