UX Design for Startups: Problem Solving or Prevention? | | Nicole Gallardo April 2023



Designers working on various screens.
Illustrated by Timo Kilder

In 2008, I founded my first e-commerce startup.

And it failed – epically.

I had an idea (born out of a personal desire) for funky, high-quality handmade women’s shoes that I could custom design online.

I spent time doing things that I typically did at other companies I worked for, such as creating the right business strategy, conducting customer interviews to validate ideas, doing deep market research, and testing prototypes. Instead of calling, I blindly popped out of my head. I invested 10 months and most of my savings in fully fleshed out digital products and brands because I was so confident I was creating something that everyone wanted.

Then, instead of giving myself time to learn from early stage customers, what they liked and disliked, where they stopped in the process, what they were willing to pay, what they wanted from my product offering. I learned Instead, he focused 100% on the solution.

I never clearly defined the problem I was trying to solve for them.

So when a company that Forbes had just named “Fastest Growing Company Ever” wanted to sell my shoes in three major cities immediately, I jumped at the chance. I’m ashamed to admit that I barely skimmed the contract before signing it.

Thankfully, I didn’t inadvertently make a promise to sell my firstborn.

All I could think was, “My company is going to expand a lot. can make it, right.”

Groupon gave us this first big break.

If you know Groupon, you may have heard how they make money (or at least how they did in their heyday). They let companies cut their prices by at least 50%. And they get 50% of the sales. As such, the seller only receives his 25% of the actual product price (at best).My shoes are one-of-a-kind and handcrafted in the USA, so this is what I pay Each pair of shoes sold.

I was convinced that it was a worthwhile marketing expense and accepted the promise of repeat customers.

Instead of selling the maximum 50 pairs of shoes they estimated, I woke up the next morning to find that I had sold almost 1000 pairs in 24 hours. The reality that I couldn’t even solve all the problems of the whole set in soon after.

Far from moving us forward, that deal killed my company before it even gave us a chance to grow.

After a good six months of 24/7 shoe cobbling and customer support triage, I finally let go of my founder dream. And for a while I was ashamed of even trying so hard to hold them.

If that feeling of failure is something that concerns you, and you put your heart and soul into something and feel like you can’t pull it off, I have great news for you.

Those moments are necessary for long-term corporate success.

Failure is where you learn your most valuable lessons as a founder. Do it differently next time.

Startup failed because we didn’t perform important UX checkpoints and processes early on.

Ironically, I was a UX/UI designer by day.

If I had approached my company with the same UX mindset and technology as the other big brands I work with, I would have thoughtlessly turned down the Groupon “deal.”

We would not have been preoccupied with short-term sales, but would have focused and repeated our resources and energies towards the long-term strategic foundations of our business.

I would have worked out the kinks before trying to scale overnight.

Most importantly, my customers (women who bought couture heels in New York and Washington DC) didn’t shop on Groupon.

In retrospect, it seems laughably simple now.

But the people who bootstrap your startup know you’re in the weeds, rushing, working 8-6 for someone else, staying up all night to go home and build a business, I know you sacrifice time with family and friends and watch your bank account dwindle…it’s easy to cut corners and get distracted by short-term gains.

I was in survival mode.

I didn’t have a clear definition for it at the time, but it was solving a real problem.

Eventually, a few years later, with more money in the bank, more experience, and more support, my husband and I co-founded a second company.

This time around, I stick with what I know best: team building and UX design. We founded Gallardo Labs, a design agency focused on providing Fortune 500 and iconic brands with a lean and diverse team of UX/UI subject matter experts. I have been working with him as CEO for over 10 years.

The more companies we work with and track their successes, the more we realize the huge benefits of investing in UX. I also noticed a pattern at different stages of the company that made me question how I, as a designer, would approach a problem.

Most corporate leaders and executives working in very large and established companies invest in UX when they need to solve a major business problem.

For later-stage companies, UX designers act as advocates for their customers, but they mostly solve business problems, right? Sales are down. The turnover rate is high. Your call center is very busy, etc.

For startup founders, on the other hand, UX design is about solving end-user problems in their purest form.

And only at the beginning of the company’s life can we get the next opportunity prevent Before business problems arise.


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