[00:00:16] Matt Clifford: Hello, and welcome to the Entrepreneur First Podcast, where we uncover the stories of some of the world’s most exciting and impressive entrepreneurs. My name is Matt Clifford. I’m the co-founder of Entrepreneur First and I’ll be your host for this episode. Today we’re talking about how animation is eating the world. In today’s episode I spoke to Drew Ologunebi. Drew is the co-founder of LottieLab whose goal is to build the world’s best end-to-end editing platform for animation.
LottieLab editing platform is becoming increasingly well-known among developers who are using it to create everything from Duolingo characters to unique user experiences online. Sit back and enjoy our conversation about the new world of creating animations from scratch.
Drew met his co-founder Alistair Thomson at Entrepreneur First and together they founded LottieLab. I asked Drew to tell us a little bit more about what the company does.
[00:01:21] Drew Ologunebi: Very simply, we just make it very easy for designers and developers to create animations. We do that for an animation editor, which allows you to edit Lottie animations super fast. Currently, on the market, it’s the only dedicated animation editor to Lottie, which is the fastest-growing animation format right now on the web. It’s ridiculous how fast this is growing. It’s currently being used by over 80% of the top 100 apps on the App Store and to think there’s no other solution right now, except for after effects.
I’m sure you are a big fan of GIFs. We all love to use GIFs and send things, but GIFs have been around for a while, which has led to designers and other people leveraging it in websites and apps as a way of showcasing animations. If you want to have a product and you want to show your users how the product works and have some nice UI animations working, you’d right now probably just put a GIF in your website and show how it works. The challenge for that for products and digital environments is that GIFs are very heavy in terms of power size and they’re not dynamic. They’re basically just rendered images. You can’t do much with them, they’re quite static, but apps are moving, they’re interactive.
For you to really engage users today, you want to be as interactive as possible and that’s where GIFs is limited. Lottie came into the space as an animation format that exports as code, as a JSON file. What this does, it does two very important things for developers and everyone in the product development process which is it makes it really interactive. If everything on your website is code, including the animation itself, you can add some custom interaction. Maybe when someone scrolls on it, when someone’s visiting from a different country, you can then make those animations dynamic.
The other thing is that because it’s code, it’s also really small, you’re not using rendered images or really heavy files, which means you can then pass whatever performance benchmarks your website, your app does. If it takes a really long time for somebody to load the web, the users would leave the website pretty quickly.
That’s what Lottie animation, the format does, but how it came about was there was this challenge and the same challenge that everyone faces like if we’re not you using GIF, how do we have animations that’s code on our website? The way that’s currently done, or that was done before Lottie was companies like Stripe or the top tech companies would hire really expensive front-end developers that knew how to animate or also create those animations as code. They would essentially create coded animations from scratch.
If you look at the really fancy Stripe website, it changes the currency sign based on what country you’re visiting from. Those sort of dynamic animations are something that’s developed after a really smart developer would have to sit down and create those animations from scratch. What Airbnb was trying to do was to also have these types of dynamic animations on their apps, on their website, but they didn’t want to invest as much engineering time getting it done. They looked at what tool is out there that allows people to create animations? What can we leverage?
Obviously, After Effects is the king of the animations from Adobe’s perspective. They created a format that allows you to export those after effects animations into code. They created a plugin for it, the format, all that stuff, using an internal hackathon just to solve this problem. That’s how the Lottie animations format came up. That got open-sourced, got crazy adopted, has millions of users now globally that are using the animation format within their products.
We’re currently in private beta as of November, October, when we were raising our seed. Our promise to our early users was we would allow you to edit existing Lottie animation, so you can download from a marketplace or you could create it in After Effects and you can upload them into a LottieLab and then you can edit some of the stuff like the colours, the position, and some of this, but you couldn’t animate these things from scratch.
The reason we started with that was we wanted to ship quickly. We wanted to solve problem number one. Problem number one wasn’t a pro that needed to create animation from scratch. He was a designer on the team that also has an animator on that team. The animator’s created all that stuff on After Effects. To give you added context, this scenario was so common, it also happens with Duolingo.
