Season 4

|

Episode 9

What makes a truly great software designer

Soleio

Designer turned investor

Feb 15, 2024

Feb 15, 2024

|

52 mins

52 mins

music by Dennis

About this Episode

Soleio made a name for himself as the 2nd design hire at Facebook and eventually went on to lead design at Dropbox. Now he invests in extraordinary software startups like Figma, Framer, Vercel, Perplexity, Replit, Universe, tldraw, and dozens more worldwide. So in this discussion we go deep into:

  • The fascinating story behind project Motion

  • How Soleio’s skillset evolved during his time at Facebook

  • When it makes sense to invest in craft (and when it doesn’t)

  • what Soleio looks for when hiring designers

  • How startups can attract the top design talent

  • Why Soleio is so excited about spatial computing

  • The type of companies Soleio is looking to invest in next

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Deep Dives

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Insights + resources from top designers 👇

Lauren LoPrete

Director of Design Systems @ Cash App

David Hoang

VP of Marketing and Design @ Replit

Adrien Griveau

Founding Designer @ Linear

James McDonald

Designer @ Clerk

Femke

Design Lead @ Gusto

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Deep Dives

Get our weekly breakdowns

Free lessons from 👇

Lauren LoPrete

Lead designer @ Netflix

David Hoang

VP of Marketing and Design @ Replit

Adrien Griveau

Founding Designer @ Linear

Femke

Design Lead @ Gusto

Join 10K+ designers

HC

HC

HC

Deep Dives

Get our weekly breakdowns

Insights + resources from top designers 👇

Lauren LoPrete

Director of Design Systems @ Cash App

David Hoang

VP of Marketing and Design @ Replit

Adrien Griveau

Founding Designer @ Linear

James McDonald

Designer @ Clerk

Femke

Design Lead @ Gusto

Join 10K+ designers

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Transcript chapters

[00:00:00] Background as 2nd designer at FB

Soleio: For context, I was at Facebook as one of their first design hires, from the late summer 2005. Through the fall of 2011, so 6 years at the company and my time there roughly felt like working for 3 separate organizations, 3 versions of Facebook, as the company grew and scaled and achieved new milestones, and across those 3 acts for me personally, I felt as though that.

Particular project, which was codenamed motion, , was the end of my act one and the start of my act two and where I felt as though I learned what it took to be a product designer and specifically a high impact product designer at Facebook, because up through that point, a lot of the projects that appeared on my plate Or that I was tackling were largely directed by company strategy.

they were often, you know, hair on fire initiatives that we needed to have shipped yesterday and where we didn't have the luxury of putting in a ton of revs. It was essentially like 1 and done. cook up a dish, get into production onto the next thing. the team, despite growing from, you know, I was a second product designer there, despite growing to, uh, I think at the time we're at nine or so hires on design team, despite that growth.

We were pretty spread thin. We each had a product designer owning an entire big chunk of the product. we had like a designer on platform. We had a designer on privacy. We had a designer on newsfeed, a designer on profile. A designer on photos and, you know, there was a lot more than just a single PHP page to every single product.

it was really thinking through and owning a lot of the key metrics, how people encountered the product across all the different touchpoints and how we interface across both the, design team and what other designers were working on, but the broader product and eng team. when. We worked on motion.

[00:00:00] Background as 2nd designer at FB

Soleio: For context, I was at Facebook as one of their first design hires, from the late summer 2005. Through the fall of 2011, so 6 years at the company and my time there roughly felt like working for 3 separate organizations, 3 versions of Facebook, as the company grew and scaled and achieved new milestones, and across those 3 acts for me personally, I felt as though that.

Particular project, which was codenamed motion, , was the end of my act one and the start of my act two and where I felt as though I learned what it took to be a product designer and specifically a high impact product designer at Facebook, because up through that point, a lot of the projects that appeared on my plate Or that I was tackling were largely directed by company strategy.

they were often, you know, hair on fire initiatives that we needed to have shipped yesterday and where we didn't have the luxury of putting in a ton of revs. It was essentially like 1 and done. cook up a dish, get into production onto the next thing. the team, despite growing from, you know, I was a second product designer there, despite growing to, uh, I think at the time we're at nine or so hires on design team, despite that growth.

We were pretty spread thin. We each had a product designer owning an entire big chunk of the product. we had like a designer on platform. We had a designer on privacy. We had a designer on newsfeed, a designer on profile. A designer on photos and, you know, there was a lot more than just a single PHP page to every single product.

it was really thinking through and owning a lot of the key metrics, how people encountered the product across all the different touchpoints and how we interface across both the, design team and what other designers were working on, but the broader product and eng team. when. We worked on motion.

[00:01:56] The story of project Motion

Soleio: It was as part of, a burgeoning culture around hackathons and hackathons on Facebook were a 24 hour endeavor. We would kick things off and teams were assembled around random projects, and it was essentially a way to encourage people to scratch an itch. To get to work on stuff that they might not otherwise get to tackle.

but then 2 for what we started to discover were like, these bottoms up initiatives where teams of engineers and designers could tackle something that they intuitively felt the product might be missing and where they didn't need to have permission Pull these ideas together, in order to demonstrate, you know, what that might look like.

the spirit of hackathon was really trying to get to something that was like shippable, something that was at least serviceable within the company and the company was really great about building and shipping internally. And so we already had. Tons of infrastructure that we were working on just in the name of being able to push things into dev and get it in front of user hands, namely the hands of our co workers and colleagues.

And so that winter, this is going to be kind of funny. I don't know if I've ever shared this, but this context, but, I was really interested in flash as a video recording mechanism at that time there was an incubator called. Odio that famously was the, birth place of Twitter. but they were simultaneously experimenting with like a podcasting service and they, they shipped this product or not even a product.

It was a website called hello, do. com. And all it was, was a single flash video recorder that allowed you to open up a web page, record a little video, and publish it right then and there, in line, and that's it. and at that time, we had been Openly discussing, a research study that somebody had come across where they're describing how people were not very good at necessarily predicting who they might get along with from a photo alone that if you showed an individual 1000 photographs of strangers and asked them to roughly predict who they would get along with, their predictive powers were was equivalent to a coin toss.

But if you showed them 7 to 8 seconds of video footage. Of a random set of strangers, their predictive powers was demonstrably higher and we were kind of joking about, oh, yeah, wouldn't it be cool if we replace profile pictures with profile videos if maybe like the, the, the singular visual element on the profile page was not a photograph.

Of a Facebook user, but rather, , just a video of him smiling or laughing or doing something and this coupled in my mind with what I had seen in that demo that existed on hello. io. com, which is like, oh, if people have webcams, it'd be really cool if they could just click and record a video and publish it to Facebook.

And, you know, as we were kind of building on this idea, we kind of realized that it was even. More novel to not just be able to publish a video to your network on Facebook, but perhaps just be able to send asynchronous video messages to your friends. And so this was enough fodder to kind of staff a team that we called motion and, a small group of us spearheaded by myself, Chris Putnam, Charlie Cheever, I think Steve Brim was on the project as well, Josh Wiseman, just a couple of guys got together and we were like, let's just, Basically stapled together this idea of a flash video recorder that lets you publish to your profile and then also send video messages internally.

this hackathon project went tremendously well. We were able to kind of, you know, pull, I think it was like consecutive all nighters to get like a working demo to production or namely to dev internally and to have our colleagues and coworkers. trying it out and people loved it and there was just one problem.

this is spring Q1 of 2007 and the whole company was rearing towards a major launch of platform and a bunch of the projects that I had on my plate and that I remember Chris Putnam had on his plate were already on the critical path. They were like weeks delayed and, the folks who were running engineering at the time were like, guys, I know you're really excited about You know, Facebook video about motion, but we, need you to stop working on that project.

It's not like on the official road map and in, um, one of my less impressive professional moments. I felt like we needed to readjust our company strategy. I felt like we needed to get motion on the roadmap and it got to such a point where, you know, our head of engineering at the time, Dustin Moskowitz, like sunset, our branch basically shut down motion development on the project until we can kind of get to the launch of platform.

