Designing Your Experience

with Jeff Veen

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The critical importance of speed for startups

Jeff Veen

Design Expert, Good Taste Purveyor, Product Guy

Lessons Learned

One way startups can compete with larger companies is by speed.

Your feature prioritization process can be a marketing method used to strategic advantage.

While startups are all consuming, they are not as regimented as corporate life.

Everyone has a finite amount of creative energy.

If you do not replenish your creative energy and enjoy downtime, you are playing a short-term game.


Lesson: Designing Your Experience with Jeff Veen

Step: #7 Time: The critical importance of speed for startups

One of the things that I think is incredibly important for startups, and one other key ways that they can compete with large companies is that they can go so much faster. I think a lot of the lean startup methodology embraces that in a really great way. So we were just trying to ship Typekit as quickly as we possibly could to be this minimum viable product, but at the same time, we knew that some things couldn't bend. It had to be a robust and reliable service.

But that meant as we were getting closer to a date we wanted to ship, which was pretty arbitrary, but we knew we wanted to get it out quickly. We started shedding features all over the place. One of the things that we didn't launch with was a search functionality. So literally there was no way to find the fonts in our font service but for clicking “next” in each page as we listed them all.

We would get some user feedback, and we got enough of it to realize, after we launched, that this was an important feature people wanted. They didn't seem upset. They were asking about it and so we put it on our roadmap and did it as quickly as we could. When we launched it, we sent a tweet out that said, "Now search on Typekit," and people went nuts. They were so happy that we had added search that we had listened to our users, that we were being responsive, really fast paced and what a great startup. When we had just left it out, because we didn't have time to do it anyway.

We used this incredible prioritization process as a marketing method as well. We would launch these things that we had left out but did that with so much momentum that people who followed our blog or followed us on Twitter could see us launching new features every four or five days. It started our whole relationship with our customers that way. It was great.

Work-life balance. My first son was born three days before we launched Typekit. No, sorry, it was the other way around. We launched Typekit three days before he was born because I told the team you have to launch before she does, so that's one of the reasons I really like the startup. It is obviously all-consuming, but at the same time, it is not nearly as regimented as, maybe, corporate life is that I could work from 10 to 5 p.m. and then again from 9 p.m. to midnight or something. That was totally fine because you could always just log into the chatroom and everybody was there anyway and it was great.

But I think everybody has a limited resource of creative energy. It's not endless, though getting feedback from people that use your product and they're happy, boosts that amount of creative energy, keeps you going, and nourishes you. There still needs to be down time and I still think that's really important.

We, to some degree, would try to take the weekends off which a lot of startups don't do, or certainly the founders would just plow through, but some down time. I would go for bike rides and Ryan would go on photography. He shoots outdoor photography and we would go find these things to do to make sure that we could replenish and I think that, especially when you have investors and they're looking for milestones and expecting returns and things like that, you lose sight of that and you're just playing a really short-term game and it's not going to work.

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