This month we sat down and talked to Leart Zogjani – Founder at Skins Agency, co-Founder at Symbolt.io, lecturer, and mentor. Read the interview to find out the expert opinion about the importance of the design and what professional challenges the start-ups keep facing. Leart also shared with us the story of his entrepreneurial journey [which started by accident] and his opinion about Volvero. Scroll down!
Tell us about your entrepreneurship experience.
I think the story is kind of interesting because it happened almost by accident. I am a graphic designer by profession and while I was studying, I had this idea about a game, which had a lot of mythology in it, and I just started sketching it out. Shortly, an incubation centre in Kosovo organized an event similar to what we call a hackathon now. I just went there with my drawings and no idea of how to build a game. I thought I would probably find a developer there and start building it. For me, it was only about the product, I didn’t know I would have to start a business and do all this stuff. During the days of the event, I found the co-founder who was a great developer and we started building the game. We then jumped into Pristina Start-up Weekend, which is a local sort of battle which later became global as well. Among 118 cities around the world, or so, we got the second prize. There was a pretty big buzz around the whole thing that we were doing. And so, from there, we had to register a company, and that was our start-up, without me realizing fully what it was. I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into: for me, it was all about “let’s build this game, it has to exist”. It was back in 2012. We worked on the game for about a year and a half but, unfortunately, we failed at it because we both were still studying and left it at that stage.
Later, in 2014, I jumped into my design business: I gathered a couple of my friends and we started working on the experimental design: we were building design fused with contemporary art and philosophy. We were trying to get any client that we would get and to build a core concept around the product. We’ve pushed with that for a while, I continued my studies, but the product was really hard to sell. It didn’t bring too much commercial value because it was experimental. So eventually we had to pivot: I was in touch with a lot of startups from the incubator I mention before, and I started working more and more with them, helping start-ups to design their UI/UX, their branding, etc. We started to learn and understand them and their needs and this is where Skins Agency came from.
Today, at Skins we do design based on psychology and data. We help companies get their branding and strategy in place so that they can scale properly. With this strategy, they have an infrastructure to which they can bring the whole team, as opposed to only a couple of people. In the meantime, while having all these clients, I saw a big problem in the process of graphic design. You know, clients always ask for a lot of revisions on design documents, even if it’s not a design issue, especially in long documents, like PDFs, you always need to change the copy a bazillion times before the client accepts it. And so we decided to build Symbolt which is an intelligent design revision tool that allows clients and designers to directly edit the design document without breaking the design.
“Talk to your users and ask them to pitch the product back to you. And if they’re saying it looks like an apple, or… like a pear, you have an idea whether or not what you’ve said has actually transmitted what you meant initially.”
The story is indeed interesting. What is in your future now? Any new projects in mind?
I think for this year my focus is to scale the design agency. As I said, we are using psychology and data to inform our design decisions. That is done through thorough conversations with our clients and then with our team.
This becomes an issue when scaling the team because it’s hard to show them how to do a process that doesn’t exist in the usual workflows. So we have started to build our process into a framework that can be taught and learned. This way it almost turns into a product itself and allows us to scale the team much more easily, and also get a much higher quality of results with clients since there is a clear structure around the process. So that’s our goal for this year and this should also help us scale commercially, not only as a product. And then, since Symbolt is still in the early phase, we expect to get product-market fit by the end of the year, so that we can also raise a round. For me, this year is focusing on these two companies, scaling for one and product-market fit for the other. And I think we’re definitely going to achieve it and then move forward.
“Design is the emotional language between the tech specs and the client. And this is something that usually start-ups don’t see. They see the design of the package, but do not see it as the communication itself.“
How did you come to mentorship? And based on this experience, is there a pattern that you see: some problem that many start-ups are facing? What do you usually advise in this case?