Well, What did I choose to do? I circled up with Adam D'Angelo, who was the CTO of Facebook at the time and, I was like, Hey, Adam, check out this project that we've been working on and knowing full well that Adam was close and suck and that maybe he can make a case in our favor that perhaps there might be a way for us to get motion to a shippable state and maybe have it launch in parallel With Facebook platform.

And so that's essentially what we did. And I've got these hilarious videos of us demoing the product to Adam and to Zach and, and for them basically being like, you know what, actually this isn't that far from being like production ready. Maybe it could be. a working example, a flagship application on the new Facebook platform, they essentially greenlit the project.

and so we were suddenly on the official company roadmap and the big lessons for me from that project were, threefold. One, this idea of like, oh, wow, actually, like, bottoms up initiatives and innovation can happen and I can be a part of that. At this company, and 2, was probably the most code I had written for any project that I worked on up through that point.

And I realized that, like, that was the difference, the, you know, code wins arguments. Was a poster that we had at Facebook, but I understood and internalize that less than years prior to that poster being created just through the experience of building the project and kind of creating this aura of inevitability around it because it was functional is working people inside the company could use it and we were running out of obstacles to keeping us from shipping it more broadly.

but then third, and this is probably the key lesson of all is, how small teams that are enabled to ship and, and, and get to production quickly are often the ones that can make huge impacts on the direction of a company. And in Facebook's case, in particular, what Facebook was trying to figure out was like, it was trying to explain its own success.

It was trying to, to, Codify what it was about the company that made it special and after motion shipped and after it became both a hallmark project for the company and a feature that people use, . Quite a bit. , more importantly, , it became a part of Facebook lore insofar as, our desire to create an environment where people could join and have massive impact, not through being really good at writing product specifications or, you know, being able to work your way up the chain and vouch for an idea, but really just to build something and let code win arguments.

, and that was at least for me, the transition from being like a designer at Facebook to being someone who understood what it would take to have tremendous impact at the company.

Ridd: Man, I have the biggest smile just listening to you tell the story. It's so cool to get that lens into the early days, especially now when, you know, you look at like consumer social and you often hear people talk about how, you know, there's nothing new under the sun, but like in 2007, everything was new, everything was new.

Like even the idea of having video profile pictures was so new. I just, I can't even imagine what that was like designing in that kind of environment.

Soleio: Yeah. Yeah. And it was amazing to see the first wave of. You just generated content. , like, you know, there's that scene in, in, in Batman, where like Batman can see all of Gotham city.

Well, we had a version of that, of like Facebook videos being shared on, you know, on the platform. And it was amazing to sort of see the kind of content that people were recording on the webcams and how people were using it to communicate and, and what kind of things that they were just like sharing to, to, to, to their friends.

and understanding that, like, wow, like, yeah, once you give people tools for communication, there's a lot of people out there and there's a lot of ways in which folks want to express themselves. that at least was, an extremely validating moment because it was like, hello, Dio. Times a hundred million.

[00:01:56] The story of project Motion

Soleio: It was as part of, a burgeoning culture around hackathons and hackathons on Facebook were a 24 hour endeavor. We would kick things off and teams were assembled around random projects, and it was essentially a way to encourage people to scratch an itch. To get to work on stuff that they might not otherwise get to tackle.

but then 2 for what we started to discover were like, these bottoms up initiatives where teams of engineers and designers could tackle something that they intuitively felt the product might be missing and where they didn't need to have permission Pull these ideas together, in order to demonstrate, you know, what that might look like.

the spirit of hackathon was really trying to get to something that was like shippable, something that was at least serviceable within the company and the company was really great about building and shipping internally. And so we already had. Tons of infrastructure that we were working on just in the name of being able to push things into dev and get it in front of user hands, namely the hands of our co workers and colleagues.

And so that winter, this is going to be kind of funny. I don't know if I've ever shared this, but this context, but, I was really interested in flash as a video recording mechanism at that time there was an incubator called. Odio that famously was the, birth place of Twitter. but they were simultaneously experimenting with like a podcasting service and they, they shipped this product or not even a product.

It was a website called hello, do. com. And all it was, was a single flash video recorder that allowed you to open up a web page, record a little video, and publish it right then and there, in line, and that's it. and at that time, we had been Openly discussing, a research study that somebody had come across where they're describing how people were not very good at necessarily predicting who they might get along with from a photo alone that if you showed an individual 1000 photographs of strangers and asked them to roughly predict who they would get along with, their predictive powers were was equivalent to a coin toss.

But if you showed them 7 to 8 seconds of video footage. Of a random set of strangers, their predictive powers was demonstrably higher and we were kind of joking about, oh, yeah, wouldn't it be cool if we replace profile pictures with profile videos if maybe like the, the, the singular visual element on the profile page was not a photograph.

Of a Facebook user, but rather, , just a video of him smiling or laughing or doing something and this coupled in my mind with what I had seen in that demo that existed on hello. io. com, which is like, oh, if people have webcams, it'd be really cool if they could just click and record a video and publish it to Facebook.

And, you know, as we were kind of building on this idea, we kind of realized that it was even. More novel to not just be able to publish a video to your network on Facebook, but perhaps just be able to send asynchronous video messages to your friends. And so this was enough fodder to kind of staff a team that we called motion and, a small group of us spearheaded by myself, Chris Putnam, Charlie Cheever, I think Steve Brim was on the project as well, Josh Wiseman, just a couple of guys got together and we were like, let's just, Basically stapled together this idea of a flash video recorder that lets you publish to your profile and then also send video messages internally.

this hackathon project went tremendously well. We were able to kind of, you know, pull, I think it was like consecutive all nighters to get like a working demo to production or namely to dev internally and to have our colleagues and coworkers. trying it out and people loved it and there was just one problem.

this is spring Q1 of 2007 and the whole company was rearing towards a major launch of platform and a bunch of the projects that I had on my plate and that I remember Chris Putnam had on his plate were already on the critical path. They were like weeks delayed and, the folks who were running engineering at the time were like, guys, I know you're really excited about You know, Facebook video about motion, but we, need you to stop working on that project.

It's not like on the official road map and in, um, one of my less impressive professional moments. I felt like we needed to readjust our company strategy. I felt like we needed to get motion on the roadmap and it got to such a point where, you know, our head of engineering at the time, Dustin Moskowitz, like sunset, our branch basically shut down motion development on the project until we can kind of get to the launch of platform.

Well, What did I choose to do? I circled up with Adam D'Angelo, who was the CTO of Facebook at the time and, I was like, Hey, Adam, check out this project that we've been working on and knowing full well that Adam was close and suck and that maybe he can make a case in our favor that perhaps there might be a way for us to get motion to a shippable state and maybe have it launch in parallel With Facebook platform.

And so that's essentially what we did. And I've got these hilarious videos of us demoing the product to Adam and to Zach and, and for them basically being like, you know what, actually this isn't that far from being like production ready. Maybe it could be. a working example, a flagship application on the new Facebook platform, they essentially greenlit the project.

and so we were suddenly on the official company roadmap and the big lessons for me from that project were, threefold. One, this idea of like, oh, wow, actually, like, bottoms up initiatives and innovation can happen and I can be a part of that. At this company, and 2, was probably the most code I had written for any project that I worked on up through that point.

And I realized that, like, that was the difference, the, you know, code wins arguments. Was a poster that we had at Facebook, but I understood and internalize that less than years prior to that poster being created just through the experience of building the project and kind of creating this aura of inevitability around it because it was functional is working people inside the company could use it and we were running out of obstacles to keeping us from shipping it more broadly.

but then third, and this is probably the key lesson of all is, how small teams that are enabled to ship and, and, and get to production quickly are often the ones that can make huge impacts on the direction of a company. And in Facebook's case, in particular, what Facebook was trying to figure out was like, it was trying to explain its own success.

It was trying to, to, Codify what it was about the company that made it special and after motion shipped and after it became both a hallmark project for the company and a feature that people use, . Quite a bit. , more importantly, , it became a part of Facebook lore insofar as, our desire to create an environment where people could join and have massive impact, not through being really good at writing product specifications or, you know, being able to work your way up the chain and vouch for an idea, but really just to build something and let code win arguments.

, and that was at least for me, the transition from being like a designer at Facebook to being someone who understood what it would take to have tremendous impact at the company.

