🖌️ Figma - the $10 billion community OG in the world of design

The story of the rise of a collaborative, community-first SaaS which is the #1 go-to-place for the design community.
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Pramod Rao
October 12, 2021

Heat map of file shares and invites sent on Figma, across the globe. Courtesy - Figma's Blog

The image of a global tight-knit design community enabled by Figma. That's what you are looking at - a heat map of file shares and invites sent on Figma, across the Globe. But how did it get there? How does one even start on a mission that's so massive in scale? Let's go down the rabbit hole!

The Origin

A 19-year-old dropout from Brown University took $100,000 from Thiel Fellowship to start a business with his (then) teaching assistant. The 0 to 1 journey, like for any other startup - was a messed up one. Their initial idea was to build a drone company. (Fortunately for us 😄) They failed to pivot around this idea mostly because they couldn't build anything in the space without hurting people or violating their privacy.

Right after, Dylan Field had his eureka moment when he saw Evan Wallace give a demo of WebGL (a JavaScript API for rendering high-performance interactive 3D and 2D graphics). He wanted to deliver this ultimate experience of interface design coupled with Google Docs - to enable a collaborative setup. That is how Figma was conceived, back in 2012. ❤️

Dylan Field and Evan Wallace

Dylan Field and Evan Wallace knew they were up against the Adobe pack, so they had to be in it - headstrong. For a couple of years, they operated in private beta and launched Figma for the public only in September 2016.

This is where Figma stands today - market leaders for interface design and a valuation of $10 billion. 👇

Courtesy: UX tools 2020 (latest) report on Software preferred for interface design

And the impact Figma has had on the design community globally...

Dylan wanted to make Figma the Github for designers. He believed that design should be more open, cloud-first and on the Web. They built multiplayer capabilities in Figma for designers or teams to collaborate and work together over a design. This was a revolutionary idea back in 2015 when they built it. But designers adapted and they were comfortable with the idea of collaborative openness of their designs. In a competitive space, with competitors like Adobe, InVision, Sketch and more, Figma differentiates itself on its web-based multiplayer approach.

But this wasn't it - Dylan had bigger plans.

🚀 Launching the Figma Community

In 2019, 3 years after the public launch, he took a step forward towards this vision and launched the beta version of Figma's community.

🤝 With Figma Community, designers and even organisations can share live design files that others can inspect, remix and learn from - and understand how the design went from being a blank page to something so wonderful, step by step.

Figma Community

Dylan Field with Jenny Wen (Sr. Product Designer, Figma) did a live demo and public launch of the online community and the upgraded collaborative workspace. Here are three key takeaways from their conversation:

  1. The collaborative workspace concept became widely accepted and people shared their WIP project files on social media, which in turn got their network interested in the possibilities of remixing the design, replicating it, synergising with the designer and knowing more about Figma.
  2. A couple of early customers of Figma - Slack, Dropbox, Unsplash, Lambda school published designs and plugins that other users could access through the community. Active participation by these key partners definitely caught members attention.
  3. Future plans for the community include better ways to discover community content, share and remix files, collaboration for designers across team boundaries. Figma was working on delivering a better experience through the community to drive user growth from there.

Launch of Figma Community

If you ask a Community Manager what are the toughest KPIs they work on, it would be - retention of existing users and engaging the community. Figma hacked these objectives - there was no stopping their growth fire.

🎯 Figma aced the engagement and retention within its community, which helped them drive new users by just word of mouth marketing

💥 Amazing curation of resources for use

The community-created designs are thoughtfully arranged on the community, for anyone to easily duplicate or remix them. It also helps to keep a track of what the designers you follow, are up to.

Super-cool templates in the Figma community, by the members

🏅Top design-first companies are a part of this community

Airtable, Slack, Uber and the who's who of the design first communities are onboard! How exciting is that! You can track what they create, duplicate it, learn from designers of these brands and show off your creations to them!

🧑‍🤝‍🧑 Super active networking and synchronous chat community on Slack - 12K+ 'Friends of Figma'

Meet and network other designs, solve roadblocks with the help of the community, attend workshops and webinars to improve your skills and be on top of tips and tricks of creating better designs with the community.

