From the moment of its inception, a startup looks to the future – to the point where it will be ready to stand strongly on its own two feet, successfully selling its product and solving problems for its (hopefully) many customers. And for many startups, the first milestone in achieving that – the “baby steps” it needs to take – is securing a deal with a design partner.

For young startups, initiating and building a relationship with a good design partner can be a shortcut to success – to reaching the point where it really can amass customers and build a business. A good design partner is actually a startup’s first customer – the first to use its product or technology, and the first to respond to how well it works, whether improvements are needed, and whether it solves the problem or pain point it’s designed to solve. With the feedback a startup gets from its design partner, it can improve/adjust/change its product or service, thus ensuring better market success.

​​This should take place at the stage where the product isn’t yet a product, but more than an idea. The startup should have a framework, plan, or feature that they will be starting out with (of course, after establishing the company and based on the feedback it got). Once the plan looks good, they can test it out on potential stakeholders.

The ideal design partner is one that will be an actual partner or stakeholder – providing the feedback a startup needs to improve its product or technology. As a partner, the mature company is not paying cash for the startup’s innovation; instead, it will “pay” in feedback, helping the startup improve its offering. When seeking a design partner, startups need to be clear that they need that feedback and ensure that their partner will provide it in a timely manner. Ideally, the design partner should be a potential buyer, a feed to the tech stack you are building on that understands the pain – a stakeholder or influencer who will work with you to shorten the feedback loop.

In return, startups will do everything to ensure that the product or service does what was promised, as well as resolve the pain points expressed by their design partner. To ensure they are doing that, startups need to be in regular contact with their design partners – examining all aspects of the performance of their offering and implementing changes to make sure it does what it needs to do. Learning the design partner’s pain points and understanding how your solution can resolve them is the most important part of the process.

Those meetings are at the heart of the startup-design partner relationship; they enable the startups to assess the effectiveness of their solution, how well it has solved the design partner’s pain points, and what else needs to be done to achieve that. Indeed, the design partner is a customer – one that the startup needs to ensure is very satisfied. A good design partner isn’t only a startup’s first customer – it may very well turn out to be its most important one, too.

Written by Ranny Nachmias, Managing Director of Intel Ignite TLV