Ridd: Man, I have the biggest smile just listening to you tell the story. It's so cool to get that lens into the early days, especially now when, you know, you look at like consumer social and you often hear people talk about how, you know, there's nothing new under the sun, but like in 2007, everything was new, everything was new.

Like even the idea of having video profile pictures was so new. I just, I can't even imagine what that was like designing in that kind of environment.

Soleio: Yeah. Yeah. And it was amazing to see the first wave of. You just generated content. , like, you know, there's that scene in, in, in Batman, where like Batman can see all of Gotham city.

Well, we had a version of that, of like Facebook videos being shared on, you know, on the platform. And it was amazing to sort of see the kind of content that people were recording on the webcams and how people were using it to communicate and, and what kind of things that they were just like sharing to, to, to, to their friends.

and understanding that, like, wow, like, yeah, once you give people tools for communication, there's a lot of people out there and there's a lot of ways in which folks want to express themselves. that at least was, an extremely validating moment because it was like, hello, Dio. Times a hundred million.

[00:10:52] How Soleio's skill set evolved across the years at FB

Ridd: That's cool. I also, the big fan of like the code wins arguments. And it kind of makes me even want to drill into your skillset a little bit. But you mentioned something really interesting, this idea of the different acts of Facebook. So my question is like, how was your skillset evolving across those different acts and the different demands that were put on you as a designer?

Wow.

Soleio: in house role. I had worked as a, as a contractor with startups for the year prior to joining, but it always felt like, playing a cameo on a, on an intramural soccer team. Where you, you, you get called up every once in a while, they were short players, but you didn't go drinking with everybody afterwards.

You weren't part of the team in a, in a, in a fundamental way. and Facebook was at least my first rodeo in terms of being a part of like a startup full time. I was not working on anything else. , it astonishes me to this day that there are people who work at startups and also have like side hustles and any moonlight.

I did not have any bandwidth to do that. It was 110 percent all in on what we were working on at the company. And I think for me, the, you know, the 3 acts of my time there were 1, just being an effective contributor. At a, at a point in time in which we were betting the company on, on newsfeed and, and where a lot of folks looked at us in 2005 and 2006 and said, why bother, there's already a winner in this category.

It's called MySpace. Have you heard of it? And we were, you know, a college only social network that was a fraction of the size of MySpace. People forget that we didn't eclipse them in terms of, like, monthly active users until, I think it was April 2009. us five years to run those guys down. Five years.

We didn't get that for free. , and so we needed to, to, to, to get a bunch of things designed, built and shipped over a very short time period. And so my first act was getting to that place where, as Kiana says, like, I know Kung Fu, where you're like, I know how to make software at this company and be an effective contributor.

, Act 2 was mostly around this transition to realizing. For us to succeed, we need to scale. We need to start to think about, um, how we operate differently than we have in the past. And, you know, one of the things that Facebook really focused on from a cultural standpoint was Speed, speed, the primacy of speed and everything that design team worked on really went through that lens.

How do we make other product teams faster? How do we work faster? , how do we make the site feel faster? How do how do we how does everything kind of. Go through the prism of speed and really reinforce the importance of being able to iterate really quickly, evolve the set really quickly, make the site load really quickly, make the site feel really fast, make it really fast to work with us that we can make decisions faster.

We were really focused on trying to figure out how do we scale that early culture because we no longer have the luxury. Of working across a couple of desks. Now we're working across teams and across buildings across initiatives that are sprawling and where no 1 designer can necessarily have as much direct influence.

You're going to have to have influence by other means. , and then the 3rd act for me was kind of the transition to into design leadership Kate Aronowitz joined us at a really critical time.

She was like our first head of design at the company. And one of the things that she really made us confront head on was the realization that the most important thing we can be doing is making Facebook an attractive place for software designers to work. And, uh, you know, the most leveraged thing that we can do is, is, is grow the team and, and recruit exceptional people, people who are even better than we are.

And I really took that to heart and realize it wasn't just a matter of talent spotting and coming up with clever regimes for interviewing and sourcing and attracting great design talent.

Ridd: I definitely want to talk more about the hiring piece. I have one more question on the culture front though, because I want to put you through a little hypothetical. say that you wake up tomorrow and you realize, you know what? I want to start a new company in 2024. I want to be a design founder. I want to build a design org.

Soleio: Mm

[00:10:52] How Soleio's skill set evolved across the years at FB

Ridd: That's cool. I also, the big fan of like the code wins arguments. And it kind of makes me even want to drill into your skillset a little bit. But you mentioned something really interesting, this idea of the different acts of Facebook. So my question is like, how was your skillset evolving across those different acts and the different demands that were put on you as a designer?

Wow.

Soleio: in house role. I had worked as a, as a contractor with startups for the year prior to joining, but it always felt like, playing a cameo on a, on an intramural soccer team. Where you, you, you get called up every once in a while, they were short players, but you didn't go drinking with everybody afterwards.

You weren't part of the team in a, in a, in a fundamental way. and Facebook was at least my first rodeo in terms of being a part of like a startup full time. I was not working on anything else. , it astonishes me to this day that there are people who work at startups and also have like side hustles and any moonlight.

I did not have any bandwidth to do that. It was 110 percent all in on what we were working on at the company. And I think for me, the, you know, the 3 acts of my time there were 1, just being an effective contributor. At a, at a point in time in which we were betting the company on, on newsfeed and, and where a lot of folks looked at us in 2005 and 2006 and said, why bother, there's already a winner in this category.

It's called MySpace. Have you heard of it? And we were, you know, a college only social network that was a fraction of the size of MySpace. People forget that we didn't eclipse them in terms of, like, monthly active users until, I think it was April 2009. us five years to run those guys down. Five years.

We didn't get that for free. , and so we needed to, to, to, to get a bunch of things designed, built and shipped over a very short time period. And so my first act was getting to that place where, as Kiana says, like, I know Kung Fu, where you're like, I know how to make software at this company and be an effective contributor.

, Act 2 was mostly around this transition to realizing. For us to succeed, we need to scale. We need to start to think about, um, how we operate differently than we have in the past. And, you know, one of the things that Facebook really focused on from a cultural standpoint was Speed, speed, the primacy of speed and everything that design team worked on really went through that lens.

How do we make other product teams faster? How do we work faster? , how do we make the site feel faster? How do how do we how does everything kind of. Go through the prism of speed and really reinforce the importance of being able to iterate really quickly, evolve the set really quickly, make the site load really quickly, make the site feel really fast, make it really fast to work with us that we can make decisions faster.

We were really focused on trying to figure out how do we scale that early culture because we no longer have the luxury. Of working across a couple of desks. Now we're working across teams and across buildings across initiatives that are sprawling and where no 1 designer can necessarily have as much direct influence.

You're going to have to have influence by other means. , and then the 3rd act for me was kind of the transition to into design leadership Kate Aronowitz joined us at a really critical time.

She was like our first head of design at the company. And one of the things that she really made us confront head on was the realization that the most important thing we can be doing is making Facebook an attractive place for software designers to work. And, uh, you know, the most leveraged thing that we can do is, is, is grow the team and, and recruit exceptional people, people who are even better than we are.

And I really took that to heart and realize it wasn't just a matter of talent spotting and coming up with clever regimes for interviewing and sourcing and attracting great design talent.

Ridd: I definitely want to talk more about the hiring piece. I have one more question on the culture front though, because I want to put you through a little hypothetical. say that you wake up tomorrow and you realize, you know what? I want to start a new company in 2024. I want to be a design founder. I want to build a design org.

Soleio: Mm

[00:15:30] Shipping > Craft

Soleio: hmm.

Ridd: question is what are some of the traits of the design culture at Facebook that you would want to make sure to instill in this new design org?

Soleio: One. I always have felt, and this is true at Facebook, but also the other startups that I've worked with, that the teams that win are the teams that ship. And so, first and foremost, , if you're not shipping, you're not winning. , if your work cadence for getting things out the door, everything else falls flat.

It's really hard to succeed. In 2024 with the world moving as fast as it is, if you're locked up inside, you know, the, the safe confines of your organization, you've got to be putting products out there and software out there in the world. So that would probably be, that would stand at the very top of the podium, , hire people who have a bias and a love of getting things out the door.

