As an investor, founder, CEO and business book author, I write about startups, design, how to build a good business, and I like to muse about culture in any form.

Are designers surpassing engineers as the next big wave in tech company founders?

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John Maeda has done it again. This design and business thought leader (formerly MIT Media Lab, then President of Rhode Island School of Design, and now Design Partner at VC firm Kleiner Perkins) has done some ground-breaking research on the role of designer founders in the technology industry.

John Maeda in the RISD Museum's Roman Gallery

John Maeda in the RISD Museum’s Roman Gallery

You can see the whole report here.  Below are three of my favorite stats:

  • 27 startups co-founded by designers were acquired by the big name brand tech power players (just since 2010)
  • 20% of the top cumulatively-funded VC backed companies have designer co-founders  (total funds raised since 2013:  $27B).  Although The Grommet has not raised any VC funding, we are mentioned on this funding stat slide (#8) because we are an investor-backed tech business too
  • Ideal ratio of Designers to Engineers:  1:4  (in design-aware companies)

Full disclosure: I was one of the 150 designer-founders interviewed for the research and am part of the Kleiner Perkins Design Council that John has formed.  I have not contributed much to that group–as of yet– but John would probably tell me that “doing your day job” is contribution enough.  (He’s also super kind and gracious and does not make me feel guilty for not flying out to San Francisco for their get-togethers.)

John was the first designer to join a VC firm but five other firms in Silicon Valley have followed suit to get one of their own.  He’s always ahead of the pack, that John.

May 31, 2015 PostScript: It was fun to have John and three of his designer colleagues come to The Grommet office for a public “Design in Tech” event to share this research.

John Maeda, Assaf Biderman, me, Ben Fry, Cas Holman in a "pre-game" photo at The Grommet

John Maeda, Assaf Biderman, me, Ben Fry, Cas Holman in a “pre-game” photo at The Grommet

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