In the last few years, I have seen a host of sites appear that help you with design for your business or personal brand. Seeing as I know nothing about the subject of design, I thought I would interview the founder of the very popular DesignCrowd business, Alec Lynch, to educate us all. Alec started the business because he saw a problem with businesses buying designs from traditional methods. He viewed the process as slow, expensive and even risky. The risk he saw was that it could take a few months and then after all that you could hate what you ended up receiving from the designer.
Talented designers struggled to break into the design industry. In Australia, for example, there are 20,000 designers employed full time but around 60,0000 have graduated from design courses and don’t have employment. The numbers are similar in other developed economies. DesignCrowd attempts to fix the traditional problems of the industry by allowing customers to get designs faster (first designs by the morning), offering better value for money, allowing more creative designs (with over 400,000 designers), allowing designers to compete on creativity as opposed to cost, and allowing more choice with an average of 60-100 designs for your project.
DesignCrowd was launched in January 2008 out of Alec’s mums garage in a design industry that now is now more than $50 billion dollars. The first 2 years of the company were funded my credit cards and loans from Alec’s friends and family, in 2009 they raised $300k AUD in angel investment and grew the business fourteen-fold over the next two years. In 2011, they raised a Series A venture capital round of $3 million with Starfish Ventures.
Since then they have grown the team from three people to thirty-five people. In 2013, they raised a Series A1 again from Starfish Ventures and then in 2015 they raised a Series B led by Airtree Ventures for a further $6 million AUD. Their current revenue run rate is $20 million per year, and more than 75% of their customers are outside of Australia.
“The main thing that separates a wannapreneur from an entrepreneur is action. Don’t get too lost in books and start your business on the side or buy a domain name, but just take action”
Similar to Blue Dot, who we interviewed earlier, Alec and his team approached dozens of venture capital firms before they found the right one. Some of these approaches were relationship building, and others were actual pitches. In order for them to raise a round of funding it typically took 3-12 months to put a deal together. Alec says, “the more firms you approach, the more chance you will have of being successful in funding your startup. If you end up speaking to a large number of firms and you don’t get much interest, it probably means you need to look at your pitch, the product or the even your team.”
Having multiple, interested investors through this process can also assist in creating that magical, competitive tension that works in your favour.
Time Square and Virgin have used the platform, and there have been quirky projects like a tattoo design that says who’s your momma and a snowboard design – the options are limitless. Expect to see DesignCrowd expanding further in the USA and UK as well as other geographies.
The secret sauce of online marketplaces
One of the hardest challenges to overcome in any marketplace business is getting both sides of the market onto your platform. DesignCrowd took the logical approach and started by getting the designers first. They did this by running a crowdsourced contest and offering some money to have their own logo designed. This contest was promoted at design colleges and universities to attract designers to the marketplace.
As they acquired customers and projects were put up on the site, more designers came to the site and started telling each other in a very organic way. The other way they have increased both sides of the marketplace is to make some small acquisitions of websites and design communities, which has helped inorganically, grow the bottom line.
Many marketplaces have a natural “viral loop.” When a customer posts a project and requests a design with an offer of money, this creates content. Essentially this is a job listing that Google can now index, and it can be shared with other designers.
As designers respond by uploading designs, once the project completes each of those designs become public on their own page linking to the overall project and the designer who created them. This also creates content for Google and bloggers which helps attract designers and new customers.
Below are the six tips that Alec Lynch gave me for creating a great design for your startup.
1. Attract a good designer
To attract a good designer to your project you need to write a good brief, that’s not too long and not too short. Really short briefs signal to designers that you don’t really care or you might not be clear what you want. If your brief is too long, it can imply that your work is too difficult and is going to take a designer too long. In a marketplace context, a designer could be more inclined to gravitate towards a project that is easier. If you have lots of ideas about your design, you need to find the essence and the direction you want to go in a simplified way. Prioritise the parts in the design that are most important to you.
2. Pay your designer a fair price
You should be offering an amount of money for your design that your startup is comfortable paying and think is good value. Ideally you want to be offering more than the average amount of money in the marketplace, and then you will naturally attract the best designers that are on the site. It’s also worth handpicking designers from the directory that’s available.
On a platform like DesignCrowd, you can offer small participation payments to top designers that come off your budget, to encourage them to work on your project. Designers typically put more effort into these projects and prioritise them over others, which can help you get the best design.
3. Consider using the same designer again for future work
Sites like DesignCrowd allow you to work one to one so once you find a designer you like, this can be an easy way to move forward without having to run contests in the future. Around 20% of projects on DesignCrowd are follow-up projects. Even if the designer you used two years ago is not active, there is usually a 95% chance that they are still available on the site, so you can reach out to them again.
