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May 26, 2019
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Verified Expert Brand Designer: Milkinside

in Brand Designers/Brand strategy/branding/Delhi/design/Hiring/India/Marketing/Personnel/Politics/Startups/talent/TC/Verified Experts by

Gleb Kuznetsov refuses to settle for less. After spending years leading product design for startups and corporate clients, Gleb started a boutique branding agency, Milkinside, that helps clients translate new technologies into useful products.

Gleb and his team of experienced creators are committed to serving the end user, which is why they love taking products from zero to launch. Their services are expensive, partly due to their expertise in product development, motion graphic design and animation, but we spoke to Gleb about why Milkinside is more than just a branding agency and how they strive to be the best.

Why Gleb created Milkinside:

“I wanted to create a team that wasn’t just an agency that companies could contract, but a partner that would support the client’s product development from beginning to end. Everything from the product narrative, product branding, product design, UI user experience, motion design, design languages, motion design languages, etc. I looked around the industry and didn’t see what I was envisioning so I created my dream company, Milkinside, in 2018.”

“Gleb has one of those rare skills that can make ordinary, plain parts of a design come to life and doing so in a beautiful and useful way. Always pushing the boundaries.” Jacob Hvid, Stockholm, Sweden, CEO and Co-founder at Abundo

On common founder mistakes:

“There are a lot of founders who believe they created useful technology and are absolutely certain people will use it. But everything is moot if users aren’t able to understand your product narrative and how it fits into their lives. Establishing a product narrative at an early stage is essential. A lot of founders will try to create a minimum viable product as soon as possible, but they aren’t thinking about the narrative, branding, the product design, and how everything comes together.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


Interview with Milkinside Founder and Director of Product Design Gleb Kuznetsov

Yvonne Leow: Can you tell me a little bit about yourself and how you got into the world of branding and design?

Gleb Kuznetsov: I was 10 years old when I started programming and learning different coding languages. At the age of 15, I shifted to design and became pretty passionate about what could be possible in the digital world. I worked as a product designer for 15 years before I started Milkinside. I worked for big consumer product companies across various verticals and platforms. When I was a chief design officer at a startup, I was responsible for everything from the product design, UI design, branding, advertising to producing product explainer videos.

Verified Expert Brand Designer: Phil Weiner

in Brand Designers/Brand strategy/branding/Delhi/Hiring/India/Personnel/Politics/Startups/talent/TC/Verified Experts by

As a former entrepreneur turned independent designer, Phil Weiner gets the startup life. He often describes himself as a second co-founder for his clients, unafraid of 2AM phone calls and prepping pitch decks for investors. He’s a “full stack” creative director based in Oakland, CA with a passion for tackling cultural tension. Learn more about why design runs in his blood, his branding philosophy, and more.

On his ideal client:

“There are certain values that we have to have in line. The number one value is that they don’t view their people as resources, they view them as people. If I start to get the inkling that a founder isn’t necessarily great at managing their teams and their people, empowering them or removing obstacles, it’s probably going to be difficult for us to figure out customer empathy. Number two, design is an investment, not an expense.”

“Phil has worked with us to create and shape a number of impact brands like 100% Human at Work – and hundreds of visual presentations that have inspired hundreds of entrepreneurs to do something bigger in their lives.” Jean Oelwang, London, UK, CEO, Virgin Unite

On the power of branding:

“I get to be able to shape culture because that’s what brands are able to do. You can build a really great product and introduce it into the market and that’ll have it’s own life cycle until trends change. Brands can last a lifetime. I think that’s the only way that I can make a mark on the world, even if my name isn’t on the company. If it’s contributing to the brand, I’ve scaled my potential impact in the world.”

Below, you’ll find the rest of the founder reviews, the full interview, and more details like pricing and fee structures. This profile is part of our ongoing series covering startup brand designers and agencies with whom founders love to work, based on this survey and our own research. The survey is open indefinitely, so please fill it out if you haven’t already.


The Interview

Yvonne Leow: Tell me about your background. How did you get into design and branding?

