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Time to get Twisted

A curious thing happened when Massuni exhibited at the IDS17 show in Toronto. Among the dozen or so styles we displayed was a small coffee table from our new Twist collection. It was part of a stack of tables right at the corner of our booth:


The interesting thing was that a constant stream of people reached out and touched the leg of the table. You might even say some of them caressed it. Twist was definitely one of the hits of the show, and sure enough, the first orders we got were for a Twist dining table, sideboard and two media cabinets.

The customers who placed the order, Nelson and Abby, were great to work with. Nelson used Massuni’s configurator to customize the pieces himself. They were pretty darn pleased when we delivered all four items last week:

Massuni-NelsonFurniture 014b.jpg

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Massuni-NelsonFurniture 045.JPG

As we were setting up the table, Abby started running her hand along the leg. I smiled and told her, “Everybody does that!”. Twenty minutes later, their teenage son appeared, and Nelson asked if he liked the new furniture. Guess what he did first?

If you look closely at the edge of the tabletop – a solid slab of 1-1/2″ thick cherry wood – you can see that it has a twist as well, angling from +20 degrees to -20 degrees, sloping in on one end, then twisting and sloping out on the other end of each edge. People often don’t notice this right away, but once they do, the next thing that happens is usually some touching.



Twist is available on the Massuni website.

We’re up and running!

Last time we posted here, Massuni was in the aftermath of a Kickstopper  – err, Kickstarter campaign that didn’t do so well. In hindsight, we can see good reasons why the campaign didn’t work, but some good came out of it.  We got some pretty good press coverage, and LOTS OF PEOPLE LOVED THE CONCEPT.

Press coverage, you say? Well, there was Boing!Boing!, Apartment Therapy, The Toronto Star, The Hamilton Spectator, shiny shiny, crowdfund insider, silicon angle, woodworking network,  and a few others.

All this positive feedback confirmed our belief that Massuni’s concept has legs. Over and over, we had conversations with regular people – future customers, perhaps – that invariably found their way around to the person describing a place in their home where Massuni could solve a nagging problem – getting the piece of furniture that fit their needs, in size, style, and functionality. Making that process fun and easy is a great bonus.

All that positive feedback gave us the confidence to plow forward.

We expanded the team and focused all our effort for the past 14 months on getting to launch.  Along the way, we met a manufacturer who shares our vision. He has adapted his small family-owned factory to work with the computer code we generate, so they can make our custom furniture quickly and efficiently. Our new manufacture has been making solid wood furniture for 25 years, and we’re really excited to be able to offer such high quality work right from the start.

We’re now offering infinitely* customizable furniture in more than a dozen base styles and almost 100 finishes – all in solid wood – just to get things started. (Okay, technically it’s not infinite, it’s only several quintillion variations. But who’s counting.)

We aspire to offering every piece of furniture in the known universe, so there’s still a lot of work to do. Right now, we’re filling out all the peripheral – but essential – parts of the website. We’re putting together things like shipping rates (it’s free!), product care,  and warranty-type issues. But the site is up and we’re taking orders.

If you’re reading this, you’ve probably already tried it out. If so, we’d love to hear what you think. If not, try it out now. And either way, please tell your friends!

Thank you to everyone who has helped and encouraged us to get this far.

Now it starts to get interesting.

The Silver Lining

If you’re following this blog, you already know that Massuni’s Kickstarter campaign got kickstopped back in November. We’ve since completed the requisite penance and restorative meditation in a remote hilltop monastery, and are now ready to start blogging again.

Postmortem analysis of the KS campaign points the finger at two key errors: overestimation of the interest the media would take in our project (tech reporters didn’t think it was “techy” enough”; and the design-focused media didn’t want to cover a Kickstarter campaign), and overestimation of the average pledge. Our thinking was that we would need 100-120 backers at an average amount of $650 – the midpoint of our furniture range. Instead, we got 56 supporters at an average of $294 – half the number of backers but only 20% of the dollars. It seems the inability to get onto the Massuni website, create some custom furniture and see how much it costs, left people with uncertainty as to how much they should pledge. What many did (quite sensibly) was opt for either a token amount of $8/$15/$25, or the least expensive piece of furniture, with the intention of topping up the amount later. This approach meant we failed to achieve that oh-so-important “momentum” that is needed on the first day of a campaign – subsequent visitors to the page looked at the numbers and assumed we weren’t going to make it to our goal, and didn’t bother backing the project. Such is the world of crowdfunding.

What no one has said, during or since the KS campaign, is that Massuni is a bad idea. Our belief, biased as it undoubtedly is, is that this was a failure of the Kickstarter campaign, but not of the Massuni business concept. (If you disagree, please tell us! If we’re missing something, we’d like to know about it.) We are therefore pushing forward with development, albeit at a slower pace than would be possible with kickstarterbucks in our wallet.

