design startups

How to Sell Design

We all know design is important but if your a designer trying to grow your design business, or you’re an entrepreneur trying to buy design services, you could be selling yourself short.

We all know that design is a key product differentiator:

  • Well designed products and software can be sold for a premium.
  • Products that are designed to be easy to use have fewer customer support issues and higher satisfaction.

But if your a designer trying to sell the value of your designs you may often hear that design is too expensive or that things like research seem unnecessary steps.

Designers and entrepreneurs aren’t always speaking the same language. While we know design is valuable, designers often have a hard time explaining or selling this value.

Three key principals:

#1 – Don’t Sell Design

When I first started my business I would try to sell the value of design. The problem with this is that no one wants to buy design. They don’t. You don’t want to buy the design for an iPhone, you want the iPhone. Most people don’t separate the value of design from the thing itself.

We were designing products, websites and mobile apps and similarly, the founder and entrepreneurs didn’t want the design of an app or a website they wanted the outcome, the result.

Design is just one of the ingredients that goes into building a product, but typically the person buying it is interested in the product, not the ingredients.

And as an entrepreneur, try to be specific about the results you’re looking for. Results can be based on metrics such as conversion, retention, bounce rate… Or it can be based on aesthetic qualities: professional, friendly, quirky, stark, colorful…

  • Do you want something easy to use?
  • Do you want it to look friendly or attractive?
  • Do you want thoughtful designs for the setup experience, the error experience or more.

Often times design isn’t just what happens on the screen, sometimes it’s the decisions of the business itself.

#2 – Don’t sell the design as a phase.

It’s common for designers to propose the incorporation of design as a discrete step in a larger project. Try not to do this.

Design work tends to happen through the entire continuum of a product life-cycle so if you propose a discrete phase you’re doing a disservice to yourself and your customers. If design issues can be introduced late in a product life cycle they can also be corrected. By treating design as a continuum you’re less likely to be without a designer when you need one.

Secondly, phased design means your designers will have less or sometimes no overlap with your engineering team. Great products are the combination of design and engineering and it’s only through shared time that hard problems get solved. If you sell your design as a phase you’re creating a scenario where it’s easy to cut or trim the phase and end up with something functional but not usable.

#3 – Great Design is about solving business problems

When showing your work, it’s about outcomes and benefits more than the pixels on the screen. You’re selling yourself and your team. You’re building trust and at the end of the day you’re selling your ability to deliver on specific business results.

Your character, charisma and ultimately your confidence are key to solving a design problem.

The ways things look and feel are important but put as much or more emphasis on your ability to drive business metrics.

personal finance

How to negotiate a raise

Over the last ten years, I’ve hired hundreds of people and the vast majority of people don’t know how to position or negotiate their salary. This puts them at a significant disadvantage.

Getting a fair market salary is a key step to freedom for both financial independence and entrepreneurship. Key steps:

  • Negotiate from a position of strength (if you can)
  • Use positional negotiation. This means you negotiate the position, not the specific number.
  • Negotiate not just the salary but all other aspects of the offer.
  • Don’t discuss your past salary. It puts you at a disadvantage for getting to a fair outcome and it may be illegal for the employer to ask. 17 states explicitly ban this.
  • Get to a Win-Win. Negotiation of salary is about finding a fair market value. Look for opportunities to increase your value to the organization, not just your salary.

Tesla after two year

After driving an EV for two years there are a number of key takeaways:

  1. Electric car charging infrastructure is getting really good
  2. The range is improving and should serve most people’s daily/yearly needs
  3. Price is coming down and the money saved on maintenance and fuel adds up
  4. Tesla is more of a software company and that sets it apart, they sell a computer/gaming console on wheels
  5. It’s hard to find a better value for FUN in a car

Why Solar?

A lot of folks are thinking about solar but they are framing the problem the wrong way. The thought process is usually focused on the financials and most solar companies are selling solar based on the fiscal benefits.

Yes. There are financial benefits and yes, solar can cost quite a bit in terms of up-front investment so this is a consideration but this shouldn’t be the WHY. If you’re starting with a financial argument you’ll end up having a weak argument.

If you want a greater % of your energy to come from natural sources, solar is often the only way to take control.

Current New England energy sources for grid-based energy. Source ISO-NE

New England currently gets 7% of its energy from renewables, of that only a small percentage is solar. While natural gas is 50-60% better than coal in terms of carbon emissions it’s still not very clean. If your WHY is to reduce your carbon footprint then solar is a really good solution.

Taking ownership of your energy production is both easy and cost-effective way to positively reduce total carbon emissions while also having nice finance side-effects.


Getting Good at Anything

The key to getting good at anything is to start by being bad at it. For anyone who has high-standards, this is really difficult because you’re producing something that you are not happy with. That’s exactly the point. You know it’s not good enough, you know it should be better but your skills don’t match your expectations.

This is when many people give up and this is the opportunity for those that push through.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit… It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions.”

― Ira Glass

40-hour “work” week

Maximize the value delivered, not the hours

How many hours, is the right number of hours to work each week? Some entrepreneurs are talking about four-hour work while others are telling you to always-be-hustling.

If you’re asking 40-hours or 130-hours, you’re asking the wrong question. It doesn’t matter. I’d rather work with someone who produces results in 30 hours than someone who works all day but doesn’t produce results.

