How an Intern Became the CEO of a 2 Billion Dollar Company

A Journey from an Intern to the CEO

Dylan Field along with his fellow co-founder, Evan Wallace, started to work on Figma, a web-based design and prototyping tool for vector graphics editing, in 2011. At that time, they were students at Brown University. Since middle school, Field had a profound interest in design but went on to pursue computer science at Brown University.

Dylan soon started to realize that his major in the field of computer science may not align with his interest in designing; hence, he went on to become an intern at a news-sharing service Flipboard. He took a semester off to work at Flipboard where he found his niche. At that time, he had no idea that in 2015, he would be spotted in the Forbes 30 under 30 list of successful entrepreneurs.

In 2012, he managed to get one of the highly funded fellowships, Theil Fellowship, by billionaire Peter Thiel for his astounding tech startup idea. The huge fellowship grant of $100,000 rendered him the opportunity to move to San Francisco by dropping out from his studies to work full time on his idea. Later, Field also managed to raise a funding of $3.8 million to turn his photo-editing startup into a million-dollar company named Figma.

Figma is Forbes’ one of 25 fast-growing, venture-backed tech startup companies to make its presence in the 2019 Next Billion-Dollar Startups. Field managed to raise equity of $83 million from giant venture companies like Kleiner Perkins and Sequoia. Moreover, the company stands with an overall net worth of more than $2 billion and is in the talks to raise more funding of $50 million from another venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz.

“During our starting days, we wanted to hire a lot of people, who wouldn’t meet with us because they were like, ‘I don’t want to work for a 20-year-old’,” says the now-29-year old CEO Dylan Field, reminiscing his early days. He added that “Now I’ve learned a lot by being a founder, but I’m still pretty young and have a lot to learn still, to be clear”.

A Shaky Debut to a Successful Company: Challenges and Fears

It’s true that Field had a profound startup theory to turn his dream into reality, it took him a while to prove his worth. From its founding year in 2012, Figma faced issues shipping the software to its beta users until 2015. With issues resolving bit by bit, it was in 2017 when Figma finally launched its premium plan.

Field didn’t take the delays and hurdles as a failure; he took it as an opportunity to evolve because, according to him, it was a journey to generate revenues for his new tech startup which would help them acquire more customers in the near future as their formal clients.

“As word got around about that and realized it’s more efficient, that’s when we started to see the hyper-growth”, Field said in one of his statements. He added that they were ready to take the risks even if there was only a 5% chance of success.

Becoming a CEO from just the position of an intern was no less than a challenge for the 22-year old tech-mammoth. He was faced with the fear of either losing his employees or recruiting those who weren’t capable enough to lead the competition. Not only he had to grow himself, but also had to hire a team of renowned players because they were racing against the time and had to compete with Adobe, which was making great efforts to attract customers with its improved designer collaboration.

“I did not even how to manage as a CEO directly after my internship”, Field once said. He hasn’t hired people; instead, he has been hired by the people. “I didn’t know the basics to have good judgment around who to hire. When we were 10 people, I was a year into management. Usually, if you are a new manager, you manage a few people. I was trying to do this at the same time and get the product to market.”

Raising funds was another challenge for the young Field. He was not sure as to whom they should approach for the funding, and with what claims about their product. But they faced a great turning point when a venture capitalist and partner at Greylock, John Lilly, agreed to invest in Figma’s seed round to test waters.

This was a wake-up call for Dylan and his team to embark on a journey they were not sure would succeed, but with time, Figma managed to gain momentum and refine its pitch. With Lilly’s Series A funding of $14 million in December 2015, Figma leaped one step further to prove their market presence.

“Design has become a core function across industries, and yet years later, there is still a massive gap between where design tools are and where they should be. Today, we work together in real-time, and we collaborate using web­based tools,” said John Lilly. “Figma brings design online; it hard to overstate how much this will fundamentally change the way teams design together.”

Figma is also working on growing its team and making acquisitions of amateur tech startups and businesses. This will be a better way to expedite their business by linking with others. According to Field, he calls it “acquihiring”: a way to hire more employees who are already part of a company. Field also believes that collaboration with other companies will lead Figma way ahead of its competitors, and raise the company to the pinnacles of success.

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