Jake Nickell: 1, 2, 3...Let's Make It Happen

When we are children, we were crazy about making something. Once you have grown up, we tend to forget about the joy and delight of creation. Let's recall our creativity. 


Jake Nickell: Creator, Entrepreneur 

Jake Nickell is Threadless's young and fearless entrepreneurial leader. Jake has a passion for learning new things, from how to get t-shirts made to figuring out how to design and program an e-commerce website. Currently, he's focused on running the worldwide, hugely successful business that Threadless has become. He likes to think creatively and unconventionally about how to keep Threadless one step ahead by encouraging nutty employee ideas and staying away from the "business" side of running a business. Jake also continues to keep up his geek cred through a love for programming. When he’s not working, he’s busy hanging out with his wife Shondi, daughter Arli, and son Dash.

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-----For those who are not familiar with you, please let us know more about you. You have learnt art and computer science. For you, creation may have been part of your life. What was the spark to found Threadless?


Threadless started as a hobby while I was working a full-time job as a web developer and going to art school part time. I first started the company as a thread on an online forum called Dreamless. At the time, it was a small community of about 300 artists from all around the world. I simply asked people to post up designs into the thread and then made t-shirts and posters out of the best ones. Eventually, it turned into Threadless.com. That was 15 years ago.



-----What did you do on Day 1 to embody your idea of Threadless and to make it happen?


On day one, I promised the artists in the forum that I would make things out of the best designs. I didn't know how to print t-shirts, charge credit cards, ship orders, etc, and figured that out as I went. I think that's still a big part of Threadless, today. We have a very DIY culture here and believe we can do anything we put our minds to!

-----What was the most challenging thing in the beginning and how did you overcome it?


The most challenging thing for me was managing money. I like to focus on building great products, both physically and on the computer with our website. When it comes to accounting and legal and running a business, I had a lot to learn. The best way I've found to overcome it is to find great people to work with who are good at those things :) In the beginning, my wife helped out a lot and now I have a lot of coworkers who are really talented at the things I'm not so talented at.



-----If you had had the same amount of knowledge and experience at the beginning, what would you have done differently?


I would have probably leveraged more third parties to do things that aren't things we specialise in. For example, I'd use existing e-commerce and order fulfilment platforms rather than building our own from scratch.



-----How does your experience in art help you manage a company today? How does your experience in business help your creation?


I consider myself more of a designer than an artist and I think the concepts in design and layout help out with managing a company. Design is about solving problems and setting up a system for something to happen within. On the business side, I really enjoy being able to prototype and build my ideas myself. I think it's important to be able to understand how it all comes together. 



-----Artists are not always the best salespeople. What are important things for artists to remember to get opportunities and exposures?


Let the world react to the things you make. You never know what's going to happen. Don't just let your work sit in the garage, get it out there and show people!

-----Creative geniuses come up with more and more ideas every day. However, most of the ideas never get realised. What are differences between ideas with a huge success and those with, not do you think?


Well, the first thing is that ideas that aren't executed on are never going to be successful. So start taking your idea to paper as soon as you can. From there, I find that starting on something is also an easy way to know if maybe it's a bad idea. So you can stop thinking about it sooner.



-----All the resources on the earth are available to you, what would you like to create?


I would like to create a camp for kids where the first week they spend doing something fun and exciting like rock climbing, mountain biking, or whitewater rafting. The whole time they do that they would be documenting the trip, taking photos & videos, keeping a journal. Then the second week of the camp they learn how to make a website, edit a video, etc about the trip they just went on. I think it'd be the perfect way to teach a kid how to code or edit photos, to do so because they are making it for the amazing trip they just went on.



-----If you can make a call to 20-year-old Jake Nickell, what kind of advice you would give to him?


I think I'd have more questions than answers. I think I could probably learn a lot from 20-year-old me… It seems as people get older their experiences lead them to take less risk and putting up walls.



-----If you can leave one message to make the world better, what would be your message?


Make friends and then make things with your friends.