Feature: Mark Harbottle from 99Designs

- April 10, 2012 3 MIN READ


Regardless of his multimillion dollar bank account, the former engineer at Sausage Software – the first dot com’s made public in the nineties, Mark Harbottle isn’t one to possess covetous eyes. Splurging on lavish and high-ticket items is not part of his character but his enthusiasm to initiate start-up ventures and help them succeed, is a characteristic trait he proudly boasts.

Mark Harbottle has become a household name in the business realm.  He is one of Australia’s web 2.0 serial entrepreneurs, famous for 99designs.com – the number one online crowdsourced graphic design site in the world.

Launched in February 2008, 99designs.com, fuelled by word of mouth, has doubled in size, every year since inception from staff to designers and buyers. Now, it dominates a third of the graphic marketplace, where you’ll find a design uploaded every five seconds.

99designs, one of four businesses that the natural entrepreneur co-founded; Sitepoint.com, Flippa.com, and Learnable.com with Matthew Mickiewicz , professes it’s his “favourite baby”. And why wouldn’t it be? “I’m proud that we created a space for designers that did not exist before,” says Mr. Harbottle. “We have over 140,000 designers registered from 192 countries and 120,000 design projects ‘contested’ to date with an anticipated 200,000 assignments by the end of 2012,” he added.

Its top four ‘contest’ holders are predominantly from the United States, Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom. “Our most active designers come from Indonesia, who make up 24%, followed by the U.S (14%), India (7%) and the Philippines (7%),” says the 39-year-old.

In 2011, 99designs projected a payout of $25 million to designers alone and as of January 2012, approximately $1.5 million was rewarded, double that of January last year. “These are great statistics that I’m proud of.”

Mark said its “top designers clear more than $10,000 a month from a combination of designer payouts and additional work sourced through the site.” It comes as no surprise why Accel Partners, who reportedly own 10% of Facebook, presented Mark and Matt a $35 million offer they couldn’t refuse.

But the success of 99designs and his two other co-ventures; Flippa (ranked number one in the marketplace in buying and selling of websites), and Learnable (a new social online learning platform launched mid last year), aims “to make learning web design and development easy and fun” – would not have been made possible without Sitepoint.com – a very successful and popular web design information portal, created over a decade ago with Mickiewicz.

The father of three describes Sitepoint as ‘the farm’, which his other projects sprouted and sprung to life. SitePoint’s forums allowed web designers to compete with one another to see who could come up with the best of designs. Mark said not all of his start-up ventures hit the ground running like 99designs and Flippa.

“We learned lessons in the first 12 months of Learnable.com, where we went too broad with our offering and launched too early with the wrong sales model,” he says. “We tightened up our offering and changed to a more sustainable subscription based revenue model and within two months of pivoting Learnable.com, we signed up over 3,500 new subscribers that’ll be cash flow positive in next to no time,” he added.

People’s perception of the tech whiz may have changed but his outlook hasn’t and it’s not in his nature to purchase big, costly things, but he did “buy a jet ski,” he laughs.

Harbottle did reveal to Shoe String that he is in pursuit to start other business ventures and has no intention to leave the world of start-ups, endeavouring to devout more time to upcoming ventures that’s already in the works. “I am playing around with a few things and hopefully, it might turn into something,” he says. “I’m eager todo  more in the startup space and help them be successful, plus it’s too much fun to leave,” was the beach lovers concluding statement.

[Mark was also recently named the BRW Entrepreneur of the Year]