If you haven’t heard of COLOURlovers, you’re probably not a design fiend. Judging by its traffic growth over the past seven years, however, it’s built a pretty loyal following among its one million right-brained registered members. The Y Combinator grad also counts community-building experts, like Matt Mullenweg from WordPress and Alexis Ohanian from Reddit, as angel investors. They joined Founder Collective, Charles River Ventures, 500 Startups and others in a $1 million seed round last March.
Today on the company’s blog, “Chief Lover” Darius A. Monsef IV (who goes by the name Bubs and founded the site while still working at Microsoft) announced the private beta launch of an Etsy-like exchange called CreativeMarket that will enable its users to share and sell their “mousemade goods” like patterns, shapes, photos, fonts, and gradients. Although the team works remotely, co-founder Aaron Epstein, the brains behind ColorSchemer.com which eventually merged with COLOURlovers, lives right here in New York. “We’ve been trying to get as many New York people as possible,” Mr. Epstein told Betabeat.
Back in December, we spoke to Bubs about the API for CreativeMarket that he and Mr. Epstein were planning to roll out, why he decided to leave Microsoft, how Twitter plays into this, and getting Martha Stewart to blog his wedding cake.
Tell me about the site.
COLOURlovers right now is a creative community. We’ve been inspiring people to share their ideas around color and pattern design for a few years. Really at the core of what we do is making design simple and accessible and that’s really by the tools that we built to simplify content creation even for non-designers. Unfortunately, sometimes the tools are just complex and the idea of starting from a blank canvas is hard for people to get over. What we’re rolling out is evolving that to be part of not just inspiration, but execution. So helping designers by giving them access to beautiful content and more professional tools.
That’s where the CreativeMarket comes in?
We’re adding the marketplace component so that for members that are designing these amazing patterns and shapes, there’s a martket to sell those. The market already exists on other stock content sites. But the bigger vision we have there is that that marketplace can exist within existing designing tools and future designing tools. Right now the process for a designer is you’re using Photoshop and then you need a new font and then you’re off in Google looking for fonts and it’s taking you out of your creative space and it’s kind of a painful process.
Are we talking exclusively about graphic designers here?
There are design tools for every kind of designer. There are pattern tools for a textile designer, there’s CAD for architects. At this point, there’s kind of design software for any kind of designer. So we want to build a marketplace that will connect with designers wherever they are currently designing and give them access to beautiful content to help make their work better.
Like an API?
Yes. We will have a destination property for the marketplace where we’ll try to curate the best experience we can, but we’ll also build it as an API layer so that within design software, there will also be an extension for you to access the marketplace. What we would be doing there is enabling in-app purchases for creative content. Basically what Apple has done with iTunes to buy music, we’ll make the same kind of thing happen for creative content. So if you’re a designer and you’re in a certain app, you know where your content is and you can easily get access to it.
So what’s for sale in the marketplace?
The thing we’re adding first is the commercial aspect of members being able to sell the patterns and shapes they’ve created on COLOURlovers. But we really want to make the barrier to entry lower, so anybody can create the content for this marketplace. It starts with patterns and shapes. Probably the next thing we’ll add are things like fonts, brushes, layer styles, elments that you would use for graphic design. As the API rolls out, other developers can specifiy that people that use their apps use these templates and open a mini-marketplace for their users to do that—driven by our platform.
Right now people just go on to share what they’ve built, but they haven’t been able to sell it?
Right. We have a million registered users, but it’s largely an inspiration site. But we built a tool called Themeleon that makes designing your Twitter profile really easy to click-and-drag and 10 million profiles have been designed with that since we’ve had it up.
Are you making any money off of that?
Not on that specific partnership. But it’s an in-kind partnership with Twitter in terms of providing value. We have other tools like that. The next step will be, you might have designed a really awesome combination of colors and patterns into a Twitter profile, you should be able to sell that as a theme and sell that in a theme marketplace. We’ve been trying to set that up by making beautiful tools and getting this amazing user base that we’re now going to empower by letting them sell what they create.
Have you had any revenue before this rollout?
Yes, we generate revenue, from ads and partnerships. But for a long time we generated revenue from our software sales. Aaron built a software called ColourSchemer, a professional color matching software and we have a pattern software, Seamless Studio, which is a vector editor.
You were still at Microsoft when you launched the site?
I was at Microsoft until two years ago, but COLOURlovers the site has existed for seven years. I was just playing with color inspiration at the time. I made it so that members could use a color and basically rate it as “hot or not.” I shared it with some friends and they wanted the palettes added. I think in hindsight that’s why the site thrived versus just sort of following off as a goofy thing because the community continued to just share content and share their ideas. So for the first four or five years of its life it was just this side project that grew on its own. And then when I was at Microsoft, I decided it wasn’t he right fit and there was a big opportunity because COLOURlovers was growing.
How did you and Aaron hook up?
Aaron and I had known each other for a few years as competitors in the color space and it just made sense that he’s got a real strong expertise in creating apps and designing awesome platforms and I had this community. We should just merge our companies together and I’ll leave Microsoft and do this fulltime. That happened about two years ago, then we did Y Combinator out in San Francisco. Aaron had just moved to New York and had to abandon his wife and their empty apartment to come live with me for three months.
But there’s still a New York connection?
One of the things we realized recently is that a lot of our partners end up being in New York. We just launched a partnership recently with Martha Stewart. Right now if you’re looking at any color page or pattern, where the colors are listed, traditionally for web colors there’s an RGB match, but now we’re matching to the closest Martha Stewart paint color. Not every color has a match, because there are 280 paint colors and 16 million colors on your computer. But what’s important to a lot of paint companies is helping somebody discover something they enjoy and then connecting that to the paint color.
Did you meet Martha?
I met her in the hallway going to a meeting, but we’ve basically been building a relationship with her for the last couple of years. We tweeted something of theirs, that got us an intro, they I guess blogged my wedding cake on their site? So we’ve had a good relationship. A lot of the design world is in New York, so it’s convenient to have parts of our team there.