As big as Duolingo is, or any amazing startup or company general at this point really, the process for creating animation still goes through an animator creating an After Effect, uploading it into a bunch of Google folders and stuff where the designers can then grab it. They will come in and then say they need to change a colour or something about it, send it back to the animator. They’re usually now quite busy and have a queue of work they have to do. For us, solving the problem for that person was just creating some way they can upload the animations to you and the rest of their team can then edit and do something with it, rather than create it from scratch.
That was the November promise. As of today, you can create animations from scratch in LottieLab. Our users are now using it for production-ready assets. There’s still some kinks and stuff to iron out for us to be ready for public data, but we’re well into our private beta right now and having users actually implement stuff with it.
[00:06:48] Matt: Drew’s inspiration for the company came because he encountered a problem that turned out to be a common one in the world of animation. Animations like GIFs taking a long time to load. I asked him to explain the problem and of course, LottieLab’s solution.
[00:07:02] Drew: I’ve been in the design space for over 10 years now. I started as a bright-eyed geeky kid in my teens. I’ve been playing with animations and UX stuff for a while, but not Lottie animation specifically. I bumped into Lottie animation I think three years ago initially, but when I joined EF, that’s when I met I guess my, we say comrade-in-arms. I met Alistair on EF and we got chatting just about how we both come from a design background. He used to build games. I used to work in agency stuff. We kind of started around the same age. We were talking about how to create really cutting edge user experience for our clients back then.
I was complaining about having to use After Effects to create animations and exporting them as GIFs. I came across this format with Lottie once, used it but couldn’t get the hang of it because of the open source stuff, so I stuck to GIFs. Alistair was like, “Oh yes, I use Lottie all the time. I’ve shipped a bunch of products in it.” We got talking about the challenges of just implementing animations, and that comes in two ways. One is, you need to know how to animate. Then two is you need to start to actually make it work in a tool. Those are two different types of skill sets.
One is a developer, the person that gets it working in the tool, and one is an animator, the person actually animating in the first place, but we now have a problem where both are now the same person within a company, within a team because it needs to be animated and implemented. You’re animating to put on a TV or in a YouTube video, you need to get it working in an app. You need a unicorn of a developer, essentially someone like Alistair, my co-founder. That’s how I came across Lottie, just geeking out about that with him and how we can make that much simpler.
[00:08:42] Matt: LottieLab makes it very easy to create and render animations. Now the company has a happy contingent of well-known beta users as proof. It’s always hard to convince the first few customers to try a new product, so I asked Drew how he did it.
[00:08:56] Drew: We used Reddit and GitHub a lot in the early days. Firstly, after having the chat with Alistair about animations, we were shooting in the dark, we were all over the place. This might sound a bit waffle-y because we did not know what the hell we were doing, all that kind of stuff. I reached out to a bunch of designers that I knew in the industry just asking about the design process in general, not even touching on animation specifically. When you’re trying to design an experience for a user talking through your product development process, rather than asking what features would you like and blah, blah, blah, just understanding that process from their perspective and then identifying what pain points and challenges they have within that process.
One of the largest pain points for designers actually was cross-verified as animations. They felt they had to be pro After Effects users that would go on YouTube to learn all the stuff in order to do animations. They end up pushing animations to the side, which makes them feel terrible as a designer. I really want a great product, but I don’t have the tools or access to make it work. That was the qualitative validation with data, just talking to people just to understand the process.
Then the more direct validation we did was we went on GitHub, and we went on the Lottie open-source format, and went through all the issues because it’s an open-source format, so went through the issues and categorised the issues. We had a Google Sheet, like an Excel sheet type thing. We found out that the majority, roughly about 70%, 80%, upwards of 60%, basically was about After Effects.
Even though the Lottie format, it was not an Adobe thing, if you go on the Issues page, the majority of the problem people were talking about was Adobe problems. We became an official support for one of Adobe’s products, which is After Effects. That was the second validation for us. One was people struggle with animations. Two is, even though they have this high-flying format, they really hate the process of creating it.
It then became more of a conversation and that conversation, the topic that we raised in each of those communities, we got the highest upvote for the day across multiple of those communities, which then sent a lot of people to our landing page, which we worked up. Spending too long validating something, and then having a long build process, and then finally getting out to people, that wasn’t really the way we worked. It’s the same reason why we did not like big corp, or that bureaucratic process to really validate something.
