Scaling Your Startup - How It Looks from the Product Design Perspective
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At the time you notice that your startup has a steady flow of revenue, the existing processes in your company start feeling small, and you understand that your users expect more from you, probably it’s time to scale.
Deciding to scale a startup is an exciting, yet challenging process that can add a couple of gray hairs to your head because if you want to expand to new horizons, you have to take risks.
As a team of product designers, we believe that having a reliable product team, as well as a carefully thought out approach to the product design helps to eliminate the scaling risks and make your business a few steps closer to success.
And though there are a lot of articles on the internet that provide general tips about scaling your startup, here we want to focus on two challenges from the product design perspective:
- Growing your team
- Expanding your product
But first of all, let’s make sure that we mean the same thing when saying the word “scaling”.
The difference between growth and scaling
We know that growth is the second of four product life cycle stages, but very often we hear the word “scale” in the same context. Though these two terms are often used interchangeably, there is a slight difference between scaling and growing that is important to discuss in terms of our topic.
So, what does it mean to scale your business, and what does it mean to grow your business?
Let’s start with “growth”.
When growing a business we are generating more income. But in order to generate that additional growth, we have to add new resources (purchase additional materials, get a new office, hire more employees, serve more clients, and so forth). And all those things incur a bunch of other expenses. For example, you’ve generated an additional hundred thousand dollars in revenue, but it cost you eighty thousand dollars. It means you made twenty thousand dollars, which is still great.
Now let’s move to “scaling”.
When you scale a business, you generate additional revenue without entailing that same degree of expenses. Spendings rise incrementally or stay at the same level. For example, you managed to increase the amount of income by four times, without hiring a single employee. Instead, you automated some processes and spent little money on them. That is, scaling means growing exponentially.
Below is a graph that will help you better understand the difference between growing and scaling.
Now some important facts to mention about scaling:
- Scaling is not better than growing, and vice versa. The choice depends on the specific needs of your company, team, and customers.
- Scaling is not completely feasible for all businesses. It’s not something that all kinds of startups should opt for to become successful. However, it works well for the tech industry.
In this article, we focus on scaling as a faster and budget-friendlier way to develop your business.
The last point we want to mention before moving further is that before scaling your business you as a tech startup owner should make sure that
- You achieved your product-market fit, that is, your product has its audience who needs it.
- You have a stable flow of revenue which proves you’ve found the product-market fit and helps attract investors to fund your growth.
In the next sections, we will discover what startup scaling challenges wait for business owners and learn how to cope with them.
What you can do to scale your business from the product design perspective
Unfortunately, among all the roles in SaaS companies people often underestimate the role of product design in their projects’ success. They would rather hire an additional engineer and then take care of finding a strong designer. Therefore, to begin with, let’s state why it is worth considering product design when scaling.
In 2018, McKinsey conducted research aimed to identify the value of design for businesses. Based on the research, they created the McKinsey Design Index (MDI) that orders the companies according to how strong they are at design and shows the correlation of this fact with companies’ financial state.
McKinsey found out that businesses with top-quartile MDI scores outperformed the percentage of annual growth rate by as much as two to one (see the graph below).
To be more specific, here is one fact from Airbnb’s scaling story. Airbnb’s founders understood that they had the same target audience as Craigslist. That’s why each time people offered their house for bed and breakfast on Craigslist, Airbnb’s team would email them and ask if they wanted to make a post on their platform.
That’s how they reached a new audience, but the next question is: How did they manage to retain them? Here comes the power of design. Once a visitor discovered Airbnb, they were impressed by visually appealing property images and the great user experience that the platform provided.
Therefore, sending emails to Craigslist’s users and showing them the real value of Airbnb with the help of great product design led to the rapid growth of this vacation rental platform loved by people all over the world.
Good design is essential for product adoption and retention rates. It makes the product useful, understandable, aesthetically pleasing, and innovative. Therefore, when thinking out your business scaling strategy don’t forget to take care of expanding your product design team.
Growing the design team
Product designers’ duties involve having a deep understanding of the users and the value your product provides to them. As well, product designers should be aware of the company’s business goals and make all the design decisions taking into account the product's business strategy. Thus, a scaling stage startup needs product designers not to make the product "beautiful", but to ensure that the new features/offering you plan to deliver evolve your business and bring value to the customers.
