Betabrand’s CEO on Crowdsourcing Everything Through Your Community

Chris Lindland’s talk began with a video of base jumpers in shiny, silver getups. When he got on stage, we found out this was an advertising video built by the Betabrand community. Chris tells us that Red Bull would have probably paid a million dollars for that kind of video—just think of the liability!—but Betabrand said “send us your videos.” That’s how the “customers start to be our marketers” and how a crowdsourcing engine begins.

What is Betabrand trying to do?

Betabrand is a fashion company that crowdsources ideas from a community of designers. When a design wins out in the community, Betabrand creates it and sells it on the designers behalf. When a design is made, the creator actually receives 10% of the profits for their work. Chris tells us the reality is that all designers have “giant stacks of sketches that will just never become products”.

The process is costly and complicated. And even the lucky designers in the “ivory towers” whose designs make it to the product line have to wait months or years before an approved idea can come to life and become a product. Betabrand saw this obvious problem and stepped in to solve it.

Betabrand is about exposing clothing ideas to people as fast as possible. It lets designers dabble, rather than quit their day jobs to deal with manufacturing problems. “Fashion Forwardability” is what they’re after: the idea that what gets created is what is cool, and then those people will forward those cool items to their friends.

How did BetaBrand’s community evolve and how can you apply this?

“We didn’t build the business to be a vast platform of communication.”

At first, Chris says, “It would be like, ‘Do you like the pants?’ ‘Not really.’… communication over”.

They did, however, ask the customers to be their photographers “long, long ago.” The Internet has made it fashionable “to be drunk and out of focus” ; “blurry and overweight”; “to look like an idiot”.

These are the photos that speak to the Internet community. “The Internet is the greatest identity, image and communication machine ever built,” Chris explains. To date, 40,000 photos have been submitted to Betabrand with unique and share-able URLs.

In order to get to Internet gold, you have to cross the line between love and hate, you have to ask your community to be their most outlandish selves.

Who makes up Betabrand’s community today?

Betabrand’s fans are designers, models, taste-makers (up and downvoters) and risk-savers (those who dictate demand so BetaBrand staff doesn’t have to guess). They provide 1000’s of ideas and guide them with 10,000’s of votes, which result in 100’s of new products that people really want.

They’re able to grow and expand their community by creating great products, by finding things that people want to talk about, like their yoga work pants for women or their hilarious Cordarounds. By enabling people to be more and more ridiculous, Betabrand is finding that their community is building many of their best products and marketing pieces for them.

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Monica Raffaelli

Monica is a graduate student at NYU School of Engineering.