Early design decisions can wield significant impact on an emerging company—translating grand ambitions into tangible touchpoints, identifying value propositions and bringing them to life. In short, design can make or break a brand or product experience at the earliest stages. First Round Review describes the critical role of a founding designer this way:
“When it comes to a startup’s earliest hires, it’s most often those who step into the first product or engineering roles who shine the brightest—and receive the most support and advice. Yet the first design hire has the power to transform the entire trajectory of a startup, shaping everything from how users interact with the product, to the branding and creative work that draws in new customers. First designers agree to take on a role that’s filled with unlimited opportunity, as well as endless minefields.”
As an agency operating as an extension of a client’s team, we believe the role we play has that same onus. Over the years, RocketAir has partnered with many venture capital and private equity firms, incubators, and accelerators, working within their portfolios to help teams make those critical early design decisions. Here, we explore how the right design partner can bring a competitive advantage to portfolio-based companies.
We’ve opined before about the difficulty of finding, vetting, and retaining high-caliber in-house creative talent. Recruiting requires tons of effort, and you run the risk of potentially needing to do it all over again if you can’t get it quite right. The right agency partnership can solve that. If you’re in the business of high-growth ventures, you’re no doubt familiar with the need to reduce risk while maintaining momentum.
Hilary Swaim, VP of Operations at RocketAir, discusses this balancing act:
No matter the stage, from pre-series A through exit, we know there are competing demands on your team’s time and energy. There’s a delicate balance between minimizing risk and moving quickly. We know when to accelerate and when it’s worthwhile to slow down and spend more time to center in on key design decisions. Portfolio companies need an experienced partner to help balance short-term business needs while always keeping an eye on the future.
The right design partner doesn’t just mitigate the risk of dropping the ball on a single initiative, whether that’s a website refresh or the launch of a new digital product—they mitigate the risk of missing the larger, existential mark as a company.
Allie Birmingham, Senior Producer at RocketAir, captures the role producers play in this:
We understand the logistics and speed required to take on another company’s success as a reflection of your own. As producers, we become deeply embedded in the day-to-day operations while maintaining enough distance to not lose sight of the big picture. It’s the big and small thinking, all wrapped into one.
The right partner doesn’t just bring creative muscle—they provide a strategic point-of-view that can shape a company’s future. “If your portfolio company just needs a ‘nice’ logo and pitch deck template, we’re probably not the right partner for you,” says Swaim. “You can get ‘pretty’ anywhere. If you’re looking for a true thought partner, then we’re your crew.”
Working with a team like us is about far much more than creative execution. We partner with companies at critical points in their growth trajectory to help them reduce the risk of bringing new brands and products to market with design that’s backed by strategy. Following our Orbital Design approach, we lay a solid foundation of research and insights before entering into a non-stop cycle of iteration on our design solutions.
Firms like Bain Capital and QED Investors have turned to RocketAir time and time again because they know first-hand that our model works—whether it’s launching brands for fintech unicorns like Wayflyer or modernizing a legacy telecom brand.
To amplify value throughout your portfolio, you need a partner that can work across many different verticals with an equal rate of success. As a specialized agency, we offer clients only what we do best. Being industry agnostic, we can apply our expertise to any challenge.
In total, RocketAir team members have worked in-house at more than 20 startups spanning more than 10 industries. Individually, our experiences are diverse. Collectively, our experience is our superpower—allowing us to step outside the narrow view of a specific industry and strengthen our work with insights from analogous companies.
A design partner can elevate every investment in your portfolio, even if the organization itself has not traditionally valued design or if its industry isn’t typically design-forward. We’ve worked with everyone from internet providers and healthcare companies to trailer marketplaces and door hardware manufacturers, and we’ve seen that high-end design can be an even more advantageous differentiator in industry sectors where it is otherwise underutilized.
Portfolio-based companies can’t afford to make a major gamble on the wrong design decisions. The long-term strategic thinking and design-first advantage from a trusted agency partner is a significant step toward making sure your investments pay off.