Power to the Prosumer

Once  upon a time businesses produced products that we, the unsuspecting consumer, would buy. We had little say in the matter, besides the collective clout of buying something and not buying something else. The something would prosper and the else would disappear. Survival of the fittest. Darwinism and all that.

And so it was, unless you were unlucky enough to grow up in a collectivist economy where who made what and how much was determined by central planners, not swayed by the ‘invisible hand’ of the Adam Smith’s free market system. I say unlucky, because having visited Russia during the last throes of communism over 20 years ago, it was not a good sight. Long queues for everything, empty shops and depressed looking people dressed in times gone by. I felt terribly guilty striding around in jeans and sun glasses.

As the market economies developed elsewhere post war, so ‘marketing’ itself became a subject to be studied, with consumer behaviour ‘theories’ abounding. You can’t just make things and hope they sell, deplored the marketeers, you need to find out what people want, and then give it to them. Sometimes, on rare occasions, you might develop something for people who had no idea what they wanted until it was produced (the Walkman in 1979, the iPad in 2010), but usually you would have to carefully research the consumer first before putting on your producer hat.

Then along came IKEA. Don’t stop there, they said (probably in Swedish) allow the consumer to be PART of the production process. As you probably know, IKEA products come flat packed (which saves money for them in storage, shipment costs and assembly). You slide the half finished cabinet into your car, drive home, then spend many a happy hour fiddling with allen key (chipping some nails in the process) piecing the darn thing together.

Banks realised they could have us do our own banking (online), and even the business I am in basically provides software such that our clients do all the grunt work, uploading all the content and keeping it fresh. For this, we charge them a tidy monthly subscription. Nice business model. But it’s also good for the consumer who can take charge of the final consumption outcome, and be charged less.

Behold the prosumer (ghastly word, a combination of producer and consumer), but it’s a win all around. Power to the people. People to the prosumer.

About the author

Charlie has spent more than 20 years in Perth’s tech and startup sector, firstly as a founder himself, through to exit, and more recently as a writer, advisor and investor. Originally from the UK, Charlie worked in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999 he set up online real estate business aussiehome.com, running it for 10 years before selling to REIWA, whereupon Charlie ran reiwa.com. In 2013, he moved to Business News to lead their digital transformation as CEO, and then worked for the federal government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program, funding pre-revenue startups and innovative businesses. He now works in an advisory capacity for multiple tech and other businesses, is managing editor of Startup News and co-host of the Startup West podcast. He also writes a column for Business News on startups. Charlie sits on the advisory boards of WA Leaders, TEDxPerth, WAITTA, the Perth Symphony Orchestra, and the full board of Rise Network.

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