There are not many places where you can design a new hat, make a T-shirt design with your own artwork, and pick the fabric for a pouf (a.k.a., an ottoman for a sofa), create an e-commerce site and sell the products, and actually make enough money to quit your day job.
That’s the business model behind Zazzle, a company that originally seemed to be ready to take on CafePress but has diversified so much that they now offer about 300 million unique designs for about 550 different product types (from shirts to pens). It’s also a maker model that encourages anyone and everyone to become a seller. And, it’s working. The company projects they will make about $250M in revenue this fiscal year (ending 3/16).
Zazzle uses the more is more concept of growing a business. Not only can designers create logos and artwork and sell their stuff, they can earn a royalty payment when other people use their designs on products. They don’t just run their shop in the U.S. The company has 16 global domains including Japan and Australia. They produce products in a manufacturing facility in San Jose and ship within 24 hours, and it doesn’t matter if that product is a ping-pong paddle, a lamp or a piece of jewelry, a shirt with a trendy slogan, or a hat.
“We designed our business as an ecosystem where all the constituents are economically and socially motivated to grow the platform,” says Bobby Beaver, one of the co-founders. He explained that the company is a perfect example of how scale fuels growth. He says they also go the extra mile and protect customers from any copyright infringement.
“Our designers and makers have strong incentives to promote their designs and products on our platform,” adds Jeff Beaver, another co-founder. “Our job is to provide them with the best tools for showcasing and sharing their creative works.”
The expansion to 300 million uniquely designed items for sale, the high projected revenue, and the 500 categories that help scale the business all trace back to a core attribute: That the people making the products are promoting their own business, and therefore the site. The more people that create products, market them, and rack up sales, the better the business model works. Even if that means creating your own Dump Donald coffee mug for a few friends.
Note: Traction Watch is a new column focused obsessively on growth, and is a companion to the DEMO Traction conference series, which brings together high-growth startups with high-potential customers. The next DEMO Traction will take place in Boston on September 16, 2015. Growth companies can apply to present, or those similarly obsessed can register here to attend.