99designs CEO talks further European expansion plans

Nina Fowler 2012-09-17 2

Eva Missling and Patrick Llewellyn in Berlin

French, Spanish and Italian language versions are next up for online design marketplace 99designs, following its first international acquisition – of its main rival in Europe, Berlin-based 12designer – and release in German earlier this month.

“We’ll look at French and Spanish, probably the next two, probably shortly followed by Italian,” CEO Patrick Llewellyn told VentureVillage during a recent visit to Hamburg. “Those languages 12designers already supports with the team in Berlin, so we can move quickly.”

The aim is to expand into the next group of languages by the end of the year. “Then we’ll look further afield,” Llewellyn said. “Polish and Turkish are both interesting but they’re markets we need to learn more about.”

For now, 12designer – founded by Eva Missling in late 2008 and acquired by 99designs last August – will continue to operate as a standalone website next to the new versions of 99designs, to test whether users prefer a fully global or more local platform.

Both platforms charge a flat fee for clients to run design “contests” for particular briefs. Designers using the platform submit work, with the winner taking away payment. 99designs, which raised $35m from Accel Partners and others last year, now claims more than 175,000 designers around the world using its platform and pays out over $1m to designers each month.

It’s a concept some designers love to hate, accusing 99designs of taking too high a cut and driving down prices for design work. Llewellyn, though, pointed out at least 40 per cent of projects leads to follow-on work (where designers work directly with clients) and that 99designs is providing a valuable service for the designers who use it:

“You can start in Auckland, move to Phuket, spend time in the Maldives, be wherever you want to be and still have access to an income,” he said. “If you value mobility, someone collecting money for you, being paid on time…” For designers who live in places where they don’t have ready access to clients or who need to build a portfolio, he added, the platform also creates a “credible way for freelance designers to do that”.

More new features on the way for 99designs may include extended tools for designers and clients who’ve met through a design contest and now want to work one-on-one, and a modified contest model to better suit design and advertising agencies.

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