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  • 06.30.09

Starting a Design Studio In a Downturn, Part 2: The First 15 Weeks

From designing the logo, to deciding on a proposal format, to–finally–landing the first client.

The first three months of any startup endeavor is full of new things. How soon can we get the Web site up? Which logo do we like? Do we have an NDA? How about a fax template? We could really use some coffee mugs, a whiteboard and our own trashcans. If only we had some income, we might be able to buy these things. Oh what an exciting day that will be!

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kicker desk

A few curious clients got in contact with us before we even had our official website up. We were so excited–people were already asking for us and we hadn’t even set up shop! We were all abuzz. The first proposal we tackled was particularly challenging, as we didn’t yet know what a Kicker proposal looked like, who would write which part, or which partners’ model from a previous company we should follow. Added to that was the complication of collaboration across time zones, as Dan Saffer was traveling in Tokyo, Tom Maiorana and Mike Scully were in San Francisco, Jody Medich was at Burning Man, and I was in New York. You might say that we did that one by the seat of our pants; and, not surprisingly, we didn’t get the work.

kicker logo

Alongside our early adventures in inventing our sales pitch, we sent out our first round of “Hello! We’re here! Please hire us!” emails to friends, family and business contacts. And we excitedly awaited the responses from the hoards of friends of friends who’d be dying to have us design products for them. And we waited, and waited. We thought that it was only a matter of time before an amazing opportunity found us–here we were, ready to work. But the emails never came in, the phone never rang. Dan even tested that the phone was actually working several times.

We came to understand that the massive downturn in the economy meant no one was spending money on anything, let alone a brand new company like Kicker. Sometimes there are more factors in play than a business plan can predict, and our plan was shot to hell. Timing is everything.

kicker whiteboard

There were days we’d come into work and not know what to do. But the truth is there’s always something to be done; the trick, especially for a new business, is continually inventing new things. We wrote blog posts, worked on sales materials, and created little projects that kept us learning and gave us something to talk about. For example, we still needed a whiteboard, so Tom made one out of tileboard, Kickerized it, and turned it into a blog post and instruction set for making your own DIY whiteboard. Core77 picked up the story the next day. We were so proud. And we learned something important: in order to do things that other people will be interested in, you need to do things that you find interesting.

kicker gestures

By the time I packed up my Brooklyn apartment and headed west for good in January 2009, Kicker had already completed our first project with Canesta, and had a product demo on display at the Consumer Electronics Show. Things were finally looking up. In retrospect, that first 15 weeks were telling of how the next six months would go–a roller coaster ride with extreme highs and lows. And over the next six months we’d continue to learn that no extreme is long lived–there are new extremes around every corner.

Next Up: When There’s No There There

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Read Jennifer Bove’s blog Design in the New Economy
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Jennifer started her multifaceted career in tangible and interaction design at the circus–quite literally–at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. In the last 13 years, she has created multi-platform products and services for myriad clients including Nokia, Yahoo!, BBC, Gucci, and American Express. Her design management background includes the Prada Epicenter store in New York, which inaugurated a new paradigm of tangible retail experiences. Jenn is fluent in French and Italian, and has lived and worked in the U.K., France, Italy, and Germany. Before Kicker, Jenn was VP of User Experience at HUGE and at Schematic, and is on the faculty at New York’s School of Visual Arts MFA in Interaction Design. Her work has been exhibited throughout Europe, including the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. Jennifer has a Masters in Interaction Design from the Interaction Design Institute Ivrea.

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