Today, the internet tells everyone that they can invent the next big thing. “Inventing Made Easy,” Entrepreneur recently titled an article with advice for wannabe inventors. Quirky’s mantra is to “make invention accessible” to all – and it seems to work if you judge by the success of Quirky in the United States. But as soon as you have success, you also start having competition, either globally or locally. A lot of entrepreneurs want to replicate that idea in their respective countries, adapt it, make it work in their own way.
In France, a country that pioneered the concept between 2007 and 2011 with the rise and fall of CrowdSpirit, where I also happen to live and work, collaborative innovation platforms are popping up like mushrooms. What are they called? Who are their founders? What is their model? What are they ambitions? Let’s have a look at Quirky France… and three of their challengers: Nov’in, La Fabrique à Innovations, and MyKompany.
Quirky: The Pioneer Who Crossed The Atlantic
Quirky was founded in 2009 by Ben Kaufman, then 22 years old (check out this video for the story). Back then, the success story that Quirky put forth was that of a Hamburg, Germany, based advertising copywriter who invented a double-sided USB key: “He submitted his notion to Quirky.com, and now, a few weeks later, the Split Stick is being manufactured,” the NY Times reported back then. This was the first product brought out by Quirky, and a lot have followed since – 424 according to Quirky as I write this post. In 4 years, the American community grew to over 600,000 members, submitting about 3,000 ideas weekly.
We believe the best ideas in the world aren’t actually in the world… they’re locked inside people’s heads. We exist to solve that problem. (Quirky.com/about)
In December 2012, Quirky announced its partnership with French retailer Auchan, and in September 2013, Quirky launched in France. The same brand identity, the same storytelling approach, that same platform, but in French – and exclusively sold in Auchan stores. How have the French been engaging with Quirky? According to Margaux Mulliez from Quirky, 4 months after the launch Quirky has 4,000 French membres who submit 150 weekly ideas. This post says 3,500 members who submit 250 ideas a month. This is far less than the American crowd, but it’s a very promising start.
In 5 years from now, we want to have strong brand identity, and we want to get an active and co-creative community, similarly to what we have in the United States (Margaux Mulliez)
French success stories are not yet available, as the first French Quirky+Auchan products will be in stores in May 2014. But several ideas are being developped, like a cake-holder for the car, a tea-timer, a morse-activated door lock… “It’s always the products that […] seem the most mundane and straightforward and sort of boring that everyone goes gaga over,” Kaufmann told the NY Times in 2009. Still true. Even in France.
Nov’In: Probably the first challenger
In April 2013, I blogged about this start-up, called Nov’in (“Can This Start-up Become The French Quirky?“). The idea is very similar to Quirky, it’s actually identical. In a lot of articles and interviews, reference to Quirky is being made, and the founders don’t hesitate that say that they want to replicate the Quirky model in France.
[The founders] found out that the participarive innovation model worked in the United States, with a platform called Quirky. He then decided to launch the concept in France (leuromag.fr, 2012)
On Novin.fr, there are call for ideas to which consumers can submit their ideas. The best ideas are being selected and co-developped with the community, and Nov’in assists both the inventor and the community to bring the product to the shelf and share the revenue. “Nov’in identifies unmet consumer needs and offers products to simplify the daily lives of many,” Ismaël Meïté, one of the two founders, told me. “Our credo is to launch products with early adopters by involving the masses. On Nov’in, everyone can participate in the development of new products to live innovation!“.
What are the ambitions of Nov’in, now that Quirky has launched in France? “We are still tweaking our business model,” Meïté told me. “Crowdsourcing took off in the US, but transposing that to France is a challenge in itself. Each country has its cultural background ; the French don’t behave like Americans. Just look at crowdfunding in the United States, with players like Kickstarter, and the French crowdfunding platforms.”
It is unlikely that the initial model is the most adapted one (Ismaël Méïté)
Méïté told me that the key for Nov’in’s success wil be to quickly identify user insights and to pivot accordingly. For him, it is too early to analyze the first months of activity or to make predictions for the future. On another blog post, one of Nov’in’s employees is more prolific, telling that the company intends to develop 2 or 3 products per year in two years time. Any international ambitions? “For now, we will stay French or at least European,” Aurélien Desert says, “as long as we don’t have more experience and hindsight, we won’t be able to compete [with Quirky] so we focus on local markets first.”
La Fabrique A Innovations: Betting on “Made In France”
La Fabrique à Innovations (The Innovation Factory) is another French platforms that offers individuals with ideas to opportunity to post them, have them improved by the crowds and eventually manufactured. Launched in late 2012 by two designers and two engineers from the South of France (Narbonne), the project has been given a considerable push by 101 Projets, a pitching contest backed by three of France’s most prominent Super Angels – Xavier Niel, Marc Simoncini & Jacques-Antoine Granjon.
Ideas have to be submitted to the platform, and will be accepted if they respond to two criteria: development time have to be lower than 3 months, and the sales price has to be below 30€. If an idea gets selected by the community, it will be produced in France, the inventor gets 25% of the benefits, the contributors get another 25%. The remaining 50% stay with La Fabrique à Innovations.
Two success stories are being displayed by La Fabrique à Innovations:The first is an ajustable and customizable flip-flop, called My Tatane, the other is chocolate candy that makes taking medication easier for children, called Médibon. The former is produced in two locations in the Aude region, and theoretically on sale (the online shop is not online yet), the latter is being tested in hospitals in the south of France. To the question “who are your biggest competitors?” they also reply Quirky.
Mykompany: Social gaming paired with collaborative innovation
MyKompany is the fourth and last Quirky-like platform I found here in France. Founded in January 2013 by Alban Guyot, the platform allows users to submit ideas, co-create them with the community and see them commercialized within 6 months, getting 2% of the net benefit. At least that’s the plan.
Another key aspect of Mykompany is that the platform is built on social gaming principles, meaning that inventors don’t just have profile and a forum to interact, but a virtual world like Second Life. And the best participants in this virtual community even get a job at Mykompany! Today, MyKompany has only one success story to feature: MyKee, a customizable and smartphone-connected keychain. But there are many other projects currently under development, like MyPlug, a carriable power plug, MyPandP, a device to find one’s bike or car in crowded spaces, or MySommelier, a connected wine cellar.
The community, sorry the MyKommunity, is still very small (around 250 people earlier this month, as Guyot explains in this video). The company has started with 500,000€ funding, and is now looking to get another million to grow and expand, and they forecast 25,000,000€ turnover in 2018. Ambitious growth plans. And again, they are perfectly aware of competition – meaning the NYC-based start-up created by Ben Kaufman. “Our main competitor is the American Quirky, who got funded over 26 million dollars. So it’s possible [to raise a million in 2014],” Guyot told Le Figaro.
A warm thank you to Agathe, Aurélien, Ismaël, and Margaux for their help in writing this post. Their prompt and honest replies were very insightful.
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Yannig Roth graduated in marketing and is currently Research Fellow at eYeka and PhD student at University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne in Paris (France). His main research interests are creative crowdsourcing and community co-creation. Yannig regularly blogs at http://yannigroth.wordpress.com