Do accelerators really care about good design?

Bookmark.com’s adventures in Start-up incubation

 

Product Hunt describes itself as “the place you discover your next favourite thing.” Product hunters are known to be influencers and innovators with great connections – in short, if you’re a start-up, you want to get their attention.  You want your product to be that next favourite thing.

Y Combinator is arguably the most powerful start-up accelerator program in the world. Getting a coveted place in their incubator program is like winning the tech start-up lottery. Let’s just say you don’t say “no” to an interview from Y Combinator.

 

How important is good design in achieving success with incubators?

 

David Kosmayer, CEO and Founder of Bookmark.Com, recently experienced both an interview with Y Combinator and the launch of Bookmark on Product Hunt.

Bookmark.com, is an entrepreneurial platform with a beautiful yet simple-to-use website builder at its core, plus other support features for small business success like e-Learning courses and a community forum.

Bookmark.com is a website builder with a focus on beautiful design and ease of use for anyone

Kosmayer explains: “From the beginning, good design has been a defining feature of our product. There are a number of website building platforms in the marketplace, so we needed Bookmark to stand out.  One of Bookmark’s strengths is how easy it is for anyone to use. Absolutely anyone can make a really beautiful, professional-looking website in a short amount of time, because Bookmark is carefully designed to make it easy.”

Bookmark recently launched (was featured) on Product Hunt.  Every day, new products are featured on Product Hunt. Members of the community, known as “hunters” upvote the products they like. The top products at the end of the day (calculated using an algorithm based on vote count and other factors) can get significant attention in the marketplace.

Bookmark was featured on Product Hunt

So what gets the attention of Product Hunters?  

 It’s easier to get views (and ensuing upvotes) if you’re on the front page of the rankings. But to get there in the first place, you have to get the votes. And it’s forbidden to ask for upvotes outright. So how do you do it?

To get on the front page, it’s extremely helpful (if not outright required) to have the support of at least one influential member of the Product Hunt community, this will be your hunter. This person brings a lot of votes with them, and essentially “seeds” your launch. After that it’s up to the strength of your product to win upvotes from hunters who see you on the front page and check you out.

 

Conclusion:

Product Hunt is not a pure meritocracy. Yes, a good quality product will get more votes, but there’s more to it than that. You need to do some networking and obtain the support of influencers as well as plan your launch-day communication strategy to keep the votes rolling (without breaking the rules).

 

Y Combinator is the most famous accelerator program in the world. But does it reward good design?

 

Y Combinator’s motto is “Make something people want.” The optimistic among us would agree that people want a product that is well designed, that works perfectly, that looks and feels beautiful. The realists will respond that a quick look in any direction reveals that the most popular products aren’t the ones with the best design. So clearly there are other forces at work.

When David Kosmayer put together his application to Y Combinator, he wanted to showcase Bookmark’s design – how easy it is to use, and how beautiful the created websites look.

So he prepared a demo video. In a recent episode of App Guy Podcast Dave describes the process: “I created a really nice demo video showcasing building a website with Bookmark, and I created a Y Combinator website within a one or two-minute video…I think that got me the interview.”

Then David started researching companies that got accepted into Y Combinator, and those that didn’t. He read as much as he could about their interview experiences, and put together the questions that are typically asked.  

He made a surprising discovery:

 

What they want to hear is that you have a solid team, that you are very passionate. A lot of the time YC is focused more on the team and your passion than the actual product, because if you have the solid team and the passion you will be able to drive the product.”

 

So what does that mean for design? Do you need good design? Absolutely, 100% yes. No one gets invited to the party without it. But after that, the focus shifts away from product design to other factors, like organizational strength, a solid business plan, and plain ordinary good timing.

 

What’s the lesson?

Don’t expect to skate through on good design alone. It is only one piece of the puzzle. Often it’s one of the first pieces you have in place, and it’s certainly an important piece but it needs to be supported by many others.

 

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