Designing at a Startup: What I Learned at Creator Now

spaceship emoji on a pink background

Last semester, I worked at Creator Now - an entertainment startup - as a part-time, solo UX/UI Designer.

creator now logo on the left and a creator now promo graphic on the right

It was my first time working at a U.S. startup. So, in this article, I want to share what I learned. This tweet by @ridd_design inspired this article.

But first, let me provide some context.

What is Creator Now

Creator Now is a membership community built for aspiring YouTube creators. By joining, you can get connected with top-tier creators and resources to become a full-time creator.

creator now pro home page
Sneak peek of the platform!

Initially, every two months, Creator Now would invite 300 participants ($250 each) to take part in a six-week boot camp. Participants would be placed into teams to compete and get access to live workshops with top creators.

This is what the original boot camp page looked like:

the home page of the old creator now bootcamp dashboard

But, before I joined, the startup decided to change to a subscription model. They wanted to build a platform.

You pay a certain monthly price. And you can get access to an array of useful features and tools.

What I did

From October to December, I created and handed off several major features of the platform. These included:

People directory

creator now pro people directory

Challenges

creator now pro challenges home
creator now pro individual challenge page

Platform onboarding

creator now pro platform onboarding

Messaging

creator now pro messaging feature on the challenges page
creator now pro messaging full screen
creator now pro video rooms

Livestreaming

creator now pro livestreaming

Home dashboard

creator now pro home dashboard

Achievements

creator now pro editing achievements and badges
creator now pro hitting 100k subscribers and award card

It was a lot of work. But, it was an incredible experience to design so much of the MVP platform.

P.S. If you’re in Creator Now, you might realize the platform looks different from what I show here. That’s because the team hired a UI Designer to refine the UI.

What I learned

Now, I’ll share what I learned working at a startup.

Speed is everything

This is essential for a startup.

For Creator Now, we had around six months to build out the entire MVP platform.

Everybody grinded.

And this lesson brings me to my next learning.

Minimal time for research

Remember the standard, five step design process we learned?

Well, it doesn’t work like that at a startup.

Since speed is everything, a startup would prioritize execution and building more than research. We wanted to build a MVP as fast as possible so it could be tested.

This means that a lot of times, research will be sacrificed.

Wait… does that mean we shouldn’t do research at a startup?

Absolutely not! As a designer, you’re an advocate for the users, so you should definitely advocate for research.

But, what’s important is the depth and purpose of your research.

How much research do you want to do? Why do you want to do research?

This is where you need to be very intentional. Too much research equals more time. And research with no purpose equals wasted time.

It’s a delicate balance.

For example, when I first joined, I interviewed four creators because although the founders were experts in the space, I wasn't. Thus, I wanted to do interviews to get myself up to speed.

Yet, I did not do more interviews or further user research because

  1. I trusted the founder’s domain expertise.
  2. We needed to get started on design iterations as soon as possible.
  3. I became more confident in what I understood.

Let me reiterate my last point:

I became more confident in what I understood.

I realized that confidence in my understanding is a key criterion for moving forward. Doing research does not equal checking a box. It’s a way for me to confirm my hypothesis and become more confident in what I know.

Ownership

Can I say:

It feels damn good to see our designs built & used by real people (creators)

One of the biggest benefits of working at a startup is that your designs can be shipped very quickly. Much, much faster than at a big company.

Thus, at Creator Now, all my designs were shipped. And on the day I’m writing this, it’s used by 735 creators.

That’s insane.

slack bot showing 735 creators have subscribed to creator now pro

Overcommunicate

This was a mantra of the founding engineer, Ricardo Bedin.

Don’t be afraid to communicate often with the team.

Thus, I shared design updates and got feedback on different ideations early on. This ensured that everybody was always in the loop of design.

It never hurts to quickly send a Slack message or record a video.

