You’re young and willing, but not sure where to start? Take Danny Wong as an example: At the age of 19, he co-founded the custom men’s dress shirt company Blank Label out of his college dorm room in Bentley University, which just recently got featured for a second time in the New York Times. Franz Duge and Michael Bruck were 22 years old when they started chocri (which I run in the US), two years ago, which now makes more than 50,000 customized chocolate bars a month. Or take Matt Lauzon, founder of the customized jewelry website Gemvara, who at age 25 received $11 million funding to build his company.
What do all of these companies have in common? They’re part of a trend that is called “Mass Customization” – all of the websites let you “design your own” dress shirts, chocolate bars or jewelry in an easy-to-use configurator online. Then they make it according to your preferences and deliver it straight to you, cutting out the whole brick-and-mortar process, connecting you directly with suppliers to provide you with a product that you want. Mass Customization is a huge trend not only because more and more people expect products to be tailored to their needs, but also because more and more startups are founded that fulfill those exact needs. A majority of these startups is led by founders and CEOs younger than thirty, and I think there are good reasons for that.
One reason is that customization startups require less start up capital. You can build a streamlined and flexible production system for most products with relatively little money, because you’re essentially starting out as a crafter: You make every product on demand and according to the specifications of your customer. Only as you gain traction, you will move from mere customization to mass customization , but since every product is paid before you make it, cash flow will be much less of an issue than compared to an ordinary company. No need to predict that you need 10,000 units of Widget X and 7,000 units of Widget Y, crossing your fingers to have ‘hit the mark’ in your predictions so you’re not stuck with unsold inventory.
Generation Y entrepreneurs like you and me grew up with the internet, but also saw the internet bubble burst. I think that our generation is thus more likely to start a business that revolves around an actual product that you can build, touch and show. Customization websites are the perfect combination that leverages the strength of technology and the internet with the production of actual goods.
You also grew up not only with the internet, but you also have a better understanding of social media than, say, your Dad. Social media dramatically decreased the distance between consumers and producers, and customization startups are an extreme example of that – you are letting your consumers into the product development process. That level of integration with your customers is something that not everyone is comfortable with, but people who grew up with social media seem to be more likely to understand how much possibility there is in working closely with your customer.
There’s also a nice viral coefficient. When you build a mass customization company, you know you are building something that people will talk about because in most cases, for the first time, you are turning your customers into their own designers, and they’re going to tell their friends about it. Take Shoes of Prey for example, they’re a custom women’s shoe company that has more than half of their traffic from Word-Of-Mouth (their monthly traffic is in the six-figures too). Young entrepreneurs can take advantage of the viral coefficient to make for easier marketing, and more product development so that their happy customers can continue to buzz about the awesome things they’ve created.
Finally, 20 somethings are supposed to have a stronger sense of entitlement than others. If that’s true, it’s actually an advantage if you start a mass customization company: You will find it easier to develop empathy for your customers that want products made just for them. You are essentially serving their (and your own) need for entitlement, because, well, maybe they’re right – it is possible today to easily create a product tailored just to you!
If you’re an aspiring entrepreneur thinking to start a business, you might want to consider mass customization. There’s still a lot of untapped potential – many products could be customized but aren’t. Think wedding dresses, perfume, coats, men’s shoes, … you name it!
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