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Power of Community Service

Giving power to the people has helped this pair build a thriving e-commerce site.

A t-shirt might not have much inherent value, but slap an original design on it that's been voted for by an online community, and sales can soar. That's what Jake Nickell, 25, and Jacob DeHart, 24, discovered in 2000 when they launched Threadless.com and started an on-going contest--winning designers get cash and prizes.

This community-based e-commerce site knows how to attract today's elusive youth. They've grown their user base to more than 300,000 with zero advertising. With the T-shirts available online and at select retailers worldwide, 2006 projected sales are $25 million--up from $6.2 million in 2005. Meanwhile, under SkinnyCorp, their Chicago-based umbrella company, the pair operates other community-based projects, such as 15 Megs of Fame, a site where users can upload and rate original music.

All this success, though, hasn't distracted them from their top priority. Says DeHart, "We don't make any moves without consulting the community."

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This article was originally published in the July 2006 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Power of Community Service.

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