How Squadhelp went from a fun experiment to a real company

by Andreas Rekdal
November 8, 2016

Crowdsourcing can be a powerful tool for creative problem solving, if you can find a way to motivate people to stay focused on the task at hand.

Squadhelp, a Chicago startup that supplies customers with crowd-generated names for new companies and products, did just that, turning to video games and social networks for inspiration in keeping its users engaged.

Founded by Darpan Munjal as an experiment in 2011, Squadhelp is something of an accidental startup. Munjal was struggling to come up with a name for a different venture and didn’t want to pay thousands of dollars to a professional branding agency. Instead, he set up a crowdsourcing site where users could suggest company names with cash prizes for the ultimate winner.

Munjal never expected Squadhelp to take off as a business. But he was intrigued enough by user engagement to continue adding features, in large part to see how users would even respond to them.

“As the community grew, people loved the participation,” said Munjal. “Many of the people on our platform used to spend their time on word problems or games, and they feel this is a better use of their time because they can think of interesting names for companies who are looking for them. It gives them an outlet for creativity and also a way to make money.”

Upon realizing that users were responding to the game-like competitive aspects of his product, Munjal decided to start playing them up. The team soon implemented leaderboards and badges for users who consistently submit high-quality names.

Squadhelp also has premium features that creatives can earn through continued participation. Quality submissions are rewarded with points users can spend to highlight submissions in future contests. Successful creatives also see the number of names they can submit to a contest skyrocket, from two or three for a novice to upwards of 40 or 50 for the platform’s most highly ranked users.

In addition to the world of gaming, Munjal said his team has drawn inspiration from discussion sites like Quora and Reddit, which excel at getting their best content to bubble to the top. Users of Squadhelp’s services offer feedback to creatives through a simple mechanism that lets them indicate whether they like or love a submission, or whether they don’t care for it at all. These evaluations serve the dual purposes of offering direction in an ongoing contest and ranking creatives in the long run.

Munjal said the potential Squadhelp held as a business only dawned on him last year. That’s when the former Kaplan Higher Education CTO decided to shift his efforts to growing the company on a full-time basis. The platform is currently in use by 60,000 creatives, some of whom have won upward of $25,000 in naming contests, Munjal said.

But coming up with names isn’t the only thing Squadhelp uses crowdsourcing for. Customers can also hire users to narrow down their name choices to a smaller pool of finalists or to generate copy for Google AdSense ads. And the company regularly puts on contests to add new users to the site and solicit user feedback on upcoming features and potential upgrades to the platform.

“That drives a much deeper connection with the creatives, who submit all kinds of ideas about how to make the platform better, and we use that to drive our product roadmap,” said Munjal.

With a current employee count of eight, the bootstrapped company is headquartered in Chicago. Munjal said he would like to continue growing the company organically to see how far it can go on its own.

“We’ve already demonstrated a growth path and a trajectory that is taking us to significant scale,” he said.

Image via Shutterstock and Squadhelp.

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