This Vietnamese Start-up is Building an Entire Ecosystem for the Non-Designer

Entrepreneurs can create designs with less time and effort

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BY Ezra Ferraz - 15 Feb 2017


PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images

Designers and other creatives often jest about how difficult clients can be. But the relationship can be just as strained in the opposite direction: It’s hard for brand owners to communicate and coordinate with designers to create designs and other collaterals.

This truism is the inspiration behind Vietnam-based start-up, DesignBold. Back in 2013, Hung Dinh, the CEO and founder of DesignBold, needed to collaborate with a designer to create a Facebook post to promote his pitch at a start-up fair.

“The post I required was really simple - a frame, black text on white background mentioning the stage, time and date. But it took me several times calling back and forth and I spent approximately half of the day working on that simple task. That was the first time I wished I could design professionally on my own,” he says.

After a few more similar experiences, Dinh set out to make it easier for non-designers like himself to design with less time and effort, officially founding DesignBold in September 2016.

Since then, DesignBold has promoted itself through AppSumo, as well as through inbound, email, and referral marketing—primarily targeting “solopreneurs,” marketers, and bloggers.

“One of our clients who is a vlogger used our tool for almost every marketing channel that she owns, including her YouTube channel, Twitter, her eBook, and even some side projects for her clients,” Dinh says, noting she experienced a bump in both YouTube subscribers and views with these new visuals.


A visual communication ecosystem

On the surface, Dinh’s mission may sound similar to other design tools, like Canva, but in actuality it has a much broader scope.

DesignBold bills itself as a “visual communication ecosystem,” and the design tool is only a small part. The company is currently beta-testing a social media planner that aims to make it easier to schedule and post content, and further along on the roadmap is a marketplace that allows photographers and designers to sell their photos and creatives.

Building an ecosystem is not easy. Apart from the intense resources required in time, money, and manpower needed to create several interrelated products rather than just one, there is also the question of unity.

“The hardest part about building an entire ecosystem is how to make all parts collaborate seamlessly with each other so that our users will benefit the most from it,” Dinh says. As a solution, DesignBold is working closely with its users, particularly during closed beta tests, to gather feedback and use it to “perfect” the parts.

Dinh singled out the marketplace as the most difficult part of the ecosystem to build. From a technical standpoint, it’s easy - it’s the community building and quality control that will come afterward that is tough. The company has to develop the user base and ensure that there is a well-oiled mini-economy.

“We need to make sure that the quality of what are traded are guaranteed; and that those who transact through our marketplace earn real good money,” Dinh says, adding, “That’s no easy task.”

Other entrepreneurs in Southeast Asia may want to build an ecosystem in other niches, as what DesignBold is doing for design. What advice does Dinh have for them? His philosophy boils down to think big, but start small.

“Any ecosystem, or platform or two-sided marketplace include at least two parts, each part is made of thousands of different elements. Take ‘baby steps’ as we say at DesignBold everyday and build the parts gradually, but don’t forget to apply growth hacking tactics to grow your user base to prepare for the ecosystem,” he says.

This philosophy has served DesignBold well. For a start-up only a few months old, they are earning frequent comparisons to one of the biggest names in the space.

“People often say we’re Canva’s alternative or competitor, which sometimes makes us furious because we feel we have to catch up with them, but that also makes us happy. Because Canva is a big and well-known start-up, and they started 3 years ahead of us, with eight developers on the team and less than one year, we are happy that we built a tool that’s as good as what they have and will definitely strive to be better,” Dinh says.

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