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Business - Written by on Wednesday, November 26, 2008 12:55 - 2 Comments

Denis Hancock
Wikinomics in action: Ukoonto and the web 2.0

Reading the business news lately is pretty depressing, as article after article goes into detail on which big business (the banks, the car companies, etc.) is in most urgent need of a bailout. I’m personally on the skeptical side about whether any of these will help much, and more importantly believe that much of the focus on how to “stimulate” the economy is misguided. Rather than focusing on bailing out a bunch of big companies that made a huge mess of things, I’d prefer to see more focus placed on encouraging entrepreneurship and innovation at a more micro level. Not only do I see this as the driving force of any future economic success we may all enjoy, but it’s an area where the principles of wikinomics can help out a lot.

That’s why I was so happy to come across this story about Ukoonto when I read the Globe & Mail over lunch. The article is about a young entrepreneur (and soon to be former sound engineer) named Hans Eich, who builds eco-friendly wooden building block toys from his St. Catherine’s based workshop. While I can’t say that I’ve tested the products myself yet, they look great – and from a wikinomics perspective what’s most interesting is how Hans has developed and promoted his company.

As the article notes, outside of an occasional trade show, Hans relies solely on Web 2.0 tools to spread the word about his products. When he started up, he had practically no money, and no big business plan – just an idea to create a toy company. He launched it under the domain of “my toy needs a name”, created a framework online, and asked people for ideas and feedback. From there, to quote Hans:

It was all about interacting with people and trying to set up meaningful relationships. The business evolved out of that.

If you go through the article, you can read about all the interesting lessons he’s learned – from use of things like YouTube and Twitter, to why it’s so much harder to create “fans” on Facebook than create groups, to backlash he received when he tried to push his products to hard in communities he joined, rather than really engaging with the people. To quote Hans again:

You have to listen first before they start listening to you. Traditional media is about telling, but Web 2.0 is all about conversations. It’s very much about letting go of control and engaging with people.

I’ll let you learn the rest from the Globe article, but I found it just an extraordinarly refreshing read – particularly when the three articles on the previous page were “EU to get call for stimulus package”, “Easy credit, public spending fuelled boom”, and “Lost auto jobs pegged at 15,000.” Amidst all the doom and gloom, it’s important to remember that there is an extraordinary opportunity out there for entrepeneurs that can create a good product they are passionate about, and learn to leverage social media and the web 2.0 in a compelling way. As Hans noted, given that most of the tools he’s leveraging are free, his out-of-pocket costs have basically been limited to website design costs. Think about how different it would have been if Hans tried to launch his company twenty years ago…



2 Comments

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Hans
Nov 26, 2008 13:26

Hi Denis,

thanx for this great blog post. It gives me great encouragement in these crazy times, because even I can feel the pressure of the recession. Lets all stay positive and wait this out.

All the Best to you, Hans (from Ukoonto)

Denis Hancock
Nov 27, 2008 13:29

No problem Hans – and as an extra benefit, we’ve decided to buy something from you for my kid for Christmas. Any way you slice it, that’s an excellent “return on comment”!

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