When it comes to the look and design of your startup or app, some entrepreneurs just don’t get it. It’s the difference between the hoodie wearing geek and the suave, clean cut entrepreneur. Unfortunately (or fortunately), looks are everything in the real world, and that’s why entrepreneur Firat Parlak turned it into a business when he created his design agency Awesome.
Running for almost four years now, Awesome specializes in designing user interfaces and experiences for tech startups, having worked with over 80 startups and landing an exclusive partnership with VC firm Mesa+, making them one of the most experienced design agencies in New York. Chances are you’ve seen their work somewhere before without knowing it; Awesome’s most successful clients include Wanderfly, which was acquired by TripAdvisor, Thought Catalog, Udemy, Skift, and DateMySchool, which has over 800,000 active users.
We had the pleasure of catching up with Firat over email where he shared what it takes to launch a design agency, why he believes bad designs cause most startups to fail, and why entrepreneurs have to be more aggressive.
YOU WENT TO SCHOOL FOR BUSINESS AND ENTREPRENEURSHIP, HOW USEFUL HAS COLLEGE BEEN FOR YOU IN REAL LIFE?
“I think college is a great place to get started in life to learn technical jargon and refine your vision on what you want to do. However, some people use school as a shelter to procrastinate about what they want in life because they are comfortable in their mediocrity. If you are an entrepreneur you don’t need a college degree. We go to school to meet like-minded people.
I’ve studied Entrepreneurship at Baruch College but I always wanted to go to a design school, However, when I moved to New York from Istanbul about 12 years ago, I didn’t speak any English. It was a big challenge for me to get into a design school, so I decided to be a self-taught designer and combine my business degree to launch my own agency.”
YOU STARTED AWESOME AFTER FAILING YOUR FIRST STARTUP, TELL US BRIEFLY ABOUT IT AND WHY YOU THINK IT FAILED.
“Like every entrepreneur you need to start from somewhere. I’ve worked on a startup called DogAmigo and it was a social networking website for dog owners where they could connect with other dog owners throughout the dog parks they mutually visit. I’ve failed that startup because I went after the wrong investors who didn’t own dogs. They were not able to relate to how people are passionate about their pets, especially the women, and how big the market was. Additionally, I also partnered up with the wrong co-founder.”
WHAT DID YOU LEARN FROM THAT EXPERIENCE THAT YOU’VE APPLIED TO AWESOME?
“My last attempt to raise funding was at the 500 Startups Demo Day where I cornered Dave McClure and I presented him the DogAmigo. He didn’t like the idea but really loved the designs. That was the “aha” moment for me. I should be designing apps for other startups instead of working on DogAmigo. That’s when I started to realize there is a talent war going on between startups and the demand for good UI/UX was high. Awesome was born.”
DO YOU FEEL THAT MANY STARTUPS SKIMP ON DESIGN? HOW IMPORTANT ARE VISUAL AESTHETICS WHEN DESIGNING A QUALITY APP?
“Startups are realizing how their perception is so important to their users. User Interface Design (UID) is everything when it comes to user acquisition and User Experience Design (UXD) is vital in refining a product’s purpose and goals. In today’s crowded startup market, it is becoming harder and harder to differentiate your product and idea from the thousands of others that are released each year. The goal is to launch with a product that consumers will be drawn to, trust, and become addicted to using. This can all be created through compelling and considerate design.”
ASIDE FROM A GOOD IDEA, WHAT ARE THE SOME THINGS THAT ALL THE SUCCESSFUL APPS YOU’VE SEEN HAVE IN COMMON?
1.) Great UX.
2.) Not too many features.
Your initial product should do a few things and do them well and I think that’s the right definition of a successful app. For example, look at Tinder; they did not reinvent the wheel for the dating industry but their User Experience was simple and quick. People were talking about their unique matching algorithm for their User Experience. A good User Experience can make bad ideas successful but good ideas can not be successful without a good User Experience. Keep it simple, keep it on point.”
YOU’VE MENTIONED IN THE PAST THAT 9/10 STARTUPS FAIL BECAUSE OF BAD EXECUTION; WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST MISTAKES YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS MAKE IN TERMS OF EXECUTION?
“The biggest mistake they make is not knowing how to execute a digital product. They don’t know the process of turning a napkin idea into a tangible product from sketch to launch.”
Here, we’ve put together a video on how this process works:
WHAT ARE THE FACTORS THAT MAKE A QUALITY EXECUTION?
“Quality execution comes from a quality team. Your core team is everything. They are able to pivot the product and believe in their vision. Foursquare is a great example for this. They have an amazing team of engineers who were able to change their product from being a location-based game app to a utility app. It was George Bernard Shaw who once said, “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.”
GIVE US SOME ADVICE OR WORDS OF WISDOM TO ANY YOUNG ENTREPRENEURS OUT THERE.
“Be aggressive!!! More than a decade ago when I moved to New York, I did not know a thing about the language or the culture. As an ESL student, I was extremely stubborn on what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it at a young age. Having an aggressive game plan gave me the upper-hand in exposing myself to more resources and connections than someone who is still deciding their major in their third year in college. This plan took me from being a dishwasher in the East Village to being a creative director for startups. You should not go to sleep until your competitors do. Learn what it takes to execute plans, repeat it, and be aggressive!!!”