10. Best quote of the night: “If startups are war, agencies are basic training.” -@jeffrey
9. The similarity between engineers and designers: “Designers are problem-solvers, just like engineers are.” -@putorti
8. Having a designer culture: “Build relationships with other areas of the company…include them in the way you work.” -@jbrewer
7. Think about the little things: “Get a good lawyer!” -@ladylexy
6. How to start a company: “Designers need to be able to meet people with other skills to build companies.” -@ladylexy
5. Before diving in: “Immerse yourself in understanding what this (a startup) is.” -@jbrewer
4. Why there aren’t more designers in entrepreneurship: “Designers are more sensitive to failure.” -@jeffrey
3. Best question from the audience: When starting a company, should we think about what would make the user’s experience better, or how much money it can make?
2. On the lack of design investors: “Can you point to a designer VC?” -@jbrewer
1. How entrepreneurship begins: “It was something I couldn’t ignore. I was passionate about this space.” -@putorti
The packed audience had more questions than our designer-entrepreneurs had time to answer, but luckily they got to spend some time mingling with the panelists after the discussion was over. We had a great time and learned a lot about the world of designer-entrepreneurs!
In case you missed the event and are interested in hearing the whole thing, here’s a video.
If you want to read more about designers in entrepreneurship, check out FounderDating CEO Jessica Alter’s article on WIRED!
Let us know what you think—why aren’t there more designers in entrepreneurship?
“If each of us hires people who are smaller than we are, we shall become a company of dwarfs. But if each of us hires people who are bigger than we are, we shall become a company of giants.” -David Ogilvy
Guy Kawasaki tells us that reaching for greatness “starts with the humility to hire people who are much smarter than you,” which might seem to mean that the dumbest person in the company is the big boss. In a recent post on FD:Discuss (the quora-like discussion area of FounderDating where members converse about entrepreneurial hot topics and get advice) someone raised this very issue. How does a founder less intelligent than their employees attract and inspire them? Here, the key is to look at the rest of Kawasaki’s advice. He doesn’t just say we should hire people smarter than we are—he brings humility and greatness into the picture as well.
Hiring smart people requires, first off, the identification of smart people. So what makes a person “smart”? More importantly, what makes people smarter than the people hiring them?
As the head of your company, you have a breadth of knowledge—you might be proficient in programming, have a basic understanding of sales, a general knowledge of marketing. You can do it all on your own, but there’s a reason you hire other people to do all those things for you. They know it better, and they’re able to focus on a certain aspect of the whole company.
It’s a matter of specialization. They may be smarter than you, but they’re smarter in a different way. If you think about it, “entrepreneurs tend to have a higher level of emotional intelligence, whereas a programmer might have a higher level of logical intelligence,” something that Daniel Ice pointed out in a post on FD:Discuss. So different people are smarter when it comes to different things, and because a CEO can’t possibly do everything, she has to hire people to do all the rest. But it doesn’t end there.
Being smart is also the ability to solve problems, to think outside the box. It’s about challenging authority, going above and beyond a job description to get the best possible results. Another FD entrepreneur commented, “drive, ambition and the ability to get sh%t done in a dynamic and agile work environment need to weigh heavily in your hiring criteria.” But he also says that measuring these forms of intelligence is difficult. How do you tell a smart person from a smarter person? The best way is to have the humility to compare them to yourself. You need to ask the question—can this person do the job better than I ever could?
Your job (it’s not micromanagement)
In his article on hiring smart people, Evernote CEO and cofounder Phil Libin calls himself out, saying he “had a stupid way of thinking about his employees.” He believed that he could do the jobs he hired people to do better than they could. And this, unsurprisingly, led him to micromanage those in his company he didn’t trust with the work they were given. His solution was to hire people who could do the job better than he ever could. You can’t micromanage someone whose knowledge is well beyond your own. It could get embarrassing. Michael Barnathan points out in the discussion, it doesn’t just stop at hiring people smarter than you are. You have to “then listen to them in their areas of expertise,” or else you’ll still be stuck managing every last employee when really your job is to be the visionary who directs the company to success.
