Lessons from the Product Building Trenches

Figma has grown into a successful startup with a $10 billion valuation, but before he achieved those lofty heights, CEO and co-founder Dylan Field was a young guy with an idea and no business experience. Hear the lessons he learned along the way and what he would do differently if he could start over today.

Our next guest I can't say enough nice Things about him he started his company When he's like 20. super genius and now 10 years later he's a grown-up one and Two Just sold his company for 20 billion Dollars so I'm not only saying nice Things about him because of that but Like you know a little bit Um please welcome to the stage figma Co-founder and CEO Dylan field and your Moderator Ron Let's go Ron Miller [Applause] [Music] Wow the crowd big crowd hey all good Morning everybody Welcome Dylan thank you for having me You're back Um you know over the last month you've Had quite a month it's been a wild month Yeah and you kind of become this symbol Of startup success right you went from Dorm room idea to 20 billion dollar exit In about 10 years it's it's kind of a Startup Founder's dream and I think a Lot of the people out here are our Founders probably aspire to that you Know what you've achieved how's that Feel Uh it's been wild for sure Um I feel very very very fortunate I you Know you look back you're like wow There's so much along the way that

Helped us get here uh and that's not Just the incredible team at figma uh but I can't overstate that I mean it's it's Amazing the people I get to work with Every day right uh and and I feel so Lucky about that but also just you know All these random coincidences little Points along the way like there is Literally luck so you know I don't want To dismiss that either especially in This context So When you think about figma and where you Were and where you are as a company I Mean you were on a roll you were yeah You got a high evaluation you get the Growth you've got a beloved product and A community that you've built that Really valued what you were doing and Was involved using past tenses here okay Is involved but yeah I'm so sorry Um so for the why sell why sell when you Have all that going for you yeah it was Not you know we weren't thinking of Selling so I think it's like valid and Important question uh you know we were Having a blast we are having a blast but Then we started talking with Adobe and Adobe is a foundational uh really Impressive company and the more I'd Spend time with the people there the More trust we built uh the more that I Could see okay wow we're in this like Product development box right now figma

By the way just to get a sense of the Room like how many people here use figma Oh it's awesome for you okay and there's More people to convert this is great uh So figma is trying to go from idea to Design to production On the ideation side we've got fig Jam Which is good for ideation brainstorming Uh on the design side we have figma Design used for Crane interfaces Mock-ups and the production side uh well More to come in terms of how we're going To try to make it so you can go easily From design to code uh in the future but You know that's that's sort of our box Right now and as we talk with Adobe we Realize there's a solution here in terms Of all of our users they really want Things like video 3D content better Vector illustration Imaging all these Workflows inside the product development Process I think we also start to realize oh my Gosh there's an opportunity to really Scale our impact go into spaces that we Weren't considering before so for all Those personas how do we make it so we Can better address creative workflows we Have a lot of expertise around freemium Around SAS uh around Bottoms Up business Models around multiplayer technology uh And that got excited and then finally We started I started a pharmacist of you Know creativity is the new productivity

And we don't have the resources just go Do that right now at figma if we want to Go and make it so that we're able to uh Go into all these more productivity Areas that's going to take a lot of time To be able to go and do that in the Context Adobe I think gives us a huge Leg up and I'm really excited about that So That's kind of the argument that I hear From every CEO I talk to that gets sold Is that you know being part of the Larger organization allows you to get Resources that you're doing get before And this there's a certain validity to That right but um you know I'm wondering Was there like investor pressure to sell Because You know this is a tough year and this There's a lot of weird stuff going on Economically and you know what was the Story there yeah I mean I think you know We're definitely in a great place in Terms of you know she's our own destiny We were we are doubling over year over Year in terms of our Revenue free cash Flow positive so it wasn't like oh gosh We need to sell this company that was Never the consideration here uh instead It was what's the best opportunity to Achieve our vision The vision for the company is make Design accessible to everyone so design Is not just interface design it's

