RedBubble paints a rosy picture

RedBubble paints a rosy picture

Summary: Melbourne-based online art retailer RedBubble is close to becoming cash-flow positive, according to the start-up's co-founder Martin Hosking.

TOPICS: Start-Ups

Melbourne-based online art retailer RedBubble is close to becoming cash-flow positive, according to the start-up's co-founder Martin Hosking.

RedBubble's founders Martin Hosking, Paul Vanzella and Peter Styles
(Credit: RedBubble)

"RedBubble is doing very well in the current economic climate," Hosking said in a recent interview with bootstrappr. The entrepreneur, currently RedBubble's executive chairman and chairman of Melbourne software firm Aconex, is a veteran of the dotcom environment courtesy of co-founding Looksmart in 1996.

RedBubble was founded in April 2006 by Hosking, along with fellow entrepreneurs Peter Styles (the company's managing director) and Paul Vanzella. Initially funded by the founders, the start-up has since raised a little over $4 million from angel investors in Australia and overseas.

"The original impetus was to bring print on demand technology to Australia. But this idea rapidly bored us," said Hosking. "We became interested in why none of us were engaged with the mainstream social networks, and asked what would work for us. The answer was a site that allowed us to share, produce and share our art."

RedBubble currently has about 10 people working for the company, with over 110,000 artists using the site to market their work and more. The site pulls in "well over" a million page impressions per day — from 60,000 visitors — which Hosking said made it the third-largest art-related site in the world, and the biggest in Australia.

These numbers would also make RedBubble one of the largest internet sites of any kind in Australia. The site charges artists a base fee for site visitors to buy (in many formats) their artworks, but artists can set the final price. Unlike many other internet start-ups, RedBubble doesn't make any money from advertising revenue.

I think there's an element of integrity about what we do, which the artists appreciate

RedBubble's Martin Hosking

According to Hosking, this e-commerce model (which he witnessed succeed in the first dotcom boom), along with RedBubble's focus on aligning its own interests with those of the artists which use the site, is behind its success.

"We only make money when the artists make money," he said. "And we communicate that forthrightly. I think there's an element of integrity about what we do, which the artists appreciate ... it's very much come out of the passion of myself and Paul Vanzella and Peter Styles. It reflects our passion and our view of the world."

"Often you'll see these websites where they're building it for somebody else. That's a dangerous thing, because you get it wrong, but also, it questions the person: whether they really are going to understand it ... why are they doing it?"

Hosking said that in a sense using RedBubble is like going down to your local market because of the community feel. "Yes, you're purchasing things ... but what you're actually doing is connecting with people, and you may go home with a spare part for your motor, or a piece of jewellery, but what you've really done is connect with people in a quite interesting way," he said.

In the short term, Hosking said RedBubble might look to raise additional money to keep the business funded, with some to come from Australian investors and some to come from overseas. Longer term, the start-up's focus will continue to be on building its own operations as an enduring company, rather than launching other sites or even exiting the business through an acquisition.

"I've had the experience of building a company and selling it off," said Hosking. "That wasn't particularly satisfying, to be honest." He added liquidity to shareholders was much more likely to come through a stock exchange listing than other avenues.

For more comments from Hosking on the broader Australian environment for start-ups, see our article this week.

Hosking's right: RedBubble does have a good model, and like news websites where they align with the interests of their readers, RedBubble is doing a good job aligning with its artist members. The founders of the site have a strong rationale for why they will succeed, and are taking advantage of both the growing trend towards sites that integrate social networking features, and a rising tide of internet retailing in general.

It's clear from the user feedback on the site that its members love the service it's providing.

Of course, in any business there are risks. Buying art is clearly an activity that will suffer if the world (and Australian) economy heads dramatically further south. In addition, RedBubble will need to carefully shepherd its technical architecture through its ongoing growth period so that it will scale for the next level of its business; a notoriously tricky proposition (can anyone say "Twitter"?).

With these caveats, we have no hesitation in awarding RedBubble a boom rating.

bootstrappr opinion: BOOM

Topic: Start-Ups

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • Hits?

    "110,000 artists using the site to market their work and more. The site pulls in "well over" a million page impressions per day — from 60,000 visitors"

    So a bit over half the people with art on the site visit it everyday....!
  • Redbubble

    What has concerned artist recently is a 25% price hike. In addition RB has increased the limit when they release the earned income of the photographer. RB did not advise members directly, each member has to ask what is happening to my money.

