Click on www.springleap.com and all you'll see is t-shirts: people talking about them, voting for them, designing them. Yet, insists Eran Eyal, co-founder and co-owner, "we are not a t-shirt company".
To Eran and his partner Eric Edelstein, the sole purpose of their Springleap.com website is to enable the crowd. "Our core business and intellectual property is building online communities and harnessing their power. We are all about crowdsourcing; t-shirts are how we chose to express it."
The t-shirt business
The t-shirt side of Springleap.com's business is deceptively simple. Every two weeks the Springleap.com community votes for their favourite t-shirt designs, submitted by other members of the community.
The creator of the winning design wins R7 482,18 - half in cash and half in t-shirts bearing the design and the designer's name. T-shirts with the winning designs are printed and sold via the Springleap.com website, the Springleap store in Sea Point, Cape Town, and via preferred reseller partners such as Big Blue, Rockabilly, Idols, SKA, Lover and others. The artist also earns royalties on every t-shirt sold.
Apart from voting, subscribers to the Springleap.com website can browse through previous designs and buy t-shirts whenever they like. Springleap t-shirts are manufactured from high-quality South African cotton and delivered to their fans' doorsteps free of charge.
The real business
As Eran and Eric point out, Springleap.com's purpose is to empower its community and to keep the members coming back for more.
On the one hand, it is a hugely empowering environment for artists. "They submit their designs and receive feedback not only from so-called ordinary people, but also from other artists," says Eran. "In the two years of the website's existence, we have seen numerous instances of artists collaborating, mentoring each other and commenting on each other's work."
On the other hand, Springleap.com is a hive of activity for all members. They can blog, comment, converse with other Springleap.com users, submit creations, win all sorts of prizes, photograph people wearing Springleap clothing and submit those pictures - the list is virtually endless. The trick, as Eran points out, is to keep the community busy and give them new and interesting reasons to visit the site.
One of Springleap.com's success stories is the daily special. Every day at 12:00 noon, they announce a special offer on a specific t-shirt on their Twitter account (@Springleaping). With discounts ranging from 5% to 70%, buyers have only 24 hours to submit their orders. It is not surprising that the daily special is the cornerstone of their marketing strategy. "That is where our marketing budget is. To date, we have not spent a cent on advertising."
Understanding that community building, and not t-shirts, is the heart of their business, has allowed Eric and Eran to diversify.
Springleap.com now works its crowdsourcing magic for all kinds of design projects for corporate clients in a variety of industries. In fact, this is the real money-spinner for the business.
In 2008, Springleap.com was named the second most innovative company in the retail sector in the world, and in 2009 won the Jump.co.za e-commerce award for best online clothing and accessories store.
Springleap.com's success also translates into tangible business benefits. Towards the end of 2009, Eran raised R4 million from an angel investor who took a 10% stake in the company. This capital is being used to redevelop the software that powers the Springleap.com platform.
Eran explains: "In 2010 we will relaunch Springleap.com and introduce a few other new brands. Even more exciting is that we will launch the platform as SAAS (Software as a Service).
This means that anyone will be able to have their own free 'Springleap-like' crowdsourcing e-commerce social media community site in a matter of minutes, by simply dragging and dropping the elements into place. We will also have more advanced features for purchase as well as full-blown corporate models."
The secrets behind Springleap's success
- Time and effort. Social media, community building and crowdsourcing have been Eric and Eran's way of life for a decade. "We understand the platforms and how traffic is generated, directed and converted."
- Perseverance and very hard work. From developing the website to coming to grips with textile production, postage and delivery, the birth of Springleap.com was anything but painless. "All I can say is that sharks patrol these waters!" comments Eran.
- Business common sense. Eran believes that three things make a business work: always be nice, make calls and network, and deliver what you promise.
- A sixth sense. "In this business, you need a feel for what will work, much like a surfer senses a good wave."