May 23, 2024

The design founder's playbook (Cron journey)

Creator of Dive

Founder of Cron (Notion Calendar)

Imagine you (finally) decide to pull the trigger on that startup idea you can’t get out of your brain…

You get into YC.

You start making money.

You assemble a scrappy team.

You win product of the year on Product Hunt.

You sell to Notion and become the head of a new product line.

Not bad for a first-time design founder, eh?

Well… this is the story of how Raphael Schaad built Cron 👇

📆 Key insights from the Cron playbook

There’s a lot we can learn from Raphael about product strategy and what it takes to design world-class software.

Three big ideas that stood out to me 👇

1 — Validate the problem (before the solution)

There are minimum viable products and then there are minimum viable problems.

Raphael started by validating the latter with a simple Chrome extension to hide morning hours in Google calendar.

It wasn’t a direct step toward the product that he wanted to build…

But it did validate the problem area by showing that 10,000+ people were unhappy with the default Google Calendar UX and were willing to install software to improve it.

If we look at it through the lens of this age-old MVP graphic, Raphael didn’t start by building a skateboard. He built a separate way to prove there was a problem with transportation instead.

Sometimes this is an easier first step ☝️

Paired with a compelling vision for the “time layer of the internet”, these 10,000+ installs were enough to get him accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch.

Validating the problem (instead of the solution) is a subtle reframing but it might illuminate a new path forward 🔦

2 — Focus on the 1% of innovation

As a solo founder, it wasn’t realistic for Raphael to start building an industry-grade calendar.

That’s why his MVP was genius 👇

I just took an electron app and loaded Google Calendar inside the frame and then found ways to make it better” — Raphael

This allowed him to focus on a smaller subset of features where he could truly innovate. For example:

  1. Integrating Calendly-like scheduling directly into your calendar

  2. Providing cmd+k navigation

  3. Adding Dark mode

  4. Dragging to create availability slots

These features may seem small but that’s the point…

This 1% of innovation was enough to differentiate Cron and serve as a wedge into the calendar market.

My “aha” moment was using this drag interaction to share my availability for the first time.

That was all it took for me to realize Cron was in a totally separate tier than traditional calendar products.

3 — Launch in cohorts

Now armed with a seed round and an initial team… Raphael put the MVP (”Cron Classic”) into maintenance mode and started building out the real thing.

Officially it took Cron 18 months to open early access in November of 2021.

But they “launched” many times before that 👇

I’m not a fan of big splash launches. So instead every week we let new users in to test the app and tell us where the feature gaps were. That way everyone wasn’t giving the same feedback”
Raphael

I’m seeing a lot of startups use this strategy now 👀

It’s the same reason why Linear stayed in beta for a year. They only launched publicly after they invited their entire waitlist via cohorts.

But this is just the beginning of the Cron playbook 👇

🎬 The first-ever telling of the Cron story

Raphael Schaad is one of the best designers (and builders) I know. Which is why the Cron story is one for the books.

If you're interested in startups, craft, or building your ideas... then you're going to love this one because we get an inside look at:

  • How he structured user feedback

  • How he pitched the Cron vision to YC

  • How he navigated the early idea maze

  • Sketching on paper vs. sketching in code

  • How you can design with craft and speed

  • Why the Cron landing page remained so simple

  • Why he designs dialogues as first-class citizens

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

Imagine you (finally) decide to pull the trigger on that startup idea you can’t get out of your brain…

You get into YC.

You start making money.

You assemble a scrappy team.

You win product of the year on Product Hunt.

You sell to Notion and become the head of a new product line.

Not bad for a first-time design founder, eh?

Well… this is the story of how Raphael Schaad built Cron 👇

📆 Key insights from the Cron playbook

There’s a lot we can learn from Raphael about product strategy and what it takes to design world-class software.

Three big ideas that stood out to me 👇

1 — Validate the problem (before the solution)

There are minimum viable products and then there are minimum viable problems.

Raphael started by validating the latter with a simple Chrome extension to hide morning hours in Google calendar.

It wasn’t a direct step toward the product that he wanted to build…

But it did validate the problem area by showing that 10,000+ people were unhappy with the default Google Calendar UX and were willing to install software to improve it.

If we look at it through the lens of this age-old MVP graphic, Raphael didn’t start by building a skateboard. He built a separate way to prove there was a problem with transportation instead.

Sometimes this is an easier first step ☝️

Paired with a compelling vision for the “time layer of the internet”, these 10,000+ installs were enough to get him accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch.

Validating the problem (instead of the solution) is a subtle reframing but it might illuminate a new path forward 🔦

2 — Focus on the 1% of innovation

As a solo founder, it wasn’t realistic for Raphael to start building an industry-grade calendar.

That’s why his MVP was genius 👇

I just took an electron app and loaded Google Calendar inside the frame and then found ways to make it better” — Raphael

This allowed him to focus on a smaller subset of features where he could truly innovate. For example:

  1. Integrating Calendly-like scheduling directly into your calendar

  2. Providing cmd+k navigation

  3. Adding Dark mode

  4. Dragging to create availability slots

These features may seem small but that’s the point…

This 1% of innovation was enough to differentiate Cron and serve as a wedge into the calendar market.