Phil Weiner: So I actually didn’t study design. I’m self-taught designer. I come from a pretty cool line of designers. My grandfather drew the “I Love Lucy” heart and did album artwork for Motown Records, and typography. My mom’s also a graphic designer. She’s been with The Washington Post and The NY Daily News for years. She just retired.

The first thing they actually told me was “Don’t go to school for design. Go to school for business. Because if you don’t understand business, you don’t understand design.” So I went to school for econ and math. I studied design in “the streets”. I started my first company when I was 21 years old. It was an early version of Hired.com. When you don’t have any money, you have to do things yourself and be creative so I learned everything from basically failing. I know a lot about what startups are going through, whether it’s designing a pitch deck, selling a product, A/B testing, or trying to convert traffic on a webpage. I ended up selling that first company, which was a recruiting business that was based on scraping Linkedin for what we call, “The most placeable candidate.”

Three keys to cultivating an effective product development culture

in Amazon/articles/Brand Designers/branding/Column/Culture/Delhi/design/editor/energy/IDEO/India/Personnel/Pinterest/Politics/product management/talent/TC/Technology/usability/user interfaces/Verified Experts by

Editor’s note: This guest post is a part of our latest initiative to demystify design and find the best brand designers and agencies in the world who work with early-stage companies — nominate a talented brand designer you’ve worked with.

Chances are you’ve heard one or more of the following statements at work (or some flavor of them):

  • “We’re an engineering-driven company.”
  • “We’re a product-driven company.”
  • “We’re a design-driven company.”

While at first glance the statements above may seem innocuous, what they really imply is a power dynamic where a particular perspective carries more weight and influence in decision-making than others. How did it get that way in the first place? Was the founder a PM in a previous company? Did the first hires all happen to be engineers? Or does the most vocal person happen to be from a particular discipline? These are some examples of how biases get institutionalized. They can get seeded early and compound over time, or happen quickly as new leaders get installed as the company grows.

Whether intentional or not, these imbalances can disempower other disciplines, create fiefdoms, and erode trust between colleagues. Over time, these divisions kill productivity and quality. Internal factions waste valuable time and energy jockeying for influence and control, while the product gets fragmented and confusing for users.

On the flip side, when disciplines and teams are aligned there is less value placed on which person or discipline “made the call.” Over time, teams move quickly, learn together, get through iteration cycles effortlessly, spend more time producing high-quality results that reach users, and less time infighting. It’s like being in a state of flow, but for teams. So what is it that these high-performing teams align on? You’ve probably heard it before, but it’s worth unpacking:

The user.

Ideally, the most important driver of decisions isn’t one person or discipline in your organization—it should be your user. Your job is to help them navigate. Everyone building the product or making decisions about it, regardless of discipline, should understand who they’re building for, and why what they’re doing is contributing to improving that user’s experience.

User-centric thinking is the hallmark of the world-class companies because they love and obsess about you—the user. Amazon calls this customer obsession. Ideo calls this human-centered design. During my time at Pinterest, the most important company value was to “Put Pinners first.”

By focusing on serving the user, it removes the pressure on any individual or discipline to always make the right call. Focusing on what is right for the user, rather than who is right removes ego from the equation. Users ultimately decide anyway—they vote with their behavior and attitudes.

Serving your users better is a goal with no finish line. Understand that the decisions you make will sometimes improve their experiences and sometimes degrade them. Nobody has 100% hit rate, and nobody can predict the future with complete certainty. In a culture of good decision-making, the goal isn’t to get any single decision exactly right (although that’s always nice), but to make consistently good (and better) decisions over time, especially the important ones.

So how do you get your company oriented around users? Consider three important factors: (1) people with the right mindset, (2) an approach to balanced decision-making that starts with users, and (3) the mechanics and properties of high-quality decisions.

1. Identify and empower T-shaped people

Differences in opinion are inevitable. But in order to have consistently productive discussions, debates, disagreements, and ultimately decisions, you’ll need T-shaped people. A T-shaped person refers to someone who has a deep domain expertise in at least one field (the depth of their T), as well as a strong ability to collaborate with people across other areas of expertise (the breadth of their T). Here’s some examples of T-shaped people, who might also happen to make a strong team:

T-shaped people tend to be the best teammates—they have deep knowledge that they are willing to share and explain to their counterparts, as well as a built-in curiosity that welcomes new perspectives. This is especially important in leadership and decision-making roles. What’s more, their curiosity and empathy doesn’t just apply to their colleagues, it naturally extends to users.

