23 04, 2013

[Interview] Don’t Tell Stories, Seek Solutions: The Story of the Problem Solution Conferences

By | 2018-06-14T06:47:43+00:00 April 23rd, 2013|Co-creation, Crowdsourcing, Events, Interview, Open/User Innovation|

En-mode-solutionsWe have been reporting on the format of teh "Seeks Solution" conferences before. The idea is both simple and surprisingly effective: turn a scientific conference upside down: Skip the presentation of successful research and undertakings and focus, together, on what is really interesting for everybody: challenges yet unsolved.

The event in question is, of course, the by now fairly popular series of "Seek Solutions" conferences.

Deutsch-cSince the first conference in Quebec, things have evolved and been refined. Christophe Deutsch of En Mode Solutions, the organization now planning and executing solution-seeking conferences in innovative hubs around the world, has kindly agreed to answer some of our questions on the concept, its evolution and the future – and how you can be part of it.


FTP: Christophe, your
"seek solutions" program takes a slightly different approach to
problem solving than usual. Can you explain in some brief words how it works
and what makes it special?

CD: We have developed a 4-Step Process that has given,
over the years, great results!

1 -Call for Problems: The promoter of the event asks his community to
submit complex problems that defy the standard analyses of his experts in the

2 – Formulate Selected Problems: We help the promoter to select the problems most
likely to garner interest at the event and to formulate them so that they can
be more easily shared. An expert of the problem’s domain, called an ambassador
in our case, is put in contact with the solution seeker. Just by asking some
basic questions, the ambassador is able to help the solution seeker further
define the problem and ensure that the description that will ultimately be
posted on a web-based platform is sufficiently clear and broad.

3 – Disseminate to a wider community – Problem broadcast: We disseminate the problems to be addressed to a
vast range of specialists in a variety of fields. They can provide a different
outlook on the problems raised, ask preparatory questions and participate in
the event. Broadcast is done through a web-based platform including as much
information as possible, such as figures, references, or details of failed

Two strategies are employed during the
problem-broadcast step. A general broadcasting approach ensures that everyone
who thinks they could help has the opportunity to participate. A targeted
broadcast to specialists based on expectations about what type of expertise
might be relevant to a particular problem is also used in parallel.

4 – Seeking Solutions Events: The last step is what differentiates the Seeking
Solutions approach from other open innovation techniques, because it involves a
real event where non-virtual collaboration arises. Solution seekers and problem
solvers come together during a full-day session to focus on the selected
problems. Careful preparation is required to ensure maximum output from the
event. The collaboration process is divided into three phases: i) divergence,
ii) exploration, and iii) convergence. Our facilitation methods allow for
significant and creative interaction with experts who are normally not part of
the same networks, and take full advantage of the “cross-pollination” of
brainpower effect.

You’ll be surprised to see that creative solutions
have been found to your complex problems in environments completely different
from your own.

FTP: From your website
one can tell that you have been organizing a number of solution seeking
conferences in the past. What did you learn from these? (How) did the concept
evolve over time?

CD: The call for problems for the
first event – Quebec Seeks Solutions (QSS) – was launched in June 2010. Ten
problems were submitted by nine industrial companies from the Quebec City area.
The problems were broadcasted online in early November 2010. On December 14,
2010, 175 people gathered at the Convention Centre in Quebec City to attend the
first problem-solving conference (Quebec Seeks Solutions).

For this first event, the largest
perceived gain was:

  • Networking outside the
    "normal" network,
  • The generation of new ideas for
  • A better understanding of the
  • Initiation of research contracts
    with real benefits and return on investment for the companies

A second edition of Quebec Seeks
Solutions took place in May 2012. Nine solution-seeking companies and 162
problem solvers participated in the two-day event. The outcomes were as good as
the first edition with some very nice success stories as a bonus.

In June 2012, we conducted a
workshop on the same basis at the ISPIM Conference in Barcelona, Spain. The
process was slightly adapted to the duration of the event and the context of
the conference. The workshop lasted less than two hours and the call for
problems was for innovation management issues only. Thirteen problems were
submitted and 5 were selected for the workshop. The solution seekers
appreciated the experience even though it only gave them a preview of what
could be achieved in a full-day event.

What we first learned so far is
that the intellectual-property issues that our detractors raise are not a
, mainly because the event in itself is an exploration where everybody
feels free to contribute. Intellectual-property challenges typically arise
"downstream" from this initial exploration.

Secondly, there is a real value
in local open innovation. Some
people say “Why connect locally when you can connect easily to the world
nowadays?” The answer is simple. Because a combination of open innovation and
collaboration on a local scale brings most of the benefits… without the
potential inconvenience of cultural differences!
Often the seeker and the
solver need to engage in collaborative research activities to achieve the
solution. Here, a regional conference offers much better opportunities than a
worldwide web platform.

Finally, it’s the importance of
the collaboration process in itself. The animation of such a conference cannot
be done in a conventional manner. The animators have to be experimented with
large groups and able to adapt depending on what happens.

Our approach is in constant
evolution and we still experiment during each event. For example at some point
in 2012
, we tried a two days event in order to see if the evening could bring
some special collaborations or new ideas. And in November this year, we will
introduce a technology push through a technology platform that local R&D
centers possess in our Quebec Seeks Solutions event. This may give ideas for
new problems or technology transfer and generate even more results!

FTP: You have three new
conferences planned for 2013, in June, September and November. Can you tell us
a bit about these? What to expect? Any big

CD: Yes, indeed, the Seeks Solutions approach is spreading around!

  • 2nd
    ISPIM Seeks Solutions, June 18, 2013 – Helsinki, Finland.
    A large conference is a great place to explore problems
    because you have experts from all around the world that can participate. I
    predict that you should see a lot more of these workshops in the future in
    numerous conferences because they offer a great way to collaborate and network!
  • Polymères en mode
    , September 26, 2013 – St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada.
     Sponsored by the
    Quebec Plastic Industry Consortium tihis one day event will focus on this
    industrial sector only. Plastic companies will submit problems they experiment
    but we may also have other industrial companies that submit problems which
    could be solved by the plastic industry.
  • 3rd
    Quebec Seeks Solutions, November 5-6, 2013

    This is where it all started! And in addition this year is the Seeking Solutions Summit – Methods and
    Policies Creating a Local Ecosystem for Technology Transfer, Collaboration, and
    Local Innovation
    . This is where we hope the open innovation world community
    will meet this fall!

Several other events are in the
midst for Canadian cities, industries and conferences! Stay tuned!

FTP: Pretending I was a
company with a problem I would like to have solved. What do I do to profit from
"seek solutions"?

CD: It’s very easy. You submit your
problem to any upcoming event we have on our calendar at www.enmodesolutions.com/en or contact Yahya Baby (yb@enmodesolutions.com) to
discuss about holding your own event in your area.

FTP: In my understanding
you are offering to organize problem solving conferences internationally, not
only in Canada. How can communities or administrations contact you for talks
about hosting a conference? How does the organizational process work?

CD: Yes
our team is ready and eager to work a lot more overseas even though we are very
busy as it is. The best way to engage into this process is to contact Yahya
Baby via email yb@enmodesolutions.com or by phone at 581-996-6778. Once we become
involved, we help the promoters organizing a successful event every step of the

FPT: From your
experiences so far, do you think that this and other forms of open problem
solution concepts are already well-accepted? Do they work? Or: what needs still
to be done to unleash their full potential?

CD: Open innovation and open problem solving approaches
require a change of mindset to reach full potential. A change of mindset most
often requires a pain or an enormous challenge to work it’s way. The current
economical context in Europe and North America is a good enabler I would think!
Because status quo is not an answer for anyone, in any type of industry and in
any country right now!

Many problems that the companies are facing today are
complex because they mix technical, environmental, social, and political
issues. To face this growing complexity, classical problem-solving
methodologies are no longer appropriate. The Seeking Solutions approach has the
potential to address the complex challenges of the next decade and we believe
that it can help us to migrate from a collection of intelligences to a real
collective intelligence. The next step is to encourage more and more companies
to try local open innovation and to convince local governments to support this

FTP: Christophe, many thanks for these extensive insights into your visions. It will certainly be a plasure to be part of a future solution seeking event again and I wish you all the best for this venture!

If you are interested in more information about En Mode Solutions and the conference format – or want to get in touch about hosting a conference yourself – please see the official website.

3 04, 2013

[Interview] Matt Peterson of Big Shot Bikes: Customizing the Fixed Gear Trend

By | 2018-06-14T06:48:02+00:00 April 3rd, 2013|Cases-Consumer, Interview, MC/OI on the Web|

BigshotbikesWith plenty of bling and over-featuring of many products, in many industries now a counter-trend has started to emerge: "back to basics", advocating simplicity over sheer amounts of features.

This also has happend in the bike industry. While traditional bikes with many gears are certainly still in high demand, the opposite side of the scale has a growing fanbase as well: The single-gear bike, or the "Fixie". Being a popular and trendy product, it was just a question of time until somebody specialized in offering customized fixies to a growing customer base.

Matt Peterson Big Shot BikesOne such vendor is Big Shot Bikes. The Fort Collins, CO based company has been founded and is beeing run by Matt Peterson who we met for an interview on this special sector of the mass customization market and his role in it, his views on MC in general and the benefits of only having one gear.

FTP: Matt, you are the owner and founder of Big Shot Bikes.
Can you tell our reader a bit about yourself, your background and your passion
for quality bikes?

MP: Well, growing up in Colorado I had always been
active in the outdoors; traditionally I am a software engineer by trade and I
had worked for quite some time for a large telecom company. Having rode out the
tech and telecom bubble, I had become burnt out on the corporate
environment.  So in 2009, I saw an opportunity
to merge two of my passions, software and cycling. I had noticed a trend
emerging in single speed bikes with bright colors that people had built up
themselves. I
thought this was a natural fit for customization. With a small
initial investment, I dove in, leveraging my skills in software and ecommerce
to create a company and brand that is doing quite well and gaining market

FTP: Big Shot Bikes offers customized bicycles. While there is
competition on that market, what is special about your bikes?

MP: Hands down the most appealing part about our bikes
is the customization and sense of style that comes with owning one of our

People love the opportunity to create a design that
matches their own personality. We get quite a few emails from customers telling
us how they have been complimented on their bike and how they take a sense of
pride in the color scheme that they created.

FTP: What makes a single speed or fixed gear bike so
desirable? Does it not limit you to have only one gear?

MP: Single speed bikes have become a recent cultural
phenomenon. Sure, there are some limitations to having one gear, but there are
also advantages. The simplicity of going back to basics is what is drawing many
riders. No gears to tune or clicking derailleur to worry about.  This low maintenance factor means you can
just get on and ride.

FTP: Who is your main customer group? Are these bikes just for
the younger ones amongst us?

MP: The majority of our customers are definitely
younger, mostly college aged. But we sell to all age groups. In fact, we recently
sold a bike to an 81 year old ex-racer in Arizona. So really our bikes are
for anyone with a sense of style and just wants a fun bike to ride, no matter
what age or background.

FTP: Can you outline your customization, ordering and delivery
in a few sentences? How does everything work together?

MP: Sure, our system is designed to be fully
integrated with our inventory management system. If a color or part is
available on the build tool, that means it is currently in stock.  Once an item becomes out of stock, it
immediately disappears from the customization tool; this is critical in being
able to effectively fill orders. Once an order is captured, our inventory
system is updated and the order goes through a series of status change.  Customers will receive three notifications:
one to confirm the order, another to let them know the bike is being
.  The final notification is
integrated into our shipping software and a final notification containing the
tracking information for the bike. Lastly we integrate right in with our
shipping software and tracking provided once the bike is shipped. We also have
the ability to track and attach customer support tickets to orders that have
shipped just in case we have any issues once the customer receives the bike.

FTP: Especially interesting for our non-US readers: Do you
deliver worldwide?