I think sometimes designers hide behind craft, , and use as an excuse for not shipping. I've never felt that teams have died because, , they lacked craft. I think that the opposite's been true, where teams have really kind of, , flailed around in irrelevance because they just refuse to ship.

They're just too afraid , to get things out the door. And one of the things that's amazing about shipping is that not only do you feel the tailwind of like, oh my gosh, there's something out there. Like there's, it's a huge morale boost, right? Oh my gosh, I'm accountable for. Things that are out there in the world, , but then too, it makes you drink from the fire hose of either people having opinions about what you've done or confronting the starker reality of like, you've built something that nobody really cares about.

And now you're bending in the wind of irrelevance You have to quickly figure out how to make yourself relevant. ASAP.

[00:15:30] Shipping > Craft

Soleio: hmm.

Ridd: question is what are some of the traits of the design culture at Facebook that you would want to make sure to instill in this new design org?

Soleio: One. I always have felt, and this is true at Facebook, but also the other startups that I've worked with, that the teams that win are the teams that ship. And so, first and foremost, , if you're not shipping, you're not winning. , if your work cadence for getting things out the door, everything else falls flat.

It's really hard to succeed. In 2024 with the world moving as fast as it is, if you're locked up inside, you know, the, the safe confines of your organization, you've got to be putting products out there and software out there in the world. So that would probably be, that would stand at the very top of the podium, , hire people who have a bias and a love of getting things out the door.

I think sometimes designers hide behind craft, , and use as an excuse for not shipping. I've never felt that teams have died because, , they lacked craft. I think that the opposite's been true, where teams have really kind of, , flailed around in irrelevance because they just refuse to ship.

They're just too afraid , to get things out the door. And one of the things that's amazing about shipping is that not only do you feel the tailwind of like, oh my gosh, there's something out there. Like there's, it's a huge morale boost, right? Oh my gosh, I'm accountable for. Things that are out there in the world, , but then too, it makes you drink from the fire hose of either people having opinions about what you've done or confronting the starker reality of like, you've built something that nobody really cares about.

And now you're bending in the wind of irrelevance You have to quickly figure out how to make yourself relevant. ASAP.

[00:17:16] When it makes sense for startups to invest in craft

Ridd: Do you have any thoughts on when craft can make sense as your strategic advantage and investment, like in the early days of a company? Because I do think we are seeing some success stories where design is clearly like a differentiating factor. And yet there's also the long list of companies that we don't talk about as much that didn't make it because, yeah, maybe they weren't shipping as often.

you know, As an investor, you're evaluating some of these companies. How do you think about this investment in craft as a startup?

Soleio: The details matter in the work that you produce, but not all details are created equally. And sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of of chasing down details that just don't really matter. , they operate on the margins I do think that, 1 of the things that is key is understanding how, , a lack of craft can work against you.

Right, where it's like, , the soup tastes funny. , or the software feels a little janky, , feels clumsy, right? That to me is different than say, Oh, we're gonna make sure that the sheen does all the right things, and that, you know, this time of day, the lighting goes over here, it's like, nobody's gonna notice or care about that.

And if they do, you know what? Maybe you are much for the long term success. You can care about these things. I used to joke about that all the time at early Facebook. I was like, you know what? We do our jobs quickly. We'll be hiring people who will be sweating, you know, these little curves on these little icons.

So we teams that are staffed just to work on icons, right? Instead of us kind of doing it at the 11th hour whilst also dealing with a bunch of other stuff that's on our plate. In these instances, yeah, like , that craft really comes through in terms of like the perceived quality of the product. But that's a, luxury that you don't typically have as a startup.

, but at the end of the day, you need to hone your craft around where the concentration of utility lies. For user, , and sometimes the answer to that question, like, where's the utility light that may produce answers that are counterintuitive or that, , may have little to do with the visual UI. But perhaps more to do with like the perceived speed, right?

We were like, I think Facebook is one of the first sites on the internet that did progressive page loading. And this is relevant to expansion internationally. You know, there were people dialing up to facebook. com on, you know, an internet cafe in India. Or Bangladesh, and it felt like a website from the future.

, sometimes craft means rolling up your sleeves as I did and getting really familiar with quirky, weird and obscure IE bugs so that all the JavaScript jujitsu worked really well on a browser that nobody used in the States, but that will have, you know, 98 percent market share in these emerging markets.

And we're again, like qualitatively to those users. They'd go to eBay, they'd go to these other sites and they'd go to Facebook and he'd say, wow, this site's like from the future. It's so fast. It's like, everything about it is crisp and fast , and you can drag and drop elements like, and this type of head is insane.

All those details really came through where it mattered, where, like, the differentiator is extremely high. And, that I think is important for startups to be able to balance, which is, , what is the strategic import? If craft is necessary for you to be 10x better than the alternative, be it, right?

, but make sure that that's the right bet to be making because the opportunity costs are highest. At the earliest stages of a business.

[00:17:16] When it makes sense for startups to invest in craft

Ridd: Do you have any thoughts on when craft can make sense as your strategic advantage and investment, like in the early days of a company? Because I do think we are seeing some success stories where design is clearly like a differentiating factor. And yet there's also the long list of companies that we don't talk about as much that didn't make it because, yeah, maybe they weren't shipping as often.

you know, As an investor, you're evaluating some of these companies. How do you think about this investment in craft as a startup?

Soleio: The details matter in the work that you produce, but not all details are created equally. And sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of of chasing down details that just don't really matter. , they operate on the margins I do think that, 1 of the things that is key is understanding how, , a lack of craft can work against you.

Right, where it's like, , the soup tastes funny. , or the software feels a little janky, , feels clumsy, right? That to me is different than say, Oh, we're gonna make sure that the sheen does all the right things, and that, you know, this time of day, the lighting goes over here, it's like, nobody's gonna notice or care about that.

And if they do, you know what? Maybe you are much for the long term success. You can care about these things. I used to joke about that all the time at early Facebook. I was like, you know what? We do our jobs quickly. We'll be hiring people who will be sweating, you know, these little curves on these little icons.

So we teams that are staffed just to work on icons, right? Instead of us kind of doing it at the 11th hour whilst also dealing with a bunch of other stuff that's on our plate. In these instances, yeah, like , that craft really comes through in terms of like the perceived quality of the product. But that's a, luxury that you don't typically have as a startup.

, but at the end of the day, you need to hone your craft around where the concentration of utility lies. For user, , and sometimes the answer to that question, like, where's the utility light that may produce answers that are counterintuitive or that, , may have little to do with the visual UI. But perhaps more to do with like the perceived speed, right?

We were like, I think Facebook is one of the first sites on the internet that did progressive page loading. And this is relevant to expansion internationally. You know, there were people dialing up to facebook. com on, you know, an internet cafe in India. Or Bangladesh, and it felt like a website from the future.

, sometimes craft means rolling up your sleeves as I did and getting really familiar with quirky, weird and obscure IE bugs so that all the JavaScript jujitsu worked really well on a browser that nobody used in the States, but that will have, you know, 98 percent market share in these emerging markets.

And we're again, like qualitatively to those users. They'd go to eBay, they'd go to these other sites and they'd go to Facebook and he'd say, wow, this site's like from the future. It's so fast. It's like, everything about it is crisp and fast , and you can drag and drop elements like, and this type of head is insane.

All those details really came through where it mattered, where, like, the differentiator is extremely high. And, that I think is important for startups to be able to balance, which is, , what is the strategic import? If craft is necessary for you to be 10x better than the alternative, be it, right?

, but make sure that that's the right bet to be making because the opportunity costs are highest. At the earliest stages of a business.

[00:20:51] What it looks like for design to move the most important needles

Ridd: love it. Your point about icons is interesting too, because I heard you say something in the past about how like design at Facebook. You weren't thinking about the border radius of buttons, you were obsessing over how to drive systemic growth, which that phrase really resonated with me because

I think a lot of times for designers today, that level of thinking almost exists one level higher than where they're at.

They're solving the problems that have trickled down from. Leadership's ability to identify those growth loops. So can you talk a little bit more about that idea? Like how does that translate into your day to day as a designer at Facebook?

Soleio: Yeah, that's a good question. I think a lot of it starts with company strategy. And I definitely credit the leadership team at the end of 2008 with one defining a company strategy during a time period where the numbers were not looking amazing. We were experiencing a lot of churn. Within the management group and things were starting to get a bit political at the company.