A bigger design team allows you to come up with ideas faster, and most importantly, validate them quicker and more effectively. In its turn, idea validation lets you assess users’ and market’s needs, ensure you don’t implement innovations based on unverified assumptions, and therefore, prevent your scaling startup from going onto the wrong path.
Though, understanding the need to grow the team doesn’t make this process easy. Below are three main challenges that you as a product owner may face when expanding the design team:
Organizing and optimizing work processes
A 50-person team won't survive the processes of a 5-person team. When you start with one designer who performs a vast variety of duties, there’s no need to build a clear structure around the design process. Once your team starts growing you’ll have to think out how the product design department should collaborate and function to keep consistency.
That is, you have to come up with a set of standard algorithms for how your team conducts research, ideate, validate, test, communicate, exchange ideas, and so on. Such an algorithm includes defining the tools they should use, the documentation they have to fill in, the principles they have to follow, and more.
On the other hand, scaling is not only about getting more of everything: people, products, revenue, processes. It’s also important to find things that slow you down and optimize them.
Some processes that used to work well in the past can become redundant for your scaling business, like the process of getting approval, or communication overload. For example, the former CEO of General Motors, Ed Whitacre, decided to cut down the number of paperwork workers had to deal with. By eliminating the number of reports employees had to fill in, they got more time to think of innovations and come up with new ideas. This way, Ed Whitacre managed to help the company scale more effectively.
With the defined tools and processes in place, you can start growing the team and its structure.
When you enter the growth stage and your scope of work increases intensively, you may feel a great need to hire just any product designer you can find. However, hiring the wrong employees is one of the reasons why startups fail.
Here's what Diane Greene, the founder and the former CEO of VMware, says about hiring at scale: “It’s a good thing to remember that hiring will get easier as you scale — but you should also never drop your standards.”
It’s always more important to take care of the quality of the employees than their quantity. Hire those UI/UX designers who understand your product vision and have some experience in the field you work in so that they can facilitate the company’s growth. Besides, choosing a product designer who understands your product’s mission will help you maintain the company culture at scale.
One more difficulty that you may face here is the fact that the average time to fill a position is 42 days and time is your most precious resource. The solution to the faster quality hiring process may be to outsource design work.
Hiring external professionals will help you quickly find additional pair of hands to help you cope with a greater workload, and take on several ongoing projects. Additionally, outsourcing can give you a fresh look at your business, reduce costs, and, of course, save time.
For example, you may expand your team with Eleken. All our designers are product designers with expertise in creating SaaS applications. We work as in-house employees, but remotely, focusing on one project at a time. Therefore, when we design new functionality, we dive deep into the essence of your existing product with its business logic, design systems, and UI patterns to make sure we help you grow your business effectively.
Structuring the team
As Larry Page, the co-founder of Google, recalls, at the time the company stepped into its hyper-growth stage at the beginning of the 2000s and reached about 400 employees, Mr. Page began to miss the good old days without the bureaucracy and all those managers running around. Therefore, he decided to get rid of all of them. The result was that about 100 developers now had to report to one executive. Of course, it wasn’t a change for good.
The moral of this story is that business at scale does need some hierarchy and new roles in the company. The thing is to structure the team correctly.
It is impossible to find a perfect candidate for each position, therefore our advice would be to look for designers that are experts in one area, but also have good general knowledge in other fields to take another role if needed. This is called a T-shaped designer.
This way, when your team scales, you won’t have a knowledge gap because of the overlap between your employees’ skills.
The number of designers
The situation differs from company to company, but here's what Jesse James Garrett, the UX designer and the co-founder of Adaptive Path strategy and design consulting firm suggests on his Twitter account:
Still, there's a myth going on that the number of designers usually affects the project’s length. The quality of the outcome depends on the designer’s skill set, not the quantity. So, if you have enough time, you may opt for hiring fewer design specialists for your project.
According to Jason Culbertson's webinar Scaling UX in Organizations, the way businesses organize their design team depends greatly on the number of employees they have.
