Startup companies are all about trying to solve problems through innovation. They have the advantage of agile thinking and execution, creating value with limited resources and freedom to choose any path from tons of hypotheses. Designers craft their careers around fast problem solving and user focus, which make us perfect for the startup challenge.
In this article, I will share some of my experiences and give recommendations for any designers who are trying to lay a foundation for their own startups.
My name is Rodrigo López, co-founder of Arrivedo. I am a Peruvian-born designer, who has held many roles a designer can have in technology products. The journey to establishing my career at companies such as Adobe, Yahoo, Banjo, and as advisor at Eat Club has led me to the realization that design is the foundational cornerstone of startups.
Like many designers, I started by working in a creative digital agency, under visual design, where I was required to add design polish to a finished product with the mission to convince users to consume it. I didn’t want to make small changes to a design I didn’t start and ideate. I wanted to be at the center of its creation, production, and execution.
First things first, build grit
Grit is the passion and perseverance to achieve long-term goals. One of the best resources I’ve seen to shift mindsets is this video: Grit. As an aspiring leader, you should be prepared for a roller-coaster, as you are about to build a company while trying to solve multiple hypotheses. To run a company, you need to be continuously learning of lots of new skills. Skills such as recruiting (the team is the most important part of building a successful company, they must be full of grit and professionalism), funding, signing contracts, operations, etc.
To give you a hint of my personality, I am determined, a person who believes that ideas are worthless without execution. I have had my equal shares of difficulties back in my mother country, which played a part in my family moving in search of greener pastures. The only things I brought with me to Silicon Valley were my grit, creative talents, and a champion attitude. Little did I know that these were the most important things I needed to make it in the most exciting startup ecosystem.
Code and Design Fell In love
Discovering how technology had sparked my creativity encouraged me to learn more about it. The book The Hidden Language of Computer Hardware and Software help me to simplify my concept of software. I developed an insatiable interest in coding, which I knew would give me deeper insights into what I was designing. The next step was to equip myself with the knowledge and skills I needed, which was facilitated by building good relationships with people who had experience in computer science.
The goal was to learn the most from them by exchanging knowledge: I explained how design could simplify their thinking which improved their code. This experience widened my understanding of the interaction between design and code architecture.
As my love for coding blossomed, I unintentionally developed skills, such as my ability to brainstorm ideas while thinking about the development. Overtime this help me become a product manager. I slowly but gradually developed the ability to differentiate between what could work and what would not, while incorporating elements like hacking and agile in my design methodology. This learning process ignited a strong friendships built on mutual respect and understanding for each other, the beginning of an even better experience, the User Experience Design.
After spending enough time learning from each other, i started managing engineering teams with a creative mindset. How can a designer lead engineering teams? You can ask Apple, the most valuable technology company in the world! They recognize design and engineering as having the same value. Understand the logic of engineering and why architecture makes sense for the product you are designing. Focus on demos that are visual as architecture diagrams are the siblings of interaction design flows.
As you learn to wear an engineering hat, build negotiation skills. Learn to say no. Also be agile and simplify what you do not need quickly so you can focus on valuable problems that move user satisfaction and metrics.
Master your domain
Designers are quite obsessive about challenging a user problem. You can use this same obsession to understand ideas beyond the design challenges of your company’s domain. What variables may affect your growth? Are you at the right time to build this? Go deeper in understanding the DNA of your market and business hypotheses.
An example is my own experience at co-founding Arrivedo, a hotel platform that gives guests curated local experiences. For a long time, I was very obsessed with hotels and the travel industry from a designer’s point of view. I realized hotels are incredible spaces and travelers search desperately for good local recommendations. Yet hotels still use obsolete mechanisms to create and distribute their local advice.
Our challenge requirers to deeply understand the roots of hotels and the missing links to guests. A huge challenge, but with incredible opportunities in an equally huge market size. According to a Recent Market research, the global hotels market is estimated to be worth US$702.74 billion by 2021.
Business thinking for designers
You have heard of design thinking for business folks, correct? It means design is extremely relevant in making businesses capable of innovation and keeping up with modern users’ fast-changing habits. I recommend reading: The Lean Startup, a book that helped me to understand the journey of a founder.
On the business side, you get to enjoy how numbers are cheerful when your product metrics go up but also a call to action when red numbers show up. Learn to react correctly to those indicators by pivoting or simplifying your efforts.
It is all about focused users metrics and market fit. In a startup, you are in a small team ,and therefore, the chances of working directly with the business side gives you the opportunity to understand the business thinking even more. The art of pitching the idea to business-oriented folks is a skill you must foster as a founder. Communicate simpler for everyone to visualize your company road to success.
Designers understand the most important part of a company
Designers understand users, their needs, interactions with them. Create a flow of how the user will be satisfied with what your company propose as a solution. When things get confusing in a startup — and they always do — it is easy to get lost wanting to build many features and for many customers. Focus on the customer that exists (you must be very clear in how to define the existence of a true customer). Your visualization powers can put everyone into the same page.
You are Wanted!
We are in one of the best times of the industry, at the intersection where the value of design, technology, and business meet. I remember an investor telling us before our company pitch: Love to hear from companies where one of the founders is a designer.
What are you waiting for? You are wanted! As innovative startups keep changing on the formulas to increase successful journeys. As I did, you can learn anything you want and focus on solving a problem that truly exists and benefits people while creating the next unicorn.
If you liked this article please share it and show your love. For any questions, please feel free to email me at [email protected]