An Interview with Morten Olufsen, Chief Commercial Officer at Iconfinder
Describing Iconfinder.com is pretty straightforward – the name says it all. It is a marketplace web site dedicated to being the largest collection of icons for purchase, designed by the best icon designers available. Whether you need a single icon or multiple icon sets, you can find it at Iconfinder.com.
In our discussion with Iconfinder’s Morten Olufsen, we learn not only about the workings of Iconfinder.com, but also about why icons are playing an increasingly important role in product development and in our lives.
HostAdvice: What’s the story behind Iconfinder?
The company’s founder and CEO, Martin LeBlanc Eigtved, started the site to address his own frustration at the lack of good sources of icons for his projects. It was originally a simple site for people to find free icons. Martin even coded a specific search engine for the icons.
The site started to get a lot of attention and soon hit critical mass. After the amount of traffic to the site crashed the server, Martin decided to recode the whole site and dedicate his efforts to building a real company around it.
HostAdvice: Why did you join Iconfinder?
I was working as the Chief Sales Officer at Miinto, the largest online fashion retailer in Scandinavia. Miinto was a designer clothing marketplace, offering the best clothing from the best stores. I was recruited from there by Iconfinder, because they wanted to do the same thing – except with icons. The process and challenges are very similar.
HostAdvice: How many employees do you have today? Are they all located in Copenhagen?
We currently have five employees in Copenhagen, one in Bulgaria, and one in the US. We are always looking for the best people, regardless of where they currently live.
HostAdvice: Your title at Iconfinder is Chief Commercial Officer. What exactly is that?
The Chief Commercial Officer (the only C-level position besides the CEO) is a combination of sales, marketing, and business development. I am tasked with doing everything that needs to be done to make Iconfinder.com a successful commercial entity. I’ll note that we don’t put a great emphasis on classical outbound sales techniques, but focus instead on driving inbound interest because of our great platform.
HostAdvice: Who are the designers who submit icons for sale? How many designers do you have contributing today? Where are they mainly located?
We currently have more than a million icons available for download on our web site, from about 1,300 top icon designers. I can’t pinpoint where they are located – it is literally all over the world. I can say, though, that we have a lot of particularly active icon designers in Eastern Europe, as well as in Asia.
Most of our icon contributors are graphic design professionals who have regular design jobs at companies. We also have some freelance professionals and others who do it just as a hobby.
An interesting story is a lawyer we had who was designing icons on the side. This year, he went and quit his job as a lawyer since he could earn a full-time salary as an icon designer with us.
HostAdvice: Must icons be reviewed and approved before being posted?
Anyone who visits our site can submit and upload icons. However, before they are visible on the site, all icons must be manually approved. This takes more time and effort on our part, but we do it because we want to offer only the highest quality and the most unique icons. That is how we want to become the #1 source for icons – rather than by just having a lot of icons.
By raising the bar for the approval process, we found that it also helps us to attract higher quality icon designers, who see being accepted to our site as a “badge of honor.” We also offer feedback and try to work with some of the designers whose icons we do not accept right away. Despite our demanding criteria, we still manage to approve and add 40,000 – 50,000 new icons every month.
HostAdvice: Do most designers just post one set of icons or are they constantly adding more to their portfolio on the site?
If designers find that their icons are selling and making them money, they will start to create more icons. We find that once they see sales from their icons, they will quickly follow up with icon sets in a short amount of time. Most designers will design and upload full icon sets of at least 50 different but consistent icons, rather than various individual icons.
HostAdvice: How do you attract top designers?
Scott Lewis, who is responsible for approving all of the icons, is very well known in the industry and has written a lot of popular tutorials. He will proactively contact the top designers that he knows and is also often approached himself by icon designers.
We are also active in the designer community and industry conferences. In fact, we are co-hosting an official Dribbble meetup in Copenhagen next month. These activities give us a lot of exposure and allow us to communicate directly with the community.
Finally, we will sometimes reach out directly to specific designers if we see great designs on other platforms and encourage them to try out Iconfinder.com. One of our big selling points for designers is that our payout to them is the highest in the industry – 70%. This approach is consistent with our tag line: “Helping designers make a living doing what they love.”
HostAdvice: Who do you see as your competitors?
In the icon design industry, we are number one, both in terms of the number of users and the number of designers using our platform. Our competitors are the stock image marketplaces that also sell icons. They are much bigger overall, but not in terms of icons. We actually compete with those marketplaces on two different fronts: both for users/customers and also for icon designers.
HostAdvice: How would you describe your typical customer?
We have a few different types of customers. We have designers and developers who are just looking for free icons, designers and developers who are willing to pay for icons if/when needed, and agencies who purchase in greater volumes and want a monthly subscription.
80% – 90% of our customers are what we call professional users – they are graphic designers, web designers, and/or user experience designers. They typically work in large corporations and are located mainly in the US, Western Europe and Asia.
We currently have about 2 million visitors to our site every month and about 5 million downloads per month.
HostAdvice: Let’s talk about pricing. You seem to have several different options, for different audiences.
Yes we do. First of all, we offer a lot of icons for free. This is a great entry point for hobbyists and first time visitors. Then we have our premium icons which must be purchased, but are priced very reasonably. This option is popular with professional developers who have a one-time or occasional need for high quality icons. Both free and premium icons are offered as icon sets and/or individual icons.
Our Pro products are monthly subscriptions and are meant for agencies or other designers that need new icons on a regular basis, rather than only once in a while.
Another service that we offer is custom icon design, where you work with a specific icon designer according to your custom specifications. You can choose someone whose work you have seen and liked or we can help you select one of our designers based on your specific needs.
Right now, about 80% of our revenues come from the two monthly subscriptions (Pro packages).
HostAdvice: You also offer an API option – what is that about?
That is a new product that we launched in the last six months and is growing rapidly every month. It allows 3rd party design tools and applications to have full access to our icon library and is billed to the software vendor based on purchase volume.
HostAdvice: What are your future plans for Iconfinder?
We want to grow a lot [laughs]. We already have plans to focus on two specific areas. One is the API product that we just discussed. We are working to develop many more – high volume – partnership deals around our API. The other area is a team-focused product. Although the unlimited Pro subscription offers additional users, we want to develop a product for design teams that is a lot smarter and offers special features to help design teams.
HostAdvice: How do you see this market evolving in the coming years?
It is clear to us that we are seeing a tremendous growth in the need for icons. The world is rapidly changing and becoming more digital. At the same time, devices are getting smaller and smaller with less real estate for images and text. Also, more companies are expanding or being forced to engage in new countries or markets. The common thread among all of these factors is that icons are the language that everyone in the world understands, so they are becoming more important for marketing and customer engagement.
As a result of their increased use, icons are becoming an integral part of a company’s branding and identity – so we need more and more unique icons.
HostAdvice: How many hours a day do you normally work? What do you like to do when you are not working?
I work a long day, especially for someone with a family and a son. I normally get to the office early in the morning. I then leave in the afternoon, so that I can be home for dinner with my family and to be present for my son. After that, I will work a few more hours (either at home or back in the office) so that I am available during US business hours.
Most of my “free” time I spend with my beautiful girlfriend and my 1.5 year old son who I love to spend time with. Otherwise I watch all the football I can, if I’m not out drinking some great beers with my friends. I’m currently training for my first half marathon in my life, which will be the 18th of September right here in Copenhagen.
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