That’s why, without the burden of micromanaging every last programmer and sales rep, Libin had more time to focus on steering the company in the right direction. Your job, like Libin’s, is “to show the vision, not prove you are smarter,” Balki Kodarapu explains. As the founder of a company, you are responsible for that company’s success. Sure, it also depends on the work of others, but these are people you hire. You’re responsible for what they do in the company.
A company of giants
“Smarter than you” isn’t a raw IQ test. Your employees might well be smarter than you are in a particular area, but you have to be smart enough to get them working together in chorus. For that, they’ll look up to you with respect, and you’ll be on your way to building an amazing company.
David Murray and Brett Larkin are members of FounderDating. They met through FounderDating and have started their own company – GoalSponsors, a coaching and monetizing platform for non-medical health practitioners.
WHAT MADE YOU DECIDE TO BE AN ENTREPRENEUR?
David: It was kind of a cultural norm at Google that you’d “graduate” from Google to go run your own, successful startup. And being a product manager on GMail I often felt autonomy and it starts to give you the confidence that you can do it on your own. Beyond that I also believe there are 3 facets to life 1) mood, 2) pleasure, 3) meaning in life. I felt like I had the first 2, but the meaning was lacking and entrepreneurship has been the way I’ve found meaning and purpose.
Brett: I was really interested in freedom and building something I truly care about.
WHY DID YOU APPLY TO FOUNDERDATING?
David: I originally heard about FounderDating from Josh Merrill (a friend and fellow entrepreneur) who heard about it from Manu Kumar (K9 Ventures). When I started I was doing everything by myself. And I quickly found that there are a lot of things stuff that a) I wasn’t good at and b) I didn’t enjoy doing. I not only wanted help with those things, but also I was lonely. I actually worked at an office and had other people around, but that’s not the same thing as working with people. But I didn’t have anyone to share successes with or support me in the struggle (more importantly). When things don’t go well, you have no one to console with. Sure, you can call a friend or a loved one or something, but it’s not the same – they don’t the struggle and they aren’t as attached to it.
Brett: One of my mentors and a repeat entrepreneur, Larry Braitman, recommended it to me. He knew it was essential to find the right cofounder. It completely changed things for me.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR “DATING” PROCESS.
David: At first I took it slow, but then I reached out to probably 15 people and met with about 5 for coffee just to start a conversation and see if there was even initial interest in even working together. I originally reached out to Brett because I saw on her FounderDating profile that she had a gaming background and was interested in wellness now. We started by skyping becuase we lived about 45 minutes apart.
Over time I realized that the small distance didn’t matter given that everything else – chemistry, complimentary skills, working styles – came together.
Brett: David emailed me over Christmas time and I got excited. We ended up skyping 2-3 days in a row. We then met up for 4-5 hrs and were just talking. Nothing got built right away. After that, we started to meet very regularly for 6-7 weeks.
He met my mentor and had to pass that “test.”
I was actually talking with someone else from FounderDating and we explored all working together. But David just didn’t gel with the third person. They had different motivations, styles, etc. That was actually helpful, because David’s reaction to the other person helped clarify for me what was important. What was important – stage of life, methodology, personality, division of labor. ThingsI knew but was trying to see past because I saw that he had certain skills. I wanted the shoe to fit but the skills were not enough and it ultimately would not have worked.
David I and worked together for 6 -8 weeks before we drew up official paperwork
TELL US ABOUT YOUR COMPANY
Brett: It’s been great working together because we were working on separate projects and after coming together we merged our projects conceptually but started building from scratch. There was definitely an evolution and learning.
GoalSponsors is a platform for health practitioners to privately coach and manage clients at scale. This includes lead gen, payments, scheduling and automation tools.
It’s a coaching and monetizing platform for non-medical health practitioners. Right now, it enables mental health professionals, personal trainers, nutritionists, dietitians and more, to privately coach and manage virtual clients across all their devices (phone calls, texts, email), instead of or in addition to in-person appointments.
SIGNS IT WORKING?
Brett: The key metric we track is revenue and we’ve had 64% average monthly revenue growth and we have 700 practitioners have signed up. It’s been awesome to see.
We raised a small angel round from Larry Braitman and a few others (on track to raise more) and we’re working out First Floor Labs.
