Startup Q&A: 99Designs CEO, Patrick Llewellyn

Aussie startup talks crowdsourcing, the Cloud and how to make it big in the US

CEO of the online graphic design website, Patrick Llewellyn, talks about why crowdsourcing and Cloud computing are making the lives of Aussie startups much easier.

What does 99Designs do and what is your role?

We’re the leading online marketplace for graphic designers, so we’ve championed the crowdsouricng model of companies submitting jobs and designers submitting designs. We’ve grown to paying out a million dollars a month to our community, and we’ve paid out $26 million in total across the community. We’re pretty proud that we’re distributing wealth to designers across the world and creating a great platform for small businesses to get design done at a reasonable price.

I joined the business in September of 2009 and I came on board specifically to spearhead the growth of the business in the US. So I moved myself and my family across to the US in February 2010, and at that stage we had one guy working for 99Designs. Our first steps were to build the support team here so we could provide coverage to our customers and then it was about talking to domestic partners and getting to know the investment community here...I was then promoted in January of this year.

Being a startup based on crowdsourcing, do you think using this as a business model is becoming more popular?

There are a range of businesses that use crowdsourcing in some form or another...There’s certainly a wave of businesses coming through that are doing writing-based or audio-based models that are similar to ours, so I think people are understanding the power of it.

What advice do you have for startups wanting to make it big?

My two pieces of advice are get a product out as early as you can and make sure it can address a real need that people are hopefully prepared to pay for, or adopt really readily because you either need to have massive adoption or have people who are prepared to pay to be successful. As soon as you can get out there and test that, the better.

You either need to come to the US, live out of a suitcase and do it, or my advice would be to stay in Australia, prove yourself and then look for funding. I’ve been out of Australia for nearly two years, but when I go back we’re starting to see the angel [investor] market hot up and there are more examples of incubators who are willing to help startups.

Would you say Cloud computing vital to the success of startups similar to 99Designs?

Absolutely. I don’t think we could have done it without it and it’s the most exciting thing that’s happening. I don’t want to politicise anything but I’d love to see the National Broadband Network completed and rolled out, because access to high-speed internet and to cheap hosting solutions is what it is all about.

These days you can build a business very cheaply. You can engage with someone like us, source designs through us, source coding through one of our partners, you can basically have a full enterprise suite on Google and your cost base can be kept really tight too. The idea of getting information out is very attainable, and you can do it out of your own savings or work at night and get there through blood, sweat and tears. Cloud is a key component as to why businesses can get up faster and I think Australian businesses in particular are going to take advantage of that.

Follow Lisa Banks on Twitter: @CapricaStar

Follow Computerworld Australia on Twitter: @ComputerworldAU

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