Working At A Startup

I wanted to write down some thoughts on my time at Flud over the last 6 months for those of you out there who may be thinking about joining a startup but just don’t know what to expect or think it might be a little too risky compared to the corporate womb.

I was back in Australia in June when Bobby, who I had met through the interwebs a year earlier, popped his head up, offering me a position to help out with his design efforts as they entered their new phase of Fludery. 

Side note: If you are in San Diego and you are interested in startup culture and how the world works, grab a beer with him. He is the most energetic, optimistically passionate person you are likely to meet. Hell, after 6 months he even got me, someone who never reads or watches the ‘news’ excited about news and the future he thinks he can, and will, build. Anyway back to the story…

So in June I moved back to the States to sunny San Diego. Not long after I landed, he asked me in sarcastic Bobby style to “get your arse into the office.” It may have been a half-joke, but that’s what startup life is all about. And that is why it’s so great. You are surrounding yourself with people who honestly love what they do. They are on a mission to achieve something great, to push society forward. And believe me, you can feel it.

I’ve worked freelance, at agencies and at startups and the difference is notable. If agency or freelance work has you answering to clients, startups have you collaborating together towards a shared goal. There is no checklist or sign off. You never hear someone saying ‘that’s beyond our scope of work’. You are never thrown into a project you hate. Because you know what you’re joining: their dream, soon to be your dream too. You work because you want to work and you want to make things the best they can be, not because that’s what you told the client you’ll do. You invest your time because you know it directly impacts the end result and that the ‘end’ is as long as you stay interested. And I think that is an important point. I thought I would get bored designing for the same product day in, day out, but when I left two weeks ago, I was sad to stop. I had so much more to give, so many more ideas. I was obsessive, if not possessive. I think there are few opportunities like that in life; where you can keep shaping and tweaking and nurturing something with continuous influence—it really inspires you to push harder from the start.

Startups make you feel empowered. And Bobby and his team were especially good at ensuring that. There were times when things weren’t perfect, but we talked about it and we resolved it. From that first day that I “got my arse to work,” I was briefed on the big vision of Flud, and what I was tasked to do. And it wasn’t to cut all the assets Bobby had made. It was to figure out how to take their big idea, and create a useable consumer product from it. Yes, the future of Flud’s long term vision was on me. At that point I had two thoughts: first was, ‘oh shit, I don’t have the skills for this,’ and second was, ‘…actually, I disagree with that process’. So after justifying my opinion, Bobby basically said, “that’s fair, if you think that is the best way to approach it, then do it. Kill it!” That’s not a response I can imagine getting at a corporate or large agency. And I think there are a few reasons for that: startups are small—they don’t have corporate structure with (sometimes undeserving) hierarchy, so employees don’t have to wait ten years to finally have a voice; startups are building what they want to build—when a client (at an agency) illogically goes against your professional opinion, I think you look for other ways to get what you want, and that’s usually to push petty, meaningless opinions onto juniors; startups have minimal legacy—there is little ‘that’s just the way we do it’, everyone is figuring shit out as they go, and that opens the mind to varied opinions.

But I don’t want to create the misconception that you can enter a startup and take over their vision. I disillusioned myself into thinking that. A couple of months in, I thought the brand should be light not dark, among other things. Yes, I wanted my way, which was completely selfish and juvenile. So when I didn’t get my way I kinda lost that feeling of empowerment. But then I realized that the guy sitting next to me (not some invisible man in an office somewhere) risked so much to get the company where it is. And even though I have great influence and responsibility like an older brother, at the end of the day it is their baby. And with that came a change of mind. I refocused my vision from redoing what they had already done to building on what they had achieved. It was objective, not subjective. And I think that the team will agree, that through that camaraderie, we’ve made something pretty awesome.

As a final note, I must disclose that I have since moved on to work at fuseproject: a strategy, industrial design and (now) application design agency in San Francisco. I have my personal reasons for moving: it’s a place I’ve always wanted to work, I love their approach to design, I wanted to expose myself to industrial design again and be surrounded by a great creative community. And I have had an amazing first week. I’m loving the diversity and chaos and brilliant, influential clients we are working with(not for). So my general opinions of agencies certainly don’t flow through into fuse, or I wouldn’t have joined their team.

But it is still different to a startup. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses. So if you want to be in a small, close-nit family of insanely inspired people, if you want to experience real collaboration and camaraderie, if you want to really help influence what a company can do and how it can shape the future, then start thinking about startups. Their a great place to be and I’m thrilled with my experience at Flud. Thankyou to Bobby, Matt and everyone on the team for a great 6 months.

I’ll post my work once it goes public.

Frame Lamp. I enjoy the asymmetry and the way light mysteriously emits from beneath the fold.

by/ Arnaud Lapierre    via/ Moco Loco

Some nice work from designer Donald Koide.

/by Donald Koide    for/ Verlasso

This is another photo I liked from our trip down Highway 101. It just didn’t fit with the other photo’s tones.

Another example of the sort of work I want to do in my career. Mr. Clock by Hye-Yeon Park from London explores a product with a personality, playfully cycling through random sequences until we—the owner—look at it, asking it to stop fooling around and tell us the time.

by/ Hye-Yeon Park    for/ Personal Work

Rediscoverd this BERG video called ‘Inciedental Media’ from a post on Co. Design about Microsoft’s utilitarian futuristic productions. These passive, playful interactions are exactly what I want to explore in my career.

by/ BERG    via/ Fast Co. Design 

We need more of this in our life. It adds nothing more than a playful interaction to make us smile. But that’s certainly not nothing.


Path - Shows a smiley on the pressed state of its signup button.

We need more of this in our life. It adds nothing more than a playful interaction to make us smile. But that’s certainly not nothing.


Path - Shows a smiley on the pressed state of its signup button.

My current philosophy in 140 characters. What’s yours?

Create theatre through the interactions of a product, to make our lives more playful and to encourage greater observation of our built world.

Konstantin Grcic, notes on systems.

by/ Konstantin Grcic

Couldn’t agree more

The beauty of Industrial Design. The die-cast seat shell as it comes out of the mould, of Chair ONE.

by/ Konstantin Grcic    for/ Magis    via/ le-simple

An interesting concept by Ford, giving the driver an alternate seat color. I kinda like it.

by/ Ford    via/ Design42Day

Some interesting concepts by Studio Whitehorn along with One & Co. Have a read of the project details at the source link for an interesting insight.

by/ Studio Whitehorn and One & Co    for/ Kodak

Untitled: A public urinal that limits splash back and drips. In progress, updated 07/09/2011.

View design process 

Some nice work by No Love Lost from New Zealand. I appreciate how they adapted their logo into a pattern that isn’t just a duplicated carbon copy of their logo—as you see with many less experienced designers.

by/ No Love Lost    /for eye Film Institute Netherlands