MP: We do. We ship to just about any country that
FedEx will service via international economy air. We have shipped to most of
Europe and a few more exotic locations such as Egypt and South Africa. Granted,
the shipping charges are steep, averaging about $200 USD for international

FTP: What do you think will the future hold for the mass
customization landscape? Will it stay a trend, become a standard or even redefine
how we sell and buy products in the future?

MP: Honestly, I feel it will stay a trend, or more
appropriately a new established niche in commerce. Mass customization is  ideal for direct to consumer sales model.
I feel that traditional product manufacture and distribution will remain the
dominant form of commerce while mass customization will supplement it.

FTP: What are your plans for the coming five years?

MP: If the next five years are anything like the last
three years, we will continue to see strong growth in both our brand and
business. We plan to diversify our product line offering more bike models and
styles. From a technology standpoint, we have invested in HTML5 becoming the standard
in web based development
and will continue to stay on top of technology that
will allow us to offer the best customization experience we can.

FTP: Some of our readers might be looking for a job
opportunity in your branch. Are you hiring?

MP: We hire seasonal bike builders each spring/summer,
but these positions tend to be filled by college students looking for temporary

But where we do have significant opportunities is with
international distribution
. We are continually looking for individuals or
companies that feel they could effectively sell and distribute our bicycles in
their country or region. We have designed our customization tool and website to
be easily translated into almost any language. So the opportunity exists to
establish international distribution points and country specific versions of
our site.

Thank you very much for the interview, Matt! It will be interesting to see whether your predictions regarding MC as a trend hold true in the future or not. In any case, best of luck for your business!

And here are some really nice impressions of single gear bikes and the configuration process (even on iPad) in the official video demo:


Big Shot Bikes – iPad Bike Customization from Chris Bourke on Vimeo.

1 04, 2013

[Market Watch] Citizen Made: Customize Your Configurator Out of the Box

By | 2018-06-14T06:48:05+00:00 April 1st, 2013|Customization Trends, Interview, Personalization, Technologies & Enablers|

Citizenmade-logoWhat do mass customized products have in common? In a vast majority of cases, vendors will use a configurator of one sort or another to sell their products in all their customizable varieties.

Making and selling a great mass customized product is no easy task. Setting up and maintaining a well-working configurator is usually not a matter of hours either (and if it is, you can usually instantly tell). The need for technical and design knowledge lacking with many entrepreneurs layed grounds for an industry that can be summed up as "configurators as a (web) service".

One player in this field is Citizen Made. The company does offer designers, entrepreneurs, craftsmen or anybody else the opportunity to use a well-designed, professional configuration tool without having to develop one themselves.

Biopic-fullWe recently met Citizen Made's CEO Rachel Brooks at MIT who gave us an insight into the company, what makes her offerings special and how she sees the future of mass customized products.

FTP: Rachel, you have founded
"Citizen Made". Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your


RB: Prior to starting Citizen Made, I worked in several business and
operational aspects of industrial design, fashion, and retail with small
startups and major retail companies alike. Most recently, I ran operations for
a menswear accessories company that created custom ties, bow ties 
and pocket squares. This is where I set up a supply chain that supports
customization, worked with manufacturers, and worked through the challenges of
offering customization as a core part of business. 

In looking for ways to extend the in-person experience of ordering custom
products, I wanted to incorporate a light-weight configurator on the brand's
site. Citizen Made was created from the difficulty my brand and other peer
designers face in finding an affordable and accessible way to leverage
eCommerce as a sales channel.

FTP: Citizen Made is a service best described as
"configuration as a web service", correct? What exactly do you offer
to your clients?


RB: We provide brands and manufacturers access to a quality configuration
tool in an affordable and accessible way. With our configuration tool
subscription, users get access to a dashboard where they are able to upload
their product variables, images, and define product rules. With this
information, a configurator is dynamically and instantly created, and
becomes available to install onto any site to sell and accept orders for custom

FTP: Customization configurators as an online
service are not an all new idea. What does make Citizen Made special?

RB: Citizen Made was created so that
brands that sell custom products are able to accurately and effectively do so
online, regardless of their access to development professionals, large amounts
of capital, or knowledge of advanced image processing. In creating a standard
configuration tool as a service, our proprietary dashboard makes it simple for
product managers to articulate their product offering in a simple and beautiful
way to the rest of the world, so that they can focus on managing and making
products, instead of software and configurators.

Citizen Made - Canvas screen

FTP: How scalable are your services,
especially with large, demanding clients?

RB: Our standard tool was designed for small and medium sized companies that
require configuration, lightweight inventory management,  sharing
capabilities, and analytics on product components performance. This was
designed for the purpose of data-driven forecasting and purchasing

This level of configuration management as a standard offering today is
world-class, however for enterprise clients that we speak with today, we have
created ways to integrate with select ERP systems and tooling that is specific
to these clients. From a configuration standpoint, a front-end experience where
purchases can be dynamically designed and purchased is very straight forward.
The Citizen Made dashboard today makes it simple for product managers inside of
enterprise settings to update and experiment in real time with their products.

The advanced part, from our perspective, is enterprise supply chain
support, where our team and network works directly with manufacturers to
support the needs of large companies and leverage the benefits of lean

FTP: Do you think that configurators as a
rentable service are superior to inhouse solutions? If so, why? And: for which
target groups?

RB: Software services are a great solution for brands whose core competency
lies outside of software development and management. For the vast majority of
brands, developing and managing software that is advanced enough to painlessly
sell and receive custom orders is understandably outside of their
in-house skill set  By providing affordable sales tools for brands
that sell custom products, we allow them to focus on what they are best at,
while leaving the technical challenges to us. 

Just as most product companies don't engineer their own eCommerce CMS
in-house, we offer a solution to a growing segment of companies that don't
currently have a solution to sell products online.

While our tools are understandably not the perfect solution to all product
categories, we best serve products that are built to order and designed in a
modular way. Products that require web-to-print software are currently served
by other companies; we look to serve those who create beyond the 2D printer.

FTP: How do you think the market for mass
customized goods will evolve over the next years?

RB: With the growing access to configuration tools,
the evolution of local/small batch production, distributed
manufacturing, and even the increasingly availability of commercial 3D print
technology, I believe that we are at a critical point in expansion of mass
customization. The initial goal in creating Citizen Made was to provide a simple
and accessible tool for a company of any size to be able to sell what they are
capable of making, while allowing potential customers to have what they truly
want. I believe that our approach to configuration and access will help
accelerate the prevalence of mass customization.

FTP: In case any of our readers is looking for a
job opportunity, are you hiring?

RB: We currently have opportunities in Community Development and Business

FTP: What are your plans for the next 5 years?

RB: Over the next 5 years, we are
working toward creating tools and infrastructure that makes mass customization
viable across many product categories, regardless of company size or location.
We believe in the benefits of lean manufacturing and innovating supply chains
for the future. We look forward to evolving our tools to reach further into the
supply chain, with the goal of serving and digitizing the supply chain from
front end to fulfillment.

Thank you very much for your answers! It will be interesting to follow the development of Citizen Made and see the business evolve!

And last but not least, hear is an overview video outlining Citizen Made's services in a more visual fashion.


Citizen Made: Customization software for makers from citizenmade on Vimeo.

19 12, 2012

[Interview] Anthony Flynn & Emily Flynn Vencat, Authors of „Custom Nation“

By | 2018-06-14T06:49:01+00:00 Dezember 19th, 2012|Books, Customization Trends, General, Interview, Personalization|

Anthony_FlynnAs promissed in our recent book review of Custom Nation, authors Anthony Flynn and Emily Flynn Vencat, participated in our interview series with MC&OI entrepreneurs to share their experiences in the customization market, their book and who could profit most from reading it.

 FTP: Can you tell a little bit about yourself? What do you do and where did/do you get your experiences with mass customization from?

ANTHONY: I’m the founder and owner of YouBar, the world’s first customized nutrition bar company. I started the company in 2006 after feeling frustrated by my inability to find an off-the-shelf nutrition bar that met my – admittedly very specific – health and taste needs. So, I started custom-making bars for myself, and I thought there would be a huge market for bars made to meet individual consumers’ own unique needs and, out of that, YouBar was born.

Since then, I’m extremely proud to say that I’ve grown the company to seven-digit annual sales, and now employ 30 people in an 8,000 square foot facility in downtown Los Angeles. Thanks to my success with mass customizing, several years ago I started being invited to give talks on customizing to universities around the country (from UCLA to MIT), and have become a consultant to companies looking to add an element of customization to their existing mass-production based business models.

There has been so much interest – and this extended to the press too: I’ve given interviews to hundreds of news organizations, including the New York Times, Good Morning America and NPR – that I saw that there was a real need for a book to be written about how customization is changing the way we do business in the 21st century. But I’m not a writer, and that’s where Emily came in…

EMILY:  That’s right. Several years ago, Anthony – who in addition to being my co-author is also my brother – came to me with the idea for this book. At the time, I was working as a business journalist in London – I was Newsweek’s London-based business writer and, after that, was a business writer at the Associated Press — and Anthony told me he wanted me to write this book with him. At first, I was extremely sceptical (and also very busy!), but the idea was so compelling that it didn’t take long before I was convinced and we signed with our publisher last year.

FTP: On the early pages of your book you tell us that "outline exactly how you too can use customization to launch a successful new business, or exponentially increase sales in your existing business". That sounds like a pretty ambitious promise. Have you found the holy grail of retail?

ANTHONY: I don’t think we’ve “found” the holy grail of retail. I think it’s been there all along. If you think about the way that the very rich have always consumed goods, you’ll see this. The wealthy have never really bought into the idea of consuming mass-produced stuff en masse – they’ve always had everything important custom made-to-order – from their furniture to their homes to their suits.

What’s new, and what I think we’ve “found” in our book is that – thanks to new technologies, like the internet’s ability to connect producers directly to retailers, the advent of online configurators and new production methods – high quality custom goods are now affordable to the average person (and not just the super-rich) for the first time in history. Because this shift is so new, however, many companies haven’t yet embraced it or figured out how to do it right. Our point in the book is to provide a guide for how to do exactly this.

FTP: You also write about a shift from DIY (Do It Yourself) to CIY (Create It Yourself). What exactly do you mean by that?

EMILY: Before the Industrial Revolution, custom goods were actually the norm – even for the very poor — because Americans did everything themselves, like cook their own dinners, make their own furniture and sew their own clothing. What’s new about today’s customization is that it isn’t Do-It-Yourself (DIY); it’s Create-It-Yourself, or what we like to call CIY. Create-It-Yourself is when you get to do all the fun parts related to making something new, like designing the flames emblazoned on the side of your Mustang or choosing the exact ingredients in your gluten-free nutrition bars, without having to do the hard work of stencil painting or wheatless cooking yourself. Using online configurators, consumers can now participate in the high-level design of their products without having to get their hands dirty.

FTP: Without revealing too much from your book: Where do you see the most critical failures companies make when implementing or maintaining an MC strategy?

ANTHONY: The number one problem that I see and hear about again and again when companies begin customizing is that they start off giving their customers too many choices. Just because you run a customizing company, and want to give your customers choices to match their exact needs, doesn’t mean that you need to offer a million different colors or sizes or whatever. Earlier this week, I spoke to an executive at Nike who told me that it’s actually Nike’s goal right now not to add more customization to its excellent custom sneakers platform, NikeID, but actually, rather, to make it “simpler.” When you give your customers too many choices, they can find it overwhelming and difficult to engage with. What’s more, from a business perspective, if you offer too many choices you can end up painting yourself into a corner financially.

FTP: And how do you think these shortcomings could be prevented?

