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What's the best way to launch a new crowdsourcing startup? Just crowdsource the marketing campaign, says Cambridge-based PieceWise

Posted by Scott Kirsner  July 24, 2012 07:28 AM

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If you're launching a crowdsourcing startup, what better way to formulate a marketing campaign than by asking the Internet community for advice?

Cambridge-based PieceWise is designed for people who are trying to plan out a project "and they don't know exactly how to do it," says co-founder and CEO William Neely. "Instead of hiring a consultant, you can put some prize money out there, and everyone can give their ideas."

So PieceWise is practicing what it preaches, offering $1000 to those who supply advice about how the four-person company should conduct its first marketing push. "We haven't been very creative in coming up with marketing ideas," Neely admits. "We want to gather some crazy ideas from this campaign, like when [RunKeeper founder] Jason Jacobs ran the Boston Marathon." (He did it dressed as an iPhone, to promote his new iPhone app.)

Neely says PieceWise is similar to 99Designs, where users create a bounty for the best-designed logo, for example. "But the really cool feature we have is that the prize is collaborative," he says, meaning that it can be split up among multiple contributors. (At 99Designs, only one winner takes home the cash.) Users can vote on the best ideas, and that determines how the cash is allocated — even though the person who posted the prize in the first place may choose to run with an entirely different set of ideas. (Neely says the PieceWise team will review winners to try to figure out whether there has been any vote-rigging going on.) And when there are projects that communities of people feel strongly about — say, making their neighborhood safer after dark — any user can add money to the prize pool.

Neely says PieceWise was founded by three friends who met at Kansas State University, and a fourth founder from University of Kansas. They began moving to Cambridge last September, seeking out a supportive startup ecosystem. They've raised about $70,000 in angel funding to build the site. At this stage, Neely says, "we're trying to get people to post projects and participate." The company is based at the Cambridge Coworking Center in Kendall Square.

In addition to running crowdsourcing contests to help flesh out project plans, PieceWise also enables contractors to bid on completing various pieces of a project.

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Scott Kirsner was part of the team that launched Boston.com in 1995, and has been writing a column for the Globe since 2000. His work has also appeared in Wired, Fast Company, The New York Times, BusinessWeek, Newsweek, and Variety. Scott is also the author of the books "Fans, Friends & Followers" and "Inventing the Movies," was the editor of "The Convergence Guide: Life Sciences in New England," and was a contributor to "The Good City: Writers Explore 21st Century Boston." Scott also helps organize several local events on entrepreneurship, including the Nantucket Conference and Future Forward. Here's some background on how Scott decides what to cover, and how to pitch him a story idea.

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