How to Build a Design Community in 20 steps – Cofounder of Dribbble, Dan Cederholm

hello hello everybody I am Dan and it’s
so awesome to be here I want to thank the awwwards team for inviting me and
before we get started actually this is the whoa oh my god whose desktop was
that that was awful I’m gonna pretend that was planned
what’s kind of funny oh this is the hashtag by the way for my talk today
it’s for those in the back dan cedar home awwwards with three double use buh
buh buh no all right so you know I thought I would talk I used to do a lot
of talks about CSS and front-end development and design and and then
something happened where I accidentally started a company and and that happened
in over the last ten years I thought I would share you know what I’ve learned
from the beginning to the to the end and I’ve got like 20 basically 20 little
lessons that I’ve learned and I hope I can get them all in this there’s only 23
minutes 20:44 okay this is really scary and
let’s see if this clock is a clock counting down for those of you so yeah
what I’ve learned and the company is dribbble right so dribble i cofounded
dribbble with my friend rich thornet back in Salem Massachusetts you know
back in 2008 and about two years ago we sold a majority of the company to
someone called tying a company called tiny they’re a holding company in Canada
and it’s under great leadership now and a new ownership
just last month I’ve actually stepped down day to day a Dribbble
officially to check to try some new things and so I thought it would be it’s
interesting time in here because I can really reflect on the last 10 years and
like what I learned and what just happened there it was kind of a
whirlwind you know coming up so for those that aren’t familiar with dribbble
it’s a community for designers to share their
work this is graphic design web design icon lettering that kind of stuff but
it’s also a place for them to get hired to create a portfolio we do meetups and
events and it’s become you know went from like this side project with a
couple employees to now a remote team of 50 people and millions of users and and
that’s all great and positive but it hasn’t necessarily been completely
smooth the whole way around and that’s one of the reasons I wanted to share
this story with you guys for instance I this is me before I started dribble and
I looked a little different ten years will do that for you I tell you thank
you for laughing – this is great it helps helps a lot so okay so I’m gonna
go through there’s 20 of them I hope I get through them all number one is
choose your partner wisely I mean this could be advice for your personal life
as well obviously but especially especially important when you’re when
you’re starting a company or maybe you don’t know you’re starting a company
like like like I was or like we were this is rich and I back in in the early
days and you know I mean we were friends and thankfully think we’re still friends
today and that’s that was that was not easy to maintain I think and that’s one
of the points another point I’m gonna get to you as well is like how important
that is but but honestly like co-founding is like a marriage it really
is like it sounds funny but it is and you’re gonna be you know here’s the
thing even if this is a small you know have no idea what its gonna become maybe
it’s a side project you’re starting with somebody or it can be innocent enough
and but the thing is if it becomes successful and and hopefully it does
you’re gonna be stuck with this person for a long time you have ten years maybe
in my case but so it’s real critical to to to be to be compatible I think for
rich and I we were compatible very compatible
skillset wisely overlapped perfectly and personality wise very different and that
has its challenges over that that length of time I mean it’ll become your biggest
most important relationship you’ll have should your thing take off and have legs
so number two start with a t-shirt right now you’re like geez don’t gonna walk
out at the back this is real okay this is real advice start with the t-shirt
and you know four dribble we started with this this shirt I had the logo on
the shirt printed before anything was really out there done which is kind of
ridiculous that’s not good advice but but I think having that t-shirt was
amazing when we were finally ready to invite people to use the site and then
sort of an alpha state we sent a t-shirt we mail the t-shirt and a card and this
is the actual card right here you’ve been drafted help us you know test this
thing so it’s like fifty of our friends and colleagues people that we selfishly
wanted to see what they were working on so this is posted but the shirt guilted
them into actually checking out the product which is really the key there so
and that’s you know it’s funny but honestly like number three is your first
hundred members you could choose a number there whatever the first group of
members that you have when you’re building a community or product that’s
it’s gonna involve people using it is it’s critical that first group is
absolutely crucial and for us it was it was especially crucial these are the
these are the people that are gonna give you feedback you know right away you’re
gonna be able to get feedback easier from those people they’re gonna be vocal
and opinionated and well they’re designers of course they’re gonna be
like that but so early early creation our curation of that is is really
important so it helped for us to say okay we have 50 t-shirts let’s send them
to these 50 people to sort of lay the groundwork and then you know we had an
invitation process built for dribble which allowed you know one
person to buy this person that person invites and so on so we have this tree
but what it means is that first person that first group became super important
so we did choose that wisely and that leads into number four which is paved
