Play to win: Skild targets the long-tail with self-serve online competition platform

By Michael Carney , written on October 31, 2013

From The News Desk

Consumers are encountering more more marketing noise today from companies. Everywhere you turn, from TV, radio and print, to now the Web and mobile devices, brands are are struggling get their messages in front of potential customers. But with all this noise, it’s extremely difficult to break through and build positive associations.

For nearly 10 years, LA-based Skild has been helping corporations, including Google, AT&T, Autodesk, MTV, Nike, NASA, General Electric, and The Emmys Foundation reach consumers through online contests. In the past, the company has worked on a one-to-one basis with these organizations today, but today the company is opening a self-service platform called OpenSkild targeting the long-tail of brands and corporations.

At launch, Skild will offer free training and challenge design consultations to the first 25 companies that apply, but this service will gradually expand to service to the general public.

“We’re big believers that online challenges are a great way for companies to inspire creativity and promote social good,” says Skild co-founder and CEO Anil Rathi, who previously founded Innovation Challenge, the world's largest and longest running online competition. Rathi is joined by co-founder and director of marketing and client services Micahel Timmons, who joined Skild from the X PRIZE Foundation.

Every competition is different, and as a result, OpenSkild is built on a modular platform that allows client companies to incorporate things like entry forms, surveys, public voting, and other elements. All competitions run through the platform are virtual in nature, but many incorporate a live, in-person final event to determine winners.

Some clients use the platform as a creative way to recruit new talent, others to drive engagement around a brand or product. Although not affiliated with Skild, a perfect example is the wildly successful Lego building challenge hosted by BetterWorks, the now-defunct employee benefits startup, to meet and evaluate local technical talent.

"Competitions are a lot like reality shows, in that everyone has an idea for one that they’d like to create,” Rathi says. "Everyone has some latent talent but very often they need an opportunity to show their work. Yes it’s a form of marketing, but it should be an positive and memorable experience for participating audience.”

Access to the Skild platform is available on a subscription basis. OpenSkilled, which is the self-service experience, is priced at $6,000 per year (payable monthly) plus $1,500 for each additional event. The company’s pre-existing white-glove solution, is priced at $18,000 per year plus $4,500 per additional event. In addition to dedicated consulting and support from the Skild team, companies choosing this premium option get access to additional APIs and platform customization.

Skild is entirely bootstrapped and has been profitable for several years, according to its founders. Rathi and Timmons have a lean team of “4.5 off shore engineers” and bring in additional independent consultants – typically Timmons’ former X PRIZE colleagues – to help handle large events. The company has already doubled the number of events conducted this year, relative to 2012, and expects to triple this number in 2014 between the Skild and OpenSkild platforms.

Rathi is expecting a strong response to OpenSkild among schools, universities, and municipalities, because “they already have an existing network,” he says. The company is already working on upcoming events with the LA Unified School District, the UCLA Dept. of  Health, USC, Caltech, and others.

The idea with each new partner organization is to create a recurring event, rather than a one-off experience, Rathi adds. And while this is obviously advantageous to Skild, it works to the benefit of the contest host as well. “Competitions tend to grow in scale and impact over time as people become more familiar with them,” he says.

Building and scaling a self-serve platform is an entirely different challenge than providing hands on service to Fortune 100 companies. Rathi and Timmons have proven that they get events and that they can build a profitable enterprised-focused business with limited resources. The next challenge will be to prove that this model can scale and that events won’t lose their magic without direct involvement from the Skild team.

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