Creative marketplace IdeaLists raises $1.7M to help match brands and creative professionals

By Michael Carney , written on July 8, 2013

From The News Desk

Digital media is dramatically increasing the time that consumers spend interacting with brands. At the same time, however, the flood of digital noise raises the importance of each single brand interaction, making creative professionals the new corporate rockstar. Keeping up with the creative demand can be taxing on on even the largest companies, while vetting and managing outside agencies often creates more work.

Given this quagmire, it’s little surprise that online creative marketplace IdeaLists has been well received for its ability to matchmake between the world’s largest brands and premier creative professionals. The 15-month-old startup launched a completely redesigned Web platform over the weekend and announced $1.7 million in Seed funding. The round, structured as a convertible note with an a $8 million cap, included Double M Capital, Pegasus Capital, Siemer Ventures, 500 Startups, Clark Landry, Paul Bricault, and IdeaLists President Csaba Konkoly.

IdeaLists has facilitated hundreds of campaigns to date with brands including Coca-Cola, American Express, Oscar Meyer, Toms, Warby Parker, Beats By Dre, HTC, LVMH, Estee Lauder, Kate Spade, Foursquare, and ShoeDazzle among others. In each case, the brand first posts a proposal to the marketplace outlining specific needs – such as Web and graphic design, video production, photography, strategy, and PR – a budget, and a timeline. The IdeaLists team then curates a lists of the top three to five creative vendors from its invite only community of 5,600 individual creatives, boutique agencies, and mega agencies which it feels are best suited to execute the proposal under the parameters outlined.

“People have their own rolodexes, so it’s not like we’re giving them something they didn’t have previously,” Konkoly says. “But our process, is faster, cheaper, fresher, and therefore, by definition, better.”

Currently, this curation process happens manually, but by the end of the third quarter, the company plans to automate a significant portion of it. The algorithmic technology behind the automated matching will be similar to that used by dating sites to match prospective suitors, founder Adam Glickman explains – although it’s not clear whether that should be an endorsement or a word of caution – and is currently being developed by the company’s Russian and Hungarian development team.

The key to making this automation work will be the quality of vendor profiles, Konkoly admits, saying, “Garbage in equals garbage out.” With this in mind, IdeaLists plans to focus a significant portion of its manpower on “vetting and validating” the skills and capabilities section of its vendor profiles.

The ultimate goal for IdeaLists is to become the LinkedIn of the creative industry. The new redesign was a major step in this direction, allowing creative professionals and vendors to create more full featured profiles including work histories, recommendations, and, most importantly, a portfolio highlighting past work. Idealists isn’t the first company to note the limitations of LinkedIn’s one-size-fits-all approach, as Lookbook is following a similar approach for the furnishings design sector.

IdeaLists has a nine-person US team, including six in its Los Angeles Headquarters and three in New York City. The domestic team focuses primarily on the business and client services functions, while technology is handled offshore. The company’s business model is predicated on taking a 10 percent commission on jobs completed via its marketplace and on charging recruiting and matchmaking fees to agencies and brands that are looking to hire full time creative talent.

The company recognizes the need to continue driving awareness and engagement within the platform. One strategy for doing so is to highlight the work of its most creative users. For example, IdeaLists will soon host a “Pimp my website” campaign where vendors would be asked to redesign a popular consumer site, such as American Airlines, with the results posted for brands to view, and which will hopefully lead to engagements. The company is also getting into the content game, through publishing brand surveys, industry research, and other formats applicable to its creative clientele. Whether this will make the site an everyday destination, is yet to be seen.

IdeaLists is not without competition. In addition to overcoming the status quo of brands going direct to creative agencies, the site must also combat a crop of vertical specific marketplace competitors like CoWorks (generalist), Scripted (writing), Contently (writing), Copywriter Central (writing), AirPR (PR), Poptent (video), and Smartshoot (video and photography), among others.

Konkoly and Glickman are counting on their full service approach, and their best in class liquidity for both vendors and brands to separate IdeaLists from these would be challengers. Being a generalist has its advantages, without a doubt, not the least of which are simplifying the sourcing and management of multiple vendors. But it’s difficult to argue that the company won’t suffer on quality in certain areas as a result of the lack of focus.

The other major challenge for IdeaLists and its competitors alike is the prospect of vendors going around the company to engage with brands directly – either for the initial engagement, or for follow-on work. Glickman acknowledged the potential, but says that it has been less of an issue than they, or their investors, initially feared. We can only take him at his word. The principal defense against circumvention is the speed, efficiency, and simplicity that operating within a curated marketplace provides. The site can also manages all contracting and payment should the brand and vendor choose that option. That said, the potential to save a few (hundred or thousand) dollars in booking commissions will inevitably be incentive enough to drive some users to bypass the company’s marketplace.

IdeaLists is the epitome of what the internet promises: adding transparency and efficiency to otherwise opaque and inefficient markets. The company has done an admirable job to date building up its membership of top creative professionals and attracting premium brand clientele. The goal of becoming the LinkedIn for the creative industries is a more ambitious aim that will likely take years to play out. In the meantime, the company will continue to succeed or fail on its ability to save brands time and money, while offering vendors interesting and enjoyable projects to work on.