- Up to 10 designers: roles often overlap between team members: one designer can be responsible for the user interface, user experience, and UX research. Team members may work on different product features/products all at the same time.
- Up to 25 designers: designers are distributed into product teams, each team member has their specialization, and a couple of designers start working on the design system part-time.
- Up to 50 designers: the team that builds and evolves the design system grows from 1-2 to 3-4 designers and starts working full-time.
- Up to 100 designers: separate teams are responsible for everyday product design tasks, owning the design system, and so on.
Expanding the product
When your startup scales, the team, the number of code lines, and features scale with it. As the result, it becomes difficult to control that every new employee adheres to the company’s design standards and principles to keep your product/s consistent and user-friendly. Additionally, if your designers work in distributed teams they may start performing repetitive tasks, like creating a new version of button design and the like, which is not only a waste of time and resources but also the worsening of user experience.
This mess in the design process negatively affects the product’s performance. Therefore, once your product team grows beyond 15 designers and the company has more than 500 workers, it’s definitely high time to build a UX design system.
UX design system is a collection of standards to manage scaling business design. It ties together all components of your product like colors, typefaces, and illustrations in a structured and unified way. It also helps to fix inconsistencies and build a unified visual language to help you create a scalable product.
For example, once the Eleken team had to work with TextMagic, a customer experience platform that evolved its product vision and decided to expand the number of products they had. Luckily, they already had a well-developed design system, and though we had a lot of work to do, putting Textmagic’s design system in practice allowed us to stay productive, quicker cope with the workload, and keep consistency across the whole product set.
To sum up
Investing in product design can help your company stand out in the market and favorably influence the overall business growth. To be able to cope with all the challenges that a scaling phase brings it’s important to have a reliable team with you.
So, how about hiring a senior product designer at Eleken? Share the details of your project, and we will provide you with the best expert for the job.
SaaS Landing Page Best Practices, Revealed by Design Experts
Oh, landing pages! The little sales magnets that work for you day and night, seven days a week, fishing your perfect leads from the world wide web.
Landing pages have the potential to make the audience hunger for your product, to build them in lines as new Apple releases do. But more often they go no further than handing out flyers near the subway so that people ignore their offer and rush away.
Even though we instantly feel the difference between a boring landing page and a magnetic one, formulating this difference is no easier than explaining the gap between printed fliers and Apple’s marketing strategy.
So we applied for professional assistance in this challenging job. We asked our designers from Eleken agency to point us out to great SaaS landing pages, and explain what makes them outstanding.
Here we have the list of the best SaaS landing page examples according to Eleken’s designers — Daria, Kseniya, Maksym, and Ilya. That’s saying something considering these people make SaaS landing pages for a living.
Let’s take a quick dose of landing page design best practices.
Visual language for visual people, by Miro
Miro is a collaboration whiteboard for distributed teams, and their landing page is noted by Daria as a best practice, for a variety of reasons.
Use case presentation that doesn’t make you lift a finger
“I like the way they show the use cases and automatically switch between them,” Daria says when considering the page.
It is supposed to be a “how it works” part, explaining six different ways to use the app. Sounds like six blocks of text expecting users to figure everything out on their own.
But the company doesn’t tell how the app can work, it just makes the use case presentation that shows it working in six screenshots, obvious at a glance.
The secret of never boring but consistent brand identity
The real reason Daria loves this design isn't superficial; it's because of the look— “the site is never boring to scroll because on each page some unusual little tricks are used,” she explains, and what is more important, “those tricks are perfectly suited for Miro, it makes the landing page look awesome.”
This effect of consistent brand identity is achieved by a set of shapes that Miro developed in line with its key values — spatiality, fluidity, agility, and distribution.
On its landing page, Miro features their shapes as photo frames, background elements and illustration patterns, creating a consistent visual language out of those details.
Digital whiteboard users are people who prefer visuals to express their ideas. I’m pretty sure they enjoy discovering those little visual touches appearing as you drill into the web page.
Putting the app in the center (in a gentle way)
Software products’ landing pages usually show interfaces on a specific device like a phone or laptop, and this approach can hardly capture your imagination.
