“The time is now”: 99designs acquired by Vistaprint parent

99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn

99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn. Source: supplied.

Melbourne design marketplace 99designs has been acquired by Cimpress, the parent company of Vistaprint, which will see the two join forces to bring custom design to more businesses all over the world.

Founded in 2008, 99designs is a marketplace connecting designers with businesses, agencies and individual clients. Headquartered in Melbourne, it now also has offices in Oakland, California and Berlin, Germany.

While 99designs has a strong foothold in web, digital and logo design, Vistaprint provides customisable templates allowing small businesses to create marketing and promotional materials quickly and easily — mostly for physical goods.

The acquisition will allow Vistaprint to expand its offering, catering to additional design needs, and meet demand for bespoke work.

“Combining the two, now we can give people the best of both,” 99designs chief executive Patrick Llewellyn tells SmartCompany.

News of the acquisition follows a period of growth for 99designs, throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, although Llewellyn won’t be drawn on any specific figures.

Once the “initial shock” of the pandemic passed, things started to pick up, he says.

“From May onwards, we’ve started to see a nice acceleration in our growth.”

He also notes that the startup has now distributed more than $320 million on to its designer community to date.

“It’s been pleasing growth,” he says.

“The time is now”

Of course, the pandemic and the ensuing economic crisis are both still ongoing.

But, physical distancing and the mass shift to digital tools has been a boon for some startups — and 99designs has been one of them.

“We’ve seen a real shift in the way people work in 2020,” Llewellyn notes.

“We’re all working remotely, businesses have gone to a much more distributed model, people are collaborating online … just out of necessity,” he adds.

“We see that as bringing forward the opportunity for a platform like 99designs.”

Llewellyn had been in conversations with Cimpress since November last year, although initially, they were talking partnerships.

But, an acquisition deal was the right opportunity at the right time, he says.

“We could have gone down a number of different paths — we could have taken on additional investment, we could have continued to aspire for our own public listing, or we could join with a partner like Vistaprint,” he explains.

First of all, the deal brings a cash booster, allowing 99designs to grow to meet this new demand.

The startup’s headcount is set to increase by 50%. In particular, the engineering, product and design teams are expected to double over the next 12 months.

Most of those jobs will be in Melbourne, Llewellyn says.

Second, Vistaprint is “a large, established, global business”, he notes.

It brings some 20 million global customers to the table.

And finally, joining a global business gives Llewellyn and the team access to a whole new level of expertise to draw upon.

“We share a really strong alignment and vision for the future,” he explains.

He’s seeking to bring Vistaprint and 99designs together to create “something really differentiated and valuable for small businesses, as we become their marketing partner, and for creatives everywhere, as we give them access to work”, he adds.

“The time is now.”

A new chapter

Llewellyn has held the chief executive role at 99designs for the best part of 10 years, and he’s been with the startup since way back in 2009.

Although he’s not one of the original co-founders, he’s been at the helm as the business has grown from a team of eight people to almost 3,000.

Now, as he hands over ownership, he admits to feeling “a variety of emotion”.

“It’s still very much a significant event in my life,” he says.

But, while it’s the closing of one chapter, it’s the opening of another.

“This is a continuation of that journey in my mind. In fact, it’s just going to blow it up even more,” Llewellyn says.

“I get this opportunity to really supercharge what we’re doing.”

As well as being about growth, the future for 99designs is about cultural alignment. And that’s partly what has led Llewellyn to feel so comfortable taking this step.

“We built something really special at 99designs, and we’re very proud of the culture that we’ve been able to foster,” he explains.

Having got to know the Vistaprint team, and chief executive Robert Keane, “I feel like he values all of the same things that I do”, he adds.

In fact, a lot of the Vistaprint employees Llewellyn has been in contact with throughout this process have been with the business for some 12 to 14 years. For him, that bodes well.

“We’re really proud of our ability to help people grow and develop their careers, and we’ve had really outstanding longevity … I can see the same traits at Vistaprint,” he says.

“I’m hopeful that what makes us really special will remain the same, and we’ll be able to take some of what’s special [at 99designs] and help sprinkle that around Vistaprint.”

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