All of this happened within the space of a few hours. We had a conversation, we checked on GitHub, I went on Figma, gave myself literally a 60-minute timer from a Pomodoro perspective. Wherever you are, you get a– so got something done within 15 minutes that was shareable, and that went on Twitter. Put down to it and immediately LottieFiles, which is the marketplace for Lottie animations, and probably the most one on-brand for Lottie right now.
A bunch of people reached out to us from LottieFiles, the original creators of the Lottie format where Airbnb reached out to us as well off the back of that tweet. We got, I think, our first 200 to 300 signups within a space of a few hours off the back of that tweet as well. The conversation just happened there, me just leaking up, getting on panels to talk to people from the Lottie community. Within the first week I think we were quite sure that we’re onto something, I’ll say.
[00:12:31] Matt: What surprised you most about the way that users are using it? Is there anything that they do that you didn’t expect, or any use cases that were new, and not the ones that you originally planned for?
[00:12:41] Drew: One of the most surprising early use cases actually was people using it outside of direct apps or websites and stuff, and people asking if they can use it in shop displays, and in TV presentations. If you have a news reporter coming up, you generally get an animation that comes up saying hey, here’s this person, and here’s their name and stuff.
People are now asking about more interesting ways to do that since they can edit it easily across the team, their content creator can edit it. They don’t need a pro to do that work for them anymore. The same for your shop displays, we’ve had chats with people that have interactive smart shopping shops, and they have displays in there that shows animated content. How can users interact with that animated content by using Lottie? That was outside of our 16 to 9 ratio screen that we were expecting on websites and in ads and stuff.
[00:13:38] Matt: Wow, so basically, wherever there is animation, there is an opportunity?
[00:13:42] Drew: Yes. It’s so crazy to the point that I’m starting pet projects, like Arduino pet projects on the weekends where probably we use Raspberry Pi, I’m still deciding. I just moved into a new apartment and I decided to do all the artwork in the apartment myself. I was thinking of making one or two of those a Lottie animation. It’s anywhere in animation, or an interactive animation exists, connect it to the web and it would work.
[00:14:07] Matt: Amazing. Well, we’re going to come back to the idea and think a little bit about what your ambition is for Lottie lab in the future. Before we get too far into the future, let’s reverse gears again and go back into the past. You talked a little bit already about how you had a decade of experience in design. How did you come to decide to start a company? Is that something you’d always thought you would do or was it something that was more sudden?
[00:14:31] Drew: That’s a good question. I think starting a company is just an opportunity to solve a problem. I think it’s just a vehicle of problem-solving. Starting a company has not really been a goal on its own for me. It just happens to be the vehicle that gives you the most freedom to solve a problem, whether that be financially, whatever. I was also considering doing a PhD at one point and I got into UCL. For me the reason that I also made that decision was, “Hey, again, to research, I have a vehicle to solve a problem.” Starting a company or solving problems are things I’ve always done since I was pretty young.
After finishing school I had a studio around the Lewisham area, I got an office for like 500 pounds a month. I was 15 or 16 then. I would finish, go and go to the studio and take pictures and design stuff. I would get home pretty late. Sometimes I’d sleepover in the studio, and then shower there at the gym and go back to school the next day. I had that freedom from my parents. Starting a company has always just been, “Hey, I see a problem, I want to solve it. Does it involve starting a company? Yes, I’ll start a company. Does it involve any other way of solving that problem?” Then I just solve it from that perspective.
[00:15:47] Matt: I always love hearing from EF founders about what drove them to take the plunge into entrepreneurship. I asked Drew to tell us a little bit about what sparked his interest in the Entrepreneur First program in the first place.
[00:15:59] Drew: I’ve heard about it from different people. The main thing that really connected me to IT was friends and my direct network. I’ve had three or four people that’s been part of EF in previous cohorts that I knew quite well and also respected their opinions when it comes to startups and products. From talking to them they were like, “Hey, have you checked out EF?” I was like, “Actually, I’ve also got a message.” Everything just aligned and coincided at the same time someone messaged me on LinkedIn.
I was using an app called Snap where you meet random people. It’s like a meetup app, a virtual meetup app. Someone from EF also connected with me on that. They were actually on their way transitioning to…hey were like, “I used to work at EF. Yes, you should talk about this,” and we got talking. I think all of that happened within a space of a week, like friends’ messages and it just converged into a single decision.
