Aug
20
2020
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Figma CEO Dylan Field discusses fundraising, hiring and marketing in stealth mode

You’d be hard pressed to hang out with a designer and not hear the name Figma .

The company behind the largely browser-based design tool has made a huge splash in the past few years, building a massive war chest with more than $130 million from investors like A16Z, Sequoia, Greylock, Kleiner Perkins and Index.

The company was founded in 2012 and spent several years in stealth, raising both its seed and Series A without having any public product or user metrics.

At Early Stage, we spoke with co-founder and CEO Dylan Field about the process of hiring and fundraising while in stealth and how life at the company changed following its launch in 2016. Field, who was 20 when he founded the company, also touched on the lessons he’s learned from his team about leadership. Chief among them: the importance of empowering the people you hire.

You can check out the full conversation in the video embedded below, as well as a lightly edited transcript.

Raising a Series A a year behind schedule while still in stealth

I actually had approached John Lilly from Greylock in our seed round. For those who don’t know, John Lilly was the CEO of Mozilla and an amazing guy. He’s on a lot of really cool boards and has a bunch of interesting experience for Figma, with very deep roots in design. I had approached him for the seed round, and he basically said to us, “You know, I don’t think you guys know what you’re doing, but I’m very intrigued, so let’s keep in touch.” This is the famous line that you hear from every investor ever. It’s like “Yeah, let’s keep in touch, let me know if I can be helpful.” Sometimes, they actually mean it. In John’s case, he actually would follow up every few months or I would follow up with him. We’d grab coffee, and he helped me develop the strategy to a point that got us to what we are today. And that was a collaboration. I could really learn a lot from him on that one.

When we started off the idea was: Let’s have this global community around design, and you’ll be able to use the tool to post to the community and someday we’ll think about how people can pay us. Talking with John got me to the point where I realized we need to start with a business tool. We’ll build the community later. Now, we’re starting to work toward that.

At some point, John told me, “Hey, if you ever think about raising again, let me know.” A few weeks later, I told him maybe we would raise because I just wanted to work with him. We talked to a few other investors. I think it’s pretty important that there’s always a competitive dynamic in the round. But really, it was just him that we were really considering for that round. He really did us a solid. He really believed in us. At the time, it wasn’t like there were metrics to look at. He had conviction in the space, a conviction in the attack, and he had conviction in me and Evan, which I feel very, very honored by. He’s a dear mentor to this day, and he’s on our board. And it’s been a really deep relationship.

How to recruit while in stealth mode

Jun
10
2020
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Hear from Figma founder and CEO Dylan Field at TC Early Stage in July

Figma is one of the fastest-growing companies in the world of design and in the broader SaaS category. So it goes without saying that we’re absolutely thrilled to have Figma CEO Dylan Field join us at Early Stage, our virtual two-day conference on July 21 and 22, as a speaker. You can pick up a ticket to the event here!

Early Stage is all about giving entrepreneurs the tools they need to be successful. Experts across a wide variety of core competencies, including fundraising, growth marketing, media management, recruiting, legal and tech development will offer their insights and answer questions from the audience.

Field joins an outstanding speaker list that includes Lo Toney, Ann Muira Ko, Dalton Caldwell, Charles Hudson, Cyan Banister and more.

Field founded Figma in 2012 after becoming a Theil fellow. The company spent four years in development before launching, working tediously on the technology and design of a product that aimed to be the Google Docs of design.

Figma is a web-based design product that allows people to design collaboratively on the same project in real time.

The design space is, in many respects, up for grabs as it goes through a transformation, with designers receiving more influence within organizations and other departments growing more closely involved with the design process overall.

This also means that there is fierce competition in this industry, with behemoths like Adobe iterating their products and growing startups like InVision and Canva sprinting hard to capture as much market as possible.

Figma, with $130 million+ in total funding, has lured investors like Index, A16Z, Sequoia, Greylock, and KPCB.

