Since December 2019, I've started trying CrowdSpring platform as a designer, it's one of those "design contest" platform startup that connects client with freelancer, or to put it bluntly: it's another design contest platform where designers either work for free or for the lowest bidder while the middle man getting fatter.
I mean, design contest platform is not that terrible per se, but we're long gone from startups solving clients & freelancer problems and monetize it - to the point where it's just trying to rake as much % as possible either from being greedy or in desperate attempt from going under.
This review is mainly written from designer perspective, but I will also share some insights from client's perspective.
CrowdSpring started in 2007 founded by Ross Kimbarovsky (who also still the current CEO of the platform) and Mike Samson. The platform offer two type of service: a contest & a 1-on-1 project, with each project ranging from your usual logo project, to UI design, and even product design.
Crowdspring currently have around 14 employees. They already running for around 13 years now and receive $3M funding in 2008, which I find concerning. I mean It's not a problem for some business to remains small, however this is a startup with large market size, and when a startup didn't scale up properly especially after a decade, it's a reflection of their management.
It's the standard designer outsourcing platform. For designer, you either win a contest or finish a 1-on-1 project with client and get money. For clients, you pay to start a contest or hire a designer and direct your creative project until completion.
Unlike some other freelancing platforms out there that have forums or collaboration feature where members can talk with each other, Crowdspring have no communities whatsoever in the platform. You don't get to talk to everyone else except the customer support and the client (whom also rarely respond anyway). Working in Crowdspring is equivalent with being an isolated test subject deep in underground lab doing task for cookies. Except this time you can just leave and forget the platform existed.
Crowdspring have no unique features that separates it with other platforms. The base business model is pretty much the same with other freelancing platform.
CrowdSpring have multiple project tiers with different pricing. Theoretically, the more clients paid for a project, the better design they should get because higher awards attract more designer and more effort. However, this isn't necessarily true (read the Designer Qualities section below)
They took a hefty 40% commission from every transaction, whether it's a contest or 1-on-1 project. I repeat, they treat 1-on-1 project fees the same way they treated a contest fees, some other platforms only introduce 10-20% commission for 1-on-1 project.
Mind you, 40% commission is like the "industry standard" of contest-based platforms, and I despise it. While I understand that these platform may use huge capital to operate, 40% cut is like a broad daylight robbery. The thing is, these kind of platforms are relatively low maintenance, set up a simple platform and the revenue is repeatable, this company doesn't employ that much people either, and frankly, I never see any CrowdSpring online ads ever and even their social media pages are barely active, so I'm not sure if they do spend money on any marketing at all.
The people that held the most risk on these platforms are the participating designers who could spent hundreds of total combined working hours to pitch on each contest without the assurance that they will get paid a single cent; whereas the platform get paid from every single transaction.
For designers, you have to think if that 40% cut they took from you worth the man hours you give in and the risk that you lose and work for free. Know the difference between work with them, and work for them.
For clients, you need to consider if paying 40% more for the platform fees worth the risk to have some random designers that just so happen to find out about your project.
Either way, just like gambling, the house always wins.
Designer Qualities (for Clients)
Like every other design contest platform, there's a good & bad designer working there. With Crowdspring, you will notice that there's not lot of designer active compared to other platform. Best guess it that lots of them left (Read until the end so you understand why).
For designers, this can be a good thing since there's less competition here. But for clients, this is a bad thing because you might see less potential designs that you could get had you use other platform.
CrowdSpring have this 'level' system for the designer that is automatically based on average rating given by the clients. This level system supposed to filter a more talented designer for a more rewarding contest. Platinum & Elite level designers can participate in Platinum & Elite level contests, which also are more expensive than the regular contest (see image on the Pricing section).
However the way this system works is practically a joke because you only need like 2-4 reviews and you're on the highest level. Some other platform manually handpick which designer deserve to be one of the best designer reserved for the top paid clients and evaluate these designer and even demote their level if necessary.
Automation is cool and all, but with service industry where the end product is highly subjective like design service, a human touch is necessary to filter out the professional & the amateurs.
Truth is, many clients doesn't have much knowledge regarding how design will affect their brand and products; so a number of them will choose winning design based on personal taste. It's not a wrong to do so, but we need to understand the difference between winning professionally, and 'lucky' win.
Unfortunately CrowdSpring doesn't seems to have anyone with actual design industry experience on their team and missed this perspective.
