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Is it true that most designers don't want to work for equity in order to be a cofounder?

In an FD blog interview w/ Christina Wodtke (design/PM Zynga, Linkedin, early Yahoo1) Christina said one of the reasons we see fewer design entrepreneurs is because:

"AIGA and other design organizations have said over and over again 'Never ever do work for free.' A lot of designers have heard this, and when a startup comes to them and says "hey, come work with us, we'll give you shares; we can't give you any money but nobody's taking any money," they won't join. They won't cofound because nobody's getting paid. "

Do other entrepreneurs and designers think this is true and is it a problem?

18 Replies

Irene Au
9
0
Irene Au Entrepreneur
Operating Partner at Khosla Ventures; Yoga and meditation teacher; Montessori mom
Designers don't want to work for just equity about as much as engineers don't want to work for just equity. The number of designers that are willing to work for equity to be a cofounder is considerably smaller because (1) generally, there are fewer designers than engineers; (2) rarely are designers offered cofounder roles; (3) rarely do designers have enough money to be able to afford to work for only equity.
Ariel Jatib
4
0
Ariel Jatib Entrepreneur
Product Designer, UX
I'm a designer / founder. I've worked for equity, put money into the venture and not taken a salary. Everyone has a different risk tolerance, not everyone is interested in a very early stage venture. When it comes to working for free on a startup, it depends on the opportunity. As is the case with many good programmers or engineers, market conditions also factor into the decision.

One thing that the AIGA and many designers, including myself, vehemently oppose is Spec Work,http://www.nospec.com/faq.
Sean Sauber
1
0
Sean Sauber Advisor
Principal at Extending Minds, LLC
I have worked with designers, including entrepreneurs, for over a decade and completely support Irene's POV - designers are like anyone else and don't want to work for free.

I think there is something else in play here - the point that designers won't work for free (equity) is not the same as no design entrepreneurs (someone who starts a new business, creates a business model, etc..)

Having worked in design in large corporations, startups, and taught at design school - a real issue is what was mentioned to in the article but I will state more explicitly - Design schools are inadequately preparing designers for the business world today. Many design schools are still operating, as one program head told me "the companies hire our students because they can sketch ideas really fast and really good."

There is a mindset that can be "activated" in young designers. Yes they have pride in their craft, yes they are learning their discipline first - but they can learn what it means to put that discipline in context of doing good making profit. Those designers that are exposed to this get it very quickly.

And in fact they can be more open to the idea of fast failure that is necessary for breakthrough innovation. That is one area where the basic design discipline teaches them well - "Give me two hundred sketches by tomorrow that solve this problem."
They get used to coming up with a lot and feel fine to throw it away.

What would help would be taking that energy and giving it greater business context, greater sense of ownership for outcomes versus "decoration station" - and you have an entrepreneur who just happens to be trained in design.
Francis Barletta
0
0
Francis Barletta Entrepreneur
CEO at UPTOP
Hey victor My cofounder is our chief creative officer so I'll disagree. Depends on the person and situation like anything else. We both do not have salaries and bleed our business. Hope this inspires. Sent from my iPhone
Alison Lewis
1
0
Alison Lewis Entrepreneur • Advisor
CEO/Creative Director
I've heard way way more engineers say they "won't work for equity" than designers. So, I am not sure where these statistics are really coming from. However, there is an issue finding co-founders as it is like dating. You have to find people who believe in it enough and can afford to starve a bit for it.

I am a designer/founder and we have a few designers that work with us. Two of them don't work when there is no cash flow, they can't afford to do it.
Cyndee Sugra
2
0
Cyndee Sugra Entrepreneur
CEO & Founder | Creative Entrepreneur | Foodie | Design & Tech Innovator | Musician
I know of a lot of programmers that want to get paid too... But I think the biggest difference I've seen in a designer that will take equity over money (or a much smaller salary) is the understanding of how much this designer is contributing towards the product development, combined with the potential for the product's success. I've seen many designers being under valued by executives types and they are expected "just to design something that looks good". Whereas others are finally seeing the true value a designer can bring to the overall product with an enhanced user experience, which is a key differentiator in a product's success (think Apple). If a designer is truly engrained into the product experience, they matter just as much as a CTO leading development. Designers just need to be given that opportunity. (Some may not agree with me on this).
Sebastian Scheerer
1
0
Sebastian Scheerer Entrepreneur
Co-founder and former designer of Wunderlist. Now advisor, investor and up for new adventures.
Well, I can't speak for all designers. I think however that it greatly depends on the type of personality. Some designers have the mindset of employees, they want security and be paid immediately. It also depends on wether the opportunity is so exciting that they'd work for "free" since shares are never a guarantee to get paid in the end. If you don't believe in the vision, why do it in the first place? It's also true that designers have become very cautious to not get caught up in jobs which don't pay. Some people just don't get how much work it is to create a well thought through design and the amount of underpaid job offers you get as a designer is astounding.
Lee-Sean Huang
0
0
Lee-Sean Huang Entrepreneur
Cofounder/Creative Director at Foossa. I'm a service/venture designer, storyteller, educator, and community-builder.
I don't know if the "most designers" observation is true. At FOOSSA, we do sometimes take equity in the startups with which we work. We are happy to work at lower-than-normal rates (or sometimes even pro bono) with startups in exchange for equity, but we are also savvy to the fact that sometimes startups dangle "equity" as a way of getting a discount, but then drag their feet when it comes to actually working out equity deals, so in the meantime, we need to get paid.

The other related phenomenon worth pointing out is the fact that too often brands and corporations (not necessarily startups) often ask designers and artists to work for free in exchange for "exposure." This is the kind of corporate behavior that groups like the AIGA are trying to call out.
James Sainty
1
0
James Sainty Entrepreneur
Head of Sales & Marketing at Fortecho Solutions Ltd
Hard to speak for 'most designers', but I know of several who have/ or do, though the offer of equity is unusual. Some years ago I founded a venture designed specifically to assist individuals to collaborate on projects in return for an equity stake in said projects; we found that while many loved the concept, most 'designers' requested a simpler revenue sharing system over an agreed time period...
Christina Wodtke
4
0
Christina Wodtke Entrepreneur • Advisor
Curious Human
I think this is a game of telephone... there is no "most designers" or statistics. It's interesting to watch how this thread wanders from the interview.

What I've observed is there is a subset of designers who won't work for free, except for formal nonprofits. There are the same folks who don't do open source. They tend to be younger designers who are still operating by rules they learned in school, and more often on the east coast where AIGA has a deeper influence. As well, there are older designers who got burned in the first dotcom boom and won't even consider equity.

BUT a bigger influence is the way designers are formally educated. Rarely are they educated in business, and so founding is a huge leap of faith-- and a dangerous one. I believe firmly that educating more designers in entrepreneurship will result in more founders and better businesses.https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/why-design-needs-entrepreneurship-christina-wodtke?trk=prof-post

Finally it's true, most designers, engineers or any other professional won't work for free--- but they will found a company they believe in and live on ramen until it finds its feet. Designers want to make a better world as much as any other discipline, and perhaps more. I hope more founders will seek out cofounders early on, because designers having a ton of skills for finding product-market fit.
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