WHAT’S YOUR HOPE FOR THE COMPANY?
Brett: All health practitioners will be using the platform and it will allow them to scale their business and have a global/virtual practice. These are people who have amazing knowledge and expertise but aren’t good at marketing themselves. We can help them with that.
David: We want to disrupt the appointment model and make it easy to be in touch and always on so more people can get help.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO FUTURE ENTREPRENEURS REGARDING COFOUNDERS?
David: Open every door that is available to you. Apply to programs you think you’d never get into, make cold calls to people you think would never listen to you. Even the small percentage of things that pan out have accelerated our growth or spawned incredible introductions. Be honest about what you really need and want to be happy, even if it’s not what you think is popular. That is key in finding the right person to be your cofounder.
Brett: Get a cofounder and not just any cofounder, one who is right for you. The minute we found one another all these doors opened – not only did people want to fund us but accelerators were open to us. Of course there are obstacles, but it’s better to have one another. Beyond that, be authentic and be yourself. Don’t try to be something you’re not, your business is you and vice versa.
SxSW has long been thought of as a place where up-and-coming creatives could perform their craft for appreciators and gain exposure. But, like almost every other big company (cue: Xerox, Yahoo!) SxSW has grown so big that they’ve lost the core of who they were and the people they originally aimed to serve. It’s left me asking if it’s really worthwhile for early stage entrepreneurs?
We went to SxSW this year with the goal of both celebrating entrepreneurship and allowing entrepreneurs who couldn’t afford to go – with ticket, flight and hotel it’s probably $2K just to get there. Let’s say 2 people go from your company. That’s 8 company outings or 20 paid traffic experiments.
We contacted Ransom Notes – the UT Austin A Capella group. Within 2 weeks we planned an A Capella performance with a medley of songs that celebrate entrepreneurship. They put in overtime – practicing everyday for nearly 2 weeks (side note: they are awesome, check them out). And we were excited to be able to do something different, entertaining and non-exclusive. But when these 18-21 year olds starting singing in the Hilton Lobby at 12:15 on March 9th, before people could even gather round, security guards and hotel management descended upon them and within seconds called the Austin Police Department.
Why? Were they offending people? Were there complaints? Nope.Was it a slow crime day in Austin? Nope – actually, over 30 crimes were reported within an hr of planned performance. It was quite simply because SxSW runs the hotel for that week and it was sanctioned by them. Or rather, we didn’t pay SxSW so if we kept singing we’d be ARRESTED (yes, the cops actually showed up even though the UT Austin students stopped singing within 20 seconds).
SxSW Is A Corporation.
You don’t need not look far to understand what SxSW has become. “South by Southwest is run by a company, called SXSW Inc., that plans and executes conferences, trade shows, festivals and other events,” so it says in the second paragraph of their wikipedia page. And I understand it. I’m not complaining, I’m stating a fact. 30,000+ people descending upon a city. Collectively, SXSW is the highest revenue-producing event for the Austin economy, with an estimated economic impact of $167 million in 2011. I’m not naive, I get that.
The question is, what does it mean for early stage entrepreneurs? Is it worth going and what should you expect? It’s several thousand dollars to go to SxSW for one person.
If You Go – Hack It.
Do not pay for a ticket. I really wish I could end it there but I’ll give a bit more detail. You have two good options: 1) get on a panel = badge is free 2) go, but don’t buy a badge. I didn’t buy a badge this year (nor did countless other people I know) and it literally didn’t stop from going anywhere I wanted to go or doing anything I wanted to do.
Get in the flow – by that I mean, most of the interesting stuff happens in the lobby of some hotel where people are just hanging out or over dinner with a group of people you barely know. You can’t schedule everything and if you’re uncomfortable with this stuff and following up afterwards, send someone who isn’t.
Set up meetings – have a list of people you want to meet but more importantly, try to set up some meetings beforehand. SxSW is a great “reason” to reach out to people or follow up with someone you’ve been trying to connect with and suggest meeting up at SxSW.