At Early Stage, we’ll talk to Field about staying patient during the product development process and then transitioning into an insane growth sprint. We’ll also chat about the fundraising process, how he built a team from scratch, and how he took the team remote in the midst of a pandemic, as well as chatting about the product development strategy behind Figma.

How to take your time as fast as you can

Figma spent four years in stealth before ever launching a product. But when it finally did come to market, its industry was in the midst of a paradigm shift. Entire organizations started participating in the design process, and conversely, designers became empowered, asserting more influence over the direction of the company and the products they built. We’ll hear from Figma founder and CEO Dylan Field on how he stayed patient with product development and sprinted towards growth.

Get your pass to Early Stage for access to over to 50 small-group workshops along with world-class networking with CrunchMatch. They start at just $199 but prices increase in a few days so grab yours today.


Dec
05
2019
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Figma launches Auto Layout

Figma, the design tool maker that has raised nearly $83 million from investors such as Index Ventures, Sequoia, Greylock and Kleiner Perkins, has today announced a new feature called Auto Layout that takes some of the tedious reformatting out of the design process.

Designers are all too familiar with the problem of manually sizing content in new components. For example, when a designer creates a new button for a web page, the text within the button has to be manually sized to fit within the button. If the text changes, or the size of the button, everything has to be adjusted accordingly.

This problem is exacerbated when there are many instances of a certain component, all of which have to be manually adjusted.

Auto Layout functions as a toggle. When it’s on, Figma does all the adjusting for designers, making sure content is centered within components and that the components themselves adjust to fit any new content that might be added. When an item within a frame is re-sized or changed, the content around it dynamically adjusts along with it.

Auto Layout also allows users to change the orientation of a list of items from vertical to horizontal and back again, adjust the individual sizing of a component within a list or re-order components in a list with a single click.

It’s a little like designing on auto-pilot.

Auto Layout also functions within the component system, allowing designers to tweak the source of truth without detaching the symbol or content from it, meaning that these changes flow through to the rest of their designs.

Figma CEO Dylan Field said there was very high demand for this feature from customers, and hopes that this will allow design teams to move much faster when it comes to user testing and iterative design.

Alongside the launch, Figma is also announcing that it has brought on its first independent board member. Lynn Vojvodich joins Danny Rimer, John Lilly, Mamoon Hamid and Andrew Reed on the Figma board.

Vojvodich has a wealth of experience as an operator in the tech industry, serving as EVP and CMO at Salesforce.com. She was a partner at Andreesen Horowitz, and led her own company Take3 for 10 years. Vojvodich also serves on the boards of several large corporations, including Ford Motor Company, Looker and Dell.

“I’ve never brought on an investor that I haven’t heavily reference checked, both with companies that have had success and those who don’t,” said Field. “A good board can really help accelerate the company, but a challenging board can make it tough for companies to keep moving.”

Field added that, as conversations progressed with Vojvodich, she continually delivered value to the team with crisp answers and great insights, noting that her experience translates.

Dec
05
2019
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Design may be the next entrepreneurial gold rush

Ten years ago, the vast majority of designers were working in Adobe Photoshop, a powerful tool with fine-tuned controls for almost every kind of image manipulation one could imagine. But it was a tool built for an analog world focused on photos, flyers and print magazines; there were no collaborative features, and much more importantly for designers, there were no other options.

Since then, a handful of major players have stepped up to dominate the market alongside the behemoth, including InVision, Sketch, Figma and Canva.

And with the shift in the way designers fit into organizations and the way design fits into business overall, the design ecosystem is following the same path blazed by enterprise SaaS companies in recent years. Undoubtedly, investors are ready to place their bets in design.

But the question still remains over whether the design industry will follow in the footprints of the sales stack — with Salesforce reigning as king and hundreds of much smaller startup subjects serving at its pleasure — or if it will go the way of the marketing stack, where a lively ecosystem of smaller niche players exist under the umbrella of a handful of major, general-use players.

