CUxD recently hosted a round table discussion with Scott Belsky ‘02, CEO and co-founder of Behance, during this year’s Entrepreneurship@Cornell celebration. As a designer, entrepreneur, and investor, Scott contends that design is, “a, if not the, main competitive advantage,” of a company. In light of this, the theme of “Design and Entrepreneurship” was a reflection on CUxD’s mission to develop UX design and promote design thinking at Cornell, on Cornell’s current home-grown efforts to promote student entrepreneurship, and the synergies between these. Participants in the discussion included students from all seven colleges, many of whom are involved in CUxD and the entrepreneurial community, as well as faculty from Information Science [IS] and Design and Environmental Analysis [DEA].
Scott began by reminiscing over his experience as a Cornell undergrad, particularly his honors thesis, advised by DEA Professor Sheila Danko. His research focused on on how to design a better resume for creative people, and eventually inspired him to found Behance. He also humorously recounted his stint at Goldman Sachs, and why he left to become an entrepreneur.
At this point, he turned to our participants for thoughts and questions. Here are some of the highlights:
Role of Design in Start-ups
Scott offered many insights into the proper role of design in a startup. AmpCloud founder Nick Fishman, ’11, questioned the “doer”-centric startup culture, and wondered how to achieve a effective progress without taking too many design shortcuts. On a similar note, PopShop co-founder Sam Sinensky, ’12, asked for advice on how entrepreneurs who appreciate the role of good design can better engage and work with designers. Scott noted the importance of not outsourcing design (which he underscored as the competitive advantage of a company), and stressed the potential benefits of bringing on a designer cofounder, rather than simply hiring one. He spoke towards his own experience working with Matias Corea, his cofounder, and how much he learned from this interaction. He advised technical founders to, “give [designers] more power than you feel you can give,” and mentioned that Bessemer Venture Partners, the Designer Fund, and several other VC firms look for teams with a strong design core. At the same time, he advocated balance, warning against the “intoxicated orgy of idea generation” that can result when, in his terminology, a team is dominated by “dreamers” rather than “doers”.
Paradigm Shift in Tech Entrepreneurship
An interesting conversation spawned from a question by Jeremy Blum, ’12 (PopShop co-founder and a founder of LibeTech), regarding the current trend of technology companies limiting themselves to software, and the role of hardware and physical design in this environment. Scott brought up evidence that, increasingly, technological barriers to entry are being broken down due to cloud services, 3D printing, and other enabling technologies, and envisioned a future in which companies could be mission-centric rather than medium-centric.
Collaboration in Design and Entrepreneurship
With the promising prospects of the PopShop at Cornell, we were very interested in Scott’s thoughts on co-working and sharing of ideas in design and entrepreneurship. Scott, a strong proponent of co-working, asserted that even individuals working in companies can benefit from sharing space with employees of other companies. He claimed that the benefits of idea sharing can greatly outweigh the costs, citing sentiments of founders he profiled while writing his book, Making Ideas Happen, and quoted one as having said, “if an idea is easily replicable just from hearing about it, it probably won’t scale anyway”. In response to this, Dr. Alan Hedge, Professor of DEA, broached the topic of patent law, patent trolls, and technology transfer within Universities. Scott brought up a new policy at Twitter in which patents are assigned to individuals rather than the company, which inspired him to enact the same policy at Behance. “I think it’s the way forward,” he remarked.
Design and Entrepreneurship was certainly a huge success in bringing together proactive entrepreneurial and design minded students, engaging in fruitful discussion and idea sharing, and tapping into Scott Belsky’s rich experience and deep insights. We look forward to his continued support of our efforts.
Spoiler: Stay tuned for the upcoming UX minor informational video, in which Scott endorses our cause as well as the proposed collaboration between IS and DEA!
Cornell University ’12 | Computer Science
Strategic Director at CUxD | LinkedIn