Gentry Underwood: “Be willing to ride that whole wave through”
Gentry Underwood drew from his experiences as a designer and founder during his Thinc Iowa talk today.
Designer and entreprenuer Gentry Underwood is the CEO and co-founder of Orchestra, an app labeled as the "Best To-Do List for iPhone" by LifeHacker. This afternoon, he was the final individual presenter on day one of Thinc Iowa 2012. His message, centered around how thinking like a designer can help startups succeed, brought the audience at The Temple for Performing Arts insight into best practices of successful companies.
Boldly envision tomorrow
When thinking like a designer, the key is to "see solutions that other people don't see," Underwood said. This practice leads to finding the next big thing. A key example of this, he said, is the vision of Twitter and Square co-founder Jack Dorsey.
By rethinking how people communicate and make payments, Dorsey quickly set himself apart.
Gentry cited Apple's iconic white earbuds as another example of bold design vision. In a space where headphones were black, the idea of coming out with white seemed wrong. It may have seemed counterintuitive at the time, but, as Underwood said, "We now walk around with white headphones, and the rest is history."
Plan to throw out most of your work
Underwood introduced the audience to the initial product of Instagram, the noisy, feature-heavy app called Burbn. After the release of the product, the company soon saw that users were more focused on creating their own work-around to share photos rather that using the majority of the app. After six weeks, the company reevaluated its product based on consumer behavior and, after downsizing, introduced the successful yet simple product that it is today.
For startups trying to find market fit, Underwood said to "Iterate, iterate, iterate."
"Finding ways to test early and cheaply are important," he added.
Like Danielle Morrill during today's morning session, Underwood spoke about focusing on what really matters. He borrowed a quote from Dorsey to reiterate the point: "Of the 100 things you could be doing, only one or two are truly important."
Underwood took attendees back to when Steve Jobs returned to Apple and changed their 14-product line. Focusing on doing one thing well, Jobs changed the company's offerings to only feature four products. This move was the tipping point that marked the start of the company's return to success.
Learn to tolerate uncertainty
Using Dropbox as an example, Underwood told the story of the company out of the gate struggling to acquire customers. At the time of Dropbox's inception, most consumers only used one device, leaving only a handful of users in need of the company's product. But the company was patient and eventually achieved success when the release of more iOS products increased the need for file-sharing among multiple devices. This dedication led to huge growth for the company.
Showing a graphic of the roller coaster ride that starting a business can be, Underwood said people should prepare for ups and downs: "As a designer you have to be willing to ride that whole wave through."
Stay grounded in your "why"
Underwood said he sees some companies that try to fix one thing but end up searching for other problems their product may solve. This, he said, makes it "really easy to get lost."
His advice is to keep one foot planted in the "why" of your company. Underwood said he's he's had to turn down ideas believed to have viral potential because they weren't rooted in Orchestra's core mission of taking the friction out of working together.
This mission has led the CEO and his company into a new direction with a new product soon to be released. The product, which aims to change the way email works, is called Mailbox. This shift in the company's focus has already led to positive results, Underwood said: "There's more passion in my office than there's ever been before."
Thinc Iowa is a premiere event produced by Silicon Prairie News. For live video of Thinc Iowa 2012, tune in at spne.ws/live from 9 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Oct. 10 and 11. For more on Thinc Iowa, check out the conference on Twitter and Facebook.