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

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

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

About the Author:

Frank T. Piller is a Co-Director of the MIT Smart Customization Group at the MIT Media Lab, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, USA, and a chair professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, one of Europe’s leading institutes of technology. Before entering his recent position in Aachen, he worked at the MIT Sloan School of Management (2004-2007) and has been an associate professor of management at TUM Business School, Technische Universitaet Muenchen. Frequently quoted in The New York Times, The Economist, and Business Week, amongst others, Frank is regarded as one of the leading experts on strategies for customer-centric value creation, like mass customization, personalization, and innovation co-creation. His recent analysis of the crowdsourcing business model “Threadless” (co-authored with Susumu Ogawa), an innovative crowdsourcing business model in the fashion industry, has been elected as one of the Top-20 articles in MIT Sloan Management Review.