Creativity it's productivity uh it's you Know making it so that we can all be Part of the digital Revolution that's Happening the world I mean the entire World's economy is going from physical To digital right now are we going to Leave a bunch of people behind we're Going to give everyone the tools I I Feel a lot of pressure and I think it's Really important that we get all these People these tools really fast uh Otherwise people are going to be locked Out of this opportunity Set uh and I Think that the best path forward to that Is is with Adobe that's why I got Excited and also I guess at the trust It's like people are humans then the day The more time you spend with people the More time you get to know people as Humans uh the more trust can build and That ends up being really important So you know one thing I find interesting About this whole thing that an adobe Being the ultimate acquirer I mean Assuming this all goes through right uh But for 10 years I mean however you've Had a marketing effort Um you've been uh you know the Anti-adilly and it's so to be bought by Adobe it's like kind of Sleeping with The Enemy and I think some people Thought of us are it that way so how do You kind of square that obvious Contradiction from your marketing

Marketing rhetoric and you know now that You're part of the company Yeah I think uh our Market rhetoric has Been much better about like figma and Screen design and making it so that you Can do interfaces on uh and and how do We make it so that again we can achieve That Vision Um The the community definitely uh was Surprised But again Mark Adobe is very much in the Marketing World we're very much in the Products development design world and so We didn't really see them come up that Much as competitors So it's I don't see it uh maybe the way That you're describing well I mean it's A it's maybe not competitive but you Know it's the large company the large Entrenched incumbent that you were Clearly you know at least through your Marketing materials going after and I Mean a lot of companies over time Have done that I remember box going After Microsoft SharePoint you know as An example there there's always like the Big bad and Company and that's always a Great position for an early stage Company to bi but it does feel a little Strange that after having that it's not Only you're not just partnering with Them you're part of them I mean we the Reality is it's actually kind of

Interesting because I as part of the Acquisition process you have to go make A timeline of events and I looked back At all the interactions we'd had with Adobe over the years The first interaction with Adobe was Days after we announced uh figma in August 2012. And someone who's now the CTO emailed us Saying hey uh do you want to meet up for A coffee they're trying to recruit us We've always had a really positive Relationship with them and so I I just Don't think them is the big bad whatever But you know it's a sexy thing to talk About I guess Tech are disrupt no I mean It's just All right fair enough Um You know how did your employees react When you told them that it was Adobe Surprised but positive yeah um yeah I Mean they were excited I think that the The team for a second was like whoa what Does this mean right there's almost this Hierarchy of needs right Uh obviously the monetary part is going To be important to know about but also Okay do I still have a job yes everyone Here is a job like that's the reason They want to bring us in is to get all Of our talents and expertise is the Culture going to change well we're gonna Do everything we can to you know as

We're scaling at a really rapid Pace Make the culture even better and better Uh and you know I think that um that's Hard to do anyway you know we're going From uh probably Uh 1050 people end of this year 1100 People in this year to potentially 1700 1800 end of next year uh that's a rapid Pace of growth anyway right uh and so I Tried to walk people through that about Hey what do we have to do anyway to Evolve our culture as it happens and Then especially In the context of another company even As we're operate autonomously which has Been a critical part of the conversation All this time how do we do that and People I think came away from that just More about it and excited than ever so I'm psyched So I know that it feels like this There's a there's a certain period of Time that you agree to stay and you in Heaven would agree to stay and Evan's no Longer at figma but uh has been just Totally critical on the journey yeah Okay Um how long have you agreed to stay on After the deal closes I don't have any Plans to leave okay yeah I'm I mean look It's it's uh I told the figma team hey You're stuck with me so uh not a bad Thing I'm sure Um you know you had the employee