[00:16:56] Matt: That’s amazing. I love asking this question probably because I realize how completely unpredictable marketing is. I think we’re obviously super happy to– we have you in the community, and then you look at how random these things are, and you’re like, “Oh, man, these things are so hard to replicate.” What about the process of then joining and meeting Alistair?
[00:17:17] Drew: Oh, yes, yes. I think the biggest thing, the biggest impact on that process, or the biggest factor that had an impact on that process was probably a friend of mine. She was on EF, I can’t remember which one exactly. She’s really cool in terms of the way she thinks about products and data and stuff. She’s a bit of a rebel when it comes to like, “I’ll just do whatever I want in my own way.” We tend to have this catch-up, and she was like, “EF would be a really good fit for the way you think and how you approach problems, you should definitely check it out.” I think for me, that was the single most, because I respected her opinion that much, so that was the single most important factor for that decision.
[00:17:57] Matt: Probably the biggest benefit of EF’s platform, in my view, is that it allows extraordinary people to meet a whole group of other extraordinary people who they might otherwise never come into contact with within that group to find a great co-founder, who ends up changing not only their goals and aspirations and their company but actually their whole lives. I asked Drew on this note to tell us a little bit about his experience working with Alistair.
[00:18:21] Drew: We started EF in April, I think it was late last year, 2021. When I joined EF I was already working on a startup, which was a way for you to create coded courses online. It’s a no-code way of actually creating coded courses, which is very funny. You can essentially create a data camp course, or a Codecademy course similar to using Notion.
I joined EF sort of still having that but was quite open and quite flexible to whatever problems I’m able to solve and met Alistair because we were just– I was just catching up with different people. I don’t think I really approached it from a “get a co-founder by this date” perspective, it was almost LIKE, “Have a chat with different people and see who you find interesting,” sort of thing.
I had a chat with Alistair, and it was probably the most organically interesting conversation I had for my entire experience. He also was the first person I ever formed a team with, and fortunately also the last. I think it was a thing where even if we weren’t working on LottieLab, we would have worked together on anything. We just really complemented each other well from skills, personality. Got to a point where people used to come to us for like design advice. We became the design guys for our cohort.
We’ve always felt, if we created a startup or we don’t, we just have a consultancy on the side, we both can create pretty much almost any consumer of any enterprise product you throw at us. We were pretty happy just even consulting whilst we built a startup if we didn’t raise on time. Yes, we were just connected that well. We were happy to do stuff with each other no matter what that was.
[00:20:07] Matt: I also wanted to know how Drew thought his skills as a founder had developed since he started LottieLab.
[00:20:14] Drew: Just creating stuff, not asking for any information, for any given information to just create. Something comes to your mind, get on YouTube, get on Google, figure out step one of creating that thing, and just start creating it. You don’t have to figure out how it becomes a billion-dollar company yet. You don’t need to figure out how to make it work yet. You just need to get into the habit of being able to produce work consistently. For me, the most impactful thing that actually helped me get ready for entrepreneurship was everything outside of the things that I actually planned. School wasn’t as helpful. Uni was an asset for work.
Of course every single one of this adds something to it, but the biggest thing was just this habit of not needing permission to create or produce stuff. I think that’s the only thing that separates someone that does something and someone that doesn’t do it. I don’t think there’s anything particularly profound. It’s just, you just do it. If you asked me to create a building, if I have an interest in creating buildings later on I think I’ll probably just go on the internet, read a bit about buildings for a while, and start creating buildings, even though I’ve never had any experience. I would mess up a few times, but eventually I’ll create something and that’s actually what it is.
[00:21:26] Matt: Alice likes to say, when talking to people about getting started is sort of what you’ve just said, which is most people won’t. When you think about all the people that could start the company that you’re going to start, remember that most people won’t. Actually, just getting started gives you a huge advantage, simply because there’s so much friction that people create for themselves around the decision to make a start. I think what you just said is so true, that really it’s the things that you get excited about, the rabbit holes that you decide you want to jump down that really shaped your identity as a founder, probably more than most of, as you say, formal educational for formal work.
[00:22:11] Drew: I think one of the things that is greatly underestimated, and especially since we’ve raised LottieLab, a lot, even though for my career a lot of people would come to me for advice in products, now a lot of people come for advice in startups. They’re like, “Hey, Drew, how did you raise? How did you do this?” I pretty much say the difference between who I was like the week after I raised and the week before was simply raising. Suddenly my advice has so much more gravity, but I’ve always been the same person before or after it.
