November 1st, 2013 Designer as Founder: Christina Brodbeck of YouTube

On Friday November 1st, 2013 OCL attended Designer and Founders event hosted at Parisoma where Philip Wood chats with Christina Brodbeck about what is was like from being a designer to a founder.

Phillip Wood: PW      

Christina Brodbeck: CB

PW: Christina, tell us a little about your history.

CB: I saw science and tech as a very analytical field and it lacked creativity. My mind has changed since then and i've learned it is actually very creative. This is why I got into it. I eventually started working with YouTube, and as you know, it got acquired by Google.

PW: When did you first started noticing design. Like, really understanding it, and paying attention to it in your everyday life?

CB: For me it was through photo class in Junior high. Taking those classes really made me start thinking about design. The basic fundamentals to photography really helped inspire this.

PW: What were your parents doing through all this?

CB: My dad was a Catholic Priest then became a physics professor and my mom was a stay at home mom  for awhile, then started working in the finance industry.

PW: What were you expecting when you came out to San Francisco from Illinois?

CB: I got really lucky from the group of friends I met in college. They were working at a startup called Paypal and I was working at a bookstore and would spend time hanging out with them. I would find it awesome that people didn't mind working at 11pm because they were really passionate about the work and the technology they were creating. This is not something you see most people doing.  This sparked my interest in the startup industry even more.

PW: Was that different from what you hoped? Do you think you were going to end up out here in San Francisco regardless?

CB: In Chicago, there is a lot of stuff going on, but more conservative and corporate. There was less of a startup style. So the Bay Area was the place to be for me.

PW: What was the attitude being a woman involved in the tech industry like?

CB: I never experienced that things were not equal while working with startups. I believed this until I started my own company. Then I realized that things still were not. When it came to getting funding I found it difficult. I think most investors still prefer to talk with men about money. When you are creating the tech, or designing, the control is in your hands. You have the power. When it comes to getting money from VC’s, there is only so much you can do.

PW: How did you get involved with YouTube?

CB: YouTube was created by a group of friends just working together in a coffee shop when they had time. It was a side project with them. I kind of just stumbled upon it.

PW: Was it shocking how intensive the work load was working for a startup?

CB: No, I worked at a startup before and I was used to it, but it was still a lot of work and I had to prioritize. It comes down to other people on the team too. They want to release features, but I want to design it the right way.

PW: Tell us about the transition to mobile at YouTube

CB: It was super exciting, I got lucky when I got two startups for one. YouTube mobile started as a side project, just like the original YouTube. It grew from a small side project to being a huge part of the ecosystem of YouTube. One of the founders would also talk about how he wanted to be able to watch YouTube videos on his phone. Because otherwise, you are restricted to only watching them on a computer.

PW: How do you gain your inspiration?

CB: I think for me, is probably the whole creating something from nothing. Its what I like the about and design, you take something that doesn't exist and create it.

PW: How was it stepping from a designer to founder?

CB: It’s really tough, it really is. There is a difference from being a contributor in the design aspect and running a company. There is a major shift. You need to think about all the things that go into running a business. As a designer you only think about what the users want or might need, but there is way more to it than that when you become the entrepreneur. Creating a the business model, hiring employees, managing them. It’s a whole new world.

PW: How do you juggle it, wearing more than one hat that is?

CB: One of the most biggest assets is designers are good storytellers. You need to tell a really good story to attract people: users, employees and VC’s. Designers need to stand up for themselves and ask for me credit, and need to be treated with more respect.

PW:  We find it difficult getting paid as a designer. What do you look for in a designer now that you run your own company?

CB: The good news is, I think its changing. Startups are realizing that design is important. You can't freelance all the time anymore It’s better to have someone hired and incorporate the design into the roadmap of your product from the get go and continuously.

Some people are looking for the unicorn designer who can do everything, this happens in early stage startups, but this is not scaleable. As the company gets bigger the designer can focus on their niche and this makes the design process better.

PW: You’re an angel investor and part of a VC firm, what is the transition like that like?

CB: I enjoy investing but can't talk too much about the VC firm. I didn't know anything about angel investing for a long time, and 2009 was the first time I did it. After talking to this guy Jude, he kept hounding me and we talked a lot about his product. I eventually knew the product, and I was willing to invest but didn't know what I was doing. It took some time, but we eventually worked it out. I found out that I really liked it. I liked going over their product and UX and helping them make it better.

PW: Making money and injecting it back into the tech scene doesn’t seem natural, why do you think that is?

CB: It seems generally that when people get exit money they tend to do other things with it, like buy large items or go on vacation. I think it also has to do with the fear and risk of investing. Working for startups you know how risky it can be, so it can hinder you from wanted to lose that money.

PW: Where might be the opportunity/difficulties as being a woman designer?

CB: For myself, and maybe most, it’s difficult to be very direct. We do a lot of critiques of projects in school and this is good for female designers because we learn to pitch our ideas. Women need to be more confident with their work; men are more proud of what they did. Women need to boast themselves more in the workplace.