From designer to founder: My biggest lessons, learnings, and pitfalls

I spent the past 2.5 years building Brainfood. My design foundation was a strength but also came with blind spots.

Syed Hemu Rahman

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If you’re a designer, you’re already equipped with some of the most critical tools for building a company. You know how to build a damn good product. You understand the importance of customer discovery, talking to users, and the role it plays in the pursuit of product-market fit.

These advantages are a given, but as I pause to reflect, I’d like to highlight some of the blind spots I had while building my most recent startup Brainfood, a bite-sized learning app for curious adults.

1. Start with design, but move on quickly

On day one, your primary responsibility is rapid learning. Your goal: to prove or disprove hypotheses that could make or break your startup idea.

User testing, asking the right questions, and digging deeper into your audience’s motivations, are at the heart of this step. This stage is akin to blindly walking through unexplored territory in a video game, transforming a blank map as you go.

Don’t linger on this step for too long. Move quickly. A great way to constrain this is by setting 2-week time limits to test each hypothesis.

2. A well-designed product is only half the battle.

You’re a product designer so you’ll naturally focus on building a great product. Don’t forget to focus on distribution.

At the onset of building Brainfood, I did an excellent job balancing both. We launched a landing page, got several hundred users to pay for their first month, and garnished over two thousand sign-ups. Once we hit the ground with product development, customer acquisition quietly began to slide.

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