I'm Cat Noone, founder of Stark, AMA! 🔥

Cat Noone
31 replies
Hi there! I'm Cat, the CEO of Stark—a suite of integrated tools helping designers, engineers, and PMs build accessible and legally compliant products. A designer by trade, my focus is on bringing to life products and technology that maximize the way people access the world’s innovation. I'm here to answer any questions you might have about design, accessibility, team building, and founding a company. I will be answering questions next Thursday.


Aaron O'Leary
Hi Cat! Thanks for doing this! Love what you do at Stark, I was wondering is there any specific moment for you that got you involved in solving accessibility at a design level or was it always an interest?
Cat Noone
@aaronoleary hey! Thanks so much for having me :) I appreciate it big time. I actually just touched on this in a blog post we shared about accessibility in gaming. I spoke about how I was exposed to quite a bit of differences as a child—from abilities and limb differences, to the color of our skin and languages spoken at home. One of my childhood friends is a person with Autism / is Autistic, health issues riddled my family, and I had a [temporary] nervous tick that would surface around 6 years old (arguably my clear hint that I would deal with anxiety later in life). But if I’m being completely honest, it wasn’t until I was older that I thought to question what different experiences were like for individuals that weren’t like me. At one point before full-time in tech, I worked for the NYC Department of Ed, with handicapable and children with additional needs / services than “neuro-typical”. At that point I realized that it wasn’t just products that were designed, it was systems too. That was a wake up call. I hated seeing people intentionally left out or behind. It infuriated me. I love people. I love understanding how we work. I always have. And people are inherent to the work we do as designers—from hardware to software. People are who we solve these big problems for. They are the reason for the better navigation, the curb cuts, the beautifully made and affordable prosthetics, and speech recognition baked into our operating systems. So I think I was always interested in this, but I didn’t have a name to put to it for a very long time. And now I have this convergence of industries and missions. It’s quite lovely.
Dan Edwards
Hey Cat! Love Stark, so thank you :) It's become such a popular tool for people, but I'm curious what's been your biggest surprise along the way?
Cat Noone
@de Thank you tonssss. I really appreciate that. Hah! Are you asking about building the product itself, the business, etc.? There have been *plenty* of surprises LOL want to make sure I'm answering the right question.
Steve Snygin
Hi Cat. What is your biggest problem with building a remote team at Stark? Thanks
Cat Noone
@4th_roommate great question! I wouldn’t call it a problem, to be honest. I think there’s a right way and a wrong way to build a fully distributed team. And I think the fact that we actually employ our team members rather than contracting adds a little bit of difficulty to the equation — but there’s simply no other option I see as being done in good conscious so long as you’re a company with the means. It comes down to stage often. But since we’re talking about us (early stage, venture funded), I’ll use this stage and further as the example: When you hire people remotely the quick solution is to contract them. But with that they take on giving you their 100% as a team member even though you’re not giving them 100% what they need as a team member from an employer. In other words, they’re responsible for taking on the additional burden of taxes, they don’t get health insurance or any other sort of long-term benefits that they generally get from being on the team. They don’t get the same vacation days or work hours as everyone else, but they give you their 100%. So at Stark when we say we are a fully distributed team we mean that you are joining a team as an employee from whatever country in the world you’re in. Not to mention in many countries in the EU it’s illegal to have someone work more than x-hours per week, since there IS a social safety net they can tap into but CANNOT if they are contracted. So we’re cognizant of the countries that we can support and we do that largely in part because of Boundless—which is in an Irish-based startup making remote employment easier for teams. So overall the logistics of that sometimes get a little bit muddy because there are drastic differences between benefits on a country by country basis, and we want to make sure everyone has equitable benefits. Well, in order to do that, there needs to be a solid baseline. Which is why we don’t use the United States of America as a benchmark for the benefits that team members should get. We actually use Germany. Right now, we have team members in the United States, Ireland, and Portugal, and so we look each and say: OK, what’s the baseline in this country? Who has the better benefits, how can we always improve here? And in some cases there are hard limits. You can’t re-write law just because you got funded lol. But generally, no sound country ever complained about giving employees better benefits. So with us you get 30 days vacation, you get your health insurance, paternity/maternity leave, etc. And that includes the US where very little to none is actually mandated. So I think with that there’s a lot of making sure that the playing field is even so that individuals in one country aren’t getting significantly more than the other simply because they live in another country. We want the team to have equal benefits we want them to be equally healthy in mind and body, and we want your family to be healthy as well. And while we can’t compete with the big giants in a lot of what we give, I’d argue our overall benefits supersede ping pong tables and a laundry service. We aren’t a company working out of our dorm rooms in college and benefiting from college. We’re partners and parents thar family members and spouses. So in order for team members to come to work healthy home needs to be healthy too and we try to really set the stage of knowing you’re more than likely—especially now in a pandemic working from home—to make sure that everything is safe and sound so that you can focus and give your all. That starts with putting your money into people. When you invest in people (and this is a testament to what we do at Stark in general as a product) people invest back. So if I had to pick that would the time intensive and heavy lifting of building a remote team. But people first always. That was a lot lol sorry!
Sam Anderson
Congrats on the funding! Will Stark be doubling down in the plugin world (where it's been super successful already), or venturing into new areas?
Cat Noone
@samdotdesign yes 😉 Over the course of the next few months you’ll see a few things: New features for the plugins as we expand the disabilities we allow you to account for when designing / building software. Soon, we’ll launch our first developer integration as we shift from design-only toward being the foundation for accessibility and compliance for the entire product development team.
Varun Nair
Hello Cat, I have more to show you rather just ask. I would like to send over a few screenshots of our upcoming landing page and we would love to hear your understanding from it and changes and focus to improve. Is that too much to ask?