This was something that I found very comforting to hear. In the real world, you would normally only have a relationship with one designer that could be risky for your business if they become busy or go full time with another client. With a marketplace, you can go to other designers quite easily and basically have an unlimited design team. All the designs are also submitted to the site with industry-standard source files so that designs can be easily manipulated by other designers if need be.
4. Get all the elements of your design right
You want a design that is effective and helps you achieve your business goals. If these goals are related to growing revenue, then your design needs to match those goals. Brand awareness, brand loyalty and brand association are all things that you should aim for. In terms of colors, if you look at the top 100 brands in the world through interbrand, the most popular color is blue and then followed by red. While you don’t have to use these colors, it’s worth knowing what the best use.
If it’s a website your designing, then you want a design that helps convert traffic into sales. Understand the different elements of your website like your calls to action, your design / layout, your colors and your copy and make sure they are all based on converting traffic. All these elements need to be continually tested and improved in order to get the best result.
David Ogilvy Quote “Never stop testing and your advertising will never stop improving”
5. Use all the tools of a marketplace
On DesignCrowd, you have access to a directory of designers where you can go and look at their portfolio. There is a polling tool that allows you to poll your customers, friend’s family and employees about what they think of your design. For those of you who are looking to hide your projects from Google and competitors, there is also a function that allows you to do this. In terms of social media, make sure you use it throughout your design phase to gather opinions on what you’re doing and see if you are on the right track.
6. Avoid common design errors
Don’t make your design too complicated or have too much detail. If you’re getting a website design, don’t have too many things on the page and keep it simple for the user. You should try not to make the mistake of having a design that is effective to you or meaningful to you, rather than what will resonate more with your target audience. To uncover what will work, you can try testing your brand or design using Google Adwords to see what get’s the best outcome. You could also look at trying different domain names at the same time.
“No matter how good your idea is there is a fairly probable chance that someone else in the world has that idea. It may be the case that no one else has acted on that idea, but there is always a chance that they will if it’s a good idea. That said, you will always have competitors”
If you are working on a design for your startup check out DesignCrowd for some tools that will help you stand out from the rest.
You Are The Problem With Your Business
A great way to screw up your company is to get into the habit of blaming your suppliers, the market, your staff or your product for your failures.
I recently heard a story of a business that had set up a website. They sold various products and services focusing on helping people with psychological issues. The business owner was smart. The product solved a problem.
Unfortunately, the company was making almost no money. They’d hired someone to help them with their digital marketing and it wasn’t working.
Plenty of traffic was coming to the site, users were having a look around and then not buying a single thing. Who’s fault was this?
Well, according to the business owner it was the person running their digital marketing. As a result, they wasted approximately eight months marketing a website that couldn’t make any sales. The reason the business was failing according to the owner was because of the keywords that were being targeted in the marketing campaign. This is a horrible excuse.
The reason your business fails is because you’re blaming someone other than yourself. It’s the quickest way to bankruptcy. Don’t do that.
Your company is a reflection of you.
It took me a long time to figure out that a company is a reflection of its founder.
One of the businesses I had, had a toxic culture and a bunch of people that were rude to customers, arrogant and not nice people. That was a reflection of exactly who I was at the time.
The company was reflecting the flaws of my own life and what I refused to admit.
In the case of the business owner above, what was obvious is that they were good at telling lies to themselves. It was easy not to change as a business owner and insist that the change needed was nothing to do with their vision.
The issue of their company was not the digital marketing strategy but their lack of understanding around what their customer wanted.
The thought that their products were too complicated, not solving a real problem or priced incorrectly was an admission of guilt they wanted no part in. Hence the eventual demise of their company.
Take responsibility and it will change.
When you own the business, everything is your fault.
You have the power to solve any problem you choose. It starts with you being brave enough to admit that there’s a problem, and then secondly, being bold enough to insist it’s your fault and that you can change it.
The problems in your business can all be solved. That’s what it took me a very long time to understand. When I changed as a person and faced up to my hidden battle with mental illness that I didn’t want to talk about, the odds turned in my favor.
Had I have not taken responsibility for my mental illness, I would have never become a leader in a business or started another side hustle. I would have been crippled by the big, bad world that I thought I could control.
Control came from responsibility, and responsibility solved the major problem in my business: me.
Change is a must.
Not with your digital marketing strategy.
Not with hiring new people.
Not with developing a new product.
“Changing yourself is the *must* because YOU attract the problems and the solutions into your business”
You can’t find the solutions or stop the never-ending problems until you stop the cause of it all: you. You’re the problem with your business. The good news is that it’s entirely within your control to fix.
Not the business.