, because with every successive hire, different teams were pounding the table, insisting that they were the most important thing to happen at the company. You'd have newsfeed team saying, we're the most important profile team saying, no, we're the most important ads team being like, Hey guys, how are we going to make money?

, and you know, photos team, half of our page views are photos. We're the most important. And everybody having a legitimate claim for. The next design hire and the next engineering hire. And so in order to resolve this, in order to help clarify what were the key levers to contributing to the company's overall success, , team leadership, you know, the company leadership came forward at the start of 2009 with the strategy that was centered.

And I love this exercise because it's something I obsess over even to the present, which is what is your competitor strategy, what is your plan to win? What are the resources you're Marshall and how will you measure success, , towards your objectives and the company strategy was across three concrete pillars.

First, double revenue. Just, just make more money right out of the gate. We'll know that you're doing a good job if you're contributing to our top line, right? we claim that we are building this amazing ads platform and so on and so forth. but making money is now an explicit part of our strategy. We need to demonstrate that we can make money much faster than we're making today. to increase the size of the network. And as part of that, the third pillar was increased reads and writes across the network. And at first, everybody's like, Whoa, what does that mean?

Hold on a second. So you're saying that like profile picture is the same as the comments is the same as the friend requests. And again, in this incredible display of organizational jujitsu, Mark Zuckerberg's like, yeah, that's exactly what we mean. And of course, you know, everybody starts to wave their arms around and people are upset.

, but I actually personally found it extraordinarily clarifying because all of a sudden it's like, okay, instead of them prescribing what must be done, we have a strategy. That almost acts as like a sandbox. And if we artificially just froze the population of Facebook, we just said, no more signups.

Nobody else can sign up for the service. We could still increase reads and writes. How would we do that? Like, how would we start to like saturate the space of things that people can do on the service? And, I started thinking, that's amazing. Like, we've been talking about that stupid like button for like years now.

That thing's been just like. Swirling around and product purgatory, you know, an increased reason rights on the service is if we can just launch that damn feature finally, and maybe if we can start to consolidate all of this activity that's happening on these disparate pages around the site. These disparate products, maybe, maybe everything that happens on Facebook, it just happened on newsfeed.

Maybe that would be a way for us to like drive reason, rights and service. And so it was, it was clarifying for me to then have, um, both the levers. With which to kind of assign impact, , but then to the open air to figure out, okay, well, let's start talking about what do we need to do and how do we kind of need to reorganize the product in order to saturate this opportunity space?

If we believe in what, you know, the press later called Zuckerberg's law, which is like sharing on the Internet's roughly doubling year over year. If we believe that to be true, , how does Facebook saturate that opportunity space? And I think that 1 of the things that I would, I would beseech designers to be thinking about and understanding is just step 1.

What is the company strategy? How do we measure it? And then how does my work directly influence the strategy in those numbers? Like, how do I know that what I'm doing even matters? Whatsoever, right? If I disappeared tomorrow with the company languish, like, what would be missing? And, and more importantly, are we staffing projects that I have high conviction would drive the numbers that matter that will at least help us advance our company strategy as quickly as possible because strategy is not like an indefinite thing.

It's, it's, it's supposed to be revised. Right? If you make progress on your strategy, well, now you're in a new state and the landscape around you has changed, but you as a company have changed, right? You have marshaled resources, you have new technology, you have new features, you have new products, you have new users.

Hence, you need a new strategy, , and so I think that that mindset was something that I felt like I got to experience firsthand at Facebook, got to learn, and has carried all the way through the present. And I feel like it is perhaps the most important guiding hand in selecting the problems that you, you tackle.

That, that problem selection is all the more important than problem solving as a designer.

Ridd: love that point. I know for a fact too, I could listen to you talk about these first two acts at Facebook for three hours. Unfortunately, I have a limited calendar invite, so I'm going to speed us ahead a little bit and look at act three, because you talked about this point where

you realize that the highest leverage thing that you could do to move the needle at the company was identifying and recruiting the top talent.

Which is such a powerful statement in retrospect, because man, the list of incredible designers who got their start at Facebook is long. So

Soleio: Yeah. Yeah.

Ridd: to talk more about like how you identify talent and just whatever meat is on that bone. And maybe we could even start broadly in the beginning. Like,

[00:20:51] What it looks like for design to move the most important needles

Ridd: love it. Your point about icons is interesting too, because I heard you say something in the past about how like design at Facebook. You weren't thinking about the border radius of buttons, you were obsessing over how to drive systemic growth, which that phrase really resonated with me because

I think a lot of times for designers today, that level of thinking almost exists one level higher than where they're at.

They're solving the problems that have trickled down from. Leadership's ability to identify those growth loops. So can you talk a little bit more about that idea? Like how does that translate into your day to day as a designer at Facebook?

Soleio: Yeah, that's a good question. I think a lot of it starts with company strategy. And I definitely credit the leadership team at the end of 2008 with one defining a company strategy during a time period where the numbers were not looking amazing. We were experiencing a lot of churn. Within the management group and things were starting to get a bit political at the company.

, because with every successive hire, different teams were pounding the table, insisting that they were the most important thing to happen at the company. You'd have newsfeed team saying, we're the most important profile team saying, no, we're the most important ads team being like, Hey guys, how are we going to make money?

, and you know, photos team, half of our page views are photos. We're the most important. And everybody having a legitimate claim for. The next design hire and the next engineering hire. And so in order to resolve this, in order to help clarify what were the key levers to contributing to the company's overall success, , team leadership, you know, the company leadership came forward at the start of 2009 with the strategy that was centered.

And I love this exercise because it's something I obsess over even to the present, which is what is your competitor strategy, what is your plan to win? What are the resources you're Marshall and how will you measure success, , towards your objectives and the company strategy was across three concrete pillars.

First, double revenue. Just, just make more money right out of the gate. We'll know that you're doing a good job if you're contributing to our top line, right? we claim that we are building this amazing ads platform and so on and so forth. but making money is now an explicit part of our strategy. We need to demonstrate that we can make money much faster than we're making today. to increase the size of the network. And as part of that, the third pillar was increased reads and writes across the network. And at first, everybody's like, Whoa, what does that mean?

Hold on a second. So you're saying that like profile picture is the same as the comments is the same as the friend requests. And again, in this incredible display of organizational jujitsu, Mark Zuckerberg's like, yeah, that's exactly what we mean. And of course, you know, everybody starts to wave their arms around and people are upset.

, but I actually personally found it extraordinarily clarifying because all of a sudden it's like, okay, instead of them prescribing what must be done, we have a strategy. That almost acts as like a sandbox. And if we artificially just froze the population of Facebook, we just said, no more signups.

Nobody else can sign up for the service. We could still increase reads and writes. How would we do that? Like, how would we start to like saturate the space of things that people can do on the service? And, I started thinking, that's amazing. Like, we've been talking about that stupid like button for like years now.

That thing's been just like. Swirling around and product purgatory, you know, an increased reason rights on the service is if we can just launch that damn feature finally, and maybe if we can start to consolidate all of this activity that's happening on these disparate pages around the site. These disparate products, maybe, maybe everything that happens on Facebook, it just happened on newsfeed.

Maybe that would be a way for us to like drive reason, rights and service. And so it was, it was clarifying for me to then have, um, both the levers. With which to kind of assign impact, , but then to the open air to figure out, okay, well, let's start talking about what do we need to do and how do we kind of need to reorganize the product in order to saturate this opportunity space?

If we believe in what, you know, the press later called Zuckerberg's law, which is like sharing on the Internet's roughly doubling year over year. If we believe that to be true, , how does Facebook saturate that opportunity space? And I think that 1 of the things that I would, I would beseech designers to be thinking about and understanding is just step 1.

What is the company strategy? How do we measure it? And then how does my work directly influence the strategy in those numbers? Like, how do I know that what I'm doing even matters? Whatsoever, right? If I disappeared tomorrow with the company languish, like, what would be missing? And, and more importantly, are we staffing projects that I have high conviction would drive the numbers that matter that will at least help us advance our company strategy as quickly as possible because strategy is not like an indefinite thing.