“Deca-billion-dollar SaaS categories aren’t born everyday,” said InVision CEO Clark Valberg . “From my perspective, the majority of investors are still trying to understand the ontology of the space, while remaining sufficiently aware of its current and future economic impact so as to eagerly secure their foothold. The space is new and important enough to create gold-rush momentum, but evolving at a speed to produce the illusion of micro-categorization, which, in many cases, will ultimately fail to pass the test of time and avoid inevitable consolidation.”

I spoke to several notable players in the design space — Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, InVision CEO Clark Valberg, Figma CEO Dylan Field, Adobe Product Director Mark Webster, InVision VP and former VP of Design at Twitter Mike Davidson, Sequoia General Partner Andrew Reed and FirstMark Capital General Partner Amish Jani — and asked them what the fierce competition means for the future of the ecosystem.

But let’s first back up.

Past

Sketch launched in 2010, offering the first viable alternative to Photoshop. Made for design and not photo-editing with a specific focus on UI and UX design, Sketch arrived just as the app craze was picking up serious steam.

A year later, InVision landed in the mix. Rather than focus on the tools designers used, it concentrated on the evolution of design within organizations. With designers consolidating from many specialties to overarching positions like product and user experience designers, and with the screen becoming a primary point of contact between every company and its customers, InVision filled the gap of collaboration with its focus on prototypes.

If designs could look and feel like the real thing — without the resources spent by engineering — to allow executives, product leads and others to weigh in, the time it takes to bring a product to market could be cut significantly, and InVision capitalized on this new efficiency.

In 2012, came Canva, a product that focused primarily on non-designers and folks who need to ‘design’ without all the bells and whistles professionals use. The thesis: no matter which department you work in, you still need design, whether it’s for an internal meeting, an external sales deck, or simply a side project you’re working on in your personal time. Canva, like many tech firms these days, has taken its top-of-funnel approach to the enterprise, giving businesses an opportunity to unify non-designers within the org for their various decks and materials.

In 2016, the industry felt two more big shifts. In the first, Adobe woke up, realized it still had to compete and launched Adobe XD, which allowed designers to collaborate amongst themselves and within the organization, not unlike InVision, complete with prototyping capabilities. The second shift was the introduction of a little company called Figma.

Where Sketch innovated on price, focus and usability, and where InVision helped evolve design’s position within an organization, Figma changed the game with straight-up technology. If Github is Google Drive, Figma is Google Docs. Not only does Figma allow organizations to store and share design files, it actually allows multiple designers to work in the same file at one time. Oh, and it’s all on the web.

In 2018, InVision started to move up stream with the launch of Studio, a design tool meant to take on the likes of Adobe and Sketch and, yes, Figma.

Present

When it comes to design tools in 2019, we have an embarrassment of riches, but the success of these players can’t be fully credited to the products themselves.

A shift in the way businesses think about digital presence has been underway since the early 2000s. In the not-too-distant past, not every company had a website and many that did offered a very basic site without much utility.

In short, designers were needed and valued at digital-first businesses and consumer-facing companies moving toward e-commerce, but very early-stage digital products, or incumbents in traditional industries had a free pass to focus on issues other than design. Remember the original MySpace? Here’s what Amazon looked like when it launched.

In the not-too-distant past, the aesthetic bar for internet design was very, very low. That’s no longer the case.

Nov
21
2019
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Linear takes $4.2M led by Sequoia to build a better bug tracker and more

Software will eat the world, as the saying goes, but in doing so, some developers are likely to get a little indigestion. That is to say, building products requires working with disparate and distributed teams, and while developers may have an ever-growing array of algorithms, APIs and technology at their disposal to do this, ironically the platforms to track it all haven’t evolved with the times. Now three developers have taken their own experience of that disconnect to create a new kind of platform, Linear, which they believe addresses the needs of software developers better by being faster and more intuitive. It’s bug tracking you actually want to use.

