An Open Letter to 99designs

Hey Crew At 99designs,

I’m a fan of your work.  Your site, sitepoint, is a great resource to designers around the world.

Over the last year, slowly, you have been dragged into the spec work conversation.

I don’t think you want to be here.  I really don’t.  I don’t see you as a middle man trying to make a cheap buck, I think you really care about the design ecosystem.  With that, I want to challenge you to change your model.  With the following steps, I see you as being a shining becon of best practices.

1) Become The Middleman

During the panel at SXSWi this year, you said that 50% of your projects lead to follow on projects with the designer and client.

Simply put, I think this is your model.

The problem you are solving is connecting designers and clients at an agreed on pricepoint.  The client really doesn’t want 99% of the people working on their branding to go unpaid, they just want to find the one designer that will rock the project.

Like you do now, handle the legal and escrow.  When someone wants to hire a designer, let them turn to you and your network of designers.

2) Portfolio Matchmaking

The main pain point of finding a new designer is finding a style you like and imagining what they can do for your project.  Why don’t you provide a portfolio hosting service with the ability for clients to request work right there?

3) Set Pricing Guidelines

This is an amazing opprotunity, really find out what it costs hourly to work on different types of branding projects.  Make suggestions ie. “vector design generally is very tough, please bid in the $40-$90/hr range).”  Track what is being offered, what is being paid and take satisfaction surveys.  See what the pricepoint for quality work is.

4) Abolish Paid Contests

Your paid contests really started off with great intention.  Now they are getting mud slinged with other companies just trying to profit off of the faddish thought of ‘community.’  I’ve outlined before on this blog why I think this style is both short sighted but also creates a bunch of people with motives to create negitive content around your brand.

Abolish the ‘contests’ you have on your site.  If your problem is truly as I stated it above, then your current solution is just a short term fix.  Get rid of them.  Replace them with the older ‘just for fun and skill’ roots.  Consider doing nonprofit work or try to solve a problem that isn’t getting attention.

Also:

Perhaps a client can request a sketch from the designer (or 10 designers) agreeing to pay them $100 to kick off the discussion.  Suggests they put some quality time in, and in turn, they can see the designs, and beginning process of the designers.  They can set a price during this process, and the escrot would be set up by you (taking the middle man fee, of course).  Act as the software project management, and make sure deadlines are being met and both sides are happy.

The point of this post?  I think you can be so much more.

I see this as a drastic change from what your company currently does, and in the end, will result in you taking the lead and never looking back in this field.  The room at SXSW had some pretty strong feelings on both sides of the issue.

If you tweak your model, everyone in that room, and in all sides of this debate will become a fan.

And I want to see that.

If I can help in any way, I would love to.

Cheers.

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  • Hi Andrew,

    Thanks for taking the time to reach out to us with such a thoughtful letter. We look forward to chatting with you about some your ideas. While this is not the forum to comment specifically on some of our plans…we do want you and your readers to know that we are listening.

    We will be in touch and please don't hesitate to contact me anytime.

    Best,
    Jason
    99designs

  • designhowyouthink

    I think what Andrew is discussing here is a great idea. I too have seen much of this “spec” model threatening the multimedia industry. The idea I see here is “connection”, all the designers want is to be connected with a client who will respect them!

    If a company could emerge who worked with designers to connect them with the clients based on skill…

    It would be AMAZING to see a company actually work this way:
    1- Prove your worth as a designer to the 'middle man company' 3 ways:
    a resume, proof of education (resume, checked and confirmed), and portfolio samples
    2- Let clients set their price then have the designers look at the list/price and choose to submit their portfolio for review to that client, who then choses to work with the provider, designer or even entire firm.
    3- Let the DESIGNER negotiate the property rights and OFFER to council/mediate with them
    4- THEN let the 'middlemen' get their 3 to 10% network fee from the CLIENT. This 'middleman' could also charge a yearly fee for the designers, a model already in place for many bid agency's.

