When business owners want a new logo, website, or graphic design work, it's often an arduous and intimidating process that can involve filtering through vast numbers of freelancers' portfolios. Enter 99designs, a four-year-old online marketplace that is quickly becoming to graphic design what Craigslist is to housing listings.
"We're providing risk-free graphic design from a single, trusted source," notes 27-year-old co-founder Matt Mickiewicz. "You don't have to work with designers individually, negotiate contracts, go to meetings, or review proposals. You create a brief, name your price, and then get dozens of options to choose from with a one hundred percent satisfaction guarantee. That's unheard of." The company makes its money on listing fees and optional add-ons to the contest (like featured listings and Twitter blasts). Listings start as low as $95.
Co-founded in 2007 by Mickiewicz and Mark Harbottle, 37, 99designs had evolved out of the previous company Mickiewicz founded called SitePoint.com, a marketplace on which Web developers and designers could outsource projects. Graphic design contests with name-your-price offers were appearing more and more regularly on SitePoint, which is when Mickiewicz decided to spin off that model on its own.
"There are 74,000 freelance graphic designers in the U.S. alone and thousands of small agencies," he notes. "And up to this point, there's been no consolidation. The great thing about 99designs is that because it is an Internet marketplace, location doesn't matter and designers really can compete for business based on their work."
Last year, Mickiewicz says revenues were "eight figures" but is mum about 2011 projections. That's because 99designs recently raised $35 million in venture capital Series A funding from Silicon Valley stalwarts Accel Partners (famous for investments in Facebook, Groupon, Dropbox, and more).
Mickiewicz long resisted VC investment as he wanted to ensure it was a perfect fit. Accel, who he says was the most persistent and helpful firm even without a stake, won out based on its past investments and the ability to take 99designs, "a good idea that needs to grow out and scale" as Mickiewicz says, to the next level.
"In the next 12 months, we're going to double our staff, focus on customer service, and really build out a great marketing team," Mickiewicz says. "Eighty percent of our customers are still word of mouth and we only want to help our growing team of over 100,000 designers to get more business."