the cow path who’s familiar with this term buy the cow paths not a ton a few
actually I can’t really I can’t see anything I don’t even know I don’t know
if there’s anybody here like there’s piping in crowd noises and so but
painted they’ve the cow paths these you know crucial first group of people what
we did with dribbles we watched them use the service right we were we were loath
to like set rules right off the bat we watched them use it here they are we
watched them mark you know create these paths that we didn’t really anticipate
and and and a lot of functionality came out of watching them and then building
you know setting up rails on the for those those paths that they’re that
they’ve already gone down so you know for instance like somebody’s like what
state do you live in on dribble and they would upload a shot it’s Utah and then
you know 400 people replied basically with that and here’s where we live and
it turned into this thing that we ain’t we turn into rebounds we call them so
it’s like replying with a shot or playoffs and that’s just one example of
just kind of watching observing the user base use your product and react to that
right and and and try not to set too many rules around that there was some
other let me go back there was some other sites that were similar to dribble
early on in the early days and I think that they’d set rule I’m not gonna name
names they set rules specifically on what you could upload and how you use
the site and I think that ultimately was was a downfall for them so and I should
have said this earlier this is all like I don’t know what I’m doing
in all and actually that’s one of the other slides but I should have said like
take this with a grain of salt right now I’m not these aren’t prescriptions
really for you this is just sort of like my experience and doing this and and
then sharing that with you so number five don’t be afraid to throw things
away I mean this is this is one that was tough to learn because as a small team
building something and when you put a lot of time into a feature or a big
launch or whatever and and then to realize it’s not right and it’s not the
right thing for the company or for the for the members or whatever it’s tough
but you’ve got to be able to just chuck it away quick example this is the worst
thing we’ve ever came up with early on for you this is really bad because we
have this idea of like having a bank of pixels and you could donate pixels to
other members so that they could use those to upload it’s just terrible I
mean it’s awful because it looks like these giant amounts I think that’s – I
don’t even know what that is – billion trillion
there’s no commas I mean it was awful and my avatar is even worse so don’t be
afraid to like we put a lot of time and he doesn’t look like it because it’s old
– we put a lot of time into this back in in front end and this is just one of
many things we did wrong and then eventually got chucked away before they
were out to the public and that’s really the the crucial part there ok numbers
that goes into number six which is like persistent iteration over flashy flashy
launches and this always this always amused me when websites but we’ll have a
giant flashy launch like a big in and it’s it’s great and then there’s like
champagne and and maybe not champagne and whatever people are drinking now
it’s startups but like you know this is a big deal and then it’s it’s over and
then and then you don’t really remember it a couple months later you know what
that was so what we did because we couldn’t afford champagne is you know
persistent iteration slow changes to get to the
next place you know and that even went down to the logo that the tweaks the
mean to the logo for instance we didn’t want to alienate this community and this
is especially important for communities right where you’ve got people that are
comfortable it’s like this place they go and they want to be comfortable and if
you make changes rapid changes weird changes they’re gonna they’re gonna be
upset about that and so we tried to do very very calculated but slow iterations
over time you know so when we would we would do this internally too and we
would we would just try to come up with different ways of showcasing the the UI
that we currently had we we settle on it oftentimes it was something that wasn’t
that different from what we had and and that was that was okay and then we would
get feedback from the team and so I feel like that was especially helpful for a
community that gets comfortable in your in your space and and it doesn’t want to
see jarring changes so I earlier not knowing what you’re doing is okay and
that’s that’s like I mean I don’t know what I’m doing I never do about anything why am I here you’re asking why is this
guy up there I don’t know to be honest I mean I didn’t giving this talk but I
don’t really so I think it runs in the family I have a short story very short I
love the skateboard when I was a kid any other skateboarders fit for former
skateboarders yeah see more people okay awesome
I love skateboarding and when I was 12 I wanted to build this quarter pipe that
looked like this it was the dream I was in Vermont so there’s like nobody else
built ramps you had to build them ourselves my dad who’s equally as
unhandy as I am it’s like yeah I’ll help you we got a he got like circular
circular saw out that probably was used once before and he’s cutting the first
board and he like cuts right through the power
cord and you know like he was okay got electrocute or anything thank God
but that moment was really interesting to me because they could could have gone
a couple different ways it could have been like anger and super on both of us
I guess because where’s my ramp now but um but uh you know my dad I feel like it
was amazing cuz he just started laughing yeah you just started laughing and he’s
holding the thing and he’s just like and he just like he put it down and it was