I think it’s really the only thing that really separates someone that’s done something and someone that hasn’t done it is doing it. I don’t think you need a profound set of experience in something for you to just do it. It’s like when your parents call you and say, “Hey, my TV isn’t working. Can you fix it?” I was like, “Have you tried to switch it on, mom.”
Literally, people would look at me like, “Oh my God, that’s so smart. You fixed my laptop.” All I did was just, I didn’t know how to do it. I just literally tapped on it and something started working. I think that’s the first step that a lot of people miss, like, did you just click something, tap on something, do something? If you repeatedly do it, you find out the areas that you don’t know and then you figure it out.
Raising was pretty much like that for me. I’ve never raised from a driver’s seat perspective before. It’s always been working on products in the back behind the scenes. That was very much just ask as many questions, understand you don’t know much, and you figure it out. Then suddenly you’re doing something you never thought you could do before.
[00:23:46] Matt: Did you enjoy it?
[00:23:47] Drew: Yes. Actually, funnily I did, which is an odd one. It was very tedious. It was draining, but I actually got into the swing of it really well. I think we were doing, I think it was 14, 16 hours days for a week straight at some point, where the only time that I wasn’t raising was pretty much when I was sleeping, but it was quite funny, yes.
[00:24:16] Matt: There are lots of amazing highs along the founder journey but as I’ve said many times before, it’s also a role that comes with a lot of challenges. I wanted to hear from Drew about what value he feels he brings to LottieLab as a co-founder, but also why it’s so difficult.
[00:24:31] Drew: I think as a CEO you think about your role everyday like, “What am I doing that brings value to the table?” I think it’s two things really. One, you help gather the vision and communicate that, and two, you help unblock people. My role is not that– I’m not really a designer or a coder or a marketer or whatever. I’m whatever we don’t have right now. It’s either I hire what we need, or I become what we need. That’s literally two things.
If I’m the best person to become the thing that we need because I have the best skillset in it, then I’ll spend time doing it until I can scale it, like I can hire somebody to do it, but if I don’t have the skillset to do it, then I hire someone to do it. You define a vision, then you help people get there. That’s literally the two things you ever really need to do. Helping get there means finding customers, getting money in, finding the right people to hire, but whatever it is that you need to get from point A to point B, you either become that thing, or you find a way to get that thing into the company.
[00:25:25] Matt: That’s a really nice way of putting it. As you know, I’ve been running EF with Alis for over 10 years now. The thing that amazes me about doing the CEO role is, every year it really is like a completely different role in that the core focus of the business, the biggest goal for the business in any given year is different from the one before. I think one of the reasons that I still absolutely love my job and can’t really imagine doing anything else is that constant, as you put it, becoming what’s missing or at least becoming enough of an expert in what’s missing to hire for it. That I just find just fascinating.
[00:26:07] Drew: I think there’s certain types of people that really find themselves clicking in the role. I really find myself clicking on this. I had a product management background as well. That’s only because I also find product management to be the thing that I click with the most. The ability to just deep dive into various people’s spaces, but then I’m in the bridge of communication across everyone.
[00:26:28] Matt: One of the great privileges of working at EF is that we get to see companies like LottieLab go from being the two founders before they even know each other to a company that has a world class product, great investors, happy customers as LottieLab does now. Taking that perspective, I wanted to know from Drew, where do they go from here? How does he see the company’s growth in the future?
[00:26:50] Drew: Right now we’re super focused on solving the animation problem. Obviously, that starts with being focused on the Lottie problem, but we think the moment we solve the Lottie problem and help add the fuel to turning Lottie to the standard for animations on the web, which on its own is actually already becoming even without us doing that. When you add a tool that’s been democratised, you really add fire under something that’s really about to explode.
We expect over the next three to five years for Lottie to explode to the levels of like early days of PDF and GIFs, and stuff, and being used across pretty much every use case that involves coded animations. We will become the tool, the single place you go to, to create these animations across the board. We’ve had conversations with the likes of Google, for example, where the head of the design at Google Meets was talking about Google’s design system from a static design perspective, but not for– What is missing for them is the animation design system.