Preference for UX work

At Creator Now, I realized that I enjoy ideation work. I love to ideate different options, list out the pros & cons for each, then discuss with the team which one to go with.

collection of different design iterations on figma
Designers - does this look familiar?

Time management is hard

As a part-time designer, I had to balance my time with school work, clubs, social, and life in general.

Not gonna lie - it was overwhelming.

As a result, I did not care about health as much. I barely exercised, and my sleep schedule fluctuated.

I don’t want this post to be all flowers. Studying while doing part-time is tiring. But, I don’t regret it at all. I made this decision, and I’m enjoying it thus far. I just need to make adjustments to time management.

Huge kudos to anybody doing part-time + school.

How to build a good company culture

This isn’t design-related. But I’ve been observing how the two cofounders, Zack & Kate, lead the startup.

Here are some of the things I’ve noted:

  • Trust - I was shocked by the opportunity to design the MVP platform all by myself. But, they trusted me. And that was a huge mental boost.
  • 1:1 checkups - I always enjoyed the 1:1s I have with Zack. Since I’m not very vocal, these 1:1 serve as a comfortable space for me to share my thoughts.
  • Bonding - I know the team often goes out for dinner/bonding. Though I wasn’t able to attend, I’m sure these helped the team get to know each other better.
  • Fun / Chill - Both of them can be serious. But they can also be fun and not-so-serious. It’s a balance.
  • Appreciation - One of my favorite things was the monthly team calls. In it, everyone will share two people to shout out, one thing they did well, one thing that could be improved, and one thing they’re excited about. Love the appreciation of good work.

Importance of a mentor

This is one of the major realizations I’ve had.

Because at Creator Now, I don’t have a mentor.

Don’t get me wrong - working as a solo designer means I get full design ownership. That’s awesome. Yet, I couldn’t help but ask:

Are my designs up to the industry level? Are they actually…good? Am I in a bubble?

These are questions I could never answer without a mentor.

Thus, I realized that, no matter what industry you’re in, it’s all about the people. As a young designer, what matters is:

Who’s your mentor? Is your mentor an incredibly awesome designer that you can learn from?

Focus on people. And the rest will follow.

What I want to learn

To preface: I will be returning to Creator Now in the spring. So, I want to share what I hope to learn at Creator Now as a designer.

Testing / Interviews

Since the platform launched on January 2, I want to do user testing/interviews. This will help me assess my designs and improve them. Or, if I get too busy, at least use the feedback from the community to refine the designs.

How to use data to inform design decisions

I would say I want to focus more on quantitative data.

In the past, I have worked on projects analyzing qualitative data from user testing. Yet, I don’t have much experience extracting insights from numbers.

overview of creator now pro challenges analytics (dau, challenges join, challenges leave, reward claim)
How can I apply this to my designs? 🤔

What I want to improve

With learning comes improvements. Here, I want to share what I want to improve as a designer myself.

Be intentionally more vocal

I’m an introvert (INFJ).

Thus, small talk is not my thing. Also, I don’t think that fast in a meeting. Also, I may be afraid that what I say won’t contribute to the conversation.

In general, I would rate my involvement in team discussions as…subpar.

Thus, this semester, I want to be more vocal intentionally. I won’t speak up for the sake of speaking up. I will speak up when I feel like I have something important to share. And if I don’t get the chance to, I can always process my thoughts and type them out as messages to the team members.

What matters is that I want to contribute and be helpful to the team.

Conclusion

I would have never imagined that I’ll be working at a YouTube startup.

But, when a good opportunity pops up, I take it.

And I’m excited for what’s to come in the spring! Looking forward to continue working with the awesome product team - Zack, Kate, Ricardo, John, and Jiaying!

the creator now product team video calling on the creator now pro platform
Special moment - our 1st team call on the MVP platform!

And that’s a wrap!

Thank you for being awesome and reading this far! :)

If you have any questions, feel free to reach out on LinkedIn, Twitter, or by email. Will love to set up a casual call and chat!

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