Thursday, May 7, 2009

Threadless Millionaire

Jacob DeHart, 25, and Jake Nickell, 27, Chicago
Projected 2007 Sales: $25 million to $30 million
Description: Online T-shirt design company

Ready to Wear: A great business idea can come from life's basics--just ask Jacob DeHart and Jake Nickell. Every day, about 150 T-shirt designs from all corners of the world are submitted to their website. With designs ranging from political to comic to abstract, the artists behind them hope their creations will be selected as a favorite of the company's online community. Each day, members of the online community can cast their votes for the week's winning designs, which are put on T-shirts and made available for sale. Since the site launched six years ago, every design printed has sold out.

Village Voice: Understanding that uniting a community comes with responsibility, DeHart and Nickell regularly consult with their users for feedback and are careful to protect the integrity of the T-shirts. They've turned down offers from Target and Urban Outfitters, preferring to work with smaller vendors instead. Says Nickell, "We were just another product to put in their stores, and that's really not the way we view ourselves."

A Common Thread: With more than 500,000 registered users, is sizing up to be a powerful force. It just opened its first retail store in Chicago; launched, a new children's clothing line; and has plans to expand distribution internationally and obtain partners in Europe. The site today is also just one of many communities under the partners' larger umbrella company, SkinnyCorp; other communities include Naked and Angry, which pursues the same idea on canvases like neckties and wallpaper, and 15 Megs of Fame, which puts the spotlight on undiscovered musicians.

Follow Their Lead: Give your customers a voice, and they just might use it to spread the word about your business


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