Product Hunt hosted an AMA with Scott Belsky this morning. Here are a few questions/answers that I thought were especially interesting.
Q: Behance is a beautiful community and is blossoming with great designs and content. I’m curious where it started. Where Product Hunt started as a newsletter, what did the Behance community look like in the early days? What were your biggest challenges in the early phases?
SB: Well, not many folks know that Behance’s first products were…paper products. We liked the idea of being “mission-centric, medium-agnostic.”
Behance’s first online presence was a blog, chronicling the best practices of creative teams, and a simple online store to distribute our paper products. While our vision for Behance was to build a platform to connect the creative world and empower creative careers, the blog and paper products were first steps in a long journey.
I remember a focus group (the first and only one we ever hosted) in early 2007. We provided a few bottles of wine, gathered a group of creative professionals, and asked a series of questions to determine demand. “Do you want an online network for creatives?” we asked. Universally, people said that they already had MySpace and DeviantArt, and didn’t see the need for a new network. Only slightly deterred, we then asked, “What do you struggle with leading your creative career?” The responses flowed fast! “I never get attribution for my work online.” “My online portfolio is always out of date.” “There is no efficient way for prospective clients to find me.” “It is hard for me to find and connect with new collaborators.” And many more… We regrouped and recognized that our customers didn’t know what they needed.
And so, we conceived the Behance Network as an online platform to showcase and discover creative work.
All of us were inexperienced, which meant a lot of mistakes were made and lessons learned over the years. Sometimes I wonder if we could have saved a few years of work with a more experienced team. But then I realize that the chemistry we built as a team in the early years has outlasted all of the code that was written — and re-written — many times. Most of us still work together, and the collaborative learning experience — and the pain we suffered together along the way — has helped define Behance’s culture.
Q: What’s your philosophy behind Angel Investing? What do you believe that others don’t? What recommendations do you have for founders who have some extra cash looking to start on the side?
SB: Thanks for the question.
When it comes to the type of company I like as an angel investor, it is one that is playing in the overlap of 3 things: (1) Promoting Meritocracy / Careers of the future, (2) Plays in the “interface layer” / leverages design in unique ways, and (3) is in technology.
As for the type of team I like to work with: I like design-centric/led teams that value initiative over experience, and really long to shake shit up.
And a little more on what I look for in teams, from an investor perspective:
The team must value LISTENING: Listening to feedback from each other and people like me, AND Listening to customers (you’d be surprised how few people really do this).
The founder/team must value LEARNING: When you stop learning you stop adding value to the world. All the “pivots” that we celebrate and masterful executions were the result of real-time-learning along the way. I’m not interested in working with people who know all the answers to old problems. I want to work with people determined to learn the answer to new problems.
The founding team must LOVE THE TOPIC MORE THAN MONEY: Yeah, financial reward carries you only so far; only genuine love for a cause can change the world. You can tell pretty quickly when someone LOVES the topic. They talk about it endlessly, they know everything, and they focus on it more than other still-important-aspects of the business.
The founder must LONG TO CHANGE SOMETHING (like really shake sh*t up). I love meeting people that are starting something out of frustration (and by the way, Behance was born out of frustration too). If you really want to change something, you’ll keep taking different tacks to get there. It is more important to have your eye on the cause then on a specific plan to get there (because hey, the plan always changes).
Q: Love your concept of the Interface Layer! Do you think there is an opening for a future mobile device (perhaps via talk) that is ONLY interface?
SB: Thanks Danny. The concept of the Interface Layer is a major focus for me these days. I think our desire, over time, to aggregate the needs/services/actions into a single interface that, often times, automates a lot of these things is big. It will end up on our walls in our homes, as part of our augmented reality experience of daily life, car dashboards, and beyond.
Whereas the focus on innovation in tech has been the underlying technology for decades, it is now shifting to the interfaces themselves. Decisions are made in the front-end of everything. Really excited about the possibilities here.
Q: What’s the best advice you can give to people who might want to invest in startups on a small scale? How can someone get started?
SB: Hmmm…Angel investing comes down to the people and the concept. On the people side: Don’t invest in founders who are starting something because they want to start something. That works out just as well as getting married to someone just because you want to get married. Invest in people who are so motivated by the problem they want to solve that they will endure whatever journey (friction, depression, obstacles…) they encounter.
As for appraising the concept itself; let it brew for a bit. I’m all for gut instincts, but my worst angel investments were ones that I committed to without considering the contrarian point-of-view. I really try to challenge the concept on my own for a bit before committing to invest.
Finally, I think you need to commit to ~12 angel investments if you really want to build a portfolio that leaves some margin for the unknown. Anything less than 12 is more gambling than investing…since any conviction you have is still overpowered by luck/randomness.
Q: I would like to know what is your opinion regarding side projects. Many people are outlining the importance of having some side projects (especially being a designer), and that’s definitely true. But in your opinion/experience, should a side project bring money in some way? Is there a need to try to monetize it somehow, or making it for free is totally fine? Or it just depends from the project/situation? What is your experience with side projects?
SB: Like most frustrating answers, I’ll say: It depends.
In an ideal world, “work” is always rounding out your interests/fascinations and the things you wish to learn and practice. When your job is doing all these things, immerse yourself completely. If your work is doing some of these things, take the initiative to round out your education/experience. Ultimately, doing so is great for your employer (you’ll stick around), and great for you (you continue to develop your interests and experience in things that fascinate you).
But always be honest with yourself. What is your capacity to compartmentalize and multi-task? Most people thrive on a single track. Be sure to proceed cautiously because, if you’re not performing at the top of your game, doors close quickly.
Q: We hear a lot of talk about technical founders, what do you think about design-based founders? How will investors react to founders who is not traditional “salesperson/technical person” types but have more creative experience?
SB: I think investors love (prefer!) founders that value design. Doing so means that design has a “seat at the table” and wields power when it comes to priorities and what ships when.
Q: I’m curious about mobile (one of today’s many hot topics). What do you/Adobe see as the exciting opportunity for creativity on mobile? Video? More photo editing? Better cameras? Design?
SB: Well, I think about that all the time… I was asked to build a team and reboot Adobe’s mobile strategy about two years ago. And over the next couple of months, I think we’ll hit an inflection point where mobile FINALLY becomes a first-class creative device.
Until now, mobile creative apps have been largely toys, not tools. Most creativity apps have limited functionality and end by saving your creation to your camera roll. With limited output or interoperability with other tools, mobile creative apps are largely toys, not tools. The fields of design, illustration, video, and digital imaging are still practiced on the desktop. Surprisingly (ironically!), creative process has fallen behind the times.
My bet: The future of mobile creativity is all about connected workflows — a suite of apps working together (think deep-linked, frictionless creation across different apps). At Adobe, we invested heavily in building the CreativeSDK to help enable this future…and you’ll see more on the potential of these workflows in our own apps shortly.
Also, FYI, here’s a post I wrote about some of the realizations we have had at Adobe, rebooting mobile.
Q: How has your design decision-making-process evolved from student to founder to investor?
SB: Gut instincts have become sharper, but I have also realized that there is no playbook. When you think there is a “right way to do something,” you’re failing to find the better way…
Q: How does one best gain and keep your attention when asking you to join their team as an advisor?
SB: To be honest, I rarely find the role of “Advisor” a successful one. Being an investor is one thing, but advising without a stake can yield disappointment. In my experience, Advisors are asked to do a lot without context when things aren’t going so well….and when things are going well, Advisors tend to want to get too involved without context and can be a distraction.
Read more here.