ANTHONY: In Chapter Nine of the book, we outline the “Seven Lessons” for how to get customization right, which we derived from our interviews with the CEOs and founders of many of the world’s most successful customizing companies, including Vistaprint’s Robert Keane and Shutterfly’s Jeff Housenbold. I think all of these lessons are absolutely crucial, but – as implied by my previous answer – one of these lessons is that, even in the customizing model, a business should never give consumers too many choices. We give concrete details, examples and advice in this chapter about what exactly that means. Here’s just one basic example of limited choices in action: on the Ford Mustang Customizer website, consumers can choose from dozens of hood designs and paint jobs, but they don’t pick the materials used in the engine.

FTP: In your book you talk about the "automated expert". What do you mean by that?

EMILY: One of the most important technological developments that has made mass customization possible is the advent of online design tools – also known as “configurators” – which allow customers to go on websites and create their own products without needing the help of a human expert.

In the 20th century, one of the main reasons that customization was the preserve of the ultra-wealthy was that if you wanted to custom design something, you needed an expert at your elbow to help you turn your idea into real image. If, for example, you wanted to design a suit, you needed a tailor. If you wanted to design a ring, you needed a jeweller… and so on. Imagine, for example, trying to sketch your perfect suit or ring without expert help. For the vast majority of us, our basic drawing skills and lack of knowledge about how materials work would make this utterly impossible.

And human experts are expensive. But now, configurators allow even the non-expert consumer to go online and use automated tools to create-their-own suit or dress or jewelry or interior design – this list goes on and on – without needing an expert on hand. The configurator is, in essence, the affordable automated expert.

FTP: Can companies save themselves from some painful experiences if they read your book before acting? 

ANTHONY: Absolutely. Our lessons for how to customize identify pitfalls, like the problem with too much choice or the potential difficulty with choosing a price-point for your custom good, that are extremely easy to navigate once you know they’re there, but almost impossible to avoid if you don’t know about them. Honestly, I wish that someone had written this book seven years ago so that I could have read it before starting YouBar and avoided making so many of these costly mistakes myself in the first year of my business.

FTP: Where do you think mass customization is going? And what does still need to be done to make it an even more successful movement?

EMILY: In the next ten years, we are going to see a shift in what’s considered ‘normal’ in retail. In dozens of important industries, the ‘normal’ thing we buy is going to go from being a mass-produced item to being a made-to-order customized item.

The shift is actually already heavily underway in the auto industry, and its quickly coming in apparel, accessories and entertainment. For proof of this, you only have to look at the way young consumers – those under the age of 30 or so – are already buying things. Young consumers no longer see customization as a luxury in many parts of their lives, they just expect it. Instead of listening to entire mass-produced CDs, they tune into completely customized playlists care of iTunes or the popular custom radio station Pandora.

Instead of watching pre-set television channel line-ups, they watch on-demand digital recordings on Netflix and YouTube. Instead of driving identical cars — like the Baby Boomers once did with their one-size-fits-all 1960s VW Beetles – they purchase custom, built-to-order Scions on the company’s customizing website. In fact, Scion isthe most popular car brand in America with buyers aged 18 to 27, and I’m sure this is because of its great, and affordable, customizing platform. If you look closely, there isn’t a single aspect of young consumerism that isn’t starting to be customized.

The Millennial generation gets custom dating recommendations from matchmaking websites, like Match.com, they have custom sneakers on our feet (from brands like Nike and Converse), custom sweatshirts on their backs, custom cases for their iPhones and custom newsfeeds from social networking sites like Facebook.

FTP: Is mass customization for everybody?

ANTHONY: Yes. There isn’t a single industry that won’t be transformed by the shift to customization within the next decade. Already, we’re seeing every major company – even the most classic mass-producers — target their advertisements in customized, individualized ways online. This is the first large and important step towards thinking about consumers as unique individuals and not a single mass with homogenous tastes and values, as was the 20th century norm. 

FTP: Thank you both for this really insightful interview! 

12 12, 2012

Interview with German handbag customizer Project OONA

By | 2018-06-14T06:49:17+00:00 Dezember 12th, 2012|Cases-Consumer, Clothing, Customization Trends, Interview|

Oona_logo+claim_300dpiNot long ago we reported about OpenRunway, a mass customization venture enabling customers to personalize women's shoes and handbags.

For those (female) readers who can not get enough of customized bags, here is another very neat company from Germany: Project OONA

Project OONA features a nicely done configurator which lets you customize most aspects of your bag, after selecting one from a number of base models. 

Oona_screenshot Kopie


Maru-winnackerMaru Winnacker
, CEO of Project OONA, kindly agreed to give us some insight into the venture, what makes it different and how she sees the future of mass customization. 

FTP: Maru, can you tell a bit more about Project OONA? What exactly are you offering?

MW: Project OONA is a brand development company offering customization of handbags online. On our website customers will be able to customize their handbag. They start out with a design from our collection and then choose from different types of colors, linings, materials, etc. 

FTP: Personalized (Hand-)Bags are not exactly a new idea. What sets your company apart from the competition in this field?

MW: I agree that "personalization", i.e. the imprint of names or signatures, of fashion items has been around for quite some time. However, offers are rare, seldom integrated and mostly provided by high margin luxury brands. One prominent example is "Mon Monogram" by Louis Vuitton. 

However, "customization" as a means of giving customers full access to the production decision is a new phenomenon. The production and distribution processes involved are quite complex and we are experiencing a steep learning curve. There is only a small group of competitors online, all of which for less than 24 months and non supported by a global player. 

We researched all available offers online. However, these websites target either a very young audience or the mass market. We strongly believe that consumers deserve a recognizable brand to engage with: A logo, a specific style, excellent materials and perfect quality. That's how we try to distinguish ourselves. We are also targeting a premium customer segment focusing on internationally traveled business women who have an elaborate sense of value.

FTP: So far you are offering bags of different kinds (including iPad cases) from fine leather. Are there any plans to expand your business in the foreseeable future? Do you plan on diversifying your portfolio?

MW: Yes, of course! We started with handbags and fine leather accessories. We will quickly introduce additional handbag styles and materials. In the medium term new business segments (e.g. travel bags) will be added. In the long run, you will certainly see us experimenting with other customizable fashion categories.

FTP: What are your current markets? Do you offer exclusively for German customers or is Project OONA a world wide venture?

MW: As mentioned, Project OONA has an international claim. We started our service in Austria and Germany due to our local home field advantage. We will soon launch our English website and start shipping within Europe.

FTP: Where do you see your venture five years from now?

MW: Five years from now is a long time. I hope to be selling worldwide by then, with 2 – 3 more fashion product categories.

FTP: Do you think that mass customization in general is a long-lasting new paradigm that will change the face of retail significantly? Or is it just another trend?

MW: If there has been a paradigm shift towards mass customization it has happened years ago! The automotive industry has been adapting to this for years. The fashion industry will need to adapt quickly due to increasing customer demands as well as complete product and product value transparency. There are a myriad of innovative experiments currently online (e.g. virtual reality measuring, affiliate marketing etc.) that should leave not customer demand unfulfilled. Why should a customer shop around when she can design her fashion item herself? It is easy to get hooked to this kind of luxury!

So yes! I strongly believe that mass customization in the fashion industry is here to stay. It offers huge potential both online and offline. It brings customers and retail closer together. And I also believe that the current divided on- and offline retail chains will merge into one channel soon. Customers should be able to choose online and pick up offline and vice versa. 

FTP: Are you currently recruiting or looking for partners? Who would you want to work with if given the choice?

MW: Currently we are looking for more software engineers. Anyone interested?

 FTP: Thank you very much for this interesting interview! Im looking forward to see your venture grow and become an established brand on its market.

26 11, 2012

[Interview] Joe Pine on Mass Customization, His Hands-On Workshop And His Newest Project

By | 2018-06-14T06:49:20+00:00 November 26th, 2012|Books, Customization Trends, Events, Interview|

PineLast week we hinted you at a great series of hands-on workshops by Joe Pine and Jim Gilmore. Now we had the chance to get some of Joe Pine's precious time for a short yet insightful interview on Mass Customization, his workshops and what the new project he is working on right now.  

FTP: Joe, with Mass Customization being the business trend of the decade (at least!) there are a myriad of workshops by a lot of more or less qualified experts. While you are without doubt one of the best to learn from, can you go into detail a bit about what sets your workshop apart from the competition?

JP: My "How To Mass Customize Your Offerings" Workshop on May 30, 2013 — the last of a series of six "how to" workshops my partner Jim Gilmore and I are doing — is based on the ideas and frameworks that I have developed over the past 20 years since Mass Customization was first published. So one is this grounding in my core frameworks. The second differentiation is the how to part; it will be a workshop where participants (not attendees) actually get to wrestle with those frameworks and develop ideas for their own businesses. And finally, it will be solely focused on mass customizing goods; those who wish to mass customize services and especially experiences will also gain great value!

FTP: You are one of those with a hand on the pulse of MC-Development. Not to take away from your workshop of course, but are there any exciting new developments or trends that you can give our readers a little exclusive hint at?

JP: One new framework I have — never published — shows that mass customizing down to the individual, living, breathing customers is not the end goal! It's not just about serving markets of one, where every customer is his own market. No, we need to reach further and recognize that every customer is multiple markets. We need to recognize what market an individual customer — and this applies especially to business customers — is in before we can hope to mass customize to meet that customers' needs at this moment in time.

I also believe the rise of digital manufacturing in general and 3D printers in particular opens up huge new avenues for Mass Customization now and into the future, something I actually get into in my first workshop, How To Stage Engaging Digital Experiences, on December 6, 2012. 

FTP: You have been following the MC idea for a long time now. While the idea certainly evolved from a niche concept to a mass(!) movement, what do you think will the future hold for MC and its implications especially on the retail landscape?

JP: I fully believe that Mass Customization will be as important to 21st-century businesses as Mass Production was to 20th-century businesses. And if you think about the fact that Ford Motor Company did not pull everything together into the first Mass Production assembly line until October 1913, we still have long way to go! And one direction to go in is to bring Mass Customization into retail stores themselves, such as we already see with companies such as Build-A-Bear, Paris Miki, Lenscrafters, and the like. Absent that possibility, retailers need to put design tools into their stores to form the core of a design experience, such as done by Nike, adidas, Bloomingdales, and so forth.

FTP: You are well-known for a number of great books on MC. Are you, by chance, working on something new for those eagerly awaiting a new volume from your hands?

JP: But of course! I am always thinking and working on something new, and in this case it is working with my Infinite Possibility co-author, Kim Korn, who has developed some compelling insights and amazing frameworks around what management needs to become to meet today's corporate needs. As Mass Customization is supplanting Mass Production, we al2so need to supplant the old command-and-control ways of managing, yielding what Kim calls "regenerative managing," the goal of which is simple: to thrive indefinitely. 

5 11, 2012

Lumographics: 3D Configurators in Mass Customization [Interview]

By | 2018-06-14T06:49:54+00:00 November 5th, 2012|Design, Interview, Personalization, Technologies & Enablers, Virtual Models|

LumologoSeeing is believing. This old yet certainly often correct phrase describes one of the phenomena of human psychology: No matter how great your product is, no matter how well you describe it in text, one subpar image can ruin the entire impression and make your would-be customer decide against the purchase.

This is especially true when it comes to products for which buying decision is mainly based on aesthetics. Customers usually (more or less) instantly recognize what they like but are often bad at describing it with words – or transforming a product description into a mental picture of the product.

Mass customized products add to this by putting the "burden" of design into the customers hands, enabling him to decide which combination of design factors looks best – and, forcing him to do so.

 3D visualizations as part of a configurator is one option companies have to make life a bit easier for their clients and increase chances to sell a product. Well visulized products give an instant idea of what one will gain for his money and how it will change with different options selected. As with most configurator-related things, though: If it is being done the right way.

Since 3D modeling and the required software coding is certainly not easy, seeking professional help is usually a good idea. One such company to assist mass customization ventures in presenting their products in the right light is LumoGraphics.