What T-shaped people realize is that no single person or discipline is more important than the other, nor should they strive to be. Sure, there are moments where one’s expertise makes their input more credible, but It’s how their collective talents serve the user that ultimately matter most. People (and hopefully T-shaped people) are the most basic ingredients of your culture. Choose wisely.

Ways to identify T-shaped people

  • Look for curiosity and empathy. Top quality execution and results are a given, but don’t stop looking there. What was the user problem they were trying to solve? How did they arrived at that solution? What were the insights that led them to take their projects in a particular direction? What promising directions did they decide not to pursue, and why? Were they involved in research and understanding the users? Can they clearly articulate the needs of the customer? Does it feel like they know them intimately and care?
  • Look for humility. On projects, what assumptions did they make that were completely wrong? How did the user or other disciplines show them a different and valuable perspective? Do they share the credit? Did they help others succeed? Individual talent is important, but building great products is a team sport.

2. Make balanced decisions that start with users

User-centered (aka customer-centric, human-centered) thinking is a way of framing problems with a clear starting point: understanding and empathizing with user needs. If T-shaped people are your basic ingredients, then the user-centered thinking is a recipe—a way to combine and enhance the ingredients to produce amazing results. Here’s what it looks like:

Have your team start by asking “what is the user problem we’re trying to solve?” It’s a deceivingly simple focusing mechanism. It may take some rigorous debate to align on the right problem, but once that happens, decisions from all disciplines have a clear tie back to driving user value first—making the product faster, cheaper, more efficient, more delightful, easier to understand—then orienting their collective effort around providing that value.

Less user-centric teams will do the opposite: look for ways to make their own work easier or more efficient, look to optimize their own sub-team metrics, or satisfy their own personal curiosities—and leave the user to orient themselves around their organizational efficiencies. If you’ve ever felt a broken sign-up flow or confusing onboarding experience, then you know what I’m talking about.

While user-centric thinking starts with users, no single lens is more important than the others. It’s entirely possible to satisfy a user completely, while simultaneously killing your business. That’s not a good decision. Or you could dream up amazing ways to delight your user, but in ways that aren’t achievable with today’s technology—that’s no good either. The overlap of  perspectives is what leads to effective decisions and great solutions. T-shaped decision-makers will know how to make those appropriate tradeoffs.

3. Make high-quality decisions

Evaluating decisions through multiple lenses is important to getting to consistently good, balanced decisions over time. What decision best satisfies your user’s needs, is good for the business (overall, not just for your sub-team or business unit), and technically sound? The overlap is where high-quality decisions are born. But there are additional mechanics and properties that make decisions high-quality.

In my experience, high-quality product decisions are:

  • User-centric. First and foremost, rooted in understanding and serving user needs. Not just listening to what users say or watching what they do, but understanding how they think and feel.
  • Considered. They proactively seek input from, and communicate with, relevant stakeholders and examine the possibilities through multiple lenses before making decisions. They anticipate immediate effects, but also secondary and tertiary effects as well.
  • Balanced. It’s good for the user, good for the business overall, and technically sound.
  • Timely. They don’t take too long, but they aren’t made in haste either.
  • Calculated. It’s important to take risks, but don’t bet the farm unless it’s absolutely necessary. Start small and learn. Double down when it works, readjust when it doesn’t.
  • Communicated before action. They are stated as clearly as possible up-front, before taking action. Their rationale is shared, citing intended effects and flagging major risks.
  • Humble. Good decisions focus on what is right, not who is right. They embrace failure as part of the process, so long as there is valuable learning. For example, a decision may yield a learning that helps you not to pursue a particular direction, saving valuable time and effort.
  • Monitored. They are tracked closely to manage both positive and negative effects.
  • Shared broadly. Their results and learnings are examined and shared broadly (and especially with affected parties), whether results are good or bad; intended or unintended—giving future decisions a stronger starting point.

