I got 99 problems…

This month’s partner post by Kelley Shaw-Wade (Owner & Creative Director at PinkerGreen) shares a valuable lesson about dealing with competition.

Our partner blog series features articles from many industry authorities. Posts include topics such as best practices and lessons learned within our partner’s fields.


I’ve always thought of my design studio as my first born. In that sense, when 99 Designs hit the scene in 2008, my company was just entering “first grade.” You can remember those years. You’re just starting to get a handle of the basics. Reading? Check. Addition? Double check. You’re past the five year mark and starting to find your legs and make yourself known—and then—a new kid comes to school and shakes up your place in the world. For my studio (or my first born), that new kid was 99 Designs, the freelancer platform for connecting graphic designers and clients and let me tell you, I was not thrilled about my new classmate; in fact, I felt VERY threatened.

My partner and I had started our company fresh out of college with zero professional design experience. Both recent BU graduates, we had struggled to find design jobs, but still felt very passionate about doing creative work. We both worked second jobs for years to be able to make ends meet, but we were eager and willing. Willing to take on almost anyone who would take a chance on us and willing to do it for next to nothing if it meant we could get a new client. It wasn’t a great practice, but it oftentimes seemed it was the only way for us to build a company portfolio. Then, came our biggest competition, or that new kid in the first grade that rocked the boat. The launch of 99 Designs, had opened up design services to anyone with an internet connection and tight budget or even no budget at all. Suddenly we had to answer the question, “Well, can’t I just have someone do it at 99 Designs for like a hundred bucks?” I remember thinking, This is it—we’re done.

"Well, can’t I just have someone do it at 99 Designs for like a hundred bucks?"

Now my company is almost ready to graduate high school. Can you believe it? With a few more years of experience under my belt, and a team for whose portfolio I am beyond proud, I’m finally feeling a little less threatened by companies like 99 Designs. Dare I say, I’m maybe even grateful for its existence and can see it as a valuable resource in many ways. There are times when I’ve even pointed prospective clients towards it. I like that they’re making design accessible to people who may not have understood it or if they did understand, maybe didn’t know how to access it. Why shouldn’t the corner laundromat have a killer logo?

Here’s the thing. A design firm like ours isn’t a great fit for everyone for any number of reasons. We’re creative thinkers, designers and project managers. We have an office space, and all the overhead that goes along with it and well, that comes at a cost. We are super collaborative and intense listeners, we’re interpreting everything our clients say, and sometimes mindreading when they may not say anything at all. We often call ourselves design therapists. We are passionate about producing sensitive and thoughtful solutions to solve problems. Our process is sometimes intense, usually fun and always very personal. It works for some, but it’s not for everyone and we can’t do it all.

From what I know about the competition, 99 Designs is a great fit for small businesses run by creative people who know what they want and how to give direction. They can communicate their ideas clearly and effectively and know how to deliver feedback. If you have a ton of other start-up business expenses and design isn’t where you need to be investing, this could be a great resource for you. Oftentimes we have clients come to us after having spent some time and money with 99 Designs and realizing they needed the collaboration from a firm. It’s a bit of a mixed bag with the results and if you’re okay with that, then a partner like this may be just what you need.

As with any big decision you need to weigh your options and determine your priorities and I think now, as the owner and mother of a teenage company I can appreciate the options.

Our Partner

Kelley Shaw-Wade is the Owner and Creative Director of Pinkergreen, a multi-disciplinary creative studio in Boston’s South End.


email address:
BOSTON, MA 02118

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