Advice for designers who want to be founders
We held another great Design+Startup at IDEO in San Francisco and Eoghan McCabe, CEO of Intercom came to the stage and crushed it. He focused his talk on specific advice for the designer-founder and based it on his experience with Intercom. My full summary of the talk with the video is available here in the First Round Library, but what Eoghan got me thinking about follows:
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Thanks to whoever sent me this — if it is you, let me know in the comments and I will change this caption to a credit and link to the online identity of your choice.[/caption]
As the technology stack becomes more plug and play, and innovation continues to shift to the experience layer of many web services, the “designer-founder” has become possible, but also trendy. Prior to the current generation of designer founders, Steve Jobs is the only designer founder I can think of. Now there are tons — there is even a website and a book.
Running a dynamic startup business is an art: it’s something that’s intuitive and comes from a creative process. It is messy and it requires people who can operate with little data, limited structure and tons of constraints. It is a design problem — but that does not mean every designer should try to solve it.
If you are a designer who wants to be a founder, here are the things I believe you should think about (but again, credit to Eoghan for the good stuff here):
As a founder, you will NOT spend time designing.
If you love the design process and your passion is truly in the hands on creation side of design, do not be a founder. If what you love is the process and the reward that comes with crafting something each day, design things you are passionate about, but do not start a company — being a founder means management, fund-raising, recruiting etc. and just like hands on design, you need to love these things to be great at them.
On the web, design is a force multiplier — but you can’t leverage design if you can’t read a line of code
Designers have to invest in gaining a fundamental understanding of technology and learn to code. Alternatively, you have to find a co-founder who fundamentally understands design and writes code is as elegant as your photoshop mock-ups.
Engineers and designers think different. Choose a market where design wins.
As a designer (who wants to be a founder) identify the differences in thinking between designers and engineers. Choose a market where the difficult strategic decisions are design problems — a market that is much more difficult for engineers to naturally exploit.
As a designer, you know how to intimately understand what people want, create it, and give it to them. Experience is not an engineering problem. It’s not a left brain problem. It’s not a thing that most engineers (or most people) can do…this is your advantage as a designer — if you decide to be a founder, in order to win you need to get maximum leverage from every advantage.
Think like a designer. Use your advantage. Win.