I started mentoring a couple of years ago, initially with some accelerators in the US. That was because I have already worked with a lot of start-ups, I was very close to them, and then I started my own, so it came naturally to chat with them and share experiences. And then eventually, I got in touch with some accelerators that told me I could be a mentor and help startups out since I was already doing it, why not formalize it. I thought it’s worth sharing a bit of the experience with other people that are going through the same journey. I’ve gotten a lot of help myself from other start-ups and it’s just natural that I try to do the same. And of course, sometimes it ends up being a commercial value as well because some startups need a bit more help than a mentorship hour.
Speaking about some sort of a pattern, I do see it. I think one of the major things that happen is that most of the start-ups have technical founders. These people, generally speaking, don’t know much about design and marketing. So they have the perception that the design should be the final element of the whole process. Something like: “oh, we will just make the pretty logo somewhere at the end”. And one of the things that I really try to work with, something that I think everyone should have in mind is that the design, especially nowadays, with the tools that we have, is not a final product, it’s an iterative process, just like the product is.
So first, start-ups should start looking at design as a means to do business, not as a means to make their product pretty. So think about design as: “What does my audience want? And how can I communicate my product to my audience?” Design is the emotional language between the tech specs and the client, or the user. And this is something that usually start-ups don’t see. They see the design of the package, but do not see it as the communication itself. And second, they should put this into the business sense: how they can monetize, measure design. Start-ups sometimes do not know they can actually utilize design to measure specifically the success that it’s having and be able to change it and iterate on it, to get to the point they need.
So how do you measure the design then?
This is a very good question, I just had another workshop lately talking about this. There are a couple of ways that you would use to measure it. If you’re measuring the brand itself, you have to talk to your users and ask them to pitch the product back to you. And if they’re saying it looks like an apple, or… like a pear, you have an idea whether or not what you’ve said has actually transmitted or translated into what you expected them to do and see. And that usually comes through user feedback.
Second, UI/UX is always measured through Google Analytics, likes. Advertising is always automatically measured through conversion rate. In all of these aspects, the design doesn’t play the whole goal, it is only a part of it. And the point is to understand in which part of your sales cycle the design matters and where it does not matter so much. And when I say design, I mean visual design, because you can say that design is the whole process itself, because you’ve designed the sales process but I mean graphic design.
“I think it’s too much for one person to own a car… it is very important that we normalize sharing and conscious behaviour as early as possible.“
Thank you for sharing these insights! As for the last question, we are curious to know your opinion about Volvero.
First, as a concept, I think it is a great one and it comes at a great time, I think we’re moving more and more towards a sharing and circular economy anyway. So without services, companies like yours, it’s going to be hard to move to that point. When it comes to product-market fit, in your case, you have the chicken and egg issue: with the people who have the cars and people who want the cars, fortunately, you’ve solved quite a good part of it now. And this is pretty exciting because a lot of companies get stuck when they don’t know where to start.
I have a really good feeling about the company, I think the team behind is really smart, and you guys are doing something great. One thing that I’ve seen doing my own business is that it’s not so much about the idea, it’s about the team, especially at the beginning. People should be able to execute because you need to find ways around the market, your initial idea is never going to end up being your initial idea, it is going to change 1000 times, etc. and the team should be ready to handle those issues. So at the moment, I would rather judge it as a team rather than as an idea because we’ll only know for the idea after you guys have hit the market.
Thank you for the feedback, we are proud of our team. And one last thing: what role sharing economy plays in your day-to-day life? Car-sharing or any other services…
I’ve only used car-sharing a couple of times, mainly because I now live in Kosovo, and it is not a thing here. I like the idea because, well, I’m a person that doesn’t want to buy a car. First of all, I think it’s too much for one person to own a car. If we’re a family of three or four, then it makes sense, because there’s a lot of work to be done, and you’d have to have it. But for one person to own one car is just too much for the environment. And I don’t think it’s fair. In my opinion, we need to share more, stop producing so much and reduce the use of resources as they’re limited. So that’s where I stand personally, I don’t want to buy a car for as long as I can. And as long as there’s any bit of public or shared transport that I can use, I would not like to have a car. I think it is very important that we normalize sharing and conscious behaviour as early as possible.