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Tony Chua and his team.
Tony Chua and his team.
The Rtist portal brings both designers and agencies together.
The Rtist portal brings both designers and agencies together.

There are so many online market places for renting things. AirBnB is an online market place for renting apartments and houses, and if you think about it, the likes of Grab and Uber are online market places for renting a car and driver. But how about renting design staff?

Well, there’s actually one for that called Rtist ( which was co-founded by industrial designer Tony Chua. From its humble beginnings with just a handful of designers, it now has several hundred designers registered under its portal. Its services are used by many advertising and design agencies.

The entrepreneurial Chua speaks to SAVVY about how this idea came about, how he grew his portal and his plans for the future.  


How did you get started in the graphic design business?

I studied industrial design at the Malaysian Institute of Art and when I graduated, I worked in industrial design for four years. After that I tried my hand at selling insurance because I preferred to be self-employed. I did this for a couple of years and was quite successful at it. When my sister, who studied graphic design, decided to start up a design studio, she asked me to join her and I accepted. But my role in the business was sales not design. I had learned how to sell during my insurance years and I put that skill to good use in the new business.


How did Rtist come about?

We’re a mid-range design company with many SME clients. One day, one of our clients asked for us to place a designer at their office because at the time they needed a lot of design work done and wanted someone on hand all the time. This was something we were not equipped for and we couldn’t fulfil his needs in that regard. But it made us realise there could be a demand for graphic designers for rent.


What was your first experience renting out a designer?

As a design agency, we’re always looking for new talent. This wasn’t easy to do as there was no online market place for us to source for them. So, it had to be done the old fashioned way, through referrals and word of mouth. One designer who applied to join us was not suitable for our needs but we felt he could be suitable for one of our clients, who happened to be looking for a graphic designer for a limited engagement. So, we arranged to rent him out to that client on a daily basis for up to one month. It was a success so we decided to continue offering this service.


What was the market response like?

Our clients were happy with this arrangement as we removed a lot of the hassle they’d otherwise have had to go through such as vetting the designer for quality, etc. We do all that for them so they don’t even need to conduct an interview. We have confidence we can supply the right candidate for the job. In the event that we’re wrong, it’s no big deal as these designers are being rented out on a daily basis and you can determine within the span of one day if that person isn’t the right fit.  They usually are though.


Was it easy getting designers to sign up?

At first we had to recruit them one by one and we managed to recruit about 10 designers that way. We started to rent them out to companies and word of mouth spread among clients as well as designers. From there it grew. Today, we have about 300 designers, so there’s a critical mass now.


What are the main benefits for designers joining your portal?

Rtist is a platform for them to gain access to many work opportunities, more so than they could ever get on their own even if they had a big network.


What does a designer have to do to sign up?

We have a briefing session every month that new designers must attend. These days we don’t do one-to-one interviews anymore. Rather, we evaluate them through a very detailed application form that allows us to understand their skill sets, what software they’re familiar with, what their work experience is and so on. Our application form is more detailed than JobStreet’s!


How many clients have you had since starting the business?

I’d say we’ve had at least 100 clients so far. Some rent our designers for just a day; some for a week; some for a month. Design agencies have got their peak seasons and when there’s a huge amount of work, they come to us because we have a good ready supply of suitable designers.


What type of clients do you have?

We have all sorts, from big agencies to niche or boutique agencies. Many of them need designers urgently when some project comes in and they don’t have enough people. Or sometimes one of their designers is sick or away for some reason. If someone is missing at 9am, I can get them a replacement designer by 11am. No one else can offer them this on a consistent and reliable basis.


Do you have non-agency clients?

We do have some SMEs that need designers for short stints. For example, TeaLive hired a designer from us for three weeks while they were preparing to launch.


What’s your income model?

Our portal is free for designers to join. We currently take a commission of between 15 per cent and 20 per cent, depending on the complexity and nature of the assignment. But we’re looking at a radical new business model for the future. We might be able to do away with commissions if the advertising model comes through. It’s hard to say whether this will work. We’ve just got to give it a try.


How do you see your portal evolving or growing?

I want to include a broader range of artistic people. Not just designers but copywriters, photographers, videographers, social media managers, etc. all under one roof. And I want to go beyond the rental concept to also offer full-time and part-time opportunities as well. That’s the dream!



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