Andrew Wilkinson

Andrew Wilkinson

Founder of MetaLab design agency, with clients ranging from Slack & Tumblr to Disney, Google & Walmart.

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON November 24, 2015

Discussion

Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
I started my design agency, MetaLab, by accident back in 2007. I quit my job and figured I'd freelance for a couple weeks while I looked for something new. Within the first month, I'd landed a couple startups as clients and hired my first employee, and never looked back. Over the years, we've worked with a ton of notable startups, including Shopify, Tumblr, Slack, and Coinbase, as well as Fortune 500's like Apple, Disney, Google, and Walmart. Today, we have over 140 employees and have diversified into a variety of businesses including Flow (our project management software), Designer News (a social news site for designers), and Pixel Union (beautiful one-click ecommerce templates). Ask me anything!
William Wilkinson
William Wilkinson@willw · Designer
Does it make you uncomfortable living in your baby brother's shadow?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@willw 🖕
Tim Wilkinson
Tim Wilkinson@timwilkinson · COO, MetaLab
@awilkinson @willw "FACK YOU"
Jack Smith
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
Hi Andrew. I was just wondering - does Metalab typically push to get equity in the clients (e.g. Slack) that the company works with, or would you just prefer to get paid in cash?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@_jacksmith Hey Jack. Sometimes, but it's tough. I've noticed that when you take sweat equity instead of cash, clients often treat you differently—like you're now their business partner and have an obligation to do unlimited work for them in perpetuity. What I do now, is charge full price for the work, then say "if this goes well, I'll invest $X amount". If we like working with them, I take that money and invest it, but it feels like I've invested cash, which makes it much more straightforward. I'll never forget the time Uber emailed us in 2009 and we quoted them $5,000. They said it was too expensive for them, and walked. Should have taken equity...
Jack Smith
Jack Smith@_jacksmith · Serial Entrepreneur & Startup Adviser
@awilkinson thanks for the transparency and sharing the Uber story!
Gregoire Segretain
Gregoire Segretain@gregoiresgt · Product Designer @Save
@awilkinson Hello ! I'm a young french Product Designer in very very fast growing startup. I'd like to know if you have an advice for me because I'm starting to build my first team of designers. I've never done that before an I just wonder if you have an experience to share about building a designer team from scratch ! voilà :)
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@gregoiresgt Oh wow. Good for you, man. Exciting times. 1. First off, don't hire people you know. It makes it really hard to give harsh feedback. 2. Hire people for their potential, not where they're at today. 3. Don't hire divas. If you get attitude when you give them feedback, run the other way. 4. Try them out first. We always try working with all our potential hires on a small project before we hire them full-time. 5. Always call references. There's probably a reason the designer has only lasted 9 months at his last 3 jobs. Be prepared for this:
Alejo Rivera
Alejo Rivera@alejoriveralara
Hey Andrew! How did you first get Flow off the ground? How did you get the first 100 customers?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@alejoriveralara We originally built Flow because I wanted a better way to manage our team. At the time, we had about 10 employees and the other tools I was using started to break down. We built it as an internal tool to share tasks and delegate to one another, then realized that other people might want to use it. We did a beta, and to our surprise thousands of people started using (and loving) it. When we finally took it live, we hit $16k of MRR in the first 3 weeks due to our passionate beta user base. Zero marketing. Zero growth strategy. Just a great product and an engaged user base. Over and over again, I've learned that you can't market your way out of a sub-par product. No amount of growth hacking is going to grow a poor product. Focus on building something that people rave about, and everything else will fall into place.
Ben Jennings
Ben Jennings@benjennin_gs · Product Designer
Current trends suggest design talent is driven more towards startups than smaller agencies. Broadly speaking, do you think design practices that focus solely on client services will become extinct in the future?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@benjennin_gs @benjennin_gs I think there will always be a need for outside thinking. There will always be companies that can't hire the best designers, or can't hire enough of them to accomplish their goals. Big companies bring legal in-house too, but there will always be law firms. Agencies are going to have to change and adapt, but I think they will continue to exist. I think we're especially well positioned because we're one of the only agencies in the world that can build end-to-end. We have top designers, developers, and strategists, and can literally take an idea and turn it into a killer product. Most people can do one—design, for instance—but are weak on the other pieces. This gives us a solid competitive advantage when we're competing with other agencies.
Juan Pedro Córica
Juan Pedro Córica@jpcorica · Co-Founder of www.qmax.com.ar
Hi Andrew, which are the more unexpected places where you are seeing great design coming from? How do you think it will change in the next 2 years?
David Politi
David Politi@davidrpoliti · UX, generic
Tell us about how Victoria's design community compares against that of, say, NY, SV, etc
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@davidrpoliti There are tons of amazing designers in Pacific Northwest, but honestly, I find that so much of the socializing/collaboration happens online these days, that location is pretty irrelevant. Most of the best designers I know lead quiet lives in the middle of nowhere :-)
Ana Isabel
Ana Isabel@isagadala
Hi @awilkinson. With Flow, how do you decide which features are the most important to build at any given moment? Specifically, how do you choose between working on making current functionality work better vs adding new features?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@isagadala That's always a struggle. We all love working on new features, but often the best results come from tweaking and improving what we already have instead of moving on to another half-baked feature.
