Australian startup giant 99designs releases its first financial results

99designs co-founder Patrick Llewelyn

Australian startup 99designs has released financial results for the first time, revealing the online marketplace platform had revenue of nearly $81 million ($US60 million) in the last year.

The figures also show that the design marketplace has paid out $US142 million in total to its designers and holds 10,000 contests each month.

This marks the eighth consecutive year of double digit growth for the company, 99designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn says.

“They’re pleasing results but there’s a lot of work to do,” Llewellyn tells StartupSmart.

“It’s an opportunity to understand more quickly the scale and breadth of the business.

“There’s a sense that 99designs is here and we have been able to reach scale.”

Despite the strong revenue, he says the startup is still striving to reach profitability by the end of 2016.

“We’re doing well but we’re continuing to invest in the business and hiring good people,” Llewellyn says.

“The aim is by the end of this year to be at that point. We’re doing really well in Q1 but it’s a long year ahead.”

99designs is the world’s largest online graphic design marketplace, having now played host to over half a million contest.

Its one-to-one feature, which allows users to work collaboratively with a designer, has enjoyed rapid growth and now accounts for 15% of the company’s entire revenue.

A completely new look

The financial results have been released to coincide with a complete design and branding overhaul for 99designs, which has now adopted a new minimalistic look that Llewellyn says reflects what the company stands for.

“We think it better represents who we are as a business – who we are today and where we want to go tomorrow,” he says.

“The whole purpose of the rebrand is putting the designer and their designs front and centre. What we realised is that what we’re about is celebrating great work, the people creating it and the folks who are getting it.

“Our role is being the canvas that makes it happen.”

Llewellyn says the rebrand has been in the works for the last 18 months, with the company holding a design contest on its own platform that saw more than 4000 entries.

Diversifying its offering

The 99designs platform was initially launched to cater to entrepreneurs and other individuals on the hunt for one-off designs. But Llewellyn says the startup has recently seen an emergence of “high-valued” repeat customers that are using the platform on a regular basis.

“There’s a significant opportunity in continuing to evolve the platform and making it do something different for those folks who have different needs and wants,” he says.

“Right now everyone gets treated the same and there’s a huge opportunity to treat people differently to meet their needs.

“It’s a balancing act we need to figure out. Right now we skew very heavily to entrepreneurs. It’s an added complexity but we’re excited about it.”

Australian entrepreneurs have proved to have a knack for developing successful marketplaces, with several other world-leading startups like DesignCrowd and Freelancer founded in the country.

But Llewellyn says he doesn’t view these other competitors as a challenge to 99designs.

“There’s plenty of room in the market,” he says.

“Our challenge is not our online competition – our challenge is the incumbent, the fragmented freelancer designer force who’ve been the dominant supplier for the industry for the last 30-40 years.

“I look at the competition and I watch and admire. I’m very proud of all the startup activity coming out of Australia.

“We estimate the global market is $30 billion or more so none of us has cracked that. There’s still plenty of room to grow.”

Maintaining the growth

Looking forward, Llewellyn says 99designs wants to continue its strong revenue growth and push towards profitability.

“We’re continuing to expand and we want to grow faster this year than we did the last,” he says.

“It’s the first time in our history we have a uniform look and feel across everything.”

And that all comes down to continuing to produce an innovative and useful platform, he says.

“This year and beyond is about trying to create a framework and platform that’s as good as working with the designer sitting next to you,” Llewellyn says.

“There’s still a long, long way to go and we’re very excited to continue on that journey.”

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Denham Sadler is the editor of StartupSmart. He was previously a journalist at the publication and has worked as a freelancer for the Guardian, the Saturday Paper and the ABC. In his spare time he likes puns and jaffles.