SketchDeck Raises $1.7 Million More in Seed Funding

SketchDeck, a two-year-old, on-demand design service for marketing and sales teams, has raised $1.7 million in new funding. The round comes 10 months after the startup raised $500,000 from investors. Backers include Matrix Partners, Norwest Venture Partners, Foundation Capital, Blue Capital, Arnold Capital and Flight VC.

The appeal of SketchDeck — which passed through the Y Combinator program in the winter of 2014 — is easy to grasp. The now eight-person, Sunnyvale, Ca.-based outfit works with 100 freelance designers who create everything for customers from slide deck design (to save that last-minute presentation) to complete company rebrands.

SketchDeck’s pricing is transparent, too. Right now, most clients pay for explicit tiers of services, shelling out $600 per project on average, says the company.

SketchDeck is also trying to nudge more of its 600-plus customers into monthly subscriptions – with some apparent success. According to co-founder and CEO Chris Finneral, about 35 percent of the company’s revenue now comes from clients who use to pay for individual projects but now use SketchDeck as their own design service. (Subscriptions start at $2,500 per month and the company expects to begin charging larger clients up to $20,000 a month in 2016.)

SketchDeck doesn’t collect a percentage from each of those transactions or subscriptions, as do many other freelance marketplaces. It instead pays its freelance designers an agreed-upon hourly rate.

Finneral says SketchDeck juggles these design projects through machine learning and suggests the technology has become one of SketchDeck’s biggest competitive advantages.

“How do you coordinate hundreds of concurrent projects and figure out who should work on what? That’s the real secret that’s been enabling us to scale,” he says. “We don’t need humans to figure out who to assign a project or how to get it done on time.”

A related advantage, he says: Unlike some online marketplaces, where a customer has to find the designer, as well as to try resolving issues with that person when expectations aren’t met, SketchDeck’s technology not only figures out the best designer for a job and how long it should take, but if anything goes awry, SketchDeck will bring on another designer to ensure a project remains on track.

The big question for the company’s investors might be whether SketchDeck continues improving on its current service, or if it has broader ambitions down the road to expand beyond the world of content design.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, SketchDeck wants to do both.”Design will be our focus for the next two years at least,” says Finneral, a former McKinsey consultant. “It’s an enormous, multibillion dollar market. But long term, I think about the various ways machine learning could apply to other types of virtual work. We do see ourselves as building a platform that can handle everything from a piece of analysis to an email campaign.”