What is your background?
Christian Cotichini: I’ve been a longtime entrepreneur; when I dropped out of the University, I started my first company with a friend of mine. It was a company in the mobile device security space. I quickly realized that I was hooked on entrepreneurship and disruptive innovation. That company, Absolute Software, grew and thrived, and I learned how to be an entrepreneur. It went public and is still a leader in that space. After that, I started another company in cloud-computing, Make Technologies, and that ended up getting acquired by Dell. My third company, Subserveo, was a SaaS in the financial space, and it later got acquired as well.
Founding three companies back-to-back kept me very busy, so I ended up taking some time off after the last business sold. I ended up meeting Peter Diamindis, the founder of XPRIZE, while I was on sabbatical. I wanted to get involved in a new start-up, and he had already been working on the precursor to HeroX, which XPRIZE hoped would make the power of crowdsourcing available to anyone. So, we decided to join forces and spin that off as a stand-alone company, and that is how HeroX got started.
How does it seem like a logical background to what you do now?
Christian Cotichini: In many ways, I think that my career helped position me for what I am doing at HeroX. HeroX is by far the most audacious project, and my attraction to it was really driven by the difference it will make. It will have an enormous impact. In my third start-up, I got a little bored… while being a successful business. It didn’t give me the satisfaction that I craved. For me, HeroX was very much driven by the social impact that we’ll have by making it a success.
My background has always been in disruptive innovation, learning how to develop a brand new approach or a brand new technology that will help businesses solve their problems. I like to use a different set of rules than the old playbook. That is very fitting for HeroX and crowdsourcing in general. Crowdsourcing is a new approach for most companies. It’s proven, but it has not yet been widely adopted. The best practices on how to make it work and scale it are still being sorted out.
This has been a really great project for me in leveraging my skills of helping organizations adopt new technology and new approaches. It’s been a big learning curve as well: learning the industry, learning about crowdsourcing, and figuring out which best practices are essential to the adoption of any new technology or approach to companies.
How was your last 12 months? What were your big wins?
Christian Cotichini: The last 12 months have been really great. HeroX has grown, and our leadership and the industry has grown. We’ve become acknowledged as a proven platform. We had a lot of great clients, a lot of successes, and a strong track record… and then COVID-19 came along and, like everybody, we took it on the chin.
But in many ways, the whole idea behind crowdsourcing is to bring new options directly to organizations and deliver the innovation that they need. By using the power of the crowd, we’ve been able to see how global collaboration, open innovation and crowdsourcing are helping governments, non-profits, for-profits, and different organizations leverage the collective intelligence of humanity to solve a range of problems.
It’s been really inspiring and amazing, and we’ve been doing a lot of interesting work with our partners to make a difference with COVID-19. And we’ve been recognized for the work that we’re doing. So while there’s been a change of plans, we are still helping organizations navigate this new reality. And as companies enter survival mode, we’re seeing them realize how important it is to be pushing the forefront of technology and innovation. We see more and more companies become open to approaches like “open innovation” and crowdsourcing because of their experience with COVID-19.
What would you have done differently?
Christian Cotichini: Well, assuming that no crystal ball could have predicted COVID-19, I don’t know that there is a lot I would have done differently. I could say that we wouldn’t have invested time and effort into various marketing campaigns and projects that we put on hold from COVID-19, but that’s not really a fair assessment because how could we have known?
I don’t think there is a lot that I would change, honestly.
What is your mission with HeroX?
Christian Cotichini: We as a society and as an economy are all connected in real-time using our internet-connected devices, and there is so much cognitive horsepower in that inter-connection. Most companies, governments, and organizations are trying to work with the people that work in their office, the people that already work for them. They’re not taking the opportunity to stretch beyond their workplace and leverage the collective intelligence of the human species.
We believe that it’s obvious and self-evident that open innovation, design, inventions, and IP are the most important areas for investment right now. And what is missing is a platform that makes that easy to do. It’s really no different from Airbnb. What was their big innovation? They didn’t really invent anything new, but they created a user experience and a safe platform that made “sharing places to stay” mainstream.
