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My newest project (tentatively … IdeaGreenhouse)

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I believe strongly in transparency when starting a business. While some people try to keep their “secrets” locked up, all it really does is lock those entrepreneurs away from valuable feedback. Business is about execution; if you’re working on something you’re passionate about and actually executing, you have nothing to worry about.

So I’d like to explain the project that I’ve been working on for a while more to you here. In a sentence, it’s a business devoted to helping you collect, develop and most importantly implement great new ideas. Tentatively named IdeaGreenhouse, it’s web-based software and optional advising services for companies, clubs, community groups, interest groups and any other organization to use internally to help them do things better.

What does it do?

This software allows anyone with an idea to submit it into the system. Any other user can comment on it or support it through a voting-type system. Most importantly it lets users create and volunteer for micro-tasks to take the idea forward. Instead of relying on a small group of connected people in the heart of a business or organization to evaluate ideas and implement them, it connects the people in the company that are really interested in the idea and that have the skills to make it happen.

I’ve been thinking about the software and sketching it out for quite a while. Earlier this fall I worked with an outsourced developer to get a prototype established, which is now up and running. I’m taking advantage of my MBA class to help get comments and feedback on the prototype by using it to help find ideas that will improve the Cambridge MBA. It’s at the point now where I can clone that initial site fairly easily for new alpha-testers. If you’re interested in becoming an alpha-tester, please contact me!

Who is it for?

Who is an ideal customer? One example is my rowing club in London. The club has several hundred members, and over a hundred active rowing members at any given time. There’s also a lot of excitement around the club’s 150th anniversary next year. A lot of members have tons of great ideas to raise money, make improvements to the facilities, run the clubhouse and rowing program better, etc. But it’s virtually impossible for one person with an idea to press ahead and make it happen. Right now all the ideas come through a small group of volunteers (all overloaded anyway) for evaluation and implementation. It “doesn’t scale.”

Another use? Potentially as an political interest-group tool. While change.gov is great in that you can submit your questions/ideas to government, what you’re really doing is throwing them over a wall and hoping the people on the other side can see what you see. Instead, a group like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) could establish a site to develop the best policy ideas and marketing ideas to bring about those policy changes. They could connect lawyers, tech stars, business types, video producers and who knows else to work collaboratively to develop the best policies going forward.

The biggest revenue-potential is companies that are looking to constantly improve and innovate. Software like IdeaGreenhouse can connect people across silos in an organization to find solutions to problems, new innovations, or simple better ways of doing things across a business. Instead of relying on approval through a “chain of command,” the people in the company that are passionate about an idea can connect and move it forward themselves.

While the traditional method of “throwing ideas over the wall” for someone else to review and approve is great (it’s not too much work), implementing ideas is about a thousand times better. It’s a heck of a lot harder, but it’s incredibly satisfying when it does. IdeaGreenhouse is a tool that will help get businesses and organizations do that.

Competitors

There are a ton of competitors in the “submit ideas and vote for them” category. Starbucks and Dell have both used SalesForce.com’s ideas application, with lots of publicity. Change.gov uses Google Moderator, and there are more commercial solutions like GetSatisfaction and others.

Where IdeaGreenhouse is different is that it is an internal tool, to use the knowledge and experience of your employees/members/organization. It is NOT a tool to get feedback from your customers. The users don’t just submit ideas, they work to accomplish the ideas, too.

There are some enterprise-level software applications that do this, but they all focus on large companies exclusively. IdeaGreenhouse will scale to work with any size company or organization.

The Team

The team working on this consists of me and Dom Orchard, a PhD student in Computer Science at the University of Cambridge. (Really smart, and a fellow Jesuan.) Dom also drafted the logo above.

Feedback

I’m creating a “landing page” to detail this more soon, and will post that here when I do. I’ve got a few different names I’m going to try out, and will use Google AdWords to hopefully find the best one of the bunch. (See here for more.)

If you have any feedback, please contact me, or submit a comment below. This is what I plan to spend much more time talking about this year, and look forward to any/all of your thoughts.

  • You should check out IBM Jams. They have some software they wrote or bought that has a bunch of collaboration tools. They sell it as a service (bundled with a bunch of consultants) to large companies to generate ideas. It's usually focused around a few day period where they get employees to participate in brainstorming things. Companies pay $500K to $1MM for the package. I actually spent some time with an IBM guy who was staffed on a few of these and it was intriguing. They were able to find opportunities from the “wisdom of the crowd” that they otherwise wouldn't have found. One example (I think I have this right) was to turn off the lights inside of vending machines throughout all of their stores around the world which resulted in saving a ton of money as well as being the green thing to do.

    One of the key things that the IBM conversation highlighted for me was the issue of liquidity. If you don't have everyone participating in a narrow window, it doesn't work. For your rowing club example, you'd need all or most of your hundred active members to participate on the same day to really add value. If one person posts something and two weeks later there is a response and so on, it will lose momentum very quickly.

  • Thanks, Furqan. I hadn't heard of IBM Jams before.

    I agree that the best model would be to get lots of people participating in creativity/brainstorming sessions, collaborating, etc. But I'm not convinced that it wouldn't work if it's also stretched out a bit. There will need to be steady reminders built in (such as a weekly summary of activity, highlighting newest ideas, most active ideas, etc.) but I really believe in making it a day-to-day tool. Perhaps this would include a widget that could be put on a company's intranet homepage, so users don't have to log into a separate tool just to see what's new.

    Some great food for thought; I appreciate it.

  • Thanks, Furqan. I hadn't heard of IBM Jams before.

    I agree that the best model would be to get lots of people participating in creativity/brainstorming sessions, collaborating, etc. But I'm not convinced that it wouldn't work if it's also stretched out a bit. There will need to be steady reminders built in (such as a weekly summary of activity, highlighting newest ideas, most active ideas, etc.) but I really believe in making it a day-to-day tool. Perhaps this would include a widget that could be put on a company's intranet homepage, so users don't have to log into a separate tool just to see what's new.

    Some great food for thought; I appreciate it.

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