The world of design has recently been brought to the forefront of the startup world. With 500 Startups launching their “Designer Fund,” solely focused on helping companies founded by designers, there’s even money out there specifically for it.
Former Seattlite Kirill Zubovsky also recently graduated from Y-Combinator’s summer class with his startup Scoutzie, a site that features beautiful mobile designs. Well Crafted is a Seattle startup run by the husband-and-wife duo Keith and Jana Harper that’s building a lightweight online portfolio for designers that will work across all devices.
A designer himself, Keith came up with the idea after having to recode his portfolio time and time again. We chatted with the team for this episode of Startup Spotlight:
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “Well Crafted is a simple portfolio that works on any device. It’s made for designers and other visual creatives to show off their very best work. Our goal is to make your work look good anywhere – whether that’s on your laptop, on our iPad app, or on the latest Android smartphone.”
Inspiration hit us when: “I needed to update my portfolio for the 30th time, and it necessitated updating the code as well as the work. This is a common issue for designers who have the ability to code their own portfolios, but lack the knowledge of how to develop a database and proper image management system. That’s where the power of a platform comes in. It really makes your life easier to have your data and media managed for you, so that you can focus on updating your work, describing your role in projects, and getting out there and promoting yourself.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We’re bootstrappers all the way. A funny thing that I’ve noticed is the startup media is almost exclusively focused on reporting who got how much money, and from whom. But bootstrappers (and there are way more than people realize) are out there every day, actually building products. We’re not just “idea guys.” Everyone has ideas. It’s pretty exciting to be able to execute on your ideas, and we’re proud to be part of the bootstrapping community.”
Our “Secret Sauce” is: “Jana is a developer, and I’m a designer. We’re incredibly lucky to have complimentary, overlapping skillsets. Jana handles all of the super technical things, like building the application, designing the databases, setting up servers, etc. I handle all of the visual design and front-end coding. We both work on the branding and business aspect together. We know we have a unique situation, and we’re taking full advantage of it.”
Smartest move we’ve made so far: “Taking a machete to our expanding feature set, and cutting out everything superfluous to the core of our product. We made a small pivot during this process: we’ve gone from a customizable portfolio, with multiple layouts, that worked decently on a desktop, to a single, strong layout that works well across all of the devices we could get our hands on.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Not starting with a lean approach. We reinvented the wheel a bit by building our own framework – which was a great exercise, but took additional time to implement. To be fair, when we started, the lean model wasn’t even a thing yet. But it was our first product, and we’ve learned to really, really focus on building the core features first – make that toaster toast before you worry about adding anything else to it.”
Would you rather have Gates, Jobs, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Jobs, hands down, because of his focus on creativity and uncompromising design sensibility.”
Our world domination strategy starts when: “We power the portfolios for major creative organizations like AIGA, Art Director’s Club, and the like. We’re trying to get our platform into the hands of talent agencies as well, so that they can provide an additional benefit for their designers.”
Rivals should fear us because: “We’re small, agile, and driven to build a real business. We’re not trying to grab up as many free users as possible, in the hopes that some bigger company will buy us. That’s not a business model, that’s a fantasy. We’ve had paying customers from day 31 (there’s a 30-day free trial), and we’re trying to build a real, lasting business here. We’re going to displace aging competitors that aren’t innovating. Things change so ridiculously fast in the interactive space – especially in mobile. Just like a shark, you can’t stop moving, or you’re dead.”
We are truly unique because: “You can show our portfolios on (nearly) any device. They even work on a tiny little Blackberry screen. We’re also laser-focused on showing your very, very best work – that’s why our designers are limited to 6 projects at a time. It’s an artificial constraint we chose to put in place, one that most other platforms do not have. Trust me, if you look at someone’s portfolio, and there are 70 projects to look at, you have no idea a) what kind of work they want to do, and b) what kind of work they’ll be best at. We have an archive that is always available, so you can have an unlimited number of projects, but only show 6 at a time.”
The biggest hurdle we’ve overcome is: “Sticking with it. Bootstrapping is especially hard because your runway is extremely limited, and you’re probably funding it yourself. Execution is everything, and if you have to pivot at some point, it’s not a bad thing – you’re refining your idea. Get your hands dirty, contribute to the building of your product – in any way that you can. If you want to do one thing, go work for someone else. The only way you’re going to succeed in building a product is by throwing your ego out the door and slogging through all the horrible, boring little details that someday may add up to something special.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Keep it simple, believe in your vision, and don’t quit when it gets tough. Ignore your competitors while you’re in the thick of building your product – it will only distract you, and it may even depress you. They’re already established, with a customer base, a team, and a hundred times more resources than you. Stay focused on executing your vision.”