Discovering innovations that matter since 2002

It’s definitely a personalized world out there, so how about a miniature version of… yourself? My Twinn lets consumers personalize a 23″ doll to resemble any child aged 3-12, down to every detail. The site offers a choice of 15 face shapes, 4 skin tones, 8 eye colors, 8 hair colors and 11 hair lengths and textures. Prices start at USD 119, plus additional fees if customers choose to have a professional stylist do the doll’s hair or hand paint details like specific freckles or birthmarks. The entire process takes about 3 to 4 weeks, and Denver-based eToys Direct is behind the company. For adults, AndGor Toy Company is the place to go to for a miniature-me: the company employs a team of in-house sculptors, who’ve been at this game for quite a while. From their site: “AndGor Toy Company can make YOU into the Action Figure of your choice, wearing whatever you want from casual clothes to formal wear, authentic military gear, football uniform, and more!” Yes, MyTwinn and AndGor really ought to be part of TRENDWATCHING.COM’s GRAVANITY and MASTERS OF THE YOUNIVERSE trends, but their ability to get consumers to actually gasp should be food for thought for any hands-on entrepreneur and marketer: never before have consumers, eager to stand out as individuals, yet part of a mass culture that makes everything available to everyone, been so interested in ME, MYSELF and I. Start catering to the MASTERS OF THE YOUNIVERSE or disappear in a sea of sameness. We all know by now that millions of time and cash rich consumers (read: baby boomers) equal a lot of opportunities. So why not just DO something for these consumers, instead of studying worn-out trend reports on boomer markets? Get inspired by Austrian supermarket chain Adeg, which launched Adeg Aktiv Markt 50+ in Salzburg 1.5 years ago, and added new stores in Salzburg and Vienna last year. To please and accommodate senior citizens, Adeg incorporated everything from reduced-glare lighting and slip-proof flooring to wider aisles and easier-to-navigate parking spaces. And the list goes on: reduced-height shelving, pleasant places to sit and signage and shelf markers in larger type are part of the deal, too. Stores also offer several cart and basket options, including a shopping cart that attaches to a wheelchair and another that has a fold-down seat for shoppers who might want to rest along the way. The produce display is engineered so that even a person in a motorized cart or wheelchair can select his or her own items. Shoppers can borrow reading glasses to check small print on labels or use magnifying glasses that are attached to shelves in some areas. Smaller packages of things like cheese are intended to serve households of one or two. Notably, all employees are over 50. Hey, if it works in Austria, it will work in the US, in Japan, in Belgium, and so on. (more…) When it comes to dinner, consumers want it all: active, individual lifestyles AND sit-down family dinners, preferably combined with convenience AND authenticity. Which means the food and beverage world is forever coming up with innovative, wholesome yet effortless ways to feed busy singles and families; from healthy ready-to-heat meals to online grocers such as FreshDirect. Now, add to this equation services like Dream Dinners, Dinner Helpers and Let’s Dish. How it works: the Dream Dinners of this world eliminate the hassle of planning and preparing meals, by facilitating cooking sessions in professional kitchens where customers assemble 12 to 24 healthy family meals and then take the entrĂ©es home in coolers, boxes or laundry hampers to freeze/store/cook and eat. The service cleverly takes care of time-consuming activities like grocery shopping, chopping and dicing, and cleaning up. Dream Dinners charges USD 200 per 12-meal session for 4-6 people, or 24 meals for 2-3 people, while Dinner Helpers charges USD 179 for 12 meals. An entirely new way of preparing a family’s monthly food-supply, and one that would go down well with busy households in Europe, Asia-Pacific and anywhere else where time is the new currency!

