The two teenagers were short of nearly everything when they kick-started their Chicago
T-shirt business seven years ago. Jake Nickell and Jacob DeHart each
chipped in $500. They ran it out of Nickell's apartment since DeHart
still lived with his mother. For shipping, they enlisted friends to
carry the shirts to the post office.
But they had a killer design
team: the Web. They solicited designs from thousands of Internet users
and then had them vote on which to manufacture. Outsourcing design work
to the Web's mass audience has built the company, now called
Threadless, into one of the country's hottest T-shirt retailers, with
estimated annual revenue of about $15 million.
"It's a way to access the distributed knowledge that is out there on the Web," said Karim R. Lakhani, a professor at Harvard Business School who has studied the trend. "You can now basically focus on your core business."
This approach exploits the vast human wisdom and expertise available
via the Internet. But crowdsourcing is less of a collaborative endeavor
than a means of finding individuals with the right skills for the right