The Betterific Blog

Connecting consumers with brands to crowdsource and innovate on product ideas.

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How a (crowdsourced) idea becomes a product

Sterilite launches crowdsourced product

Sterilite, the industry leading manufacturer of plastic storage containers, launched their first ever crowdsourced product idea to the marketplace.  

Their “fresh scent” line of products includes a ventilating compartment to keep clothes smelling fresh during storage. The idea, to keep clothes smelling good while being stored, was generated by Keonte Smith in a Betterific innovation challenge.

For the crowdsourcing community this is a huge breakthrough.  No doubt you’ve heard of other crowdsourcing campaigns, like the 1995 campaign to choose M&M’s new color.  But that campaign, and other ideation campaigns like it, didn’t require any creative problem solving.  It’s more of a marketing play.  

We’re going to explore they whys and the hows.  Why did Rich Ahern, VP of marketing and product development, from Sterilite pursue a crowdsourcing path to product development? What was the process from idea>concept>validation>testing>launch.  How did he turn this idea into a reality?  

Why crowdsource?

Sterilite is the industry leader in a mature vertical.  New products come out a couple times a year and retailers are constantly looking to Sterilite for their next big thing.  For Rich and his team, one of the biggest challenges is coming up with brand new ideas. To gather new ideas, his team traditionally holds brainstorms, listens to end users and talks with cross functional teams.  And they are relatively successfully at that process. But Rich and his team wanted to go out to the crowd, to generate new ideas within a group of qualified ideators outside the four walls of Sterilite.  Because sometimes the ideas get stale in your own organization.


The Innovation Challenge – how and why it was constructed

The Betterific team and Rich worked on an innovation challenge that would lead to brand new ideas, to fill the pipeline of unique concepts to drive an exciting assortment of possibilities at retail.

Rich chose from the outset to keep the innovation challenge wide open, focusing on the product category, with no constraints except for a focus on analog solutions.  This was an interesting decision from the outset, as most of Betterific’s clients give a rigid set of guidelines to try and direct Betterific’s design thinking member base.  It ended up being a great move on Rich’s part.  Primarily because he and his team were open-minded and willing to look at any idea that was unique and had mass-market potential.  

The innovation challenge that was posed to the Betterific audience was:  “My storage bins would be better if…How would you make the plastic storage and organization bins in your home more useful? Think about all the possible storage places and spaces in your home while considering function, aesthetic, and ease of use.”  The incentive was $400 for the top idea.  It lasted 1.5 weeks. 146 ideas were generated.

Lots of great ideas were submitted.  The idea that led to the breakthrough was simple and ingenius:

Keonte Smith: “Wouldn’t it be better if there was a pocket inside to allow scented sheets to help keep clothing items smelling fresh.”

Evaluating and Prioritizing ideas

Sterilite’s main criteria for evaluating the ideas was, is the function easy to understand and desirable enough for the end-user to stand out in the crowd.  In hindsight, it would’ve been good to bake the criteria in the innovation challenge.  And moving forward, Betterific now tries to include that in all its innovation challenges.  

They brought together marketing and product development to evaluate the ideas. Each member of the cross functional team was invited onto the Betterific platform to vote for and comment on their favorite ideas.  That team has a deep knowledge of manufacturing capabilities, so they were able to evaluate ideas based on feasibility, as well as customer need and uniqueness. The group of about 12 then discussed those subset of ideas, in detail, during a few meetings.

The fresh-scented idea was unique and immediately generated that “A-ha” moment.  The cross-functional team selected around 10 ideas to get tested, but this was the fan favorite.  From Betterific’s experience, this is rare. Ideas don’t usually live in a vacuum – but rather require massaging, refinement and the bringing together of disparate ideas to create concepts.  In this case the idea was pretty self explanatory and stood on its own.  

Their designers then sketched out the selected ideas, which allowed them to dig deeper in their evaluation meetings.  They used these meetings to brainstorm around how to make the ideas, or adjacent ideas, a reality.  

An interesting insight Rich shared is that after the first round of selection, they try not to weigh in on whether an idea will work or not. They let the market and retailers decide.  Even in their product executive committee, which is comprised of the senior leadership, they are pretty lenient with which ideas should be tested and reserve judgement until people outside the company have given feedback.  

