Smart Customization and Customer Co-Creation in Action
“I was sitting in a bookstore in the children’s book section with my kids, and I realized that all kids’ books are written and illustrated by adults,” said Sharon Kan.
Sharon is the CEO and co-founder of Lexington, MA-based Tikatok. She described her company at the MIT Smart Customization Seminar on November 10, 2008.
Sharon described Tikatok as “the first online creativity platform for kids.” Tikatok helps kids write, illustrate, publish, and print their own books.
Tikatok is a great example of smart customization in action. Each child’s book is custom-created and printed on demand. The mass-customization platform and ecosystem are designed to enable children to produce high-quality picture books that they and others can buy. The books sell for about $15 to $20 (depending on the number of pages) for soft cover or hard cover. Tikatok can produce these individual or short run books at a 40 percent margin. The published kids’ books are available for viewing and for sale on the Tikatok.com site.
Tikatok is more than a “Vanity Press” for kids. It’s not “just” a book-making platform. It’s a well-thought-out platform for creativity and literacy. Tikatok is a great example of how to design a business that is optimized around sustainable and profitable mass customization as well as customer co-creation.
Gaining Rapid Momentum
Sharon and her team (Orik Zuckerman, Kathryn Porro, Neal Grigsby, and others) did a beta launch of Tikatok in March 2008. Now, nine months later, they already have thousands of repeat customers (kids, teachers, and parents) as well as a joint marketing venture with Build-A-Bear Workshop®.
Kids can write stories about the furry friends they create at Build-A-Bear’s 400 retail stores in 20 countries and interact with online in Build-A-Bear’s Buildabearville.com online community.
In the first nine months, since Tikatok’s beta launch, over 5,000 children have authored over 4,000 children’s books. These books are available for sale on the Tikatok.com site and even some through Amazon.com. Seventy percent of the kids who register on the site are creating books. Eighteen percent of the books created on the site are actually purchased and printed. There are some great videos of kids proudly displaying their books. Here's Dakota on YouTube: Dakota’s book about the Iroquois.
Kids love to read each others' books and comment upon them. You can browse through every book on the Tikatok site. You can also embed book into the child's own blog, or a class project blog, or a family web site. Here's an interesting one by "Katidid" -- (of course, kids' real identities are kept private):
Audience: Kids under 13
The sweet spot for Tikatok seems to be kids between the ages of 7 to 9. 46 percent of registered kids fall into that age range. 33 percent are older (10-12). And 21 percent are younger (4-6). Kids from all 50 states in the U.S. have found and are using Tikatok. 25 percent of site visits are from international countries. Books have been created in nine different languages.
Orit Zuckerman, co-founder and CTO, described the company’s mission this way in an interview conducted by Henry Jenkins, entitled Children as Storytellers: The Making of Tikatok:
TOOLKIT: THE TIKATOK CREATIVITY PLATFORM
One of the early challenges Sharon’s team faced was how to support kids’ natural creativity. “If you give them a blank page, they’ll just talk about what happened yesterday.”
STORY GENERATION ENGINE. The Tikatok team developed a patent pending process that unleashes creativity in children and helps them create great stories. It’s called the StorySparks SystemTM. The first generation of this idea-generation approach was created by the Tikatok team and tested with kids. Sharon mentioned that their next generation StorySparks platform will be co-created with their kids’ advisory board, with the kids leading the way!
This is the begining of the StorySparks creative toolkit. Kids can get sparks of ideas and take it from there.. or they can start with a blank slate.
There's a lot more... to the Tikatok story.. You can read about the innovation toolkit, the just-in-time production processes and the customer-led shift in market focus and go to market strategy. Here's my case study.