There is a silver lining to the whole experience: the attention we got through the KS campaign brought inquiries from potential partners all over the world – retailers, manufacturers, software companies, and investors. If you’re one of these people, or one of the 56 who backed us on Kickstarter – thank you so much for your interest and support! We look forward to more dialogue in the months ahead.

Kickstarter mid-campaign report

Massuni has reached the halfway point of its 28 day Kickstarter campaign, and an update is overdue.

The original goal for this campaign was to get 100-120 backers, at an average pledge of about $700 towards each furniture purchase. Many of our backers have opted for a much lower dollar amount, presumably intending to make up the balance once they’re able to create custom furniture and see the exact price. This is a sensible strategy, and in hindsight, we should have structured the whole campaign around this approach. Oh well!

So the bad news, which is apparent to anyone who can do math, is that we’re unlikely to reach the campaign’s financial goal. The only thing that could generate some momentum is press coverage, and while the media has expressed strong interest in Massuni, the top players have all decided to wait until we launch and are taking orders. Seems there’s some “crowdfunding fatigue” out there, or at least that’s the impression we’re getting.

The good news is, we don’t actually have to reach our Kickstarter goal in order to succeed. If we signed up 100 supporters who eventually ordered furniture, we’d actually be better off than if we reached the dollar target. So please – spread the word and help us grow the backer list!

No matter what happens with this Kickstarter campaign, we’re pushing towards market launch. Kickstarter backers will get first access to the system, and first opportunity to place orders. Deadline is November 18th!

Kickstarter Explained

The clock is counting down and we’ll be launching our Kickstarter campaign in a few hours. In the lead up to launch, we’ve had a lot of interest, and we’re hoping for a strong opening. Many of the people we’ve been in contact with have never explored crowdfunding before, and aren’t quite sure how it works. If you’re one of these people, here is some explanation that might help.

What is “crowdfunding”?

Crowdfunding is an old concept that has seen an explosion in popularity in recent years, largely due to a few really successful websites that make it easy. People who need funds to tackle some sort of project ask the general public to make lots of modest contributions, rather than looking for investors or going to a bank for a loan. In exchange for contributing money, supporters usually get some sort of “reward” that comes out of the project. So if you’ve supported the production of a live play, you might get tickets; if you’ve helped a band record an album, you get an advance copy, or tickets to a show, or a t-shirt; if you’ve supported the creation of some sort of product (like furniture), you get one of those products. There are also campaigns for social causes, charities, or even raising money for individual’s medical bills – anything anyone can dream up that might get support from others.

Crowdfunding is great for entrepreneurs and artists who can’t get people in suits to back them financially. It’s also a good at testing whether anyone actually wants the thing you’re about to make.

What is Kickstarter?

Kickstarter is the largest and most successful crowdfunding website. Since launching in 2009, over $1.3 Billion has been contributed to campaigns. Kickstarter has chosen to restrict their platform to “creative projects”, so you won’t find any social causes or medical bills – for those, the most popular site is Indiegogo, and there are several other crowdfunding sites with various specializations.

How do I support a project on Kickstarter?

Step 1 – First, you need to create an account. To do so, click here.

Step 2 – You need to find the project you want to support. Kickstarter has lots of ways to browse and search in different categories, regions, and so on. If you’re reading this, you might be interested in supporting Massuni. If so, click here – and thanks!

Step 3 – Once you find a project you want to support, browse through the Rewards that are being offered . On Kickstarter and Indiegogo, they are listed in a column along the right side of the page. Keep scrolling down to see all the choices that are available. Also – details about the Rewards are often given in the main project description – be sure to scroll down through the whole page and read everything.

Step 4 – Once you find the Reward you like, click on it, and you will be taken through a few steps that are very similar to an online shopping checkout system. Just follow the instructions, provide your payment info (usually credit card and PayPal), and that’s it – you’ve helped make the project a reality!

Step 5 – Wait for updates from the project creator. If they’re on top of things, you should get email once in awhile with news about the project’s progress.

How to choose Rewards for Massuni’s Kickstarter project

Massuni is a bit trickier than most crowdfunding projects. Instead of choosing from two or three variations of the product, every supporter gets to design their own unique furniture – that’s the whole point! In order to do this within the Kickstarter platform, we’ve created a set of “starter models”, ranging in value from $180 to $1500. If you like any of these items, simply pledge for that amount. But if you really don’t know what you want, or are uncomfortable estimating, there are two easy choices: Go for the Design Consultation Reward Tier of $25, and we’ll help you figure it out after the campaign. Or, select the $180 Reward Tier, which is pretty much the lowest price of any furniture we make, then pay the balance once you’ve created your custom furniture.

