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The Value of Design to Startups

The Value of Design to Startups

Dave McClure | BusinessWeek

Yet folks who know what they are doing can build amazing services with awesome native product marketing features that cost little or nothing to drive massive adoption.

It certainly doesn’t hurt to have code jedis at the helm of your starship, but engineering for consumer Internet startups need only be competent. The real challenge is finding designers and product managers who can build an awesome product experience, and marketers who can figure out effective, scalable, integrated distribution strategies (whether organic or paid, whether technical or creative).

Investors With Expertise

2. If investors don’t have operational backgrounds in design, development, or marketing from proven consumer Internet companies, you probably don’t want their money (or it better be the best damn term sheet on the table).

Honestly, if you’re taking money from investors, why not try to get the best experience you can along with the 20%-40% equity you’re giving up? Why not find people who actually have a shred of intelligence about consumer products and relevant skills, when you’re going to be sitting in board meetings with them every month for the next three to five years of your godforsaken, sleepless, work-like-a-dog excuse for a life?

Do you really want to be taking product and marketing advice from someone who has spent most of his or her life without ever having designed a Web page, coded a simple program, written a blog post or e-mail, or even have a Facebook or Twitter account they know how to use with any amount of intelligence whatsoever?
When you do background research on your investors, see if you can find them online. Do they have a recognizable Web presence? Do they blog, do they twitter? Do they have a profile on LinkedIn, Facebook, Flickr, or YouTube? Do they appear to have experience in the Internet industry, or do they just have an MBA from some big-name school and no relevant operating roles?

Seriously, life is too short. Your startup is too important. And your chances at being the next Google, PayPal, or Mint are already tough enough.

So here’s the deal. Hire people smarter than you. Find a decent designer who understands human psychology and sexuality, game mechanics, SEO, and conversion analytics. Find someone in marketing who understands how to send an e-mail, write a blog post, use search engines, social platforms, and social media, and has done landing page A/B tests. Find investors who have a clue about the products and services they invest in, who use the products, and maybe even write or speak about them frequently. Find people as advisers, mentors, and investors who have the same operational experience you’d hope to hire for your startup.

If we all take this to heart, we might just build a few more useful consumer Internet products.


Dave McClure is a software developer, entrepreneur, startup advisor, angel investor, blogger, and internet marketer. He oversees the Founders Fund seed-stage investment program.


© 2009, YellowBrix, Inc.

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