Elevator Pitch: DesignCrowd

Elevator Pitch: DesignCrowd

Elevator Pitch is a new regular feature on Lifehacker where we profile startups and new companies and pick their brains for entrepreneurial advice. This week, we’re talking with Alec Lynch, founder of DesignCrowd.

In 128 words or less, explain your business idea.

DesignCrowd helps businesses outsource or crowdsource graphic, logo and web design ideas from designers around the world.

Here’s how it works:

  1. a business posts a project on DesignCrowd describing what they want designed (such as a logo design)
  2. we then open the client’s project up to the world and our 115,000 registered designers
  3. designers from around the world upload designs to DesignCrowd (the typical logo project on DesignCrowd receives over 100 designs)
  4. the client chooses the best design

This process is faster, cheaper and more creative than going to a traditional design agency. It’s also risk-free. You get the design you want or you get your money back.

What strategies are you using to grow and finance your idea?

I started DesignCrowd ‘out of the garage’ in 2009 with $10,000 in savings and three credit cards. The business was bootstrapped for the first two years. In 2009 we raised $300,000 of angel investment and in 2011 we raised $3 million of venture capital investment from Starfish Ventures.

Since raising the money from Starfish Ventures we’ve pursued an international growth strategy. We’ve grown the team from three people to 20 people, we’ve acquired two US companies and we’ve launched DesignCrowd in the UK, Canada, Singapore and India. We recently hit 100,000 designers on the site and we’re now approaching $10 million in projects. The US is now our biggest source of sales and this year we plan to open an office and hire our first employee in the US.

What’s the biggest challenge facing your business?

Our biggest challenge is scaling with demand for our service. In the first three months of 2013, the volume of projects posted on DesignCrowd has almost doubled. We’ve seen a boom in demand for crowdsourcing in Asia, in the US, UK and Australia but we’re also seeing emerging demand for our service in new markets like Brazil and Germany. As a result, we’re constantly looking for new designers to join our community and talented people to join our team. With the international expansion we’re now having to start thinking about how our marketplace works across different languages and cultures, which is a new challenge, but also a huge opportunity.

What one phone, tablet or PC application could you not live without?

I love optimizely. Testing is a huge part of our marketing and product philosophy. We use optimizely daily to test changes to our site. A successful test can be a game changer and a small tweak to your homepage or funnel can drive 10 per cent revenue growth overnight.

What’s the best piece of business advice you’ve ever received?

If you’re going to think, think big.

Want to see your startup featured in Elevator Pitch? Get in touch using our contact form.


    • Yeah. Cheaper and risk-free for the client. Somewhat exploitative for the majority of designers. When I want something designed for me, I like to find someone I can collaborate and iterate with. This model is more reminiscent of a game show or a promotional competition. Sure, designers don’t have to participate if they don’t want to. But that’s not the end of the story. The reason designers may elect to enter is because they start with lower negotiation power than other professionals whom this model could also conceivably suit (think journalist or architect). So this business makes its money by taking advantage of designers’ weak bargaining positions, further undermining their negotiating power and debasing the value of their work. I find the whole thing distasteful.

    • Actually, that’s not true.

      DesignCrowd offers designers participation payments. We’ve paid out over $1M in participation payments to designers that don’t win. We also allow designers to sell unused designs on BrandCrowd.com. I’d also like to point out that designers use our service for a number of other reasons such as lead generation and portfolio building.

      In saying that, the big picture is this: the Internet is changing the way people work and disrupting traditional industries. DesignCrowd are pioneering the crowdsourcing model globally and, in the process, disrupting the traditional design industry.

      Alec Lynch

      • I’m imagining you saying all the above with a straight face. Or is that a sly wink?

        Firstly, see the little bit of maths, below in the comments. Adding in your participation payments still keeps the per designer reward down to less than $100. That’s not per design, that’s per designer in the history of DesignCrowd.

        Secondly, you allow designers to sell unused designs? That they designed and weren’t actually ever paid for? Wow. And then you only take a 40% commission on anything that sells on BrandCrowd? Seriously generous. Sheesh. Let’s not kid ourselves that there is much left for the designer after that or that there is much of a chance of a sale here for any given uncommissioned logo.

        And let’s face it, the benefit of any enlarged portfolio or any lead generated for any designer through DesignCrowd is significantly reduced because of how folks like you and 99 Designs have helped to devalue their work. Why would I hire a designer at $80 an hour when I’ve become accustomed to having hundred work for me for a $300 cap?

        One thing I agree with you about: the internet has transformed many traditional industries, some for the better without a doubt. I don’t believe that organisations like yours help make the world a better place though. Sorry.

  • Yeah, it’s really exploitative. It’s similar to 99Designs. You get lots of designers from 3rd world countries submitting designs and then when you choose only one you kindof feel bad – I try to use services like freelancer.com which just has people bidding for work.
    Submitting this comment from an iphone (which is made by exploiting Chinese workers at Foxconn) and currently wearing a pair of cheap jeans (made by exploiting cheap workers in Pakistan).

  • Like everybody has said, this is really exploitative. It’s spec work, which is bad for the designers who submit and aren’t paid, not to mention the design community as clients can go to sites like this to get a whole range of work done for cheap and it puts designers in an even worse position.

  • Some quick maths to demonstrate how great DesignCrowd has been so far for the people doing the work. Stats from their home page:
    Designer Payments so far: A$8.7m.
    Number of designers: 119,626

    So… how much money has each designer made on average? Yup. About A$73.

    This is an unsavoury business.

  • I’m all for disruptive, as long as it doesn’t disrupt people’s ability to pay their rent. It’s just another nail in the coffin of fair pay and reasonable hours – especially for hopeful and naive young people. In your brave new world we no longer have to pay any creative person, whether writer, designer, or composer, more than a few pence … and they never get a day’s rest, bless ’em. Crack that whip, lad!

    So who’s next? Doctors, barristers, food cart vendors, dog walkers, cat sitters? Would you bid out for a heart transplant? Where does it end? Lying in a back alley in Nonthaburi with your heart in your hand, waiting for a free surgeon (or maybe a tree surgeon) because you’re a designer and you have not a two bob bit to spare and you spent your last penny on the flight in? Take it to its logical conclusion and you see something that resembles Bladerunner.

    This Craigslist ad, which y’all may have seen before, says it all: http://www.thefrisky.com/2013-07-09/awesome-graphic-designer-posts-hilarious-craigslist-ad-attacking-work-for-free-culture/

Log in to comment on this story!