Finding amazing co-founders or equity employees for a startup can be tough. There are a ton of excellent designers out there, but most are already employed or very expensive.
Great designers don’t have a hard time finding a job nowadays. The startup economy is hungry for workers who are creative and willing to build upon ideas, which makes it even harder to motivate them to join a low-paid or equity-based job.
Another aspect of this is that as a non-designer, you have a hard time distinguishing which designers are actually good. Plus, you probably can’t afford to hire 5 different types of designers.
But while you’re here, we’re going to discuss the best places to find a designer for your team.
Start by asking people you know for recommendations. Most of the freelance and full-time jobs I’ve gotten are from referrals from my connections.
Irene Au suggests doing an outreach session by calling up other business owners, investors, advisors, and co-founders, and asking each come up with a list of designers they have worked with.
Build Your Network
If you don’t have an extensive network yet, you’ll need to start building one. Attend local startup events and talk to people there. If you chip in for the pizza, the organisers may even help you connect with the profile you’re looking for, says UX professional Anthony D. Paul.
Examples of events to look out for:
- Front-end events (CSS, HTML)
To find the events around you, use websites like Meetup.com and join local Facebook groups on the topics of design and business. Their members will usually post links to events there as well.
On these websites, you post a job and then people give you quotes for the particular project. This may be annoying if you’re not quite ready to share your business idea with the world. It’s possible to find pretty good talent on these sites, but there’s a lot of fluff on there as well.
It’s a good idea to have a bottom limit of your project’s price as its price will likely reflect the quality. No one will take your equity either – hard cash is preferred.
These are not curated. They work as any other traditional job board, and they charge a flat fee for each posting.
Since these job boards aren’t very targeted and the fees can be quite high, they may be better suited for large companies and full-time paid positions.
But if you’re still interested, a few quality boards to check out are:
Private Job Boards
Job boards can also be a great way of gaining access to talent who would otherwise be unavailable. With their invite-only system, you can be sure to get only the best designers available.
A few of these job boards are:
There is a lot of controversy surrounding contest websites, but this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning them. Some founders need just a logo, and they couldn’t care less about the overall branding and conversions. That’s fine.
The way contest websites work is you submit a request for design work such as a logo. Designers compete to win the fixed fee you’ve deposited. In the end, you pick one, and the losers walk away with nothing.
I know, I know. Entrepreneurs constantly work without a guaranteed outcome. That’s the definition of what we do. I guess we’re slightly insane.
But most people want security at a job. That’s why they likely won’t give a contest gig the dedication they would give to a guaranteed freelance job. Combine many such designers together, and you get contests: low quality for a low price.
Inspiration Websites, Portfolios, Side Projects, and Case Studies
Dribbble. You can find really talented people on there for pennies on the dollar.
Probably the best way to get quality work that you’ll like is to find out exactly what you like. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?
Start scouring inspiration websites for the branding and UI you like. Typically, each designer will have their own particular style, so you can expect them to perform similarly on your project.
Some designers are kind enough to share their process in the form of case studies. This is great as it allows you to find the people whose workflow would work well with your own. Plus, you get to see which parts of design are important to someone. Is it conversions? Pixel-perfection? Usability?
Pay special attention to people who build side projects for fun in their spare time. These designers are much more likely to be the entrepreneurial type, and they’ll be more willing to help with your crazy idea.
A few great inspiration sites are:
When you come upon a well-designed app interface, don’t hesitate to ask who designed it. Which brings us to …
This method probably won’t win you any friends. But hear me out.
Startups tank all the time. In the final days of a startup, its employees will more than likely be focused on trying to rescue it, not actively looking for a new employment — but that doesn’t mean they won’t take a job if offered.
It’s the perfect time for you to pounce. This is how you can win over designers who are already familiar with startup culture and would likely be hard to recruit out in the market.
Don’t be afraid to network with co-founders who are dedicated to their startups at this very moment. Chances are, eventually they’ll be willing to cross over to where the grass is (supposedly) greener.
The question is, what can you offer to lure them in? Is it flexible working hours? Free weekly fruit basket? Higher equity?
Don’t limit yourself just to startups, either. For designers, working at a startup offers the unique benefit of being able to see the product from conception to launch and beyond. In the short time while I was working in a design sweatshop – I mean an agency – I was ready to switch jobs every day.
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