Thank you. Do you think remote work at home can reduce work efficiency? I have tried to work at home, but it's hard to concentrate attention.
Cat Noone
@oneflyke I feel like WFH is so coupled with productivity. And much like to-do apps, there are so many because the art of being productive is so very nuanced. It’s drastically different for everyone—despite templates and methods applying and working for many people. We know that despite the tools necessary to work completely remote, there are some people (in the same way there are some careers) this simply doesn’t work for. I can only speak for myself on this with certainty. So here goes my thoughts: 1. Time design is key. Having a kiddo changed the way I approach productivity. I used to have the worst anxiety until I realized a lot IS in my control. The core of that being how I choose to spend my time. Once I literally sat down and designed the different blocks of my time, it changed my professional and personal life. 2. I paid a lot of attention to when I was most productive in addition to when I knew I couldn’t work because Emma was home / with me. It got to the point where if I only had 3hrs to work, I knew I could completely bang out work and be super focused because I wasn’t guaranteed any additional time. 3. I blocked out time for me. Stop work after x-time. In the cal so everyone can see. Non-negotiable. I realized I’d get more productive because I was giving my brain the rest and fuel it needed. I think folks working from home can learn a lot from homeschooled kiddos. So talk to adults who have gone through that! Just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to stay IN HOME. Though that’s a tad different now given COVID-19. Definitely hurts a bit. With that said that while it’s extremely beneficial for a MULTITUDE of reasons, it’s not lost on me that it’s not emotionally beneficial for a number of folks. For those folks I’d negotiate with your employer (or yourself) to get a little desk at a working space or a really quality coffee shop. Hope this answers in some way? Happy to dive in further!
Chen Reuven
Sound Great, what is the benefit of this product from others?
Cat Noone
@chen_reuven Thanks for this question on our USPs. They’re core to what make us successful. - Integration - Intelligence - Community - Content - Brand In no specific order ;) For starters, Stark’s vision is to make the world’s products accessible for everyone. To achieve that we need accessibility and compliance tools that meet designers, developers and product managers right where they work—baked into market-leading design and dev software, and have it connected to Stark’s AI-powered platform to offer seamless, assisted, and automated workflows that remove re-work, reduce cost and time to compliance for software companies, and increase customer satisfaction for end users. So a key differentiator from the beginning is that we baked ourselves right into the workflow and tools you already know and love. No more complex spreadsheets, old-school checkers, clunky workflows, misunderstanding of product dev processes. Instead, Stark empowers you to do intelligent contrast checking, instant color blindness simulation, and seamless auditing right in Figma, Adobe XD and Sketch. And soon, like I mentioned in a comment above, we’ll roll out our first developer integration as Stark moves away from being design-only to being the foundation for accessibility and compliance for the entire product development team. At Stark we want to lead the next generation of that accessibility technology—removing the dated thinking, approach, and technology so many have come to expect in this space. If we think of the process for product development for software in pillars, what Stark is doing isn’t for any particular pillar, but rather for the horizontal foundation that cuts across. Accessibility and Compliance are a byproduct––and a non-starter for bigger orgs now that accessibility/compliance is becoming par for the course throughout orgs at all stages. In addition to a suite of products, we’ve worked hard to create a community, content, and brand that delivers quality and value at all touch points. Anyone can build tech, we want to give you the platform and an entire community you can invest in because we all invest back.
Jaxson Khan
Hi Cat! What is the best thing for someone who doesn't know a ton about accessibility to learn first? How can a person or team get started? P.S. You are a superstar!
Cat Noone
@jaxson You’re the best! Great question. There are a ton of routes you can take to get started but if I could suggest a SINGLE thing, then I’d say: The FIRST thing you as an individual or team should do is talk to actual human beings. It’s easy to read books and articles and the whole 9. But one of the biggest issues with this space and humans in general is that we don’t “see” people. Having conversations with people that aren’t temporarily able, but instead have some form of a disability will change the way you see people. Once you see others, you cannot unsee the systemic inequity baked into the world and our every day lives all around you. You’re unable to ignore the way this world was built with only the temporarily abled in mind. And man will that light a fire under your ass and send you into a rabbit hole. Prepare to get uncomfortable. Embrace it. Accept that you’ll stumble and fall. It’s part of the learning and unlearning. But reach out publicly, ask to speak to and learn from folks. Do your own homework ahead of time.
Darshan Gajara
Hey Cat, what's your advice for designers looking to become a founder?
Pascal Unger
Hey Cat, with the (soon to be official) change in leadership in the US and given that disability and equity mean a great deal to Biden / Harris - what changes / key trends are you anticipating over the coming years? And what will you do to help that in your role as the CEO of an up and coming company in this space?
Neil Shankar
Hi Cat! Curious about your pitch strategy re: how you pitch individual investors vs. institutions. Any differences?
Cat Noone
@tallneil hmm I would say I generally pitched them the same. With the only differences being that the angel convos were inherently more lax. Institutional you know is going to be several meetings over time. With angels it was a virtually “coffee convo” and is much easier to read buy signals. Much easier in turn to “close” them right then in the meeting. In addition to that, they’re looking for different things so you’re pitching more team and mission at this stage. That’s the key difference. That’s what angels look for generally. Whereas institutions look for the same PLUS the heavy hitter questions (market size being one). Does this make sense? Happy to further clarify.
Cat Noone
@tallneil @imcatnoone important to note: from my own experience and from others in the space this is EXTREMELY different for (white) men. Black people, specifically black women, have a significantly more difficult time. Not much “lax” to be had. A lot more proving needing to be done for black people (both men and women) and women in general. Not much room for not knowing your shit.
Greta Castellana
Hi Cat, thank you for your time! What are the 3 being-a-designer-things that you bring with you when being a founder?
Gregg Stevenson
Thank you for the information
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