Being in the business of professional-grade 3D configuration systems since 1998, the German company works for industry mayors such as Mercedes-Benz, helping them to visualize their line of buses in full 3D.

Marc HerlingMarc Herling, CEO of LumoGraphics and speaker at the MC2012 conference in June, was kind enough to answer some of our questions about 3D modeling as a service, as a business model, as an enabler and how mass customization companies can profit from it.

FTP: Marc, your company Lumo Graphics offers
completely individualized 3D products visualization, which is a good example
for service customization. What kinds of services and products do you
offer and how far can they be individualized to each client of yours?

MH: Lumo
Graphics offers solutions for 3D visualization and configuration based on our
standard platform LumoLogic. With LumoLogic users can combine their complex
product structure and variants with the configuration logic and a real-time 3D visualization.
Besides the services for project management and support Lumo Graphics also
offers additional tools like LumoLogic DataPreparator for process integration
and LumoVis as a 3D visualization engine.

FTP: Can you tell a bit about what you have in store
for companies?

MH: Lumo
Graphics works for a lot of customers especially in the complex B2B area. They
all like the integrated and complete solution of Lumo Graphics with 3D
visualization, configuration management and data integration. With Lumo
Graphics companies can avoid failures in the implementation of a 3D
configurator, because of our one stop shopping approach.

FTP: In your presentation at the MC2012 you used the
term YGWYW (You Get What You Want), as an evolvement of the classical WYSIWYG
(What You see Is What You Get). Can you tell more about how 3D imagery changes
the product/buying experience for shoppers when using online configurators?

MH: It is
widely known that seeing is believing. We also quite often talk about that an
image is worth more than 1000 words. So if a customer decides for a complex and
often expensive product he needs a qualitative decision support that is given
by 3D visualization. Products are not only being sold by a rational decision
process but quite often by an emotional aspect, especially in aesthetical
design decisions. 3D visualization also helps customers to understand the
overall possibilities of a product and its variants. So at the end the customer
will get a compelling impression of its own product and forces a correct and a
comprehensible decision.

FTP: Getting a really professional 3D visualization
is most likely more expensive than having a photographer shooting my products.
For which companies do you think these additional costs are outweighing by the
added value of 3D imagination? In other words: For whom are the costs worth it?

MH: If a
company sells products with no or only limited variants than it may be cheaper
to hire a photograph. But in a case that your products have a lot of variants
then it is impossible for a photographer to cover all of them in a given
timeframe and budget. And you always need to wait until the product exists. With
software like that of Lumo Graphics you will be able to manage thousands of
variants and their graphical representation quite easily.

FTP: Do you think 3D product demonstration is
especially suited for MC companies because of the fact that consumers (=
non-professional designers) are integrated into the product design process?

MH: Absolutely.
You have millions of possibilities for a 3D visualization especially in e-commerce.
MC companies need to have a graphical representation of their products because
it makes the customers decision so much easier. Why? In Mass customization the
customers always have a fear of a wrong decision because the product does not
exist before he orders it. So he does not know if it will work (Functional failures)
and if it will look like he is expecting (Aesthetical failures). So the 3D
visualization  assists the customer in his
decision process.

FTP: Can you tell more about the (emotional)
importance of presenting the consumer a more realistic image of what he’s going
to buy?

MH: Think about
dating sites or Facebook. Why does every user of these sites choose an
excellent or a funny picture? The eye believes realistic pictures. And the
pictures create involvement. It’s the same with product visualization. I want
to buy the best looking and working product. If the visualization of a product is
nearly perfect the involvement goes up!

FTP: Do you have figures or specific customer
feedback on how implementing 3D visualizations improved sales or customer

MH: Franz Rapp,
Designer of Mercedes-Benz Buses told us: "We introduced the 3D interior
configurator in order to give our customers reliable support in making
decisions about our highly complex products. After well over 1000 successful
consultations, we have demonstrated that we're right on track with Lumo

customers told us that they reduced the failure rate and the cost of change by
more than 20%.

FTP: How does cooperating with you work in practice?

MH: As I said
before we are a solution company. So if a company identifies the need for 3D visualization
we advise them based on our expertise and technology. After the decision for an
implementation we need to find and prepare the product data (geometries,
dependencies, and so on). In that step we also generate the 3D models and
visualizations of all products parts. After that we install LumoLogic and build
the rules for the real-time visualization. If the customer uses a configuration
toolkit we integrate it. And of course we support the customer in all

FTP: Pretended I was a medium sized MC company
asking for assistance to set up a 3D configurator for my online store. Which
services/products would you recommend to me and how would the process evolve
from there?

MH: First of
all you need to ask what kind of value do you expect from using a 3D
configuration process. Will your product fit and do you have all the product
data? Just a simple example. Would mymuesli.com sell so much more by using a 3D

If you
think and believe that the 3D configurator will help you to get more revenue or
to cut costs or to increase the efficiency of your processes, than we will
advise the customer based on our solutions. And we also talk about the
investment in Hard- and Software. If all checkings  generate a positive ROI than we will offer
the customer the LumoLogic and LumoVis products.

FTP: How easy is it to maintain a 3D configurator in
my online store?

MH: The main
part in maintaining a 3D configurator is the administration of the product
logic. So do I need to stay flexible to change parts in the product database or
does it take long periods of time to get updated 3D models whenever I want to
change something?

LumoLogic we offer a very easy administration tool to combine product parts
with 3D images and configuration rules.

FTP: Can you talk about business figures at all, how
well-received are your services on the MC market?

MH: Depends on
your definition of the MC market. We have a strong position at B2B MC companies
that sell complex products. We don’t have such a strong position in the B2C
segment of the market. But with our strategy we grow approx. 40% per year in the
last years.

FTP: Do you have more traditional or mass
customization companies, and how is the trend there?

MH: We serve
nearly 100% traditional mass customization companies. By that we mean companies
that sell traditional products but with the mass customization approach. But quite
often they don’t name it Mass Customization.

FTP: Obviously most MC companies are still relying
on classical 2D images for their product presentation, while rendered 3D models
have been available since many years. Why, in your opinion, do they still
hesitate to change to the third dimension?

MH: 3D has
quite often not a good reputation because many people believe that it is
complicated and expensive. But with the enormous boost for the 3D technology in
the last years the use of 3D became very easy. And with the enormous boost in bandwidth
we believe that the usage of 3D models in marketing and sales is going to increase.

FTP: What do you think of mass customization in
general, will it be "just a trend" or become (one of) the major
retail models of the future?

MH: Mass
Customization is in the B2B Segment a huge part of the technical solution
concept to deliver technical and design variants, so it is not a trend it is

FTP: Having worked with MC companies before, which
advice do you want to give to them, especially in regards to the importance of
and proper setup of visual product presentation?

MH: Start small
with only one product or product line but work on the process. 3D visualizations
are only one part of the complete configuration process. The full configuration
of the product is represented in a configuration management tool. But also look
at a tool based administration for 3D visualization and use standard software.
Also have in mind that you want to sell across more than one channel. Use 3D
models for configuration and real-time visualization but CGI (computer
generated images) for printed offers. With that you will be prepared fort he 3D
configuration future.

FTP: Marc, thank you very much for these insights! I am looking forward to see more (MC) products being represented in a more realistic way, using professional 3D technology, in the future.

28 09, 2012

Interview: Glubal: A configurator for university-level education to solve the complexity of choice of study programs

By | 2018-06-14T06:50:46+00:00 September 28th, 2012|Customization Trends, Interview, MC/OI on the Web, Personalization, Service Customization|

Glubal logoWhether that be as a regular student, starting to dive into a chosen field of knowledge, or as a professional, taking the next career step by gaining additional skills, creating a matching a student`s very own situation of life  is very important.

However, there always have been a dis-connect: too many offers, and too much confusion. Since more than ten years, I am talking about the idea of an "education configurator".

Now this configurator finally came true.

Glubal wants to make flexible, individual university-level learning happen . The venture is just about to go live with their online configuration system and represents an educational network, connected to an online configurator.

Very simply put, learning interests (to-be students, professionals seeking promotion etc) will be enabled to configure a list of academic programs by the means of the configurator frontend. The programs offered are provided by the universities and other education facilities connected to the glubal network. The opportunity to filter avilible offers to match one`s own life situation best sounds like a compelling idea in theory.


Global configurator

Glubal Configurator: Beta version. Click to enlarge

Glubal results


Marc DrünerProfessor Marc Drüner, glubal CEO and partner at trommsdorff & drüner consultants, kindly agreed to engage in an online interview and explain the concept in more detail.

FTP: Professor Drüner, first. Congratulations to this great idea and realization! You have created glubal as an
intermediary to support a new kind of individual studying. Can you tell our
readers a bit more about the concept behind glubal and what makes it unique?

MD: Our brand glubal stands for global university network. We provide an online
platform (www.glubal.com )
making accredited study and training opportunities available online to students
and business in collaboration with international universities.

The idea of
derives from the background of the Bologna Reform ten years ago. The
establishment of the common credit point system (ECTS) and the
three-cycle-degree (Bachelor, Master & Doctor) in Europe makes a more
flexible and more international study possible.

As professor at the Steinbeis Hochschule Berlin for ten
years and director of an international management consultancy, I have gained
insights into economic as well as academic life. There is a problem on both
sides: Even though the employment market demands increasing flexibility from
employees and employers in terms of education and training, the current
mainstream educational system is just too rigid for many people and does not
support life-long learning. With glubal, we want to tailor study programs to
people’s individual, unique lifestyles. This is the way to ensure a smooth
entry into the jobs market and to guarantee chances of promotion by combining
working with studying for a qualification.

glubal’s USPs are individuality, flexibility and
. The unique feature of our concept is the glubal study
configurator (https://www.glubal.com/en/glubal-configurator ) . Dependent on a student’s personal requirements,
fields of interest, personal budget and chosen method of study, every course
component of our global university network can be combined flexibly and
individually with other components from elsewhere to create a study program
lasting as long as personal circumstances dictate. We ensure that the module
combination selected by a student will lead to a recognized degree.

FTP: Do you consider glubal’s target group to be more the
regular student, trying to go a more flexible way of studying or the “lifelong
learner”, the professional aiming to get additional qualifications?

MD: There is no conflict between students and
professionals for glubal in terms of the target group. Our service is aimed,
above all, at graduates and employees interested in promotion. We also offer an
attractive alternative for current students who need more flexibility and
individuality in their study.

Besides potential students, companies and colleges can
also benefit from our service. For companies, glubal offers not only a whole
new way to access the talents of tomorrow, but also the connection to the
university sector. For colleges and universities, we make it possible to take
on a growing number of students, to fill more places on existing modules, to increase
international brand recognition and improve access to business.

FTP: Establishing a network that allows to (more or less)
freely combine courses from different universities and nations with each other
sounds like a really challenging task, especially given the fact that the
awarding of academic degrees is regulated by national law. How do you ensure compatibility
between all these different modules?

MD: The given background
of Bologna Reform I mentioned before is the corner stone of mutual recognition
of credit points and academic degrees between colleges and universities in
different countries. People have been working on a more transparent and
compatible education system in the international context since more than ten

I think we have reasons to believe that this trend will carry on and
evolve further in the future and that glubal will be able to promote this
process. However, glubal will not interfere with the given administrative and
approval processes for academic modules at our glubal partner universities. The
degree-granting universities stay in the driver-seat and stay completely free
to define, which modules of other universities they do accept under their given
examination regulation.

FTP: The Bologna Process intended to do what could become a
reality with glubal: Allow to study internationally, not just in your country,
and in a way that works best for your interests. Yet, many politicians,
academics and students say that the ideas of Bologna have not been implemented
well enough to really work. What makes the glubal approach more promissing to
achieve better results in comparison?

