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Young Entrepreneurs Love Co-Creation; So Should You

Consumers have been customizing big-ticket items like cars and computers for years. But now, mass customization is all the rage and we seem to be able to design just about anything for ourselves Converse sneakers: Pandora radio stations; Threadless t-shirts; SkinIt skins for our electronic devices. At the forefront of this trend are an increasing number of young entrepreneurs who are bringing their generation's love of mass customization and co-creation to some unexpected industries and products. Here are few who you should know about:
Chocomize. Ever have a craving for, say, milk chocolate with bacon bits? Neither have I. But that was the biggest selling candy on Chocomize's website last Christmas. The company allows customers to make customized chocolate bars using a variety of bases and add-ins. Launched last year by Columbia University friends Eric Heinbockel, Nick LaCava, and Fabian Kaempfer, Chocomize is growing impressively and striving for a million in revenue this year. The company was even featured in Oprah magazine in June.

ShirtsMyWay. There's nothing new about custom made shirts, but Peter Crawfurd and Michael Yang's company allows you to design and order them online. Customers choose fabrics, buttons, contrasting fabrics, and enter 12 different measurements to get the perfectly customized fit. "We actually have the most customizable online product in the world," boasts Crawfurd. In the past six months, revenue has grown 100% and the company's products are now sold in 30 countries.

Gemvara: Matt Lauzon started this custom jewelry website in a Babson College dorm room and predicts more than $6 million in revenue this year, the company's first year in business. The site lets customers build their own jewelry by selecting from a huge variety of designs, stones, and metals. Lauzon says the site has over a billion skus. Lauzen started the company with $5.8 million in capital from Highland Capital Partners and Canaan Partners, and just landed another $5.2 from the same investors.

Slant Shack Jerky. Keep an on this funky little company, which sells customized artisanal beef jerky with your choice of marinades, rubs, and glazes. Founder Josh Kace recently started partnering with a Vermont company that raises grass-fed cattle to offer customers premium jerky that can cost up to $57 a pound. A recent article in Maxim listed the company's jerky among the best in the country.

Quirky. Ben Kaufman started this social product development site with one simple assumption: everyone has a product idea. At Quirky, you pay $99 to post a basic product idea. The site's community then helps you develop, refine, and name it. The inventor and key influencers earn a percentage of future revenues on the product, which Quirky will put into production if a pre-order threshold is met. Since the company's launch last June, Quirky has co-created 46 products and put 16 into production; this year, Kaufman raised a $6 million in series A venture funding, led by RRE Ventures.

Have you thought about how you might allow customers to co-create products or services with your company? And if you've jumped on this trend already, tell us about the impact.

Candy bar image courtesy of Chocomize