Paying a premium for participation
Extracted from Creative Genius by Peter Fisk
Threadless began when Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart entered an online t-shirt design competition,
encouraging wild and personal designs which fellow entrants then voted on to find the winners.
Soon the two friends from Chicago were thinking this is how all t-shirts should be made. In 2000, with
$1000 start-up money, they developed an online store, threadless.com, which became an instant hit
with online designers and everyone else who was bored with the limit ranges of t-shirts they could buy
in most stores. T-shirts are an expression of yourself, people judge you by them, and they could be an
Their business model focused on online networks, user-generated design and voting, low-cost
production and high margins. The designs came free, except for a small number of incentive cash
prizes each month, the shirts cost $4 to make, and because they were distinctive, sold for $15 or
Every week, contestants upload their shirt designs to the site, where about 700 compete to be among
the six that get printed. Any site visitors then score designs on a scale of 0 to 5, and the staff selects
winners from the most popular entrants. Winning artists each get $2,000 in cash plus $500 gift
voucher which they can trade in for $200 additional cash if they prefer, and the company gets a vote-
winning design. Every selected design sells out within a week.
Nickell and DeHart say that their skill has been to never stop thinking like users – about the
experience, the products and site features which they would love to see.