The Different Ways of Measuring the Success of Your Start-Up
You’ve probably heard people use the term “unicorn” in a business context. This means a privately held start-up whose value has grown to at least one billion American dollars. Think Airbnb, Uber, and so forth. There is no doubt that some start-ups have been major financial successes. And many smaller-scale start-ups are doing great as well, working hard and turning a steady profit. But that begs the question of whether finances are the only way to measure the success of a start-up. As it turns out, they might not be. At least, not always and not on their own.
How to Evaluate Success
As anyone who’s been involved with start-ups knows, you need a fair amount of flexibility to do well in this environment. Take the division of labour for example – rather than strict roles, you’ll often see everyone do a bit of everything. The same principle extends to measuring success. It can be vague and mean different things to different people, and it can change over time.
But amongst all that vagueness, one thing has become clear. Predicting the success of a start-up is very difficult for external observers. As a matter of fact, it’s often impossible. Therefore, in order to evaluate how successful a start-up has truly been, we need to know the goals of its founder(s).
“Success means we go to sleep at night knowing that our talents and abilities were used in a way that served others.” – Marianne Williamson
When people think about business, it’s common to boil matters down to the finances. And it certainly is possible to use numbers to measure and predict the performance of a start-up business. Net worth, gross margin, customer acquisition cost – these can all be indicators of success. But, a start-up can post impressive numbers for a while, perhaps even attract large investors, and still shut down in the end. So does this make it a failure?
The answer to this depends. If the founders wanted to start a lasting business, then yes, they failed to meet their goal. However, that isn’t always the case. If they were looking for a short-term solution and came out with more money than they had coming in, a closed-down start-up needn’t be unsuccessful. It can actually be the opposite of that.
So, looking at the figures isn’t enough, and there are different perspectives to consider. When they start planning their business venture, start-up founders may not have any particular numbers in mind when it comes to profit. Instead, they can judge their success according to some of the following criteria.
1. Happy Customers and Solving Problems
The story of a start-up often begins with a problem. The desire to help people overcome a specific issue can be the spark which ignites the creation of an entire business. And in the end, that may be all that matters to the founders.
This is closely connected to the happiness of the customers. If the resulting product or service has made people happy by helping them solve a problem, that is all that may be required for a start-up to be a success. Now, no business wants unsatisfied customers. But in cases like this, happy customers aren’t the way toward the ultimate goal – they are that goal.
In other words, some start-up founders don’t just use financial reports to measure how much they’ve achieved. To them, the one metric which stands above all others is the quantity of positive feedback they’ve received. The main area of focus is customers who use the start-up’s products or services to solve a problem they were having.
Every start-up founder likes doing well in terms of revenue. But for some of these entrepreneurs, the profit is merely a side effect of what they actually set out to do – impact the world in a positive manner. You can see an example of this line of thought with Elon Musk. He said that back in college, he had wanted to be a part of things that could end up changing the world. The continuation of this philosophy is evident in his electric cars (which aim to reduce pollution) and the SpaceX program (which strives to break down some of the barriers of space exploration).
In both cases, the furthering of mankind is the ultimate goal. Many other start-up founders feel the same, even if they have smaller goals in mind. To these people, there is no greater proof of success than if their company has had a positive impact on society or even a small segment of it. In their view, to make a difference is to succeed.
“The only limit to your impact is your imagination and commitment.” – Tony Robbins
For some, starting up their own business is less about getting rich and more about gaining the freedom to conduct their business the way they want to. In this case, financial success is just a means to an end. The endgame is to be your own boss.
The fact is, some people don’t do well when they’re constantly receiving orders. They are simply hardwired to be free thinkers and they require an environment that allows them to do things in their own way.
Being in a position where you hold all the cards can be exhilarating. The knowledge that your decisions are final is very empowering, and many strive for such freedom. If a start-up can allow such people to go from being a regular employee to being in charge of making all the decisions, then it has already achieved all the success that it needs to.
4. Time for Friends and Family
As many people know all too well, a job can easily turn into the focal point of your daily life. Instead of being a way to support your lifestyle, your work dominates your time. And when that happens, the time you have to dedicate to your loved ones becomes scarce. Combating this is precisely what some have in mind when they decide to take the leap and start their own business.
Now, running your own company is no mean feat and it will require a lot of effort. But the beginning is the most time-consuming part of the process. Later on, it can be possible to create a system which leaves you with a lot more time on your hands. You can spend this time with your significant other, your children, or your friends. A start-up which gives you this opportunity is perhaps the greatest success of all.
A start-up is an extension of its founders and so are that company’s goals. Some entrepreneurs are in it for the profit, but not all of them. In the end, there is no single way to measure the success of a start-up. It all comes down to the specific aims of those who established it. But if the founders can end their day on a happy note, then the venture is a success even if it doesn’t fit some standard definition of the term.