Miro shows the product in a different way. As Daria remarked, “they incorporated app interface elements into the landing page.”
The pointers and the stickers you see above are the elements of the whiteboard that suddenly became a part of a new product landing page design.
The team introduces their brilliant app to viewers literally on every step they go, but in a gentle way. As the app interface elements are organically included into the website design system, you don’t feel like you're being sold the app.
Figma’s recipe on how to steal designers’ hearts
Figma is a browser-based UI and UX design application that enables the entire team's design process to happen in one online tool. Kseniya uses Figma in her everyday design tasks and names its landing page as her favorite. And here’s why.
The best font for landing page chosen to grab the attention
As you open the page, you see how a team designs together the headline “Where teams design together.” Looking at that charming header animation, Kseniya appreciates the "large typography," and "the interesting font."
She also notes the effect the typefaces and the animation had on hers: "It makes you feel that the design was made for designers. Once you open the page, you’re hooked and want to explore it further."
Figma added a pinch of an oddity to their typography to reach that catchy effect. As Tori Hinn, Creative Director at Figma explains, they “wanted to achieve a seamless flex between nonconforming and reserved.”
For oddities is the Whyte Inctrap font, that references ink traps in design history. In the good old days, when people were using metal plates for printing, ink traps were cut in those plates to create a place for the ink to pool.
Thus, the typeface becomes an eye-catching illustrative element that highlights the part of the type’s design that is usually invisible.
Best landing page call to action is the landing page itself
In design, there’s a tendency to share a thing only when it’s complete and perfect. Figma, by contrast, wanted its illustrations to feel like they’re still in process.
The illustrations on the landing page have at least one element being manipulated or edited. Therefore, Figma also incorporates app interface elements into the landing page, just like Miro does.
Tori Hinn says they “wanted to highlight the work that goes into making — often messy, imperfect, changing all the time just like people are.” And it worked.
"The site feels bold, it speaks your language," Kseniya says when considering the page overall. "It’s kind of waiting for experiments" she explains, "and thus, all the design embodies a call to action — like, let’s open Figma and start creating whatever.”
Feels like a good alternative to vague, impersonal, and frankly, a little bit domineering “Click here” or “Buy Now” clichés.
Perfect B2B SaaS landing pages example from PandaDoc
PandaDoc is automating the way B2B companies create proposals, close contracts, and get paid. This landing page was chosen for us by Maksym.
The siren call for busy people
This member in our list of great product landing pages may seem simple and plain at first, especially after the previous two landing page design examples with vibrant colors and bold designs — all because this site was made with the thought of a completely different audience.
PandaDoc speaks to B2B people buried in work and immediately recognizes its potential customers’ pain point: the overcomplicated process of having deals done. They answer this with a calm and confident design that simply states how they can help — by automating every stage of the deal cycle.
The credible look of this page is being established thanks to "the logical site structure" and “strong value proposition,” Maksym explains.
The call to action is clear, and the benefits are immediately visible before you even scroll down.
How to build brand authority
Maksym notes “the catchy visual style that benefits from the mix of photos and illustrations” and “pastel tones that look great when they're mixed.”
Another remarkable feat in PandaDocs design refers to client audio testimonials, that provide prospective customers with the face, voice, enthusiasm and personality of existing customers.
All those important for trustability details are unavailable through plain text, and more expressive video testimonials are usually submitted in poor quality and look inconsistent on a page. The PandaDoc’s audio gets the best of both text and video format.
How to show value proposition: learning from Pipe
Pipe’s landing page was provided by Ilya, the founder of Eleken. Ilya pays more attention to the business dimension of the website rather than to the visual design — a good chance for us to look at our landing page best practices examples from another angle.
“Pipe presents a novel investing option for SaaS,” Ilya explains.
They trade your monthly subscriptions to investors. As if all their customers converted into annual plans overnight, you get money for annual subscriptions upfront, paying to Pipe a small present of the annual subscription. That’s a good deal for you — usually you spend more on discounts trying to push subscribers to annual plans.
That’s not an easy concept to explain, yet not impossible. Ilya notes that “Pipe is doing a great job illustrating their value” with both copywriting and visuals.
