Photo from Paul May’s Flickr stream.
Today’s Web 2.0 Expo session with the co-founders of online T-shirt marketplace Threadless provided a good reflection on how Jake Nickell and Jeffrey Kalmikoff created an ingenious art/commerce model long before buzz about the craft marketplace Etsy or the opening of Threadless brick and mortar locations in Chicago. They were introduced by conference chair Jennifer Pahlka as the “Harvard Business School example of crowdsourcing,” but it’s important to note that while they’ve created a great model, they also did so long before their counterparts.
In seeking a way to make an open call for T-shirt submissions (of which Threadless now receives 200 daily) lucrative for designers, the self-identified “accidental entrepreneurs” offer a large cash payoff, image critique forums, and placement in a weekly newsletter to 800,000 shirt buyers with select designs. While those ideas don’t sound unheard of now, consider that the duo started putting them into practice almost 10 years ago and haven’t gone back on their promise not to take creators’ rights to their work, even if their designs are printed and sold. Even though Nickell said they “know nothing about business development but are learning,” it was good to hear the proven team provide kudos to Tom’s Shoes, artisan food distributors, and other unique online retailers who no doubt have Threadless to thank for paving the way.