Sramana Mitra: It can be done theoretically. Can it be done in a scalable way that is also profitable and sustainable? It is a very case-by-case question. In some industries, it is doable and there are compromises.
John Davagian: It depends on the industry. For some, it’s challenging and it’s not going to happen. You look at other products. Let’s stick with automotive for the moment. Will you be able to customize your car more than it’s customized today? Maybe not to the point of the size and shape. Can I do more customization at a lower cost as it’s going through and getting assembled? Realistically, that can be done and that can be accomplished.
Sramana Mitra: Then come the questions of: Is it necessary? Are we trying to build a solution looking for a problem or are we fine? Customization to some extent is possible in cars. Do we need to customize it further? Another question that entrepreneurs should deal with is going after a category that doesn’t need mass customization.
John Davagian: If you find the category where that is true and where it’s required because the consumers are demanding it, it is an incredible competitive differentiator.
Sramana Mitra: Absolutely, but to go after a category where consumers are really asking for that versus where it’s going to be a drag to bring them along. You could push back on that by saying that there was a time when nobody wanted to buy products on the internet. We have come a long way. I think there have to be very serious benefits that far outweigh that resistance in the market.
John Davagian: I’m not alluding to taking a can of soda and putting somebody’s name on it. The concept is much bigger than that. I’m not sure which category this is going to resonate most in whether it’s going to be a home furnishing category versus automotive or CPG. You highlighted a great example with regards to fashion. That’s probably closer to the tip of where this is happening.
Sramana Mitra: There was a time when there was no ready-to-wear industry. It was all tailor-made clothes. There was no notion of clothes you can buy that applies to a large number of people. Custom is not a known in that industry.
John Davagian: Then you layer on top of that the ability to be in a direct consumer model. No matter how your manufacturing goes, you’ve got a competitive advantage.
Sramana Mitra: Fashion may be the first category of business where if the manufacturing and supply chain are in order, then mass customization will be adopted. Manufacturers are backward people. They are not early adopters of technology. Fashion is even further backwards. This is going to be a slow movement. The push has to come from somebody on the technology side that can bring this industry to the next level.
John Davagian: I agree. We’re closer to that we think. What we need is some young entrepreneur to realize that in a category. We started to buy physical books online 25 years ago. Now we can buy just about anything online. There is a transformation that needs to happen here. I think the laggard will get left behind.
Sramana Mitra: The danger for an entrepreneur to bet on a slow-moving industry is going out of business.
John Davagian: I think we know that fashion moves faster than most anything else.
Sramana Mitra: Not on the workflow side.
John Davagian: Think about fashion trends.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, but that is all within the same workflow. No workflow has happened in fashion since e-commerce. The backend of fashion is still quite difficult to move through.
John Davagian: You’re actually designing these things 12 months before they’re actually made.
Sramana Mitra: Yes, you are creating trends and you are manufacturing in bulk. This is a whole industry setup in a bulk manufacturing, bulk selling mode. It’s not all that simple to go to mass customization with this industry. I really enjoyed talking with you. Thank you for your time.