Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Business, Casual, Success.

You can learn a lot from a t-shirt company - Threadless. At first glance, Threadless appears to be like any other hip t-shirt company, but look deeper. This once-small company has ridden their innovative customer strategies all the way to the bank. There's a great article in this month's Inc. going into more depth about Threadless.
Here's the business model, quick-and-dirty like: graphic designers submit t-shirt designs, users vote on designs they like, "winning" designs get produced, graphic designer makes money and gets a couple free shirts. And, oh yeah, Threadless cashes in too.
Companies are beginning to get the concept that loyal customers are as good or better than a robust R&D department. That said, many are not good at harnessing their customers innovations after asking for them. It's more about PR, and less about real innovation.
Why are everyone from corporate executives to MIT professors paying attention? Here's why Threadless is so special:
1. They pay attention to the attitudes and needs of their customers. The customers are a large part of the reason Threadless has refused to market in large department stores.
2. The experience of their site is as important as the product being sold. In other words, the active Threadless community is a world unto itself - as if t-shirt sales are secondary.
3. They took the idea of graphic designers sharing quirky, fun or artsy designs in an open environment and made it marketable. The sad truth is many talented individuals are using their skills for corporations, or worse, totally shelving their skills. Threadless has become somewhat of an "open mic night" for graphic designers.
What other great examples have you seen of customer-based R&D?

Thanks to trickyech for the photo.

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