Designers · Startups

Is having an agency background good for designers who want to be entrepreneurs?

Neha Palacherla Marketing

March 10th, 2014

Although designers may not really own a product at an agency, it's still a great way to gain some experience. How useful is it really though for a designer when they're looking to start their own company? 

Aren Kaser Founder and CEO at Igor Institute

March 12th, 2014

It definitely can't hurt. 

Like many responses in this discussion, I think that varied work/project experience, participation in client acquisition and interaction, understanding the integrated nature of teams, and past opportunities to work at both a tactile and management level are critical skills/histories required to grow a service business.

Eric Rogness Technical Product Manager

March 11th, 2014

I would say it's neutral. Whether experience is across several projects or a single product, their talent will be honed/evident from their work and extracurriculars.


March 11th, 2014

It is always a great idea for a designer to have their own brand that they build ideas and sharpen their skills with. 

Cheryl Tom CEO, Founder at Vain Pursuits

March 11th, 2014

My experience working with agency designers is that those who worked their way up (have experience at the grunt level and now are Creative/Art Directors) are best. You don't want someone who only has low level experience as a cofounder - they know how to execute fast, but don't have experience with the client, a pragmatic eye, or product understanding.

I'd also make sure they've worked with a team collaboratively - some agencies really compartmentalize their freelancers - they won't know how to work in a tight knit startup team. 

John Wallace President at Apps Incorporated

March 11th, 2014

Being able to point at work and say "I did that" is pretty useful. It gives prospective clients confidence that you know what you're doing. The hardest part of starting a new service business is growing your network, finding customers, and closing deals. If you're not used to doing sales/business development, that's an area where you'll need to learn some skills (especially closing deals). Fortunately that's a learnable and fun part of service businesses. An oldie-but-goodie that I often recommend is S.P.I.N. Selling ( 

Jake Carlson Software Development Manager at Oracle

March 11th, 2014


Design school is somewhat like an agency itself, where you are assigned projects that you must complete for your client (professor). And in the same way you emerge from your education with a portfolio of [hopefully] disparate pieces of work that showcase your range, working at an agency is great to boost the breadth of your portfolio and expose you to problems that you might not be exposed to if you have only siloed yourself only working on a single product or related products for a long stretch of time.

IMO it is best to get exposed to as many kinds of work and roles as early on as possible so that you learn more about yourself and the way you work best. Then when you have some experiences under your belt to draw from, it will better inform your decisions on what to specialize in and what kind of roles you prefer.

If after you have done so you find that you enjoy being on a small team and being a little more familiar with the business side of things, then you will be better suited to be an entrepreneur. Of course, you can just jump in and hope for the best. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. But the more experience you have the better equipped you will be to succeed.