For our February Member of the Month we are happy to bring you a company close to our hearts, Mutopo. Mutopo hosts a plethora of conferences and workshops to help companies utilize and integrate the power of the crowd in their companies.
Q. What is your one sentence elevator pitch?
A. We help organizations to find, evaluate and execute new ideas by working with online crowds.
Q. What was the idea or inspiration for Mutopo?
A. One of our co-founders, Shaun Abrahamson, has been working with early stage firms for the last decade, as an investor and advisor. He was starting to see a number of business models that relied on crowds to do everything from identifying the best doctors (ZocDoc.com) to finding new creative ideas (jovoto.com). Beyond directly investing in early stage firms, we saw the opportunity to bring the power and promise of the crowd to more organizations.
Q. What has been your biggest struggle along the road?
A. Working with startups made us impatient. It is easy to test hypothesis, learn and ultimately see an impact. Finding a way to bring new ideas and change into larger organizations has led us down a few different paths from running large engagements to organizing workshops. We found that most people quickly appreciated the potential benefits of working with crowds, but then we did a poor job helping organizations to choose where and how to begin. Today we focus on how to understanding, evaluate and test possibilities that come from working with the crowd.
Q. Biggest success?
A. On the education side, we’re most proud of our events, workshops and soon-to-be-released book. Our event in Brazil has quickly grown into one of the leading places to explore crowd-enabled businesses and connect with like-minded service providers, clients and start-ups. We’ve also been able to work with leading universities in the US and Latin America to roll out classes and workshops. And we’re about to launch a book, Crowdstorm, to share some of the frameworks and approaches for working with crowds to find and evaluate ideas.
On the project side, we’ve been involved in a few great online challenges. We’re happiest when we see projects move from ideas all the way through to production. And even happier when those ideas have real positive social impact – such is the case with Graham Hill’s Life Edited project to create an ultra low footprint living space. The project really highlights the power of the crowd to help find, refine, evaluate and promote ideas. It has led to multiple new partnerships and we can expect to see new building developments built around the Life Edited idea. You can see a little more in the video below.
Q. Mutopo has taken a very active role in hosting conferences on innovation and collaboration in Brazil. Since you have started holding events, how have you seen the start-up landscape evolve?
A. Start-ups have become a big part of innovation in Brazil. To get a sense of the change, if one looks at assets under management, focused on early stage firms, in 2012 it was close to $1 billion and it has grown almost 4x in 4 years. In terms of crowdsourcing specifically, the last few years have seen a surge in enthusiasm for crowdfunding, but a number of other models are thriving too, including (macro)work marketplaces, open innovation and creative communities. Focused efforts around incubators and hackathons are also increasingly popular, as a large brand sponsored searches for start-up ideas.
We’ve also seen some big brands doing innovative work in the automotive and constructions spaces, to name a few. The government is also paying attention and asking for feedback about how they can help to promote ideas that depend on crowds from crowdfundng to microwork.
Q. Best words of advice you have received?
A. First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.
It seems told hold true over and over again. But it’s also a good test for your idea – you may not know when you are being ignored, but if nobody laughs at you, your idea is probably not big enough :)
Q. For all of those crowdsourcing start-ups that are working to find their way, what are your words of wisdom?
A. Focus on making meaning, not money for your stakeholders (and for yourself). It’s very easy to get stuck in the “the crowd can save you money” or to expect that simply paying for a result is going to get your there. Put another way, crowds don’t need meaning, but individuals do, so it’s helpful to switch from the crowd level view back to individuals to make sure all participants are getting meaning.
We really believe this is behind the success of some of the most successful crowdsourcing enablers. Kickstarter is about more than money, you get to be a part of a team to bring an idea to life. Airbnb is not just an efficient asset allocation tool, it’s a different experience arriving at someone’s home (versus a hotel) or Quirky changes how you feel about a product, because you can influence what it becomes, even if you have earn just a tiny amount of a revenue share. And contributing to Wayz, makes you feel that you are helping to solve a painful problem for everyone. Or helping to do ideation or customer service on Giffgaff, helps to transform the experience of mobile phone service. This also seems to be true in open innovation challenges – taking on a meaningful problems seems to correlate strongly with great outcomes. We have less experience with microtasks, but my sense is that interesting tasks that explain how they fit into a bigger picture, tend to do very well (i.e. high quality at relatively low cost).
Q. One thing you wish you knew before you started this journey?
A. Wow, this is a long list. But top of the list is probably the idea that it is often much harder to change something versus simply creating something new. Organizations have a hard time unmaking big parts of themselves because the existing institutions and structures have served them well. So building something new avoids tampering with the core business while it is working and also reduces risk. Giffgaff may be one of the best examples of this (its O2 which in turn is Telefonica). LEGO Cuusoo is similar. It started with Cuusoo platform in Japan, although LEGO has historically been very open to change. GE Ecomagination seems to have succeeded because GE is comfortable as an investor and partner (versus trying to mess with any of their core businesses). Nike is heading down a similar path with their incubator initiative to search for killer apps to run on the Fuel Band platform. Anyway, when we started we were way too naive about selling in changes simply based on merit. I Think we now know that building new ideas in parallel is better for everyone.