Startup Case Study

Dream Heels

Peer-to-peer E-Commerce B2C
Dream Heels website screenshot


Matt Francois

Dream Heels was a startup I founded on my own after discovering the power of platform economics. It was an ongoing design contest, which allowed users to design their own printed high heel shoes.


For many years, I ran a business which created custom sneakers for shoe fans all over the world. After noticing a growing demand for custom high heels, I decided to expand into creating these as well. But rather than design the shoes myself, I wanted to give creative designers all over the world a chance to design and sell their own shoes.

To accomplish this, I needed a few core features:

  • Allow users to design and customize their shoes online
    I wanted to crowdsource other people's creativity and help nurture it. To do this, I would need to turn the complicated business of designing high heels into a simple process.

  • A contest, to select the best shoe designs
    I wanted to provide incentives for users to design their own shoes. I decided a contest would be the best way to select the best designs. The winner would get their shoes manufactured and receive a portion of the profit from sales.

  • An online marketplace to sell shoes, and connect shoe designers
    Once shoes were designed and manufactured, I needed a place to sell them. I also wanted to nurture a community of shoe designers.


  • Shoe patterns and customization guides
    To make it easy for users to design their shoes, I created a series of tools to aid in the design process. I provided blank 2D templates of shoes, that users could "fill in" using their favorite design software. Once users were done designing, they could upload their designs to the platform. The system would allow them to preview their design on a 3D shoe, and also automatically check if the submitted design met certain contest and manufacturing criteria.
    This made submitting a design easy for non-technical designers, which increased sign-ups to the platform.

  • 3D shoe configurator
    When designing on a 2D pattern, it can be difficult to visualize what a finished 3D shoe will look like. To help designers, I created a tool which would allow them to apply their design to a 3D model of a shoe. They could rotate the shoe, view it from all angles, and apply different colors and designs to the shoe. This 3D viewer also allowed the system to produce nice mock-ups of the designs, which users could use to help judge a design during the voting process.
    This made it simple for designers to visualize what their designs would look like on a real shoe, and lead to more designers entering the contest.

  • Voting and contest system
    I created a system for community members to vote for their favorite shoe designs. Users could view the shoe's 2D pattern, take a look at the shoe design in 3D, then rate the design out of 5 stars. After each contest, votes were automatically counted and various statistics gathered and graphed, to aid judges when choosing a winner.
    This made it easy for users to choose the best designs, which increased the likelyhood of a shoe selling well in the store.

  • E-commerce marketplace and checkout process
    Once a design won the contest, I had the shoes manufactured. To sell the shoes, I created a custom e-commerce marketplace from scratch, which included a shopping cart, checkout process, credit card payments, shipping estimates, and an inventory system.
    This system brought income to the business, as well as to the designers.

Technologies used

PHP JavaScript jQuery Flash MySQL CSS3 Blender 3D

Founder's perspective

Matt Francois

My startup ultimately failed to reach critical mass, but I learned many things along the way, and gained greater insight into the challenges platforms face.

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