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Posted at 01:34 PM ET, 01/09/2013

‘Wouldn’t it be better if ... ’ there was a better suggestion box? Enter Betterific.


A screenshot of Betterific featuring a new look the team expects to deploy by the end of the day Wednesday. The site, which is still in beta, prompts users to complete the phrase "Wouldn't it be better if..." with their own ideas. (Screenshot)

It’s the question that rolls of your tongue whenever you encounter a situation where inefficiency, poor design or mere lack of foresight gets between you and what you want to accomplish.

“Wouldn’t it be better if ... ” you mumble to yourself. Customer feedback forms are where these ideas usually go — often to die. That’s assuming they make it to the form at all. More often than not, we figuratively and sometimes literally roll over. We accept that a product or system is less than perfect, adjusting or accommodating for the imperfection.

But what if there were a central repository for those ideas — a constructive outlet for the frustrated whisper to ourselves or off-handed thoughts shared with friends? And what if that repository was home to a community that could recommend some ideas over others? In other words, wouldn’t it be better if your ideas for innovations (could this be more up our alley?) — whether they be simple or complex — had a place not only to live but, perhaps, to thrive?

A new platform called Betterific seeks to provide just this type of home. Users can join via Facebook, Twitter or e-mail and enter their ideas, submitting them to the community for a Reddit-style up-or-down vote. The site was started by Micha Weinblatt and co-founders Brad Cater and Jonathan Schilit. Weinblatt and I, in the interest of full disclosure, are both members of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community.


Betterific co-founders, right to left, Micha Weinblatt, Brad Cater and Jonathan Schilit on their first day at the DreamIt Ventures Incubator in Philly on Sept. 5, 2012. (Micha Weinblatt)

The site, which Weinblatt describes as “inherently social,” differs from other social networks in that it primes users to share constructive feedback. “Anyone can tell you what’s wrong with something,” said Weinblatt during a phone interview Tuesday, “but if you make the person go one step more you can get really interesting responses.”

The spirit of the site is something Weinblatt says has always been with him. In 2005, he sent an e-mail to the fast-food chain Chipotle suggesting that the company offer free chips with their “burrito bol” menu item to make it as filling as the company’s burrito. The suggestion, at least to date, has not been adopted — a victim, perhaps, of the suggestion box vortex. He sent another suggestion to the transportation company Bolt Bus in 2008, suggesting that it would be better if the company put stops and stop durations on the Web site. Eventually, the idea for Betterific came about when Weinblatt determined that the fitted sheet could use improvement — specifically, adding labels on the sheet indicating the width and length.

In the early stages of Betterific’s development, Weinblatt was worried that the site would turn into a repository of complaints. But today, he says, 90 percent are in the “positive realm,” with over 100 suggestions — or “betterifs” as the team calls them — on how to improve the platform itself.

Asked what his favorite “betterif” was, Weinblatt said it was from a user who suggested that toilet seats come with a “pedal lift lid,” similar to trash cans. For co-founder Cater, it was the option for a “cancel” button on elevators, while for Schilit it was that Cheetos bags come with chopsticks to “keep the orange stuff off your hands.”

Weinblatt said he learned a lot from founding the T-shirt company Crooked Monkey in 2005, but that Betterific was “on a bigger scale.”

Currently, Weinblatt and his team are in D.C. and would “love to work with local companies” to incorporate the engine. The team seeks to work with brands interested in getting in on the ground floor and collaborating to find new ways to leverage the platform. Ultimately, they hope it will serve as an online focus group service, placing engaged customers in the path of companies eager to keep them happy. That ability to target and engage with super users in a constructive way is a service companies would likely pay handsomely for.

In the next couple of weeks, Weinblatt says the team plans to launch an “at-tag” system, allowing users to tag eachother in their “betterifs.” In the meantime, Betterific is teaming up with digital media company BisNow to experiment with running a private section of the platform where certain users can share ideas in the comfort of a closed community.

Weinblatt says the team is planning to build a private messaging function in the coming year, while tweaking the algorithm to give users a more customized experience. Ultimately, says Weinblatt, the goal is to present users with the “betterifs” that are most interesting to them every time they arrive on the site. They hope to have finished the bulk of that work in the next six months.

“What we always say in our office is people will come back when the content is interesting, so we have to ask the right questions, ” said Weinblatt, going on to say that he wants to create a site that makes users think and leave inspired.

Weinblatt and his co-founders opened up a round for $650,000 in funding this week — fresh off of an incubator session with DreamIt Ventures in New York. Right now, says Weinblatt, he and his team are “pounding the pavement” on that opening round and hope, once the financing is secure, to expand the staff by two or three more.

Read more news and ideas on Innovations:

Six for ’12: The top innovations stories of 2012

The cyber-diplomat era

Groans and yawns greet CES

Another inconvenient truth

By  |  01:34 PM ET, 01/09/2013

 
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