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Why Entrepreneurs Who Design May Have a Competitive Advantage

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What advantages and disadvantages do product designers have as entrepreneurs? originally appeared on Quora - the knowledge sharing network where compelling questions are answered by people with unique insights.

Answer by Ben Blumenfeld, Co-Director at Designer Fund, former Design Lead at Facebook, on Quora.

As a co-director of Designer Fund, a firm that invests in startups co-founded by designers, I think a lot about what makes a good designer founder and what skills designers need to develop as founders. Also, as a designer founder myself, I'm constantly applying these learnings to my own work as an entrepreneur.

The Advantages

Like engineers, designers have the ability to build the products and services the envision. This is a massive advantage as you don't have to rely on another person to get a first version of your product and test some of your hypothesis.

Unlike engineers, designers also have the advantage of being visual storytellers. What this means is they can often create the perception that something is real/tangible early on to rally potential cofounders and investors around their vision. This is a big advantage in the early days of a company's formation and can continue to be a huge advantage as a big part of what a CEO does is to set and communicate the vision for the company.

Additionally, designer founders can apply a design problem solving mentality to other parts of their business. For example, take the story of Airbnb's founders selling custom made Obama O's and Cap'n McCains cereal to solve their financial problems. This isn't a solution most engineers or business people would come up with and it was one that allowed them to survive and weather a financial storm

The Disadvantages

We invest in companies that have great business, tech, and design in their founding team. The reason we do this is we believe the harmonious balance of these three areas of expertise best sets up the next generation of great companies for success. So, one disadvantage designer founders have is that they might over-index on design. This can manifest in sweating details that don't matter, not having a clear understanding their business model, or lacking the necessary tech skills in the founding team to quickly build and iterate on the product.

Another disadvantage is one of perception. While we are seeing more designers take the path of entrepreneurship, they are still the exception and not the rule. So, for many VCs, investing in a designer founded company will still be perceived as a risk. One way to mitigate this is to ensure you have that mix of design, tech, and business skills and experience on your founding team.

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