If you look around for reviews from other website, you will see one of the most popular negative complaints from clients are about design qualities. This review explains why.
There's no such thing as "Guaranteed" awards in Crowdspring.
CrowdSpring will always prioritize clients before designers. This means that even if you have worked on a contest or project for weeks even months, the client can STILL ask for refunds.
However, even with guaranteed refunds for clients, this isn't exactly true either. If you look around, some clients reviewer mentioned that they didn't get refund as promised.
Payout (for Designers)
Now this is the part where shit hits the fan.
If you are new on the platform and it's your first time winning a project, your money will be held on the platform for 30 days after your first winning project is finished before you can request for your payment. Each payment request will take up to 10 business days or 2 weeks. CrowdSpring offers two payment option, through Paypal or Payoneer.
Compared to most similar platforms that send payment within 3 days, this sounds too much delay I know, and boy there'll be even more delays waiting for you.
The first time you request your payment (after waiting for a month to make requesting payment available), you will see the schedule payment window and see something bizzare:
Why is there a "I will not ask crowdspring about my payment after 10 business days have passed" checkmark you need to tick?
I have a bad feeling when I see that text so I took a screenshot of it.
Delay, delay, and even more delay
My personal impression of this platform payout system has been a shitshow. Even after waiting that 30 days payment hold + 10 business days payment request, I still haven't receive money that I requested since February. They've been delaying my payment request for 4 times now. As of now (May 4th 2020), I still haven't receive my payment request.
They will come up with many excuse for delaying payment. In my case at first they delayed my payment because apparently my Payoneer account is not connected, which isn't true. It is connected properly with green checkmark on my profile and they still have the audacity to said that. The second delay they don't have any particular excuse and simply said "there's problem with your payment, wait another 2 weeks and don't try to contact us before that date".
The third time they try to be reasonable by blaming COVID-19 pandemic for the delay. I understand that the pandemic cause havoc on all business, but this more like an excuse opportunity for CrowdSpring to further avoid paying designers. Note that other freelancing platforms handle this crisis much much better. Even their CEO, Ross, emailed me back and politely told me to back off until April 13th. The fourth delay pretty much the same with the 2nd delay.
CrowdSpring is apparently notorious with delaying designers payout. If you look around for reviews, you will see ALL of negative reviews from designers are regarding their payment that they never receive.
Mind you, my payment request is only $550, however that's like a month or two worth of money here in developing country adjusted to USD-IDR rate. Plus, these few hundreds bucks will ADD UP to huge sum of money considering too many designers didn't receive their money yet.
This is even worse when you realize that many designers working on these freelancing platforms comes from developing countries and are financially struggling during this pandemic time.
The big question here is, where is the designers money and what they do with it?
Clients Went Missing
I have notice some bizarre things on this platform that I need to point out.
Almost half of the contest I participated in, have their client went missing after completion. Often this happen because client is busy, but sometimes it could because of a more unfortunate events like their company went bankrupt or the client themselves passed away.
This wouldn't be a problem if CrowdSpring have policy for sharing contest awards to participating designers equally if the clients is inactive for some period of time.
Unfortunately they don't. The platform intend to contact the client literally until the end of time if a project is abandoned, which means that the money will be held indefinitely when that happens.
What I found interesting is that some of these abandoned contests are marked as 'Completed'.
Usually when a contest is abandoned, they are marked as 'Overdue', which means CrowdSpring is waiting for the client to finish the project.
However, with abandoned contest being 'Completed', it begs for another money question: Are the platform getting 100% of the clients money?
CrowdSpring isn't exactly a scam, but they do act like one. It is clear as day that CrowdSpring either have some sort of management issues or potentially financial trouble which makes them constantly delaying designers payout, making designers leave the platform, and leave clients disappointed.
Their CEO, Ross, recently tweeted that he have been a customer for PPP loan (direct incentive for small businesses to keep their workers on the payroll) for the last 10 years. Which suggest that either they aren't exactly profitable, or they have fuckload of debt, despite the very lucrative business model.
If you are a designer, just forget about trying to participate in this platform. Too much uncertainty if you gonna get paid or not.
If you are a client, just go to other freelancing platform that have more happy designers. I've seen many designer on CrowdSpring does shit design that's not worth your money. The designers who made decent design in CrowdSpring are most likely left once they realize their payment delayed too many times and even don't get paid at all.