IMPORTANT: After the Kickstarter campaign has ended and we’ve finished our development, Backers will be given first access to the website. You can then go and design your exact item, and submit your order. If the final charge is higher than you pledged, we will bill you for the difference. If the final charge is less than you pledged, you will retain a credit that you can use in the future, or transfer to a friend.

The Billion Product Company.

Here’s a question that’s so pointless no one ever asks it: Why do companies limit the number of different products they make? I mean, why doesn’t a company that operates in a given industry – say, shoes – make every conceivable variation that any customer might possibly want, thereby winning every customer’s business? I can think of a few reasons:

First, the cost of design and development. It takes a lot of time to create a new product. An estimation for the industry I work in – furniture – is that it takes about three person-years to design a product, build multiple prototypes to resolve all the details, and get it ready for production. Do the math on that labour cost, and even large companies would hit a ceiling, either because they’d used all available capital, or because small market niches didn’t justify the initial investment.

Second, the cost of “tooling up”, as the manufacturing people call it. I recently had a great discussion with my friend Duncan, who I hadn’t seen in quite awhile. Duncan is an engineer, and he’s spent the past couple of years developing a clever plastic container that he believes is going to make a splash in the marketplace. It’s going to cost Duncan upwards of $100,000 for injection molds for this product, before he can sell his first one. The molds will not be used for anything else but this one specific product – the only thing he can vary is the colour of the material. Clearly, it’s not feasible to make a different plastic container for each customer’s specific needs. Even in furniture, where manufacturers are pretty averse to dedicated tooling, a new design typically requires jigs, templates, and machine setups for each step in production of each individual component. Once in production, companies spend a lot of time changing from one setup to another, and once something is running, they have a strong incentive to make lots of it – even if there are no orders for those parts yet, and they could end up sitting in inventory for a long time.

A third reason is the cost of marketing, which includes distribution (getting product to where the customer will buy it through logistics and inventory), determining the price and positioning of the product, and of course, telling the world your great new product exists. I’m guessing that when Procter & Gamble launched the Swiffer, they probably spent as much (or more) on telling the world that it really needed a Swiffer, as they spent on product development and tooling.

The final reason is really a different angle on the ones I’ve already mentioned: uncertainty. Ever wonder why business is risky? I mean, we all know that business is risky, but why? I think it boils down to the fact that you have to spend money on developing your product or service, and on some sort of promotion of that product, before you know whether anyone is going to buy it – if they don’t, you’re screwed. If you could look into the future, and see that your amazing new invention was actually something that no one but you and your mother had any interest in, you could abandon it before you sunk a lot of time and money into it. If Duncan knew how many customers were going to buy his clever plastic container, he could make decisions that would match the level of demand he was going to encounter. He would spend his cash more effectively than he’s likely doing now – him and every other entrepreneur and multinational on the planet. (This is the core benefit of crowdfunding – you get to find out how many customers you’re going to have – and get some of their money – before you spend all the money necessary to make the product.)

So here’s where I’m going with this: What if you could eliminate all these costs? What if you could drive the cost of product development and tooling to zero? What if you could design each product variation in mere seconds, rather than months or years? What if all the products were made using a standardized set of tools and processes with no dedicated molds or fixtures? And what if they were only made once someone had bought them? This isn’t possible for Duncan – some things are still best made with dedicated molds and dies. But in my industry, residential furniture, removing the costs of product variation is possible – and we’re about to start doing it. We don’t have a billion products just yet, but we’ve built a platform that supports that number. All we need now, is for you and 999,999,999 of your friends to design the custom furniture you want. We’d be happy to build it for you.

The true potential of mass customization has not yet been realized.

This morning I was listening to a piece on CBC Radio’s “The Current” about using charrettes to involve multiple stakeholders in the design process, and how this produces much better results for users than designers working in isolation. One of the guests, Bill Lennertz, is the Executive Director of The Charrette Institute and co-auther of The Charrette Handbook. He suggested thinking of the designer as a taxi driver. The customer/user tells the driver where they want to go, then he or she gets them there. The user knows what their needs are; the designer’s role is to apply their training and expertise to help articulate those needs, and develop the best solution.

A key element of mass customization is putting the design process in users’ hands, so they can create solutions that meet their own individual needs without incurring the expensive labour of designers and engineers. This automation of design tasks usually takes the form of a Configurator – a computer interface that captures and codifies all the expert’s knowledge, and provides the ability for users to specify what they want. Configurators and the charrette process both seek to empower end users by providing technical support, but most Configurators fall short because they only offer a tiny subset of solutions from the total spectrum of possibilities. It’s as if an architect offered the choice of 2, 5, and 9 story buildings, with either a party room or a pool (but not both), and assumed this would satisfy everyone’s needs.