Opportunities

Dream Dinners, with 49 stores in 14 US-states, and another 18 stores coming soon, is the leading company in this field. The business is actively looking for franchisees, who pay USD 30,000 and 6% monthly royalty plus 2% advertising royalty, both based on gross monthly sales. In return, franchisees receive full training, kitchen set-up, a grand opening event, operational manuals, a listing on the Dream Dinners’ corporate website, menus, recipes, labels etc, etc. However, the concept is pretty clean-cut, so competition is heating up. And if we were a supermarket chain, a whole food supplier or a fast moving consumer goods giant, we know who we would like to partner with, if not devour straight away! Intangibles are the new tangibles! In saturated, experience-driven consumer societies populated by experience-craving consumers, what’s more important: the inside or the outside? Functionality or design? A Prada dress or the massive Prada shopping bag that it comes with, for all to see when the owner trots down Sloane Street or West Broadway? Springwise could go on for hours about MASSCLUSIVITY-obsessed consumers, but as always, we prefer real-life examples of innovative business ideas that exploit status anxiety. So check out this phenomenon: stores dedicated to gift wrapping. One stylish, sumptuous wrap is worth more than 10 crappy presents, and stores like It’s a Wrap and Soolip understand that. From Soolip’s website: “we’ve wrapped everything from iPods to engagement rings, Barbie dolls to plane tickets for a Christmas in Paris. We’ve always held firm to the belief that gifts are always better when dressed in a Japanese silk screened paper, or handmade Lokta from Nepal, and finished with yards and yards of hand-dyed silk ribbon. The Soolip Wrap features the best in paper and textiles as well as a wide array of gift toppers such as Czech glass beads, diminutive paper carnations, and fresh floral finishes. Always leave a lasting impression.” Springwise would NOT be surprised to see a multitude of POP-UP gift wrapping stores next holiday season. And long term, how about the wrapping becoming the present? There’s a lesson about what constitutes value and beauty in here somewhere;-) Springwise likes the simple premise behind PlanetTran, most likely the world’s first livery service (hired cars such as taxis and limousines) that only uses environmentally-friendly hybrid vehicles. Based out of Boston, PlanetTran‘s fleet of Toyota Priuses shuttle customers to and from Logan Airport and other destinations at standard market rates. While hybrid cars are still expensive, the gas/electric Prius rates 60 miles per gallon in city driving, while a typical livery car like the Crown Victoria only gets 18 miles a gallon. Using PlanetTran won’t hurt your corporate image either, the company recently signed up its first corporate customer: Cambridge-based Gen-zyme, a biomedical research company. With car manufacturers now rolling out new hybrid cars every month (which means more consumers will be familiar with the concept), and oil prices at a historic high, PlanetTran is well-positioned to reap the benefits of this pleasant ‘green meets comfort’ venture.

Opportunities

Ah, if only marketers and environmentalists would hook up more often. Many consumers are environmentally aware, but entrepreneurs looking to cash in on this, need to make it as convenient as possible for their customers to convert to greener behaviour. Like PlanetTran’s marketing-driven spin on eco-friendly transportation, what other existing new technologies can you turn into a regular, consumer-focused service? Onwards! More food! For consumers, the world these days resembles a smorgasbord of gastronomic delights ripe for the picking, from low cost airlines shuttling them to wherever the next ‘it’ country is, to booming urban restaurants fusing everything from Japanese with Chilean to Brazilian with Indonesian. May Springwise contribute to this never-ending fad by pointing out the popularity (in Mexico) of ‘cajeta’, a flavoured, syrupy sauce made from burnt goat’s milk and sugar. Fans pour it over ice cream, on bread, crepes, cookies, fruit, etc. Which has led to cajeta-flavoured candy in the form of lollipops, soft candy and wafers. Two of the leading producers are Coronado and Sevillanas, manufacturing various kinds of goat’s milk-based treats: candy bars, lollipops, cajeta cookies and candy spread. Tasty, no? Quick word of warning: one non-Mexican company trying to capitalize on this tasty and potentially trendy delicacy is Hershey’s, which recently launched a candy specifically for the Hispanic market, boasting “sabor a chocolate blanco con cajeta.” Their gaffe was that cajeta has a very different meaning in other South American markets, referring to a certain part of a woman’s anatomy. Just so you know đŸ˜‰

