“Crowdsourcing, Innovation, and the Tyranny of Ideas” – An Interview with jovoto’s Bastian Unterberg, Tim Aßmann, and Liz von Loewen
Jovoto is a co-creation and open innovation platform helping organizations gain access to customer-centric solutions, with a global network which includes more than 120k creative professionals, innovation and subject experts. Headquartered in Berlin, they’ve solved hundreds of innovation challenges for the world’s top brands since 2007. The mission? To create a future of work for creative talent that is fair and encourages the best possible outcome for all stakeholders. We interviewed Bastian Unterberg, Tim Aßmann, and Liz von Loewen to learn more about how open-innovation has evolved over the years.
Tell us about jovoto and how you got started…
Bastian: I founded jovoto in 2007 at the University of Arts in Berlin with the support of my professor. We saw the need to unlock the potential of young creative talent by providing them an alternative career path to the traditional agency model, and create one based on the principles of freedom, fairness, and collaboration. If you look at the numbers today, upwards of 77% of employees in creative agencies are facing burnout. Our purpose is to give the next generation of talent a real alternative to that, and we’re succeeding in the challenge for many already. Now we’re on a mission to bring the opportunity to the masses, to really unleash creative talent and make it a movement. That’s where scaling the business becomes crucial.
How has crowdsourcing evolved over the years?
Tim: Crowdsourcing was massively hyped in the beginning. There was a rush of different companies who were all trying to tap into the green field of unlimited creativity; everyone who entered the space was running their own experiment. We saw everything from design competitions (99designs, Talenthouse) to talent marketplaces (Upwork, Fiverr) emerge. After the first wave, the market saw a lot of consolidation. The real question at that point was, which of the experiments was to become a stable business case?
Bastian: As it turns out, unlimited talent and creativity isn’t enough to unlock innovation. Brand managers, marketing managers, R&D managers – what they’re all after is the right ideas that solve real problems and drive their market share. But they’re incredibly risk-averse. They need to gain orientation before they can make decisions. That’s where we come in. In a sense, we’re in the business of reducing risk.
Liz: For us today, crowdsourcing is about bringing the right people together in one team to solve complex challenges. We don’t really believe in the value of design competitions, unless it’s about bringing people together for a purpose-driven challenge or to drive brand engagement at scale. If tackling complex marketing and innovation challenges is what you’re after, it’s all about aligning with the right stakeholders – including market research partners who can challenge the client’s perspectives and help them identify the right opportunity areas – and curating the right talent, with a certain affinity to a product and the skills and knowledge to solve the challenge. It’s about experts guiding the team and consulting the client. And it’s about collaboration – rather than competition – to get to the finish line. Getting the creative team part right is crucial to the success of the model and what differentiates us from other co-creation platforms.
How is B2B crowdsourcing different from B2C?
Tim: B2B crowdsourcing, like what jovoto does, is about solving real business problems that can benefit from diverse perspectives and insights. It’s about accelerating innovation cycle times as well as achieving results that aren’t possible in your organizational structure – by bringing the outside in!
What processes do companies have to develop in order to participate in open innovation projects?
Bastian: Companies don’t need to drastically overhaul their processes to work with the kind of open innovation we do at jovoto. It’s more of a mindset shift that needs to take place. Companies are already working with their agencies or internally to solve the challenges that could really benefit from a fresh approach and fresh perspectives. The mindset shift is about thinking “digitally”, about wanting to improve existing set-ups that don’t serve the market needs anymore. It’s about wanting to integrate consumer perspectives, to accelerate the approach, to open up to perspectives to the basic principles of design thinking. That’s what we aim to support our clients in achieving.
Liz: I think it’s also important to mention that working with us doesn’t even mean you need to cut ties with your preferred market research and design agencies. We collaborate with them too, and help get the process accelerated, by getting to the right ideas faster.
What does jovoto do best?
Liz: We’re known for our ability to solve complex challenges, fast – whether they are marketing, innovation, or bigger challenges impacting society.
We’ve found our sweet spot, between crowdsourcing and agency work. Our best assets are the global network that allows us to tap into talent pools it to onboard the right people quickly and of course, our platform that encourages collaboration between different stakeholders. We are able to curate talent based on 500 data points which include skills, experience, age, gender and also interests – and bring the right experts on board to tackle challenges in any market and segment. And the tech behind it supports them by promoting a collaborative, iterative, qualifying search to get to the best ideas possible. It’s also important to mention the increasing importance in our partnerships with market research companies, who help to build the best briefs possible, which in turn lead to ideas that consistently outperform traditional approaches.
Tim: Basically, we’re helping our clients move faster and lower the risk of failing, which is a pretty great business to be in.
How hard is it to integrate outside ideas?
Liz: It really depends on the complexity and depth of the idea. A simple illustration for a packaging design is an example of an idea that’s relatively easy to implement vs a technical folding mechanism for a window frame, which needs prototyping, testing, and eventually manufacturing. To reduce the friction of implementing the ideas, we put heavy emphasis on feasibility already in the brief. We set clear guidelines on what can and cannot be done, and ideas are graded based on KPIs so that whatever the creatives come up with, can actually be implemented.
What is the “tyranny of ideas”?
Tim: Most of us experience the tyranny of ideas, it is part of our overwhelming life with information, options and possibilities constantly bombarding us. What we need, is a way to focus on the right ones.
Liz: Making decisions is hard, having an overwhelming amount of options makes it just harder. The important thing to get right is to be able to filter through and focus on the best ones. Evaluating ideas is what becomes critical. What makes an idea a good one? With the input of different stakeholders, and also bringing consumer validation into the process, it’s easy to go from a lot of ideas to focusing on the right ones.
What are some innovation projects that jovoto is hosting today?
Bastian: About 50% of the work we do at the moment is with consumer packaged goods companies, primarily to develop new product, new brand, packaging, and activation ideas. Their need to innovate faster without compromising on success, is making them need to focus on consumer-centric approaches to get the right ideas to market. This shift means we’re doing a lot more co-creation projects at the moment, bringing in the brands’ (future) target groups into the ideation process.
Tim: On the other hand, we also take time to focus on larger, open projects that create meaning and purpose in society and for the creatives on our platform. In times like these, the biggest challenges we are facing are too big for even the biggest corporations and nations alone. How can we learn to resolve conflicts with growing tension and complexity? How can we make peace within our communities, come together to take the bigger crucial decisions and solve the really complex problems together?
We know that we, our community and many others really want to work on issues beyond themselves. This is something we are working on and are looking for great partners to do this with us.
Thanks so much, y’all. At a personal level, I want to mention that it was thanks to jovoto the $300 House “challenge” became a reality. Thank you!