MD: Of course there are still
dozens of problems to solve even after ten years reform, especially in terms of
the compatibility between the qualities of modules in different universities.
But you cannot deny that the mobility of students inside Europe has greatly
increased at the Erasmus program for instance. We believe in the vision of a
more tolerant education system in the future in the scope of Bologna Reform.
With glubal as an educational initiative we would like to contribute to the
process of harmonization between universities and help shaping a more flexible
education system in the future.

FTP: The idea of highly customized academic learning is not
new. Until today one of the great bottlenecks has been the lack of a
well-designed configurator, allowing (future) students to select the right
modules for their individual life situation and learning goal. Can you tell a
bit about the process in which your clients will select their individual
courses? Are they being guided or just presented with a configurator?

MD: We have been working the whole time on the more simplified and clearer
configuration process. Basically, a student only needs
to visit our online platform, choose his preferred subjects and other options
in our configurator and he will get the suggested study combination from the
system. Of course we also offer personal study consultancy through free hotline
with our professional study advisor, who will accompany the applicants along
the whole way of application.

Our first course begins this
autumn and the application has already started. Our glubal team will do the
best to cover the individual needs of our applicants. With the further
expansion of our global university network, we will be able to offer even more
flexible configurations in the future.

FTP: Developing a system that, if it works, could do a lot
to make flexible life long learning a reality is certainly no easy process. Can
you tell a bit about how you worked on designing the system? Did you work
closely with students and lecturers to get an idea of what they really desire
in a sort of customer co-creation?

MD: I am director of an international
management consultancy and professor at the Steinbeis Hochschule Berlin for ten
years. This kind of career combination enables the possibility to exchange
opinions with students, lecturers and companies for me. I have realized that
there are huge demands from both economy and academy in increasing flexibility
of the education system. The idea of glubal derives exactly from these demands.

FTP: Studying for a master's degree takes about five years,
often more. glubal is a private profit venture and as such is subject to the
laws of the market. How can you guarantee that students will be able to
complete their studies as planned in case of, say, glubal (or HighEd Solutions)
becoming insolvent?

MD: glubal is an aggregator of
studies and does not grand degrees. glubal students will enroll in and enter
study contracts with the chosen universities, and earning real credit points as
every other normal student. In this sense, they don’t carry any market risks in
terms of the possible fluctuation of glubal’s profitability.

FTP: Can you tell about your network of educational
institutions (universities, online course academies,…)? Which and how many
partners does glubal have so far and where are they from, geographically?

MD: glubal stands for global
university network. We have been in contact with universities from the USA, Great
Britain, Australia, Turkey, France, Iceland, Spain, Italy, Chile and of course
the so-called DACH countries (Germany, Austria and Switzerland). Many of them
are already official members and many other have given very positive feedback. We
are optimistic that our network will successfully expand to these regions. We
have also planned the market entry in BRIC countries in the future, starting
with Asia in 2013.

FTP: glubal offers scholarships as well. Can you tell a bit
more about these?

MD: We have already announced
the first three scholarship students for a bachelor’s, a master’s and a
doctoral degree at one of our first partner universities, the Steinbeis School
of Management in Berlin. With the growing membership of our university network,
applicants can expect more attractive scholarships at glubal in the future.

FTP: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see glubal
heading in the next 10 years and what do you think can (and should) still be
improved about the system/process as it is right now? Can we expect more
integrated services in glubal in the future?

MD: Like I mentioned before, we
are now already active in many countries. The intention of internationalization
will increase in the future. We have already planned the market entry in the
BRIC countries (Brasil, Russia, India and China) in 2013. Of course there are
still a lot to improve in every aspect, for example a bigger university
network, more personalized configuration, more optimized platform usability and
so on. The driving force in our team is to provide high quality education with
unprecedented flexibility to all students of the world.

FTP: Professor Drüner, thank you very much for the insights into the concept on glubal. Much success!!

14 08, 2012

Interview: Edward Witlox of RHIEM Services: Logistics for Mass Customization … for Build-A-Bear Europe and others

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:29+00:00 August 14th, 2012|Cases-Industrial, Interview, Personalization, Service Customization, Technologies & Enablers|

Courtesy of RHIEM Services, www.rhiem.com. all rights reserved!Mass customization companies are different from "normal" ones in a number of ways, like their need for a very well working webshop/ configurator that lets the consumer configure his dream-product in an easy yet powerful way. Or the special logistics setup required to produce/ assemble a customized product right after the customer submitted his order and to ensure timely delivery to his doorstep.

From my experiences with MC companies, especially small and medium sized ones, these logistical matters can be a serious barrier when ventures reach a critical number of sales and need to scale up their fulfillment and/ or webshop system.

Witlox, EdAt the MC2012 conference in June I had the pleasure of meeting Edward Witlox, Director of Business Development & Sales at RHIEM Services, a German company originally founded as a printing service provider which has since then successfully evolved into an alround e-logistics expert. As part of their efforts to positon themselves as a partner for MC companies they are, amongst others, responsible for a lot of steps in the logistics chain of Build-A-Bear, famous seller of individualized plush bears.

Edward was so kind to agree on giving us an interview about his views on the logistics aspect of MC, barriers faced and ways to overcome them, and why it can be mission critical for expanding companies to get a strong (e-)logistics partner in time.

FTP: Edward, you told me that RHIEM Services sees itself as a B2B service provider for all logistical needs of mass customization companies. This is an interesting value proposition. So what is it in more detail?

EW: RHIEM is a so called 3PL+ or Value Added Logistics Service Provider, offering, directly and indirectly, a complete of set of logistic services, e.g. (bonded) central warehousing incl. B2B & B2C fulfilment (pick, pack & ship), handling of returns, and of course all shipping. But we also developed into offering customized assembly and production of products for each individual consumer of our clients. And we can manage the complete e-commerce platform or a shopping cart plugin for existing web shops.

FTP: This sounds impressive, but how scalable are your customization services?

EW: Based on a very robust logistic process design (in terms of structure, systems, skills, staff, strategy, style and shared values) RHIEM offers services, scalable to the changing needs of its customers, allowing organizations with no warehouse capacity or without a large enough staff or expertise to manage inventory and orders, saving them costs, while offering a degree of flexibility. As a result, companies of all types are serviced with unlimited scalability.

Several of our current customers which started working with RHIEM while they were a start-up considerably grew during the years, also due to a very good cooperation between parties.

FTP: Pretend I was an entrepreneur on the MC market. How do I profit from contracting with a large company like yours?

EW: Entrepreneurs acting on the MC market will face a momentum to consider whether they remain doing the logistics themselves or decide to outsource. In the later case they will need a partner with a robust logistic process being capable of seamlessly aligning to the processes of the customer company. Being scalable in every facet, without any minimum restrictions to organizational size, turnover or storing volumes to start the cooperation, RHIEM guarantees entrepreneurs an enduring long term logistic solution. RHIEM is such a Service Provider.

As an ecommerce company, MC companies are still acting as a niche player, because their customer base will be mainly exist out of early adaptors of their products. These companies might extend their market, by going cross border. In those cases there are very few LSP’s, offering a scalable ecommerce platform with payment methods for every European country with features like multi-languages, multicurrency and VAT handling; completely integrated with a warehouse management system.

FTP: In your company you are especially responsible for MC clients. From your professional experience in the last years, what separates a mass customization company from a "traditional" one in terms of logistics needs?

EW: From out of a logistic perspective MC companies have a more demanding, intensive and complex logistic process, which also changes over time more rapidly. In general, offering a broad variety of product attributes or combinations to realize a customized product, results in a more complex manufacturing and assembling process, demanding more resources, with a bigger risk on mistakes, resulting in higher costs.

By provisioning flexible, but robust logistic processes, RHIEM is capable of matching complex customization demands, eliminating the risks, against slightly higher logistic costs.

FTP: One of your larger clients is Build-A-Bear Germany. What exactly do you do for them?

Buildabear workshopEW: RHIEM operates the complete B2C e-logistics for BAB, hosting and managing the web shop in terms of e-fulfillment. Actually we host the complete product catalogue and shopping cart. In practice this means that we handle the orders and take care of the financial receipt. After the payment is received, we do the picking of the chosen bear and its attributes, followed by the assemblage. Before packing the product in an eye-catching shipping carton, a fully personalized birth certificate of the bear is printed and added to the bear. Finally, we take care of the distribution of the parcels in Germany, Austria, Switzerland as well as in the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Besides this, we also take care of the B2B fulfilment, by replenishing the BAB stores.

Both logistic flows are being preceded by the main logistic product flow from the manufacturer towards our central warehousing, with RHIEM taking care of these flow as well as the customs clearance for entering Europe.

FTP: Can you give any other interesting examples of MC clients you are working for and what was/is special about your cooperation?

EW: RHIEM services several clients with our Full Color Digital Print-On-Demand techniques, producing high quality individualized marketing materials.

FTP: Do you see logistics as a barrier for growing MC companies which did or are about to make the jump from a few dozen to several thousand sold articles each month? What can be done to overcome this barrier?

EW: All companies jumping from a few to numerous sold articles per month will face a momentum that logistics will become a big hurdle. Especially for MC companies, offering a large variety of product attributes, this hurdle is becoming an even larger barrier. To overcome such a barrier, MC companies do have to make a strategic decision, to ‘make or buy’. Because for many MC companies logistics are not their core competence, seriously hampering their organizational growth, it is wise to consider outsourcing in an early stage or invest heavily in resources and gaining logistic knowledge to do themselves.

FTP: MC is definitively a trend. What does it mean for logistics companies like RHIEM?

EW: With its ambition to become a Mass Customization Logistics Expert, RHIEM will have to extend their e-manufacturing and e-assembly capabilities, like embroidering and engraving to align with several kinds of modularity methods.

FTP: Which changes are you awaiting in the coming years and how do you adapt to best position yourself?

EW: While Europe is still experiencing a delay in cross border ecommerce (on avg. 4-6% of total sales) this situation is changing due to the reduction or even elimination of cross border barriers. RHIEM already has a major competitive advantage in handling cross border fulfilment. Now also optimizing its reverse logistics capabilities it will cover the complete forward & reverse logistics internationally.

Specifically on the MC trend we will face more and more companies adapting any type of mass customization, emerging from segmented standardization into tailored or even pure customization. RHIEM will align with these developments by anticipating and proactively investing in the resources, essential for deploying its manufacturing and assembling activities efficiently and effectively, resulting in the fact that RHIEM continuously will be able to stay tuned with changing customer demands.

FTP: Did you (have to) adapt a lot to satisfy the needs and wishes of your MC clients?

EW: Adapting to satisfy the needs and wishes of our clients is one of our core competences. Historically RHIEM transformed from originally a printing company into a Value Added LSP by adapting to changing customer demands. Nowadays this is one of RHIEM’s values, actively investing based on customer demand or trends to ‘Stay One Step Ahead’.

FTP: From your observations and experiences with MC companies so far, which tips and advises would you like to give in regards to the logistic challenges they are/ will be facing?

EW: The success of MC is in the execution

[not only in the concept]. The logistic process is essential in this stage and crucial for satisfying the customer. Due to the fact that technologies follow each other even faster and customer demands are changing more rapidly in the future, it will be mandatory for a MC company to adapt to these developments. Logistics will thereby become more and more one of the key differentiators between success and failure of a MC initiative.

By focusing on marketing, sales and customer service, MC companies will have a daytime job to deploy these activities well. In those cases, they need to rely on a proactive flexible, but robust logistic partner. RHIEM is ready for it, to fill in this role successfully on behalf of the customer!

FTP: Edward, thank you very much for these interesting insights and outlooks! Im definitively looking forward to follow your work in the coming years and see which ways you come up with to improve e-logistics for MC companies.

More information about RHIEM Services at their company website and also on twitter.

