Bastian Unterberg Photo: Jovoto GmbH
Ideas are a difficult issue. First you need one, then it should catch on and, in best-case, change the world. Those days are gone when masterminds sat in their chambers and had a flash of genious. The times when major companies only awarded their contracts to renowned agencies and designers are past as well. Today, ideas are based on grassrouts democracy.
They can be conceived by more than 40,000 people. Forty thousand people means the equal number of characters with even more opinions and dozens of cultural groups. All discussing, suggesting, criticizing and improving at any time across the globe. They are all part of Jovoto, a gigantic think tank.
“Ideas that would not have been implemented become reality here”, says Bastian Unterberg. Six years ago, the 34-years-old had the idea for this network. The student from then has become first a company founder and a very busy businessman in the meantime. Jovoto officially started operations at the end of 2008. A subsidiary in New York has been in business since two years.
Unlike social networks like Xing, Jovoto does not only work horizontally. It is not about putting together the same and connecting people with similar positions and similar careers. “Our idea was a vertical network, where people do not just see the resumes but also the way in which a person works”, says Professor Thomas Schildhauer. He teaches at the Universität der Künste (UdK) Berlin (University of the Arts) and manages the Institute of Electronic Business as a director. Bastian Unterberg studied at the UdK and worked as a project manager during his last Semester, where he developed his project idea. Still today Thomas Schildhauer and his colleague Wolfgang Hünnekens are contributing Jovoto as business angels. None of them ever dreamed that this idea would develop to the largest independent network in Europe. Major companies like Deutsche Bahn, Coca-Cola and Maggi use the ideas that have been generated in this network.
The concept behind Jovoto sounds simple and ingenious, giving companies the chance to initiate an announcement in the network. Consider for example Starbucks: each year the company produces approximately a billion paper cups. Until 2015, the company wants to reduce their waste by a quarter. How does this work? “Fourhundred-thirty ideas were submitted and the announcement has been clicked more than half a million times”, Thomas Schildhauer remembers.
As often, the idea is just the beginning. The other network members can comment, criticise, make suggestions for improvements, and vote for the idea. The concept with the most votes wins the announcement and the prize money. The prize may amount to 70,000 dollars. After the competition, the company can decide to implement an idea and exclusively purchase the exploitation rights to it. Even those, whose ideas do not win, benefit through the karma algorithm. “This is the reward for having an eye for good ideas”, says Professor Schildhauer. Those who often vote for the ideas that finally win receive points, so-called karma points. “In this way the companies can identify the persons with an intuition for brilliant ideas”, says Mr. Unterberg.
Despite the reduced hierarchy of the Jovoto world, there was an obstacle, which seemed to be difficult to surmount in the beginning. “We had to develop a common language”, says Bastian Unterberg. With the creative community on the one hand and the companies on the other, Jovoto operated between them, as kind of a negociator. For Bastian Unterberg it is still a learning process. “All of these rules, the common language and the respect, these are things that you cannot find in a textbook.”