How a Paris based company amassed a QUARTER MILLION creatives for its brainstorming platform

CEO François Pétavy: "Our vision is: creativity-as-a-service. Open the tap, get creativity"

Some of the greatest innovative businesses have a tendency to hide in plain sight: growing without anyone noticing them, until they’re incontournable, and everybody has to play catch-up. But by then it’s too late.

Pinterest is a good example, but Paris based eYeka one of those “little engine that could” stories that I just love, and the word incontournable is no exaggeration, as you will see. eYeka started out as a YouTube-like community, where amateur creatives could post their projects, receive feedback and interact with other community members.

Today, it has almost a QUARTER MILLION creatives brainstorming ideas for the biggest, juiciest global clients like Lacoste, Unesco, Unilever, Chiquita, Jean-Paul GaultierToyotaPhilips and Coca-Cola. CEO François Pétavy explains how eYeka became a global cocreation giant.

François Pétavy, CEO Eyeka

François Pétavy, CEO Eyeka

François Pétavy: “The spirit of cocreation is to do things with people instead of for them. In the very beginning, that’s what eYeka was: a place to show your videos to other creatives and learn from each other. From the start, we appealed to the creative people – not necessarily professional creatives, but amateurs who were pretty skilled in video and graphic design. Prosumers, as wel called them then, although nobody uses that word anymore (laughs).

Of course, with the rise of social media, we soon realised that engaging in a two way communication with this community would be very valuable for brands. So we expanded from there, and soon we were asking these people for input on campaigns, to pitch ideas.

Originally, we were interested in the product that our creatives delivered. We would get rough campaign ideas, that agencies could further elaborate on. But as we went, we noticed that what actually happened was that, as the community influenced and commented on each other, they were shaping stories around brands. All these ideas and notions about brands welled up – it was like seeing a hypercreative focus group. You can ask them how they see shopping in 2020, and all kinds of ideas will come up. It’s completely different from saying: design our next poster.

So what we now offer is basically everything between ideas for campaigns and thinking about brands and brand experience.

WB: So to be clear: the result of the process is not finished product that the brand will use outright in its communication?

Pétavy: No. It’s more like moodboards or story boards, graphic design and video. What get out of it is a story, or multiple stories about how our community sees a particular brand. It’s the wisdom of crowds reflecting on a brand – it’s really almost like they’re talking in code sometimes. We work with semioticians sometimes to interpret what exactly the community is telling us!

And once in a while, we get what we call a gem – an idea that is so precisely right, that the brand can just outright buy the rights and produce it.

WB: You guys use a competition model for this, which might strike some people as odd. Isn’t the point of cocreation to work together?

Pétavy: You can debate about whether competition and cocreation are compatible, but we think a competition is more motivating for our creators: it drives new ideas. There are no workgroups or workshops. We usually have three to five prizes that we award to the best entries. We learned that you need more than one prize, because people want to feel they have a shot at winning one of the prizes.

But money isn’t the main driver for our community. We do free competitions also – for Unesco, among others, for campaigns about global warming, preservation of cultural heritage – and we do get a lot of ideas for those competitions too. The number one motivation for our creators is not money, it’s more along the lines of: I’m a creative person, but no one ever asks me anything. These people want to test their skills on real problems, for real brands. And winning is just a very strong validation. I call it the four F’s: fulfillment – I create, therefore I am. Fun: the joy of creating something. Fame: if I win, I get respect. And Financial: I could win a monetary reward.

But they’re mostly very happy when they win because if the brand uses it, they can show their friends: see what I created?

WB: eYeka works for some pretty big, household names. Was that a deliberate strategy?

Pétavy: It was. You can go several roads. You can do 99designs – create a logo for 500 dollars. But from the start we wanted to focus on corporate consumers, because it’s a lot more strategic, and it gets the most value out of the community. As brands become more and more global, we can offer the benefit of tapping into a truly global community.

We sometimes get a customer who asks us to only use creatives in Turkey, because they want to launch a product in Turkey. But that’s not how it works – and it would even be counterproductive. Someone in Brazil might come up with the best answer to your “Turkish” problem, because he approaches the problem differently.

