Interviewing Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures

Heather McGough, Associate Producer of FailCon, took a moment to interview Braden Kowitz of Google Ventures.  He is passionate about creating great user experiences on the Web.  Over the past four years, Kowitz has been focused on helping Google teams design and launch the first version of their product.  He has led design for Google Buzz, Gmail, Google Apps for Business, Google Spreadsheets, OpenSocial, and Google Trends. 

Kowitz shares that he is currently working on building a Design Studio to support all of the 100+ portfolio companies at Google Ventures. He explains that with so many companies to work with, each day is different. “Some weeks my entire design team is on site with a startup, and together, we work through one product iteration loop. Other days, we’re out of the office talking with users.” The day I interviewed Kowitz, he was building an interactive prototype for a startup that will be shown to customers.

When asked about one business lesson Kowitz’s learned this month, he said, “I’m a bit of a perfectionist – I deeply care about quality. And when I’m working on a project with a startup, I tend to want to get it absolutely perfect before I show it to anyone. But lately, I’ve been stopping sooner and getting feedback on my half-finished work.” 

Kowitz says he’s always liked showing rough sketches to teams. But now, he’s showing sketches and totally unfinished crazy ideas to customers. What happened? He says he’s learning nearly the same amount as if they’d polished that design, and in half the time!

“It’s easy to think about showing your work as a moment of judgement – a time where your idea will succeed or fail. But if you can let that go, and forget about failure, then showing your work just becomes another opportunity to learn though feedback. And if you listen carefully to that feedback, it’ll make your work even better in the end,” Kowitz advises.

When asked what his biggest piece of advice for first time entrepreneurs would be, Kowitz answered, “Stay curious.”

Kowitz continues, “Once you begin a journey to build a product, it’s easy to put the blinders on, sit down at the keyboard, and ship features as fast as possible. However, the best entrepreneurs that I know continue to wonder… What do customers really need? Is this feature we shipped actually working? How does that other startup hire such great people?”

Kowitz shares that getting out of the office to answer those questions is the key to continually improving your product and your team.

At FailCon on October 22, Kowitz will talk more about failure and design. He says, “I’ve failed so many times as a designer. I’ll build a prototype that the team thinks is amazing, we’ll show it to customers, and they won’t understand half of it. FAIL!”

But should designers see that as failure? Do engineers and others see that as failure? Do we embrace the failure and adjust, or do we ignore failure and build the original design that everyone liked? At FailCon, Kowitz will talk about that moment where he finds the world isn’t as he had hoped, and how embracing that failure can help us all build better products.

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