You have to have courage and you have to be fearless. You have to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone and you have to be curious about how business works.
Scott Wilson is a designer, serial entrepreneur, and all around game-changer. We asked him if he considers himself an entrepreneur by nature. He laughed and said, “Well, after five startups, maybe going on eight in a year, I guess you could say I’m an entrepreneur.” He is the former Global Creative Director of Nike, has led design organizations such as IDEO, Thomson Consumer Electronics, Fortune Brands, and Motorola, and jumped from job to job, leaving when he felt it was time to learn more. He said, “I got hooked on being a part of the end-to-end experience, especially at Nike where they allowed me to drive as much of the process as I wanted.” He dove in to all aspects of the design process, and hasn’t looked back since. In 2007, he founded his studio MINIMAL (MNML) and balances the practice 50/50 between fee-based work, risks and startup ventures.
As a former leader at design-centric corporations, we asked him what he took from those experiences when he started out on his own. He said, “I studied with, was exposed to, and spent time with a range of influential designers, just serendipitously throughout my career. I sat down with them and heard what they had to say. I didn’t always prescribe to everything they said, but I definitely took what I could and let it inform my process and philosophy.” These influential designers included the likes of Philippe Starck, Ross Lovegrove, and Naoto Fukasawa, but Scott said it was his peers and coworkers who influenced him the most. Ed Boyd, former Global Creative Director at Nike, and mentor to Scott when he designed the Nike Presto watches, told Scott to, “Do what you think is right and apologize later.” Scott said, “When I heard that, that was really when it kind of switched on that you have to do what is necessary to make what you believe in real.”
This philosophy rang true when in November of 2010, Scott embarked on a journey that no one else would take a risk on—he launched a Kickstarter campaign that would transform that iPod Nano into a multi-touch watch wristwatch, the TikTok+Luna Tik. The idea for the watches started as a simple sketch, a way to teach himself some modeling software. He made a prototype, and thought, maybe people other than himself would like it. He started showing it around and the reaction was less than enthusiastic. Scott said, “People told me it was too expensive, that it had to be cheap, that it had to be plastic. I said no, and I put it up on Kickstarter to see what people really thought.” He raised nearly $1 million dollars in 30 days, broke all of the records, became the face of successful crowd funding, and inspired a wave of entrepreneurs to follow suit. Oh yeah, and the campaign was so successful that it spurred Apple’s sales of the Nano, talk about influence.
We asked Scott how he has seen design’s role in startups and corporations alike change over the years, and how that informs the way he thinks about product design. He said, “Now, everybody knows they need design, whether they know what that means or not is the whole question. The formula is not a secret anymore, but for some reason a lot of companies are scared to truly empower a designer at the decision-making level. For the ones that do, it’s obvious that the success they have is because of design. Look at Nest. Tony Fadell and Fred Bould took an object that nobody gave a crap about, the thermostat, and now all the sudden everybody wants it.”
Beyond the high-level design, Scott told us to make our ideas real at every stage. He said, “Talk is cheap. People don’t get behind an idea until you put something tangible on the table. That’s when the momentum builds. Kickstarter, whether it’s the video or the prototypes, gives people the visualization they need to be inspired. It also provides a face to the brand. Transparency is super important today, whether you’re a Kickstarter project, or a startup, or a corporation.”
Scott truly believes that designers should be empowered, and they should learn about business to empower themselves. We asked him what it takes for a designer to thrive as an entrepreneur. He said, “You have to have courage and you have to be fearless. You have to be comfortable outside of your comfort zone and you have to be curious about how business works.” He went on to quote, Erik Calonius’ book, “Ten Steps Ahead: What Separates Successful Business Visionaries from the Rest of Us,” when he said, “Courage is what separates visionaries from dreamers.” Scott said, “There are a lot of people that have ideas, but having the courage to go do, and take a risk is really what separates entrepreneurs from dreamers.”
Scott showed that same courage when he invested a couple of weeks of work into a side-project, spent 200 dollars on a prototype, and took a Sunday to make a video. He put it up on Kickstarter and changed the way the world thinks about crowd funding. He has paved the way for others to dream big and make their ideas real.