How Creative Founders Build Great Products and Companies

For a one day single track conference, there was much to be learned at GigaOm Roadmap – Design in the Age of Connectedness. The Allstar lineup consisted of some of the best and brightest technology start up and design and included Kevin Systrom – CEO of Instagram, David Karp – CEO of Tumbr, Yves Behar – CEO of fuse project and CCO jawbone, Perry Chen – CEO  Kickstarter, George Blankenship – VP worldwide sales and ownership experience Tesla motors, Joe Gebbia – cofounder of air B&B, Evan Williams – CEO of the Obvious Corporation and Founder of Blogger and Twitter, and Ben Silberman – cofounder and CEO of Pinterest.

Every single speaker has made a considerable contribution to the digital culture in which we live and listening to their stories, and to what they learned along the way, provided great insight into what the future has to bring. One clear theme resonated throughout the sessions:

Great companies design ways that people connect to products, services, brands, and each other – they design interactions.

You might think this is nothing new but so many of us forget this and think we can just slap a skin on a product or create a product, packaging, and the marketing message and that will be enough to make it successful. Well maybe good visual design and marketing can keep a product from outright failing but it certainly won’t lead to competitive advantage, exuberant customer evangelism, and true viral adoption.

Mark Silva, astutely noticed another theme and tweeted:

Big theme coming through @GigaOm‘s #RoadMapConf is the value creative founders bring to business. Connects dots btwn beliefs & biz

When I think of this I instantly see the connection. I believe that design is about solving problems. If a founder is a “creative” they may look at problems from a angle that is different from the norm. They will likely bring a fresh approach as to how to solve problems  and they will establish a corporate culture of creativity. Likely their products will intriguing and “remarkable” because they are different. This should attract early adopters and if they layer a bit of lean product development on top… they just might build something brilliant.

A few more Insights:

Yves Behar pointed out how Touch based Operating systems on mobile devices like IOS and Android brought the user back into the experience of creating… it is like finger painting, and that people want to be participants and not just recipients of products anymore. He talked about product iteration continues even after that product is in the consumers possession. We are accustomed to this with software upgrades especially SAAS products but physical products like Jambox also can receive upgrades. For Jambox,  the upgrade  made the sound better. Expect more of this as more and more products become “smart”. Soon your refrigerator will receive automatic software patches.

Kevin Systrom talked about how Instagram, like many successful startups, solved a simple problem – how people can connect with anyone anywhere through images and how to make pictures taken on your smartphone look better and more interesting. He spoke about while many people think of Instagram as a photo company, it needs to also be a data company. His reasoning is that Instagram images contain a lot of real-time data that could be of great use. For the Emmys Instagram set up a geofence and created a real-time stream that posted all the photos. Kevin asked, “how about doing the same for natural disasters like Sandy – geofence the east coast.

Later John Maeda, summed things up nicely when he said, ” Technology makes possibilities, design makes solutions, and leadership makes actions”.

And it seems that design is playing a increasingly important role.