The Problem Is Not Your Website Or Your Product.
I spend a lot of my time talking to business owners. They focus on their product, their marketing channels and trying to make more profit.
I met one such business owner who was in the plastic surgery business. Their product (boob jobs and nose jobs) was not working. Their website sucked and people clicked off as soon as they visited it.
People would call their office, get put on hold, listen to the on hold message and hang up.
This business didn’t seem all that special. I’ve talked to many businesses and didn’t think for a microsecond that a plastic surgery clinic could ever teach me anything valuable.
I’ve been to Hollywood on holidays and the issues of body image are all too apparent to me. Anyway, this post is not about body image.
I ended up losing this business as a customer — not that I would ever have sold anything to them if it were up to me. I sat down one afternoon and thought about why we no longer did business with them.
That’s when I realized it’s not about your product or your website. All the issues with this plastic surgery clinic and a lot of other businesses I’ve dealt with stem from one thing. Let me explain in more detail.
Your Google Reviews say you’re an piece of work.
I looked up their Google Reviews and their customers said they were assholes.
They spoke down to clients, they didn’t deliver their clients what they wanted, they argued with their staff in front of customers and they treated people like they were nothing more than a dollar sign.
All I had to do was read their Google reviews to see that the problem wasn’t their product or their website.
Your clients tell you every day that you suck.
I asked the plastic surgery what their clients said.
Many of their clients told them that their services sucked and they would prefer to go to places like Thailand where they could get a better product at a much lower price.
The business owner made the mistake of thinking it was their product that was the problem and that a new website will tell clients a different message.
That wasn’t it.
You abuse your staff and they consistently leave.
I spoke with many staff that worked for this business.
Every single one of them hated the company and were not afraid to say what they thought of the business owner.
The business owner would sit outside on a nice sunny day and look across the street at all the yachts and the people boarding them.
They’d sit there and think that every lead they got was going to take them one step closer to owning their very own yacht.
“If only I could deliver more boob jobs, maybe I could have one of those,” they thought quietly to themselves hoping that no one else could hear how ridiculous this sounded.
I can remember multiple times being on the phone to the business owner and having one of their staff burst into tears halfway through the call.
The first time it happened I didn’t think much. After the third time, I got the message. During the short time I dealt with this business, people consistently left. If you made it to the six-month mark, you were some sort of hero and would probably be given a free surgery to say thank you for your work and make you feel worse about your own body at the same time.
It was free noses and boobs in return for daily abuse.
The problem still wasn’t the website all the product.
You don’t solve real problems; you solve your own problem.
A good business solves a problem.
That problem typically affects human beings and solving it is how you make money in business. Solving problems can start out with a problem that affects you, but at some point, you’ve got to start solving that same problem for other people/businesses.
This owner of this plastic surgery clinic was only trying to solve their own problem which was making more money to buy fancy items like yachts.
Only solving your own problem is not just selfish but bad business.
Good business is solving a big problem or lots of small problems for entire strangers who you don’t know thus doing something valuable for the human race.
Solving only your problem will make you poor.
The problem still wasn’t their website or product.
Creating more problems.
Everything this business owner sold created more problems.
They’d film videos to purposely make people feel like their body wasn’t perfect.
They’d write articles suggesting that everyone needs botox to feel young.
They’d take photos of men and women who were supposed to be perfect so that young people would dream of looking like them.
Not only was their business not solving a real problem; it was also creating more problems every day that it existed.
If your business creates more problems than it solves, you’re in real trouble.You need to take a long hard look at the business and become obsessed with doing everything you can to change it — and do so damn fast to limit the whirlwind of problems you’re creating behind you.
The heart of the problem.
It’s the business owner.
The business I mentioned will fail. That part is certain. The problem with the business is not the website or the product.
The problem is the business has no heart because the business owner has no heart.
You cannot focus on your own selfish desires, create really bad problems in the world, treat other human beings like garbage and expect to go buy a yacht and live happily ever after. It just doesn’t happen like that.
Whether you are a plastic surgery clinic like the one I described or a solo entrepreneur, the problem with your business is you.
Fix the problem of YOU. You can’t get away with being horrible forever.
Being horrible is bad business.
Being respectful, kind and valuable is the final answer to the problem with your business.
18 Must Read Business Books for Emerging Entrepreneurs and Startups
Reading is both relaxation and training for the mind. Who reads, dives into another world. Learning, entertaining and breaking out of everyday life for a short moment. One could go even so far as to say reading is the second most beautiful thing in the world! Whether it is non-fiction or a novel of all the world’s man has created, the book is the most powerful tool. That is also, why we wanted to find out which business book you should undertake in the new year. (more…)
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