Notes from

Before You Build: How to Get Your Startup Off the Ground Without a Team

By on in Design, Startups

A group of people sketching

Photo from my colleague Yasmine Molavi’s sketching workshop

You’re starting a company. You’re so full of ideas that you have three PowerPoint decks! Wowza! You have a couple co-founders or maybe even an employee. If only your team had some engineers to build the product…

There are many, many important things you can do to give your product momentum before you build any software. Even if you have engineers, your team can (and should) do some of these activities in parallel to engage your audience, strengthen your product and beat out competitors. It’s important that the founders lead these activities because no one cares about the success of your company more than you.

This post covers finding customers, getting your brand and web presence started and how to get your product off the ground. The two most important things a founder can do is find their customers and establish channels for them to find you. I’ve helped to launch over forty websites and apps in my career. The ones that are successful had a growing list of interested customers (or an existing customer database) before launch. Continue reading …


Founder Five: Pete Shalek and Steve Marks from Joyable

By on in Everything Else, Startups

We’re catching up with some of the most inspiring founders we’ve worked with to share insights and advice from their experience of starting and growing businesses. Recently, we worked with the Joyable team on their iOS app, and we were inspired by their customer-focused mindset. For those who are not yet familiar, Joyable offers an online Cognitive Behavioral Therapy program to help individuals overcome social anxiety. Every decision made by Pete and Steve from the outset was validated by real consumer experience.

We also published an extended version of this interview on Medium.

1) What was the “aha moment” that motivated you to start Joyable?

Pete: I knew I wanted to do something in healthcare, and I wanted to see problems on the ground [and] do some customer development work. So I convinced some doctors at Stanford Hospital, where I was in business school, to let me shadow them. I followed doctors in the emergency room for eight hours a day. It was fascinating and really fun. As anyone who works in a hospital will tell you, there are many things that can be improved in hospitals— even at great hospitals.

That hit me really hard. This idea that someone was in bad enough shape that they went to an emergency room, and they were being told to wait three months. – Pete Shalek

PeteShalekSteveMarks

Continue reading …


Habits of Effective Teams

By on in Process, Product Management, Startups

Have you ever worked on a team that went off the rails? Product teams need lots of support to run efficiently. You need to move fast, but you also need to be aligned in order to build successful products. Here are a few activities we use to keep our teams moving. We often facilitate them in Stickies.io, a product we built for collaboration, but any of these activities could also be done using analog sticky notes.

When you need to generate ideas

Rapid Rounds

We like to structure brainstorming sessions to help get the entire team working together towards a unified goal. We set a timer for 3-5 minutes to challenge ourselves to think fast and broad. Then, we review the ideas and do another rapid round, with 2-4 minutes this time. Finally, we give all team members 3 votes and prioritize our ideas based on votes. The sequence looks like this:

  • Introduce the goal of the brainstorming session
  • Run rapid rounds.You can run as many as needed. We typically reduce the time set as we go and build off of each other’s ideas.
    • Set the timer for 3-5 minutes
    • Individually ideate on post-its until the timer goes off
    • Let everyone describe their top 3 ideas
  • Give everyone 3 dots and ask them to vote on three ideas to explore further
  • Arrange ideas by votes

In person, we use post-its, sharpies and sticker dots:

Brainstorming in person Continue reading …


A panel, a talk, a workshop @ Silicon Beach Fest 2015

By on in Design, Events

Silicon Beach Fest is coming up next week! If you’re in Los Angeles or can travel there, get your tickets before they’re gone. (Note: open the design guide for a special discount) Carbon Five is involved in the Design Track and we’d love to see you there. The Design Track takes place next Friday, June 26th at the Marina del Rey Hotel.

Silicon Beach Fest panorama of Cross Campus

Get Tickets

For those of you who haven’t been, Silicon Beach Fest (SBF) is a conference based in LA focused on entrepreneurship and technology. The last few years it has drawn more than 2,000 attendees and media attention, most notably from the New York Times and TechCrunch. SBF has helped countless founders, designers and technologists find support in the form of advice, teams and services.

Join us for the Design Track on Friday for: Continue reading …


CliffsNotes for Startups

By on in Everything Else

Clients often ask us if there’s anything they should read about product development to get a head start on working with us. Here’s a list of some of our favorite books, with pointers to the best parts for our busiest clients (Brian, we’re looking at you).

These recommendations apply to any entrepreneur not just to our clients.

Continue reading …


Mise en World

By on in Design

I gave this talk at Kluge’s Evenings at the Loft on March 20, 2015. The theme of the event was Aesthetics. Skot Carruth and Jeremy Mumenthaler also spoke. Video is forthcoming. Special thanks to Arturo and Cameron at Kluge and to David and Courtney at Carbon Five for helping me shape this.

mise en world title

My background is in filmic set design. I started in film school, ended with a degree in Visual Art and Art History and spent a brief period of time in architecture school. Given my background in physical design, when I started thinking about the theme of aesthetics, I couldn’t restrict myself to screens.

This is my vision for user experience design, leaping off from aesthetics as a starting point.

Continue reading …


Delivering value, Making money

By on in Process

When I begin working on a new product, I’m always looking for ways to optimize the interactions for business and user value. I believe the best way to accomplish that is to get to market as early as possible with the proposed value. By getting to market, I mean everything from talking with customers about the value proposition to releasing the smallest version of the product. You may know this method as Lean Startup. Even if you don’t, read on.

At Carbon Five, we don’t often use the word lean, but it’s not because we don’t believe in it. It’s because we don’t believe in being dogmatic about it.

flexibility sustainability reason

Our process values flexibility, sustainability and reason. We aim for a middle ground — building what our clients think they want to build, while providing ways to learn along the way. Continue reading …


Happenings in March

By on in Events

We have a medley of different events this month! Whether you are interested in finding like-minded people or need a space to work on some projects, we have an event worth attending. All events are at a Carbon Five office unless otherwise specified.

Continue reading …


C5 On the Go – February

By on in Events

An event at Carbon Five

We have so many events going on this coming month that we thought it would be helpful to round them up in a post. If you’ll be in any of these cities, come say hello.

For anyone who is new to our hack nights, we gather a diverse mix of developers and designers who want to code and collaborate for a couple of hours after work. You can bring a project or enthusiasm for working on someone else’s. If you want to give a short presentation or run a workshop, we have the facilities and completely welcome ad-hoc organization.

Los Angeles

Wed, Feb 4 @ 6pm // Hack Night

Wed, Feb 18 @ 6pm // Hack Night


Continue reading …


How to write an RFP

By on in Everything Else

Requirements lemonade stand

You’ve got a software projectyou just need the resources to do it.

So you start writing an RFP (Request for proposal). You put down the budget, timeline and deliverables in an effort to properly scope the initiative. After all, you need to find the best qualified team which means you need to be as specific as possible.

Then, you sit back and read what you’ve outlined.

After your brain gets back to its normal speed, you realize that if you can’t keep yourself awake, you have little hope of keeping potential teams engaged long enough to gain interest in your project. Continue reading …