    This sort of practice would even entice larger firms and corporations as well as smaller companies. Setting up a general price guideline would prevent ridiculous offers, as well, the middleman who actually puts it together would be HAILED as a champion of design.

    We workers want this sort of honest opportunity, we do not want to be 'gladiators' who smash each other or slit the necks of our competition on price, or even slaves who are expected to do all the work up front and risk non-payment!

    For us, its not about 100 designs on the wall, its about 1 good connection, 1 good portfolio piece, and 1 satisfied client at a time!

    I would be glad to help any community who wants to build up a model like this!

  • Drew

    Andrew, first let me predicate my statement by saying I'm not trying to be a major a-hole. I just want to help you avoid the derision of the folks over at Crowdspring, etc.. I tried looking for your e-mail address on here so I could contact you directly to make this comment but could not discover it. Feel free to delete it after you have read and hopefully corrected the problem: At the top of this submission you wrote: “Over the last year, slowly, you have been drug into the spec work conversation.” Two areas were highlighted. In the first area you used “drug” which was incorrect. The past participle of drag is dragged, not drug.

  • Andrew & @designhowyouthink,

    The media industry is changing and will never be the same. Sorry.

    You are approaching this from the 'value created for designers' perspective. I think that is backwards. Purchasers will put money into processes that create value for them. Designers have no choice but to adapt. I know, it sucks. Just ask the newspaper industry.

    I think you are missing the value of 99designs from a purchaser's perspective, and why their model IS the future, not some shortsighted variant. I've read a few of your posts, and I'm struck that you don't really understand the marketplace well. Have you ever run a contest on 99designs?

    I've run several contests on 99designs and I couldn't be happier with the results AND especially the process. A few points in no particular order.

    – When I start a contest, I do not know precisely what I'm looking for. The best way to find what I'm looking for is to see many different perspectives.
    – I have no desire to review designer portfolios. It is super-inefficient (for me) to try and guess what a designer might do with my concept based on prior work that may or may not be theirs, as well as determine simple things like who is available, when it can be delivered, etc.
    – Design work should be compensated on value created, not hours put in. I've had a contest where the value created would be low, so my prize was low. I've also had contests where the value created would be high and the price points were correspondingly high. Each contest attracted different tiers of designers that produced different quality outputs.
    – The designers aren't creating finished products. Promising initial entries are iterated on multiple times. Designers can choose to continue to invest time based on the feedback provided to them and other designers.
    – The designers I've selected have win rates around 15%. However, the designers that won my contests put *far* more time into the contest then designers that lost (or contests that they lost). This was because I worked with them closely, provided detailed feedback, etc. I could often rule out designers based on their first entry.

    Put simply, 99designs is a superior process to everything other approach I've tried.

    The model you are describing basically exists in elance/rentacoder, etc. They are appropriate for some projects, but I wouldn't want 99designs to emulate them.

  • andrewhyde

    We still have not seen an industry adapt exploitive crowdsourcing and not
    implode.

    The same reason pyramid schemes have not taken over the business world, even
    though many people are trying to sell you that they are. Traffic for 99d
    and other has been flat, the community has rejected them and now social
    pressures will point out and pressure down those that exploit.

    The only thing that is an unknown is how many people will be hurt before
    that happens.

  • I'm curious what industries have imploded *because* of crowdsourcing rather
    than other immutable industry dynamics?

    Compete and Alexa tell a different story on 99designs traffic (its growing):
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/99designs.com/
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/99designs.com#tra

    I don't know how you make the leap that 99designs is a pyramid scheme.
    Wikipedia has a different definition:

    A *pyramid scheme* is a
    non-sustainable<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-sustainable&gt; business
    model <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_model> that involves the
    exchange of money <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money> primarily for
    enrolling other people into the scheme, without any
    product<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_%28business%29>or
    service <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_%28economi…> being
    delivered.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_scheme

  • andrewhyde

    99d traffic is growing because they are offering non spec products!

    http://andrewhy.de/spec-work-is-a-ponzi-scheme/

    Main points:

    – Works well short term but destructive the more people that get
    involved.
    – People advocating it swear it has worked for hundreds of years
    – People advocating it try to get you to not google the term
    – People running them swear they aren’t bad
    – People at the top make the money and the people putting in money/work
    are left with nothing
    – Encourages lack of quality in workmanship
    – There is a large network that will tell you it is dangerous to get
    involved

  • Andrew & @designhowyouthink,

    The media industry is changing and will never be the same. Sorry.