It's, it's, it's supposed to be revised. Right? If you make progress on your strategy, well, now you're in a new state and the landscape around you has changed, but you as a company have changed, right? You have marshaled resources, you have new technology, you have new features, you have new products, you have new users.

Hence, you need a new strategy, , and so I think that that mindset was something that I felt like I got to experience firsthand at Facebook, got to learn, and has carried all the way through the present. And I feel like it is perhaps the most important guiding hand in selecting the problems that you, you tackle.

That, that problem selection is all the more important than problem solving as a designer.

Ridd: love that point. I know for a fact too, I could listen to you talk about these first two acts at Facebook for three hours. Unfortunately, I have a limited calendar invite, so I'm going to speed us ahead a little bit and look at act three, because you talked about this point where

you realize that the highest leverage thing that you could do to move the needle at the company was identifying and recruiting the top talent.

Which is such a powerful statement in retrospect, because man, the list of incredible designers who got their start at Facebook is long. So

Soleio: Yeah. Yeah.

Ridd: to talk more about like how you identify talent and just whatever meat is on that bone. And maybe we could even start broadly in the beginning. Like,

[00:27:31] What Soleio thinks makes a truly great software designer

Ridd: can you share some of your opinions around what makes a truly great software designer?

Soleio: A truly great product designer, like a software designer, somebody who understands the medium first and foremost. They don't ask the question, should designers code, they instead ask the question, like, what code can I write to make great software to prototype, develop, explore ideas, identify the points of leverage and create things that are new and delightful, useful, desirable two, , they have to be really comfortable and familiar with the ergonomics of software software has both like the physical ergonomics, But I actually feel as though like one can study video games design along this dimension, which is it's more than just physical ergonomics.

There's like a mental ergonomic to it. There's like, um, how the information feels, the cadence of it. You can almost close your eyes and picture yourself using Notion or Gmail or like pick a product that you use every single day. There's like a tactile quality to it that for me personally, I always trace back to how video games like really great video games felt it was more than just like the ergonomics of the game.

It was almost like , , the mental models and, , what I'm describing is highly intuitive, but I think it's important for, , a great software designer to be able to articulate And, and get really specific on, on like how to kind of like dial and tweak and tune that. The other element of a great software design, I think it's like this funny hybrid of like being really good at collapsing complexity, taking something that seems really gnarly and kind of decomposing it and collapsing it.

, but then to it, there's a element of songwriting, right? Where sometimes you just have to kind of be hyper inventive. You have to kind of overthink it, not sort of start with, like, some rational diagram or some sort of, like, theorem, and then work your way backwards from it. But sort of like. Experiment with what sounds or feels right, right? , sometimes you'll solve a problem, and it's like, ah, that's not quite right. But this, this is actually kind of interesting. So I'm gonna park this over here. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe I'll self plagiarize later on. Because there's a pattern here that's kind of interesting and neat.

But it's not the right thing for this particular context. But I gotta keep it in mind. And, like any good songwriter, you're also a song collector. You listen to a lot. You're collecting records. And we spent a lot of time, , both for our own practice, but also for recruiting purposes, scouring the internet and scouring, you know, the entire software landscape for people who are doing interesting things in the realm of software.

And then desktop web applications, not simply , to be students of what else might be emerging out in the weeds and what could be done, but also just because I love answering the question of like, well, who made that there's somebody out there who designed that I'm going to go and find that person.

And I didn't appreciate it at the time, but that little engine in my head of like talent spotting and finding the person behind the software, , both led to some amazing hires that we made a Facebook, but then two, I think ended up being something that I felt like I was able to parlay , into investing, which is.

Effectively, another form of talent spotting sort of seeing the capabilities of someone through their work and be able to, , appear in their inbox and have a robust conversation about that work. Something that indicates to the recipient. Of said cold outreach that, like, someone's out there paying attention

they're telling me about this thing that I took a lot of pride in, , to a degree that shows that they also know how to make software and that they care about these details. And so, I think that those are the qualities that at the very least. We were looking for and other software designers, and we're trying to instill a culture that cared a lot about.

That shipping software that mattered, um, and ultimately like having, uh, an enormous impact on the world. Like, um, I think that that became a pillar of our recruiting narrative within design, but also just across, all of engineering. But in particular with design, this idea that like you are going to be touching the fabric of people's lives worldwide.

This opportunity, nobody's done this before. This is not a thing. This is like inventing the English language. You're going to be appearing as frequently in people's lives as any one platform, as any, any, as, as, as, as Google search, , and you're going to be a part of how people communicate with the folks that they care about.

Day in and day out.

[00:27:31] What Soleio thinks makes a truly great software designer

Ridd: can you share some of your opinions around what makes a truly great software designer?

Soleio: A truly great product designer, like a software designer, somebody who understands the medium first and foremost. They don't ask the question, should designers code, they instead ask the question, like, what code can I write to make great software to prototype, develop, explore ideas, identify the points of leverage and create things that are new and delightful, useful, desirable two, , they have to be really comfortable and familiar with the ergonomics of software software has both like the physical ergonomics, But I actually feel as though like one can study video games design along this dimension, which is it's more than just physical ergonomics.

There's like a mental ergonomic to it. There's like, um, how the information feels, the cadence of it. You can almost close your eyes and picture yourself using Notion or Gmail or like pick a product that you use every single day. There's like a tactile quality to it that for me personally, I always trace back to how video games like really great video games felt it was more than just like the ergonomics of the game.

It was almost like , , the mental models and, , what I'm describing is highly intuitive, but I think it's important for, , a great software designer to be able to articulate And, and get really specific on, on like how to kind of like dial and tweak and tune that. The other element of a great software design, I think it's like this funny hybrid of like being really good at collapsing complexity, taking something that seems really gnarly and kind of decomposing it and collapsing it.

, but then to it, there's a element of songwriting, right? Where sometimes you just have to kind of be hyper inventive. You have to kind of overthink it, not sort of start with, like, some rational diagram or some sort of, like, theorem, and then work your way backwards from it. But sort of like. Experiment with what sounds or feels right, right? , sometimes you'll solve a problem, and it's like, ah, that's not quite right. But this, this is actually kind of interesting. So I'm gonna park this over here. Maybe I'll come back to it. Maybe I'll self plagiarize later on. Because there's a pattern here that's kind of interesting and neat.

But it's not the right thing for this particular context. But I gotta keep it in mind. And, like any good songwriter, you're also a song collector. You listen to a lot. You're collecting records. And we spent a lot of time, , both for our own practice, but also for recruiting purposes, scouring the internet and scouring, you know, the entire software landscape for people who are doing interesting things in the realm of software.

And then desktop web applications, not simply , to be students of what else might be emerging out in the weeds and what could be done, but also just because I love answering the question of like, well, who made that there's somebody out there who designed that I'm going to go and find that person.

And I didn't appreciate it at the time, but that little engine in my head of like talent spotting and finding the person behind the software, , both led to some amazing hires that we made a Facebook, but then two, I think ended up being something that I felt like I was able to parlay , into investing, which is.

Effectively, another form of talent spotting sort of seeing the capabilities of someone through their work and be able to, , appear in their inbox and have a robust conversation about that work. Something that indicates to the recipient. Of said cold outreach that, like, someone's out there paying attention

they're telling me about this thing that I took a lot of pride in, , to a degree that shows that they also know how to make software and that they care about these details. And so, I think that those are the qualities that at the very least. We were looking for and other software designers, and we're trying to instill a culture that cared a lot about.

That shipping software that mattered, um, and ultimately like having, uh, an enormous impact on the world. Like, um, I think that that became a pillar of our recruiting narrative within design, but also just across, all of engineering. But in particular with design, this idea that like you are going to be touching the fabric of people's lives worldwide.

This opportunity, nobody's done this before. This is not a thing. This is like inventing the English language. You're going to be appearing as frequently in people's lives as any one platform, as any, any, as, as, as, as Google search, , and you're going to be a part of how people communicate with the folks that they care about.

Day in and day out.

[00:32:03] What Soleio looks for in the hiring process

Ridd: Let's zoom in a little bit more on this hiring process part, because you know, it's, it's clear that you were being really, really thoughtful and putting in effort into identifying and spotting talent I've also heard you talk about ways to like evaluate someone's. Trajectory that they're on. And a lot of the people that you're hiring were earlier in their career.

