Episode 32: Designing for Startups w/Jane Portman

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In this episode, Jane Portman of UIBreakfast.com talks about how she helps founders level-up their UI game, shares how she leveled-up her consultancy, and gives good advice to those of us looking to launch a web app.

Bootstrapped Product Talking Points

  • The importance of launching to the right audience
  • Why design templates are actually OK
  • The challenges of managing a team
  • The 2 design stages every Saas app goes through
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 Show Notes:
@uibreakfast – Jane on Twitter
The UI Audit – A book by Jane
Mastering App Presentation – another book by Jane
Fundamental UI Design E-Course – authored by Jane, offered by InVision
Authority
Joanna Wiebe – creator of Airstory
Amy Hoy – creator of 30×500
Rob Walling – GetDrip and HitTail
Egghead.io
Brennan Dunn
MicroConf

At age 16, Jane was a typical student, interested in math & physics. After winning a scholarship and becoming an exchange student in South Carolina, Jane studied design and never looked back. Upon returning to Russia, she started working in an agency. Over the next 8 years she honed her skills while working up from Junior Designer to Creative Director and eventually began to freelance, designing for startups. She shares a bit about why perfectionism is more tolerable in agency life than startup life.

Jane shares the reason why she left the agency, and what made her decide to “conquer the US market” as a freelancer designing for startups. She also talks about some of limitations she encountered working as a freelancer on oDesk, and the three things she did to “level-up” her work:

1) Changed title to “consultant”
2) Wrote a book
3) Set a minimum rate of $95/hour

To build authority, she launched first book to start attracting clients. She interviewed her “personal stars” for the book, to start making contacts. Jane talks about launching to a small list, and what the very valuable primary payoff of that first book was (hint” it wasn’t the money).

“Being not-pretty is not a big obstacle to making money online. Seriously.”

To arrive at her current positioning as a UI/UX consultant designing for startups, Jane used the Sales Safari technique, which was intensive but very productive. Jane found that Founders don’t always prioritize design, they have so many other things to worry about.

We talk a bit about The UI Audit, Janes third book and she tells us how this book served to scalably distill her consulting knowledge and spare her personal time. She also explains how this fits into a “product ladder” model.

Not every founder is able to prioritize design, for reasons on finance or exigency. It’s not something that most founders can do themselves, either. Jane found that her client work was primarily related to designing for startups – specifically, bootstrapped Saas founders. It’s a perfect nice for her because it’s between a big corporation and VC-funded founders. Jane says she fell in love with the community at MicroConf. We talk about the two features Jane looks for in an ideal client.

Jane & I talk a bit about the proper role of using templated designs when designing for startups, and when/how/why to invest in a proper designer.

Jane talks about the skills required to know when it’s time to seek expert help, when it’s time to hire team members, and when it’s time to re-evaluate and fire them – “You never regret that you fired someone too early, but you sure regret that you fired someone too late.”