Reinventing the Wheel: Part 1, Part 3

Now that we all agree that these smart wheels are significant and innovative products, we can  take a closer look at FlyKly and Superpedestrian to determine which company is and will continue to be the innovator. Today we’ll examine how both companies manage their user communities and fund their endeavours. What we’ll see is that by failing to engage the community that they developed by using Kickstarter, FlyKly is not setting up for success. Superpedestrian, on the other hand, is actively building an engaged community, but their reliance on venture capital funding leaves us with some unknowns for their future.

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These days, smart companies are using their active, passionate user communities to draw in new customers, support existing customers, and participate in innovation. Both FlyKly and Superpedestrian offer a software development kit (SDK) that allows users to make apps that interface with the wheel. Just like the Pebble watch, there are many opportunities for participation and innovation within the user community. This participation from users can greatly improve the product.

What can we learn from how these two companies are energizing their user communities? By successfully Kickstarting their product, FlyKly has created a devoted and active community of backers. If this community is managed well, the fact that they chose to kickstart their product could provide a HUGE advantage for FlyKly — IF managed well. Until recently, FlyKly has been silent about their progress on Kickstarter. They issued an update on January 9th, but from the comments, it’s obvious that their backers feel they aren’t getting the information they want. In addition, FlyKly hasn’t yet responded to questions in the comments on Kickstarter. This takes work, y’all, get to it! And if they don’t respond soon and start engaging with the community they’ve established, it will be a big missed opportunity.

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FlyKly is having the same problem on Facebook, they’re just not getting engagement. Uh, well, when you don’t post any content, you don’t get any engagement. If FlyKly wants to compete, they must have a community. It’s not too late for them to engage their backers, but they may have lost a lot of enthusiasm by failing to post regularly and respond to comments immediately following the successful campaign. This is all particularly bad when compared with Superpedestrian.

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I’m impressed by the level of engagement on the Copenhagen Wheel’s Facebook page. Superpedestrian has been posting content every few days and they are responding to questions in the comments on their posts! Shoot, even their customers are responding to potential customers’ questions — I love it! It’s clear from the page that their community has a life of its own. People are talking to and helping each other, and Superpedestrian is encouraging it. The Facebook page is a glimpse into the community that I get to join when I purchase a Copenhagen Wheel. Not only does this help Superpedestrian sell wheels, but engaged users will innovate and contribute by writing apps, supporting others, and finding new applications for the wheel.

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After I mentioned them in a tweet, Superpedestrian also followed me on Twitter and favorited my tweet, which, aside from giving me the warm and fuzzies, means that they’re paying attention to who their customers are and engaging with them where they are. I’m sure most of you understand the importance of social media, but, if you think I’m placing too much significance here then you need to go reconsider. Seriously, the Cluetrain left the station and you’re going to have to run to catch up.

I’m disappointed that FlyKly isn’t managing their community well. They’re losing the primary advantage that crowdfunding provides. I would love to write about how I think FlyKly, a Kickstarted project, is going to provide real competition to Superpedestrian’s venture capital funded endeavours, but I can’t. I’ve always been wary of utilizing venture capital (VC) funding to support innovation. Does VC funding prevent the development of truly great companies by placing excessive importance on the bottom line and the end game? Depending on where the funds are coming from and the desires of the funder, I worry that Superpedestrian may not be able to continue to innovate. We just have to hope that Superpedestrian really is passionate about continued innovation and has chosen funding that’s in-line with this vision. Thankfully, due to the relationship between MIT and Superpedestrian, I feel I can safely hope for the best.

It’s not enough to make a cool product. Your community is as important (if not more) than the product itself, and if a company fails to establish an engaged community, then they’re missing a very important source of inspiration, feedback, and fresh ideas. That’s where FlyKly, despite crowd-sourcing their funding, is headed. Superpedestrian, in contrast, is working hard to engage and broaden their community. It’s not too late for FlyKly to turn things around, but tomorrow, by looking at each company’s IP and founder, we’ll see that FlyKly just isn’t innovating.

Continue reading Part 3…

Author

A mechanical engineer with a soft spot for pretty things -- David designs products at OpenFab PDX. In addition to client work, David likes to 3D print violins, make toys for his toddler, and obsessively learn new things.