Hats off to Sterilite for that approach.  It is an extremely user-centric approach – to begin with crowdsourcing and then reserve judgement until the retailers and end-users interact with the product is a great testament to why this was a successful project.  That approach reflects a design-thinking methodology.


Testing, validating and Roll Out

Sterilite does not have a formal relationship with its end users, as it distributes its product exclusively to retailers who then sell it to the end-user.  But over the years it has created a powerful end-user community to test and validate concepts.  This batch of sketched up ideas was placed in the community, where they have clear benchmarks from previous tests.  The fresh-scented idea scored well and continued on to retailers.

When Rich and his team met with retailers, they showed a number of sketched out concepts, from the Betterific community and internal brainstorms.  When presenting the concepts, they included data from their testing and their expert opinions.  The Betterific community was used as a data point in the positive – the fact that it was crowdsourced was certainly a positive but the product had to be strong on its own.  

This idea was chosen by all of their top retailers to be rolled out!

All in all, the product took about 1.5 years, from idea-concept-selection-manufacturing-store shelves.  

Betterific is a platform to connect brainstormers and ideators with brands to help co-create new products. To join the community, To sponsor an innovation challenge:

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ARF’s 2017 Innovators A-List

We’re pleased to announce that we were just selected to the Advertising Research Foundation’s 2017 list of innovators. They look for startups who are helping marketers and advertisers innovate in their field.

As a startup that connects brands with consumers to help dream up new products, marketing campaigns and services, we are a perfect match.

We’re exhibiting at the ARF Annual Conference in NYC today and tomorrow.  If you’re at the conference, let us know and reach out!

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Hacking Citizen Engagement – presented by Deloitte Pixel and Singularity University’s Global Summit

It’s not everyday that you get to collaborate with the preeminent source for exponential thinking on an innovation challenge.  We’re really excited to announce our newest innovation competition centered around hacking civic engagement.  We’re working with Deloitte’s crowdsourcing practice, Pixel, and Singularity University.

In a first for Betterific, we are also partnering with TopCoder to develop the best ideas that are submitted through the competition.  Pixel is bringing together all the parts – the ideation is happening on Betterific, the development is happening on TopCoder and the results will be presented at Singularity University’s Global Summit this weekend.  Lots of pieces being brought together.

SUGL Pixel Wide

So what ideas do you have to better connect citizens with their legislators?

Grand-prize: $400 Amazon Gift Card. 4 runners-up: $50 Amazon Gift Cards.

Bonus Prize: The top ideas will be mocked up in and developed in a competition at TopCoder.  All ideas will be streamed live at the event, meaning they will be heard by a crowd of global leaders and innovators.

The Full Challenge: Wouldn’t it be better if there was more citizen participation in government? Let’s involve more people with civic projects and the law-making process. Share your ideas for an app that enables users to engage directly with local, state, or federal governments to get things done, for example providing input on policy decisions or launching new projects.

SUGL Pixel SmallMore about Singularity: Singularity University is a Silicon Valley think tank that offers educational programs and a business incubator. It focuses on scientific progress and “exponential” technologies. It was founded in 2008 by Peter Diamandis and Ray Kurzweil. Ray Kurzweil is the famed futurist who believes that by 2035 robots and humans will blend into one in a Singularity event.  This is a good starting point to learning more about Kurzweil and his predictions (that always turn out true!)

This is your chance to rethink citizen engagement, earn a $400 gift card and get your civic app idea created!  Come join the innovation competition.

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Brainstorming with an expert, Matt Nelson

In this installment of “Brainstorming with an [innovation] expert” we invite Matt Nelson from Hyundai.  Matt has quite the resume and an amazing story.  He just finished up his role as the Innovation and Technology Planner at Hyundai and is now returning to the University of Michigan to get his masters in Design Science.  He’s also extremely involved in the community – focusing his efforts on paving a path for Black Engineers as the National Chairperson for the National Society of Black Engineers.  Working with Matt it feels like he has 30 hours in his day.

nsbe-newswallIn the interview below, you’ll get a tremendous window into the world of innovation and product development.  In Matt’s explanation of “how an idea becomes a product” you’ll notice that idea generation is the fourth stage of the process.  And then he breaks down the ultimate questions that must be answered before developing the product: Do customers want the product, can we make it, should we make, and how do we make it.  Because Betterific and our members focus exclusively on the idea generation and concept validation phase, it’s great to get some context and understand the greater picture.  Matt’s perspective is bolstered by his work in innovation, his work with IDEO, and his life experiences – we’re thankful he shared his insights.

