Alec Lynch is the founder of DesignCrowd, an online marketplace for designs. In my interview with him, Alec shares his story on starting the business.
Hi Alec, How are you doing, great to have you on YHP?
Thank you - I’m very pleased to be talking to you.
Could you quickly give us some background information about yourself? Tell me about yourself growing up?
I grew up in Sydney, Australia and spent my of my teenage years: designing websites, studying mathematics and chasing girls. I also enjoyed rugby, skateboarding and playing Nintendo. The only thing that’s changed is I’ve stopped skateboarding - so basically I’m a man-child that runs a cool startup (DesignCrowd).
How did you get into business? Were you exposed to entrepreneurship as a child?
I built my first website in 1998 when I was 14. It was a skateboarding website that I monetized with banner ads (I think my first cheque was $41 from a US company which I thought was amazing). The website played sounds from my favourite computer games so basically it combined four of my passions (web design, skateboarding, computer games and making money). While it didn’t help me meet girls, it really piqued my interest in technology and entrepreneurship. I went on to study programming at the University of Technology Sydney where I won the University Medal and started reading books on entrepreneurship.
Who were your inspirations growing up and why?
Growing up I was always been inspired by scientists like Albert Einstein, entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and sports stars like Michael Jordan. I think the common theme was innovation and disruption - whether that be in sport, science or business.
How did the idea for DesignCrowd come about?
I was looking for a business idea and I could see that the traditional design industry was broken.
A great example in 2007 was the London Olympics logo - which cost £400,000 and took almost 1 year to create. The public and media hated it and, to me, it highlighted three serious problems that businesses faced with the traditional design process: slow turnaround times, expensive fees and risk.
At the same time, young designers were struggling to break into an exclusive industry that hadn’t yet embraced the Internet.
I knew thousands of designers that would jump at an opportunity to design. I thought “imagine the designs and positive PR the London Olympics would have received by running a worldwide contest to design a logo for £400,000 or even £100,000?”
So tell me about DesignCrowd and what are you guys are trying to solve?
DesignCrowd operates two design marketplaces - including DesignCrowd.com, DesignCrowd.co.uk and BrandCrowd.com. DesignCrowd.co.uk is our UK site for outsourcing (or ‘crowdsourcing’) custom design. DesignCrowd.co.uk fixes the problems with the traditional design industry. For businesses, our process is cheaper, faster and more creative. The typical logo design project receives 103 different design from around the world. Our model is called crowdsourcing and its disrupting the design worldwide design industry and providing opportunity and new income for designers from the UK to the UAE.
What were you doing before you founded DesignCrowd?
DesignCrowd is my second business. I started my first business (online CRM software) when I graduated from university. I learnt a lot about entrepreneurship and software but still had a lot to learn about business so when my first business failed when we ran out of money I went to work as a management consultant at Booz & Co in Sydney. These two experiences have helped me a lot at DesignCrowd.
What was your biggest challenge during the starting up phase?
The constant need to fix problems and solve. That and the lack of time left for chasing girls.
How have you been able to fund the business?
The business has been funded in three phases:
1. Initially, I bootstrapped the business. I had $10,000 of savings. Then I funded it with three credit cards and $30,000 of loans from friends and family.
2. In 2009, we raised angel capital ($0.3M) from four angel investors in Sydney
3. In 2011, we received $3M of venture capital from Starfish Ventures (Australia’s largest venture capital firm)
What are the most crucial things you have done to grow your business?
Online marketing. It’s scalable, measurable and cheap.
Would you say the business has changed from the first initial idea?
Yes definitely. I was initially going to call the business “Global Logos” and just focus it on logos. We dodged a bullet when we renamed the business DesignCrowd (short for “design crowdsourcing”) and expanded it to include website design crowdsourcing and graphic design crowdsourcing.
What would you say has been the highlight of your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I love seeing the thousands of creative designs uploaded to the site everyday. We’re currently running a $10,000 Logo Contest for TimesSquare.com which has received over 3,000 logo designs!
What can we be expecting from you and DesignCrowd in 2012?
So far in 2012, we’ve launched in the UK (via DesignCrowd.co.uk) and last month we launched in Canada (via DesignCrowd.ca). We’ve also launched some 16 new crowdsourced design services including facebook design, catalogue design and app design! In the next 12 months, we’re planning to expand further in the UK and US and have some new websites and services planned.
What three pieces of advice would you offer entrepreneurs starting out today?
Be different, start today and - in the words of Winston Churchill - never, never, never give up.