In the animation below, you can see an example of such an illustration. The company shows the difference between a barely visible cash flow you’ve got without Pipe and a forceful wave of money you gain as soon as you adopt their solution.
Learn how to reposition your brand with Intercom
Another example from Ilya — he pointed to Intercom’s landing page as his second favorite. He is impressed by the way Intercom uses its website to reposition itself in customers’ minds from one-trick pony app to multifunctional toolkit: “Intercom is known as an expensive chat app, and it seeks to show that the app can do much more than that.”
This expressive message you see above jumps out at you from the very beginning with no chances to be misunderstood. As you click on a feature among the words in blue, Intercom shows you how it works via the animation on the right. And again, the maximum effect is reached with minimum words.
How to design a great landing page
If you like the way we talk about top SaaS landing pages, you may also like the way we design them. But first, let’s summarize good landing page design tips we’ve learned today:
- Сut the crap if you can do it — you don’t always need a bunch of words to explain complex ideas. Proved by Pipe, Intercom and PandaDoc.
- We need to maintain a consistent brand image to establish a clear identity. But we don’t need to do it in a boring way. Develop flexible visual identity instead of rigid brand guidelines, following the example of Miro.
- If you get tired from smartphone screens looking at you from every second SaaS landing page, there’s a native way to show your app interface — learn from Figma and Miro.
- To grab users’ attention, don’t make the page too smooth and clean — add a bit of oddity like Figma does with its typography.
- To turn all your landing into a call to action, make users feel like they are already using your app. If they like the experience, your product-led growth will start even sooner than they try the product.
- Appealing to busy B2B people, be straightforward and show the value proposition without making them scroll.
Blue Ocean Strategy: Grow Your Business Without Having to Compete
Crystal clear waters, beautiful deserted beaches, and complete peace of mind… Who hasn't been dreaming of the blue ocean?
Like with the real ocean, many SaaS entrepreneurs dream of capturing the blue ocean market. The reasons are obvious: the SaaS market is growing, and it’s getting harder to win in never-ending competition. Founders who dream of a blue ocean market free of competition often think they should offer a cutting-edge technology product. And many give up if they don't have any innovative tech ideas. The blue ocean remains nothing but a dream for them.
But what if someone told you that to create a blue ocean you do not have to always rely on breakthrough technologies or even be the very first to apply them? On the contrary, true visionaries know it is not technology that drives changes, but unique ideas. And sometimes creating a blue ocean requires an ability to see things from a different angle and offer a new value.
As an agency focusing on product design, we at Eleken had the honor to collaborate with several companies that later became blue ocean swimmers. In this article, we will share our experience and talk about the blue ocean strategy to help you come up with an innovative product.
What is blue ocean?
The concept of the blue ocean was introduced by W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne in their book Blue Ocean Strategy. Authors believe that the red ocean stands for a market that is overwhelmed with competitors, while the blue ocean represents an unknown market without rivals. While in the red ocean a lot of businesses sell similar products and try to compete mainly using different pricing strategies, in the blue ocean companies try to create new demand.
Advantages of blue ocean strategy are tempting:
- Opportunity to bring a previously unknown value for users
- Low or almost non-existent competition
- You are among pioneers on a new market or niche
If you decide to pursue blue ocean, your goal is not to be better than your competitors, shifting from red to the blue ocean. Your goal is to get rid of the competition at all by creating a new market niche. And for that you need to offer a unique value to users.
The importance of value innovation for blue ocean
The most important characteristics of blue ocean strategy is a new way of solving users’ pains, which means creating the solution no one expected to exist, but that everyone needed. This is called value innovation.
In their book, Chan Kim and Mauborgne put stress on the importance of value innovation, offering different tools and frameworks for blue ocean strategy. Authors provide a canvas to measure your value innovation potential by balancing between the value upgrade you would bring to the customer and its cost.
However, blue ocean solutions are not always successful. Let’s take the case of Motorola. The company used Iridium technology to create the phone that could work in the remote desert, which could become a life-saver for many people. The downside of this product, though, was that it did not work in the buildings and cars, so instead of becoming a market leader, a poor phone became a market failure. It’s a clear example of a blue ocean strategy that didn’t work.
