Entrepreneurship · Design

Why aren't there more designer entrepreneurs?


December 10th, 2014

It seems like most entrepreneurs are either tech. or non-tech.? Which category do designers fall into? And why don't you see more starting companies?

LanVy Nguyen Founder & Managing Director at Fashion4Freedom

December 12th, 2014

There seems to me a tinge of arrogance and egocentrism in this question.   

The modern design world seems to assume that if the founder/would-be founder of a business idea does not include a nifty app or hipster tech application of some sort, then that person can be deemed as not quite so "entrepreneur" enough.  If the designer isnt working on creating running socks that can measure the amount of testosterone one might leach out as toe sweat; then that designer might be deemed as not so designy enough.   

I agree with Mr.Turner that DESIGN is about finding a solution to a problem; the solution might include tech and it might be better adapted should it also look pretty.  Entrepreneurship is about turning ideas into sales--NOT SELLING THE IDEA TO INVESTORS with a glossy prezi .   There are lots and lots of design entrepreneurs out there; they're missing from this site because they are actually busy designing, making, and selling on places like ETSY, MAKR, and quite a few other sites.  There are billions more entrepreneurs in the 3rd world that turn ideas into profit to feed their families.

The arrogance to assume that there only exist a small group of DESIGNERS whose skills also intersect with ENTREPRENEURSHIP baffles me.  

Jared Zimmerman User Experience Director

December 10th, 2014

I answered this in Quora -- Why are so few startups founded by designers? http://qr.ae/qYkNS


December 10th, 2014

Let me ask a question? Was Steven Jobs a designer? Were Dolce & Gabbana designers?

Design embraces many disciplines and its harder to come up with a winning formulea in design. But if the designer can create the winning 'product' , 'design' , the success is overwhelming!

Jessica Alter Entrepreneur & Advisor

December 11th, 2014

So I think Alexia is asking as a whole, not looking for edge case proof points that there are a ton. I actually wrote an article about this in WIRED based on http://www.wired.com/2013/08/why-arent-more-startups-founded-by-designers/ but the gist is (simplifying) designers fall into two categories:
1. Many designers really love just design and that's fabulous (and also why they enjoy design agencies), but as an entrepreneur you don't get to do just one thing - you do 20. So for those designers who are simply passionate about their craft, entrepreneurship might not be for them.
2. Those that love Design Thinking - solving problems and iterating - designers are amazingly well suited for entrepreneurship. For those They may need more examples of success.

Daniel Turner Available

December 12th, 2014

Oddly, there's something about the way this comment thread is designed (using the word intentionally) that makes is burdensome to reply when there are many points above to reply to.

Jessica is right on target when she reminds people that "design" is not necessarily aesthetics or "make it pretty" or "focused on product", as someone put it above. Design thinking, UX thinking, are all about solutions -- to correct another comment above. UX design is asking, "What problem does this solve, for whom, and how do we know that?" Eran must have run into a very limited set of designers if his experience has been "Are you producing a product that uses technology to solve a problem in unique or better way?If so, you're a tech entrepreneur. If you're selling a design service, it's non-tech." -- most of the most innovative mobile apps were built by people who are considered designers.

Brett also has a good point that UX people rarely make six figures just for interning and rarely have the ears of VCs who will fund a year of producing nothing for the public, or years with no profits, the way they do with engineers. This may be a vicious circle, or self-fulfilling prophecy.

In the last few years, I've met with a lot of founders and would-be founders. What mostly drove me away was their lack of interest in learning what a UX designer can and has been trained to do, or outright discounting of it. Too often I get (sorry, Robert) an earful of phrases they learned at b school -- sincere and passionate, but often just because they think they need to use words like "incentivize" to sound serious, rather than for good reason -- or the concern for selling over solving user problems. Or I get told, "I just need you to implement my vision/make my sketches look pretty" or some variant thereof.

The core of design and design thinking, what we know leads to better everything, is to take every decision (design or business) as an hypothesis, one that has to be tested against the real world. Do you think you have a great idea for a product? How do you know anyone else in the world would want this? How does this solve a problem for real people, or will delight people? UX design helps test and discover this. But you have to be willing to revise or let go of your vision, and look for a better one. That leads to a better product, but this is where designers find founders push way, way back, and so the designer can't do his or her job. I wrote about this athttp://boxesandarrows.com/we-dont-research-we-build .

To be sure, there's frustration all around, and we could all do a better job of listening and understanding where the other person is coming from. But I can only make the case from one side, and raise awareness from one side, and try to do better each time myself.

Eran Eyal Advisor, startup founder, strategist | endlessly inquisitive.

December 10th, 2014

It has less to do with whether you're a designer and more to do with the product. 

Are you producing a product that uses technology to solve a problem in  unique or better way? If so, you're a tech entrepreneur. If you're selling a design service, it's non-tech.

Brett Tuley Future Cofounder of a World Changing Startup :')

December 10th, 2014

Assuming your referring to the 'art' type of designer and not the kind that can also program and put together a web page then I have a couple thoughts:

I find that as I run into designers at entrepreneurial events they are often in a position where they need to get paid for the work they do and cannot take on the risk of co-founder. Perhaps because the average salary of an engineer is higher they simply have more opportunity to invest some of their time in risky unpaid exploration?

Also, there seems to be no shortage of people with ideas that 'just need a little design work' (I know I'm one of these entrepreneurs myself) and perhaps designers have been burned enough that they have learned to ask for money upfront?

Joanan Hernandez CEO & Founder at Mollejuo

December 11th, 2014

Hello Alexia,

Brian Chesky, one of Airbnb founders, is a designer.


Jose Benavides Director of Product/UX at Duetto Research

December 11th, 2014

Tech has been traditionally defined as a programmer. Designers would be in the non tech along with business, marketing and other critical, but non tech areas. One big hurdle that I see a lot of non tech people fall into is that they can't find someone to bring their online product to life (tech). If you're already a programmer, you don't need anyone to make your idea a reality, even though it might look horrible. If you're a non tech, a beautiful mockup or business plan is not the same as a working product. I would say that's why you don't see as many non tech entrepreneurs as tech entrepreneurs. For non tech you have that extra step of finding and/or hiring someone to implement your vision. The above is all based on the premise that you are asking about mainly online software businesses.

Alan Peters VP Product and Technology at BusinessBlocks

December 11th, 2014

I like this answer, Jessica. I wonder how different it is for hackers and hustlers. I know a lot of craft-oriented technologists and business people - and I know a few who can also think big and/or play in a lot of sandboxes.