Airbnb made a fringe activity into a mainstream activity, providing social proof to the sharing economy. And now, how we book accommodations is never going to be the same. That is true of most other big internet platforms — everybody from Kickstarter and Amazon to Uber and many others, have changed how we collaborate, how we work, and which tools we use.
We have watched the need for companies to tap into knowledge workers and talent in the digital economy grow. There is a missing platform, something that will connect them to the right people at the right time. We want to be the platform that helps make this mainstream: using crowdsourcing and engaging with people that don’t actually work for you — on problems that are meaningful and important to the company — is the best way to accelerate and strengthen a company’s market velocity and success.
Why did you get involved with crowdsourcing?
Christian Cotichini: As an entrepreneur, I’ve always believed in the power of innovation and human ingenuity. There is so much in the tech space, like 3D printing, virtual reality, and drones, that we fetishize, like there is some magic power behind those tools and technologies. But the reality is, behind all of those innovations are human beings — creative human beings, applying their ingenuity to build new tools. And that’s what I’m interested in.
I believe that, as a society, we overweigh the tools and the cool stuff, and we underweight the innovators who are the ones creating it all. For me, HeroX is an opportunity to make human ingenuity more accessible, to make it easier for companies to tap into the collective intelligence of all mankind.
I think that if we don’t do that, we’re going to really struggle to try to solve the problems that the world is facing. So, I really see crowdsourcing as imperative to companies, organizations, and governments that want to be more effective at solving problems. They will be able to solve problems faster and bring the very best ideas to bear. By doing this, we’re making the world at large a better problem solver and a better innovator. That, for me, is huge.
Why do you think it is such a powerful idea?
Christian Cotichini: A lot of futurists and technologists write about the future of where we’re going and the technology that we have. We have Clay Shirky’s book, Cognitive Surplus for example, which is a great book, and another book by Kevin Kelly, The Inevitable, which is about the 12 inevitable trends that the internet is creating. If you go through all these, everybody talks about crowdsourcing, open innovation, and the wisdom of the crowd. Everybody talks about how we’re going to use the internet as the ultimate collaboration platform, but in reality, businesses themselves haven’t fully realized this inevitability.
So, while there have been predictions that we will collaborate powerfully using the internet, we haven’t really figured out how to do it. The whole point of HeroX is to build an easy-to-use platform that makes it mainstream for organizations to leverage the power of the crowd in order to complement the creativity, talent, and intelligence of their internal teams.
Why do you think it will get traction over other similar projects?
Christian Cotichini: That is obviously our goal – to be the platform that helps crowdsourcing become mainstream. One of my strengths as an entrepreneur is being a contrarian who is able to see beyond the conventional wisdom applied by industries, marketplaces, and sometimes even entrepreneurs. I am good at answering the questions, “What is the missing strategy? What is the missing business model that really is going to unlock this success?”… Peter Thiel, in his book Zero to One, calls it the ‘hidden truth, or the secret truth’… every ‘unicorn’ discovered something that was true, but it was hidden from view, and they leveraged that to create success. That is something that I’m good at, and when we started HeroX, we deliberately took a very different approach than other crowdsourcing platforms. We’re looking at how to scale crowdsourcing beyond the limitations of existing models, and we’ve been very successful on that front.
We’re the largest general-purpose crowdsourcing platform: we’re not a platform for just one specific type of topic, or industry, or discipline. We’ve got projects of all shapes and sizes, across all disciplines and areas. When you’re very horizontal, a business can use our platform for almost anything. Once you’ve got the crowd’s attention and the talent engaged, you can find and recruit the right people and team to solve your challenge. That is something that no other platform has really achieved, and this might just be our unicorn. Our numbers and our growth shows that the model works as it scales. As the network effects grow, it just gets easier and accelerates faster, until eventually, we hit the winner-takes-most type of dynamic. This is what you see in almost all internet successes: a company tends to dominate a category because it figured out how to leverage network effects and how to use leadership to create more and more value for the participants in their marketplace.
How do people get cash / how much / how do you ensure it is an original insight?
