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The Secret to How Sketch Took On the Industry Giant as a Humble Startup

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There are some incredible startup stories out there. Stories of hustle, peaks and valleys, near defeat, and breakthroughs. And in the cutthroat startup world, people are always hungry for the secret to success.

What if the secret is just to build a solution to your own problem?

This is what Pieter Omvlee was looking to do when he and Emanuel Sá built Sketch, a professional digital design app built to empower designers to share and collaborate on their designs. At the time that Pieter and Emanuel started working on Sketch, the competitive landscape was relatively scarce… except for the industry giant, Adobe Photoshop.

But despite the elephant in the room they set out to build Sketch because they wanted a solution to the problem they were facing. As UI designers themselves, they were looking for a product that made their jobs easier and didn’t require all the workarounds they were using in Photoshop. So from day one, Sá and Omvlee built a product around their own needs.

As Omvlee explained in his interview on the Better Product Podcast, “You make the best product if you solve a need that you're having. And if you're trying to solve a need that you don't have, and you're just doing it because customers ask for it, you make a mediocre version of it and you won't help yourself or know your users. Just doing what you think is best and solving the problem that you're having is, I think, still the right answer.” And Omvlee goes on to explain that, while they do gather customer data, many decisions today are still made based on their own needs and opinions of the product.

“We feel it's important to just build a product that we want as well, and not just add features because people are asking for it. Because if you lose that sort of unifying vision of what Sketch is and you start throwing in the kitchen sink, then one day it will be exactly the same as it was with Photoshop 10 years ago.” While this may an uncommon opinion, it seems to be working well for Sketch. With a predominantly word of mouth promotion strategy and only organic sales from the Sketch website, they have developed a devoted following that Omvlee never even expected.

So what is the big startup secret? If you need something that solves your problems, build it yourself. And despite outside forces, know what you do (and what you don’t) to keep your product laser-focused on that problem you set out to solve.

To hear more from Sketch CEO Pieter Omvlee, tune in to his episode of the Better Product Podcast.

Also, check out Sketch’s newest release: Sketch for Teams. Share designs and prototypes, provide feedback and collaborate with your whole team in a single workspace.

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