…value design, not design value.
…seek out mentality, not ideas.
…fund process, not product.
…demand customer insights, not instincts.
…prep for testing days, not demos days.
…commission research, not follow trends.
…study anthropology, sociology and psychology, not just management, economics and statistics.
…foster collaboration, not competition.
…care about people, not percentages.
…cherish sign-ins, not sign-ups.
…teach great doers how to think, not tell great thinkers what to do.
Every day I read another story about a startup getting millions of dollars of funding with no defined target audience and no defined problem they’re trying to solve. Money that could be ending hunger is instead being given to founders who match “the pattern” but who have limited business experience and no identifiable expertise.
These startups only exist to add something new to the world without any intention of taking anything away from it — obstacles, frustration, pain. They create massive amounts of digital garbage and conveniences for no one but themselves. And their VCs give them near-unlimited access to resources to do so.
About 10 times a week I’m approached by startups who are looking for user experience talent to bring in-house and at least one of those times will be by the VC himself who’s helping to recruit the best. When I get the pitch, meet the team, familiarize myself with the product and evaluate the operation, I am repeatedly struck by how UNappealing these places would be to any UX designer with even a modicum of integrity.
Why? Because these startups — and the VCs who fund them — are fundamentally structured to be the antithesis of customer-centric, no matter how much they claim to be in the press, to their friends, and amongst themselves.
They are, bluntly put, totally full of shit.
They have pre-defined solutions and five feet of feature requirements to roll out over the next year. Their prioritizations are based solely on technology and their development methodologies are so rigid (or haphazard) they leave no time for meaningful user-centered design. They make decisions subjectively with no valid intel on the behaviors, motivations or attitudes of their target audiences. They guess all day long. No top-notch UXer would touch that with a 10-foot pole.
Frankly, I think their VCs are to blame.
VCs are like parents: they pay for companies to make mistakes within a safe environment. It’s not risk-free, but it’s a whole lot easier to grow your company with money you didn’t have to earn. And yet these parents totally fall short on their job of molding their children into responsible, helpful, contributing citizens of the world. Instead they say, “I like your instincts, here’s enough money to sit back and have more of them!”
The reason most VCs don’t mentor their startups on how to create and grow meaningful companies that impact society in positive, lasting ways is because they have no idea how. Most VCs are VCs because they had financial success with their own companies and cashed out big; that doesn’t mean those companies actually mattered to people. A multimillion dollar acquisition isn’t proof of worth to customers, it’s proof of worth to the acquiring company. They bought employees, not customers.
Most of these acquisitions are totally alienating to customers, but the acquiring company doesn’t care. They got the press, they got the talent, they got the technology, the put the competition out of business, whatever. They did it to win, not to make people’s lives better. And when founders let their companies be bought like this, it blatantly shows they were in it for the same selfish reasons.
What the hell are we doing on this planet if not helping each other? No man is an island, but many sure do act like it.
VCs, if you’re reading this, please stop trying to learn about user experience and its value to companies in a publication like Fast Company or Forbes. I urge you to read a book by a user experience designer for user experience designers (there are many great ones in the footer of this blog). Understand what practitioners actually do and why we do it. Explore our deep-rooted history in library science and human factors and anthropology. Discover the techniques we use to build empathy with the people we serve and how we shape both product and corporate strategy to serve them better.
When you think back on the companies you’ve funded, how many of them are still operating today? Of those who’ve hit the deadpool, which ones were founded on disrupting industry versus solving people’s problems?
Were you in it for the people that could be helped or the money that could be made?
The companies you fund — and the ones you choose to work for — are a reflection of your values. Your actions today will be your legacy tomorrow.