Back in the summer of 2012, shortly after I had launched the content side of ExitEvent, I had drinks with Jason Bradicich. Jason is three things. He's the founder of Adena Studios, a true disciple of excellent design, and a good friend who won't lie to me.
That last part is important.
Jason congratulated me on getting the news site launched and for the kudos it was currently receiving, then he said something like:
"It's great and everything but, dude, let me redesign it for you. I'll do it for free."
I laughed and thanked him for the offer—he's not cheap but worth every penny—then I shrugged and explained:
"Ugly is just how we roll."
And THAT memory was the first thing that popped into my head as an antithesis when the new ExitEvent website was unveiled. The new site is professionally and beautifully designed, clean, efficient, and—even though every feature isn't live just yet—functional.
I had seen several bits and iterations of the new site during the design and construction processes, starting with the logo and the color scheme, the layout, and then the adoption of the PencilBlue content management system (a product for which I've been a supporter since the idea stage).
But seeing all the pieces come together in front of about 200 of the entrepreneurs and investors it was going to support, I realized how much of an evolutionary step the new website would be.
So ugly is no longer how ExitEvent rolls. But I'm still glad it took this long to put the new face on it.
The reason the original design wasn't gorgeous is because it didn't need to be. In fact, and I know in some circles what I'm about to say is heretical, but rarely does a product need to be beautifully designed, or even fully functional, to disrupt a market.
ExitEvent came about because the Triangle startup community needed a network for its startups. The content part came along because, in my endgame plan, the entire nation needed a perspective on startup by the people who were actually building them.
That was ExitEvent's mission. The site didn't have to be pretty, it just needed to fill the gap. Thus, any time spent prettying up the site was time not spent on making the site work to uphold the mission. Since my time was already extremely and artificially limited anyway (see: day job), mission time was beyond critical.
It wasn't a difficult decision. After all, I didn't stop reading TechCrunch because it was ugly, I stopped reading it because once they cleaned house it became all funding news. I didn't stop reading Pando because it was ugly, I stopped reading it because it started turning into Silicon Valley Page Six. I still don't read The Verge, which is gorgeous, because it also doesn't fill said gap.
I always come back to the fact that one of the apps I use most often is the ugly, buggy, nearly unusable Bank of America app. I use it because I can deposit my checks with it. End of story. The app itself sucks, it takes two or three tries to get the picture of the check right, I never remember to sign out because it isn't intuitive, but dammit it still beats having to go to the bank.
THAT'S the app I would pay for.
There's no reason why that banking app can't be better now that it's an established, albeit still terrible, solution to an even more terrible problem. As soon as the next app comes along that can deposit my check the first time every time, or has a nice big logout button once I'm done, or is smart enough to include the decimal place in the deposit amount so I don't have to think twice about that every time I deposit a check…
OK, I'm ranting. My point is I'm switching to that app.
So now that ExitEvent has established itself as a working product, enough to draw more strength and resources behind it, this was the time to make it more attractive, more usable, more functional.
Now, and not one minute sooner.
If ideas are a dime-a-dozen, solutions go for about a buck each. True success in building any product is being able to relieve the pain of the problem, then continue to improve without driving away customers.
That last part is the killer. A founder's work doesn't stop when the product is released, or when the product brings the company to cash flow break even, or when the product shifts a million units. There is always the next branch, the next feature, the next release.
The next big step.
The hard part is deciding when to take it.