Today, Linear is announcing a seed round of $4.2 million led by Sequoia, with participation also from Index Ventures and a number of investors, startup founders and others that will also advise Linear as it grows. They include Dylan Field (Founder and CEO, Figma), Emily Choi (COO, Coinbase), Charlie Cheever (Co-Founder of Expo & Quora), Gustaf Alströmer (Partner, Y Combinator), Tikhon Berstram (Co-Founder, Parse), Larry Gadea (CEO, Envoy), Jude Gomila (CEO, Golden), James Smith (CEO, Bugsnag), Fred Stevens-Smith (CEO, Rainforest), Bobby Goodlatte, Marc McGabe, Julia DeWahl and others.

Cofounders Karri Saarinen, Tuomas Artman, and Jori Lallo — all Finnish but now based in the Bay Area — know something first-hand about software development and the trials and tribulations of working with disparate and distributed teams. Saarinen was previously the principal designer of Airbnb, as well as the first designer of Coinbase; Artman had been staff engineer and architect at Uber; and Lallo also had been at Coinbase as a senior engineer building its API and front end.

“When we worked at many startups and growth companies we felt that the tools weren’t matching the way we’re thinking or operating,” Saarinen said in an email interview. “It also seemed that no-one had took a fresh look at this as a design problem. We believe there is a much better, modern workflow waiting to be discovered. We believe creators should focus on the work they create, not tracking or reporting what they are doing. Managers should spend their time prioritizing and giving direction, not bugging their teams for updates. Running the process shouldn’t sap your team’s energy and come in the way of creating.”

Linear cofounders (from left): KarriSaarinen, Jori Lallo, and Tuomas Artma

All of that translates to, first and foremost, speed and a platform whose main purpose is to help you work faster. “While some say speed is not really a feature, we believe it’s the core foundation for tools you use daily,” Saarinen noted.

A ?K command calls up a menu of shortcuts to edit an issue’s status, assign a task, and more so that everything can be handled with keyboard shortcuts. Pages load quickly and synchronise in real time (and search updates alongside that). Users can work offline if they need to. And of course there is also a dark mode for night owls.

The platform is still very much in its early stages. It currently has three integrations based on some of the most common tools used by developers — GitHub (where you can link Pull Requests and close Linear issues on merge), Figma designs (where you can get image previews and embeds of Figma designs), and Slack (you can create issues from Slack and then get notifications on updates). There are plans to add more over time.

We started solving the problem from the end-user perspective, the contributor, like an engineer or a designer and starting to address things that are important for them, can help them and their teams,” Saarinen said. “We aim to also bring clarity for the teams by making the concepts simple, clear but powerful. For example, instead of talking about epics, we have Projects that help track larger feature work or tracks of work.”

Indeed, speed is not the only aim with Linear. Saarinen also said another area they hope to address is general work practices, with a take that seems to echo a turn away from time spent on manual management and more focus on automating that process.

“Right now at many companies you have to manually move things around, schedule sprints, and all kinds of other minor things,” he said. “We think that next generation tools should have built in automated workflows that help teams and companies operate much more effectively. Teams shouldn’t spend a third or more of their time a week just for running the process.”

The last objective Linear is hoping to tackle is one that we’re often sorely lacking in the wider world, too: context.

“Companies are setting their high-level goals, roadmaps and teams work on projects,” he said. “Often leadership doesn’t have good visibility into what is actually happening and how projects are tracking. Teams and contributors don’t always have the context or understanding of why they are working on the things, since you cannot follow the chain from your task to the company goal. We think that there are ways to build Linear to be a real-time picture of what is happening in the company when it comes to building products, and give the necessary context to everyone.”

Linear is a late entrant in a world filled with collaboration apps, and specifically workflow and collaboration apps targeting the developer community. These include not just Slack and GitHub, but Atlassian’s Trello and Jira, as well as Asana, Basecamp and many more.