So there's definitely a trajectory element to it. So maybe we could even get into the weeds of like, when someone is in your hiring pipeline, you're putting them through whatever process you had.

Take us to those interviews. Like, what are you hunting for in those for

conversations

Soleio: Yeah. I think part of it's just

figuring out like, what is the time to proficiency? Name a thing you're proficient at. When did you start learning? Something as simple as that, right? It's one thing to say like, oh wow. You're Ben Barry and you built this incredible, graphs. You know, a visualizer that takes a network and can kind of like do dissections, intersections, you built it all in processing.

This is like a hand rolled thing. Ask him about like performance issues that you've encountered. When did you first start programming in processing? Five months ago? Who did you learn from? Like what was useful in that endeavor, right? That's very different than somebody who's been doing it for 10 years, right?

Sometimes you'll find slope just in the simple question of like, you're really good at guitar. Like, when did you start playing guitar? You know, just something as basic as that. with new grad hires, I also felt like one of the things I always enjoyed about recruiting within that set. is in your final 2 years, they're working on projects, and it sort of provides data points along the way on, like, new skills that they're developing and how they're kind of applying the skills.

, just see how prolific they are. In these new skills, how quickly can they kind of get things made or done? , it's almost as though, , one's ability to learn new things. Quickly is like a meta skill in and of itself. And then ask the question of you know, what are you learning now? Where are you early in the curve? over the next two years, what do you wish to learn? I found that that's often a consistent heuristic for people who have actually put any thought into it whatsoever. That they're like quick to answer rather than like, let me think of something smart to say. , and, and I think that that's, uh, that that's been a reliable signal, one of many, but at least it gives you a sense of, like, , their appetite for learning.

Lee Byron is a great example of this. Lee Byron is a guy who was hired to Facebook, luckily for us, as a data scientist. He studied data science at CMU. But he worked at New York times for spell and data visualization and was really good at making things fresh on, on, on a screen. And the guy was talented and he was so much fun to be around, just super collaborative.

And we quickly realized he's like, this guy should be working in product. Like, why is he working on the data science team? And so we poached him internally. , but Lee wasn't satisfied with just being a software designer. He, in the process of shipping software at Facebook was also. Proficient writing code and we're starting to go deeper and deeper into, well, what are the abstractions that we're using to ship software?

Because man, it's like really slow for us to write software just in PHP and, and having to teach engineers, CSS and JavaScript. Like, you know, it's almost as though, like we need to just kind of re engineer the way we make software. And so, you know, it's no surprise that he ended up being one of the co creators of, uh, of React and GraphQL, ?

Cause it takes a mind like that. To just sort of go back to basic principles and say, wait a minute, why are we accepting this as like the appropriate ergonomics for writing software and running a front end? , we're shipping software , to Android and to iOS and to web and like, why would we have three separate production tool chains for that?

Wouldn't it be amazing if we can just have one, ? I feel as though like so much of the company's ability to attract folks. Of that nature starts with looking for people that are almost like moving through their careers horizontally across disciplines, rather than like going depth wise into a particular field, sort of going straight into mastery mode, perhaps prematurely, and especially in a world where everything's so adaptive, right?

And everything's new. I think folks who can draw from a breadth of knowledge are often the ones that are most inclined to be able to find novel solutions and sort of look at problems from a different vector, but then to be able to draw upon things that might otherwise be far removed from one another and make a connection that seems like obvious in hindsight.

Ridd: I love that answer, like specifically the time to proficiency metric, because you flip it, I don't think I've ever made a conscious effort to communicate where I am on that chart in any kind of an interview process. It's a really unique angle, actually, that I think a lot of people can think about and like, okay, like, how do I.

Position myself on that spectrum. I think that's really interesting. You also mentioned this idea of like attracting people. I'd like to drill into that a little bit. So maybe we can, like, put the design founder hat back on your back. Really excited about your hypothetical 2024 startup.

[00:32:03] What Soleio looks for in the hiring process

Ridd: Let's zoom in a little bit more on this hiring process part, because you know, it's, it's clear that you were being really, really thoughtful and putting in effort into identifying and spotting talent I've also heard you talk about ways to like evaluate someone's. Trajectory that they're on. And a lot of the people that you're hiring were earlier in their career.

So there's definitely a trajectory element to it. So maybe we could even get into the weeds of like, when someone is in your hiring pipeline, you're putting them through whatever process you had.

Take us to those interviews. Like, what are you hunting for in those for

conversations

Soleio: Yeah. I think part of it's just

figuring out like, what is the time to proficiency? Name a thing you're proficient at. When did you start learning? Something as simple as that, right? It's one thing to say like, oh wow. You're Ben Barry and you built this incredible, graphs. You know, a visualizer that takes a network and can kind of like do dissections, intersections, you built it all in processing.

This is like a hand rolled thing. Ask him about like performance issues that you've encountered. When did you first start programming in processing? Five months ago? Who did you learn from? Like what was useful in that endeavor, right? That's very different than somebody who's been doing it for 10 years, right?

Sometimes you'll find slope just in the simple question of like, you're really good at guitar. Like, when did you start playing guitar? You know, just something as basic as that. with new grad hires, I also felt like one of the things I always enjoyed about recruiting within that set. is in your final 2 years, they're working on projects, and it sort of provides data points along the way on, like, new skills that they're developing and how they're kind of applying the skills.

, just see how prolific they are. In these new skills, how quickly can they kind of get things made or done? , it's almost as though, , one's ability to learn new things. Quickly is like a meta skill in and of itself. And then ask the question of you know, what are you learning now? Where are you early in the curve? over the next two years, what do you wish to learn? I found that that's often a consistent heuristic for people who have actually put any thought into it whatsoever. That they're like quick to answer rather than like, let me think of something smart to say. , and, and I think that that's, uh, that that's been a reliable signal, one of many, but at least it gives you a sense of, like, , their appetite for learning.

Lee Byron is a great example of this. Lee Byron is a guy who was hired to Facebook, luckily for us, as a data scientist. He studied data science at CMU. But he worked at New York times for spell and data visualization and was really good at making things fresh on, on, on a screen. And the guy was talented and he was so much fun to be around, just super collaborative.

And we quickly realized he's like, this guy should be working in product. Like, why is he working on the data science team? And so we poached him internally. , but Lee wasn't satisfied with just being a software designer. He, in the process of shipping software at Facebook was also. Proficient writing code and we're starting to go deeper and deeper into, well, what are the abstractions that we're using to ship software?

Because man, it's like really slow for us to write software just in PHP and, and having to teach engineers, CSS and JavaScript. Like, you know, it's almost as though, like we need to just kind of re engineer the way we make software. And so, you know, it's no surprise that he ended up being one of the co creators of, uh, of React and GraphQL, ?

Cause it takes a mind like that. To just sort of go back to basic principles and say, wait a minute, why are we accepting this as like the appropriate ergonomics for writing software and running a front end? , we're shipping software , to Android and to iOS and to web and like, why would we have three separate production tool chains for that?

Wouldn't it be amazing if we can just have one, ? I feel as though like so much of the company's ability to attract folks. Of that nature starts with looking for people that are almost like moving through their careers horizontally across disciplines, rather than like going depth wise into a particular field, sort of going straight into mastery mode, perhaps prematurely, and especially in a world where everything's so adaptive, right?

And everything's new. I think folks who can draw from a breadth of knowledge are often the ones that are most inclined to be able to find novel solutions and sort of look at problems from a different vector, but then to be able to draw upon things that might otherwise be far removed from one another and make a connection that seems like obvious in hindsight.

Ridd: I love that answer, like specifically the time to proficiency metric, because you flip it, I don't think I've ever made a conscious effort to communicate where I am on that chart in any kind of an interview process. It's a really unique angle, actually, that I think a lot of people can think about and like, okay, like, how do I.

Position myself on that spectrum. I think that's really interesting. You also mentioned this idea of like attracting people. I'd like to drill into that a little bit. So maybe we can, like, put the design founder hat back on your back. Really excited about your hypothetical 2024 startup.

[00:37:11] How founders can make their startup attractive for early designers

Soleio: Right?

