Innovating With A-Players: How To Know, Find And Recruit Great Co-Creators

In a previous post, Mahima explored the key differences between co-creation and market research, and why co-creation with the end user is necessary for innovation. We want to re-emphasize that co-creation success is dependent on involving alpha consumers in the design of your solution or new business from ideation all the way to launch. These alpha consumers or co-creators will ultimately be your recommenders, early adopters, word-of-mouth advertisers and influencers.

Recruit for category mavens Recruit for the masses, segmentation
Users as Co-Creators Users as research subjects
Co-Creators in your shop Research subjects on other side of glass

Co-creation starts with finding the RIGHT people. Because Co-Creators serve a very different purpose, they need to be recruited differently. You are looking for alpha consumers/visionaries who can be “honorary product developers” on your team.

Co-Creation is an entrepreneurial process that requires an entrepreneurial spirit. Often when innovating, you are developing solutions in areas with increased risk and uncertainty, creating new to the world products in categories that may not exist. For this reason, a co-creator’s mindset should be more of a visionary, a maven in their own right. They have the ability to help bridge the gap from a defined problem to a solution. They are willing to take a leap of faith and see past the duct tape and wires hanging out of your prototype to understand the potential of what that solution could be. They are the critics, cheer leaders and product advocates who will help validate your ideas and be invaluable to the future of your business.

Co-creators are in your shop helping you create versus sitting on the other side of the glass answering questions. Think of co-creation experiments as multiple sprints towards the marathon finish line, set up to be quick bursts that drive your solution forward over an extended period of time. So, the co-creator has to have both fast-twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers, i.e., the ability to do quick, intense experiments like a sprinter and the will and motivation of a marathoner to stick with you for the long haul.

In this post, you will learn about choosing and recruiting great co-creators. The success of your co-creation program ultimately depends on the people you have. Alpha consumers not only have the problem you are solving for, but also bring a valuable perspective on how to solve it. Not all co-creators need to be end users. Diversify your group to get various perspectives. Include industry experts, influencers and other stakeholders as co-creators.

How to Choose Co-Creators
OK, co-creation is a different beast. So, how does one find and choose the right co-creators? Let’s first define how not to go about it. One, don’t limit your co-creator criteria to just the target segment, demographics, habits and behaviors. Two, don’t just outsource co-creator recruitment to a professional recruiting agency, because this is not traditional market research. The consumer database employed by the agency might be over-used, respondents often are not alpha consumers and may not be intrinsically motivated to work with you over an extended period of time.

Do’s and Don’ts of Choosing Co-creators

✓ Psychographics × Professional Recruiting Agency" × Paper/Phone Screen"
✓ Intrinsic Motivation ✓ Social Media ✓ Deselection Process
✓ Problem to Solve ✓ Online/Offline Communities ✓ Questionnaire
✓ Segmentation ✓ In-person Outreach ✓ Phone Interview
✓ Demographics ✓ In-Person Conversation
✓ Habits/Behaviors ✓ Co-creator Activity e.g., video

Now, let’s talk about how to identify good co-creators, finding and recruiting them.

Know Them
What characteristics should you look for in a co-creator? While target segment and demographics are important and will depend on the project focus, you’ll want to also focus on the psychographics of the person along with their intrinsic motivation, creativity and level of engagement. Co-creators should have an inherent motivation or desire to help solve that specific problem for themselves and others like them. They are not participating just for the money, but want to be part of the value creation and sharing, the making of things and solutions that solve their own needs and getting some value back.

Here are a few key traits to consider when searching for a good co-creator:

  • Creative/Imaginative: The ability to imagine the future, generate new ideas, look in unexpected places and make new connections.
  • Articulate/Opinionated: Easily able to understand and express complex concepts and are not afraid to share opinions with strangers.
  • Self-Efficacious: Believe their actions can control outcomes, trust their ability to learn and are confident when faced with the unfamiliar.
  • Maximizers: Consider every possible option before making a decision, set a high bar and focus on optimization.
  • Early Adopters: Willing to try on and invest in new technologies before they are completely proven and accepted by peers, are future-focused, ahead of the curve, tinkerers, inventors and problem-solvers.
  • Category Mavens: Have disproportionately high or specialized knowledge about the category, aware of or are actively working to address needs and are well-networked within the category.

Find Them
Where do you find people that exhibit these traits and how do you reach out to them? Depending on the context of your project, start looking at either online or offline user communities. Leverage Facebook, Twitter, search engine ads, online forums and blogs to find and reach out to people fitting your co-creator criteria. Identify influencers and get them excited about your idea and they can help get your message across to a wide audience. Offline, you could participate in a meet-up session or reach out to clubs and groups in person. Landing page and website building tools like Wix or Squarespace, and survey tools like Typeform, Google Forms or SurveyMonkey simplify the co-creation sign-up and interview process.

Recruit Them
Once you find potential co-creators, you need to screen them quickly to find the best ones to work with. So, how do you know that someone who sounds good on paper will be an effective co-creator? You should do a variety of activities to assess their co-creator capabilities and tap into their rational and irrational thinking to tell you what they are like as a person. These include but are not limited to psychographic questionnaires tailored to your project requirements (based on traits listed above), face-to-face exploratory conversations and short video assignments to explain their motivation and interest.

The best co-creators have a problem, are hyper-aware that they have a problem, not satisfied with what is available, actively seek a better solution, have tried many things and often have duct taped stuff together to make their own solution. So, what about co-creation incentivizes them? It is the sense of fulfillment in solving their own problem, being part of the next big thing, the opportunity to test cool products and monetary rewards.

Your Early Evangelists
As you innovate and build your solution or business, continue to cultivate deep relationships with co-creators and expand your co-creation base size as needed. Co-Creators not only help you create and validate your idea they ultimately become your Early Evangelist. They will be the supporter who helps get the word out and spread your idea virally. So, think of co-creation as an on-going, multi-dimensional process, rather than a one-time blast.

Illustrative Case: For a major beverage brand, we ran a co-creator program to map future opportunities in the beverage space. Our goal was to bring together a mix of tea experts, coffee addicts, soda junkies and juicing gurus who also happened to be startup founders, world travelers, writers, moms and fashion designers. To find these co-creators, we participated in local meet-ups of baristas and tea aficionados, and connected with juicing and craft soda communities on Facebook and Twitter.

Interested participants signed up on our website, completed a psychographic questionnaire, sent us a short application video explaining their interest and passion and finally, met us in person for an open discussion on co-creation roles and commitments. We ended up selecting a small, but terrific bunch of individuals that were passionate about the beverage making and consuming experience. These were people that owned specialized beverage-related gadgets, were articulate about their problems and ideas, and were willing to experiment with ingredients, appliances and behaviors on our behalf. They worked with us side-by-side over a period of several months as we went from ideation to concept to prototype and business model development.

Mekhala Raghavan, PhD

Senior Associate

Diane Prickel