If you look at Google’s design system, material design system is being used by millions of developers globally, and it’s being referenced in so many different tools. Imagine that. Having animation components that can be used by all these developers as well. We think, for us, quite easily, LottieLab is already absorbing a lot of the animation processes.
Whether that’s the first step of the process of you going into After Effects for animating some stuff, whether that’s you then taking into your web and then exporting it, you’d be able to do every single one of these things within a single tool. That’s not just a pipe dream, that’s something we’re already enabling for our customers today where they can just copy a link on LottieLab, paste it into their code in the tool.
Every time they make a change in the tool, it automatically updates live in the product. There’s no handover process of having to send this file and give it to a developer and wait for the developer to implement it. We’ve cut out the developer headache, we’ve cut out the animation headache. We’ve cut out two pieces of really big tasks in there. That really gets us to a really wide community of people that want to use a product and into building the billion-dollar valuation range.
Beyond that, we also think that the way animations are used right now is actually quite limited because of what’s possible. Some of the things we’ve been reached out to is by marketers. They’re talking about dynamic advertising. If they can have animation that can be dynamically updated, and they don’t need a developer to do so, can they create animated campaigns that can be more interactive, so when it shows up on an ad display somewhere?
The moment you start having things like Facebook support Lottie or Instagram support Lottie, you start having really interactive animation formats where if it’s showing up in a different country, so if you have Duolingo for example being shown in Paris, you can have the Eiffel Tower in the background of the draw board. If it’s in Egypt, you can have a pyramid in the background of the draw board.
You get really interactive works when you have coded animations and then applying that to all interfaces. Whether that be a billboard, your digital billboards, that’s showing in different countries, for example, you can start tracking the data for that, you can start– because it’s code again, you can input, you can actually track data. You can get reports. Now this means that you use them, you can change it live, like there, you can adapt it, you can reorganise it.
We just take animations and we’ve just opened the lid and be like, yes, everyone can do anything they want to do with these things now in so many different ways. That’s super exciting to think how much the web, how much digital interfaces can change when things can move in response to the users without needing a developer to do that for you. As a designer, you can do that all within a tool.
[00:30:31] Matt: One of our big themes at Entrepreneur First is ambition. We think ambitious founders are so important. I wanted Drew to tell me a little bit about what he’s learned about his own ambitions since he founded the company.
[00:30:43] Drew: It’s a combination of two things. Before starting EF I don’t really see the point in limiting how big or how much you can scale something. I think if you limit it, it is only because there’s a valid reason, you need to sustainably grow for a certain reason. I don’t see, oh, we want to hit the point of becoming a billion dollar company, and that’s like, “Hey, I’m happy now. Happy days, let’s go away.” I think valuation is an indicator of how big you grow with an indicator of some form of indicator of success, but for you personally, like someone that really wants to solve a problem, all you want to do is just solve it as much as you can.
If that means billions of dollars in the company, then that’s what it is, but that’s not really the goal you’re aiming for you. I just want to solve this problem for as many people as possible. How that happens, that’s the second part, which is, as you start to build a product, then that ambition becomes clear. It goes from, I wish I could solve this problem for as many people as possible to you understanding how you can solve that problem for as many people as possible. That’s why I can then communicate like, “Hey, here’s LottieLab’s vision, our ambition,” but my personal approach to ambition’s always been, “If I’m going to solve a problem, why restrict how much of myself I pour into it?”
[00:31:57] Matt: Yeah, 100%. One thing I like to think about a lot, when you look at the process of entrepreneurship is that every time you achieve something, you unlock either resources or relationships or possibilities really, that make you reimagine how big what you’re doing could be partly because, as you’ve said, it helps you realize how unlimited the problem is and therefore the solution is. I almost feel like when you’re starting, you can think the number one goal is to solve this problem for this group. In doing so, you just discover just how big the problem is.
One of the things I love about my job is watching entrepreneurs discover just how big their own vision is as they go. With all this talk of ambition it’s easy to forget that another trait that is very common in entrepreneurs, even the very best entrepreneurs, is a touch of imposter syndrome. Drew told me it played a role in his journey too, so I asked him to share how he’d worked through it.