1 08, 2012

Meet Christian Guelpen, Editor in Chief of Mass Customization & Open Innovation News

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:36+00:00 August 1st, 2012|General, Interview|

Version2_web_2Everyone who knows me better may have wondered about the strong increase in blog postings since the last year. The reason is not that I discovered this extra 25th hour of the day, but that Christian Guelpen became a strong partner in form of an editor in chief and producer of this blog. Christian is in not just turning my blog ideas into great postings, but has also developed a great talent to know before me what I might be interested in. 

So, while I am very open to get your mails and comments in person, I also encourage you to contact Christian directly for any ideas for a story, any news, or tips.

Instead of a long introduction, here are three questions I asked to Christian:

FTP: What makes mass customization or open innovation such an interesting
topic for you?

CG: Mass customization is what I consider to be the future of retail, both for the B2C and B2B market. Historically, goods of all kinds were rather individual. On small local markets the demands of customers were well known to the sales- and craftsmen who were well-advised to make their products and services match these needs. 

With the industrialization came a loss of individualism in regards to every-day products. For a long time vendors had to produce stadardized goods to be competitive on a more and more globalized market. 

What we experience now is that mass customization takes the most globalizing of all technologies, the internet, and turns it into an enabler to make products and services more individual again, at a reasonable price. And MC is still developing. Once it has reached its full potential in a few years or so we will most definitively see applications of individual mass production that we can not even imagine as of today. 

And with regard to open innovation, I find it fascinating that it is not just about product innovation, but that it can serve a greater social goal by making knowledge and, equally important, emotions availible to others. The internet is the hardware, the great enabler of global connectivity. Open innovation is the software, the concept needed to channel all these connected minds to help them contribute in their area of interest. 

FTP: What would be a story you would like to cover for this blog?

CG: Ideally one in which a company manages to significantly raise its sales numbers by deciding to offer either mass customization for their existing products or employ open innovation techniques to find out what their consumer base really wants – and how it can be made reality. And while such stories of course do exist, I would love to cover the entire process of a large(er) company successfully implementing one (or both!) of the concepts, to give others an example of why and how it does work in practical details. So if anybody is just about to start doing this, please give me a call! 

FTP: What is the mass customization offering you are still waiting for?

CG: Truly individual books. By that I do not mean these already existing offers which customize stories by exchanging a characters name by yours but really individualized novels which are individually written based on what you think and dream about. Books that make your very personal fiction a readable reality. However, until somebody comes along and invents a mind reading device to serve as a capable "configurator" in this venture, fully customizable appartments (not just what you put into them) would be a great thing to have as well. 

26 07, 2012

Interview: Andreas Krönke of Stickvogel: A Promissing B2B Approach to Service Customization

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:47+00:00 Juli 26th, 2012|Cases-Industrial, Clothing, Interview, Personalization, Technologies & Enablers|

Copyright Stickvogel, www.stickvogel.de, all rights reserved!Most mass customization happens in the world of B2C, where a business sells its products to consumers which they have individualized to tehir needs. However, there are a number of B2B approaches as well, MC-companies offering customized services to other companies. I have called these business models "MC platforms", and they are one of the strongest developments in the field.

One of these MC platform is Stickvogel. The venture from Berlin, Germany, has been in the market of embroidery for almost 10 years now and has recently signed a deal with Butlers, a leading German "stuff" retailer (think of IKEA without the furniture, and located on high street). Certainly is a big success for a small MC company! Like with Butlers, Stickvogel enables vendors of embroidable goods to offer their consumers individualized products.

Copyright Stickvogel, www.stickvogel.de, all rights reserved!Core piece of their portfolio is a specialized configurator which can be integrated into the vendor's own web presence. Furthermore, Stickvogel takes the burden of production, logistics and backoffice services off their partner's shoulders, significantly lowering the barrier for companies to enter the market of mass customized products. 

Motivated by the great successes of the past years, the team around CEO Philip Siefer has expanded their offerings to engraving and canvas printing and are planning to broaden their portfolio further. 

All rights reserved!At the MC2012 in June we had the chance to talk to Andreas Krönke, head of public relations at Stickvogel, who kindly granted us a lot of insight into their business experiences, plans for the future, and views on mass customization in general

FTP: Andreas, Stickvogel is going to celebrate its 10th anniversary next year. Can you tell a bit about the evolution of your business?

AK: Philip, our CEO, had the Stickvogel idea in 2003. Later Stephan joined Philip and they both started the whole business in Ilmenau, where they were studying media technology at the Ilmenau University of Technology. In the first years Stickvogel was a manufacturer of personalized textiles. The focus of the company was B2C.  Then, we got IKEA as our customer. In 2006 we started with embroidering in-store in more and more IKEA stores, primarily during the time before christmas.

Last year, our cooperation with the German retailer Butlers began and we turned more into a software startup. We developed a configurator which easily enables the user to personalize a broad range of products in a very qualitative way. At the moment we offer, of course, embroidery, but also engraving and canvas print.

FTP: Your approach is (now) one of a B2B service provider. Can you outline what exactly you offer to companies?

AK: Our most important product has become our configurator. We offer the whole software package to companies which then use it in the B2C market. But not only we offer the software with back-office. Also we produce all personalized products with our very own machinery. However, it's also possible for our partners to produce products with their own machines. You see, our processes are very flexible. Finally we can overtake the complete logistics and cover the whole service like storage, customization and shipping.

FTP: You offer full service, and deal with big players. But your team seems not to be very large. How do you handle both the workload and the risk of peaks during which your capacities might not suffice to deal with all the orders? And how scalable is the package you offer?

AK: Good question. What is very important for us, is automation. All processes have to be really optimized and we always try to make it even more easy for our team in the production. Everything should happen in the quickest way possible.

Our package is very scalable and flexible. We can satisfy big customers as well as small ones like Sox & Boxers. They sell, as one could assume by the name, socks and boxer shorts. With our service they're able to personalize their textiles. And we take care of everything: storage, embroidery, pick and pack, shipping.

FTP: Besides embroiding you do also offer printing and engraving. Did that open up new markets for you? Does it work with your existing infrastructure or are major changes needed to add these techniques to your product portfolio?

AK: Everything starts with a challenge. It's always exciting to add a new product to our portfolio. But our system is so adoptable that it was no problem to integrate these new techniques. In the future we can fulfill even more wishes of our customers and, like that, explore new markets.

FTP: With Butlers you have a rather large vendor as a business partner. Can you tell about how cooperating between a company your size and their size works out in every day business?

AK: Butlers is an exceptional company with a flat hierarchy. Furthermore they are really open minded. That makes it really easy and pleasant to work with them quite close.

FTP: Many smaller MC businesses will be eager to ask one question: How did you manage to establish contact and get into a cooperation with such a large partner?

AK: Actually we were quite lucky. We had a sales promotion at IKEA, where people could experience embroidery live. There we also attracted the attention of Wilhelm Josten, the CEO of Butlers, actually more the one of his wife. By chance Philip himself was there at this very day and so the contact was set up. Philip and Wilhelm Josten kept on talking over many weeks. Don't think that pitching only lasts ten minutes. Adjustments to fit into their value creation chain were not necessary, though. By the way, the same thing happened with IKEA, they saw us during a sales promotion at Breuninger Erfurt.

FTP: Can you talk about some of your business figures and their development over time at all?

AK: We could double or triple our turnover almost every year. In 2011 it was by 300.000 Euros. But please don't tell anyone!

FTP: Which advise would you give someone starting their own MC business?

AK: At first, be passionated about what you do. If you don't love what you do, don't do it. Always stay focused and keep the overview. And don't spend to much money. Of course, we sometimes were in difficult situations, but they've never been an obstacle for us.

FTP: How important do you rate the use of social media not only to promote ones MC-company but also interact with consumers to better position oneselve in the market?

AK: Social media is definitely a key topic. Social media is MC in the internet. We're using many social media channels like of course Facebook and Twitter, where we post contributions about twice a week. But we want to increase our communication more and more, provided that our fans and followers like that. We also really like to get feedback or messages via Twitter and Facebook. But we do not only use these services. We also like YouTube to give people the possibility to peek behind the scences of Stickvogel. And we have a corporate blog that you can find on our website stickvogel.com. The use of social media is very naturally to us and it became completely common. We also use social media for internal communication. In one sentence: We love social media.

FTP: Are you considering to open up a B2C web-shop of your own, with a configurator like a "classical" MC company?

AK: Yes, we do! Keep your eyes open. Silberäffchen

[Silver Monkey] will go live soon. It is a web-shop specialized on engraving of silver products. [UPTADE: Silberäffchen has gone into beta and can be accessed via www.silberaeffchen.de]

FTP: Are there any other new products or projects in planning for you? What can we expect next?

AK: We will acquire lots of more customers in the next weeks and develop the next version of our configurator, an even better back-office and a magento plug-in. And we hope that we can offer more MC techniques. To not discriminate against other animals we want to launch an online shop for every animal. Silberäffchen is just the beginning. Besides we always have some fun projects. But those are mostly secret – for now.

FTP: Andreas, I hope your new projects will work out as well for you as your past ones and I am sure we will keep hearing about you.

All details about Stickvogel can be found on their company website, www.stickvogel.com! And to get a sneak peak of what their production looks like, here is a video for you!


19 07, 2012

Interview: Sabine Beck of Amoonic: Custom Jewelry for Every Budget

By | 2018-06-14T06:54:58+00:00 Juli 19th, 2012|Cases-Consumer, Co-Design Process, Interview, MC/OI on the Web, Personalization|

Copyright Amoonic, www.amoonic.de, all rights reserved!Amoonic has been a presenter in the startup panel of the MC2012 conference in Salzburg. Founded in 2011, they are striving to give the market something that it does not already have in excess: customized jewelry at an affordable price

"Affordable" is, however, a rather relative criteria, depending on one's own budget, and so Amoonic's products range from 150 to 2.5 million Euro. That being said, the majority of products do, of course, feature a significantly lower price tag than what they ask for their masterpiece, the La Fleur.  Besides rings in all shapes and materials, holding all kinds of gems, Amoonic also offers earrings, brooches, necklaces and, for the male customer, cufflinks.

Custom jewelry has been one of the best funded and prominent applications of MC in the net, with large and successful players like GEMVARA in the US or investments from the German Sammer brothers in the same field.

Copyright Amoonic, www.amoonic.de, all rights reserved!Like their competitors, Amoonic's portfolio is rather large,  with over 6000 rings, about 900 earrings and nacklaces each and 300 cufflinks. All designs are made on-demand and hence do not require any upfront investment with the risk of losing money if they do not get sold. Storage costs are also extremely low, granting better chances to prevail on the tough market for jewelry. 

Amoonic is also constantly trying to optimise customer experience. For example, Amoonic has just adjusted theit website, now making it a lot easier for the (potential) customer to recognize the individualization potential and to get to configure his/her own jewelry.

All rights reserved!We had the chance to talk to Sabine Beck who founded Amoonic together with Olga Dick. In our interview she gave insight into the specifics of the mass custom online jewelry market, how Amoonic overcomes some of the hurdles MC-entprepreneurs are confronted with and gives valuable tips for others who play with the thought to enter the world of individualized online commerce.

FTP: Sabine, you gave a great presentation of your jewelry business Amoonic on this year's MC2012 conference. Being a relatively young venture, how have your experiences on the MC market have been so far and how do they compare to your expectations when you decided to start Amoonic?

SB: Our experience so far shows that individualizing jewelry is definitely a trend in the mass customization market. The demand, to suit jewelry to ones own need is consistent with our expectations. In fact, it was difficult to clearly illustrate or demonstrate at first glance on our website that at Amoonìc jewelry can be customized without losing on design. We had to overcome the gap between a visually elegant and exclusive shop for the premium range and an easy recognizable display site that is about customizable jewelry.

Since last week, you can see at once that this is an exclusive shop in the premium range of mass customization. We have made it clear on our home page as well as on our category pages that you can customize each product. It was important for us that Amoonìc is not to be seen as a standard online shop but as a high-quality "online jeweler".

