99designs: A Wunderkind's Millions-Worth Business Project
In the late 2000s, businesses operated much simpler than they do today. Although the majority of them pulled all the right strings and marketed their businesses the best they could, one major aspect was missing in the picture - design.
In 2008, the only person who seemed to have understood the impact of top-quality graphic design in scaling businesses was Matt Wickiewitcz, a man with a powerful affinity for the visual.
To empower the face of businesses worldwide, Matt developed 99designs, a place where clients can meet prominent design experts to revamp their business. From 2008 onwards, 99designs has represented the leading platform where freelance graphic designers could prove their skills to valuable employers and impress them with style, zest, and dynamic storytelling.
Undoubtedly, 99designs has transformed into the pillar for quality graphic design as a remarkable business solution. The story of Matt and his 99designs is one for the ages - thrilling, competitive, and urging to stand out from the rest!
The Prodigy of His Generation
Matt Wickiewitcz was born in Krakow, Poland, on June 27, 1983. Even so, Matt spent most of his childhood in Hamelin, Germany, and just as any other 80s child, he soon became tech-crazed.
At the age of 14, Matt created his first-ever website, called Webmaster-Resources.com, which later became SitePoint. Two years later, Matt and his mother flew to Melbourne, Australia, where he met his future business partner, Mark Harbottle.
Unlike East-European Matt, Mark was born and raised in sunny Melbourne, Australia. They clicked the moment they met, both business-wise and on a personal keel as well.
At the age of 16, Matt had already boasted a potent flair for business and managed to close $10,000-worth of advertising deals together with his classmates, which gave him the business notoriety and the well-earned respect as a future entrepreneur. Be that as it may, Matt never attended college, and barely even finished high school, considering the generous inflow coming his way.
The Initial Challenge
During high school, Matt launched his business website, called SitePoint, which really took off following his graduation and became an educational platform for web development. As it grew on, more and more clients sent project requests to the site, and those soon turned into art contests. Namely, graphic designers could showcase their arts and crafts on it, and one winner would take the main prize home. The more frequent these contests were, the more Matt and Mark began to realize that their site is derailing from the original route.
Given the heat the site was already generating, the inventors couldn't rebrand it, so they created a whole new website, a somewhat descendant of SitePoint, but there's a catch - it's for content only. Call this a smart move because it is, and it's also how 99designs was born in the first place. But, to pull a smart move rightfully, Matt and Mark had to know how to keep their newborn company alive. Thankfully, with a helping hand from their SitePoint customers, Matt and Mark spread the word on their new site, 99designs, and kept it afloat for their former and brand new customers.
Still Not on Dry Land
The second challenge the duo faced was in creating the infrastructure for their new website in a way that earns them higher profits and requires fewer investments. Naturally, this posed an issue because Matt and Mark had to be prepared for a high volume of traffic as well as data storage, in case 99designs succeeded.
Otherwise, due to slow loading time and huge hosting as well as bandwidth, Matt and Mark were looking at an estimated $20,000 for maintenance costs - per month. Luckily, towards the end of 2007, Matt came across Amazon Web Services, a collection of internet-based computing services. Thanks to this set of services, 99designs managed to boost their site speed and storage arsenal and ultimately, saved the company a fortune.
The third and final challenge the inventors faced was prioritizing the massive influx of client requests. Since graphic designers were the company's core, their requests and feedback were both crucial and essential. In that sense, the company decided that the best way to filter these requests was to give designers the last word. Consequently, the company put up a voting board on their page, so that every designer could vote for what they considered to be the best project.
The Alternative Graphic Designer Site
One of the main reasons why 99designs became a beloved platform among eager designers was all thanks to a game that actually inspired the brand's name. The game was called Photoshop Tennis and originally included 99 players.
The aim of the game is simple and graphic designers can play it on the site even to this day. Namely, to play it, two contestants create their own designs on the site and then exchange them. Players who failed to create a design on time leave the game, whereas others filtered out one design at a time. Naturally, this helped countless designers to perfect their professional skills and explore their creativity on a different level. As for the customers, this was an even better opportunity to find hidden talent through an array of competitive projects.
Initially, Matt and Mark decided to charge $10 for each new design request on their site, and soon, they began making thousands of dollars. Today, the company's original headquarters are located in Australia, whereas the brand's first office was opened in San Francisco, as the majority of their clients were US citizens.
Some of the company's biggest clients include Jason Calacanis from Weblogs, Inc, Adeo Ressi from Founders Institutions, Paul Graham from Y! Combinator, Tim Ferris from 4 Hour Work Week, and others. In May of 2010, the company received NYC's 'People's Voice' Webby Award for Best Web Services & Application.
Convenient Climate for All
99designs is one of the most convenient platforms for both designers and customers. Thanks to it, buying a design is made simpler, as once the price is named, the design portfolio narrows down the search and clients can immediately get the kind of design they are after.
As for designers, the site enables them enough exposure to a specter of projects, varying from creating small logos to designing New York Times best sellers' book covers - all with as little promotion and as much design as possible.
Start Small, Grow Big
After remaining headquartered in Australia for years, Matt and Mark finally decided to relocate to Oakland, California. Apart from San Francisco, in the years to follow, 99designs also opened offices in Berlin, Paris, Rio de Janeiro, and London.
Throughout the years, a total of 9 investors backed the company financially, the major of which include Accel, Andrew Walsh, Dave Goldberg, and Harrison Metal Capital.
Together, by 2011, 99designs received a total funding of $35 million. By 2012, the number of designers on the site reached 175,000 users and by 2016, the count reached one million designers.
In October 2020 the company was acquired by Netherlands Cimpress, with Patrick Llewellyn as its current CEO. Since the acquisition, 99designs raised $88.7 million in funding.
A Look into the Future
99designs has had an expected uprising during the COVID19 pandemic, as more and more designers and clients became supporters of working both remotely and efficiently.
With a bright future ahead and a promising army of design enthusiasts on both ends of the specter, 99designs will undoubtedly continue to lead the way to innovative, engaging, and purposeful graphics that help distinguish worldwide businesses - by the quality of design!