Threadless.com started in 2000 after artist Jake Nickell won a T-shirt design contest in an online forum called “Dreamless.” Dreamless was a site Nickell frequented, where he shared his designs with fellow illustrators and programmers who would post designs, critiquing each other’s work and informally competing to produce the best designs. Nickell wondered, “What if the best designs in the Dreamless community could be printed on T-shirts and sold?”
Customer Ownership in Product Design Ensures Success
In the beginning, the Threadless community was created to give artists and designers a place to submit their design ideas and give those designs a home—on the unexpected canvas of a T-shirt. This idea exploded into a fast-growing community reaching far outside the initial graphic and computer-designer circles that first came to Threadless.com.
Customers embraced the idea of being involved in the design, the selection and the purchasing of the products they had a hand in creating. As a result, the Threadless.com community exploded far beyond a small cluster of Web designers to hundreds of thousands of zealot customers. The idea of having designers submit ideas for T-shirt designs, and then giving customers a vote in what gets sold, struck a nerve. A big, profitable nerve. In the company’s first two years, the Threadless.com community swelled to over 100,000. Since then, it has grown to over 1 million members.
Every Single Product Eventually Sells Out
Threadless.com has become a company of the customer, by the customer, for the customer. Customers are in the driver’s seat, submitting the designs, voting on the shirts, buying them, talking to one another and even working at the company. And because customers vote on the designs, and therefore decide which T-shirts are sold, every single product eventually sells out.
Threadless.com sold more than $30 million in T-shirts in 2009— with a 30 percent profit margin. Revenue growth is approximately 200 percent per year, with no help from professional designers, advertising, modeling agencies or a sales force.
How Do You Involve Your Customers?
How do you engage your customers? Do you seek their validation after the decisions have been made, or are customers truly part of how you imagine, build and deliver your products and services?
Beloved companies tap the passionate energy of their customers to grow and prosper.
Do customers have a seat at your table and a hand in the design of their experience and the products you offer? What do you need to do differently to move toward earning raves from customers and employees? Can you identify your version of creating passionate, involved customers who want to have a say in what you do for them?