His startup Napkin Labs is a customizable crowdsourcing platform that takes conventional collaboration one step further. It will offer a set of apps that guide users through the “design thinking” process — that is, the innovation process pioneered by IDEO and now used by design firms and companies the world over.
Gibson and his business partner began their careers as consultants for creative agencies, working with teams to generate new product ideas and conduct market research. As social networking evolved, they realized that even their most industrious off-line focus groups couldn’t keep pace with the massive flow of ideas and feedback coming from online communities. “We realized it was easier to create a concept of prototype and get their feedback on it,” Gibson tells Co.Design. “It was simpler to use your own existing community of customers.”
While a Facebook page or Twitter stream provides a company plenty of opportunities to gather quick, casual feedback, Gibson quickly saw that it wasn’t the right kind of insight — the kind of thoughtful ideas that lead to new products and better service. “These companies have thousands of followers on Facebook but no real interactive tool to engage them,” says Gibson. Plus, they also wanted to fix some of the problems they saw with crowdsourcing, namely, the winner-takes-all mentality familiar to design contests. “We wanted to create a more collaborative community where people could work together.”
Napkin Labs functions much like the crowdsourcing platforms we’ve covered before — think OPEN IDEO or InnoCentive — but as an off-the-shelf solution that anyone from a blogger to a large corporation can cater to their own needs. Businesses pay a rate starting at $99/month for basic options, including up to 1,000 fans and unlimited challenges. For rates starting at $499/month, Napkin Labs will create a completely custom experience for your company, which also includes the ability to make a challenge private.
As a video demonstrates, a company can create a challenge and invite customers to contribute. Responses can range from a simple question, to more nuanced feedback, to asking users (called “fans”) to create videos or renderings. In addition, fans are rewarded by a game layer that awards points for giving suggestions and entering solutions. Gibson advises Napkin Labs’ clients on how to incentivize their competitions, suggesting they offer money or recognition as a way to motivate fans to contribute.
a private beta launch earlier this year, about 160 companies used Napkin Labs, including Sony Design Center and Google, who explored ideas around their Google TV concept. Gibson says Google was able to easily focus their research on young people to learn about the changing role of television in culture.
I also had this thought last month: a consultancy built on crowdsourcing rather than on institutions.