    You are approaching this from the 'value created for designers' perspective. I think that is backwards. Purchasers will put money into processes that create value for them. Designers have no choice but to adapt. I know, it sucks. Just ask the newspaper industry.

    I think you are missing the value of 99designs from a purchaser's perspective, and why their model IS the future, not some shortsighted variant. I've read a few of your posts, and I'm struck that you don't really understand the marketplace well. Have you ever run a contest on 99designs?

    I've run several contests on 99designs and I couldn't be happier with the results AND especially the process. A few points in no particular order.

    – When I start a contest, I do not know precisely what I'm looking for. The best way to find what I'm looking for is to see many different perspectives.
    – I have no desire to review designer portfolios. It is super-inefficient (for me) to try and guess what a designer might do with my concept based on prior work that may or may not be theirs, as well as determine simple things like who is available, when it can be delivered, etc.
    – Design work should be compensated on value created, not hours put in. I've had a contest where the value created would be low, so my prize was low. I've also had contests where the value created would be high and the price points were correspondingly high. Each contest attracted different tiers of designers that produced different quality outputs.
    – The designers aren't creating finished products. Promising initial entries are iterated on multiple times. Designers can choose to continue to invest time based on the feedback provided to them and other designers.
    – The designers I've selected have win rates around 15%. However, the designers that won my contests put *far* more time into the contest then designers that lost (or contests that they lost). This was because I worked with them closely, provided detailed feedback, etc. I could often rule out designers based on their first entry.

    Put simply, 99designs is a superior process to everything other approach I've tried.

    The model you are describing basically exists in elance/rentacoder, etc. They are appropriate for some projects, but I wouldn't want 99designs to emulate them.

  • andrewhyde

    We still have not seen an industry adapt exploitive crowdsourcing and not
    implode.

    The same reason pyramid schemes have not taken over the business world, even
    though many people are trying to sell you that they are. Traffic for 99d
    and other has been flat, the community has rejected them and now social
    pressures will point out and pressure down those that exploit.

    The only thing that is an unknown is how many people will be hurt before
    that happens.

  • I'm curious what industries have imploded *because* of crowdsourcing rather
    than other immutable industry dynamics?

    Compete and Alexa tell a different story on 99designs traffic (its growing):
    http://siteanalytics.compete.com/99designs.com/
    http://www.alexa.com/siteinfo/99designs.com#tra

    I don't know how you make the leap that 99designs is a pyramid scheme.
    Wikipedia has a different definition:

    A *pyramid scheme* is a
    non-sustainable<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-sustainable&gt; business
    model <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_model> that involves the
    exchange of money <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Money> primarily for
    enrolling other people into the scheme, without any
    product<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Product_%28business%29>or
    service <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Service_%28economi…> being
    delivered.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_scheme

  • andrewhyde

    99d traffic is growing because they are offering non spec products!

    http://andrewhy.de/spec-work-is-a-ponzi-scheme/

    Main points:

    – Works well short term but destructive the more people that get
    involved.
    – People advocating it swear it has worked for hundreds of years
    – People advocating it try to get you to not google the term
    – People running them swear they aren’t bad
    – People at the top make the money and the people putting in money/work
    are left with nothing
    – Encourages lack of quality in workmanship
    – There is a large network that will tell you it is dangerous to get
    involved

  • We still have not seen an industry adapt exploitive crowdsourcing and not
    implode.

    The same reason pyramid schemes have not taken over the business world, even
    though many people are trying to sell you that they are. Traffic for 99d
    and other has been flat, the community has rejected them and now social
    pressures will point out and pressure down those that exploit.

  • Good work.i wish you success.thanx

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