How design helps ChangeMakrs be quotable, and maybe profitable

The story of ChangeMakrs sounds like a Hacker News cliche: Two startup founders needed some inspiration on a Friday afternoon, so they created a basic website of Steve Jobs quotes overlaid on a large photo of the iconic tech figure. One of the founders put a link on Facebook, went to take a shower, and came back to find the site spreading across the internet, with hundreds of concurrent users on the site at once.

At first glance, ChangeMakrs doesn’t look like much: The site is still just a collection of quotes overlaid on large photos of quote-worthy people like Steve Jobs, Lady Gaga, or Albert Einstein. But as it turns out, that simple design resonated with users. People latched on to a format that looks so different from the many other gridded, Pinterest-esque sites out there, and have accelerated a site that’s demonstrating a different model for both design and success.

“We’re trying to give you less,” said designer Brooks Hassig. “We’re taking something textual and making it visual. A lot of websites are just a lot of words, and we’re taking the less is more approach.”

The layout looks like the opposite of the Pinterest grid, which might be great for ecommerce discovery but can be cluttered and monetizing individual photos in a crowd is tough. And amazingly (for a startup of its size), ChangeMakrs does have monetization options through potential sponsorships of the quotes featured on the site.

CEO Sacha Tueni emphasized that they’re still in the process of fundraising and considering potential partnerships. But Red Bull did feature one of the ChangeMakrs quotes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, which made the founders realize the money-making potential of the site. They began speaking with other Red Bull-sponsored athletes, and ran a quote by kiteboarder Ruben Lenten (Tueni declined to disclose the terms of that particular deal). But it’s not hard to imagine other athlete-sponsoring brands like Nike getting on board with ChangeMakrs.

“They sell you a mindset and a way to think about things,” Tueni said of the big brands who’ve approached him about partnerships. “They loved that we put people in the center and let them inspire us.”

Tueni, who led international mobile partnerships and business development at Facebook from 2009 to 2011, said he’s carried over his lessons from Facebook in both business relationships and product, realizing that advertising would have to be native to the platform — banner ads wouldn’t work here. But building a sponsorship into quote pages might. And by creating an algorthim that takes user submissions for quotes and weights them based on a user’s activity on the site, ChangeMakrs can sustain itself better than it would with employees hand-picking the quotes.

“For us the question is, how does it scale? And how does it not need us? Because if Facebook had to approve everything it would not work,” Hassig said.

Barack Obama ChangeMakrs screenshot