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Don't be a tech company


An observation: startups quickly forget their reason for existing and replace it with a different reason: be a cool tech company.

And this is likely why so many fail.

Let me explain. All companies likely start with a true and meaningful purpose. They have a problem they want to solve. Something they observe that is broken, or doesn’t exist and strive to fix it. Quickly we move to solutioning - and that’s when an app or website is built. And then that app or website is added to. And then improved. And then the Android (or iOS) version is launched. And all discussion is about making the app better, more fun, sticky.

The company is now a tech company. It’s product is an app that does something or another. We’ll test our app and make it better. And wait till we get to a complete redesign; that’ll be something.

I was thinking about this while listening to an episode of the StartUp podcast that looked at Startups after they shut down. The episode included an interview with Jason, from Bento. Bento was a food startup that provided quality meals on demand, ordered via an app. That business didn’t work out, though the company added a catering service which proved workable.

Asked what he had learned about his business, Jason states that his original business idea - on-demand delivery had “a zero percent chance of success.” It was unworkable. But Jason went further:

Had I started with the catering business I could have made that work, but that wasn’t a business I was interested in running.”


Solutioning is more fun than problem solving

I’ve worked with a number of brands. We’ve built a lot of digital products. Websites, online services, apps. Ostensibly these have all been for the improvement of a company’s customers. Or to attract new customers. And those companies spent a LOT of money on that work.

Some of those products worked. Some did not. Some were successful to a point. We did do user research in most of those cases, to a point. But the client - and my team - fell into the trap of loving our solution, what we were designing and building. We were beholden to our desire to build something cool and exciting.

And so we designed screens we thought were necessary. And then replaced them with other screens we designed when we felt they were better, or covered a business rule we felt was necessary.

We did this earnestly and with the best of intentions. But our focus always shifted to what interfaces we needed, what we could add that we thought would help. The purpose - beyond the screen - was always in the vaguely in the periphery.


My great startup idea

(umm, that's sarcasm)

My point is not to criticize others. The pull of designing the screen over other things is strong. I know, I succumb to it often.

I’ve had an idea for a startup for a while, and have doodled on it over time. I share it here to illustrate my point, and the realization that while I day dream about it, I haven’t taken steps to make it real.

My observation/problem I want to solve: people hate to order food by phone. As a society, we don’t want to talk on the phone. And when ordering food, there’s a lot of pain and frustration in the ordering experience - bad connections, being put on hold, attempting to customize a specific order, etc.

Some restaurants enable online ordering. Usually this is done by 3rd party companies. And they’re often 1:1 relationships; an app for a restaurant. The ordering experience is lackluster. Passable might be an appropriate description.

My idea: create a platform that any restaurant can sign up for online. Users download a single app that is an enjoyable experience and are able to order delivery or takeout for any place.

I’m not claiming I’m the first to come up with this idea. Obviously there’s a bunch out there - Seamless, Grubhub, BeyondMenu, DoorDash, etc. While a lot of food apps attempt to solve for the delivery part of the experience - getting food to the user - I’m not interested in that part. The specific problem I want to solve is the ordering. Better experiences are out there.

(Whether my idea could be turned into a workable business model is unknown)


Here’s a wireframe I created for my app. I’ve worked on this and other screens for a while. But what occurs to me is my focus has been on these screens. I’m trying to design the app. I’ve taken no real steps to validate my hypothesis. Is there a problem with ordering food by phone? Do users want a different approach that is easier/enjoyable?

I’m designing the screens. I want to be a tech company.


Don’t be a tech company

As a general rule, the technology should be secondary. Building a startup (or anything) should mean focusing on the problem and always trying to solve that. The technology should be a tool, a piece, but not the point. Focus on the industry/problem you’re trying to solve, and not on the screen/app/digital thing that helps service that problem. That’s what your company should be.

Not a tech company.

And now for something completely different

Well, I’m making a (kind of big) change.

After 10+ years in the agency world, I’m moving to the product side of things. Starting next week I’m going to lead UX at DraftKings.

I’m really, really excited about this opportunity. I’m also pretty nervous about it too.