FTP: Your business model differs from many others insofar as it does require very little storage of raw materials and components, equaling lower fix costs. Does this allow you to compete with other non-MC vendors in terms of price?

SB: We cannot produce as low as companies that manufacture their products abroad. To ensure the highest standard in terms of quality, we produce only in Germany. Nevertheless, our prices are similar to the ones in a traditional jewelry store because we do not have to bear the risk that a collection is not sold. We also don’t provide the usual in store customer service or have expensive store costs so we can maintain prices similar to store prices.

FTP: How do you guarantee timely delivery of products to your customers, seeing how every piece of jewelry has to be produced individually and that the number of orders can fluctuate?

SB: In the background, Amoonìc  has already a very well-functioning supply chain which runs smoothly and partly automated. Thus Amoonìc ensure that even with a higher order volume delivery time can be maintained easily and we have access to flexible resources. Also, we already included a time buffer in our delivery time to avoid delays.

Due to our good contacts to suppliers in the jewelry industry, we can procure our materials in the shortest possible time. Especially in the jewelry industry it is difficult to set up such a flexible supplier network. One advantage is that we are very well networked. We have a flexible price model which allows us to update the prices quickly in frequent intervals.

FTP: Jewelry is typically a product that customers want to see and feel in reality before they buy it. Has this turned out to be an obstacle for your business? How do you (plan) to overcome it?

SB: For Amoonìc the sense of touching jewelry has become a solvable problem. With the possibility to see the jewelry on the own hand by photo-realistic images the customer gets an accurate idea of ​​the piece of jewelry. Being able to return the jewelry within 30 days takes away the inhibition of the customer to buy a gem without having seen it in person.

FTP: Can you tell anything about your sales figures? How well are your offerings received by consumers?

SB: The order volume has exceeded our expectations. We plan and like to reach the break-even-point in the middle of next year.

FTP: At the MC2012 conference you estimated about 40% of your sales to be pre-configured jewelry, 60% customized. How do customized rings differ from their preconfigured pendants? Are all possible combinations of gems and materials already in the preconfigured catalogue?

SB: Customized rings do not differ from the preconfigured pendants. All different combinations are shown in our catalogue on our website so that there is no real need for the customer to customize a ring, if he is not interested in doing so.

FTP: Do you have any plans to broaden your portfolio of products in the foreseeable future? Or to offer new features to your website?

SB: We plan to expand within the next year. In addition to that, we will offer an English version of our website to address a bigger market. In addition, in the next few months there will be a lot of new features available on amoonic.de. Open Innovation is our approach for the future, this means we constantly include our customers and othe experts in the innovation process.

FTP: What do you think where MC in general is heading? Will it just be a trend or the new business model for (most) vendors?

SB: In my opinion, MC address people who don´t want to buy anything from the rack. They would like to emphasize their own personality. I think right now we are still speaking of a trend, but I believe that this trend will develop and establish itself in the next few years. Especially those with middle or higher incomes make a point in buying something unique to distinguish themselves from others and to meet their own needs.

FTP: Which advise would you give entrepreneurs planning to enter the MC market? Can you tell about any mistakes you made that they should avoid?

SB: The most important fact is to consider the size of the targeted market. The main focus should not be only on the configurator. All various possible combinations of the products should also be displayed in the shop. In our opinion the passion to create a product playfully depends heavily on the target group as well as on the gender. In addition, the configurator should be easy to use. Another aspect is that you should create independent content from the SEO point of view besides the configurator, so that you can guarantee a good visibility on Google and other search engines.

FTP: How important do you rate the use of social media not only to promote ones MC-company but also interact with consumers to better position oneself in the market?

SB: Nowadays social media is mandatory and the direct interaction with customers is a real benefit. To us open innovation is the cue. Involving the customer in the idea generation phase is very important and we believe that this is the future. This may reduce intensive costs for market research In the future.

FTP: Sabine, thank you very much for the interview and your interesting views on the mass customization market. I am looking forward to watch Amoonic evolve!

17 07, 2012

Interview: Heiko Vogelgesang of egoo.de, the leading German Mass Customization Consumer Portal

By | 2018-06-14T06:55:01+00:00 Juli 17th, 2012|Cases-Consumer, Customization Trends, Deutsch (in German), Interview, MC/OI on the Web, Personalization|

Heiko_vogelgesang_09_swWhile the Mass Customization "movement" originated in the United States, the German speaking world has long caught fire about the concept. Many companies are already employing it over here, be it as their main business model or "just" a side branch. 

For all those who want to update themselves on news and trends about MC in German language, my dear blogging colleague Heiko Vogelgesang will most likely have you covered on his very well-written and often updated blog egoo.de.

Furthermore, egoo.de features a pretty comprehensive database of MC companies from around the world, often with a personal review of the products by Heiko. 

We had the chance to talk to Heiko about his blog, the experiences and observations he made during his years-long time in the MC community and his expectations for the future of  individual customization. So read on for what egoo.de really has to offer!

FTP: Heiko, your blog egoo.de is the largest mass customization blogs in German language, and one of the best in the world. Many people take it as an entry point to the MC world. When did your interest for MC spark up and what fascinated you so much about this topic that you decided to start your own blog about it?

HV: My interest started with my first own shirt in 1999. I loved the idea of creating your own products. Nonetheless almost eight years passed unitl I realized that there is a lot of need of information. Beginning of 2007 I wrote an article with an overview of german Mass Customization Online-Shops on my private blog. I never had so many visitors on my blog before. So I researched about this topic and saw that there is no website which informs specific about this topic. egoo was born. After round a about 1 ½ years of planning, egoo.de started in september 2008. 

FTP: What exactly do you offer? What can consumers, scholars, managers expect to get out of a visit on your blog?

HV: First, egoo is geared to end consumers. They can expect a "unique" database of mc-companies, interesting news about personalized products and special offers. But also scholars and managers will find a lot of posts with interesting news about the mc industry.

FTP: And how does this work for companies wanting to be included into your database? Can one simply sign up and fill a questionnaire or do you hand pick them?

HV: Yes, there is a simple way to sign up for free at http://egoo.de/shops/shop-eintragen. The principal goal is to have a complete database with ALL online-shops where you can customize products. To give the visitors an orientation there are hand-picked recommendations in the specific categories.

FTP: Can you go a bit in depth about the benefits of your database for consumers in comparison to, say, just googling for MC companies?

HV: Gladly! First of all the visitor gets an editorially approved overview over all mc-shops of his interest. eg. business shirts. Also, as i already mentioned, the visitors find in every category hand-picked recommendations. Additionally there are detailed information like pricing, shipping time, special offers and year of founding provided for most of the stores. 

FTP: With these services offered, your database needs to be and stay curated and maintained. How do you guarantee for up-to-date information about the companies listed in it?

HV: In Germany we call it "Alle Angaben ohne Gewähr"

[information supplied without liability]. 😉 So there is no guarantee that all information are up to date at all times. But I check the information regularly and do my very best.

FTP: All this work you invest into your blog and the database certainly costs a lot of time. How do you finance yourself, do your services cost money?

HV: No, there are no costs for customer and no costs for shops. I try to finance this project just by ads. For example companies can buy display-ads, a highlighted position in the database or other special promotions.

FTP: A more in general question: what do you think will the future of Mass Customization be? Will it just be a trend or the new businesacs model for all (or most) of retail?

HV: In my opinion it quite clearly is a new business model for retail. But not for all. You'll never will successful sell customized bathroom tissue. At least in masses. But for the most retailer there is a lot of potential in mass customization. 

FTP: From your experience with all the companies you examined for your database: What are the major errors you notice being made by MC-companies and how do your think these could be avoided?

HV: The major error was to think that to sell personalized products are easier than other ones. In the commodity boom of the MC trend in 2010, there were a lot of startups in Germany who tried to jump on the bandwagon. Many of them are closed again. E-Commerce isn't that easy. On the contrary: With personalized product you have to solve a lot of problems that you don't have with mass-products. 

FTP: How important do you rate the use of social media not only to promote ones MC-company but also interact with consumers to better position oneselve in the market?

HV: Especially personalized products are very emotional. Customers put a lot of time to create their own product so they love them. That's the perfect requirement for sharing in social media. This advantage can be exploited by the mc-companies.

FTP: Do you see any differences between smaller and larger vendors when it comes to MC? 

HV: The "small" start-ups are much more flexible and the most ones are really innovative. Some of them created completely new processes in production. The big ones are sluggish and need much, much more time to optimize their workflow or offers. Moreover I had the feeling that they are spoilt of the easy way to sell their mass-products. If there is a problem they stop the experiment mass customization or don't even start.

FTP: Do you have anything planned for egoo.de? Are any new services or projects to be expected?

HV: There are many optimizations for the directory planned. The next step is to persuade more vendors to provide a customer-friendly returning policy which will be signalized with an egoo seal and integrate customer reviews in the directory.

FTP: Heiko, thank you very much! I am looking forward to your upcoming articles and to follow your next projects!  And a note for anyone in the mass customization field: Support Heiko by cooperating with him, linking to his blog, and providing him with info and perhaps paid ads. As without a large consumer-focused portal, we will never shift MC consuption to a higher level!

13 04, 2009

Interview: Joel Yatscoff of Joy de Vivre on Microfinanced Crowdsourcing and How He Helps Creative Designers to Get Their Products Out to Consumers

By | 2018-06-14T11:09:49+00:00 April 13th, 2009|Crowdsourcing, Design, Interview, MC Alternatives|

Joel YatscoffI recently wrote in this blog about Joy de Vivre, the Toronto based company that lets consumers vote on its product assortments. In this interview, founder Joel Yatscoff provides us more information about his vision, how the idea got started (Joy de Vivre seems to be again a typical case of an user innovation, originating from a frustrated user), about first successes and challenges, and what is coming next. His basic motive of democratizing the process how designers can get their products out to consumers, bypassing the power of traditional manufacturers of choosing and investing in designs, reminds me of Ronen Kadushi's idea of open design – different approach to the same problem.

Joel Yatscoff is a Toronto-based product designer. Originally from Beaumont, a small French Community in Alberta, he later studied at the University of Alberta and received his Bachelor of Design with Distinction in 2003.  Currently working in a product development consultancy in Toronto, Joel has also interned at Karim Rashid in New York City in 2002.  He has been recognized nationally and internationally for his roles as a freelance, collaborating, and supporting designer by the Chicago Athenaeum Good Design Award, IDEA, and Conduit National Design Competition.  Joel is also pursuing post-graduate studies in design management at Ryerson University.

Frank T. Piller: Joel, what was the insight and inspiration that motivated you to start Joy de Vivre?

Joel Yatscoff: I had been tinkering around with this concept since about 2006.  I had been out of post-secondary studies for 3 years and had been pitching some really great ideas

[of product designs] to companies in New York with my good friend and business partner Bradley Price.  As I remember, it was about our 3rd consecutive year of pitching concepts with limited success.  I was getting really frustrated with how our great ideas were only receiving lukewarm reception but the company was producing real garbage.  We were biased towards our work of course, but it really seemed like frustrating process where we were acting more like salesmen than designers.  This was really the start, thinking there must be a better way for designer to get their great ideas to market.

At some point I remember hearing about Muhammad Yunus’ Nobel prize for micro-loans.  I found the concept of raising money through small increments very inspiring.  I think that lodged somewhere in my head and I thought it made sense to raise the great sums of money required for consumer product manufacturing.

I slowly formulated the business structure in my head and was encouraged to write a business plan to clarify and refine my concept.  I also began to notice that a few companies were really starting to use crowdsourcing to develop goods and it was only a matter of time until someone decided to apply it to consumer products.  As I didn’t want to regret not giving it a shot, I plunged in.  I took the fall of 2008 off from my continuing education studies in design management to devote time towards setting up the business.  And here we are now, 2 months in.