[00:32:56] Drew: Even in the past, not even as a founder, as a manager as well, when I had my first management gig, a team of 20 globally, I think I was, I’m still in my mid 20s, I was in my early 20s then. There were people that obviously were twice my age. Coming out of uni I still had this whole like, “Hey, people are older than you, have to respect that and all that stuff.” I had a lot of like, “Should I be giving this person tasks to do? How do I do that?” I had to learn how to get up to speed with that, but because of that prior management experience coming into the founding space, that made it a lot easier. I was used to the idea of people saying, “Hey, Drew, what do we do today?”
That was normal.
I still felt a significant amount because managing team of 20 and then managing a company that’s been valued, that you start asking yourself, “How do I maintain the ship? You believe in what you’re doing. You’re always like, “I’m really excited,” and someone suddenly puts all this money into it and you’re like, “Oh shit, I need to make this happen for real, for real now.” Initially, that can be an overwhelming thought. I don’t know, I like the idea of doing that.
I think for someone that’s always just looked at a big something you can’t do and you just fall straight into it, I’ve done some stuff in the past that, not necessarily achievement-wise, but decision-wise it was such a big decision to do it. I’ve thrown myself into environments where I was not sure or uncertain. Being in another environment where I’m unsure or uncertain feels like normal to a certain extent, but I still acknowledge the fact that I am unsure sometimes, I am uncertain sometimes. I do feel like, “Oh, am I the right person to do this sometimes,” but I’ve always felt that way my entire life.
Every time you go into a new experience, it feels exactly like that. I measure how much I’m growing by the amount of new experiences that make me feel that way. If I’m not constantly feeling like I’m out of my depths, or “I’m learning something that I’m not meant for” then am I really growing because every single thing I’ve ever learned at the beginning I wasn’t meant for it, and eventually, you just become the person for it. That’s literally how I understand it.
[00:35:25] Matt: Drew also tell me a little bit about the next big milestone for LottieLab.
[00:35:29] Drew: Just working towards going public. We will be in private for a few more months but we’re getting quite close in terms of the product and stabilising it so over the next few months we can go public. That also links into other phases like hiring. We’ve hired the first few engineers. It’s a fantastic team right now. I’m so super, super excited. People that have been embedded in the Lottie space, people that have built tools in the Lottie space, people that have built design tools before in the past like Sketch, which is a Figma competitor.
Just building that culture. I remember always talking to Alistair like, “Hey, it’s the two of us. We really get along so well. You’re the developer, I’m a designer but I also code a little, you also design.” The communication is almost telepathic at that point where I just know what he’s trying to do and I do it before he does it. We just move incredibly fast and with so much synergy. How do you then scale this into your first team? How do you scale that beyond that?
That’s a problem that’s on my mind a lot, is finding the right culture fit in terms of people to come and solve problems, problems they really enjoy. We don’t want to stress you. We don’t want to say, “Hey, start at this time and end at this time and do that.” We just focus on the process of hiring, which is, hire people that really geek out about the product, about the problem, and you just enjoy working with us. I think that is the second part.
The third thing that we’re really excited about going forward is just our partnerships and connections with different tools. Being able to consolidate all this broken animation process and design process, and bringing into one tool that links with everything you need. From LottieLab, it is going to web-flow, is going to WordPress, is going into every React, or is going into View. Being able to consolidate and bring everything that makes our designers and our customers really stressed right now and saying, “Hey, you only need to do it in one place and it works everywhere,” I think that’s also another thing I’m super excited about us doing.
[00:37:34] Matt: My second of my three final questions is, if you weren’t building LottieLab, what do you think you’d be doing?
[00:37:42] Drew: I’m very sure that would be– It definitely would be working on a different project, funded or not funded. It’s just something I’ve always done. It’s not because people ask this question and say, “Hey, Drew, how are you so disciplined to get stuff done? How do you arrange your time? How are you so driven?” I think that’s the term people use, “How are you so driven?” I’ve never really processed myself doing things as me being driven, it’s you can’t help it.
It’s like an itch, you have to scratch it. Is like being hungry, you have to feed yourself. You have to drink water. It’s like, “I have to create.” I don’t read self-help books to create or try to find motivation to create. It’s just, you wake up in the morning and you see something that doesn’t work the way you like it to work, and you’re like, “Oh, how can I fix that?” That’s just how you think all the time. Either way, I’d be creating something right now, whether it’s a piece of art, or whether it’s a product that solves a problem for someone.
