Only two years after a major restructure, this e-com technology provider continues to improve its platform. To describe the business platform of California-based MashOn is no easy feat, but Philippe Benoliel, president and CEO, has it down to a science. “We are a technology company playing in an almost traditional bricks-and-mortar business. On the one hand, we have a strong technology slant because we’re developing software and e-commerce, but on the other hand, we’re dealing with product and physical goods.”
Although the company has been around for five years, for all intents and purposes, MashOn is also a start up. Two years ago, Benoliel and his 26-person team rebuilt the technology solutions provider from scratch.
Prior to that, the company’s primary products were online games. After seeing the attachment gamers had to their characters, the company developed PC-based Comic Book Creator, which enabled gamers to interact with branded content to create their own comics on their computers.
In 2008, Benoliel and his team took that concept and expanded it, first bringing the entire application to the web and then building a creative platform that would enable different audiences to interact with a variety of branded content and create items relevant to them.
“The online component we brought to the market with MashOn can be embedded on websites and packaged with a variety of contents, whether photos, videos, or sounds, to allow end users to create what is relevant to them,” he said.
The key to MashOn’s strategy is in how it removes the risk for licensors while giving them a better ROI. With the economic shake up of the past few years, licensing and merchandising have taken a hit.
“Licensees typically looked at larger retailers as their primary source of income,” said Benoliel. “But with the current state of retail, fewer licensees are willing to pay large upfront guarantees, and large retailers are taking on fewer brands.”
If you’ve got a proven brand like Spider Man, he said, you’re probably doing fine. But if you’re launching a new brand or re-launching an old brand, fewer licensees are likely to come and write a check for a guarantee and then take a risk on producing merchandise. The result is a reduction of royalties to licensors and of merchandise available for new properties.
“The model we came up with is one where we can partner directly with the brand owner,” said Benoliel. “Our creative platform gives us the ability to create product on behalf of the brand owner while giving the end user the ability to interact with the brand, and create their own merchandise based on that brand, within a controlled environment.”
Essentially, MashOn packages its technology with its clients’ contents, and the application lives on the client’s website. “We don’t have to be a destination; we are branding the client’s application for the client’s use,” Benoliel said.
Although only two years into its new platform, MashOn continues to make improvements. Recently, the company extended its creative platform with digital manufacturing capabilities. It can now take a product that has been created or designed and manufacture it as a “one-of”—essentially, it can manufacture on demand.
With this new capability, MashOn can take on properties and create designs while removing the inventory risk for itself and its clients. “We can test out designs in the market, still produce a high quality product, and bring properties to the market that would not otherwise have merchandise,” Benoliel said.
There are six major lines of product MashOn manufactures on demand. First are paper products, including greeting cards, calendars, posters, and photo books, which can be manufactured with recycled paper if requested. Second are vinyl products like device skins for phones and iPads and wall skins.
Third is apparel, which is MashOn’s biggest line. From T-shirts to sweatshirts, blankets to Snuggies, apparel represents more than 70% of the company’s revenues. Fourth are lenticular products, producing images that appear in 3D or that appear to move when the product is moved.
The fifth product line is custom-printed sports balls. The most popular products in this line are mini baseballs, which are used for gifts and even baby announcements. The final line Benoliel describes as miscellaneous, traditional promotional products like mugs, mouse pads, and baseball bats.
“You’ll find one of three things in our stores: products that were pre-designed but manufactured on demand, user-generated creations, and inventoried product,” said Benoliel. “Our e-commerce environment manages the orders for both on-demand and inventoried products; it’s all a turnkey solution for our clients.”
Keep it creative
Beginning September 1, MashOn will release the newest upgrade to its platform: it’s moving from Flash to HTML 5. Although Flash offers many capabilities, it also has limitations.
Flash applications are fairly demanding on resources, and they don’t work on everything, such as iPads and iPhones. By redeveloping using HTML 5, MashOn’s applications will be “lighter” and will work cross-platform.
Benoliel said the transition is a significant step for the company, even though it was a costly investment. “I’m a big believer in standards, especially open standards, which is why we needed to make the investment,” he said. “We’ll be one of the first, if not the first, full-featured application that delivers this technology on any platform, whether a PC, Mac, iPad, or Droid phone.”
In the past couple of years, MashOn has grown 250%. Although execution is key, the creativity and technological acumen of the company’s 26 employees, most of who are around 25 years old, are what have made its evolution and success possible.
“We’re about people who will be proactive, dynamic, innovative, not scared of challenge, and certainly not scared of change,” said Benoliel. “By merging e-commerce with traditional retail, we are bridging a gap; there will always be a need for a lot of creative input.”