Reaction but the community reacted Pretty pretty badly and you know If you went on Twitter you went on Akron News places that you know people who are Technical have there were some pretty Wild media they were upset and they were They were negative so I guess how do you Ease their fears that This is not going to go sideways for Them that the product that they love is Going to stay at least similar to the Product that they love with maybe some Even some new features yeah I mean first Of all I think it's again showing people A vision of here's what we're going to Do here but also I think that trust is Just consistency over time that was a One of a mentors Jeff weiner Ellington He told me that Um and I think it's so true it's like we Can't ask everybody to trust us Overnight on this right this is a huge Change for them and some people are in Figma 40 hours a week or more we have People that literally look at the last 28 days and they're in figma all 28 of The last 28 days So if that's the case how do you make it So that uh you know as figma sort of is In a new home what's that mean for them And I think we just have to show them Okay the velocity of us making the Product better is not going to change The pricing is not going to change we're

Doing everything we can to make it so This is going to be a great experience For you So when an event like this happens is It's obviously you know a wealth Creating event not just for you but for Your employees and You know if the challenge is going to be How do you make this not an end but a Beginning so how do you get your Employees to maintain Focus moving Forward you know now that you know they Have you know how to you know a Significant event that has paid them Serious money well I mean it's not Closed yet so all right I mean this is All these questions are assuming that This close totally there's preface that Because there is a lot of regulatory Hurdles for this to get over but Eventually that will be the case I'm Sure it's business as usual right now Yeah I think it's about just strategy I Mean everybody joined figma for a reason We have a very missionary group of Employees and you know honestly a lot of People at figma not not all but but a Good good portion have had success Elsewhere before Um and so I think that a lot of people Are at figma because they really care uh About the company about the mission and About what we can do for the community And so the more that we can focus on

That and then show a strategy that is Not going to have us be going slower but Rather faster and it's going to be an Inflection point to seller even more I Think that's how you get people really Excited how do you you know keep people Motivated though as the leader you know How do you how do you make sure that People are still focused on the task at Hand when you know once you know again Assuming this all went through you Become part of adobe you know you know You're moving forward from that point Yeah I think that um it you know this is Pretty just standard leadership stuff Right like I think that it's super Important as a leader uh to make a Clear Vision to have a clear strategy uh but Also to empower people and I I find that When people are not empowered that's When uh they start to lose motivation That's when they start to lose focus Because no one wants to be in that Situation where they're working super Hard and they're doing it in a way that They don't believe in uh with a you know Set of tactics or strategy that they Don't agree with right and so I think It's all about that combination of Giving top-down Direction and The Clarity on okay here's where we're going But also then letting people Bottoms Up Say okay and here's how we're gonna get There and meet in the middle somehow and

Figure it out together So you know the morning that you were Quiet we had a conversation and um you Were emphasizing the fact that you got To stay independent as a company you Will remain title CEO the company figma There's already SEO comma Adobe that's Right yeah But maybe someday who knows Um but you know you emphasize the fact That you're going to stay independent And so I want to know what you think That means you know for you and for the Company as it becomes part of this Larger entity and a larger entity that Paid a considerable sum for you yeah I Mean so after it closes obviously I'll Be working with David and shantanu and The Adobe team on okay what's the best Way to utilize the technology the Resources the talent at Adobe in order To move things faster Um but also you know we're going to set Basically sign up for goals and then It's my job to make sure that we hit Those goals uh and with the team and so The only reporting changes gonna be me Reporting to David uh and then yeah I Mean we're we're going to be all in on Making sure that we're able to Accelerate the growth of the platform so It's sort of become like chattanoo and David become your board of directors is That is that how you kind of see it I I

Think it's probably a bit tighter of a Relationship right I mean I suspect that I'll be talking a lot uh and that's a Good thing because I think David and Sean are people that I can learn a lot From uh and I suspect the company agrees With me on that I mean they have really Storied amazing careers uh and I think That you know Sean's new such a humble Guy so you don't see him in the media Very much but he is one of the most Legendary CEOs in Silicon Valley Um you know look at what he's done for Adobe over the past decade alone let Alone before that uh it's a complete Transformation story and now they want To figure out how do you do that again And I think that's like that takes Courage after you've already had that Win to go do that and I just my hat's Off to him for that so you know when I Think about a similar kind of deal that Happened you know if you look at slack It's kind of similar money and it's a Similar you know SAS kind of product Um that got bought by a larger company Slack has continued to stay independent Select but slack is also building Connectors you know into the Salesforce Platform Um how do you think Adobe wants to Integrate you into their platform and How do you kind of maintain what you're Doing while becoming part of this larger

