It is rare that a startup can claim the president of the United States among its first clients, but that is the case for IdeaScale, a company with headquarters at the Berkeley branch of the coworking space WeWork.
IdeaScale is an “innovation management platform,” meaning companies and organizations can use the software to run crowdsourcing campaigns. Clients use IdeaScale to solicit ideas, which users can then vote on. Assessment features help them evaluate the impact of executing the winning ideas.
Shortly after co-founders Rob Hoehn and Vivek Bhaskaran hatched the company in Seattle, Barack Obama was elected president. On his first day in office, he promised transparency and called for executive agencies to seek input from the public. Within 100 days, more than 20 federal agencies were running campaigns through IdeaScale, whose founders had a connection to the White House. The president’s SAVE Award, for example, asked federal employees to pitch cost-saving suggestions. The White House implemented the winning ideas, such as a tool-lending library for NASA projects.
Years later, IdeaScale has public and private sector clients all over the map, from the City of Atlanta to Marriott Vacations Worldwide. NBC has used the platform to crowdsource idea concepts, and EA Sports has gathered ideas for game improvements from its opinionated players.
Sometimes companies run internal campaigns among their employees, and in other cases IdeaScale curates a public “crowd.” Cost- and time-saving campaigns are common, “but some of our customers have truly jaw-dropping goals,” said Jessica Day, vice president of marketing and communications. In one case, a campaign yielded an idea for a solar-powered wheelchair for people with cerebral palsy.
The time is right for professional crowdsourcing, Hoehn said. Thanks to social media, and sites like Quora and Digg, people are used to collaborative online communities where questions are asked and ideas are shared. Why can’t the same be true at work?
“Generally we see that employees or constituents just want to be part of the organization and have a say,” Hoehn said. “At the end of the day, why would you want to be part of a company where the only ideas come out of the R&D department?”
Traditionally, an idea gets pared down, sometimes for fear of risk or ridicule, as it makes its way up a company’s hierarchy, Hoehn said. IdeaScale’s platform works from the assumption that “a great idea can come from anywhere.”
It is fitting that IdeaScale — which has a total of 45 employees scattered between Berkeley, Washington D.C., Portland, Seattle, Germany, Japan, and Bangladesh — has landed at WeWork. The coworking space itself fosters collaborative brainstorming and community.
“Every person we meet here seems to be an idea person,” Day said.
“I really like being around other people who are hustling and working hard,” agreed Hoehn. And for him, the flexibility offered at WeWork, compared to the typical long-term commercial lease, is “a breath of fresh air.”
Before moving to the space in December, Hoehn doubled as IdeaScale’s office manager, taking out the trash, setting up the Internet, fixing the printer. At WeWork, staff are on top of it.
Somewhat secretly, IdeaScale has been running its own crowdsourcing campaign about improving coworking spaces. It uses the curated crowd on IdeaBuzz, the feature companies can purchase when they want to run big public campaigns.
The most popular idea: music in the bathrooms.
IdeaScale has never mentioned the campaign to WeWork staff, Hoehn said, but, mysteriously, bathroom trips at WeWork Berkeley now have musical accompaniment.
This story is written and sponsored by WeWork Berkeley, a community of professionals and entrepreneurs with beautifully designed office space at Shattuck and University. Interested in learning more about WeWork? Contact the Community Management team at firstname.lastname@example.org or 510-275-4235