A Monster Invasion
1. Mind Candy | U.K.
Never heard of MoshiMonsters.com? Then you're obviously not a parent of a 6-to-12-year-old. The social-gaming website for kids, where players (with parents' permission) adopt and virtually care for pet monsters with names such as Luvli and Furi, has attracted 65 million users worldwide, up from 50 million a year ago. It was created by Michael Acton Smith, a London-based entrepreneur who is turning Moshi Monsters into an entertainment juggernaut. His company, Mind Candy, has granted 130 licenses to turn its stable of more than 200 characters into everything from plush toys to trading cards and magazines. With merchandise and premium website subscriptions, Mind Candy had about $100 million in sales last year.
These are multitalented monsters. The Moshi Monsters album outsold Madonna, reaching No. 4 on the U.K. charts in April. A dedicated YouTube channel features Moshi Monsters music videos like "Moptop Tweenybop (My Hair's Too Long)," and Acton Smith is in talks with film producers about a possible movie. Although now a marketing Godzilla, Moshi Monsters didn't take over the tween world until mid-2009, when Mind Candy introduced social networking and allowed monitored chatting among players. "That's when we realized that kids like to show off online just like grownups," says Acton Smith. As marketing insights go, that one proved to be a monster hit.
Thomas K. Grose
2. Shopkick | U.S.
"Showrooming" customers, who browse merchandise in person only to buy it online for less, are retail's newest bugbear. How to keep them in the store and spending? Cyriac Roeding, co-founder and CEO of Shopkick, has an answer: make the trip worthwhile. "Until now, no one has rewarded anybody for coming through the door," he says.
Launched in August 2010, the Shopkick app allows its 3.5 million users' smart phones to communicate with a store via its music system. When a customer walks into a participating store, his smart phone picks up an inaudible signal sent by the same speakers piping in Muzak. The app then sends offers for real-time deals and a chance to earn "kicks" by entering a shop, scanning products and buying merchandise. Those kicks turn into rewards gift cards, cruises or other products and Shopkick gets a percentage of each kick. "Shopkick allows people to interact with the physical world in a completely new way," Roeding says.
This year, Shopkick has exploded. The number of participating U.S. retail outlets has doubled so far this year, from 3,500 in May to more than 7,000, driving $110 million of in-store revenue for its partners. Many of the biggest retailers in the U.S. have signed on, including all 800 Macy's stores and all of Target's 1,750 locations. The appeal for these retailers is obvious, Roeding says. "Shopkick is driving people into stores, not out of them."
3. MC10 | U.S.
MC10's flexible electronics can bend like an Olympic gymnast. Silicon is usually rigid, but MC10's co-founder John Rogers discovered that slicing the material ultra-thin to 100 nanometers thick allowed him to create flexible circuits. MC10, based in Cambridge, Mass., is using the technology to create wearable or implantable electronics, sensors and circuits that could be attached unobtrusively to clothing or even skin. The result is near invisible computer chips that can closely monitor the body in real time, without the bulkiness of current medical sensors. Instead of being connected to machines by wires, very sick patients could wear the diagnostic equipment found in a standard intensive-care unit.
"We're trying to break out of the flat world and reshape electronics into comfortable materials that stretch and flex," says David Icke, MC10's CEO. MC10 is already working with Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston to put flexible microprocessors on the tips of cardiac catheters, allowing doctors to monitor heart activity more precisely. The company has also announced a partnership with Reebok to create products with flexible sensors. The clothing could eventually measure hydration or electrolyte levels, giving athletes in-game feedback and pushing high-performance sportswear to a new level.