like kind of tied in the other bag and just walked you know walked away it’s
like alright thanks thanks thanks for the help dad appreciate it but it taught
me a lot about not you know it’s okay to not know what the hell you’re doing
as long as if you make mistakes to be able to laugh about it right and I think
I feel like that’s been my whole career not knowing I’m doing but not being
afraid to just try it and if I cut the cord by accident well it’s just a saw
and and move on and do something else so you know I think the important thing is
be confident in your incompetence and be confident your misspellings
alright number eight is like is a good one right gross thick-skinned quickly
this was really important for dribble and it’s important for anybody that
makes anything actually out there that they could seen or whatever so because
designing for designers is like wow here’s an illustration of what it’s like
to design for designers okay I want to point out what’s going on here so the
green the Green Monster well the Hulk is the designer and the person in the bear
costume is a is something they don’t like that’s usually like a feature that
we just launched that we spent months on or it could be just that they don’t like
the sight that morning and a very vocal group right it’s really hard to design
for designers and we had some we’ve had some tough tough times in the in the
early days with press about this this this particular article is a gem we talk
about it often in the office the dribble ization of design so like just a little
snippet you know we have a growing number of people posting and discussing
their work on dribble yes good they’re mentioning dribble the aggregate results
of which are moving our craft backwards okay we’re honest I’m here guys we’re
doing right we’re doing good you know like this is AIGA
maybe you’ve heard of it they wrote an article has you know this is it isn’t
too difficult to come up with a lengthy list of how this kind of sharing harms
the design profession and paints us hypocrites thank you UAG a appreciate
that we’re just you know a couple couple people up in Salem Massachusetts trying
to build something and I share those in Jessica’s they’re kind of funny but like
you know then you’ve got social media geez stuff that just it’s just constant
you know that’s like actually that’s pretty awesome because I mean if we’re
that you know that’s crazy and then you know there’s this
all right that one’s great or you know oftentimes it’s like fu Dan specifically
me people are passionate about design right they’re passionate they love it I
love it I’m passionate to but but it’s hard it’s really hard right to see that
and it’s everywhere it’s not just in the design world right
key for us I think early on I was like learn to learn who to ignore I mean if
you do this long enough and you you gather feedback long enough you start to
see a lot of the same people complaining it and you kind of learn like okay this
person’s nuts you know so let’s not even worry about that one you know this
person’s very angry you know and then because oh this person oh they have a
point they’re just they’re just using you know expletives and and that might
be useful but you got it you got to be able to wade through that stuff right
the other trick is to celebrate the positive right there’s a lot of positive
thankfully because otherwise how would you do anything but celebrate the
positive I remember of a friend Jeff Jeff Veen
who started Typekit among other great things but here in San Francisco and I
remember him telling me that when they first started Typekit they would print
out like really positive tweets that they had and they would literally hang
them up in the conference room around the conference room so when they had a
meeting they could see the positivity because it’s hard it’s not it’s it it
gets drowned out at dribble we created a highlights slack channel right we’d put
all the positive stuff in there so the whole team could see that you’ve got a
it’s good to get critical feedback it’s not good to get non-critical feedback
but it’s really important to just focus on the positive stuff all right we’ve
got a lot more to go through here I’m gonna I have to fly I have to keep going
quick here o trends come and go and come back and this was great it’s like we
dribble would always get dinged on like yeah you know Oh everything on dribble
is like these skeuomorphic icons yeah it sucks
everything everything like this is the craziest trend to me if
you look at it right it’s just it’s like very well like visually interesting
stuff and they just add a shadow you know it’s there was a time when this
everything everything did look like that then it was like everything’s mono lines
that’s actually great I think it still holds up I never when everything was
cats you know or everything was pea soup greening that in like back in 2016 it
was like that one week right you guys remember that I don’t know but the point
the point of trying to make is is that things look trendy just wait and be
patient cuz it’s gonna come back around all this stuff it’s funny like
skeuomorphic stuff’s coming back like it’s just you know III would tell people
don’t get hung up on what’s trendy you know go with what go with what feels
right for the particular project because that’s the context right the context
isn’t this thing in a wider lens of what’s popular today it’s it’s what you
know stick to the project persistence alright which goes along with everything
is temporary and that’s okay this was crazy because I was going through my my
my portfolio that goes back a long time because I’m old and this was kind of
disappointing right so I just made really dumb stuff like to PayPal yeah
there’s like community for to pay owners funny enough I had a –air back then so
you know Icahn shop I made a thing for Twitter that let you OB r zh’ to people