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@awilkinson During your career to date, what has been your a) most challenging moment and how did you overcome it? b) proudest moment and why? c) most surprising moment?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@ems_hodge A) Suddenly having all of my invoices go unpaid in November 2008 because of the financial panic. I just scraped by, but it was a valuable lesson on the importance of having cash reserves and keeping fixed costs down. B) Proudest moment was the day I realized that the company didn't really need me. I had put so many great people in place, that I could let others step in and grow it, and just focus on coaching and helping them think through problems. It's great knowing that I can work on the business, instead of in the business. C) Most surprising moment: I'll have to think on that. Probably the time my wife freaked me out with a fake spider in our bed 👻
Jacqueline von Tesmar
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
What industries would you place your bets on in the next 10-20 years?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@jacqvon Funeral homes 💀
Emily Hodgins
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
@awilkinson how did you set about creating a company culture at MetaLab?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@ems_hodge Culture is really just the sum of who works at a company. Hire great people, and you'll have a great culture. We've focused on hiring people who we enjoy spending time with, aren't political/jerks, and play well with others. Our strategy has been to hire super smart people and leave them to it. We don't have set work hours, and we don't prescribe a specific way to work. We treat everyone like adults and trust they will get stuff done. Some people do 9-5 at the office, others do 4-12AM working from a cafe. It's worked well for us for going on 9 years.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Andrew! Welcome. Last week we launched a big redesign of ProductHunt.com (details here). You've worked with a ton of amazing clients. To put you on the spot, what would you change to the product using the information you have now?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@rrhoover First off, I love what you guys are doing. ProductHunt is always one of the few sites I check daily 😘 I would love to give you guys more in-depth feedback, but I'm not going to do it justice right now so let's talk later. That said: One big ask: I would love to be able to go to a specific category/search and sort by all-time/year/month top voted products like you can on Reddit. For instance, if I'm looking for a chat product, it would be great if I could search "chat" and then sort by top voted so I could very quickly find the best chat product. Right now I'm stuck sifting through collections (which are often biased by the creator) when I really just want to tap the community's up votes to figure out what's best.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
@awilkinson 100% agree! @k1x is actually working on a big update to search to include filters and other useful things.
Michael Ströck
Michael Ströck@mstroeck · CEO, KochAbo GmbH
@awilkinson @rrhoover Yeah, I second that. That's what I always do when looking for p.... roducts on Reddit, and it's just very convenient.
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
@rrhoover Hope to see an update in the "activities section" è_é
Kate
Kate@katesegrin · Head of Social @ GitHub
Who have been some of the people that have made the largest impact on your life? (Stories, please!)
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@katesegrin Jason and David from Basecamp (formerly 37signals), for sure. Reading their books, and subsequently getting to know them, made me realize it was ok to succeed on my own terms, and that I didn't need to raise gazillions of dollars, move to the valley, and go big or go home. I wrote a Medium piece about this a couple months ago: https://medium.com/@awilkinson/u...
daniellevine
daniellevine@daniellevine · Fireside
@awilkinson Hey Andrew! Thank's for doing this AMA. I'm wondering, what's the best thing you've come across in the last 30 days and why? Could be anything, a product, an article, a tea, a quote. Anything! Thanks for answering.
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@daniellevine I just bought a Ninebot, the chinese rip-off Segway, and it's ridiculously amazing. I look like a total idiot, but I don't care. So fun.
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
Hi Andrew, I don't know all Metalab's story, but from the look of it : at first you had to go to clients, nowadays, i'm sure they come for you. I know time is essential, but how do you build a reputation? How do you pass from "a nobody" to an "everybody wants to be friends with you"?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@tsunaze You should check out this podcast interview I did. I talk about this a bunch: http://drt.fm/andrew-wilkinson/ ✌️
Pierre-Marie Galite@tsunaze · mobile developer & advice giver
@awilkinson @tsunaze He, very cool, thanks ;)
Dre Durr💡
Dre Durr💡@dredurr · Growth is the only thing that matters
Hi Andrew! 1. You have built many products after your MetaLab consultancy. If you could have built the products before the consultancy. Do you think they still would have the same amount of success? 2. Now that you have a few products built. Will you be pivoting into a "Startup Studio" model like a Betaworks? Thank you so much for making the internet a prettier place 😻
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@dredurr Hey Deandre 👋 1. MetaLab provided us with the cash flow to experiment and build new companies without having to raise money, which I think is a huge advantage. Hard to say, but I'm pretty happy with how it has turned out. 2. Nope. We have spun out all the companies. MetaLab focuses on building amazing products for clients. Flow focuses on building the best team collaboration software. Pixel Union focuses on building the world's best ecommerce themes. We don't intermix priorities, and we'd rather focus on growing our existing companies than trying to build a bunch of new stuff.
Arpit Gupta
Arpit Gupta@arpitgupta · Product Manager
@awilkinson how do you approach knowledge sharing once the project is over? Additionally, what do you typically require (meetings, wireframes) from clients before starting a project or just an idea and money are enough?
David Politi
David Politi@davidrpoliti · UX, generic
What are some of the challenges you've encountered by being a founder, individual contributor and sharing leadership all at the same time?
Ben Tossell
Ben Tossell@bentossell · Services for startups
Hey Andrew - what have been some of the toughest design challenges you have faced with such big clients? Do you find that working with big clients can be a big challenge in itself?
Andrew Wilkinson
Andrew Wilkinson@awilkinson · Founder of Flow
@bentossell It's usually the smaller clients that are the difficult ones. Typically small clients are early stage and the founders have the least experience, so they are less likely to get out of your way and more likely to micro-manage. The best clients are the ones who respect our expertise, give clear feedback, and let us do our thing and just keep iterating until they are happy.