Brad Bouse already helped fix an inefficiency in the developer market when he co-founded the software development bootcamp Code Fellows. Now he’s working on another inefficiency, but this time in the design world.
Bouse and Dave Foley are the co-founders of Seattle-based LightBoard, an on-demand graphic design shop that caters to sales and marketing departments needing help creating ad units, social media, landing pages, infographics, case studies, slide-decks, and more.
The 4-person company founded earlier this year bills itself as a “new kind of agency.” LightBoard, currently participating in the Techstars Seattle accelerator, acts as a matchmaker, bringing together a “huge network of designers with spare capacity” to businesses with specific demands while using account managers to provide any logistical assistance.
“Every business needs design, and there are plenty of great designers, but finding the right one at the right time (and the right price) is hard,” Bouse said.
LightBoard’s clients include Toyota, Penguin Books, and “a bunch of smart marketing departments,” Bouse noted. We caught up with LightBoard CEO for this Startup Spotlight, a regular GeekWire feature.
Explain what you do so our parents can understand it: “We’re like a general contractor for graphic design. We find and manage the right designers to efficiently produce great design for your business. And unlike a general contractor, we’re always available to help you out :)”
Inspiration hit us when: “Before Lightboard, we spent nine months building a visual collaboration product that helped craftspeople work with their customers on one-of-a-kind projects. We tested our MVP with customers and, while they said a few nice things about it, NO ONE would buy it.”
Strapped with a product no one was paying for, we decided there was a much more interesting visual collaboration opportunity right under our noses. We started running ads for graphic design and almost immediately customers started requesting work. That was in June — three short months ago.”
VC, Angel or Bootstrap: “We look for smart money at the right time. Our business happens to generate revenue at an early stage, and that lends itself to a combination of bootstrapping and outside money.”
Our ‘secret sauce’ is: “We’re a good team for this problem. We have a long history in design, marketing, and collaboration software — and we’ve been lucky enough to be at successful companies along the way.”
The smartest move we’ve made so far: “We plowed ahead with our design service before we’d written all the software we needed to support it. This has been great for customer research — every sales call is a new lesson. That lets us focus our software development on the problems we’re facing every day as we scale our collaboration platform. Each software release makes our designers’ and clients’ lives easier, and that’s awesome.”
The biggest mistake we’ve made so far: “Our biggest mistake is the same as our smartest move: we plowed ahead with our platform before we had the software to fully support it. While you might need to break eggs to make an omelette, it’s a lousy feeling to let down a customer when we know we should be able to do better.”
Would you rather have Gates, Zuckerberg or Bezos in your corner: “Bezos. Amazon has repeatedly transformed inefficient marketplaces, and that insight into customer and vendor behavior would be invaluable as we build out the Lightboard platform. The scale, agility, and operational efficiency of Amazon is incredible.”
Our favorite team-building activity is: “Is something Andy Sack started at Techstars and Chris DeVore continues — highs and lows. At the end of each week everyone on Team Lightboard — founders, employees, contractors — share their personal and professional highs and lows of the week.
For our designers, many of whom are a little farther flung, we hold monthly design contests to make the next Lightboard t-shirt. We’ve made three so far — a heavy-metal Lightboard logo, an Illuminati-esque Lightboard seal, and a yet-to-be-revealed Lightboard cartoon.”
The biggest thing we look for when hiring is: “Gumption and startup experience. Early team members need to be able to identify and capture opportunities that aren’t clearly defined. It takes the right kind of person to fix what no one knew was broken.”
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to other entrepreneurs just starting out: “Listen extra hard to the advice you don’t want to hear. As your company becomes bigger, more people will have ideas about what you should and shouldn’t do. It’s more fun to listen to the people who are supportive, but honest contrarian advice is hard to find and should be valued.”
Editor’s note: GeekWire is featuring each of the 11 startups participating in the Techstars Seattle incubator in the lead up to the Demo Day pitch event on Oct. 27. Techstars applications open up Sept. 21.