Wehave creators in 148 countries, who all bring their own languages, point of view, sensitivity. We put a lot of effort in maintaining that: we have community managers in 12 languages, from French, to Russian, as well as Asian, Latin America, you name it.

WB: That seems like a big investment?

Pétavy: Yes, but the community managers are a key asset. You have to make sure that creators come back once they know you. And you have to give them feedback: tell us where I stand. If I do crap stuff, tell me how to improve. (video: entry for a Philips contest)

Our community managers spend a lot of time looking at submissions, moderating, giving feedback. We have rating scales for originality, execution, narrative, and also compliance with the brief. They get very detailed feedback, so that they can improve. It’s about acknowledgement, about getting better.

What we learned is that it’s also very important to get the briefing right. People don’t like it if you give them a brief like you would brief a pro. Like: do a commercial for this product, with these and these constraints. They simply won’t do it. They’re not professionals, and if you want to impose your constraints, go talk to a pro, you know? It has to be open enough, with an interesting constraint that invites creativity.

WB: What’s your goal? To replace the agencies?

Pétavy: Actually, no. What we offer is not finalised product – we give you more ideas than the typical agency, but it still needs to be refined by professionals. You’ll still need an agency. We just make it faster, cheaper, with lower risk.

Same goes for the market research: we offer a lot of interesting user feedback from our creatives, but they’re not representative. It’s not as robust as professional, representative market research. What we do offer is a way to cut out a lot of steps. Usually you get some ideas from the agency, test them with a market research firm, go back to the agency with the results and retool.

With eYeka, you get 80 percent of your direction right from the first time. We have always been very careful to make sure that we can embedded into global communications teams. That’s just common sense: global brands will always use a lot of agencies.

WB: Do you have any real competitors?

Pétavy: Not really. A lot of firms are doing cocreation as consultancy. There’s also quite a few models built around cheap things. But nothing that tries to cater to big brands like us.

More generally, the real competition to what we do is inertia. It is hard for organizations to change their processes and, facing uncertainty, you often come back to what you know well. eYeka is disruptive, it challenges the status quo. But if you embrace this disruption, we offer large organizations the tools to change, to re-invent their ways of working and innovate faster in connection with consumers.

WB: How much revenue is eYeka bringing in?

Pétavy: We don’t communicate detailed revenue, since we’re owned by private investors. We have several millions of revenue, and will be profitable this quarter. We’re pretty advanced as a business, with clients who come back at a repeat basis – almost daily. And both us and the clients are are constantly looking into new ways to leverage our community. That’s one reason why we moved from supplying content to nurturing insights: that was very much inspired by clients.

Right now, brands are looking how they can use us on a global scale – because they’removing into the BRICs, and Latin America – they have to develop a lot of marketing, so that’s one of the directions where we’re helping them. That’s where we’re pushing the development. There is a plan definitely (laughs).

WB: What’s the ultimate vision for the company?

Pétavy: Well, typically creativity is what you get in a room with a limited set of people. With our platform, creativity is more like a tap – it’s creativity as a service. You can get a subscription to creativity! You open the tap, and there is the creativity. Everything just works better if you let a huge community loose on it.

Big brands are entering in a conversation, get a lot of feedback, sometimes subliminal. Even when it comes to product development: brands get a lot of feedback that transforms the brand. They get questions about the sustainability, the ecological aspects, the responsibility of the brand. Once brands implement these ideas, their products get better. Their brands get better. 

Our ultimate dream is to use all that creativity to solve the world’s biggest problems. That’s actually a bit surprising: the political world is the least advanced in this cocreation approach. Every brand in the world is now looking for ways to collaborate and cocreate with consumers. But not the political world – except maybe Netherlands and the North of Europe. It’s “vote for us”, but don’t bother with giving us your ideas.

So I’ll be very interested to see how this evolves. We ran a campaign recently about how to reinvent voting experience. Somebody came up with the idea to vote at the ATM’s! Insert your ID card in a cash machine, vote, finished. Brilliant! So that’s a bit of a question mark: can we migrate this approach to politics? When will they seize it? Because this could change society in a much bigger way.

UPDATE, this just in (12/10/2012):

Feature image: A. Kuzninski, Flickr

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(updated 12/10/2012: eYeka now works in 148 countries instead of 94 at time of writing).

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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