Pay for anything official – SxSW SXSW Interactive 2013 was sponsored by Miller Lite, Monster Energy, Esurance, IFC, Yahoo!, American Express, PepsiCo, Pepsi and The Austin Chronicle. And those are just the official sponsors. Your budget as a startup is a rounding error to these guys. Don’t try to compete with that. Save your money – take your team out. Experiment with paid traffic. Pay a deserving team member more.
Succumb to FOMO – fear of missing out is strong. Really ask yourself if you have people to meet with and if this is a good use of your company’s money and time. The later stage startups that do pay, don’t seem to get much out of it. I had a ball at several of the parties but I’m not using anyone’s product more as a result.
Launch anything there – I mean, seriously. Do you really think this is the best place to launch? It’s noisier than an Ibiza rave.
Exceptions – notable exceptions to the above:
Touching > looking – companies that have a physical product they need people to touch and fall in love with. See: Leap Motion.
Solving mass chaos issues – companies like Uber, Sidecar, Hangtime, Highlight all help make things easier when there are large amounts of people descending into one place. Just make sure you’re ready for prime time when you hit SxSW.
Like any big corporation, SxSW has come to embody the very people and industry they once aimed to disrupt. They’ve made spontaneity illegal (literally) and lost that sense of passion and experimentation. That doesn’t make it bad, but it doesn’t make it right for early stage startups either.
It’s easy to become stuck in the routine of a day job and lose sight of the interests that truly invigorate you. Side projects are an incredible outlet to tap into your passion, scratch an itch and most importantly, they are the best way to start working with people to figure out if you’re a good potential team. Even if your project never materializes, what you learn during the process is more important. You can see where you flourish and where you fail. See who you work best with and who you can’t stand. In fact, you might be surprised to hear how many companies have bloomed from modest side projects. Here are a few:
Sugar Publishing - Lisa Sugar turned her obsession with celebrity gossip magazines into a blog that she wrote as a hobby. PopSugar is now the flagship in a growing publishing empire that amasses over 20 million unique visitors per month.
Texts From Last Night- Ben Bator and Lauren Leto used to shared funny texts from the previous night anonymously with a group of their friends. When they opened up that option to a wider audience, the idea took became a diary of Gen-Y nightly escapades.
Twitter- While struggling with Odeo, Jack Dorsey and a small team started working on a service that used SMS to communicate what you were doing in real time. And thus Twitter was born.
Yammer- Genie employees needed a way for staff to communicate internally – Yammer was created. David Sacks spun it out as a separate company, and it was recently acquired by Microsoft for $1.2 billion.
9GAG- Ray Chen, the co-founder of the popular user-generated site, says it started off as just a “fun side project.” Now millions of people share in the fun.
Dogster-While working full-time on a company called One Match Fire, Ted Rheingold and a small team with no external funding started a side project that would become Dogster and Catster. After reaching 2M unique a month, they were acquired by SAY media in 2011.
Facebook - Mark Zuckerberg famously started Facebook from his college dorm room, and it’s become a ubiquitous way to connect and stay in touch.
Formspring - Ade Olonoh started the site for fun, but when he saw over a million users register within the first 45 days he knew it was time to turn it into a full-time gig.
Craigslist- What started as a fun side project in Craig Newmark’s living room in 1995 stayed that way for four years. In 1999, it finally became it’s own company and has since grown into one of the busiest sites on the internet.
Dwolla - Ben Milne owned a speaker manufacturing company when he realized how much money he was losing to payment interchange fees. He set out to create a service that would eliminate these fees, and now Dwolla is successfully challenging the credit card industry.
Instapaper- Marco Arment, then CTO of Tumblr, wanted to solve a simple problem of not being able to read web articles on the go during transit. He created Instapaper while still working at Tumblr full time, but eventually he transitioned to Instapaper as it went from side project to full-fledged success.
FounderDating- Yes, it’s true. Jessica Alter and Saar Gur originally started FounderDating as a side project after lamenting about how most people surround themselves with similar people and needed to find compliments to start companies. It struck a nerve in the Bay Area and is now on a mission to enable entrepreneurs everywhere.
Your side project might not become your full-time company. So what. What it will do is allow you to experiment, learn and start working with people to figure out if want to start a company together.
Know of any other companies that started as #sideprojects? Comment/tweet to us or better yet, go start one.