As advertising and marketing become increasingly automated and thus commoditized, design has emerged as a savior to help brands stand out. And today, a startup that’s helping companies connect with a wider range of designers and other creatives to meet that demand is announcing a round of funding to fuel its business growth. Superside, which operates a network of freelance creatives that are tapped by companies to work on logos, display ads, packaging, bigger marketing campaigns and other design-based efforts, has picked up $30 million, money that it will be investing in further international expansion and growing its team of people, both in-house staff and the creatives network.
Prosus Ventures and Lugard Road Capital are co-leading the round, with previous investors Slack Fund and Acequia Capital also participating. Investors and the company would not confirm but I understand from sources valuation to be just over $400 million.
The round is the first sizable funding that Oslo-based, but very distributed, Superside has raised — it was founded as Konsus back in 2015 and had picked up only $5.5 million up to now — and it comes on the heels of some impressive growth in its nearly-bootstrapped state.
Its customers include the likes of Amazon, Facebook, Salesforce, Cisco, Shopify and Coinbase. “Really, any hot company in the Valley,” Fredrik Thomassen, Superside’s co-founder and CEO, told me in his understated, Norwegian-accented clip the other day. (This helps downplay the words, which come off as matter-of-fact rather than boastful as a result.) You’d think that a company like Amazon or Facebook would have no end of people on in-house teams to handle whatever design need might arise, but in fact, no matter how big or small an organization is, there is always something that will need an extra pair of creative hands, especially these days. Superside provides them.
Those hands, meanwhile, are set to multiply. Thomassen tells me that the company currently has 500 on its “team” — his word to include both those working on staff (150 people) and the wider creatives network (350).
“It’s important for us to think of us all in the same boat and creating equal opportunities globally,” he said. Creatives are freelancers technically, though, and thus free to do whatever they want, although the idea, he said, is that Superside provides them with enough engagement, interesting work and non-frustrating tools to manage it all to make it less likely that they would turn to 99designs, Fiverr, Upwork or any of the other platforms that might provide them with gigs elsewhere.
The plan will be to expand that network in earnest in the coming months. “We want to go from 350 to 1,000 creatives,” he said, “and then maybe 10,000, or 100,000.” (Again, you have to read this thinking of Thomassen’s understated clip, which makes all this sound perfectly reasonable.)
Design — and in this case branding, advertising and other fields that have been described traditionally in the industry as “creative” work done by creatives — has faced a massive evolution in the digital age: most if not all work is carried out on software; more often than not, it is intended to be consumed on digital screens; and the nature of global, localized campaigns created by virtue of digital mediums mean that there is simply a lot more creative work needing to be done.
Added to this, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, designers long ago cut their tether to the office, working remotely, putting in extra hours at home even when they do not, picking up side-hustles where they never meet clients in person, and so on.
All of this has played neatly into the creation of really excellent design software, designed to be used, edited, shared and consumed in the cloud, and it’s played neatly too into the hand of companies like Superside to build platforms to help connect creatives to opportunities.
Superside itself has focused its technology development on making that engagement and following through on work as seamless as possible, with very specific project management software that it has designed itself to manage the processes, including remuneration and related accounting alongside the steps around seeking people, engaging them and working through projects. It has not built design tools up to now, and it has no plans to.
“We are using exclusively established tools,” said Thomassen. “It’s much more difficult to build competitors to companies like Figma and Adobe. We are incredibly bullish on Figma especially, since it’s a less closed system than Adobe’s.”
It will be interesting to see whether Superside sticks to that, or whether it becomes an attractive company to tap for those big firms that are taking on Adobe and building more bridges to creatives alongside the creative tools themselves. (Adobe’s ownership of Behance, which gives it a kind of link into those networks of creatives already, implies it might not be in the running if that were the case.)
In the meantime, what sets the company apart is how well it has identified the shortcomings of working with alternatives — Thomassen himself comes from a marketing background and said he built Superside specifically out of his own frustrations in trying to find, engage and work with creatives — and built a platform to solve that.
“What sets Superside apart from all the other players in the creative economy is their long-term approach to solving the underlying problems of marketing and creative teams,” said Mats Diedrichsen, the former CMO of Delivery Hero, who is joining the board with this round. “I believe Superside has the potential to become the ‘agency-killer’ while truly levelling the playing field for creatives all over the world.”
Superside has seen significant growth in the last few years, working with reputable brands, including Amazon, Salesforce and Cisco, that have consistently praised Superside’s fast turnaround times, creative diversity, high-quality content and impressive access to global top talent.
Long-time customer Amir Jaffari, Growth lead at Shopify, summarized: “Superside makes it easy for Shopify’s Growth team to get design done quickly without impacting the quality. Their platform is intuitive and enables speed, and the dedicated team model ensures everyone thoroughly understands our brand and day-to-day needs, allowing for scale.”
“As the need for high-quality, fast-turnaround digital content continues to rise, and companies look for increasing brand distinction, Superside is fulfilling the demand by offering a unique subscription that provides fast, flexible and diverse design from some of the world’s top creative talent,” added Sandeep Bakshi, head of European investments at Prosus Ventures, in a statement. “In addition, as the pandemic has accelerated the momentum of flexible and independent work, Superside is highly attractive for creative team members, offering remote, flexible, and high paying jobs, allowing them to work with top brands globally. We believe Superside can usher in a new era of creative solutions for top companies globally, and are excited to partner with them on this vision.”