Companies that intend to capture the blue market sometimes fall into the same trap. They have great new technology and idea how it can be implemented in the product, but they rush to the market and forget about linking their innovative technology to value.
For you to avoid the fate of becoming one of them, here are some pieces of advice on how to implement the blue ocean strategy and succeed.
Tips on applying blue ocean strategy
Now, let’s talk in more detail how to use the blue ocean strategy on the example of the iconic ERRC framework suggested in Chan Kim and Mauborgne’s book. It consists of four main steps and some preparation.
- Analyze industries. First, you should start with a precise analysis of the industry to identify a new trend or demand. Check if customers are fully satisfied with already existing services.
- Define a problem. As soon as you find something that is not as good as it could be, think about what you can do to solve this pain for customers and make them happier with your offer. Do not think about what your competitors have done wrong, think about how you can make the customers' lives easier.
- Follow four actions of the blue ocean strategy framework. The authors of the Blue Ocean Strategy book give us a strategy that includes the following points:
- Implement. When you have answers to the four questions from above, it’s time to implement the strategy.
To better understand the way you can apply the blue ocean theory into practice let’s analyze companies that successfully coped with this task.
Blue ocean strategy examples
Here are some examples of the companies that created uncontested markets:
- Did you know that before unlocking a blue ocean Netflix was one of many DVD rentals? Netflix did not invent movies, but it offered a unique opportunity to watch them online.
- Uber did not compete with taxi owners; instead, it created an app connecting drivers and customers in seconds.
- Airbnb changed the whole traveling industry by simply creating a platform where people looking for accommodation would find those who can offer it.
- Apple is known as the most innovative company. But none of their products were the first to apply the technology they use.
Apple followed the blue ocean strategy when developing iPhone. Take a look at the image below and you will find the points mentioned above:
Designing blue ocean products is an incredibly challenging and responsible process. But at the same time, there’s room for fun and creativity. Here at Eleken, we worked on two projects that belonged to the blue ocean market, and we would like to share some of our experience with you.
Handprinter is a startup offering a product that inspires and helps you contribute to saving the planet by tracking your impact. A product like Handprinter has no analogs in the world and needs to communicate its value proposition and encourage people to sign up very actively. That’s why they turned to Eleken to create outstanding UI and UX that would serve this purpose.
As there were no similar products that we could look at as a reference, there was a lack of data on user behavior for us to make design decisions, while mapping out the customer journey for an early-stage startup can be tricky.
Eleken designers have conducted thorough research, worked closely with eco-experts, drafted user personas and intuitive user flow, and unleashed our creativity. As a result, Handprinter became a user-friendly platform that clearly communicates its value.
In March 2022 Handprinter closed its last funding from a Seed round and continues healing our planet.
The Covid pandemic turned many fields upside down and it touched even the religious life of believers. Going to church was risky, so the idea of creating an online platform for the religious community was hovering in the air. And Faithful is the first platform for preaching online, unlocking the blue island of religious online creators. The platform connects preachers and believers for online sermons. Eleken team was hired to design an MVP for Faithful.
We had a strict time frame and had to do all main screen designs in two months. Eleken designer made one screen after another, and they were approved during regular meetings with the client. The work was finished in 1,5 months. After that, the specs and art were delivered from Figma to Zeplin and got into the hands of the developers.
The interface of Faithful makes the technical side of online preaching as frictionless as possible so that creators can focus on their communication with the community. The signup process was designed to be quick and simple.
The result turned out great: an app has over ten thousand downloads and awesome reviews, getting 4.8 stars on the Google Play store. And the reviews prove that Faithful app was something people were waiting for.
To sum up
The blue ocean is closer than you might think.
To cut the long story short, the blue ocean strategy suggests business owners focus on their idea, perform market research to find something that differentiates the company from others, and offer a clear value upgrade. The four-step blue ocean framework we mentioned can help you analyze your situation and come up with a game-changing solution.
Ah, right! Even a unique product with the potential of unlocking a new market will fail if it was poorly designed. Eleken product designers are ready to work on the new blue ocean product, so don’t be shy and contact us!