FTP: What are the first experiences with Joy de Vivre? Which reactions did you get, and what are your early users saying?

JY: The first experiences are very, very positive.  Everyone is very excited about the idea and really hope that it works out for us.  Our sales and traffic are slowly increasing, but am impressed with the impact we have made in just over 60 days.  Most interesting is following we have developed from Australia, Germany, and Israel.

FTP: Can you tell us a bit more about yourself? Do you have any personal experience with crowdsourcing?

JY: By education and experience I am a product design that has been practicing since I graduated from University in 2003.  I’ve had the opportunity to work as an in-house, freelance, and consultancy-based designer.  These jobs have allowed me to work on projects that range from municipal water treatment products and peritoneal dialysis machines, to dog toys and water bottles.  I have a real passion for well designed products and love the industry.  Other than that, I’m getting married in July and realized a year ago that I should have been sailing my entire life.

I don’t have any real first hand experiences with crowdsourcing other than my fiancé buying shirts from Threadless.com.  I wouldn’t say I’ve studied crowdsourcing or anything, I just find it a natural process.  As the old adage goes, “many hands make light work.”  The internet has allowed many more “hands” to get involved than would have been possible in the past.

FTP: How do you think Joy de Vivre is different to similar crowdsourcing companies? How do you want to make it special?

JY: Currently, no one else is using crowdsourcing to procure new ideas for consumer products and fund them.  Some sites are using crowdsourcing to spotlight products or designers, to source all their designs like threadless.com, or fund the upcoming albums of new bands, but no one has applied this to capital intensive projects like consumer products.   This is the biggest difference.  

Threadless does a great job procuring really great graphic designs and then has a small investment to bring them to market (buying the shirts, creating the silk screens, etc…). But consumer products are quite different.  We still have to procure the ideas but we also have to pay for substantial costs upfront before anything is made.  Tooling costs for consumer products start in the tens of thousands of dollars and can get into the hundreds of thousands of ideas very quickly.  This is why we pre-sell the products: we raise the money to pay for all the capital costs.  It significantly reduces any financial risk we take on and eliminates the risk for the consumer as we refund any money if the product is not fully funded.

We really want to make Joy de Vivre special by offering designers an outlet where they are encouraged to submit their ideas (not rejected like at most traditional manufacturers), offered fair, competitive compensation, sell really well designed, beautiful, and functional products, and reward our community by compensating them for helping to fund the product’s development.

FTP: What is the source of the designs? Who are your first designers?

JY: The first product we made available for funding, Cellule, was designed by Bradley Price and myself.  We had designed this modular lattice a long time ago and I always thought it was great idea and w
as puzzled why no manufacturers had jumped on it.  It seemed natural to launch with this product as it seemed symbolic of why I founded the company.  The second product, Terence Cooke’s “Fruity Bowl”, was a submission (full disclosure, I’ve known Terence for several years).  From this point, we will only be making products available for purchase that proves popular from our community.  This is in keeping with our crowdsourced model and will really help ensure whatever is made available for purchase will sell really well.

We should have no shortage of good ideas that will be submitted to our website.  Most product designers are always tinkering in their spare time to either build up their portfolios, create submissions for design competitions, or to pitch new concepts to manufacturers.  In time we hope that designers will be designing product just for us and then we will have a steady stream of product ideas.
 We will hopefully be giving all these beautiful, orphaned ideas a good home.

FTP: You also announced an open design competition. How will this take work?

JY: Yes, in a sense we are running an ongoing design competition.  Unlike traditional manufacturers, we are encouraging designers and innovators to send in their product ideas.  Normally, it is very difficult to make a good contact in an organization to pitch your ideas and most of the times they don’t accept design submissions if they have not asked for them.

We have now setup a submissions and voting platform where designers can submit their product ideas and our community can vote on them.  Popular ideas rise and less popular ideas sink.  We will be closely monitoring the submissions and ideas that do really well be chosen for production.  The submission process is really easy: all a designer has to do is upload a short description of the product and a few nice images.  The onus is on them to clearly communicate what the product is and really sell to the community.

FTP: A critical success factor for your business will be to gather a large enough crowd that follows the proposals and votes for them (with their money). How do you plan to create this movement?

JY: I couldn’t agree more, a big crowd makes or breaks this model.  We have a promotion strategy that has several fronts to get the crowds to us.

First, if a designer has a product made available for funding or voting, he/she has an incentive to spread the message to friends and family.  The more votes or purchases of that designer’s product the better its chances getting picked for production or become fully funded respectively.  We also hope that our consumers will spread the message.  Since we are rewarding everyone who helps to fund a product’s development, there is an incentive on the purchaser to tell friends and family about their purchase and encourage them to also buy.  More sales greatly increase the likelihood of a product being manufactured.  It is word of mouth advertising and is very potent.  We’ve already had purchasers of our first product promote the product and generate additional sales.

Second, we promote all the products that are made available for funding.  We have begun developing an extensive network of online and traditional media to publicize our new product offerings.  We are now able to send out a press release to a few select blogs and be quite confident of receiving a posting.  This allows us to very quickly disseminate a press release and really ramp the site traffic up.

Finally, we will be complementing the product promotion with our blog.  The blog highlights emerging designers and great products which are not being manufactured.  The blog combined with the submission/voting forum will slowly build up the community and make us a hub for emerging designers and products are not in production.  We are aware of how long this may take, but we are slowly getting there and have been surpassing all our site traffic targets to date.

FTP: In general, what are recent trends you see with regard to crowdsourcing and open innovation? What will be next?

JY: I see many more companies forming like us but for specialized products and services.  You already see many bands raising the funds to record their next albums through crowdsourcing models.  I’ve heard most recently of over $75,000 being raised for a female artist to record her latest album.  Her last track on the album has her singing out all the names of the people who helped raise the funds.  

With this kind of money able to be raised, it really opens doors to many more types of products and services.  The effect will likely be thousands of smaller companies using crowdsourcing and micro-financing to make product and services.  While I don’t believe the traditional Ikea’s will ever disappear, the consumer will have a lot more available to them because they will be helping to define what they want.

For more information, visit joydevivre.org or contact Joel Yatscoff at
joel (at) joydevivre.org or 364 King St. East, Toronto, Ontario M5A-1K9, Canada

2 04, 2009

Interview: Bruce Kasanoff of NowPossible.com on „Personal=Smarter“

By | 2018-06-14T11:09:51+00:00 April 2nd, 2009|Books, Customization Trends, Interview, Personalization, Service Customization|

Bruce Kasanoff, founder of NowPossible.com
Bruce Kasanoff
is founder and editor of NowPossible.com, which "covers the leading edge of personalization". Bruce wrote the one of the first business books in our domain of mass customization & personalization, "Making It Personal" (2002). He was head of training, research and development for Peppers and Rogers Group, a leading personalization consultancy. The Chartered Institute of Marketing cited Bruce among their inaugural listing of the 50 most influential thinkers in marketing and business today. He works with innovative vendors and enterprises, helping them leverage personalization strategies to build lasting competitive advantage.

"Personal=Smarter," says Bruce, explaining that the more a company customizes, the smarter it becomes. The smarter it gets, the more formidable a competitor it becomes. He has delivered training programs, workshops and keynote speeches to a wide variety of organizations in 21 states and eight countries. His audiences have included technology executives, physicians, managers, customer service representatives and entrepreneurs.

And as he shares in the following interview, Bruce is writing a second book on the topic! So stay tuned for much more brilliant ideas from this great mind in personalization!

FTP: Bruce, there has been a long discussion about terms and concepts in our field. So, what is personalization in your understanding?

BK: Personalization is using technology to accommodate the differences between people. Done right, it's a win/win strategy for providing a better outcome for both the service provider and the individuals involved. For example, if a doctor gives you a test to determine which treatment will work best for you before she starts your treatment, that's personalization. Likewise, if a company gives you the option to tell them when and how to contact you, that's also personalization.

FTP: How is this different to mass customization, where are differences and complements between personalization and mass customization?

BK: Mass customization is a process for implementing personalization. In some respects, personalization is a goal and mass customization is one way to accomplish that goal. But we need to be careful about defining or debating semantics. Both personalization and mass customization push a company towards being more responsive to the marketplace and thus being more nimble. Both result in a firm that can react faster and more effectively to volatility. Both enable a company to build defendable competitive advantages, because both require a firm to track, understand and accommodate the needs of its customers.

FTP: You are one of the earliest voices and thinkers in the field. What originally drew your interest to the concept of personalization?

BK: I was very lucky. One day I read "The One to One Future" by Don Peppers and Martha Rogers, and thought it was brilliant. At the time, I was working for Ogilvy & Mather, and I wrote a strategy brief for a client that used some of the personalization ideas from that book. Shortly thereafter, I saw a little story in our local paper announcing that Don and Martha were starting their company in my town! I sent them an email asking if they wanted a partner, and included a version of my brief. One week later, I was their partner. That was 1996, and it gave me the luxury of spending all my time thinking about personalization and working with many of the pioneers in the field.

FTP: What are recent trends you see with regard to personalization? Are there any industries or individual companies driving these trends?

BK: Personalization is everywhere, although it's not necessarily called that. I dare anyone to name an industry in which personalization is not playing an increasingly important role. It impacts how you search for information, share opinions, make decisions, place orders, use products, get service, and live your life. Google is a leading practitioner, and both IBM and HP are key enablers. For example, IBM's "smarter planet" approach is a wonderful embodiment of the "Personal=Smarter" logic I've been talking about for some time. I was thrilled to see one of the world's largest companies adopt this theme as a selling point for its clients.

The most important trend, just now emerging, is the opportunity to personalize the development and care of our bodies and minds. It sounds dramatic to say it, but personalized medicine and education will literally impact the future of the human race. At present, "personalized" approaches are being used to restore health and function to people who have a physical challenge, such as the loss of a limb or of control over their body (such as ALS.) But as these technologies get cheaper and more powerful, they will be made available to everyone. For example, a brain-computer interface that a "locked-in" individual uses to communicate (because he can't speak) will someday help students learn faster and more in tune with their personal learning styles.

FTP: What is the largest challenge still to be overcome in personalization?

BK: The way we think. Personalization is not a difficult concept to understand, but it is a difficult concept to apply. It's easier for managers to look at customers, projects and investments in isolation, but personalization requires a process – and a mindset – that pervades an organization. It requires a different culture, and near-constant care and feeding of that culture. Not many managers understand this, yet.

FTP: What would be your main advice for a manager who wants to lead a personalization or mass customization implementation?

BK: Spend 25% of your time and budget on training, and on changing your culture. When it comes to personalization, training is not a one-time thing. Your staff and your systems are used to a non-personalized approach; they will constantly try to shift back in that direction. Unless you anticipate this and work consistently to prevent such backsliding, it will prevent you from enjoying measurable success.

FTP: You recently started your new blog, nowpossible.com. The depth and width of content you have provided there just within the last two months is really astonishing! What was your motivation to start this effort, and who is your target audience?

BK: Thanks. I'm writing a second book on personalization called "You! and Improved!", and as you know, writing is a solitary process. The website gives me an opportunity to test ideas, get feedback, and enlist innovative people in my work. I have two target audiences. The first includes innovators in organizations who are making personalization work better and better. The second comprises thoughtful individuals who would like to understand and benefit from this trend that can change their lives for the better.

FTP: To conclude: What is, in general and beyond your industry, the greatest personalization (and/or mass customization) offering ever – either one that is already existing or that you would like to get in the future?

BK: That's simple. I want to gain control over my fate, to anticipate and thus prevent the afflictions that would otherwise shorten my life or reduce my quality of life; to stay strong and mentally sharp longer than previous generations; and to be able to find and connect with the people and ideas that personally interest me.

Contact Bruce Kasanoff at (203) 341-9448 or bruce (at) nowpossible.com