99Designs Launches German Site a Month after Acquiring 12Designer

By Erin Griffith , written on September 5, 2012

From The News Desk

Crowdsourced graphic design site 99Designs has launched a German language version of its site as the startup seeks to expand its footprint in Europe. The Australia-born company is already global, but this move marks 99Design's first non-English site. It gives 99Designs access to more designers who will prefer agreeing to terms of service in their own language, 99Designs CEO Patrick Llewellyn says.

The company acquired 12Designer, a Berlin-based version of itself, last month for an undisclosed amount. 12Designer remains as an independent site, for now. It's an experiment in running the two side-by-side. If 12Designer remains strong, the brand may live to represent 99Designs' European community. If 99Designs overtakes it, it may be wound down. It's almost akin to the winner-takes-all contest structure of the sites themselves. I personally am holding out for a combined effort -- 111Designers, anyone?

The 12Designer's office in Berlin is now the company's European headquarters, as it expands into new languages. Because Berlin has become a bit of a hotspot for tech companies in recent years, it's not difficult to hire talent hailing from all over Europe.  European startups tend to internationalize early because their national markets are smaller, so 99Designs benefits from having a centralized headquarters packed with local experts, as it tackles the region. Llewellyn says the grim European economy is good for a company like 99Designs, which offers designers a new source of income through its crowdsourced contests.

12Designer has developed strong communities in Southern Europe, particularly Germany, France, Italy, and Spain. Unlike in Scandinavian countries, Southern European designers tend to prefer their local languages to 99Designs' English-only platform.

"We're Aussie -- for the longest time we thought internationalization was just going to the US," Llewellyn says. Startups in Europe see international growth as a cornerstone of their expansion strategy, something he's learned from 12Designer.

He noted that the Samwer Brothers-led stereotype of European startups -- that they want to clone American success stories in order to essentially charge a ransom fee -- seems to be fading. "People are positioning themselves away from (the Samwer brothers model)," he says. "There is an undercurrent of entreprenuers who want to be innovative and do their own thing." Still, this is coming from a guy that acquired his German copycat.

He says he could have taken the Airbnb approach -- enter a market with a storm, hire locals to do it right, and knock out the local competitors, he says. "We thought we could probably just win. We'd been growing from afar," he says. But once he met 12Designer CEO Eva Missling, he realized the company was building more than just a clone and had much to teach 99Designs on how to grow internationally. A month later, and he's well on his way.