    Furthermore, most of the sales are made within the community not by external buyers. After a while Artists will tired of this and will find other sites or create their own websites.

    RB marketing or promotion is very low and relies on the members artists, therefore no real exposure outside members for the artist.

    Again the model will fail, if RB is not more supportive to the artist
  • Redbubble

    redbubble is the most supportive art community out there - way ahead of cafe press, zazzle, yessy or deviant art

    redbubble promotion is mainly via google which gets about 1m visitors to the site every month

    its exciting to me as an artsit to have so many people seeing my work, although I have only made six sales in six months
  • redbubble is having a brief hiatus

    They seriously need to upgrade their server farm or employ some additional fault management, because their peak load handling is Not good.

    Up and down like a yo-yo.
  • Redbubble concept fabulous

    However, there are frustration glitches ie.
    I bought a t-shirt, the artist did not know about it and did not get paid for his work - that sticks!!
    I am hoping that this aspect of redbubble will be rectified.
  • The concept is brilliant

    but the reality is something else.

    I have issues with Redbubble that stem from a conflict with an administrator. I have NOT been paid, nor do I expect to be, for the work I sold, even though I deleted my account after an administrator LIED about me in the public forum on the site. He also impugned the artistic quality of my work in PUBLIC. His screen name is Hop Daq and I refuse to participate in that site until I get a public apology from him.

    Their servers are directly from the late-70's judging by the speed at which something as simple as a line of text takes to upload. They claim to pull in a quarter million a year, but they sure as hell don't put that back into the site.

    As a community, the other artists are wonderful and supportive. But the management needs some serious overhauling, and this Hop Daq character needs to be fired immediately. I CAN say that there are other users, both former and current, that have issues with this person. I propose that he just keep it up; he will be responsible for their downfall.
  • First impressions

    An artist getting stiffed for his work is just plain unacceptable. I also have reservations with the base price. RB's base price for a large poster is $47.50US. That's a lot of money for a poster. If I understand the system (and the website seems careful not to spell it out too clearly), if the artist wants to make any money, he/she needs to sell for more than the base price. If he/she wants to make as much money off of his/her art as RB, then the price must be doubled. Good luck selling someone... anyone... a poster for $47.50 much less $95. Just by way of comparison, the Ansel Adams gallery sells large AA posters for $30. As an artist looking for a venues in which to sell my work, RB strikes me as something to avoid.
  • An Artist only site...

    I don't feel that RedBubble attracts non artists to buy from the site. All of the comments are from other artists and not cosumers looking for art. At the high price for prints and low commissions for the artists, it would be advantagous for redbubble to market their site to consumers. If we as artists can't make a little, then neither should RedBubble.
  • Best in Class - but the class is a tired, broken model

    I agree that Red bubble is one of the best in the class of Artist - to consumer websites offering free or low cost, non-vetted artist accounts.
    Given their upfront costs and overhead, and the quality of some of the artists represented, they should be WAY past cash flow positive by now - if they could only step outside the travesty of an Etsy-Ebay box they've stepped into.

    The problem is that all of these sites suffer from the same poor model. (because the team "knows the internet"?) The key feature of the majority of these sites is an "all inclusive" art to customer model that does ABSOLUTELY NOTHING to target the customer with the work they will love - and buy. Consumers leave in frustration, artists don't get found.

    Red bubble also has the particular problem of having been "branded" as a classy amateur photography site in the public mind. With their price structure, this image is not going to help them succeed. They need to rebrand themselves as a place to discover up and coming Artists and photographers if they want to find the consumers who will pay their prices for prints (and limited edition high quality prints would be a very good idea in this vein).

    A key capability that ALL of these sites need is better measures of a customers' particular tastes and better search filtering and category matching.

    Redbubble has done little or nothing to address this - a problem that kills an artist's hope of exposure and frustrates internet Art shoppers.

    Through years of observing and, yes, selling, I've managed to form some impressions of why and how people buy non-commodity and unique items - where tastes are very particular.

    As a customer, when I browse Art, I look for things that grab and hold my attention. When I BUY art, I look for things that grab and hold my attention within particular categories, and typically several of these categories must be matched to make something "buyable":
    1. Photograph OR painting/drawing OR graphic/cartoon
    2. Color OR grayscale OR black and white
    3. Bright and cheerful OR subdued and muted OR dark and moody
    4. Classic and realist OR impressionist, primitivist, fanciful representations of something OR completely abstract
    5. themes (images of kitties, equations, glassware, localities, water, fish, cars, etc.)

