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Founder Matt Mickiewicz: How 99designs Disrupted the Graphic Design Industry

Learn how 99designs became a recognized marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design, dealt with criticism from “the establishment” and developed a viable business model that has served over 100,000...


If you need a new logo, t-shirt or website design where do you turn? Until several years ago, startups and established small to mid-sized companies (SMBs) may have issued a lengthy request for proposal (RFP), searched high and low for a recommendation or simply hired a designer in-house. While all of those options are still viable and widely accepted, one may choose to crowdsource their next design project and let hundreds of qualified designers bid and perhaps — win.

In 2008, 99designs founder, Matt Mickiewicz set out to connect thousands of designers from around the world with clients who needed professional design work completed in a timely manner, without the limited options and high costs offered by traditional design firms.

Learn how 99designs became a recognized marketplace for crowdsourced graphic design, dealt with criticism from “the establishment” and developed a viable business model that has served over 100,000 customers to date.

 

Company: 99designs
Founder, Age: Matt Mickiewicz, 28
Location: San Francisco, CA
Industry: Advertising & Marketing
Startup Year: 2008
Startup Costs: Undisclosed

How I Got Started

99designs was born out of my original company that I co-founded while in High School, SitePoint – a news and opinion site for web developers and designers that currently attracts 2.5 million users per month.

One of the trends that emerged in the SitePoint community was a game called “Photoshop Tennis.” Designers would essentially make up fictional projects, and compete against each other to see who could do the best job. They were doing this because they were passionate about graphic design. The designers that participated had spare time on their hands and they wanted to be a part of something while given a chance to improve their skills.

Eventually, some of the other members of the SitePoint community observed the growing trend and jumped in with a cash offer for a logo design project. The designers loved the opportunity to work for a real client and the possibility of earning a cash prize. Also the client loved seeing dozens of different designs created just for them. Clients considered this particularly valuable in comparison to working with a single designer based on their portfolio.

That’s how the idea for 99designs was born.

 

Best Success Story

Our biggest success is disrupting the entire graphic design industry. We’ve experienced quite a bit of backlash from the establishment, while successfully serving over 100,000 customers.

We’re changing the lives of designers around the world by providing them an opportunity they otherwise wouldn’t have access to and paying out tens of millions of dollars, while spawning dozens of copycat businesses which validates our business model.

 

Biggest Startup Challenge

One of our goals is to provide outstanding customer service, and we’ve faced challenges scaling that area as our business has grown. We’ve addressed the challenge by rapidly scaling our customer support teams, opening 1-800 numbers for the United States and Europe, implementing improved CRM systems, and trying to hire ahead of the growth curve while carefully monitoring our key metrics.

On the flip side of the coin, we’ve worked hard to make our product as easy to use as possible for customers. We’ve also implemented video and contextual help. We continue to invest in multiple usability studies to pinpoint and resolve pain points.

 

#1 Tip for Entrepreneurs

Build a minimum viable product and get it in front of customers as soon as possible. Look towards business models that massively disrupt existing industries and provide a solution that’s 10x or 100x better than the next alternative.

If you build something great that people talk about and share with their friends, a large part of your marketing will take care of itself in the early days.

Connect with Matt on Twitter and Facebook.

 

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