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

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.

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.