By Ethan Lyon, Senior Writer
This year, we have analyzed many trends in the luxury industry, pop culture, Gen Y and social entrepreneurship. Among these trends, one of the strongest and most promising is crowdsourcing. We have written a case study focused on Kiva — a top digital influencer in non-profit — and reported on emerging crowdsourcing companies, such as 99Designs. To explore this new frontier even further, we spoke with Philip Letts, founder of blur Group.
Philip spent the last 15 years building tech companies in both the US and UK — most of which incorporate a community-oriented spin. He has helped to build Tradaq, a business to business broker marketplace, and Surfkitchen, the smart phone experience without the smart phone company. More recently, he has focused his efforts on building blur Group — a company that applies the key principles of crowdsourcing to a variety of different industries, from design to marketing to entrepreneurs and to writers.
Q: What is the process of building a successful crowdsourcing company?
A: Before you can monetize the crowd, you need to build it. Identify what kind of crowd you’d like to develop and why your audience would want to be a part of it. For instance, if you’re going to build a crowd of experts, go through industry magazines, online publications, social networks, essentially any media that targets your audience. Then find those that would best be suited for your crowd. And make sure you have a carrot at the end of your stick. You could offer free services or financial incentives for them to join.
Building a crowd can take a while. It can take a couple of years, in fact. It took blur Group two years to grow their “art crowd,” b-uncut. The next step is to monetize their output by building a marketplace around them. “Once you hit around 500 people, then monetize,” says Philip. b-uncut transformed into a marketplace for buyers and sellers of art, where artist retain 80% of the profits.
Q: What trends do you see in crowdsourcing? And what can we expect in the future?
A: Management and ownership. We are moving away from crowdsourcing models developed by early leaders, like Wikipedia. Now, crowds are being handpicked, curated and managed. If you handpick your crowd, you can offer a higher degree of quality assurance for your clients. “This model accelerate quicker than we expected,” says Philip, and shows no signs of slowing.
For instance, if you are a bakery owner and want to re-brand your company, you’d go the crowdsourcing agency and ask for the most appropriate talent. The crowdsourcing agency would then select those members that would be best suited for the job and oversee the entire process to assure both parties are satisfied. Essentially, you’re the liaison, or “trusted party” between client and talent to settle any disputes if they arise. That is how a crowdsourcing company like blur Group can assure consistent quality to their clients. If you automate the process, sometimes there are issues with quality.
Q: What are some of the the challenges that crowdsourcing companies are facing today?
A: “Big agencies are Goliaths and how do we as David compete” on big projects? It’s definitely a real-world challenge that many crowdsourcing companies face. However, if you can maintain consistent quality and develop trust with both clients and the talent, you can deliver a much better product at a lower price. Remember, you, as the curator are connecting the right people for the right work and your pool of talent is infinitely greater than any agency. By working through the web, you can connect people from around the world easier than a bricks-and-mortar operation.
Q: I had a chance to talk with Chelsa, the Marketing Director at Kiva. She noted that transparency is one of the most critical elements in crowdsourcing. Do you agree? What initiatives have you implemented to bring transparency to your clients?
A: “I completely agree,” says Philip. “Each of our crowds force greater pricing transparency as they grow.” In other words, you’re not bound by a lot of the bureaucracy many corporations face. There is a checks and balances between traditional agencies and crowdsourcing companies. Clients and professionals can look at company’s like blur Group or Kiva to decide whether they are getting their money’s worth.
It’s not us versus them culture. Instead, many traditional agencies pass work to companies like blur Group. Because so many agencies cut their internal headcount in the recent downturn, they are outsourcing work to blur Group. As we become even more connected, crowdsourcing is going to play a larger role in our lives.