Saarinen would not be drawn out on which of these (or others) that it sees as direct competition, noting that none are addressing developer issues of speed, ease of use and context as well as Linear is.

“There are many tools in the market and many companies are talking about making ‘work better,’” he said. “And while there are many issue tracking and project management tools, they are not supporting the workflow of the individual and team. A lot of the value these tools sell is around tracking work that happens, not actually helping people to be more effective. Since our focus is on the individual contributor and intelligent integration with their workflow, we can support them better and as a side effect makes the information in the system more up to date.”

Stephanie Zhan, the partner at Sequoia whose speciality is seed and Series A investments and who has led this round, said that Linear first came on her radar when it first launched its private beta (it’s still in private beta and has been running a waitlist to bring on new users. In that time it’s picked up hundreds of companies, including Pitch, Render, Albert, Curology, Spoke, Compound and YC startups including Middesk, Catch and Visly). The company had also been flagged by one of Sequoia’s Scouts, who invested earlier this year

Sequoia Logo Natalie Miyake

Although Linear is based out of San Francisco, it’s interesting that the three founders’ roots are in Finland (with Saarinen in Helsinki this week to speak at the Slush event), and brings up an emerging trend of Silicon Valley VCs looking at founders from further afield than just their own back yard.

“The interesting thing about Linear is that as they’re building a software company around the future of work, they’re also building a remote and distributed team themselves,” Zahn said. The company currently has only four employees.

In that vein, we (and others, it seems) had heard that Sequoia — which today invests in several Europe-based startups, including Tessian, Graphcore, Klarna, Tourlane, Evervault  and CEGX — has been considering establishing a more permanent presence in this part of the world, specifically in London.

Sources familiar with the firm, however, tell us that while it has been sounding out VCs at other firms, saying a London office is on the horizon might be premature, as there are as yet no plans to set up shop here. However, with more companies and European founders entering its portfolio, and as more conversations with VCs turn into decisions to make the leap to help Sequoia source more startups, we could see this strategy turning around quickly.

Aug
01
2019
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Cloud-based design tool Figma launches plug-ins

Figma, the startup looking to put design tools in the cloud, has today announced new plug-ins for the platform that will help users clean up their workflows.

Figma co-founder and CEO Dylan Field says that plug-ins have been the most requested feature from users since the company’s launch. So, for the last year, the team has been working to build plug-in functionality on the back of Figma’s API (launched in March 2018) with three main priorities: stability, speed and security.

The company has been testing plug-ins in beta for a while now, with 40 plug-ins approved at launch today.

Here are some of the standouts from launch today:

On the utility side, Rename It is a plug-in that allows designers to automatically rename and organize their layers as they work. Content Buddy, on the other hand, gives users the ability to add placeholder text (for things like phone numbers, names, etc.) that they can automatically find and replace later. Stark and ColorBlind are both accessibility plug-ins that help designers make sure their work meets the WCAG 2.0 contrast accessibility guidelines, and actually see their designs through the lens of eight different types of color vision deficiencies, respectively.

Other plug-ins allow for adding animation (Figmotion), changing themes (Themer), adding a map to a design (Map Maker) and more.

Anyone can create plug-ins for public use on the Figma platform, but folks can also make private plug-ins for enterprise use, as well. For example, a Microsoft employee built a plug-in that automatically changes the theme of the design based on the various Microsoft products, such as Word, Outlook, etc.

microsoft themes final

Field says that the company currently has no plans to monetize plug-ins. Rather, the addition of plug-ins to the platform is a move based on customer happiness and satisfaction. Moreover, Figma’s home on the web allows for the product to evolve more rapidly and in tune with customers. Rather than having to build each individual feature on its own, Figma can now open up the platform to its power users to build what they’d like into the web app.

Figma has raised a total of nearly $83 million since launch, according to Crunchbase. As of the company’s latest funding round ($40 million led by Sequoia six months ago), Figma was valued at $440 million post-funding.

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