As the founder of Threadless, I have 15+ years of experience growing a bootstrapped hobby into the multi-million dollar business it is today.
Threadless is a T-shirt company, sure, but it’s much more than that. It is one of the first companies anywhere to make crowdsourcing an essential part of its business plan. Just as Facebook lets users create customizable social networks to connect and collaborate with others online, Threadless gives its social network—two million people and counting—creative control over the products it sells. Anyone in the network can submit T-shirt designs that site members vote on, with winners printed and sold by Threadless.com. Back in 2008, Inc.magazine called Threadless “the most innovative small company in America.”It’s an amazing accomplishment for any entrepreneur, especially one who isn’t cranking out computer code like Mark Zuckerberg. Nickell built his empire on T-shirts—not exactly a rare commodity. But he did capitalize on a key insight before most anyone else: the power of crowds.