My “aha” moment was using this drag interaction to share my availability for the first time.

That was all it took for me to realize Cron was in a totally separate tier than traditional calendar products.

3 — Launch in cohorts

Now armed with a seed round and an initial team… Raphael put the MVP (”Cron Classic”) into maintenance mode and started building out the real thing.

Officially it took Cron 18 months to open early access in November of 2021.

But they “launched” many times before that 👇

I’m not a fan of big splash launches. So instead every week we let new users in to test the app and tell us where the feature gaps were. That way everyone wasn’t giving the same feedback”
Raphael

I’m seeing a lot of startups use this strategy now 👀

It’s the same reason why Linear stayed in beta for a year. They only launched publicly after they invited their entire waitlist via cohorts.

But this is just the beginning of the Cron playbook 👇

🎬 The first-ever telling of the Cron story

Raphael Schaad is one of the best designers (and builders) I know. Which is why the Cron story is one for the books.

If you're interested in startups, craft, or building your ideas... then you're going to love this one because we get an inside look at:

  • How he structured user feedback

  • How he pitched the Cron vision to YC

  • How he navigated the early idea maze

  • Sketching on paper vs. sketching in code

  • How you can design with craft and speed

  • Why the Cron landing page remained so simple

  • Why he designs dialogues as first-class citizens

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

Imagine you (finally) decide to pull the trigger on that startup idea you can’t get out of your brain…

You get into YC.

You start making money.

You assemble a scrappy team.

You win product of the year on Product Hunt.

You sell to Notion and become the head of a new product line.

Not bad for a first-time design founder, eh?

Well… this is the story of how Raphael Schaad built Cron 👇

📆 Key insights from the Cron playbook

There’s a lot we can learn from Raphael about product strategy and what it takes to design world-class software.

Three big ideas that stood out to me 👇

1 — Validate the problem (before the solution)

There are minimum viable products and then there are minimum viable problems.

Raphael started by validating the latter with a simple Chrome extension to hide morning hours in Google calendar.

It wasn’t a direct step toward the product that he wanted to build…

But it did validate the problem area by showing that 10,000+ people were unhappy with the default Google Calendar UX and were willing to install software to improve it.

If we look at it through the lens of this age-old MVP graphic, Raphael didn’t start by building a skateboard. He built a separate way to prove there was a problem with transportation instead.

Sometimes this is an easier first step ☝️

Paired with a compelling vision for the “time layer of the internet”, these 10,000+ installs were enough to get him accepted into Y Combinator’s Winter 2020 batch.

Validating the problem (instead of the solution) is a subtle reframing but it might illuminate a new path forward 🔦

2 — Focus on the 1% of innovation

As a solo founder, it wasn’t realistic for Raphael to start building an industry-grade calendar.

That’s why his MVP was genius 👇

I just took an electron app and loaded Google Calendar inside the frame and then found ways to make it better” — Raphael

This allowed him to focus on a smaller subset of features where he could truly innovate. For example:

  1. Integrating Calendly-like scheduling directly into your calendar

  2. Providing cmd+k navigation

  3. Adding Dark mode

  4. Dragging to create availability slots

These features may seem small but that’s the point…

This 1% of innovation was enough to differentiate Cron and serve as a wedge into the calendar market.

My “aha” moment was using this drag interaction to share my availability for the first time.

That was all it took for me to realize Cron was in a totally separate tier than traditional calendar products.

3 — Launch in cohorts

Now armed with a seed round and an initial team… Raphael put the MVP (”Cron Classic”) into maintenance mode and started building out the real thing.

Officially it took Cron 18 months to open early access in November of 2021.

But they “launched” many times before that 👇

I’m not a fan of big splash launches. So instead every week we let new users in to test the app and tell us where the feature gaps were. That way everyone wasn’t giving the same feedback”
Raphael

I’m seeing a lot of startups use this strategy now 👀

It’s the same reason why Linear stayed in beta for a year. They only launched publicly after they invited their entire waitlist via cohorts.

But this is just the beginning of the Cron playbook 👇

🎬 The first-ever telling of the Cron story

Raphael Schaad is one of the best designers (and builders) I know. Which is why the Cron story is one for the books.

If you're interested in startups, craft, or building your ideas... then you're going to love this one because we get an inside look at:

  • How he structured user feedback

  • How he pitched the Cron vision to YC

  • How he navigated the early idea maze

  • Sketching on paper vs. sketching in code

  • How you can design with craft and speed

  • Why the Cron landing page remained so simple

  • Why he designs dialogues as first-class citizens

Listen on YouTube, Spotify, Apple, or wherever you get your podcasts 👇

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Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

Join 10,000+ designers

Get our weekly breakdowns

"There's no doubt that Dive has made me a better designer"

@ned_ray

"

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"

I've been binging Dive Club lately and the quality is nuts

Literally the only show about design I watch”

Eugene Fedorenko

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