When we chose to develop a new logo for our company, we decided to use the Website 99designs.com to have multiple designers compete with ideas for our logo.
The process worked very well. You create a "contest" and select an award to give to the winner (minimum $150 -- we chose $300). If not satisfied, you don’t need to award a winner. You only take copyright ownership of the design materials once you pay and award the prize.
You also have the option to "guarantee" that you will pick a winner of the contest once you have 10 valid designs. Once we did this, the number of entries skyrocketed from 25 to a total of over 70.
Much like eBay Inc. (Nasdaq: EBAY), you can promote your contest to designers via add-ons like a featured listing in boldface or one exposed to crawling by search engines, all generating additional fee revenue for the site.
One of the best things is that over the course of the seven-day contest, the feedback we gave on each of the early designs really drove people to come up with better and better designs, while still encouraging randomness and variety in the process. Our winning design was one of the last designs submitted overall, from one of the first designers who entered, who had incorporated some of his or her original concepts along with some ideas that other designers had come up with.
We never knew much more than the screen names of the designers. While 99designs is an Australian company, I still don’t know exactly where our designer is -- but it really doesn’t matter. Nor did it matter if the designer spent 100 hours on the job or one -- it was truly a global results-driven experience. And of course, it got me thinking.
What kinds of other business processes or tasks can benefit from this kind of approach, in which feedback and transparency of entries are combined? How about things that people traditionally envision as less "creative," such as an RFP process or any multi-party negotiation that allows for a diversity of components? How about longer-term engagements where you would introduce quantitative as well as qualitative feedback?
This type of model is quintessentially what the Internet is and should be all about -- creating universal, borderless access, turning traditional top-down approaches into bottom-up feedback-loop-driven collaborations -- and automating it all from start to finish.
99designs.com isn't the only site specializing in fractional expertise. A similar site, Crowdspring.com, offers "easy, effective and affordable logo, graphic design and writing services for small business."
The Gerson-Lehrman Group (GLG) offers a more static "who knows what" database of experts on call, who can explain technologies or market conditions in 30- to 45-minute phone calls to clients (typically investors). The expert database is supplemented by GLG clients' private feedback on which experts were most helpful to them in repeated interactions.
With their large fractional expert network, GLG solves both the expert identification problem and the time/payment problem -- and thus they get a disparate group of individuals to contribute a small fraction of their time to help the client solve a specific business problem.
The fractional expert model is often seen as highly disruptive to the established order and causes consternation in some circles with entrenched interests. There has been heavy criticism of 99designs and Crowdspring, for instance, from graphic designer trade groups for "devaluing creative work."
These concerns are understandable -- but hogwash. As most who have tried them can tell you, outsourcing and crowdsourcing are not perfect substitutes to having the full attention of higher-cost professional people on staff and in person -- though they will subsume some business on the margins.
Instead, sites like 99designs and the other mentioned here represent a new category of knowledge product -- one that taps in to the fractional time and expertise of highly skilled individuals. When coordinated and collaboratively enhanced by Internet technology, on-demand expert networks will increasingly shape the future of business.
— Rob Leathern is the CEO of CPM Advisors Inc.