Entity yeah I mean so far adobe's told Us is that they want to learn from figma And I think in general they're going Okay how do you go to more of a freemium Model how do you make it so that you're Able to uh really be Bottoms Up so just Context Bottoms Up versus top down sales bottoms Up is when someone signs up for a Service and is paying with credit card Top down is when you have Enterprise Sales people steak dinners Etc uh trying To sell into a company Um and of course there's lots in between And you know figma has elements of both Those strategies but I think from a Bottomed up perspective from an Efficiency standpoint we're very good There and I think Adobe uh is eager to Learn about that they're also eager to Learn about the web uh from Dave zero Figma has been a browser Play We Believe In the browser we believe in how do you Make it so that you have a web-based Tool and a cloud-based tool that's Multiplayer and so uh I think Adobe sees That as the future sees collaboration in The future and what I've heard from them So far is how do we learn from you as Much as possible here in order to make It so that Um we're able to then make our product Suite even better as well as in addition To making it so that there's more

Capabilities on the figma platform right I mean it's sort of you know I remember Years ago Microsoft bought Yama University foreign I remember thinking like you know what a Weird fit you know it didn't seem to fit But then I went to a conference right After that and you know like the two Teams were like very engaged with each Other they were you know the the Microsoft team in particular was very Excited about what Yammer brought with Their you know continuous delivery and All of that so it seemed like they could Be a kind of a similar Dynamic okay and I think there's also you know one of the Things I evaluated as we looked at this Acquisition was Well okay what's the culture of adobe And what's the culture of figma and is There a match there what's the vision of Adobe figma as their match and the Answer was returning yes in both uh I Think when it comes to craftsmanship Community you sort of this grow as you Go mindset uh we have just huge values Alignment between Adobe and figma uh and I was just at Max actually earliest week Max is adobe's big event and I got to Meet a ton of adobe team that I haven't Met yet and it was like they could all Be fake mates tomorrow like it felt Really really good So you know that's you know bringing up

The culture Um I I read an interview you did with With Jordan a couple of years ago and You said you know early on you were kind Of serious and you wanted to make a core Value being fun and you know no offense To Adobe but that would strike me as fun But so how do you maintain your culture As part of their culture yeah I mean I I Had a lot of fun with them this week so Maybe I'm a little biased from that Interaction we just had but uh yeah I'm Being unfair I mean look I think you Know you get to that level uh you know There's a certain Enterprise nature of Things but Um I I mean one of the things that we do Is we just try to create space for People I kind of talked this earlier in Terms of roadmap setting and strategy Setting but one example this is make a Week for us so twice a year we have a Full week for everyone in the company Called maker week and maker week is just A chance for anyone to to go make Something as long as it benefits figma In some way you're good to go Um and you know I think that the and one Of our core values like mentioned is Play This idea of Um be able to experiment be able to go Out there to have fun to put to sort of Like try things that might not work out

I think that's pretty critical to Creativity in general and trying to make It so you have an Innovative culture and If you don't get to the point where uh You have that I I think that it's um That's when you start to lose the bombs Of innovation in a company I think from Everything I've seen in Adobe they have That actually uh but regardless that's We're still operating figma autonomously And uh we're going to continue to invest In spaces like that and making sure that You know we were that kind of aspect and That Behavior Uh from a even Performance Cycle standpoint right like making it so That you're able to be you know Stressing collaboration uh stressing Innovation as things that we measure uh You know why people rise in the Organization why they're hired in the First place Um ultimately that's part of how you Reinforce culture so larger companies Like Adobe I mean having the fun that You if individuals aside tend to be Risk-averse so I mean that that's Something that you're going to have to Kind of push back against I think as you Maintain your autonomy in the company I Just push back there I think this Acquisition is anything but risk-averse Uh in terms of look at the media Reception the investor reception I think People went whoa this is a bold move and

