Nobody Wants to Invest in an Ugly Startup

Every now and then I'll meet up with a great entrepreneur with a great idea. But then we take a look at what they've built and...gag.

Whatever they've put up is pain to my eyes. It's chaotic, unorganized, a white space hell. The colors are garish, chosen for hexadecimal greatness. The fonts chosen are the best that a browser can offer - comic sans and arial are wonderful aren't they? All the information is lumped together because stuffing as much as you can into that rectangle called a browser means I don't ever have to click to get to more information - it's all there on one page!

The problem is...it's a visual design nightmare. And it makes me want to run away.

Definitely others will and have. But I sometimes don't. I've bet on the ugly, hoping that the ugly will fix itself later. Sometimes it does, sometimes it doesn't. But until then, the reality remains. Their site is still ugly. And the problem is, until that is fixed, it will chase others away.

Nobody wants to invest in an ugly startup. It's a problem on many levels:

1. Ugly startups will chase away customers. Customers are also sensitive to great visual design even if they may not be able to articulate it. Ugly startups look un-professional; there is doubt that this company is for real - if it was, they would find a designer and make it look great, right? They don't want to look at an ugly startup while using it either - it hurts the eyes. If this is true, then it could stifle your early growth and inhibit trial.

2. Ugly startups aren't brag worthy. If I invest in you, I want to talk you up. But if someone goes to the site and then comes back to me saying, "Gee that's the ugliest thing I've ever seen" - it affects me. Who wants to hear that? I want to hear, "Wow it's beautiful and cool - great job!"

3. Ugly startups show a critical team deficiency in design, at a minimum in the visual department and maximally in all areas of design. Designers are the hardest to hire for of any discipline out there; if they don't have one on staff now, will they ever be able to attract one? Or be able to get ahead of competitors who do have design on staff?

4. If you are ugly and can't get other investors on board, whether they actually come out and tell you it's because you're ugly or not, you're dead in the water. Other investors will stay away knowing that ugliness lowers the probability that anyone wants to give you money and introduces a higher risk that you'll die.

Time and time again, investing in startups has been likened to dating. Here is more proof of that - who wants to date someone you don't find attractive?

3 Comments

  • Josh Gray-Emmer wrote: 02/14/2012 7:15 PM

    Design is critical for interacting with anyone. Customer or investors. If you can't wow one, you really have no chance with the other. Great article.

    Reply
  • Christian Rohrer wrote: 02/14/2012 10:48 PM

    The research shows that a professional looking visual design conveys credibility and instills trust, even if the site is more whimsical and consumer-oriented. These same findings apply to both consumers and investors alike. You're right on all fronts, and there's one other: because visual design is the first "layer" of user experience that people (users, investors) see, a bad one will prevent deeper penetration into the experience and prevent people from even getting to the core of any great use experience: whether it actually meets a real user need. Bad usability is the other main barrier to getting there, but that comes after the first impressions created by the look-and-feel.

    Reply
    • David Shen wrote: 02/15/2012 2:56 PM

      First impressions make or break the first date!

      Reply

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