Jeff Zych

Taking the next step in my career: building a company of one

I recently decided to leave LaunchDarkly and take the next step in my career: starting a company of one. I’m going to be a freelance product designer, focusing on design of technical and developer tools. This is a niche that requires specific skills and experience, both of which I have: I have a CS degree, was formerly an engineer, a generalist product design background, and I’ve worked on technical tools for over 10 years now. And there are a lot of developer tools out there with terrible UX, and founders who value good design, so I want to work with those people.

In addition to that, I’m also doing fractional design leadership as well. This could take the form of creating the hiring process for product designers (especially technical product designers, like myself and the ones I hired at LaunchDarkly). It could mean helping companies adopt a user-centered design process. It could also start as IC work, and I transition into helping my clients hire a designer and onboard them and hand off my work to them and integrate them into the company’s product development process.

I’m also very passionate about designing interfaces that have a unique personality and stand out from the crowd. I take a lot of inspiration from branding projects, which have really interesting visual assets and evoke emotional responses in people. I’d like to find projects where I can bring a branding perspective to product design by defining a unique visual language, tone of voice, and core components and patterns (like a design system, but more strategic).

I also have some interest in doing actual branding. More specifically, logos for technical products. I’ve done logo design for friends and side projects a few times and find it really fun. Doing logo design for developer and technical tools would be really rewarding. And because I have a CS degree and a product background, I could bring that unique advantage over general brand designers to this market.

Why a company of one?

So why a company of one? Why not just a freelancer or contractor or something? Freelancing is the starting point, but I want to build up multiple revenue streams and sell more than just my time, like courses or design resources or something. I’m not sure what that is just yet, but I will be paying attention to the work I’m doing as a freelancer to see what could be spun out as a sellable resource.

I also want to approach this venture as a business that I put intention and effort behind finding consistent revenue streams, rather than looking at freelancing as a holdover until the next thing (such as going back in-house or something).

Additionally, the biggest motivating factors is to mold my career around my life, rather than the other way around. As Paul Jarvis says in Company of One:

“If you’re a company of one, your mind-set is to build your business around your life, not the other way around.” (p. 9)

I want my life to be my first priority, and to be in control of how I use my time, rather than feeling like the company I work for has first dibs on my time.

Jarvis also says, “A company of one is simply a business that questions growth.” (p. 6) After working at startups my whole career, where growth is the goal and anything that doesn’t scale is seen as not worth doing, I want to be out of that environment. I want to focus on quality and building relationships over growth and scaling and profit. I don’t want to compromise my values or do things that feel unnatural that you’re required to do when employed by someone else.

Could this expand into some sort of studio or agency in the future where I do take on a few employees, or have partners I work with? I wouldn’t rule it out. But I’d only do that if I feel like I’ve really nailed the services I’m offering, and the market I’m serving, and expanding would help me deliver better services to my clients. But for now I need to focus on making this successful for just me.

If you want to read more about companies of one, then I highly recommend the book I quoted above, Company of One by Paul Jarvis. Another great resource is the Zebra’s Unite Coop, which bills itself as “A founder-led, cooperatively owned movement creating the culture, capital & community for the next economy.” They fund companies that value quality and service over growth and profit.

So that’s where I’m at. I’m very excited about how this will evolve, and already have some clients in the mix. And if you know of any technical tools that need design help, then HMU

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