Harnessing the Power of Early Adopters


Seth Hillstrom (SH): 

We know we can crowd-source funding for great ideas…but what if we could crowd-source great ideas themselves? For today’s eBev Global Interview, we’re extremely excited to have Matt Johnston and Bridget Silvi of Indiegogo here to help us explore what’s possible when brands harness the power of millions of early adopters. Matt and Bridget, thank you for joining us today!

Matt Johnston (MJ):

Thanks Seth for having us.


Matt, we’re often interviewing beverage brands, agencies, and martech provider here at Beverage Marketing Association…but you actually lead strategy and innovation at Indiegogo (a leading crowdfunding platform for anyone living under a rock). Tell us a little about your role and at Indiegogo and how it leads you to work with brands, universities, and even governments around the world.


I came to Indiegogo as part of an acquisition in the middle of last year. I was a partner in an innovation agency called Agency of Trillions (AoT), which many people know because it counted Tony Robbins, Peter Guber, and MAYA Design as founding investors. The founders of MAYA wrote a book, Trillions, that is a field guide for business leaders who are trying to plot their course in age of trillions — the age of the Internet of Things and the Industrial Internet of Things, where we will soon be surrounded by trillions of sensors and nodes in an information network. We’d been working with Indiegogo for a few years, and we discovered how powerful it was when companies thought about Indiegogo not so much as crowdfunding and more as a platform that allowed them to run smarter, faster experiments to learn from how people actually transact. Indiegogo was already growing their new Indiegogo Enterprise business unit to provide more and more powerful tools to help companies become learning organizations — mostly by making Pre-Order campaigns a regular business practice.

This approach to “Validating Innovation” with the crowd has profound implications for the way large organizations and ecosystems operate. At Indiegogo, Bridget and I work with companies, universities, and governments to help them understand how powerful it is to stop spending years debating innovation internally and instead share early and often on platforms where companies can learn about what truly matters to people. In my role at Indiegogo, we’re creating new ways for companies to quickly and powerfully validate their innovation and work more closely with startups.

Dozens of Global 2000 class companies (P&G, Bose, Honeywell, Sony, Hasbro, and more) see Indiegogo not so much as a crowdfunding platform and more as a way to speak directly to our 10M+ audience of early adopters and innovators. That’s what I spend my time working on.


A couple weeks back we were speaking with innovation maven Tina Wung, who most recently has lead Anheuser-Busch InBev’s Innovation Community, and Tina said ” the term innovation is so broad and can be defined in a number of ways. Being a part of the corporate innovation culture in the heart of Silicon Valley, I see the most common definition and application of innovation is leveraging the latest digital and technology trends and platforms to transform and elevate business operations to a level that will make us future-proof industry leaders.” I suspect in the case of your work at Indiegogo, you’re looking a more holistic view when you think about Innovation. When you say you’re helping brands innovate – what do you mean exactly, and how do you approach thinking about innovation with them in the first place (do you have a goal in mind, are you evaluating their models, etc)?


Innovation, like Leadership and Entrepreneurship, is certainly a phenomenon. It’s not a paint-by-numbers result that people and teams produce. More importantly from our perspective, I think we DRAMATICALLY underestimate the challenges that innovators in large organizations face. It’s one thing to talk about Lean Startup at an accelerator program like Y Combinator, it’s another to talk about startup thinking at Pepsi or Keurig Dr Pepper. Their companies just aren’t organized for innovation and entrepreneurship. At least not naturally. They’re organized for killing risk. In a very real way, our job at Indiegogo Enterprise is to help companies fail much more often and more more quickly. The single best predictor of success as an innovator is the number of failure that your organization can tolerate. It’s really the principles of agile, iterative, experimental “Startup” innovation brought into organizations of all sizes. If you have “Works-Like/Looks-Like” prototype, you should launch a Pre-Order campaign on Indiegogo. Discovering whether your innovation *actually* matters to people is critical to do as fast as possible. That’s the true barrier to entry of competition in these new digitally and technologically transformed markets.

Put another way, we think of innovation in large organizations as courageous experimentation, coupled with a willingness to quickly listen to whether it matters to people.

In terms of how we work with companies, we provide enterprise-grade services that help companies use Indiegogo as a platform for “Transactional Learning Experiments.” Indiegogo is a network of early adopters, innovators, makers, and entrepreneurs who are innovation-seekers who will tell you whether your new product or service matters to them. It cannot be overstated how valuable that kind of TRANSACTIONAL learning can be. So for us, innovation is less of a lightning strike and more of a sustainable process of iterating with the crowd.



The idea of “crowd-powered” innovation is relatively new. Can you tell us why you see so much value in engaging with an early-adopter audience and leveraging their collective input to power innovation?


Today, annual spending on Market Research exceeds $44B. Gartner, IPSOS, Nielsen, and lots of others. Ultimately, that demonstrates that leaders are hungry for answers to the question “Where do I play?” and “How do I win?” Unfortunately though, there is a PROFOUND difference between *claimed* behavior and *observed* behavior. Focus groups are claimed behavior. Indiegogo is observed behavior.

When companies do Concept Tests (ads & landing pages) and Pre-Order Campaigns (full crowdfunding launches) on Indiegogo, they connect to REALITY faster. Crowd-Powered Innovation really describes the process of innovating that iterates and co-creates with people who have PAID to be part of your tribe. Even when you’re not planning on shipping them product for months or quarters.


Companies like P&G are using Indiegogo not to “raise funds” (they only sold 50 of their new IoT home aroma product called Airia). Instead, they are looking to learn from actual users as early as possible in the process. Even before they have solved all of the business and manufacturing challenges.



We’ve spoken about a few applications of this unique innovation opportunity for CPG brands working with Indiegogo – can you share a few ideas/cases you’re most excited about?


  • P&G is doing lots with Indiegogo. Most recently they launched Airia.


  • There are HUNDREDS of successful Food and Beverage companies on the platform right now.  


  • Also, take a look at how Motorola is challenging entrepreneurs and innovators to invent new solutions for their MotoMod platform



While I wouldn’t ever advise being a slave to the data, at the end of the day marketers generally need to see some type of measurable ROI. How are you able to help justify our spend on innovation programs? When you have a conversation with partners about what outcomes they can expect and how they can be measured, what types of things are you focusing on?


Great question! We measure the value of this kind of approach in four ways:

(1) Innovation Value: there are profound, perhaps existential challenges that large organizations MUST solve: How do I go faster? We show companies the value of killing off innovation that and focusing on the stuff that does matter. We help companies use Indiegogo to validate their inside-out innovation and become a fast-follower in areas that are outside-in.

(2) Media Value: we can help companies become 15X better at reaching audiences of makers, entrepreneurs, innovators, and early adopters. Not just on the Indiegogo platform, but (thanks to 10 years of targeting and optimization innovation) we help teams get smart about being associated with innovation to people that care about it.

(3) Commercial Value: we help teams get funding even before they have to spend on manufacturing tooling. People give companies money long before the companies need to make and ship the product.

(4) Impact: Look at what P&G did with Airia. They are treating their teams like internal startups. Making a difference is good business. For people. For employees. For future millennial talent. Social Innovation *significantly* improves internal and external NPS metrics (edited)


Matt, these were some great insights for brand marketers and beyond. Thank you so much for sharing! For everyone that has questions for Matt or Bridget feel free to continue the discussion.


Thank you Seth.


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