TBS: Good Morning, Alec. Can you please tell our readers a little about your background, and how you became the CEO of DesignCrowd?
AL: Good Morning. Before I started DesignCrowd, I was working as a strategy consultant at Booz Allen Hamilton (now called Strategy&). I had the idea for DesignCrowd while I was at Booz and I knew immediately that I was onto something. I could see a number of challenges and opportunities within the traditional design industry. In particular, for businesses looking for to buy design, whether that be a logo design or a website design, using traditional agencies was an expensive, slow and uncertain process. At the same time, for creative people looking to work in the design industry, it was extremely difficult to break into and find work. There were hundreds of thousands of talented designers around the world who had graduated, but weren’t able to find work or were living in emerging economies and looking to find customers in Australia or the US.
One thing I saw in 2007 (which crystallised these challenges and the opportunity), was the logo for the London Olympics. This logo was launched that year and it was revealed to cost over £400,000 to design and took one whole year to develop.
It received a terrible response from the public, the media and designers around the world.
I knew that there had to be a better way, I knew that traditional design was ripe for disruption and after researching the $54 billion global design industry, I could see the opportunity was huge.
Once my co-founder Adam Arbolino built the first prototype for the website, I quit my strategy consulting job, moved back to my family home and started working full time on DesignCrowd in September 2007, before launching the site in early 2008.
In 2009, we received $0.3 million from Angel Investors and have since raised a further $12 million in venture capital. Today, DesignCrowd has 50 staff across offices in Sydney, Manila and San Francisco, has over half a million registered designers and almost $20 million in revenue generated each year.
What is the one thing you wish clients would understand about DesignCrowd the first time they may connect with you?
DesignCrowd customers are often entrepreneurs and small business owners who are bootstrapping and sometimes worry about paying upfront for design. While we do take money upfront, this gives our designers confidence the customer can pay them.
We also have a money back guarantee policy to protect businesses. If you don’t get a design you want, you can ask for new ideas (we have over half a million designers) or you can just request a refund!
What has been the toughest obstacle for DesignCrowd to battle since you launched?
One of the biggest obstacles we faced when growing the company was raising capital within Australia. This is not an easy thing to do by any means, because there are fewer VC funds here than the US and typically they are much smaller.
To date, we’ve managed to raise over $12 million of capital, all from Australia. We’re particularly proud of the fact that we’ve been able to attract great local investors like Starfish Ventures and AirTree Ventures.
How do you manage your own schedule, do you have any daily rituals you could share with us?
My schedule is different each week but I do have a few habits that help me stay organised and at my best. I manage a rolling to-do list, which I take with me everywhere, and I like to exercise 3-to-5 times a week.
What would be your main piece of advice for aspiring CEO’s/entrepreneurs?
My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is this: start today. Many people have great ideas, but most spend too much time talking about their ideas, rather than taking action. Taking any action, no matter how small, is the first step in translating your business idea from a dream into reality. The only difference between a wannabe entrepreneur and an entrepreneur is action.
Ask yourself this question: how would you feel if tomorrow, you read an article about someone else who launched your business idea and raised $1 million in funding? If the answer is “terrible,” then you need to start today. You need to know that this happens all the time. Write up a business plan, do some research, get a logo, buy a domain.
Just do something and get started!