The Myth of the Design Studio Turned Product Company


37Signals successfully navigated the path of going from a design studio to being a software company. In the process of doing that they unknowingly started the mythology that every design or development studio should become a product company.

Kevin and I have on more than one occasion sat back and talked about what it would look like to pursue a product “on the side”. We dipped our toe in the water with a couple of (wicked) small offerings that exposed us to what that would look like on a more consistent basis. While that effort showed potential success, it didn’t take long to realize that it wouldn’t be sustainable.

I’m not sure how much that directly correlates to us being a two man shop with no intention of hiring/expanding, but that little experience was eye opening for us. It directly challenged what we had established as foundational for client work, it proved to distract from that very quickly. And we were barely in the game.

We realized that we started Iron to Iron as a client services company. We feel that we have a solid process down, happy clients, and we’re really proud of the work. We actually liked client work. Why are we rocking that boat? I think this article really nails down the subconscious that I think formed for both Kevin and I (and the rest of the industry) from stories like 37Signals’.

It seems like everyone is still striving to become some sort of overnight success by building a product that takes the world by storm and gets them out of client work. I’m not sure about all of the other shops pursuing products, but I think if you’re in that boat it makes more sense to think about whether you’re trying to build a product or simply get out of client work.

Edit/Update: I read this article as I was catching up on my to-read queue, it was published more than half a year ago. It turns out it caused a bit of a discussion, to which a lengthy reply was published. All that to say: there are definitely multiple angles to think about here, and as many others have mentioned I tend to agree with the overarching myth being how long things take as opposed to the very specific correlation with a single company in all of history.