Dribbble, a bootstrapped 'LinkedIn' for designers, acquires Creative Market, grows to 12M users

Ingrid Lunden

Traditionally dominated by big players like Adobe and Autodesk, the world of design has been flush with a newer wave of startups that are creating collaboration spaces and new cloud-based tools designed to address the needs of creatives. Today, two of those players are combining. Dribbble, an online community for designers that lets them post their work and look for work, is acquiring Creative Market, a marketplace for ready-to-use fonts, icons, illustrations, photos and other design assets.

Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed, Dribbble's CEO Zack Onisko said in an interview. Prior to this, bootstrapped Dribbble was profitable -- revenues come from its job boards, advertising and member subscriptions, kind of like a LinkedIn aimed at the design community -- and it had 6 million monthly active users, with 3.5 million registered users. Adding Creative Market will bring the total number of monthly active users across the two sites to 12 million.

The acquisition is happening at a time when we're seeing some big growth among startups that speaks to how the balance of power is shifting in the world of software aimed at designers.

Just today, Figma announced a $50 million raise at a $2 billion valuation, money that it plans to use for its own spate of acquisitions and investments in more design tools. Canva last year raised funding at a $3.2 billion valuation. Smaller, younger startups like Frontify (which helps companies manage their design assets) have also been raising, and Dyndrite has also been raising. Meanwhile, Adobe continues to work on ways to keep its legacy products, like the 30-year-old Photoshop (look, it's a millennial!) relevant.

Indeed, even the concept of who the target audience even is has shifted.

"We talk about designers, but really it’s creatives," Onisko said. "A lot of creatives are multi-skilled and they work in all sorts of different mediums. The historic focus is product and web design but we’ve seen it slide into motion graphics or 3D or photography."

This is actually the second time Creative Market has been acquired. The startup was first purchased by Autodesk in 2014, at a time when the latter was looking to widen its range of products both to take on Adobe more squarely and target more casual and prosumer users, as well as to address the wider needs of its core designer community.

That ultimately didn't work out, and Creative Market was spun out as a startup again in 2017, with $7 million in funding led by Accomplice.

More than two years on from that, it seems that Creative Market saw the logic in coming together with another company for better economies of scale.

And perhaps this time, the acquirer is a better cultural fit. Both companies are pretty distributed and decentralised (making for a very easy transition to working under stay-at-home orders in recent weeks). And it might have helped, too, that Onisko had once previously been Creative Market's chief growth officer before taking on the role as Dribbble's CEO.

The plan will be to keep both companies' brands and teams separate, with Chris Winn continuing to lead Creative Market as its CEO. Creative Market will continue to build out its marketplace of design assets, and Dribbble will continue to position itself as a place for those designers to set out their profiles and connect with those looking to hire them, as well as each other.

"We’re able to do our own thing and beat our own drums," said Onisko, with the plan being to keep "marching on our own roadmaps."

Over time, when the time is right, Onisko said there might be an opportunity to integrate the businesses, but that will be in the future.

One area where the two will be coming together right away is in cross-pollinating membership. Up to now, people joined Dribbble by invitation from previous members, which Onisko said was a good way of keeping growth in check and applying a kind of peer-reviewed quality control layer. Now, the idea will be that Dribbble will open up to all new users, and those who are already registered on Creative Market can automatically become members on the sister site.

"The big opportunity is that we can do in 2-3 years what we would have done in 3-5 years as separate companies," Onisko added.

“We’re so excited to bring together two fully-distributed teams who work everyday to serve the design community,” said Winn, in a statement. “The opportunity for both companies is that much larger thanks to this partnership and I’m so excited to join forces.”

For its part, Onisko said that Dribbble has no intention of changing from its growth course when it comes to finances. The company has always been bootstrapped -- that is, surviving with no outside investors -- and is profitable. And there are no plans to use this moment to seek outside funding, he added. The company has been approached by interested parties -- "all the usual suspects," he said -- for acquisition, Onisko said, but for now that's also not been something the company has wanted to explore.

"We feel that we’re very much in our infancy," Onisko said. "We have pretty big ambitions and want to march forward. We’ve talked to all the usual suspects, and we are on friendly terms and keep all the conversations going, but we will continue to stay independent and operate in our contrarian way."