Ridd: are some of the tactics that you would be using to position your new company as a really attractive place for a first or a second designer to join?

Soleio: I think i would start with i am learning all of this. I'm choosing to work in a field where i'm learning because i think sometimes Being the first forgives a lot of, like, clumsiness and lack of craft, but, rewards speed and urgency and ability to learn quickly. And for me, I'm, I'm quite captivated by this transition to, into AR and spatial computing.

, and so, you know, I would try to. Lead by example there in terms of showing, um, that we are hiring people who are, are also new to this space, right? They're not necessarily folks that are coming from VR per se, but are also, , kind of learning, , the runtimes and learning how to make things move around in a spatial computing environment and that, I think that there's also a legacy of amazing product teams.

That were also new to a particular field and were kind of naively bumbling around in order to create like a new sound or create a new aesthetic or create a new experience. Um, my favorite case study on this front is, um, you know, the team that worked on GoldenEye for the N64. It's the first game that shipped on a Nintendo console that was not made by Nintendo.

I think it might be the Oni. And you look at the composition of the team, they were all like first time video game makers, ? They didn't know what they didn't know. They built like a 3D first person shooter for a console. It was brand new. And because of their naivete and because of the need, the urgency around like learning how to make the game work.

I think they were almost able to kind of like shortcut to something that was great. Because they weren't, , held back by, like, the right way to do things, ? Instead, they just chose a shorter path to water. The shortest path to like, oh man, that's really cool. If we can cram two screens in here, can we cram four? Wouldn't that be so much more fun? It's like, oh yeah, we're going to have like the performance degradation is going to be really bad. It's like, but maybe that's fine. You know, like maybe we'll like purposely make it like not great in four player mode and maybe it'll be super laggy. You know, in certain scenarios, but like the fun factor just far exceeds those circumstances and we can maybe be like, kind of like, you know, tongue in cheek about it when it is like performance laggy, you know, we can make the person die a little bit slower just to let the CPUs catch up, you know.

After a particular bloodbath, let the smoke clear, let the, let the camera just sort of idle around a little bit longer so we can get the performance back, you know, things that like, there's no best practices for that, right? This is just pure intuition, pure play shortest path to water. , and so, yeah, I think that that that would have to be a part of the narrative.

It's like, there's no best practices. You know, we can write the rules because we're here first.

Ridd: And I'm so happy that there's a golden eye reference in this episode now. Thank you. let's flip it now. So let's say that you've, you've had some success, right? You've had some success. There's a little bit of a spotlight. People are wanting to work for you.

[00:37:11] How founders can make their startup attractive for early designers

Soleio: Right?

Ridd: are some of the tactics that you would be using to position your new company as a really attractive place for a first or a second designer to join?

Soleio: I think i would start with i am learning all of this. I'm choosing to work in a field where i'm learning because i think sometimes Being the first forgives a lot of, like, clumsiness and lack of craft, but, rewards speed and urgency and ability to learn quickly. And for me, I'm, I'm quite captivated by this transition to, into AR and spatial computing.

, and so, you know, I would try to. Lead by example there in terms of showing, um, that we are hiring people who are, are also new to this space, right? They're not necessarily folks that are coming from VR per se, but are also, , kind of learning, , the runtimes and learning how to make things move around in a spatial computing environment and that, I think that there's also a legacy of amazing product teams.

That were also new to a particular field and were kind of naively bumbling around in order to create like a new sound or create a new aesthetic or create a new experience. Um, my favorite case study on this front is, um, you know, the team that worked on GoldenEye for the N64. It's the first game that shipped on a Nintendo console that was not made by Nintendo.

I think it might be the Oni. And you look at the composition of the team, they were all like first time video game makers, ? They didn't know what they didn't know. They built like a 3D first person shooter for a console. It was brand new. And because of their naivete and because of the need, the urgency around like learning how to make the game work.

I think they were almost able to kind of like shortcut to something that was great. Because they weren't, , held back by, like, the right way to do things, ? Instead, they just chose a shorter path to water. The shortest path to like, oh man, that's really cool. If we can cram two screens in here, can we cram four? Wouldn't that be so much more fun? It's like, oh yeah, we're going to have like the performance degradation is going to be really bad. It's like, but maybe that's fine. You know, like maybe we'll like purposely make it like not great in four player mode and maybe it'll be super laggy. You know, in certain scenarios, but like the fun factor just far exceeds those circumstances and we can maybe be like, kind of like, you know, tongue in cheek about it when it is like performance laggy, you know, we can make the person die a little bit slower just to let the CPUs catch up, you know.

After a particular bloodbath, let the smoke clear, let the, let the camera just sort of idle around a little bit longer so we can get the performance back, you know, things that like, there's no best practices for that, right? This is just pure intuition, pure play shortest path to water. , and so, yeah, I think that that that would have to be a part of the narrative.

It's like, there's no best practices. You know, we can write the rules because we're here first.

Ridd: And I'm so happy that there's a golden eye reference in this episode now. Thank you. let's flip it now. So let's say that you've, you've had some success, right? You've had some success. There's a little bit of a spotlight. People are wanting to work for you.

[00:40:32] How designers can stand out as an early hire at a startup

Ridd: And now let's hope it to talk about the candidate because you are logging into greenhouse or whatever hiring platform you're using. You got 50 candidates that you're about to go through. What are some ways that designers can stand out in that sea of candidates to get you as a design founder, excited about bringing them on as that first or second hire?

Soleio: That's a great question. I think a lot of it's like, um, love for the medium in this case. Adam was Sari, who now runs Instagram famously got like put back into our design pipeline, , because he shipped, , a Facebook platform app that was really wildly successful, it's called boombox.

Yeah. Boombox. And I was like, Oh yeah, I remember that guy's name. Yeah, that guy's really good, man. He banged that out. It looks, it looks great. We should, we should talk to him. He's in San Francisco. , there's also the simple reality, which is that, you know, if, if people are designing for a new paradigm, say headsets, , they're likely also consuming for this new paradigm.

Who are the folks out there like also shipping new and novel experiences, right? , because there ends up being kind of a collective of the first movers who are all kind of like studying each other and exploring what's out there and, you know, half of the stuff is going to be kind of weird, right? In much the way that, you know, like early, early web was just kind of weird and, you know, highly experimental.

, but then too, I think that there's a, you just have a higher likelihood of, appearing. , at the top of that list on Glassboard or whatever the ATS system is. , I, I think just by virtue of shipping something that's novel and memorable and that makes you think, Oh, wow, I want to talk to the person who worked on that because , they're doing something that I hadn't seen before.

They're using that sound or using these ergonomics or creating this pattern. That's kind of like thought provoking.

[00:40:32] How designers can stand out as an early hire at a startup

Ridd: And now let's hope it to talk about the candidate because you are logging into greenhouse or whatever hiring platform you're using. You got 50 candidates that you're about to go through. What are some ways that designers can stand out in that sea of candidates to get you as a design founder, excited about bringing them on as that first or second hire?

Soleio: That's a great question. I think a lot of it's like, um, love for the medium in this case. Adam was Sari, who now runs Instagram famously got like put back into our design pipeline, , because he shipped, , a Facebook platform app that was really wildly successful, it's called boombox.

Yeah. Boombox. And I was like, Oh yeah, I remember that guy's name. Yeah, that guy's really good, man. He banged that out. It looks, it looks great. We should, we should talk to him. He's in San Francisco. , there's also the simple reality, which is that, you know, if, if people are designing for a new paradigm, say headsets, , they're likely also consuming for this new paradigm.

Who are the folks out there like also shipping new and novel experiences, right? , because there ends up being kind of a collective of the first movers who are all kind of like studying each other and exploring what's out there and, you know, half of the stuff is going to be kind of weird, right? In much the way that, you know, like early, early web was just kind of weird and, you know, highly experimental.

, but then too, I think that there's a, you just have a higher likelihood of, appearing. , at the top of that list on Glassboard or whatever the ATS system is. , I, I think just by virtue of shipping something that's novel and memorable and that makes you think, Oh, wow, I want to talk to the person who worked on that because , they're doing something that I hadn't seen before.

They're using that sound or using these ergonomics or creating this pattern. That's kind of like thought provoking.

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