They're still trying to figure it out in Some ways right uh but I think that Ultimately we're gonna look back and see It as a huge positive for everyone uh That said we have to go prove that out Now right so lots of work ahead yeah I Mean it's you know once you're you're in The door and things and again I'm not Trying to give you a hard time it's just Like you know this is a 20 billion Dollar deal and you know they they buy You because they want to you know Maintain it like have this inside their Company so that doesn't it I think it's Very offensive right they're trying to Figure out how do you make it so that You're able to adapt the products they Already have but also to to sort of Bolster this new platform Um and yeah I I don't think that's risk-averse in any Way yeah I mean I think that's that's Fair Um You know we have about four minutes left And I want to ask you a question that's That's kind of unrelated to all of this Huh you were a teal fellow I was yeah When you were like 20 years old at the Time right and they had these like kind Of stringent requirements that you had To come out here and move out here you Had to quit school to start you Company it worked out pretty well for

You in the end but as we know most Startups fail so if a college kid came To you today and said you know like I Have this opportunity should I do it or Should I not do it should I get my Degree what would you say to them I have No blanket answer here uh this is one Where it's it's different for everyone It's different according to your Circumstances to uh your idea to your Network Um so so I don't want to give a blanket Answer but I'll say I'll detail what it Was for me so I was lucky to already Have some network uh the teal Fellowship Was an amazing program is an amazing Program they no longer asked everybody To move out by the way to San Francisco Well I will say it seems like San Francisco's back am I right And so it's seeing everybody here it's Pretty exciting uh I I think um for me I Looked at uh the chance to work with Evan my co-founder and went wow This is gonna be amazing like some People argue uh do 10x Engineers exist All I know is that 100x Engineers exist Because I work with that one uh and just He is he's an absolute genius the chance To work with him learn from him that was A no-brainer uh and so I thought okay I Can always go back to brown brown will Be there uh work with Evan that's that's A once in a lifetime opportunity and it

Was uh we got to just build amazing Stuff together Um the teal Fellowship too was just an Incredible community and I think that uh And also a source of non-deluta funding It was a hundred thousand dollars over Two years so I think um you know if You're maxing out your credit cards Don't have the funding don't have the Time to go figure it out that's a much Harder decision uh and I don't want to Say not to do it because some people try That and then they hit a home run uh That's going to be up to you but I think That's probably that would probably be Over my risk profile for what it's worth Uh and so it was to me a decision that Was there was no it didn't feel like There's risk involved right um like Always go back to school I had some Savings I had a chance to work with this Absolute legend in the making I thought He was already Legend uh and and I was Working on something I really cared About so yeah it was it was just an Awesome opportunity so we only have like A minute and a half but I as the parents Of adult children I have to ask like how Did your parents react when you said You're going to quit school go to San Francisco and start a company uh they Were very skeptical yeah I bet yeah yeah Very skeptical Um my uh mom was an elder school teacher

And my dad you know he had worked really Hard uh to try to support me uh for College I'd also I did acting as a kid So I had some savings from that as well Which was helpful uh and Um yeah I think they thought it was a Little bit insane but one thing that Helped was they went to the sort of um Weekend for the teal Fellowship where Everyone gets interviewed and at that Weekend they got to meet all these other Tail files and they're like wow this is A community that seems very right for You and so that was sort of the the Point where they went okay we we could Be supportive of this and that mattered A lot to me because I didn't want to do This if my parents would have been tough To do it without having you know like You're you're going you're leaving School and Um to not have that support at that age Would have been tough yeah I mean just Just emotionally like you know I care so Much about them of course All right we're about out of time here Why don't you give Dylan a hand and Thanks for coming thanks all

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