For the past four years, I’ve called SapientNitro my (work) home. It has been a great company to work for and I’ve had the opportunity to work with many big name brands on challenging and consequential projects. I’ve learned a lot about design. Hell, I even owe being back in Boston to Sapient. I was living in Chicago at the time I met with their recruiter. My wife and I wanted to move back; Sapient made it happen.

Most of all though, I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made, both current and past coworkers. The people at Sapient are a passionate, talented group of people who are just really good, fun people to hang with. I’m going to miss seeing them every day.


The biggest thing about this change is getting to focus on a single product. Learn what users like, what they don’t, always focused on improving. DraftKings is already a widely used and really successful app. The prospect of working on this with other really talented people, striving to improve, evolve it, is incredible.

A few years ago I had a chance to “build product” on an internal project at Sapient. I wrote about some of my experiences and learnings here. We did a lot of things wrong on that project. But it was a demarcation point for me, as it got me thinking constantly about product design and process. First, I had loved working on a single product and working to make it engaging. Second, I began to appreciate how much process and and methodology impact the outcome, over pure talent and hard work. Or to put it differently, how you empower and direct talent and hard work are huge factors for success. Now I get to focus on these things full time.


DraftKings has been around for just 4 years. They already have millions of daily users. I’m joining a team that has done an amazing job building a product that a lot of people want — and are passionate about — in an incredibly short amount of time.

I’m really excited about joining this rockstar team. And while everyone appreciates the success they’ve achieved, they also want to improve, to learn, to get better. That inspires me. To find a group of people committed to always be improving. I am going to learn a lot from them.


DraftKings is hugely successful. I better not fuck that up.

I confess that I am nervous about this move. It is doing something different from what I have been doing. It comes with a lot of responsibility and a lot of challenges. What if my ideas or approaches are wrong?

I am joining a successful and talented team (see above) and I trust that together we can figure out the right moves and make good decisions. And also learn from the wrong ones. Still though… butterflies.


One of my tasks will be to build and lead the UX team. There’s already a great foundation. This is an awesome responsibility. I’ve had experience building and training the team at Sapient, but this is going to another level. It’s a huge ask. I’m excited; nervous (again).

So if you’re focused on UX in Boston and want to work on an important product, reach out. Let’s build connections and get to know each other.

So now I move to DraftKings. I can’t wait. I am invigorated by the challenge and opportunity. I don’t know what’s in store for me on this journey, but I’m sure it will be an incredible ride.



This post originally appeared on Medium here.

Launching Boston Made

This week I’m launching BOSTON MADE. It’s a side project born out of a Slack discussion. The idea behind it is to show our pride in making great things right here in Boston.

What is Boston Made?

Boston Made is a rallying cry for Boston. It represents to the world that Boston is the place to build great companies, develop new technologies, create amazing work. Boston Made tells the world that this is where the future is being constructed.

Who is Boston Made for?

If you’re an entrepreneur, a maker, a developer, a designer, an investor, a blogger in or around Boston, this is for you. You’re doing the hard work to make Boston ever better.

What do I need to do?

Just add the Boston Made badge to the footer of your website. You can download it here. There are 2 versions of the badge, in black (Boston Made — Positive) and white (Boston Made — Negative). Use whichever badge works best with your site.

Where did the Boston Made idea come from?

It started as a discussion in the Tech in Boston Slack channel. People were talking about showing our pride for building companies from Boston. I thought it was a cool idea and would be fun to work on. I tested several iterations of the badge with the channel, getting great feedback and encouragement.

What's your plan for Boston Made?

My hope is to contribute to the startup community here in Boston. I’d love to help promote, encourage, and connect great people and companies.

On the TiB podcastDave Gerhardt always ends with asking his guests what the Boston Startup community can do better. The answer is almost always “we need to promote ourselves more.” My hope is that Boston Made can help just a little with that.

Why did you make Boston Made?

Because it’s fun! Side projects are worthwhile and reward you for the effort. I’m not a visual designer. This was an opportunity to try my hand at a different skill. I enjoyed it, and learned a few things. I recommend you try a side project too!

Get your badge at today!

Also check out the Boston Made Facebook page.