Opportunities

Think you can turn all things cajeta into the next global craze, while Hershey’s is busy focusing on consumers already familiar with this stuff? If you don’t live in Mexico, get started by buying some samples from MexGrocer, a bilingual online grocery store for hard-to-find, authentic Mexican foods. We could just see goat milk lollipops becoming THE hot new candy for the summer of 2005, and someone, perhaps you, is going to get rich from it! If traditional mass advertising is dead (RIP), will consumers return to good old word of mouth, focusing on the best of the best, even wanting to try out stuff before they buy? Our sister-site defined the trend as tryvertising. Here are two examples of entrepreneurs practising what others preach: Swedish Vinotek and San Francisco based VinoVenue. Both combine the concepts of a wine tasting bar and a dispensing machine (call them wine jukeboxes) in a cool setting, enticing consumers to buy a chargeable smart card which will give them access to dozens of bottles of wine including elaborate information. The machines dispense a glass of the chosen wine for a couple of bucks/euros. It’s all about choice and trying before you buy: VinoVenue’s automated wine stations offer more than 100 wines from around the world, all available per glass and bottle. Smart cards are not only used for payment, they also track which wines have been tasted, facilitating future purchasing decisions.

Opportunities

Vinotek and VinoVenue are excellent examples of how a vital mix of experience, technology and being space can be turned into something fun and useful for consumers. Just launched: UK-based Zopa, a place where creditworthy consumers who’d like to borrow money can get together with other consumers who are happy to lend it to them. Cutting out the middleman, lenders set their own rate of return and choose which borrowers they want to lend to. Zopa manages various ‘markets’, matching lenders with borrowers’ various risk profiles. Intrepid lenders might choose borrowers at a lower credit band who can give them a higher rate of interest. Cautious lenders can choose borrowers at a higher credit band, but then of course the rate will be lower. To reduce overall risk, an individual lender doesn’t actually lend to an individual borrower; instead a lender lends money across at least fifty Zopa borrowers, and similarly a borrower borrows from a group of Zopa lenders. All lenders and borrowers enter into a legally binding contract with their respective borrowers and lenders. Zopa manages the collection of monthly repayments and if any of that money is not paid on time, it uses exactly the same recovery processes that mainstream banks use. Zopa’s gain comes from charging borrowers an exchange fee of 1%, and — if borrowers take out repayment insurance on their loans — Zopa receives commission from the insurance provider. Lenders aren’t charged by Zopa. Changing the rules of yet another game (by killing the fat margins banks charge for their mediation), the company is jointly backed by Munich-based firm Wellington Partners, which invested in Alando, now the German eBay, and Benchmark, which backed Betfair and eBay. Looks like this new ‘eBay for money’ is well-positioned for online riches.

Opportunities

Remember Kevin Kelly’s and Nicholas Negroponte’s pie in the sky predictions on incredible online transparency, matching any imaginable supply and demand? Ten years later, the eBays and Match.coms of this world are not only thriving on this vision, they’re also constantly inspiring other entrepreneurs to challenge existing business models with new peer-to-peer services, centered around loans or junk or dating or music. Offering consumers empowerment AND higher margins/better results: that’s something any marketer should be willing to invest in. One to watch! Wisconsin’s Super Fast Pizza* has finally figured out how to deliver piping hot pizzas within 15 minutes. The secret? High-tech mobile kitchen vans, officially licensed as restaurants, are outfitted with custom ovens that can cook pizzas at 600 degrees. Fully powered and wifi-enabled, Super Fast Pizza’s kitchens on wheels take orders and cook pizzas while on their way to customers. To save time and make the best of the limited cooking space, all processes have been standardized: the menu only offers the seven most popular pizzas (think deluxe, sausage, sausage and pepperoni, five-cheese, four-meat, pepperoni, veggie, and a pizza of the month), all pizzas are uncut and medium sized, and all cost USD 10.99. Online ordering is encouraged. Super Fast Pizza is doing well, and is actively seeking investors to roll out the business as fast as possible. Yum!

Opportunities

Repeat after us: no business is immune to creative destruction. Super Fast Pizza challenges one of its own industry’s ‘natural laws’, in this case the notion that preparation of product needs to take place in a fixed location. How many other businesses would benefit from shortening or deleting production-to-delivery times? Could your company benefit from combining delivery with production, whether in vans, on trains, planes or container ships? Floating factories anyone? Get a bottle of red wine, scribble ‘Instant Gratification’ on a white wall, and off you go! * Note: Super Fast Pizza seems to have disappeared from the Wisconsin delivery scene. Know what happened to the promising venture? Leave a comment!