You start to take it as a given that designers have the ability to disrupt billion dollar markets, because it's happening all around us, by people just like us.
Ben Pieratt has had a passion for computers and “devouring the web,” since high school—so much so, that he took his senior portrait with his Graphite iMac. (If you read to the end of the post, we promise you’ll be rewarded.)
Ben went to art school for his freshman year of college where he messed around with Geocities and portfolio websites, and built and tore down useless experiments. He said, “I miss a lot of aspects about that era of the web. Experimental websites with ambience and no real express purpose. I had a lot of heroes back then whose careers I still follow today, like Mike Cina, Mike Young, GMunk, the Cuban Council, Folkert Gorter from Newstoday, and Thomas Brodahl from Surfstation. I remember the first time my portfolio was featured on Surfstation. I about died.” He met great friends through online communities and started his first design studio with them right out of college in 2004.
Today, Ben is still devouring the web. He experiments with, tears down, and builds up new business models, and his passion for contributing to the web community is as vibrant as ever. He is the founder of Svpply, a new kind of online retail platform that curates products and stores, and allows users to upload, save, and aggregate what they find interesting, what they “Want,” and what they “Own.” Svpply has created opportunities for consumers and retailers alike to gauge interests in popular items, and to see trends across the market. We asked Ben about Svpply’s mission and the opportunity he saw in the market that Svpply now fulfills. He said, “Svpply started as a social-window shopping experiment. As it grew in size, we saw more clearly how we were aggregating interest in products, and how valuable that kind of information could be for the retail supply chain.” Because users flag products that they Want, it’s easy for companies to gauge an audience’s interest in a product, and in that way, Ben says, “The opportunity is in building a more efficient, rewarding, communications channel between consumers and makers.”
We asked him what the tipping point was for him, when he realized that his design talent could do more than execute other people’s ideas, and create “nice logos and some nice websites.” He said, “Around the time that I started to understand the potential of Svpply. It’s a strange thing to sit around a table with smart people and seriously discuss disrupting billion dollar markets. But it’s plausible, and after awhile the horizons in your head expand and you start to take it as a given that designers have the ability to disrupt billion dollar markets, because it’s happening all around us, by people just like us.”
Beyond just providing a voice and leadership for Svpply, Ben has become a voice for the design community through the essays he writes on his blog. Ben’s essay, “Dear Graphic and Web Designers, please understand there are greater opportunities available to you,” is a passionate call-to-action for designers to recognize their potential for impact. It challenges the traditional roles of graphic and web design, and it’s inspiring. If you haven’t read it, stop reading this, and go read it. Right now. His words changed our perspective on design, opened our eyes to new possibilities, and drove us to seriously reconsider what we wanted to do this past year. So, we took action and started Kern and Burn, because like Ben, we too believe there are greater opportunities to be had.
One of the greatest opportunities that Svpply has harnessed is just how connected we all our on the web—our interests, our wants, our taste, our personalities—everything is connected. If we think of new ways to embrace this interconnectivity, great new business models like Svpply will emerge. We asked Ben what he finds most exciting about the interconnectivity of the whole world on the internet. He laughed (at our, fairly broad question), and responded, “I find it incredible that the technological groundwork for massive new means of commerce and communication are already in place, and the only holdup is our inventiveness, and cultural willingness to embrace change.”
We always want to hear what advice founders have for those designers who want to start down the same path. Ben’s advice is great, he said, “I’ve only done this dance once, but from what I see, these steps should work:
1) Figure out what you want to build. If you don’t know what you want to build, then start paying closer attention to the things that already interest you.
2) Get it built and launched. Money isn’t going to introduce you to a technical co-founder, and no investor is going to give you money as a designer with an idea. So find someone to build it with and get it built and launch that mother. I know that’s not helpful at all, but you’re just going to have to figure out how to get that part done.
3) If you see interesting growth, the rest will take care of itself.”
We’re thankful that we had the chance to talk to Ben, and writing this post on Day 99 really brings things full circle for us, as we first posted about his essay on Day 03. It was the first key piece of writing we found that captured the spirit of today’s design entrepreneurs. We even put it in a process book called, “Pivotal Essays,” that we bound and keep on our desk as a reminder of those who embody the passion, hustle, and perspective that we wanted to champion throughout the 100 Days.
Now, we usually don’t include photos with these posts but, Ben had his mom dig this up for us.