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Maximizing Your Startup Dollars Through Great Design

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Deciding to build a second product is a very difficult decision. Especially when you’re a small bootstrap company. While we do well with our main product, HelpSpot, we don’t have a lot of cash to just throw around.

So in planning Snappy, I knew we had to maximize our dollars. I’d much rather spend money on the top notch developers we’ve hired than other consultants or services.

However, this conflicted with another goal I had for the product. That it have a very refined, strong, fully fleshed out brand. From the logo, to the colors, website, vibe, stickers, everything. One cohesive brand. Not a logo by one person and a website from another.

OK, that’s a reasonable goal but there’s more. I wanted to work with a top tier design firm. One that specialized in branding, but also had the in house chops to do all the other elements we’d need. This time there would be no half measures.

We’ve worked with a lot of great designers in the past, but for this project I felt we needed to look for someone with a very specific design style and set of skills. So I went looking around at what was going on in design right now. That’s when I became addicted to Dribbble.

What Dribbble provides is more than just a way to find designers. The real magic is it gives you insight into what the designers are working on right now. Design is art and people have natural ebbs and flows. Dribbble lets you see not just people who have done great work in the past (like a portfolio), but those who are at the top of their game right now. Today. That is incredibly powerful.

So now we can find great designers, but to maximize their value we need to pick one with a wide reach. This is the key to making an expensive, top tier designer affordable. A designer with incredible reach can turn your design expense into an advertising channel. Letting you apply both your design and advertising budget to this one aspect of your project. This is risky, but also has a huge potential payoff as it did for us.

In our case we ended up choosing Focus Lab. Not only is their work amazing, but the designers have a huge following on Dribbble and Twitter as well as a foothold in the web development community.

So what does finding a team with great reach bring? How can it cover the $25,000 – $75,000 you’re likely to pay for a full boat design project?

Let’s start with this. In 7 years of selling HelpSpot we’ve never generated as much buzz, sign ups or interest with any of dozens of advertising campaigns as our work with Focus Lab has for Snappy. The power of great design to inspire and motivate people is astounding.

The key is to shape this power and focus it. In our case, I was very clear with Focus Lab that I wanted them to speak about Snappy as much as possible from day 1. That the opportunity to leverage their reach was a significant aspect of why I thought they were a good fit. That their amazing work shouldn’t be buried in some project management app, but shared as we went so people could follow our progress.

You can see the results of this collaboration on Dribbble. Note how each image references our landing page and has a call to action to sign up:
http://dribbble.com/ianlandsman/buckets/72071-Snappy

The best part about this is it proves to be a truly win/win scenario. With the designers posting on Dribbble and Twitter along with a link to our landing page we get huge prelaunch sign ups while they get increased exposure. Their profile is raised on those networks by showcasing their talents and we get to highlight them and recommend them via our network as we publicly share information on what we’re working on.

This path obviously won’t work if you have a budget of $0 🙂 but if you have a few more dollars than that this path can be truly transformative. There’s simply no way putting $10,000 into adwords or The Deck could buy you this type of publicity and engagement.

While in our case we had a healthy size budget, I think this can also work at smaller levels. The real key is to find a designer with amazing talent and the desire to share their work. One who gets the power of sharing and is willing to put in the extra effort to do so in a way that provides these additional benefits to all parties.

When we launched HelpSpot 7 years ago we had 80 people on the beta list. Snappy has thousands with little work on our end other than hiring a great team of designers. In fact, we haven’t even announced anything to our existing customer base at all yet.

It’s difficult to estimate the value of this, but acquiring this list via traditional methods would have been many times the cost. Hundreds of thousands of dollars probably and it would have been a much lower quality group compared with the excited (perhaps overly excited!) group we’ve been able to gather.

If you have an exciting and interesting project, this method of collaboration with a design team is some of the best money you can spend, with bang for the buck that’s off the charts. In essence, you’re getting world class design for free and you simply can’t beat that.

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