It’s cool to see VC funds that are committed to actively helping their portfolio companies, putting their money where their mouths are and hiring in-house support staff to provide different types of assistance to their investees. Perhaps no fund better exemplifies this approach than Andreessen Horowitz, with full teams of professionals dedicated to facilitating portfolio company growth and business development.
At Jumpspeed I’ve taken this approach in a different direction and made the fund’s very first addition — Tevi Hirschhorn, Jumpspeed’s new UX Designer in Residence. In today’s innovation arena an early-stage VC fund that takes an active role in helping its portfolio companies should strongly consider recruiting in-house UX design expertise. Here’s why.
Startups need an MDP not MVP — Early-stage entrepreneurs and investors like to talk about “MVP” (Minimum Viable Product). I’ve been heavily influenced by this important article by Andrew Chen arguing that the correct (and slightly different) objective should be “MDP” (Minimum Desirable Product). In today’s environment, if a product minimally works, but does not provide a desirable user experience, users will simply not engage or return. The “Lean Startup” methodology so popular a few years ago (primarily among clunky enterprise software applications) worked then, but now the needle has moved to a place where a startup’s initial product should still be “minimal” but needs to reach a level of user satisfaction that the early-generation “Lean Startup” MVPs did not necessarily attain. Young startups can usually get a minimally viable POC up and running but that’s not enough anymore; nailing the “desirability” element may require external UX design expertise.
B2B, not just B2C — Great UX design is now just as critical for business products as consumer apps. Remember, the head of DevOps to whom you are pitching your hard-core cloud-based enterprise B2B SaaS software has an iPhone or Android in her pocket and she’s used to slick, fluid app design in her personal life. Her expectations will no longer be lower for the applications she’s evaluating in her business role and one of your competitors is going to win her over with a lights-out UX if you don’t.
Psychology, not just Graphics — At the risk of stating the obvious, UX is as much about human psychology as it is about beautiful graphical design. There are many decent graphic designers out there claiming to be UX designers but those are two different areas of expertise. Behind the simplest, most beautiful product is most likely a thorough and almost fanatical quest for the ideal flows and a fusion of a deep understanding of milli-second human analysis and decision-making with engaging graphical interfaces.
UX is Incredibly Important (but Part-Time) — So why does an early-stage VC need to have in-house design expertise? Short answer: supply and demand. All startups need some UX work but these needs have peaks and valleys aligned with version launches and redesigns. There can be months where the UX needs are on the back burner and that’s generally not going to keep a great designer engaged in that one company. Besides, I find that the best designers prefer to juggle multiple projects, adding to their portfolio and gaining more insight into new markets. According to this argument, the best UX designers won’t want to work at only one company (and similarly, that one company probably doesn’t need and can’t afford a full-time top-notch UX designer). Enter the VC, who is better equipped to keep a super UX designer happy, compensated, engaged and efficiently utilized among all of its relevant portfolio companies as their ever-changing UX needs ebb and flow.
From the day I started Jumpspeed Ventures in late 2013 I’d told anyone who would listen that my first hire would be a UX designer who would work closely with the portfolio companies.
Tevi is a fantastically talented UX expert who had been pursued by numerous startups and funds. We are overjoyed and honored to have him aboard and he’s already making major contributions to the new designs (and redesigns) of a few of our portfolio companies’ products. To the best of our knowledge Jumpspeed is the first VC fund in Israel to formally add a DIR (other funds in the U.S. such as Greylock and Bessemer have made similar hires in the past).
A few years ago Marc Andreessen proclaimed that “software is eating the world.” I don’t think it’s nearly as bold to predict that as software becomes ever more dominant, only the software that combines high value propositions with highly-desirable user experiences in any given sector will win. As investors, we can provide our companies not only with the capital to develop these products, but also the exposure to expert UX designers who can help these products win.