'Friends of Figma' community on Slack

But like they say, the community is not built in a day! You need to have a strong base and a well-researched framework for you to be able to succeed and nail each milestone. Figma defined 4 main stages towards building its community:

  1. Define your community member personas and hunt them - reach out to them for early feedback and partnerships.
  2. Gather member aspirations and feedback - redefine your product basis the feedback and develop the community content to help with member aspirations.
  3. Amplify the voices of the community members - what they speak about your brand and community; gain the trust of newer members basis that.
  4. Deliver more values and experiences to members - keep reiterating

🧠 Figma's community framework towards driving community-led growth from Day 0

🧐 Stage 1: Define community member personas

  • Identify and create a target list of the top influencers in your target space - how influential are they in your domain? who do they talk to? what level of quality content do they publish?
  • Reach out to these folks to gather early product feedback - be open to criticism. In a way, you'll end up planting a seed about your brand.
  • Keep a tab on how and with who they communicate about your product - read through the lines to understand what would it take for your product to be successful.
  • Hire influencers/evangelists from the space with a strong network in your domain - they will help share candid feedback and have honest conversations about your product within their network thus help build long-term trust with the community.
  • Hire a community marketing manager early on to drive conversations with evangelists and influencers.
  • Create a low friction opportunity for influencers to test out your product - be creative, you need to catch their attention. Figma did it be creating an experience of asking influencers to play Pixel Pong 👇
Courtesy: Amanda Kleha's interview with SaaStr

🧏 Stage 2: Listen to your member aspirations and feedback

  • Get in community advocates - these folks may or may not have a large network, however, they are your superfans. They help connect with the early social community members and build relationships with them.
  • Create best practices content for the community on using your product, blogs explaining features of the brand
  • Win your users hearts - Meet your early fans and adopters to know more about how they're using your product and how you could improvise. Organise meetups with your community, interact with them - spend time building meaningful relationships.
  • Get your entire team to interact with your target audience on social media - that way the users know they are interacting with real people and not just a brand name - this can go a long way.

🚀 Stage 3: Elevate and Amplify - build on the momentum that's picking up to scale

  • Bring your community together - enable them to learn from each other about how to use your product better.
  • Amplify the voices of your advocate - pull up the power users and allow them to run the show on the community. This propagates more value in the product over the brand speaking about itself. Ex: Figma organised user conferences, where half the day saw users from the community who had volunteered to talk about Design/Figma.

🔁 Stage 4: Enrich and Repeat

  • Once you see users loving the community experience, enrich it by complementing it to be able to add more value to the users.
  • Facilitate better conversations - advocate your community on social

These are some pretty strong ideas on how Figma built this tight-knit community of designers globally! To know more about their community ops, check out this video with Amanda Kleha (CCO, Figma) where she talks at length about how the Figma community was built and operates today.

Amanda Kleha (CCO, Figma) talks at length about how the Figma community was built and operates today.

With such a strong base work and vision for the community, it was for sure going to take Figma to places! Not only did it end up being the most adapted tool amongst designers but also exploded in terms of user growth - rising from about 8% of respondents using the tool in 2017 to about 57% in 2020. 🤯 (Source: uxdesign.cc)

Overall, Figma has thought through every value add a point for a designer and solved for it through the community - this is what makes Figma win in this space! 🏆

Figma's answer to make dull meetings fun with whiteboarding - FigJam

Figma took its community experience a notch up by introducing FIGJAM - a punny name for an online whiteboard for teams to collaborate, brainstorm, map out process/design flows, and more.

Introductory video explaining FigJam.

FigJam functionality includes sticky notes, emojis and drawing tools, as well as shapes, pre-built lines and connectors, stamps and cursor chats. FigJam works seamlessly with Figma - you can move your sketches to Figma and shape them into the final piece!

Dylan and the team are truly turning around the designer tool space and simplifying it. With the rise of creators in the Web3 and crypto space, we are super excited to see how they will contribute to the rise of Web3 and NFTs! 💰

Leaving you folks with some wall of love for the Figma Community, by the community! We love them too ❤️

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