There is a fascinating article in the June issue of Inc. magazine about Threadless. Threadless lets customers design t-shirts over the Internet, then takes a vote on the best designs which are then offered for sale. Potential customers do the design and critique the alternatives.
Despite being in a low-tech commodity business, Threadless used the Internet, the power of social networks, and co-creation with customers to thrive. von Hippel cited the company as a perfect example of an organization harnessing the power of customer innovation. A paragraph from the article:
“Ask Nickell what he makes of his company’s whirlwind success, and he will respond rather sheepishly. “I think of it as common sense,” he says. “Why wouldn’t you want to make the products that people want you to make?” Indeed, the idea that the users of products are often best equipped to innovate is something many entrepreneurs know intuitively. And it is supported by a growing body of research. A study published last year in the Strategic Entrepreneurship Journal suggested that the vast majority of companies are founded by “user-entrepreneurs” — people who went into business to improve a product they used. Meanwhile, studies by von Hippel and others show that in industries as diverse as scientific instruments and snowboard equipment, more than half the innovations generally come from users, not from research labs.”
The full story is available here: http://www.inc.com/magazine/20080601/the-customer-is-the-company.html
Thanks to the bloggers at the Temple innovation site for pointing out this fascinating example! Their link is: