Illustration of Derek Powazek by Adam Ellis

Four Themes from skinnyCorp

Another one of my favorite sessions at SXSW Interactive 2006 was Zero-Advertising Brands, where we got to watch Maggie Mason talk to the guys from skinnyCorp, the makers of Threadless among other creative commerce/community hybrids.

One of my favorite things about talking to folks that really get the user-generated web, is that when they tell you their secret recipies, it all sounds so easy. Here’s George from Flickr in the Designing the Next Generation of Web Apps talk: “We listen to what our users say, and then iterate the design.” See? Easy.

So when the guys from skinnyCorp opened their komono in the Zero Advertising panel to share their four steps to success, I took notes and made my own translations. Here goes.

  1. Allow your content to be created by its community. (My translation: Bottoms-up.)
  2. Put your project in the hands of its community. (My translation: Listen and adapt.)
  3. Let your community grow itself. (My translation: Zero advertising.)
  4. Reward the community that makes your project possible. (My translation: Pay it forward.)

See a theme here? It’s all about giving up control. Give the power to your community, trust them, listen to them, and believe in them. When someone in the audience asked, “but aren’t you afaid everyone could get pissed off and leave?” Their answer was something like: If that happens, we probably deserved it.

This is Cluetrain 101, sure, but it works. And Threadless does it better than just about anybody.

I’m gonna keep this list handy.

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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.