IP-Focused Startups Ask What an Idea’s Worth

There are a lot of businesses out there based around the big idea of ideas, but each takes a considerably different approach based on their target audience and purpose. And each puts a different price on the value of a good idea. QuirkyKickstarter, and IndieGoGo emphasize a structured take that financially rewards creativity, hard work and diligence, whereas brand new startup Thing.to aims to foster more casual fits of inspiration – and offers little but a modicum of credit in return.

Kickstarter announced a banner year in 2011 with a total of nearly $100 million pledged from its backer community, which contributes an amount of their choosing to projects posted by creators on the site. Kickstarter creators retain their intellectual property rights, and only agree to license the materials they upload in the creation of their project to Kickstarter itself for marketing efforts. In exchange for its services, Kickstarter takes a five percent cut of total funds raised by each successful product, or nothing if a project isn’t successful.

Quirky provides more of a social aspect by allowing the community to vote on projects to determine which get made. Quirky then reviews and determines the viability of its most successful submissions, and then handles the production design and building of the product itself. In exchange for shouldering more of the risk, Quirky acquires the intellectual rights to the idea for the purposes of commercial use, and pays creators a royalty of 30 percent for online sales, and 10 percent for in-store sales of products that make it to market. Creators could include not only the person who submitted the idea, but also anyone in the Quirky community who participated in and added to its design. Thus, those who came up with the original concept may not be the only ones receiving Quirky’s community cut.

The newly-launched Thing.to, which is available on the web and on Apple’s iPhone, operates differently from both of those models. Users register and submit ideas to the community, and immediately give up any intellectual property rights on any of those ideas. Founder Aaron Shapland explained in an interview that people shouldn’t submit ideas they want to realize themselves to Thing.to; that’s not the point.

“How many times does everyone say ‘I wish I could just do this, buy that or have an app to do that’?” Shapland explained. “It’s not really to share your golden egg. It’s more about sharing ideas and hoping someone will solve them.”

Ideas on Thing.to are brief (120 characters max), and complete the thought “I wish there was a thing to…” Ideas can be voted on by the community, in the form of applause, which is used to express how popular an idea is. Some examples include a suggestion that someone create a service whereby text messages received on your phone automatically broadcast to your TV when you’re at home. The idea is a perfect example of what’s expressed on the service: short, simple thoughts people may have at any moment about a feature or service they may want, but have neither the time, inclination or expertise to create themselves.

Shapland hasn’t investigated many revenue possibilities for Thing.to, and it’s harder to see a clear way to make money from such a service than it is for something like Kickstarter or Quirky, both of which collect money from users. But he did suggest that Thing.to could eventually monetize by offering brands ways to provide sponsored solutions to ideas; a cable provider, for instance, could address the popular want related to on-TV text messages provided above and then notify Thing.to users that it’s met that desire with a paid answer.

Thing.to is simple in its current iteration, but it could become a more sophisticated community-sourced way for companies to easily highlight and provide solutions to popular customer pain points, especially since Shapland says category-based organization is also on the way for the service. Users can currently submit ideas to companies using feedback communities like GetSatisfaction or UserVoice.

Especially in the entrepreneurial community, measuring the cost of an idea is a tricky matter, and more often than not, valuations for IP tend to be high, especially among inventors themselves. That’s exactly the crowd something like Kickstarter appeals to, by offloading some of the risk while making sure people keep control of their ideas. For those who just have an inspirational itch they’d like others to scratch, however, there’s also a place for what Thing.to brings to the table, particularly for brands who want to see what customers are really looking for in a neutral, social forum.

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