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How Crowdsourcing Can Help Pet Product Start-ups

Posted: Sept. 19, 2012, 1:45 p.m. EDT Updated: Dec. 21, 2012


Using crowdsourcing for pet business logo creation, marketing ideas and start-up funds can turn an idea into an actuality.
By Alison Bour

Successful pet product start-ups require quality marketing materials, feedback from target audiences and—often most important—money. A concept called crowdsourcing represents one way of finding all three.

“Crowdsourcing is the act of outsourcing tasks traditionally performed by employers or contractors to a large group of people,” said Michelle Lewis, director of communications for MycroBurst, an online company in Langhorne, Pa.,  that guides others through the process of crowdsourcing.

“It’s used a lot by big and little companies,” she added. “The concept is that lots of minds are better than one.”

The term was coined in 2006 by Jeff Howe, a contributing editor at Wired Magazine. Today, it is almost exclusively driven by social media and online searches, as evidenced by the success story of Rustic Hound in Taunton, Mass.

Jillian Downing, the company’s owner, couldn’t say enough about the power of social media to gain quick access to inexpensive services. It all began when she couldn’t find the perfect collar for Great Dane dogs, so her boyfriend Jerry Wilkins invented one.

Crowdsourcing
Crowdsourcing can help fledgling pet companies.
“The problem was I was a cop and he was an iron worker,” Downing said. “We had no business experience.”

First, Downing and Wilkins looked to Legalzoom.com, where they obtained critical knowledge from a network of legal professionals about how to protect their invention. Members of Legalzoom.com were quick to link them to advice, the proper paperwork to file a patent and information about how to trademark the name of the company—all at reasonable rates, Downing said.

Then she needed the perfect logo. Downing Googled “logo contests,” read reviews and decided on MycroBurst.

Manufacturers such as Rustic Hound carefully craft a creative brief and place it on MycroBurst.com, Lewis reported. That gives them access to 30,000 designers who can take on the project and submit ideas.

Crowdsource users can post comments about improvements they want to see after initial attempts or give discreet messages to their favorite designers about tweaks they want to see in a revision. Through crowdsourcing, Rustic Hound found a designer it loves and plans to work with again.

As with most crowdsourcing companies, there are fees involved in accessing and/or using their communities. For example, MycroBurst gets 20 percent of the cost, over and above the initial fee, which starts at $199 and goes up, depending on the scope of the project, according to Lewis. In addition to logos, crowdsourcing is a way to obtain designs for stationary, T-shirts and book covers, among other items.

Another satisfied crowdsourcing user is Julia Carrano, CEO of WiggleButt Mutt in Boston, who also found success through MycroBurst.

“The artist who won our contest even created an animated version of our logo where the butt wiggles,” Carrano said. “We anticipate using it on our website as well as on lenticular business cards, which allow an image to change as the card is moved.”

One of the biggest requirements to a successful product launch is simple, but hard-to-find: cash.

After a successful market entry, Jane Angelich, CEO of Bright IP Concepts, a Novato, Calif., company that makes the Supercollar, was determined to package in the U.S. but costs were an issue.

Angelich met Lisa Chan, director of communications at San Francisco-based Indiegogo, a website that provides a way to launch fundraising campaigns, and found her solution.

Raising money through just such an avenue is referred to as crowdfunding, Chan said. And it works. Take, for example, the more than $650,000 people donated online to fund a vacation for a monitor bullied by students on a school bus (the original target was a mere $5,000).

Not all crowdfunding goes viral or is “accidental” as in the aforementioned case. Indiegogo also offers a way to create a specific, targeted crowdfunding campaign, Chan said, describing it as a self-service platform.

“Creating a campaign is like setting up a Facebook page,” she said. “It includes things like a video explaining your goal, deadline and perks you are offering.”

Because crowdfunding doesn’t fall under SEC guidelines, it’s not regulated in the same way other investment capital funds are, Angelich of Bright IP Concepts said. These campaigns are considered cause-related and not investment capital initiatives.

“Crowdfunding has some very specific uses, and lots of them work better than others,” she said.

As of mid-July, Angelich was still bringing in money from her Indiegogo campaign.

Angelich offered perks such as dog pictures that would appear on her Facebook page, for $5 donations; early bird specials for about $50 dollars; and for Diamond Benefactors with $5,000 to spend, 100 custom collars, an oversized oil painting with their dogs wearing a Supercollar, and the chance to appear in a future ad campaign.

The premise Angelich banked on was that people want to support the retention of American jobs and would be willing to pay a bit of their own cash to do it.

Another big worry that can weigh on manufacturers is the flood of competing products. What’s the best way to obtain a lot of feedback in a quick and inexpensive (or even better, free) way?

Rustic Hound’s Downing and many others use social media as an avenue to create a free, worldwide focus group.

“We have a large following on Facebook,” Downing said.

When trying to decide on adding a blue or purple collar, Rustic Hound asked its fans for help.

“I use this method all the time, and it let’s me know what people really like,” she said. “It’s better than paid advertising in my opinion; same thing with Pinterest, YouTube and Twitter.”

LinkedIn can also be a crowdsourcing avenue, where people can find a niche group and ask questions of others who might have solutions they haven’t thought of, Downing advised.

Offering products to shelters for use and feedback before they’re put into production and on shelves is another crowdsourcing avenue to explore, according to several manufacturers.

Of course, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding can fail miserably, Indiegogo’s Chan said.

Some reasons for bad results: a poor pitch, failing to freshen up the campaign with new posts, asking the wrong audience, not offering rewards and not being clear about the goal and timeline, she noted.

“No one wakes up in the morning and says, ‘I wonder what zero-funded campaign I can give money to today,’” Chan said.


To find out more about crowdsourcing and crowdfunding ideas and platforms, check out the industry website Crowdsourcing.org.

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