Jake Nickell is an entrepreneur who turns others ideas into reality- Threadless allows artists to submit designs that are then voted on and the winner’s designs become t-shirts. Each week when new shirts are available for sale customers know they are going to be great, because they chose them. Jake’s open mind and fun personality has helped his company grow into a popular online website around the world and two stores that feature the newest designed shirts.
A recent Inc article featured this t-shirt magnate’s story. The company’s revenue grew by 500 percent a year and they had never done any advertising, hired professional designers, had no sales force or retail distribution making their margins above 30 percent. We all know the model of having community members telling Threadless what to print making it such a successful site.
The Threadless user base has grown to over 700,000 members and in 2006 sales reached $18 million and continued to grow 200 percent in 2007 for an estimated $30 million in T-shirts last year. Threadless currently has a 25,000-square-foot office is open to customers and run by 50 employees who are ALL younger than 33.
Founder/Age: Jake Nickell, 30ish
Location: Headquarters – Chicago, IL and remote office – Boulder, CO
Start-up Year: November 2000
Start-up Costs: $1,000 from on co-founder and $500 from another co-founder
How I Got Started: Threadless was first launched in November of 2000 as a thread on an art forum called Dreamless, one hour after the concept was thought up. The thread was an open call for t-shirt designs. The best ones would be printed and sold from Threadless.com and the artist would get a couple free tees of their designs. The idea came up shortly after I won a t-shirt competition for an event called New Media Underground Festival, which took place in London. I thought it would be cool to have an ongoing competition where people could always be submitting t-shirt art and he and his partner would print the best stuff. So he then immediately started the thread asking for their first round of designs!
Best Success Story/Customer Interaction: There are so many! One of our customers ordered a poster from us and it showed up damaged. He invited us over for dinner, as he lived nearby, and we ended up becoming great friends. This was Jeffrey Kalmikoff. We worked on some web projects together and eventually he became Chief Creative Officer at Threadless!
Biggest Start-up Challenge: For us the biggest challenge was keeping up with ourselves. We had no issues getting new people wanting to be a part of Threadless, but had trouble scaling up our operations like order fulfillment, accounting and production.
#1 Tip for Newbies: “I don’t know how” is no excuse! Don’t be afraid to learn as you go, figuring things out along the way.
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