GeniusRocket: Toxic Environments and Startups

On a run last week I was exploring just why I was so against spec work. The core of the reason, is because it creates a toxic environment, that is destined to fail.  A house of cards or a pyramid scheme, doing things ‘because you can get away with it’ is unethical and just plain mean.

So enter in spec work profiteer GeniusRocket, who, like crowdspring, promises a bunch of designers will complete work for the chance of payment.  Of course, they get paid for every project, but the designers doing work have about a 1% chance of getting paid.

Kinda gimmicky, and on the surface, very cool.  But when you drill deep what is happening is nothing but ugly. Follow @specwatch to see a sample of how the contest model just doesn’t turn out well.

Green Button I met the guys at GenuisRocket at SXSW last year, and they showed little knowledge on the disastrous history of spec.  At the time I didn’t really think much of it, but what a red flag.

Last month a designer doing work for GenuisRocket found out the company was using his work that he did for a contest on their home page, without attribution or payment.

Slimy. Can you trust the company?

When contacted, GenuisRocket just pointed to the legal terms stating that they had the right to do so.  Alienating the designers that are the core to your business (which is ripping them off)?  That is plain stupid.

They did agree to give some money to charity to have the designer take down the site.  I think it should stay up, the terms of service are exactly the same.  I will host this with permission.

I’ve said spec will fail, and you can see the implosion happening.  Use spec work, have tons of negative press (as CP+B learned last month).  How does that work out for your brand?  First few pages of google results talking about how unethical and evil you are.  Not an ideal solution.

Why is this happening?  It is all about sustainable vs. toxic environments.  If you are a startup, the holy grail is positive and engaging user generated content.  To do this you must create a sustainable environment.  If you create a toxic environment, everyone fails.  Here is how spec creates a toxic environment:

The goal of the designer, I can assume, is to get better and pay the bills.

  • If they have a 1% chance of winning a contest valued at $500.
  • They are competing against others who copy and steal work from others
  • They have little to no contact with the client, and don’t build a relationship or really know the product
  • The winning design resembles a winning logo of another project on the site
  • The hosting spec site doesn’t want to kick designers off, because they are making money off of their work, so the plagiarized work stays
  • The designers realize the only way to pay rent is to do a mass amount of designs, creating a glorified clip art marketplace
  • After all this spec work they have a portfolio of work that isn’t used by anyone, looks very similar and the market has shifted to using ‘design contest sites’ so the jobs at the end of the tunnel are no more

At the end we have a toxic process.  Designers don’t win.  Clients don’t win.  Spec work companies profit.  How can this not work?  A common argument is ‘designers must evolve.’  Kinda like saying companies should pollute because it is cheaper and they should get with the program, pass of the problem as not your own.

As Americans, we know of these processes (Real Estate or the current political process anyone?).   So we have two paths, a toxic one and a sustainable one.  Stand up against this shit.

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