If you’re starting a business there are times when going the extra mile can make a huge difference but I think it’s rarely about the hours, it’s about the impact that those hours can have.

When starting a business there are always too many things to do and adding hours can sometimes feel like the right way to increase your productivity. There are times when this can be effective but it’s a losing long-term strategy.

As hours increase the value of the work delivered in each hour tends to go down. It can work for short bursts but is likely to burn people out.

Companies that consistently miss dates and deadlines are systemically dysfunctional. Running a business is a marathon, not a sprint and running people too hard is a recipe for disaster.

When I worked at Microsoft, I would often work late and the company would regularly order dinner for the team. It was hugely problematic but at the time, it didn’t feel broken because the work energized me. What I didn’t understand was that I was paying the price the following day when I would wake up groggy and sleep-deprived. I’m sure the company thought they were maximizing hours but they were draining the creativity dry.

It wasn’t about the hours, it was about driving the results.

Most technology jobs are unlike manufacturing jobs. With a manufacturing job, the more you work, the more things you can make. If you produce 100 widgets an hour, it’s math to know how many you can produce if you run the factory 24×7. The same math doesn’t hold true for software or similar creative work.

Elon Musk, sleeping at the Tesla factory, to keep it running all night and Marissa Mayer working 130 hours a week isn’t the same thing.

With a technology job, the more you work… Yeah. The more you work. It’s not about hours, it’s about results. The entire notion of hourly work is flawed, especially when you’re doing anything creative.

Many years ago I discovered a methodology called ROWE. This stands for Results-Only Work Environment. The idea behind ROWE is that it’s about the results, not the hours and employees should be empowered and measured on results, not attendance, hours, vacation or other abstract metrics.

If you’re focused on results, you’re more likely to empower your team to actually drive change in the business while giving people the health, wellness, and balance that they need to achieve it.


Half Ideas

A half idea is sometimes better than a full one.

For many years I’ve been saying that I have half ideas. Not a full-idea or a partial thought but just half an idea. I use this expression to put ideas out into the world. I give myself permission to express ideas in their earliest stages. Ideas start out fragile, and vulnerable and this is when they are most impacted by feedback, criticism, and iteration.

Half ideas are also the most valuable because many people don’t bother to talk about them. Innovative ideas sound crazy and complete ideas seem obvious. You need the freedom to say the outlandish if you want to be innovative.

“If at first the idea is not absurd, then there is no hope for it.”

Albert Einstein

Ideas need space to breathe and even the ideas that sound absurd should be explored. I think it’s better to get ideas out in the open and to get the input and feedback rather than stay silent and let the idea stay a thought. By saying things out loud, even with half an idea, I’m giving myself the freedom to put things out there that are still in rough form.

Many companies and organizations punish new ideas, they further create corporate incentives to keep the status quo and not challenge dogma. That may be ok for some but it shouldn’t be ok for anyone trying to innovate.

“Don’t be trapped by dogma – which is living with the results of other people’s thinking. Don’t let the noise of other’s opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Steve Jobs

I’m starting this blog/ video series to put my half-ideas out into the world and explore thoughts on technology, design, product, and innovation. The only thing I ask is that you help flesh out my half-ideas with your own.

Please consider subscribing via Email or YouTube


once more unto the breach

Back in 2003, I started my business at a small table at a Starbucks. I didn’t know what it would be, but that journey led to an amazing adventure as I built a team, a scalable business, and a broad set of customers. We ended up growing a successful mobile business with a fantastic team, amazing clients and hundreds of millions of downloads.

After a decade running that business, I sold the business and am stepping away to both reflect and to go back to where it all began. Coffee in hand, I’m starting on a new journey. Once again, I’m uncertain where it will lead. The lessons I’ve learned from my first company are broad but the key point for me is starting with a purpose and vision.

My purpose is to have a positive impact and to inspire others to create products, invent technologies and produce content that in-turn also produces a positive impact.

I start this journey with the letter that I ended the last one.

Nov 12th, 2019

Thank you.

I started back in 2003 in a coffee shop building software and technology and it’s amazing to see what we’ve been able to accomplish. It’s truly amazing. Our work has touched millions and perhaps billions and we’ve truly built technology, tools, solutions, and friendships that will last a lifetime. As I close this chapter and start the next one, I wanted to leave you with a few tenets that have served me well and I hope they help you on your journey.

Strive for wow.
From the projects we take on – to the people we hire – to the expectations we have from ourselves. When you strive for Wow, you’ll set yourself apart from everyone else and achieve something that’s truly inspiring.

Encourage half ideas.
Ideas are the most vulnerable when they are in their infancy. Create an environment where people feel safe to say those ideas out-loud and let them take shape.

Work-life balance
You end up spending a lot of time at work so it’s important that you really care about the people you work with. Build friendships, vulnerability, and trust and it’ll help you find more of the happiness and the balance you’re looking for.

Ask questions that people can say YES to
All too often we ask nuanced questions of our teams, clients and co-workers. When we ask questions that can be answered YES, we create momentum. Not every question gets a YES, but you’ll find you’re more likely to get a “Yes and…” in return.

And lastly… Be bold, have fun, celebrate the wins, and build things that don’t suck!

Love, Greg Raiz