The case for culture

Very few companies, and even fewer startups, stand the test of time. Products and services today are all dynamic, and expected to evolve with the changing landscape of fickle users and emerging technologies. With limited time and resources, I can already hear people saying, “this seems like a lot of work” and ask, “can we really afford to invest this much thought and energy into culture?”

The bottom line is building great products is hard work. And it’s work that never ends, if you’re doing it well. Over time, your product will morph in small and big ways with each new version, to the point where it may be unrecognizable from your starting point. So what will persist, and why? Your culture—the people, their shared attitudes, values, goals, practices, and decisions—will determine that. So isn’t that worth investing in as much as the product itself? In the end, they’re one in the same.

Deep-linking startup Branch is raising more than $100M at a unicorn valuation

in Advertising Tech/andy rubin/Branch/branding/cowboy ventures/Delhi/India/Madrona Ventures/online shopping/Pear Ventures/Politics/Recent Funding/Redwood City/Startups/TC by

Branch, the deep-linking startup backed by Andy Rubin’s Playground Ventures, will enter the unicorn club with an upcoming funding round.

The four-year-old company, which helps brands create links between websites and mobile apps, has authorized the sale of $129 million in Series D shares, according to sources and confirmed by PitchBook, which tracks venture capital deals. The infusion of capital values the company at roughly $1 billion.

In an e-mail this morning, Branch CEO Alex Austin declined to comment.

The Redwood City-based startup closed a $60 million Series C led by Playground in April 2017, bringing its total equity raised to $113 million. It’s also backed by NEA, Pear Ventures, Cowboy Ventures and Madrona Ventures. Rubin, for his part, is a co-founder of Android, as well as the founder of Essential, a smartphone company that, though highly valued, has had less success.

Branch’s deep-linking platform helps brands drive app growth, conversions, user engagement and retention.

Deep links are links that take you to a specific piece of web content, rather than a website’s homepage. This, for example, is a deep link. This is not.

Deep links are used to connect web or e-mail content with apps. That way, when you’re doing some online shopping using your phone and you click on a link to an item on Jet.com, you’re taken to the Jet app installed on your phone, instead of Jet’s desktop site, which would provide a much poorer mobile experience.

Branch supports 40,000 apps with roughly 3 billion monthly users. The company counts Airbnb, Amazon, Bing, Pinterest, Reddit, Slack, Tinder and several others as customers.

Following its previous round of venture capital funding, Austin told TechCrunch that the company had seen “tremendous growth” ahead of the raise.

“[We] have been fortunate enough to become the clear market leader,” he said. “There’s so much more we can accomplish in deep linking and this money will be used to fund Branch’s continued platform growth.”

Tailor Brands raises $15.5M for AI-driven logo creation and more

in Artificial Intelligence/branding/Delhi/India/Marketing/Pitango Venture Capital/Politics/Startups/Tailor Brands/TC by

Tailor Brands, a startup that automates parts of the branding and marketing process for small businesses, announced this morning that it has raised $15.5 million in Series B funding.

CEO Yali Saar has said the company sits at the intersection of design and machine learning. The idea is to create technology that understands the best practices of logo design, copywriting and social media strategy.

It’s the automated design that’s most immediately eye-catching, and that’s the big feature highlighted on the Tailor Brands website. You’ll need to pay to get access to high-quality image files, but before that, you can actually try creating a logo for free, just by entering some basic information about your company and identifying the designs you prefer.

Related: What do you guys think of the new TechCrunch logo?

Tailor Brands, which launched at TechCrunch’s Startup Battlefield in 2014, said the technology has already been used to create 45 million logos. The company says it had 3.86 million customers last year, and is adding half a million new businesses to the platform each month.

The new funding was led by Pitango Venture Capital Growth Fund and British Armat Group, with participation from Disruptive Technologies and Mangrove Capital Partners. The company has now raised a total of $20.6 million and says it will use the money to expand globally, add more languages and introduce more tools to its full branding suite.

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