5 Reasons Napkin Labs Will Find Crowdsourcing Success For Creatives And Clients

Earlier this year, I wrote about the fundamental flaws of crowdsourcing as a business model. Since then, the backlash against a Wal-Martization of marketing (especially design) through crowdsourcing has grown to a fever pitch.

That's why it is refreshing to find an organization bucking the negative business practices I wrote about in March.

Napkin Labs is a start-up crowdsourcing shop, but one quite unlike 99designs and even less reputable crowdsourcing agencies. I chatted with them when I was in Boulder last week and am elated at their wise, ethical approach to crowdsourcing.

Here are 5 reasons that agencies like Napkin Labs will bring better work to their clients while strengthening bonds with creatives and experts.

(This isn't a post mindlessly lauding Napkin Labs. I have no affiliation with them. This post is simply giving a smart organization some well-deserved props and providing guidance to others in the space who don't want to screw over their clients and the experts who develop their solutions.)

  1. Empowering Creatives: The worst part of crowdsourcing is how much they screw over the people who develop solutions for clients. Napkin Labs has set up a payment system that rewards creatives and experts based on how much their input factors into the delivered solution. If your involvement and smart ideas get incorporated a lot, you get paid more. If you contribute a few nuggets of insight, you get paid less (but you still get paid). Compare this to other crowdsourcing agencies that pay one winner (and not much, at that) while everyone else gets bupkis.
  2. Crowdsourcing as a Means, Not an End: The main point of my earlier post was that crowdsourcing is a means, not an ends. It's a good way to get ideas, but will never replace an agency (or shouldn't). Napkin Labs hits the sweet-spot of solving a client's specific problem through discovery, ideation, and refinement. And unlike other crowdsourcing agencies, they focus solely on products and services. They don't try to be everything to everyone.
  3. Speed Up Innovation: Many crowdsourcing agencies collect ideas, designs, insights, etc. Then they spend a lot of time culling down this list - an exhausting task. However, Napkin Labs has set up a forum for their hand-picked community (you have to apply to participate and approved individuals are frequently hand-picked for particular projects). In a forum setting, experts can discuss ideas with one another - thus good ideas are discussed and bad ideas are ignored organically.
  4. Perspective: Because Napkin Labs solves discreet problems and isn't attempting to take the place of an agency, they can offer the distance or perspective that an agency sometimes can't. It's valuable, from their perspective, even if they discover that the client is asking the wrong question, there is an unmet need being ignored, or the community of experts finds an existing product or service that exceeds the client's plan.
  5. Equal representation: Many agencies create working groups with similar employees (i.e. a design meeting will be populated with designers). But Napkin Labs' forums allows for everyone to be represented at the same time. For instance, what good is the perfectly designed product if it won't pack neatly into a delivery truck? Forums allow designers, writers, suppliers, etc to all play a part.

I think Napkin Labs has a good business model and smart businesses are beginning to take note. But what do you think?

Do you know another crowdsourcing agency who is employing these tactics or others that reward the creatives while delivering better work to the client? What else are they doing correctly?

I'm thankful that Napkin Labs let me stop by and gave me the access they did. But this post isn't pandering due to that appreciation - I really believe they're fixing a lot of the inherent problems I saw in a crowdsourcing business model. And I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

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