In order for a Configurator – and mass customization in its entirety – to be truly successful, it must go beyond “choose one from Column A and one from Column B”, and instead allow the user to “design whatever they want”. The only way this can be achieved is to offer the complete spectrum of possible solutions within a defined realm, whether it be residential buildings, running shoes – or furniture. Of course, this is an enormous undertaking, and in many cases it’s simply not feasible, but technology and creativity are enabling more and more domains to embrace this capability. There’s probably already a sensible name for this scope of flexibility, but I like to call it “Everythingness”. I believe it’s the future of mass customization, and it’s what Massuni is creating.

Massuni Update – September 9, 2014

The date is set – at least in pencil. We’re aiming to launch our crowdfunding campaign on October 14th and run until November 18th. To ensure it’s a success, we’re very excited to have Uproar PR on board to help get the word out. They have a great track record working with startups, including some impressive success stories. The pressure is really on now to get a nice video in the can, and work out all the details. Here’s a sneak preview of a couple of the Rewards we’re going to offer:

Kick0450-RewardSet                Kick0750-RewardSet

The plan is to offer furniture items at price points ranging from $150 to $1200. Of course, the whole idea is that each person can create their own custom item, so we’re also showing some examples of other products of equivalent value. As always, comments and feedback are welcome!


Massuni Update – August 31, 2014

Last week we ran through some usability tests with a fully functional system. The results were enlightening, and also very encouraging. While a few bugs surfaced, they all appear to solvable. The biggest issue that surfaced was the immediate need for enhanced discoverability (i.e. how a new user finds the method to do various tasks). Virtually every user was stumped at one or more steps when they couldn’t figure out how to do something. The good news is, once the user discovered the key processes, they all worked well. After the system had been used for two or three test scenarios – about 10 to 15 minutes – people were generally comfortable with the system and were able to work quickly and easily. Once each person had gone through a handful of prescribed tasks, they were then asked if they could think of a place in their own home where the Massuni system could create an item they otherwise couldn’t or wouldn’t acquire. In all cases, the answer was yes, and in all cases, they quickly configured the desired item. Couldn’t ask for better validation than that.

A press kit is well underway, but not complete – still a bit stumped on the images. In parallel with that effort, we spent some time this past week looking for a top notch PR outfit, having recognized that we weren’t going to be able to do it very well by ourselves. Everyone we spoke with had a strong belief that Massuni is newsworthy, and could pick up some strong press coverage. We’re now waiting for detailed proposals from the firms that seem best suited to our needs. 

One key issue related to PR and the crowdfunding campaign is the appropriate timeline. A determining factor is whether it is necessary to have the Massuni configurator open to the public. We have long believed that was important but are now questioning that position, for a couple of reasons. First, it’s not really expected, so its absence won’t be detrimental. Crowdfunding that involves software (such as gaming) rarely, if ever, has an operational system available to use – that’s what the crowdfunding typically finances. Second, the amount of work to be done before we’re ready for public access is still very hard to predict and quantify, and it’s therefore hard to put a deadline to it. Right now, it seems unlikely that the system will be robust enough to tie into crowdfunding before Christmas, and pushing the campaign into 2015 is a very unattractive prospect. That development could be greatly accelerated if we had funds from a successful campaign to grow the team, so all considered, it seems better to run the campaign with a strong demo video but not live system access. If anyone has opinions on this, please share them.

In the coming week we will continue to narrow the field of PR partners, continue working on the press kit, start tackling the bugs that were reported in testing, and start development on a variety of discoverability techniques that we’ve already been discussing.



Massuni Update – August 24, 2014

This is the first weekly update on Massuni’s progress toward the launch of our custom furniture system. Comments and feedback are welcome.

The big news in the past week was the tremendous response to Massuni’s introductory email blast – much more than I was expecting, to be honest. A lot of people who signed up for ongoing updates were not on the original mailing lists, so the word is spreading, which is great.

The other big news this past week was the addition of a new member to the team. Tiago Vaquero is leaving his post-doctoral work in industrial engineering, mechatronics and AI at the University of Toronto, and is joining Massuni just in time to help us get ready for production. Welcome, Tiago!

In the coming week, we will be starting some usability testing on the configurator system. We would like to observe some volunteers using the system, to see what works and what needs improvement. Is anyone interested in spending an hour or so with us in person if they’re in Toronto, or screen sharing from anywhere else?

The other main goal for this week is to complete a Press Kit. We need to provide some images for inclusion with any stories that are written about Massuni, but what should those images be? A “normal” company would simply showcase their new products, but the whole idea of Massuni is that everyone gets a different product. Alternately, we could provide screenshots of the configurator app, but that’s not very sexy. I hope to get some attention in the design-oriented press, and they really love beautiful photos. Any ideas?