What do Coca-Cola, Toms, Guggenheim, Viacom, AOL, ebay, HTC, and Kate Spade have in common? Other than being among the world’s largest brands, each have commissioned creative projects through the IdeaLists online creative marketplace. The two-sided marketplace is a place where companies searching for inspiration and creative professionals can advertise campaigns, while creatives can identify interesting and well-funded projects in search of talent.
Started in 2010 by former Tokion Magazine publisher and Bartle Bogle Hegarty creative partner Adam Glickman, the IdeaLists has really hit its stride in the last year, as the business is approaching 150 successfully completed campaigns and saw 48 percent year over year growth in Q4 2012. Campaigns can include everything from a website design to a print advertisement to a television commercial or music video.
IdeaLists is not just a free for all, nor is it a place for an unproven artist to get their start. Rather, its membership is highly curated to allow only proven professionals, and the marketplace administrators manually match each submitted proposal with a small group of highly-targeted and well suited potential matches – therein lies its greatest strength and its greatest weakness. This can include both freelance designers, developers, photographers, videographers, musicians, strategists, and publicists, as well as full-service global agencies like Wieden Kennedy.
“You have no idea how much time is wasted by both brands and creative shops,” Glickman says. “We allow them to be much more efficient and targeted in their search for talent.”
Once invited to join the community, creative members complete a profile which indicates their strengths and the types of campaigns for which they want to be contacted. They also upload work samples against which clients and the IdeaLists administrators can evaluate their fit for a particular job. Clients then submit briefs based on the 4D’s: Deliverable, Deadline, Dollars, and Details.
Glickman likens the matchmaking process to that of a Hollywood talent agency, more than a Madison Avenue creative agency. You could also imagine it as a VIP, members-only version of LinkedIn for creative professionals with an independent matchmaker thrown in for good measure.
In addition to the above-mentioned brands, IdeaLists has a total of 191 clients, 13 of which are in the Fortune 500. The most active one-third of these clients have used the platform more than five times, while nearly half have used it more than three times. In 2012, the average campaign size was slightly more than $35,000, while the largest campaign completed to date is $700,000.
This average deal size speaks to a significant void in the marketplace Glickman hopes to fill. Five figure jobs are generally too small to attract traditional agencies but are too large for the crowdsourcing marketplace. At the same time, declining production costs have enticed many top professionals to strike out on their own. Without IdeaLists’ marketplace of proven independent contractors and its matchmaking expertise, connecting these jobs with top creative talent was inefficient at best, and ineffective at worst.
IdeaLists monetizes in two ways. The first is that it takes a 10 percent commission for jobs awarded via the site. Additionally, the company offers recruiting and matchmaking services to agencies and brands that are looking to hire full time creative talent. In the latter case, only members who have indicated in their profiles that they are open to full-time work are notified of such openings.
The real challenge for the startup is scaling the model. Currently, Glickman and his small team of curators evaluate all submitted campaigns and have the final say on matchmaking between creative members and brand or agency clients. The model works at IdeaLists’ current size, and the team’s industry experience makes this input value-added. At the same time, there are only so many campaigns each individual can evaluate per day, and while the founder is open to finding others who can fill a similar role, the process of identifying and integrating them into the IdeaLists process takes time and resources. IdeaLists opened its New York office earlier this month, which should represent a good opportunity for the founder to extend the team.
After bootstrapping the project for two years, Glickman recently took on an undisclosed angel investment from former hedge fund principal Csaba Konkoly, who has become an active angel investor in Los Angeles, making more than 10 startup investments in the second half of 2012. Konkoly is taking a far more active role in IdeaLists than with any of his other portfolio companies, joining the startup as its president and chief strategy officer in November.
It may seem like an odd fit for Konkoly, switching from Wall Street to Madison Avenue, and an equally odd choice for IdeaLists to bring a currency trader in to run a startup creative marketplace. But sitting down with Glickman and Konkoly in person convinced me otherwise. The two men genuinely complement one another and use their vastly different backgrounds and personal networks to balance each other out and compensate for each other’s weaknesses. The recent growth within IdeaLists suggests that, at least for the time being, the arrangement is working.
IdeaLists trades on two common themes for digital marketplaces: unlocking and/or organizing excess inventory and adding transparency to an otherwise opaque market. That said, it requires more manual input than most other successful marketplace, which creates limits on the model’s potential growth. Whether the company can overcome this limitation will have a significant impact on the its ultimate success. Nonetheless, the creative services industry is in desperate need of disruption, and IdeaLists is scratching an itch on both sides of the market.