There’s something magical about people helping people to create their own success.

As the CEO of 99designs, Patrick Llewelyn is responsible for creating opportunities to help them achieve their goals. The reality of it is, he gets a lot of satisfaction from seeing people grow and creating their own success through his platform.

We caught up with Patrick during the recent Web Summit in Lisbon, Portugal to chat about 99designs and his vision for the future. Read below.

Tell us about 99designs – what is your vision?

With offices in Oakland, Berlin and Melbourne, 99designs is a global platform that connects clients with freelance designers. We are here to champion creativity to bring opportunities to people around the world and we aim to be the most trusted global creative platform for professional creators to find and do work. So, what that means in practical terms is connecting designers in our really active and engaged global community with great clients from all over the world, but also empowering entrepreneurs and businesses who need creative help in bringing their brand to life.  

They have a job thanks to the platform, wow.

Yes, there’s a lot of work being done on 99designs – last year we paid designers in more than 150 countries. From our recent global survey of freelance designers, we know a lot of designers leave agency jobs to freelance because they ultimately want the flexibility and freedom it gives them, and many get paid better [and in USD] than they would elsewhere. Right now, we’re paying out around $3.5 million USD a month to our community.

How the current trend of globalization is affecting you?

Globalisation is a really positive and exciting thing for the design industry. Platforms like ours connect people with the work they want to do, wherever they are in the world, and provide different people with access to opportunities that simply weren’t available before. A borderless design industry means we get to hear from different voices, and those voices have equal power no matter where they’re from. That’s something we just haven’t really seen in the wider industry before.

Do you feel like you’re a father for all these people?

When I think about the progression of the staff within the organization and our designers outside…the reality of it is we get a lot of satisfaction from seeing people growing, seeing people creating their own success and so I do feel proud of what they’re achieving, but also a lot of responsibility.

Empowering people to work wherever, whenever they want is a new up and coming trend, wouldn’t you agree?

Definitely. We are seeing younger designers leave agency jobs faster and embarking on freelance careers sooner than ever before. A huge number – more than 40% – have also lived and worked in more than one country, and this is across all age groups. Designers are definitely embracing the digital nomad lifestyle.

So how did you come up with this idea of having this platform for freelancers?

99designs actually began as a forum community that was part of a different company called Sitepoint, where designers were creating fictional briefs for each other to use as a resource for learning, self-expression and feedback. One day, someone reached out to the community for ideas for a website logo design, and offered to pay for the best idea. This organic behavior led the team to spin out 99designs as a separate business and platform, and it grew from there.

How many people do you have signed up and working now on 99designs?

At any one time there’s around 10,000 designers online. We have some people who are really active, and others who just use 99designs on the side as a creative outlet alongside a day job. If you’re doing corporate web design all day, but your passion is really something like book cover design, for example, then we’re a great place to fulfill that.

Are platforms like Canva your enemy?

Not at all. Tools like this are becoming increasingly easy for people to use and have democratized design in a way we have never seen before. We’re all about elevating human creativity and we want to empower people with great design. For example, we recently partnered with Squarespace to power Squarespace Marketplace, which is a platform that connects people who want help building their website with a curated group of Expert web designers, all using 99designs infrastructure. We really see this as the future in terms of working with partners to connect people with the right creative talent at the exact point they need it.

So, who are your competitors?

Upwork, Fiverr, Freelancer.com, Toptal — really anyone who is connecting human work online.

What did you do before 99designs, do you like being its CEO?

I used to work in corporate finance, so I’m a business guy, I’m not a designer. That being said, I love helping people. I think there’s something magical about when people help people to create their own success. Creativity is at its best when its people collaborating together.

Why did you come to Web Summit?

We wanted to get the news out about our global designer survey, so this was a great opportunity to share the findings with a really engaged audience. Being in Europe and coming from Australia, it was also a good chance to spend some time with our team in Berlin. Last weekend the whole team spent two nights in Novi Sad for a designer meetup, where we got to connect with a bunch of amazing designers from our community, and hear how we’ve ultimately changed their lives. One woman came up to me and shared her story – she was married, then quickly became a single mother with a special needs baby and thought that this was going to define the rest of her life. Then a friend introduced her to the platform, which meant she could work flexibly and was able to fully support her son and reclaim her own identity thanks to 99designs. That stuff brings tears to your eyes — I’m pretty lucky to have this job.

Want to learn more?

Tune into Llewellyn’s panel on globalization in the design industry from Web Summit 2019.