MW: Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know from your resume. Matt Nelson (MN): I dropped out of college in 2005 and spent several years driving trucks across the country. In 2010 my wife and I moved to England, where I coached American Football for Southampton Solent University and DJ’ed across Western Europe. (See more about Matt’s story: “No Fear, No Regrets“)Matt-Nelson-300x232

MW: Where do you look for inspiration MN: As a technology scout, I am always looking for the latest advances in technology. I read a ton of whitepapers from research institutions (Michigan, Stanford, MIT, etc.). I also read biographies to gain insight into the decision-making approach around new products and methods.

MW: Where do you think good ideas come from? MN: Good ideas come from people motivated to change the conditions (good or bad) of themselves or others.

MW: Do you believe in/use a specific product development/innovation process? MN: I believe that any methodology has to be designed to fit the culture and capability of the company. For example, HATCI uses a version of DesignThinker similar to IDEO, but because we don’t have a large pool of extreme and analogous users to pull from, our process shrinks from three months to a few days. Every company I’ve seen use DesignThinker creates their own “special sauce”, from the naming of the process phases to the helper terms that aid in brainstorming.

MW: Walk us through “how an idea becomes a product.”   MN: It truly depends on the
company (size, culture, structure, etc.), but in general the following steps occur, not in any particular order

  • Problem/Opportunity Identification
  • Information Gathering/Observations
  • Problem Restatement
  • Idea Generation
  • Prototyping
  • Consumer Validation (Do customers want it)
  • Feasibility Study (Can we make it)
  • Business Case (Should we make it)
  • Process Development (How do we make it)

From there, Marketing works its magic on developing advertising campaigns, pricing and distribution channels. Manufacturing will decide on tooling (if needed) and machinery. Purchasing will source suppliers for parts, suppliers and anything else required in support of the project.  Betterific Idea Generation provides an additional voice in the room when developing ideas which will ultimately need to be refined into final concepts.

NEB_Matthew_NelsonMW: What impressed you most about the Betterific member base of creatives? MN: The responsiveness of members when asked probing questions about their initial Betterifs.

MW: In 5 years, what will be radically different about the auto industry and what might remain the same? MN: Low fuel prices have driven recent truck demand. A greater adoption of turbochargers have made today’s trucks as fuel efficient as some cars, so I don’t expect a heavy shift back to cars when oil prices increase. At the same time, Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) increases are around the corner, so I see automakers providing drastic incentives on smaller cars to increase CAFE numbers. This will allow them to continue selling highly profitable trucks, but those trucks will increasingly have four and six cylinder engines.

The foray of tech companies into the auto industry will have significant implications for OEMS. Running a company like Ford or GM requires a significant level of capital expenditure, expertise and labor costs that tech companies traditionally attempt to avoid. I foresee more partnerships than new ventures from companies like Apple.

Want to join the Betterific community and participate in innovation challenges? Head on over to to join.  If you’re interested in running an innovation competition, check out

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Brainstorming with an expert, Richard Ahern

Welcome to the second  part of our new “Brainstorming with…” series, where we interview two sets of people – the innovation challenge winners and the product developers and innovation experts that sponsor the challenges.  From the winners, we learn brainstorming tips, how they arrived at their winning ideas, and the inspiration they use.  From the brands we get insights into how Betterific fits into the greater innovation process, what they look for in ideas, and what happens next.  If you like generating new ideas, flexing your idea muscle, and learning what makes a great idea, this brainstorming blog series is for you.  You can check out our first Brainstorming with a winner edition, where we interviewed Dan Pick

We invited Rich Ahern, a VP of Marketing at Sterilite with a heavy focus on product development and innovation, to be our first interview.  I got to meet Richard a year back and we’ve built a great relationship – I’ve learned a tremendous about a whole bunch of topics, including what a spiralizer is.  And most importantly I’ve learned about the end-to-end cycle of product development.  Sterilite owns their manufacturing plants, so they are responsible for everything from idea thru delivery.  Because of that they must think on a  grander scale – if the product can’t make a dent, they can’t produce it.  Read on below to learn more about why Richard and his team continue to tap into the Betterific community and how having an open mind is the most important aspect of brainstorming.  P.S. Him and his team are running a new Innovation Challenge next week… Stay tuned!

