International expansion

Startup of the week: Citizen Made

Elliot Bentley
citizen-made-teaser

With our scope widened to the entire world, first up is a Chicago-based startup allowing other businesses to sell customised products.

Each week, we’ll be featuring the most exciting and
innovative startups around the world. To nominate startups to be
featured on the site, email elliotb@sandsmedia.com.

After a week off, JAXenter’s Startup of the Week feature is
back with a bang. We’ve widened our scope to include the entire
world, and first off is
Citizen Made, a
Chicago-based startup producing software to allow other businesses
to sell customised products. We got in touch with co-founder Rachel
Brooks to learn more.

What’s your elevator pitch?

Citizen Made is product customization software. Our eCommerce
canvas allows customers to visually configure and purchase custom
products directly from a brand’s site. Citizen Made makes it
possible for consumers to buy products they truly want, and for
brands to effectively sell the custom products they’re capable of
making.

When was the company founded?

2011.

How many staff, and what do they do?

7 team members, comprised of 2 founders, a product development
team, designer, and business development support.

Where are your offices based, and what are they like
inside?

We are officially based in Chicago, with several team members also
co-located in New York. Our Chicago loft space is a welcoming
creative environment where you will often find a local artisan or
manufacturer visiting. Because our team is distributed, there tends
to be a decent amount of video conferencing, so that everyone can
work closely, but from the comfort of their own city. On certain
days at the office, you may also catch the occasional skee ball
game.

What technologies are you working with (client and server
side)?

We’re working with a straightforward LAMP stack on the backend.
Most of the innovative work we’re doing is with Javascript. The
backbone.js and raphael.js libaries have been a big help.

What technical difficulties did you overcome to get to
market?

The image processing tasks to build a custom product image set is
challenging. For store owners, managing a set of images for
products that may or may not exist can be an overwhelming job. We
had hoped to automate this process as much as possible, or at least
offer an easy-to-use tool set for managing the custom images in our
software. This task is ongoing. And in our tests with early users,
we learned that building our product to leverage content management
and a rules engine would be a better place to start. Image
processing is still a mostly manual job, but the remainder of the
customization equation for small brands can be solved with our
product. The shift in those priorities helped us develop a roadmap
that brought us to market much faster.

What are the company’s plans for the
future?

We plan to relaunch our product this winter with availability for
both small business and enterprise use. Know somebody who creates
custom products? Send them our way!

What are your three top tips for wannabe
entrepreneurs?

  • Find a partner who compliments your skill set and
    cares about the problem you’re solving, and work together to create
    something that has a market.
  • Solve a real problem. There are a lot of companies
    that have a tough time moving beyond early stages because their
    solution doesn’t match a problem that enough people are willing to
    pay for. Do a lot of research early on to frame the issue in a way
    that meets a real need, and be sure that the solution meets that
    need in a simple yet elegant way.
  • Stay focused on what is most important to most
    customers. There will always be a customer who wants special
    features, additional upgrades beyond your current offering, or team
    members that want to build above and beyond what is planned. Very
    early on, make a decision on where your company falls in the
    product shop/dev shop spectrum, and let that guide how you sell and
    scale products or projects.
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