Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Pixish Closing October 31

Pixish will be closing its doors at the end of the month.

Why? Mostly because of personal stuff. Pixish was created by four people as a side project. Between us, the last year has brought births, deaths, and too many job/client changes to remember. As a result, we have not been able to give the site the time and attention it deserved.

On the other side of the equation, the site’s community never really gelled. In nine months we only grew to about 5,000 members. With time short and usage low, we’ve decided it’s time to pull the plug.

What went wrong? In a sense, nothing. We had an idea and wanted to try it out. We did it on our own time, without spending much money. I’m proud that we were able to learn a few things without going broke. People have spent far more creating much less. And I’m happy that some people had fun as part of the site.

In another sense, of course, we made some mistakes. Here are my top three.

  1. We launched too fast. I’m a big believer in launch fast, get feedback, make changes. We launched fast, got more feedback than we could handle, and failed to make changes. You can’t expect people to wait for you to get it right.
  2. We didn’t describe what we wanted to do clearly enough. When I told people the idea in person, they always really liked it. But when they came to the site, they didn’t get it.
  3. We underestimated the “spec work” issue. People feel strongly about it, and as a professional designer for over a decade, I get it. In hindsight, we could have dealt with it better.

The startup experience can’t be taught, only learned from experience. Here are a few things I learned from Pixish.

In community-generated media, trust is everything. When you ask for submissions, contributors go through an instant internal calculation: “Do I trust these people with my work?” When your site is brand new, you’ve got no record to rely on. And with more shady “user-generated content” schemes popping up every day, people have their defenses up (as well they should).

Our proposition was made even more complicated because we were trying to create a maketplace. When a magazine opens for submissions, you’re submitting to that magazine. But Pixish was one step removed – anyone could make an assignment. So even if you trusted Pixish, you didn’t necessarily trust the person who posted the assignment. 

We should have done more to earn that trust, and help members trust each other.

There’s a difference between building a community and a network. When musician Jonathan Coulton posted a t-shirt contest, people in his community were stoked to participate, but people outside of his community were like, who’s this guy and why should I give him my work?

Pixish was designed as one community, but it really was a network of unaffiliated communities. The assignments that worked best happened because the publisher brought in their own people. The site was not optimized for that. We should have had more tools for assignment creators to tie their contests to their existing communities.

Launch fast, but not too fast. That old cliché about not getting a second chance to make a first impression? Corny but true. When you stumble out of the gate, it can be hard to regain your footing. We should have done more testing of both the core idea and the site itself.

Money matters. I’ve now started companies with both with, and without, venture capital. When you’ve got money, you can take more time to do it right, but you’ve got higher expectations for returns, and a whole host of other complications. When you go it alone, you’ve got the freedom to do whatever you want, but it’s hard to stay focused when the project is always competing for your attention with other, usually paying, work. There’s no right answer here – it’s just a matter of finding the approach that best matches the project.

It’s all about the team. I will continue to sing the praises of the amazing team that built Pixish: Jason, Dan, and James. The decision to end the project has nothing to do with their awesomeness. The only thing I really regret is that we were never able to build some of the really cool stuff we had planned.

I know there’s a place for a wisdom of crowds approach in the publishing world, but publishers and artists are still figuring it out. For now, it seems like a direct submission model is what people are most comfortable with.

If you’re a Pixish member, thanks for giving the site a try, and I’m sorry our time together was so short. You’ve got until the end of the month to download anything you need, though I assume you’ve still got it all on your hard drive anyway. If you’re looking for something similar, try Crowdspring or 99designs.

So long and thanks for all the fish.

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Hi, I’m Derek. I used to make websites. Now I grow flowers and know things. I’m mostly harmless. More.