By BRENDAN SHRIANE
When you think of a hot spot for Internet entrepreneurs, the Big Island is probably one of the last locations that come to mind.
Waimea’s Darius “Bubs” Monsef would like to change that.
“Right now, Hawaii’s tech scene is pretty young,” said the 31-year-old Parker School graduate who runs the 2.6-million user COLOURlovers website and the recently launched Creative Market.
After living in several mainland locales, Monsef, with his wife, Kaili, a graduate of Hawaii Preparatory Academy, returned to the Big Island while she was pregnant with their daughter, Waialea, now 11 months old.
“The quality of life is perfect here,” he said. “There just aren’t a lot of tech opportunities.”
He hopes to inspire budding Internet entrepreneurs through his fledgling Big Island-based startup accelerator, Nalukai.
“I’ve kind of always played with some sort of tech,” Monsef said. “When I was younger, I sat around playing video games — my parents probably hated it but it was kind of like job training for sitting around at a computer all day.”
Now that tinkering has paid off — finally.
He described himself as someone who became “an overnight Internet success story after eight years of hard work.”
House Beautiful magazine named him a design innovator to watch for his work with COLOURlovers.
“It started as a color psychology experiment,” he said. It eventually morphed into a community of color-palette aficionados, who create, share and compare their creations. “What we had always done — the unintended mission — was to make design simple and accessible to people.”
He said COLOURlovers users had manually sold pieces created on the site and he and his co-founders realized what was going on had value — a value that could be increased through automation — and that led to Creative Market, which launched Oct. 18.
“Let’s let our members sell creations they make with our tools,” Monsef said. “We saw a market for digital assets — fonts, photos, icons, templates — things that the current COLOURlovers community wasn’t creating but that people wanted to use.
“Where Etsy has handmade goods, we have mouse-made goods — a digital marketplace,” Monsef said.
He said even though it’s only been up for a couple of months users are already making money — he’s heard of many users who’ve already made $1,000.
“At a time when the economy is bad and jobs are hard to come by,” he said that $1,000 can help a freelancer make ends meet. “I can’t wait till people are making a million dollars.”
He sees Creative Market as a place to help artists “monetize content they’ve already created.”
“If you make logos for a client, you might make 10 to 50 and the client only picks one,” he said. “So you’ve got 49 perfectly good logos to sell.”
He’s a customer of Creative Market, too — he recently bought a Web template for nalukai.org off the site.
While he enjoys his hometown and the Big Island lifestyle, he’s been spending 10 days a month fundraising in the Bay Area and New York. To cut down on travel, Monsef will soon move back to California. Creative Market will open a central office in San Francisco’s Mission District to bring the founders and workers together and make it easier to further hone the product and raise capital.
He plans to come back to the Big Isle often, though.
Monsef plans to leave his mark on the island with Nalukai. He — along with Spencer Jackson and Don Kosak — is looking to help up-and-coming entrepreneurs get their start with the incubator, slated to start next year.
Nalukai, which means to be sea-weathered or “one who has weathered the storms of life,” works with the idea many have of the startup business, Monsef said.
“I think it fits well with startups in the romantic and danger aspect — with the grand notion that somewhere there is this mythical island with riches but there’s a lot of ways to sink a ship on the way over there.”
The incubator has received a pledge of $200,000 in matching funds from the state, money that needs to be matched by the end of January. Nalukai would then take applications and start mentoring in early spring.
“This is a huge opportunity for the state, especially the Big Island — it would be great to have local stakeholders,” Monsef said. He said his group is looking for local businesses to participate as sponsors or help in other ways.
Nalukai will take an educational approach — he plans to go into area high schools, getting students interested in technology and giving programming workshops.
“My motivation here is two-fold — I want to live here full-time and have a scene here that doesn’t require I fly to San Francisco every month but also, I’ve got a daughter now, and I want to be there for her in high school or after she graduates to say ‘I’ve got the ability to start my own company and I can do it here in Hawaii.’”
Monsef knows the power of accelerators. His company was accepted into the pre-eminent startup incubator program, the Bay Area’s Y Combinator, in winter 2010. The program has helped develop companies with a combined $8 billion value. Through the connections he made through Y Combinator he raised the funds for his ventures leading to the birth of Creative Market.
He hopes his incubator can do the same for a company here on the Big Island.
Email Brendan Shriane at firstname.lastname@example.org.