[00:38:39] Matt: I always like to close by asking founders what advice they would have for people just starting out. People who are in the position today that they were a couple of years ago or in Drew’s case, maybe a year ago. Here’s Drew’s advice on how people can take the leap into entrepreneurship.
[00:38:56] Drew: It’s a lot of advice you can have, I guess. The most fundamental one for me is– I’ll split the advice into two things. One is one for the founder themselves, how they approach how they think. Two is how they approach product. For how you approach just thinking and being a founder in general is the majority of the things that you would do would be the first time you’re doing it, it doesn’t mean that you’re not the right person to do it. I think in the past six months it was my first time doing probably 80% of the things I was doing.
I don’t really see professions as something that’s locked. I don’t think you start off being like, “I’m going to be a founder or CEO.” I don’t think that’s a job you go to school and learn or get MBAs for or something. I think if you have an interest or passion for something you just immerse yourself with the people that you want to solve this problem for, and just do it. I think that’s literally the biggest thing that people don’t do is, literally, just doing it over and over and over and over again until it makes sense and that’s the only way you can learn. If you sit down in your house and you anticipate all the things that could go wrong with your idea, and you think about the things that could go well with it and you have all these things that you’re really excited, “Oh my God, I’ve got this billion-dollar idea,” and it’s all in your head, this doesn’t really mean anything.
The same way that you can say, “I’ve got this idea, but it could go badly,” that also doesn’t mean anything. I think the only thing that really counts for something is you doing it, but doing it in scales. Rather than, “Oh, I’m going to build a really big company and it’s going to take me a year to build the first product for that company,” is how can I build a version of it in a week or in a day? Scale it down and then just get the first version done so that you can then learn it iteratively because we’ve evolved and changed so much by just putting something out there all the time.
We were building in public from day one, so we were just putting something out there. Just getting things out there consistently and getting feedback is probably the only way you can really be sure of what you’re building, whether what you’re building works or not. If you haven’t done that, have the most confidence you have in yourself that it will work because you need it. You need that confidence to get up, to keep working, to send all those emails, to send all that stuff that it’s going to work. Until you’ve invalidated it, be confident. If you have the default to do anything, default to being optimistic because you need that optimism to keep doing things. Once you’ve defaulted to being optimistic, ship quickly to then validate that optimism as consistently as possible so you can pivot.
The second one, which is very much more product-specific and I think a lot of people don’t do this even though they know that they’re meant to do it because it’s not muscle memory is just being obsessed with your customers. I think this has been said so many times and yet I see people skip it. It’s like, “I’ve got a really great idea, I’m going to go create it because it works for me,” and you never really talk to people about it.
I think the more you just talk to people, just understand their process and don’t ask them, “Oh, what features would you like or how would you like these features?” Being obsessed with customers, meaning understanding, and immersing yourself in their process as much as possible, so how they do stuff. I don’t even just ask about how people animate stuff, I ask them how they start their day, what’s the most important thing to them in their day, how are they motivated? Because the more you understand the full cycle of how your user gets up, gets into work, you understand all the breakpoints and all the blockers they have in terms of even getting into your tool.
A lot of the problems people have sometimes with using animation tools is not even within our tool, it’s before they get inside our tool. We have to understand who they are before they get inside our tool. So, “Oh, before I get into LottieLab, I have to go on Figma, I have to create some illustrations.” I need to understand that so I know, “Okay, we need to create a plugin to work with Figma.” The broader you can understand your customers’ process, not just what’s happening within your tool, the better you can really shape the product to be more of a solution to their problem rather than just a product.
What I mean by a solution to their problem is, I need to pick a specific context. If you imagine that someone is a customer service representative and they have to talk to customers every day, but before they do that they need to log a bunch of work and they need to maybe access the customer details, everything that happens around your tool, you need to be so aware of it because then you know the right places to plug into to make that person’s life easy and actually solve the problem rather than just give them a tool that they have to then go away and think, “What else do I need in order to make this all work for me?”
[00:43:21] Matt: That brings us to the end of this episode of The Entrepreneur First Podcast. Hope you enjoyed hearing about how Drew is changing the face of animation online through his work at LottieLab. Join us in the next episode where we speak to more founders who are solving big problems in the world. If you enjoyed this episode, please do subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. For more information about Entrepreneur First, visit joinef.com. As always, thanks to Cofruition for consulting on and producing the podcast, and thank you for listening, catch you next time.