How to start design company without providing designing services

I always have the impression that the design industry is comprised mainly of service companies i.e. design agencies. Only recently did I see more design based companies becoming product or platform companies.

Being intrigued, I search and found a very cool book called the design entrepreneur. The book introduced a large number of designers and their stories on how they changed their mindset from being a service provider to a product creator. It was definitely inspiring so I recommend that you check out the book if you are tired of doing servicing work as a designer.

Check out the book at Amazon

In today’s article, I will be focusing on design companies that leverage on the Web and technology to create truly unique and potentially disruptive companies. Hopefully, this will inspire some of you to create design companies that go beyond being a design studio.

#1 Envato

One of my favourite examples of a design based platform company. Envato runs marketplaces such as themefores and tutorial sites such as the tuts+ network. Their aim is to create an environment that designers can sell their products such as flash components, wordpress themes, sound files etc. They started small of course by operating just one marketplace, Flash Den, but through their networks in the design community, they manage to grow it to what it is today. Awesome!

#2 Smashing Magazine

I know many of you read Smashing Magazine but don’t think of it as just a blog. Smashing Magazine represents a new breed of design publishing house. Using free content as the bait to draw audience, they can upsell that audience to advertisers as well as their own ebooks. It is an inverted model of publishing where the audience is secured before producing any ebooks.

This is something that many of us can do. We can focus on a particular niche and be the publishing house of that niche.  Use free content to draw traffic in first and then release an ebook to them.

#3: Tweaky

Tweaky is a very young startup with an interesting concept: a marketplace where users can get cheap design services for small tweats to their sites. Most designers will get insulted by such low rates but it is companies like this that will split the design service markets in the future: either you are a high end design firm known for excellent work or you do cheap labor through marketplaces like the above. There is no middle ground.

Rather than be marginalised, concepts such as tweaky can be created by any of you who has a bunch of design friends to start the service off.  You need to build a marketplace like the above, drive some demand there through ads, and get you and your friends as the intital suppliers of the service.

#4: Woo Themes

Did you know that Woo Themes is earning USD2 million a year? That is how fast the business of selling themes is right now. While you might think that the game is over, that is not the case. As a designer, you can always go niche. Rather than create all sorts of themes, focus on building a niche theme business such as selling only vidoe themes, or portfolio themes or photography themes etc. There is really no limit to how niche you want to go. The good news is that the demand for a solid theme is increasing as wordpress becomes more and more prominent.


Visually is just youtube for infographics. This is really something that any designer can start. After all, it is about curating the best gallery for users to share and contribute. If you are interested in such ideas, keep a lookout for the next trend in graphic designs and be the first site to create a equvialent. Other design sites wihth similar concepts inclue

No money to start a design company?

The great news is that there are many funding sources for design startups, especially if they step away from the servicing mindset and focus on creating their own products that leverage on technology. One such example is CSSpartners from UK who provide start up funds for technology companies.  If you are looking for funds to start your design/technology company, you can check them out.

In summary, I hope this article can inspire some of us to take actions and start design companies that have nothing to do with providng design services.

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