    Right now searching requires keywords, which is a bad idea for consumers. Is my idea of "abstract" the same as my software engineer friend's? The same as that color field abstract painter posting from the next city?

    A good thing - the artists' favorites would make a great basis for a recommendation engine. Unfortunately this information is pretty deep inside the website and most consumers just aren't going to stay long enough to find it. Other sites that deal with complex arrays of very specific products (amazon for books, netflix for movies). Have used ratings and favorites to generate recommendations - that are right up front when a customer logs in. A recommendations feed could allow Redbubble (or any of these sites) to gain phenomenal marketing exposure, by giving them the basis for simplified image feeds which could become part of people's home pages. Who doesn't like pretty pictures? Do it right and you have something to take to Google or Yahoo and talk partnership.
    • Beyond the bubble...

      Anon.. great feedback.
      We're launching the next gen art/platform - and would love your feedback.
      please email us at

      the site to be:
  • You are quite right.
  • Redbubble started off well, with Peter Styles running as the front man "people person". He knew how to look at things reasonably and without bias and find proper solutions to problems when they appeared. The last 9 months since the departure of Peter has seen the site evolve into a profit before principle shopfront in my opinion, where unsuitable an innapropriate designs are not only permitted but also promoted . A Tshirt design that advocated pedophila, which was eventually removed was allowed to sit on the site for an unacceptable amount of time before removal, and tshirts promoting rape are yet to be removed, along with the artist who created both. Copyright infringement is a serious problem on the site also, with Redbubble being fully aware of it on many occasions and not acting on it. Another problem is bias between members . It has become a very unwelcoming place for anyone who displays any values that are different. It would seem that the newest pitfall of the site is where members who raise genuine concerns about the above are being actively suspended or banned from the site simply because they state their disapproval. Site policy dicates that no member should point out another member in a negative way, which is fine, but many accounts have been suspended or removed when no such action took place, and it was more a case of the questions being too valid to defend. I do not foresee Redbubble going the distance. It had a flying start, but IMO, is dying slowly due to gross mismanagement.
  • RedBubble WAS the place to be but in recent months their standards have dropped to a new low!
    Many people have left due to RB blatantly accepting Nazi T shirts as acceptable and more importantly have a vested interest in the HH company,ergo cashing in on Antisemitism and Racism,which goes against their R&R's!
    Paedophilia is also on there for anyone to see.

    Now with Bin Laden being shot to death,there are T's about this also!

    If there is a problem in the General Discussion Forums about bullying,Baiting or anything tasteless RB will side with the Bullies and not reprimand them,whereas the Bullied get either Suspended for 7 days or kicked off the site permanently.
    Peter Styles was a gentleman compared to the others,and the site has sunk to a new low when he left.
    Hoskins on the other hand is a fake and a spineless wonder!

    There is a Forum link from someone in the UK who has been waiting payment for 5 months and is still waiting to this day,and I just hope that I will see the day RB sink into bankruptcy through their dubious dealings with HH and his cruel (apparently Parody) T's!
    This company has ripped off artists,photographers and everyone else who chooses to join this sorry Site and I for one no longer have my work for sale and will leave due to their underhand policies.

    I earn just 27p sterling per card if I am lucky and it's taken me 3 years to actually earn a grand total of £20,so the prices are way off,and if you raise the mark-up,the chances of selling are remote.

    As for the two comments above praising RB,I wonder if your on the payroll!

    I do hope I will be around to see RB sink without a trace,having gone Bankrupt in the not too distant future.
  • The blush has long bled from the bloom that once was RB.

    "I think there's an element of integrity about what we do, which the artists appreciate"
    RedBubble's Martin Hosking

    In reference to the above quote, RB currently continues to condone and actively promote & profit from abhorrent racist, sexist, hate mongering material that masquerades as parody - Mr Hoskin is sadly mistaken, nothing could be further from the truth.
  • A taster of what RB are allowing today:

    "Oh My God":
  • Redbubble's promotion of "pro-Hitler merchandise" is a bad apple in the Redbubble barrel.

    Redbubble's own lawyers have resigned over the issue
  • Art 3.0.. JuicyCanvas

    We're launching the next gen art/platform - and would love your feedback and ideas.
    please email us at