Embarking on the design partnership route

When we realized our team was jumping ahead too quickly on building, we decided to slow things down and go back to basics...and it all started with a few conversations.
Breena Fain
April 23, 2024

Earlier this year, we started working on a new project here at PSV that’s focused on client bonding. We spent a couple months in research mode, conducting more than 100 interviews with potential users and scoured the market for the kind of solution we were dreaming up. We couldn’t find one. (Enter: internal cheer!) At this point in the process, we would normally launch some version of a tool we had in mind in hopes of getting immediate feedback on the idea — but this time, we did something a bit different.

Instead of going straight into launch mode, we slowed down — a somewhat shocking turn of events for our eager team. We continued to have follow-up conversations, dug more into the common pain points, and staved off any desire to build. Eventually, we narrowed down that list of 100+ people to eight design partners who would be active participants in the development of our product. These folks would help inform our product strategy, committing to six months of regular meetings, ongoing feedback, and essentially set the stage for our MVP, before they become our first paying customers.

This slow-down was not an accidental shift in our process, but rather an intentional move away from a process that clearly was not working for us.

Historically, our team has been of the mindset that the quicker we can get a product in front of people, the better. We listened to the market, made the best choices we could, launched reasonable (albeit imperfect MVP’s), and improved as we went. While this isn’t a terrible approach for a small, agile team, the tough part is that during product development, we didn’t have a channel for consistent feedback and clear commitment. And we didn’t have a process that built momentum through development and launch. This left us with a fragmented, bumpy experience that made it difficult to nail down a clear path to success.

While it’s been a challenge learning these lessons, one thing about our team is that we’re quick to ditch a process that doesn’t make sense. And when the idea of design partners came up, we knew this would be a worthwhile exploration. We also knew a few people at High Alpha and other venture studios who had developed products in this way, and it sounded like a great solution to some of our challenges. High Alpha, in particular, was extremely helpful in guiding us through their process and helping us understand the best way to build ours.

Right now, we’re in our second round of meetings with design partners, showcasing some of our design concepts for the product. I’ll continue to share more about our process and how things are going in later posts, but first I wanted to share how we chose who to work with.

For this, we came up with a few parameters:

  1. Time commitment: We meet with our design partners for two hours a month for six months. While it’s not a terribly large ask, it’s a big enough commitment to show how valuable this solution is to them. The first three months are focused on product development and the second three months are the beta period where they help us onboard their teams onto the product.
  2. Willingness to expand to their teams: It was also important to us that these partners were willing to champion our solution to their teams. It is an essential part of our go-to-market strategy, but it also ensures we can improve on the product quickly.
  3. Varied industries: While we’re focused on one primary industry, we wanted to make sure that the design partner spread was varied. So we have a good mix of large and small teams across different industries.
  4. The X-Factor: Last but not least, design partners needed a certain “quality” that was more based on our gut instinct than anything. This quality was a combination of excitement around the product we’re building, intelligence, chemistry, and a frankness — a quality that said they’d be forthright in their feedback.

It’s hard to measure these factors when you’re narrowing down the list, but we found it pretty easy to get a sense for who was a right fit. At the end of the day, folks who were wide-eyed at the possibility of this idea coming to fruition, like we were, often would be the folks who would be willing to commit the time. And if the chemistry and rapport was there, they’d also be the most honest with us - which is the most important piece!

As we head into our design reviews with partners, I’m eager to note what can be improved in our process. I’ll be taking notes and dropping them here as we go! And if you have any thoughts or feedback on how you handle your design partner process, feel free to drop us a note!

Thanks for reading!

Breena Fain

Breena Fain is Head of Marketing at Plain Sight Ventures. In her free time, you can find Breena in the garden, at the clay studio, or gabbing with neighbors over coffee at Blackbird Bookstore.

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