I had the opportunity to meet interview Scott Wurtele, CEO of IdeaConnection when he was down from Canada this week. I also had the opportunity to meet his lovely wife Wendy Wurtele, VP of Design for the company.
They started IdeaConnection part-time a couple of years ago and began focusing on it full-time about eight months ago when they sold their last online business LawyersandSettlements.com. Scott and Wendy also started and sold WorldBid.com – which counted Alibaba.com as a competitor.
I sat down with Scott to discuss his latest venture, IdeaConnection, a company looking “To give businesses access to the world’s most creative and innovative minds, who work collaboratively to solve problems and develop innovations.”
IdeaConnection offers individuals the opportunity to sign up to solve problems for pay, and corporations the opportunity to submit challenges to hand-picked teams of diverse experts. At the same time IdeaConnection is also using crowdsourcing to build up a directory of innovation-related resources and information, with listings for conferences, blogs, consultants, etc.
What inspired you to start IdeaConnection?
IdeaConnection is one of the many ideas I’ve had over the years, and it just started to make more and more sense as I continued to stress test it with myself and others.
What does IdeaConnection offer that nobody else does?
We’re providing a lot of free services including buying and selling of ideas. Nobody is doing what we are doing.
Here is how it works:
Companies give us problems or challenges, they set the price, IdeaConnection chooses the group of problem solvers and invites them to the challenge. At this point, they’ve already signed one level of NDA, and they are showed the first level of the problem and are shown what the solution seeker will accept. Problem solvers only get paid if the solution seeker accepts their answer to the challenge.
People tell us why they are interested and are evaluated against previous performance and we select a very diverse group of 4-8 people. We also have a pool of 75 world-class facilitators to choose from for facilitating each group. They then select another level of NDA and rights assignment and the challenge begins.
Group members can go into a patented ThinkSpaceTM (you can see part of this online), and can either work alone or as a group. Each time they come back they can see what is new. Features include: audio, video, thinking tools, and a whiteboard (launching soon). The final part of the solution is a wiki where the group presents their solution. During the challenge they can ask questions of IdeaConnection or the solution seeker.
We are currently exploring having teams with a mix of solution seeker employees and our problem solvers. Or potentially the solution seeker could use ThinkSpaceTM for internal use.
How is IdeaConnection different from Innocentive?
Innocentive will issue a challenge and get lots of people working on it. We know a bit about Innocentive because we have two advisers that came from there. Innocentive goes for the Fortune 500, and Idea Connection is going for the other 99.9% of businesses.
Our competition is focused on personal relationship selling, and we are focused on internet selling. We are attracting our problem solvers at probably 25% of the cost.
Innocentive also makes the challenge public, we don’t. This gives our clients a greater degree of confidentiality – companies can even come in blind if they want to hide who they are.
One final way we are different from Innocentive is that we only have one group working on the challenge. Innocentive could have 100 groups working on a challenge, but only one gets paid. We think we can attract a higher quality of problem solver.
How do you sell against true crowdsourcing like MyStarbucksIdea?
Sites like MyStarbucksIdea are great because they are educating people on the concept, which makes it easier for us to recruit problem solvers and solution seekers.
Why should a CIO (Chief Innovation Officer) choose IdeaConnection over Innocentive, one of your other competitors, or running their own crowdsourcing effort?
My advice would be for Chief Innovation Officers to try them all and see which ones work best for their organization. The proof will be in the results. We are less expensive and faster. Innocentive asks for $25k up-front and takes a long time to run a challenge. We have experience doing things fast.
Along those lines, we also just started offering something called Rapid Response on the site to serve clients that have urgent needs. Clients e-mail in their challenge and we will send out to 10-20 people who have registered to be “on call” and they all get paid if they answer within the tight deadline
Is crowdsourcing a fad?
I think it is not, and I think the growth will happen very fast.
What is the future of crowdsourcing?
Crowdsourcing can be used in politics, market research, and of course problem solving. This type of activity has always been happening, but now it is internet-enabled and the internet will facilitate its growth. It is now going to happen on a bigger scale, especially as smart phone and ad-sponsored phone usage spreads.
For example – Imagine receiving a message on your phone “Do you like the new Starbucks Via design? Yes/No”
Do you see evidence of companies cutting their innovation budgets?
No. Companies are increasing their focus on innovation. Their budget may be down, but probably in a smaller percentage than the rest of the budget.
What advice do you have for companies out there trying to innovate?
Get rid of any arrogance. Be infinitely curious.
We need a new word for “failure” – there is no such thing – it is more data – more education. The real failure would be the failure to learn.
What is your favorite innovation book? Why?
Any book that stirs my curiosity is my favorite. There is no book that I re-read. I read a lot of different things (probably two books a week).
People throw around the word “innovation” a lot. When it comes to innovation, what is the biggest misconception?
It is not necessarily pleasant. It can hurt to innovate. It is a change. It takes work. It means structural change. It means entertaining ideas you’ve rejected.
We want to see companies start to understand that they can throw out a section of a problem to us for solving. We recently had a consulting company of 25 people sign up with us. We are exploring relationships with larger consultancies too. Consultants might have 90% of the answers. Why shouldn’t they throw us the other 10% of the problem to solve?
Thanks again to Scott for making time for this interview.
If you are a corporate innovator or Chief Innovation Officer and would like to be interviewed in print for Blogging Innovation or on video for Innovation Interviews (launching in April), please contact us.
What do you think of what Scott Wurtele of IdeaConnection had to say?