MW: Tell us something about you that we wouldn’t know from your resume.  Richard Ahern (RA): I was standing at the finish line with my family waiting for my wife to finish the Boston Marathon when the bombs exploded. I am not a runner but I was inspired to run it with my wife the following year. I have to confess that I have not run since then.

richard ahernMW: What are you working on that really excites you? RA: I am a product junkie so working with new products everyday as part of my job is exciting.

MW: How do you ensure that internal brainstorms lead to positive outcomes? RA: Good ideas can come from anywhere or anybody but you have to be open to them and unbiased.

IMG_20151126_221305 (1)MW: Walk us through “how an idea becomes a product.”  RA: Betterific helps us at Sterilite by generating new thoughts on plastic Storage and Household items that we would not arrive at by ourselves.  We take those thoughts and translate them into new product ideas that are vetted with a group of Sterilite consumers along with our own experiences.

MW: What impressed you most about the Betterific member base of creatives? RA: Anyone can tell you why a product is bad.  But we come to Betterific to discover how to make better products.  There is a positive energy that is contagious every time we do a project with Betterific. The members really love helping companies create new and innovative ideas.

MW: In 5 years, what will be radically different about the storage industry and what might remain the same? RA: The Plastic Storage and Household category is very much a commodity business where items like a shoe box need to sell for $1.00 at retail. However, incremental innovations can make a big difference in new product growth. For example if a more durable yet still cost effective clear polypropylene is developed it would help to create new product categories and increase the potential end uses for plastic Storage and Household items.

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Betterific Enterprise

So… What is Betterific anyway?

You may already be aware of and fun things like Innovation Challenges that really connect individuals passionate about ideas with companies, but you may not know about all the great stuff we can do to help companies with things like product development, employee engagement and innovation.

Betterific is an Employee Innovation Platform that helps corporations easily crowdsource ideas and insights from their employees. We deliver innovative ideas and synthesized feedback to develop new products, cut excess fat from the organization, and improve both customer and employee experiences. There are different tools that we use to help with this.

Someone tasked with increasing employee engagement knows how important it is to give employees a voice. Realization of this goal is what Betterific can offer with our innovation management platform that offers an opportunity to give employees the ability to participate in team-wide, or company-wise, idea generation and idea validation initiatives.

For someone focused on innovation, it’s important to find an efficient and simple way to innovate and crowdsource ideas from all corners of your company and beyond. Our software helps keep everything in one place from concept to execution.

As a product developer, there’s quite a bit of responsibility–from generating all those ideas and keeping track of them to fleshing out the final product and launching it. Betterific is a great tool to use to keep everything running smoothly and to help create more profitable products. We have ways that help you brainstorm, a concept testing tool, and an area to collaborate and work all the details out with the people on your team.

Whether you fit one of these descriptions, or you just want to be a part of the collaboration revolution, Betterific is the tool to use to make your work fun, efficient, and innovative.

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Target to Launch Seven New Products Inspired by Betterific Challenge!

Remember the Target Back-to-College challenge?

Hoping to co-create their next line of dorm room products, Target tapped into Betterific’s community of 20,000 innovators to source innovative ideas. Searching for new products in categories like Bathroom, Bedding, Kitchen, Furnishings and Storage, Target asked: “My dorm would be better if…”

By tapping into the Betterific community to generate close to 200 ideas and then again to refine and evaluate the “best of the best,” Target is launching seven new products for their 2015 Back to College season!

Micro-Fiber Bed Sheets with Storage Pockets

Check out those storage pockets! How cool is that?

During the two-week challenge, unique and interesting themes emerged such as the desire for multi-functional pieces, roommate communication, personalization, privacy, and bundles. These themes can be found in the new Target products. We’re definitely excited to see these in stores and online!

Screen Shot 2015-06-01 at 12.47.46 PM

Take a look at all the products inspired by the Betterific challenge by checking out the case study below.

Target Betterific Case Study