and even made coaster teach there’s a t-shirt again see start with a t-shirt I
didn’t really work out for that one as well but you know corked was a wine
social network for wine people that I really enjoyed working I worked on audio
which is like one of the podcasts really so anyway I’m going through all this
stuff that I had made in the past and you know I was like wow it’s it’s all
God none of its around it it’s gone it’s completely gone I mean
maybe it’s in like the wayback machine or whatever and you know you can either
get depressed about that or you could think about you know the bigger picture
right that all these things that we get hung up on these challenges that we have
with these projects they seem like life or death and then they and then really
not because they’re weak they’re probably going to just disappear at some
point that’s pretty depressing sorry ah but that brings me to this one number
eleven people in our relationships our most important that’s what’s important
I’ve learned this this is what I’ve learned that that’s the most important
part of all this you know pixels disappear and people
don’t unless Thanos is involved but but honestly like the trick here things to
be kind your path you never know when your paths gonna cross with people when
you work with them you work with on one project or you know a company or
whatever you never know when they’re gonna come back you never know when a
door can open up with someone else so that’s all I’ve always had that in my
back of my mind if B be kind quick story about that like I was working on Oh Dios
it’s way back and that they were based here in San Francisco and I got an email
I’ll just call him Evan and he said hey Dan you know I got this other project
it’s called Twitter its TW Tiki he’s like do you want to do you want to work
on that team you want to do some design for it for that and I’m like nah I got I
got stuff to do I’m busy I’m too busy and plus the logos perfect
as is but uh but you know so yeah you never know what doors are gonna open
with who you’re working with right I found a jerk on the audio project
you know I anyway hindsight is 20/20 but the people that we work with I think the
four dribble especially I feel like the thing I’m
most proud about is the team that we built you know this is like the early
core team here before our acquisition but but you know those relationships are
super super important I am gonna fail this fitting all these in a time so I’m
gonna I’m gonna have to choose the most important ones here you know stay sharp
with side projects this is this was key because for me like as a as a former
freelance designer and then focusing on a product for so many years I felt like
I was behind on everything you know every any kind of technology or that and
I found side projects to be crucial for it for for keeping me up to date and
I’ll get into that a little bit more this is my latest side project I have
two G’s I got 40 seconds I’m glad I got this one in this is my next trick which
is adventure supply Co it’s an outlet to create stuff and make things and it’s
also you know place to learn how merchandise is made and it’s about a
place to make puppets and myself and learn how to video the puppet and that’s
me showing off the product but all these things I learned an immense amount from
and I have no grand plans for this but hopefully it turns into something now if
you don’t have to start a business for this to be valuable I think even
internally in your company you know do a newsletter if you like to write
newsletters do a blog offer to host a podcast or there’s a lot you can do
internally with a side project to keep your skills sharp and your and your
everything going so I’ve run out of time so this is number 13 it
there’s no 13 because that’s a that’s a lot of unlucky number 14 is no piece of
superstitious because that’s crazy no one believes that stuff 15 find a
good lawyer an accountant yeah I’m just gonna fly through identify when you’re
being stubborn I have this whole thing on SAS how I hated it
any SAS users and then I ended up writing a book about it yeah so you’ve
got you know don’t be stubborn I wish I could just know how to use source just
go through all these things quickly so I get to the end and then give you guys a
chance to have coffee and everything all they think I have a five-hour slot here
Oh 25 minutes okay is that so right teach yeah write and
teach I start a blog write teach you don’t have to be an expert to teach just
get out there and start sharing your your-your-your processes right I don’t
know what I’m doing I entered writing books
eighteens don’t take funding nothing more on that 19 take care of yourself
first all right this is big I’m done yeah I haven’t like I have anxiety
disorder right I didn’t know that until God like 10 years ago and I started
getting panic attacks and all this crap I went through a divorce this is right
in the middle of dribble this is why I’m talking about this but I feel like it’s
an important topic mental health and that’s it I just wanted to say it
because I want more people to talk about it right and I feel like a mental health
day it’s kind of a weird term it should just be a sick day right you got to take
care of yourself though before you take care of your team it’s like when you’re
on a plane they say you know put your oxygen mask on first before you know you
do anybody else it’s the same thing number 28 we made it guys number 20 no
one to let go and move on that means this presentation because I went to I
went too far that’s what that’s where I’ve gotten
after 10 years I finally know to let go and hopefully share what I’ve learned
and move on I’ll leave you with this too is that when things start to feel weird
scary I always say everything is Stardust and
Stardust is everything and that’s what’s important so thank you
very much sorry I went over a little bit enjoy coffee


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