#STORY11 :: Tom Ryan – Threadless

  • David Wenzel:
    • Tell us the story of Threadless
  • Tom Ryan:
    • Our founder was 19 at the time and started it in his apartment. As a graphic designer he submitted a tshirt design to a contest, and he won. He found this a satisfying experience and decided to make a business of it. He turned that into Threadless.
    • We invite anyone in the world to submit a tshirt design. Our community votes on the design for a period of one week, and we take those designs and sell them as tshirts and pay the designer.
  • David Wenzel:
    • You didn’t start the company. What attracted you to Threadlress?
  • Tom:
    • I’ve always been an entrepreneurial site that was way too early. Threadless sells real stuff. I was attracted to a great platform and destination for visual artists to share and promote their work.
  • David
    • Jeff Howe invents the term crowd-sourcing in 2006, but you had been doing it since 2001. What does the story of crowd-sourcing look like?
  • Tom
    • Crowd-sourcing is basically taking a role that is usually for an employee and having a non-employee do it.
    • It is quite a broad term.
    • We don’t typically use the term crowd-sourcing in our business, but we use community based design. It kind of conjures up this anonymous crowd, but we see ourselves as a community.
    • We exist to allow our artists to share their work and get feedback.
  • David
    • A lot of people here are dealing with community. You obviously have been successful at building a large community. What are some ways you have helped build community that other people can learn from?
  • Tom
    • The Threadless community has grown because it is an authentic community. It took a long time to create. People are coming because they have shared values. You can’t force community. It takes time.
    • We’re very experimental with social media. We also pre-date a lot of social media sites. We made early investments by going out to Facebook and Twitter.
    • Try to go find places where people are already engaged.
    • Try to find artists who are spending time in other parts of the web.
    • Step outside your own community to find people who will join your community.
    • We’ve always stood to promote artists. They’re the first people we stand for. We create community online and through real world events too.
  • David
    • You are a business and you have to make money. But the thing you care about most is the artist. You’re giving them an equal playing field. Why are you so focused on the independent artist?
  • Tom
    • We give them an opportunity to be shown to our community.
    • With the power of the web and the power of people there is a new set of rules we can apply about which designs get created rather than having it all done within a company with a few designers.
  • David
    • You’ve been doing tshirts for 10 years now. Now it is turning into something bigger. Where are you going and what are some goals you have in stepping outside of tshirts?
  • Tom
    • We think the community is a powerful idea. While tshirts have gotten us really far, we think there is more we can do.
    • We want to provide more opportunity to artists to share their work, and print them and pay them.
    • With only t-shirts we can only make so many things per week.
    • Let’s take this great idea and start bringing it to other companies and other industries.
    • We launched something called “Threadless Causes”. We partner with charities.
    • We are partnering with consumer products like Griffin with iPhone cases, and we let designers go beyond our canvas and sell them.
    • We’re working with Disney and Cartoon Network to reinterpret some things. We ran a design challenge for the Muppets movie.
  • David
    • What does that look like?
  • Tom
    • Submit a design for the Muppets around friendship.
    • The voting lasts for 3 to 4 weeks. Then we have a design and we sell that.
  • David
    • What do the comments look like? Are these people actually helping each other?
  • Tom
    • Usually it is helpful and respectful, but sometimes it can get brutal.
    • A lot of designers have found that the feedback is refreshing and honest.
  • David
    • Winning a Threadless competition actually means something.
    • You put that on a resume right?
  • Tom
    • Yes, designers do put that on a resume.
    • And you win significant cash.
    • Our most popular design has made $50,000 dollars.
  • David
    • What are some of the other shirts that stick out in your mind?
  • Tom
    • We have some that are slogan-based.
    • We’ve been extending to totes, and backpacks and other things.

Tags: , , ,