What do Google, Playboy, and Magic the Gathering all have in common? They have all run competitions through BountyHunter, a three-year-old marketplace for creative professionals that began in Taiwan and just moved stateside last October.

BountyHunter’s client list also includes Microsoft, Adobe, and Gigabyte, among others. The company, which offers design, drawing, photo, video, writing, and music competitions, has 170,000 creative professionals using their site and is generating $800,000 yearly revenue without initially taking any funding.

Unlike the 99designs marketplace, which offers logo and web design typically for startups, BountyHunter focuses on product design for large companies. Co-founder Hana Chang moved to the Bay Area in 2013 when the company joined 500 Startups, a startup accelerator and seed fund, and she is looking to build out the competition community they have in Taiwan here in the U.S.

Creative community to creative marketplace

Chang got the idea for a creative marketplace when she was a musician in Taiwan. Chang and her friends were competing in creative competitions for things such as songwriting and graphic design, and that naturally turned into a community based around their skills. The community evolved into a competition marketplace to give the community members the opportunity to win money for their skills and get noticed by major brands.  

“Friends started to come to us and ask us to host competitions for them,” Chang said.

Their connection to the universities attracted the attention of major companies like Microsoft and Google. They worked with Microsoft to host an app development competition and worked with Google to develop a marketing plan. Google wanted participants to write a marketing plan using Google AdWords. BountyHunter’s campaign was able to deliver more than three times the requested number of participants.

The value proposition for companies is the concept of crowdsourcing meets market research. When you challenge your target audience to design a product, they will probably design a product that they, themselves, would want to buy. This was the case with Playboy, who hosted a competition to design a tote.

BountyHunter’s bottom-up marketplace strategy gives seemingly unknown individuals an opportunity to step into the development of a product for a major company. This gives BountyHunter and its users a vested interest in the product’s performance.

“What we want to do is to help all of the products be successful,” Chang said.

Chang designed the first two iterations of the site, herself, and had a friend contribute to the current design. The competitions are a vehicle for growing a creative community. After their success in Taiwan, part of the team moved to California to join 500 Startups.

According to Rui Ma, a venture partner at 500 Startups, BountyHunter just graduated from 500 Startups Mountain View Accelerator. 500 Startups was the first Silicon Valley institutional investor in BountyHunter, completing two rounds of funding with them. While Ma didn’t disclose the exact amount, she did mention it was over $100,000.

The competitions

Client companies have access to three competition plans: Free, Standard, and Pro. Features are added to the plans as they go up in price, with the Standard plan costing $699 and the Pro plan coming in at $2,000. A company’s choice of plan depends on what customization features they need and how many participants they are looking to attract.

The site is also completely self-service. Client companies can sign in and launch a competition by yourself at will. Companies can choose the theme and tools you want from the site, or companies have the option of customizing the CSS and adding the tools they want. The site charges by competition presently, but they are moving to a monthly subscription rate in the future.

Yi Li, CEO at Orbeus, set up a BountyHunter competition to design a mobile app. She said her experience with BountyHunter was straightforward and convenient, and she was inspired by the designs she saw.

“The virtual competition initiative is a great way of collecting fresh ideas on targeted topics with developers and designers from outside communities,” Li said. “The way of organizing the submitting [of] all kinds of ideas is very refreshing and attractive to the business partners like us.”

The user interface for each competition varies based on the competition itself. Users have the option of following the competition and receiving notifications or they can browse all of the competitions in a specific genre.

It is up to the company to specify the terms of the competition and choose what the prize will be. Prizes can be cash, but iPads and cars have been given away as prizes too. Most importantly, Ma said, is that BountyHunter brings the creative power back to the masses.

“BountyHunter shows that you can use the internet to disrupt anything, even the process of creative design, and that these processes no longer have to take place in a black box, or be made at the mercy of a few select individuals in positions of power, but that it can become more transparent, and all stakeholders—brands, designers, consumers—can all be involved in a win-win-win way,” she said.

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