I think the most important thing we can try to do is to encourage curiosity, a desire to figure out how things work, and be a contributor.
Threadless founder Jake Nickell talked to us about how he got hooked on the internet, started a culture of makers, and the importance of encouraging curiosity. Jake built his first website in 1995 to showcase his drawings and fell in love with the internet. He discovered all of these amazing corners of the web by “super-talented designers around the world playing with the internet,” including the design forum Dreamless.org, which is where the idea for Threadless originated. Jake said, “I started Threadless one hour after coming up with the idea by simply starting a thread on a forum asking people to post designs to it and promising to print the best ones.” That was in 2000, twelve years ago when terms like “user innovation,” “crowdsourcing,” and “open-source,” were not in regular circulation in the business / tech world. Jake kept Threadless as a side project until 2004 when he realized they were making just as much money from t-shirt sales as they were from client work. They fired their clients and decided to focus on their own projects. It wasn’t until 2008 (eight years in) that they devoted 100% of their energy to Threadless alone.
Threadless generates ideas for new shirts by asking their customers to submit designs and then vote on them. The customers tell the company exactly what shirts they want to buy, so products sell out. A genius recipe for success and one that looks at the designer as both the creator and the consumer. We asked Jake about curiosity and the importance of making. He said:
“There are so many great venues for people to do things with the things they make. Etsy, Kickstarter, YouTube…all these platforms where you can share/sell/discuss your creations with others. And they are working so well. The problem is with all of this information it’s easy to get caught up in just being a passive viewer of it all. I think the most important thing we can try to do is to encourage curiosity, a desire to figure out how things work, and be a contributor.”
Jake taught himself how to build sites, saw an opportunity to build a design community around a product he loved, and built a network that is passionate about the product and the individual maker. Threadless’ success is proof that taking time for side projects is important. The new slogan for Threadless is, “Make Great Together.” When we asked him what the phrase means to him, he said, “It’s a back-to-the-basics, super easy to understand mantra for why we exist. I started Threadless because I wanted to make cool stuff with my friends. That’s exactly what Make Great Together means.” As collaborators and friends, we love the Threadless philosophy and are inspired to continue to push toward something great.
More to come from Jake on what makes Threadless such a great place to work, his thoughts on risk, and taking the first step.