Faces of Entrepreneurship: Zack Onisko, CEO of Dribbble

Zack Onisko, joined design marketplace Dribbble as CEO in 2017 —  but before that, he has grown and led 3 startups to successful acquisitions. The Nasdaq Entrepreneurial Center sat down with him to dig into the Dribbble story and get his insights as one of its leaders and as an entrepreneur himself for Faces of Entrepreneurship.

What does the word, “entrepreneurship” mean to you?

It’s freedom from the status quo. Entrepreneurs are people making up new rules for the game of business and life. Entrepreneurship is the profession for dreamers, rebels, risk takers, makers, innovators, and creative people.

Can you describe the a-ha moment that lead to Dribbble’s conception?

I have been CEO of Dribbble for a little over a year, but co-founders Dan Cederholm and Rich Thornett conceived Dribbble nearly a decade ago after Dan kept finding himself leaning over designer’s shoulders at conferences asking them, “What are you working on?” Dribbble today is still asking that question of millions of people. Dribbble has a basketball theme (we have feature names such as “Shots”, “Rebounds”… invited designers are called “Players”) because Rich was and is a huge basketball fan. I suppose that it also helped that the dribbble.com domain was available back then.

Can you describe, in the landscape back then, how Dribbble’s concept differed or proposed to change the creative marketplace? 

Dribbble was created as a side project in 2009, as a private website for Dan and his designer friends to share designs and get feedback on the projects they were working on. It was invite-only then and continues to be so today. Since then, Dribbble has grown exponentially to become the designer community and design inspiration destination it is today for millions of people around the world.

How does it feel to go from “We’re changing the landscape of the “creative market” to “We’ve done it.”

We’re on a mission to build the world’s best platform for designers and creative professionals to gain inspiration, feedback, education, community, and job opportunities. We’ve come a long way, but we have a big vision for where we want to go. We feel the business is still very much in its infancy and we’re just getting started. Just this last year, we had some substantial inflection points doubling year-over-year revenue and member registration growth. The next couple years are going to be very exciting for us, but as long as design is a profession, our work will never be “done.”

And now that you’ve “done it” or at least accomplished a big hurdle, how does the achievement of the dream feel different from the actual dream of it? Does it feel like how you might have imagined

Most of the Dribbble team comes from a design background and has a huge affinity for design. That passion for the design community drives us as much today as it has in the past. More than anything, we all feel very grateful to support the design community, to provide the network where the world’s top talent share their best work. We intend to continue this tradition of building something our members love — to elevate the profession of design in the community and to the world.

What do you wish you knew when you started? Is there anything you’d do differently?

Hindsight is 20/20, but I wouldn’t change anything about my journey. Every step along the way of my career has been a learning experience. There have been some wild highs and some depressing lows, but that’s startup life. Others have been more and less successful than I, but their journey is theirs. Mine is mine.

I feel super fortunate to have had the opportunities that I’ve had along my career to work with some amazingly talented people, building really cool things together, that have been used by millions of people. I’m fired up for the next chapter, the future of Dribbble, and all the new things to learn, make and do.

What’s it like to work with your team? What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs about building and leading teams?

Our team has some of the most talented, thoughtful, and kind people I’ve ever worked with. I’m super fortunate to collaborate with them. I learn something new from them every day.

We’re a distributed team of 30+ spread all over North America including British Columbia, California, Connecticut, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, Texas, Quebec, Vermont, Wyoming. Since we all work remote, we have daily processes that keep everyone in sync, on task and in the loop. We rely on collaboration tools like Flow, Slack, and Zoom to stay in touch and to keep projects humming.

Working remote has a lot of positives over commuting to an office every day, but it’s not for everyone. When we hire, we screen for people who we think will excel in a remote environment. We have a high bar for technical screening and aim to hire true experts in their functions. We also screen for culture fit, people who share our passion for the design community and who are generally goofy, and light-hearted.

What’s an activity you like to check into when faced with a problem to think out?

Sleep. Some of the hardest problems are very difficult to solve when grinding over them for hours on end. I’m surprised how many solutions have come to me after closing my laptop, going to sleep, and then jolting awake with the answer. Sleep fuels the brain.

Many entrepreneurs continue to perfect their daily routines to support their work — would you mind sharing your morning routine or a regular ritual that grounds your work each day?

I’m a big fan of lists. I start every day by creating a list on a sticky note of what I want to accomplish that day, prioritized by the most important tasks first. Throughout the day, I cross off tasks. Tasks that I don’t get to get bumped to the next day. I know a lot of folks swear by project management software, but for personal tasks — I keep it old school — pen on paper.

One of the great things about working for Dribbble is we are a 100% remote team. This means we do not need to lose two hours a day commuting into the office. I start work in the morning when my brain is fresh and when I do my best work. I often will come up with an idea in the shower and 10 minutes later, will be at my desk executing it.

Our team also has a no-meeting Mondays and Fridays policy that allows the team heads down time to focus and do great work without interruption. The culture we’ve created allows us to have more solo concentration time in the day. I’ve seen this focus enable the team to do in hours what would usually take days to accomplish in a corporate office.

What kind of an entrepreneur do you want to be known as, as in, what do you want your legacy to be?

I don’t care too much about a legacy. I’m humble and professionally aspire to be nice to people, to be contrarian to the norm, liberally tasteful, fiscally conservative, to give back where I can, to be quiet about the sales pitch, and to build a successful company I’m proud of.

Your biggest fan/#1 customer is right in front of you, what do you want to say to him or her.

Hello. Can I buy you a coffee?

Suddenly, right in front of you, is the version of you from 2000, what do you want to say to him?

Stop buying those guitars and put all your money in Apple stock. Also, in a couple years there will be a weird thing called Bitcoin. Buy a lot of that too.


Zack Onisko is the CEO at Dribbble, a place to show and tell, promote, discover, and explore design.


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