Christian Cotichini: The beauty of a platform like HeroX is that we are not controlling all of the content on the platform. We’re really the platform that connects companies with projects that they want to fund, that are worth funding and solving, and then the innovators solve them. It’s self-correcting. How does YouTube make sure they’ve got entertaining videos on its platform? Well, if you upload a really boring video on YouTube, who is going to watch it? If you upload a really great video, you’re going to get millions of views. So there is an incentive for content producers to publish good and useful videos, and the platform is optimized for that. The wisdom of the crowd drives the traffic: they self-select between good and bad videos.
HeroX is the same. We don’t have to pick and choose. We just make the connections available and make sure that there is transparency. Companies post challenges, and we obviously want them to be awesome challenges, so we give them advice and coaching so that they are successful. But ultimately, if you post a bad challenge where the incentives aren’t interesting to the crowd, it will get ignored. If you post a really great challenge, solving a high-impact problem, and it’s properly funded, then you will be successful.
Airbnb is the same way: if you have a sub-par space and you want $1,000 a night for it, nobody is going to rent it. Our self-correcting model lets companies post challenges they care about, figure out how to incentivize them, and then reward the people who have come to their aid.
They’ve paid out millions and millions of dollars to innovators who solve important problems. We leave the details about incentives to the users as long as they follow our terms of service and behave ethically, legally and transparently. We find that the crowd naturally gravitates towards solvable problems that are well incentivized and that they will shy away from problems that are poor ideas or are poorly incentivized.
How can people find out more about you personally & your work?
Christian Cotichini: You can go to HeroX.com and see all the stuff we’re doing there. There is more information on my LinkedIn page, as well. I write blog posts and do podcasts pretty often. We do a regular webinar series as well. Two recent podcasts I’ve done are Passionate Pioneers with Mike Biselli and one with XPRIZE, BurstIQ, and Topcoder about innovating during COVID-19. In this podcast, I share a lot about my philosophy and what I think is important in successful entrepreneurship. I also share what I’ve learned about how to be successful in strategy and how to create a successful company.
Who and where do you get inspiration from?
Christian Cotichini: I’m a voracious reader, and I read a lot of nonfiction. I was just looking at my Audible account, and I think I’ve got 309 books in there — and I’ve read the majority of them. If you came to my office, you’d see that I have a big wall of books. I get inspired by people who have found out how something works and are generously sharing that insight. There are a lot of books written by consultants or others who are really just trying to elevate themselves as if they’re saying “Hire me!” But I like generous books. Great biographies have been really inspiring me lately, and I’ve enjoyed just learning from others.
I truly believe that the easiest way to be successful is to learn from others, to seek their help, to get their advice, and insights, and to learn from their personal trials and tribulations. One of my all-time favorite biographies was about Winston Churchill. It was 700-800 pages long. It was heavily researched, cited, and sourced, and it really captured the whole context of Winston Churchill and helped me understand how he became a key leader in the modern era. I read a lot of classic stuff too, like On the Good Life by Cicero, and I’m always amazed by the ancient world — how smart they were, how much wisdom they possessed, how much they figured out. You see how their incredible insights are just replicated in modern books.
Anything else you’d like to add / we should have asked?
Christian Cotichini: I think that this pandemic has forced a lot of organizations out of their comfort zone and into new headspaces. This is a real opportunity for innovation and a chance for companies to question their superstitious beliefs. Why is it so important that we work in an office, for example? So I’ve been helping people see that. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention, and diversity creates the precondition for innovation. For those that want to be innovators or creative thinkers, now is the time to step up, whether you’re part of a big company or an individual entrepreneur. There is so much opportunity for people to experiment with new things, discover things that work, share those with people, and get people to see the world differently. I want to support people in turning this enormous hardship into a real moment of opportunity.
Can you discuss the work HeroX is doing a response to COVID-19?
Christian Cotichini: We’ve created a micro-site on our website, called COVID-19 Central, and there, we’ve carved out a space for the companies, governments, universities, and other organizations that are doing COVID-19 related innovation. We’re giving them the use of our platform for free in the hopes of creating an ecosystem for innovation. With our platform, organizations can work together to face this common challenge. We will help them connect with partner organizations, subject-matter experts, investors, and of course, crowdsourced talent. This is really the heart of HeroX: if we can aggregate ingenuity from around the world and support meaningful collaboration among change-makers, we can solve even the most daunting problems.