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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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