I attended MIT’s Smart Customization Seminar last week and had the chance to spend the day with some of the brightest minds working in customization and open innovation. The day was filled with great presentations and I collected notes on the best.
Jeff Beaver, Zazzle co-founder, was there along with a few other Zazzler’s to talk about the launch of their new partnership with Keds. NIKEiD and other services allow you to pick the colors of your shoe, but Zazzle lets you go one step further and add custom artwork or graphics. Some quick notes:
- Within 48 hrs of launching their custom shoe service 13K designs had been created, there are now 100K total, and ~650 new designs are made each day
- For people under 30 there are more people with tattoos than blue eyes
- Zazzle stocks 27 different product offerings, ~1700 seperate skus, and offers 15 different types of embellisment
- Less than 1% return rate on Zazzle products
- Printing companies aren’t thought of as high tech, but Zazzle has an engineering team of ~50. Beaver discussed their dynamic rendering technology briefly. Zazzle has a clearlead in product visualization technology right now.
- Brand control and IP were themes that came up quite a bit. Almost all customization services ban curse words, but some companies have other interesting guidelines. For instance, Disney prevents customers on Zazzle from putting a Mickey Mouse graphic on the same garment as a Winnie the Pooh graphic. Apparently this would create some rift in the space time continuum of cartoon universes. In any case, it is interesting to see the thinking behind Disney’s brand control and the technical safe quards Zazzle has put in place.
Matt Lauzon, founder and CEO of Paragon Lake, a company that provides customized jewelry services to independent jewelers gave one of the best presentations of the day. Mass customization companies often seem more theoretical than real so it is nice to see a company shipping product.
- Matt made an interesting point about offering choice to customers in a customized setting. You can offer 10 base designs with 100 customizable options each or 100 base designs with 10 customizable options. His initial assumption was that 10×100 would be the preferred model, but the 100×10 approach was more popular. People have taste, but not design training. It makes sense that they would want to find something close to what they like and add a few finishing touches rather than having to design something from scratch.
Sharon Kan, Founder and CEO of Tikatok, spoke about her service which provides on demand book publishing like LuLu or Blurb, but with a focus on books by children. It seems like a straight forward concept and they announced a partnership with the Build a Bear workshop for the first time at the seminar. Very exciting news for a company that just recently launched.
Hyve AG is a German innovation consultancy. They developed a social network/innovation community to help push Swaorvski beads to watch manufacturing companies. The goal was to tap design communities and have designers show what could be done with this raw material. The program was an amazing success garnering:
- 7.5MM page views
- Contributions 1700 designers in 48 countries
- Total cost: 5K Euros. This is a social media success story that should be repeated far more.
- A great point from the presentation was to spend effort highlighting the designer as much as the designs in these innovation communities. It makes sense, but very few existing creative communities do it.
Desktop Factory is a company working on a low cost 3D printer. CEO Cathy Harris gave a great presentation talking about the company, challenges face, and opportunities for development. Quick thoughts
- The desktop printing market broke the billion dollar mark for the first time last year, after being in existence for 20+ years. The biggest player in the market only have $150MM in revenue so it is still an open field
- There are about 364 layers in an object the size of the “ball in the cage” on the left
- I asked about the demographic of the people on their mailing list, 50% were in education, the other 50% were from design related enterprises
- Used a great buzzword – Automagically
Lars Hvam is a professor at the Technical University of Denmark. The content of this lecture was much more academic, but certainly interesting. Hvam’s case studies included a garage door company that was able to reduce delivery times from 12 weeks to 8 days with a customized manufacturing solution and many other similar stories. I also received a copy of his book which I will review here soon.
Bas Possen is CEO of Customax is a B2B company that helps enable customization in the European fashion industry. CustoMax offers a software package that helps information flow between the various parts of the fashion supply chain.
- Strong belief in mass customization at retail “Touch, Feel, Try” was his mantra. People want apparel suited to their tastes, but more importantly they want to see an article and have a reference for what their design will look and feel like.
- CustoMax software does simple things like making sure fabric is in stock in real time. Oversold fabric was a huge problem pre-CustoMax.
- Possen says body scanners are a gimmick and it is much easier and cheaper to have a tailor take measurements. The human touch can eliminate many useless variables.
Proper Cloth – Seph Skerrit founded this company a few months ago and has already had a successful launch. Proper cloth allows businessmen to have customized shirts produced on demand for the fair price of $90. The only weakpoint of the offering is lack of options, All the shirts you can currently create look like the off the rack options at Macy’s, but Seph said more design options are coming soon.
Seph had a great insight that we need better ways to talk about customization. In the case of shirts a number alone is largely arbitrary, but combined with a manufacturer’s name you can get a better understanding of their offering. Seph has created a Rosetta Stone like comparison chart that shows how a Banana Republic shirt’s measurements compare to one from Zara or Brooks Brothers.