Crowdsourcing case studies – Turning customers into creative directors

Threadless:  From the BBC

Ten years on the company is highly profitable, bringing in close to $30m in revenue in 2009.

Around 1,200 designs are submitted a week. The best are posted online, where the community votes. The company then decides which of the most popular designs should go into production.

Winning designers get $2,000 plus $500 in vouchers. Should the t-shirt go to a reprint, they get a further $500. is an online-only furniture retailer, so there’s no danger that customers will drop by. The company is six months old and already approaching profitability, with revenue doubling month on month, despite relying on word of mouth rather than marketing.

Instead, products are “crowdsourced”.

This is how it works. Visitors to the website are encouraged to submit their designs. The best of these are worked up into prototypes, and posted on the website. Registered members of the community vote. The most popular pieces are then available for pre-order – made in China, shipped by container and delivered directly to buyers from the port.

The designers are paid nothing upfront – but receive 5% royalties on successful designs, which Li maintains is above the industry average.

By going directly to manufacturers in Mr Li’s native China, he says the company can offer high-quality furniture at discounts of between 60-70% compared to traditional high street retailers.

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