Can This Start-Up Become the French Quirky?
I just discovered a new French start-up in the co-creation/crowdsourcing/open innovation field, it’s called Nov’In. The website describes itself as “the first social network for innovation,” allowing anyone to submit ideas that could turn into reality – if the crowd likes them – and have them sold in stores. Sounds familiar? The founder of the start-up, Ismael Meite, explains that his idea came from seeing the success of Quirky, “which has a turnover of about €30 million” (I don’t know where he got that information from, because Quirky is privately funded, but anyway). Here’s how it’s supposed to work… and my opinion about it.
The concept is simple and very similar to Quirky’s concept! Internet users submit ideas for free and the Nov’In community reacts and comments on these ideas. The ones that seem to have high potential are being selected by Nov’In, who says to be taking over the design, engineering, production and marketing processes. “In exchange, users who participated throughout this process get a percentage of the retail price,” Frenchweb explains about Nov’In. Idea submission, idea refinement, rewarding with points, royalties for the members with best ideas… it’s almost exactly the Quirky process!
But Nov’In says they are different from Quirky in several ways. First, idea submission is free, while Quirky users pay $10 per submission. Also, Nov’In says that their strategy is to focus on co-branding with big companies and brands, rather than to have a proper brand and sell it through its retail partnerships. In a radio interview (in French), one of the company’s representatives says that “if a product idea is feasible, Nov’In will either look for funding and produce the product, or contact existing companies that can produce the idea themselves.” Well, Quirky just did that 😉
But beside Quirky’s recent strategic moves, what can make or break Nov’In? What does such a crowdsourcing concept need to succeed?
- MONEY: For now, Nov’In has “love money” and public funding of about 100,000€ (says the founder)… which is a nice amount, but they will have to grow a little more to reach the $120 million funding amount that Quirky received. “Our objective is to get a round of funding once we reach a community of 10,000 nov’acteurs, which is planned at the end of the year” explains Ismael Meite.
- MEMBERS: The website does not say how many members are on Nov’In… obviously less than 10,000. Quirky not only has 401,000 members (and counting) but also 188 retail partners and a track record of 327 products developed. Nov’In will have to increase its user and partner base to succeed.
- PARTNERS: Nov’In is still looking for partners: producers, retailers and anyone “willing to support user innovation,” the website says. It is important to push this type of innovation platform, and partners are a very important asset. Especially in a market where Quirky has already a major retail partner…
Another reason why I am sceptical is that the exact same idea failed a couple of years ago, and it was in France too: Crowdspirit. Founded in 2007, the Grenoble-based company planned to “use crowds to develop and bring to market tangible, inexpensive, electronic devices.“ But even a change in the business model didn’t help, the company was not able to turn the community’s output into a prifitable business, and Crowdspirit had to stop in 2011. I wrote a blog post about it: Lessons from the failure of social product development-platform CrowdSpirit (the title is over-promising, I agree).
But I don’t want to kill the idea before it even hits the market, because the idea is great, and because timing is important in entrepreneurship! Watch Jerry Kaplan’s “Timing is Important” talk and you’ll understand that the very same idea can fail at one point in time and succeed years later. “The timing is very important, and it’s extremely difficult to call,” he says. The personality of the founder, luck, available technologies, awareness of the customer base, fashion in the investment industry… all these factors can enter into consideration to explain the success or the failure of such an entrepreneurial endeavour!
The idea doesn’t stand alone, independent of the timing and the investment fashion. Those things all have to come together in order for you to be successful in building your company (Jerry Kaplan)
Maybe the market is ready for an idea like Nov’In today. Consumers are increasingly co-creative, retailers are adopting co-creation, and maybe the investment world will be receptive to the idea. Maybe Ismael Meite’s Nov’In will have more success than Lionel David’s Crowdspirit. And maybe Nov’In can become the French Quirky (even though I think this mee-too approach is risky). Good luck!