A client once told me that she didn’t believe it when agencies talk about innovation because they don’t know anything about risk. In her experience, the agency gets handed a sack of cash along with a brief to come up with something that will transform the client’s business but never has to worry about whether it actually works or not. Agencies would probably argue (and usually do) that that’s because they never get offered a stake in the result.
Amongst all the excitement about lean startup and agile methodology the bit that tends to get missed is that commercialising an idea is much more difficult than having (or even prototyping) one.
Partly because we set Joylab up with the express intention of creating our own ventures alongside client work – and partly because we’re serious about spending our clients cash on things that will actually succeed – we’ve been putting our money where our mouth is.
Along with our partners at NoFit State and National Theatre Wales and with seed funding from NESTA* we’ve been working for the last 10 months on a new software product. TORF allows brands to start a real-time digital conversation in live environments based on a simple value exchange. We’ve done a heavy programme of live-testing with real users to capture real customer data to the point where we almost have an Alpha level release (see Ferg’s blog post). This has further sharpened our approach to rapid prototyping but it’s more fundamental than that.
At a basic level this has allowed us to get to a point – via some humbling failures – where Torf can reliably produce very high engagement. This is important because unless we can demonstrate that it can compete or beat more conventional forms of digital marketing, it’s a non-starter commercially.
Equally important, by working with real user data we’ve had to embrace all the privacy and data protection issues that would impact you with a real product. We’ve also had to think about how a real customer would implement a campaign and respond to the kind of unpredictability you get in live environments. Finally we’ve been able to see first-hand the resources a customer would need while working with the product (like training staff to support and promote campaigns) which in turn has started to form our assumptions about how much someone would actually pay for it.
This hasn’t been easy (or cheap). 10 months into the process we still don’t know whether it’s a commercially viable product but we are infinitely closer to knowing it than we would be if we’d done the whole thing in a lab and not taken any risks with our time, money or reputation.
TORF is almost ready to go to the next level of development which is an Alpha release with a group of potential customers. We may or may not have a hit product on our hands. We definitely know a lot more about commercialising a digital service as opposed to just designing and developing one. Right now it remains to be seen which will have more value to us but we’re certainly a lot more confident about looking a client in the eye and talking to them about innovation.
*Supported by the Digital R&D Fund for the Arts in Wales – Nesta, Arts & Humanities Research Council and public funding by the National Lottery through Arts Council of Wales
Torf on Native