Matt Mickiewicz, who was named to the Forbes Magazine “30 under 30” list in 2012, co-founded 99designs. The company has hosted more than 200,000 design contests and paid out more than $50 million to designers, while winning a 2010 Webby Award for “Best Web Service” and raising $35 million from Accel Partners. Matt has also co-founded Flippa.com, which has helped entrepreneurs sell more than $70 million in websites and domain names. INC Magazine named Matt to their “30 under 30” list in 2011.
Sramana: Matt, let’s start at the beginning of your story. Where were you born and raised? What is the story that prepared you for your entrepreneurial career?
Matt Mickiewicz: I was born in Poland under Communist rule in 1983. A couple of years later, my parents immigrated to Germany to avoid Communism. They had four-hour lines just to buy a block of cheese. I lived in Germany for just shy of five years, until 1991. My mother worked in the service industry and my father worked in construction.
In 1991 we immigrated to Vancouver, Canada. I did not know a word of English, but by the end of my first year in school there I was at the top of my class. I pick up things relatively easily. I found the Canadian education system lax compared to what I had experienced in Germany. I was a bit shy and introverted growing up. I naturally gravitated towards technology, computers, and the Internet.
I got my first Internet connection about five years after we moved to Canada, somewhere around 1996. By 1997 I had built my first website, which was centered on a video game called Final Fantasy. By 1998 I had developed a passion for website design and development. I decided to share my knowledge, and I built a website called Webmaster-Resources.com. The purpose of the website was to compile everything I was learning about search engine marketing, HTML, advertising networks, and everything else. As I was teaching myself I was discovering a lot of fantastic resources, tools, websites, and forums. I just wanted to share those resources with everyone else.
Within a few months of launching that website, while I was still in high school, I started receiving major media attention from publications like USA Today and The L.A. Times, and at one point I was writing a column for Windows Magazine, which had a million subscribers. They were paying me a dollar a word to write a column on web design topics. I was just 15 years old. I had to lie about my age on the contract in order to get paid.
That is how I got into the business. My website was one of the few resources at that point and time for webmasters. I was tracking millions of visitors per month, and I started making a significant amount of money selling advertising to big corporations. I would take calls at a Starbucks close to school during my lunch hour. I would tell prospective clients that I had another meeting at 1 p.m., I just did not tell them that my meeting was social studies.