Summary:

With its launch last week, London-based start-up Wazuko aims to jostle its way into the buzzing idea/ innovation management space and help companies cultivate more good ideas. But what sets this service apart form its competitors? We spoke to co-founder Simon Hill to find out.

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The web has allowed business to source talent from anywhere. Now, London-based start-up Wazoku (Swahili for “great idea”) is hoping its software as service offering will let businesses use the net to source ideas from anywhere as well as it launches this month.

The company, co-founded by James King and Simon Hill (formerly business development director at Huddle) in January, aims to jostle its way into the buzzing idea/ innovation management space, which is already home to competitors including Spigit, Brainstorm and Brightidea.

Wazoku allows members of an organization to submit ideas then offers a recommendation engine to suggest keywords to tag then with and experts within the organization to send them to. Wazoku tracks the idea as others comment on, recommend, reject or approve it, refining and nurturing popular suggestions as well as creating a warehouse of ideas for future use.

What sets Wazoku apart?

The product harnesses ideas for an organization, but that’s just what other similar products do too. So what’s different about Wazoku? Hill gives a three-pronged answer, arguing essentially that his offering is smaller, more social, and more European.

The first of those selling points is the simplest to pin down. While many established idea management platforms are aimed at large businesses, “we don’t differentiate the size of the customer we want to work with,” says Hill. And at a price of a few pounds per user per month, the product is more affordable for small and medium-sized businesses.

Grassroots innovation generation

In a post-Facebook world, workers are accustomed to sharing their thoughts in a marketplace of ideas – a meritocracy where “likes,” views or thumbs up bump the most interesting ideas to a higher profile. Platforms like these are open to everyone and harness the crowd to rank ideas. So does Wazoku.

“It’s bottom up rather than top down,” explains Hill. Instead of having an executive request solutions to a certain problem (though that is a possibility too with Wazoku), workers on the front lines can submit whatever improvements or suggestions occur to them.  Other users then votes up better ideas. The opinions of frequent contributors and those voted as experts by their peers are weighed more heavily in scoring ideas, but anyone can jump into the conversation.

A self-weaving web

This passing of ideas allows Wazoku not only to function as a sort of task management system for innovation (like a Bugzilla for ideas rather than, well, bugs), tracking who is responsible for reviewing, actioning or rejecting each idea, it also ends up producing an “informal map of influencers,” says Hill.

Wazoku will suggest experts for you to send your idea to, but the system also allows users to choose to send their ideas to anyone. The resulting paths that ideas end up taking reflect who is really generating ideas, who is respected by their colleagues and who actually takes action to get things done – the organization’s formal org chart notwithstanding.

“Leadership and the data often disagree,” about how ideas get generated and implemented, according to Hill. The objective data provided by Wazoku is one way to identify and reward genuine talent.

An ocean apart

Born half a world away from SoMa or Mountain View, Wazoku has European DNA. This influenced the company’s development, according to Hill, who feels London is more of a sink or swim than nurturing environment for entrepreneurs.  “There are not that many guys willing to take an educated punt,” in the UK, so bootstrapping is usually necessary.

Hill started the business by selling his flat and recruiting a hungry team of eight people willing to take a big salary hit in hopes of a future pay out. After the proof of concept stage the company raised £150,000 from Find Invest Grown UK and Huddle co-founder Andy McLoughlin.

The more risk adverse approach of British VCs separates the wheat from the chaff, and has made the company tougher, leaner and more focused, Hill feels. And obviously its geographic placement gives it a leg up in accessing the European market. Current customers include asset management firm Value Partners, telecoms company Muzicall and Italian consultancy Synistema. The company is in discussion with bigger UK firms, including Tesco and O2.

The limits of social

Like all social products Wazoku is only as good as its users are participatory – the more people interact with it the better it gets at improving and ranking ideas. This amounts to a hurdle for adoption, as the product’s value may not be obvious at first. To combat this issue Wazoku offers a 90-day support program to new users, helping companies enlist “evangelists” to get the ball rolling and giving tips on driving uptake.

And what about log in fatigue? Are users willing to add one more tool to their already crowded workflow? Hill says the company is aware of the issue and notes that they’re currently trying to build partnerships that will allow Wazoku to integrate with other tools. Already you can log in to Wazoku with a Google ID, or it can be embedded in an organization’s intranet. The company is working on integration with Yammer and Sharepoint.

Finally, getting HR to embed the tool into its processes –figuring participation in the Wazuko community into end-of-year reviews, for instance – can solve both problems, driving uptake and weaving the tool more securely into users’ workflow.

What’s next?

With current revenue of £20,000 a month, Hill is confident that if all continues to go well his company can reach its target of £1 million in revenue by the end of 2012. The company continues to try and improve its product, however, and is planning to add controls that will limit who can view intellectual property within the system, and is also working on features to allow organizations to solicit ideas even more widely in the future — from customers, for example.

Will they succeed? In a crowded marketplace it’s hard to predict, but Wazoku may just find a home at social-minded companies big enough (or dispersed enough) not to be able to walk ideas across the hall but small enough to demand a less expensive solution than competitors are offering.

Image courtesy of Wazoku.

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