Want a piece of start-up advice that you might not have heard before? Make sure you hire a very good graphic designer as one of your first employees. Don’t cut corners in this area and don’t outsource. Period.
I learned this very early in my career from my business partner Brian, and I really believe that it has been a critical element of the success we’ve had at NameProtect, Jellyfish and now Alice.
I came across a blog post from the former lead designer of Mint.com recently that reminded me of this point. The post (here) highlighted several important reasons that the Mint team succeeded in the market and ultimately exited for $170 million. Not bad for a two year old company. The post raises lots of good points, but the big familiar takeaway for me involved the precious commodity of credibility.
Like any start-up, Mint.com’s big challenge was to establish credibility in the marketplace. To get folks to trust them enough to do business with a totally new company, and in Mint’s case, to enter their guarded financial information. How did they do it? Jason mentions two key things:
- Great Design. “Design has given us the credibility we need to overcome the downsides of being the new kid on the block. It isn’t easy to convince people to give their credit card numbers to a company with a dot.com in its name, let alone all of their online banking passwords. Design matters.”
- Get the Media to Tell Your Story. “We abandoned all paid search and concentrated 100% on PR and organic search.”
These are great lessons for anyone launching an online start-up, and I couldn’t agree more with Mint’s approach. In fact, we’ve applied the exact tactics in our start-ups, and it really starts with hiring a great graphic designer to make your product or service come to life. Without good design, you create a huge (and unnecessary) risk that your initial customer prospects, media, etc., will question whether you’ve got what it takes to succeed. If you look like the shaky new kid on the block, you’re probably never going to get anyone to take you seriously and you’ll have a very difficult time building the momentum needed to succeed. Bad design is the kiss of death for an online start-up.
Alice.com is an example of the benefits of good design. We hired a fantastic designer as one of our first 10 employees. And we leveraged his design to build a brand and establish credibility with investors, partners, customers and media. Like Mint, we’ve also stayed away from spending lots of marketing dollars in paid search, instead focusing on media coverage (social and traditional). The strategy has worked really well and our customer growth has been ahead of expectations because of it (you can see our growth from our launch in June 09 below).
There are lots of things that have gone into this growth, but without good design, it would have been much harder, if not impossible, to make this happen.