23-Year-Old’s Design Collaboration Tool Figma Launches With $14M To Fight Adobe


Image Credits:

“Which version of this design are we on? Did you make the suggested edits? Why is it taking so long to export?” Today, interface design collaboration tool Figma arrives to eliminate these questions with its browser-based alternative to Adobe’s desktop software.

Figma constantly saves projects in the cloud with version control so teammates can always review, go back and modify, or comment on designs in real-time. Its free preview program begins admitting teams off its new wait list today.

Figma co-founder and CEO Dylan Field
Figma co-founder and CEO Dylan Field

Figma was co-founded by now 23-year old Thiel Fellow Dylan Field. It’s also announcing its $14 million Series A led by Greylock Partners’ John Lilly, which adds to the $4 million seed from Index. It’ll need that cash to challenge design tool giant Adobe.

Field tells me his big competitor “doesn’t understand collaboration”, and the Adobe Creative Cloud is “really cloud in name only”. He insists that “Design is undergoing a monumental shift — going from when design was at the very end of the product cycle where people would just make things prettier to now where it runs through the entire process.” Figma wants to do for interface design what Google Docs did for text editing.

Currently, collaborating to build a UI is more work about work than actual work. If one team member wants to change an icon, they have to find and download the latest design, check email or Slack for commentary, make an edit, save it, export it, upload or email it, and then wait for everyone else to jump through these hoops. Making the actual design change took only a fraction of that time.

That’s because despite advances elsewhere in the collaborative web, design industry juggernaut Adobe was developed as a solo desktop software experience. Field derides its big claim to be building a Creative Cloud as merely a business model change from software sales to monthly subscriptions.”I think Adobe would have made greater strides towards collaboration if that was in their DNA” Field says.

You might mistake it as naive arrogance, but his youthful confidence is what it takes to battle the design Goliath.


How did the collaboration idea start? Field tells me “I grew up online. I started using productivity tools when Google Docs came out almost 10 years ago.” That would be when Field was just a teenager “I was such a huge fan and used it for all my school projects”. He dreamed of a similar tool for interface design while interning at Flipboard and LinkedIn. Then at Brown University Field met the guy who could build it, WebGL prodigy Evan Wallace, who’d engineered at Pixar and Microsoft. Together, two started Figma, as in, figment of your imagination made real.

The two knew building something that could stand up against Adobe’s products would be no light endeavor. “That’s why it took so long. We started this over 3 years ago” but it’s only coming into the light today. Until now, the only clue to Figma’s purpose was a financial filing hinting at photo editing.

Comments v 2The core of Figma is a browser-based Photoshop, but that sacrifices breadth of use for depth in interaction design. Every change to a product is saved automatically to the cloud for collaboration, and version control lets users rewind a project to previous states. It eliminates the need to constantly email or Dropbox files.

One special feature is a comments sidebar so teams can communicate about edit suggestions and feedback right within the product, though Figma also jacks into Slack. A constraints tool makes it easy to build for different screen sizes, and device previews let you instantly see how an interface would look on an iPhone 6, iPad Pro, or other gadget.

Right now you can share brand color sets so everyone on the team knows what to design with, but Figma is planning shared asset libraries too. Eventually it hopes to build its truly killer feature — real-time simultaneous design editing, with two mice going at it.

Field tells me the company conducted extensive research studies on designers. “We did tests where we’d ask them to complete a task in Figma and complete it in other tools.” He admits that when you put your app up against the industry standard, “you quickly realize where your product falls down.”

That’s why Figma is concentrating solely on interaction design, not every other type of creative output. “We’re not trying to tackle everything Adobe is doing”. That’s smart. Just grappling for UI creation will be very tough. Designers are a persnickety set who may be stubborn about changing their workflows.

Grids - Constraints -Device Preview

The 15-employee company will be aggressively hiring with its $18 million in total funding from Greylock, Index, OATV, ICONIQ, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, White House Chief Data Scientist DJ Patil, Wealthfront CEO Adam Nash, and former Head of Design at Dropbox Soleio Cuervo.

To pay that back, it’s planning a monthly subscription SAAS model, though Field hasn’t decided if Figma will charge per seat or a flat rate for teams. For now, though, teams can sign up for the free Preview Program.

Figma In Use

Figma isn’t the only startup eying the shift of design from an after-thought to a process that permeates every part of product development. There’s hardcore desktop design software like Sketch. For collaboration, there’s also startups like Wake’s super lightweight tool that lets designers quickly share design prototypes and ideas, and tools for bridging designers and developers like Y Combinator’s Zeplin.

But Figma is going big, battling Adobe head on rather than nipping at its heels. It’s a quest worth pouring one’s energy into, Field concludes. He says Figma’s mission is “to eliminate the gap between imagination and reality. We can make tools that allow people to express themselves and get ideas out of their heads. I can’t think of anything more exciting to with my life.”

More TechCrunch

A new crop of early-stage startups — along with some recent VC investments — illustrates a niche emerging in the autonomous vehicle technology sector. Unlike the companies bringing robotaxis to…

VCs and the military are fueling self-driving startups that don’t need roads

When the founders of Sagetap, Sahil Khanna and Kevin Hughes, started working at early-stage enterprise software startups, they were surprised to find that the companies they worked at were trying…

Deal Dive: Sagetap looks to bring enterprise software sales into the 21st century

Keeping up with an industry as fast-moving as AI is a tall order. So until an AI can do it for you, here’s a handy roundup of recent stories in the world…

This Week in AI: OpenAI moves away from safety

After Apple loosened its App Store guidelines to permit game emulators, the retro game emulator Delta — an app 10 years in the making — hit the top of the…

Adobe comes after indie game emulator Delta for copying its logo

Meta is once again taking on its competitors by developing a feature that borrows concepts from others — in this case, BeReal and Snapchat. The company is developing a feature…

Meta’s latest experiment borrows from BeReal’s and Snapchat’s core ideas

Welcome to Startups Weekly! We’ve been drowning in AI news this week, with Google’s I/O setting the pace. And Elon Musk rages against the machine.

Startups Weekly: It’s the dawning of the age of AI — plus,  Musk is raging against the machine

IndieBio’s Bay Area incubator is about to debut its 15th cohort of biotech startups. We took special note of a few, which were making some major, bordering on ludicrous, claims…

IndieBio’s SF incubator lineup is making some wild biotech promises

YouTube TV has announced that its multiview feature for watching four streams at once is now available on Android phones and tablets. The Android launch comes two months after YouTube…

YouTube TV’s ‘multiview’ feature is now available on Android phones and tablets

Featured Article

Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

CSC ServiceWorks provides laundry machines to thousands of residential homes and universities, but the company ignored requests to fix a security bug.

1 day ago
Two Santa Cruz students uncover security bug that could let millions do their laundry for free

OpenAI’s Superalignment team, responsible for developing ways to govern and steer “superintelligent” AI systems, was promised 20% of the company’s compute resources, according to a person from that team. But…

OpenAI created a team to control ‘superintelligent’ AI — then let it wither, source says

TechCrunch Disrupt 2024 is just around the corner, and the buzz is palpable. But what if we told you there’s a chance for you to not just attend, but also…

Harness the TechCrunch Effect: Host a Side Event at Disrupt 2024

Decks are all about telling a compelling story and Goodcarbon does a good job on that front. But there’s important information missing too.

Pitch Deck Teardown: Goodcarbon’s $5.5M seed deck

Slack is making it difficult for its customers if they want the company to stop using its data for model training.

Slack under attack over sneaky AI training policy

A Texas-based company that provides health insurance and benefit plans disclosed a data breach affecting almost 2.5 million people, some of whom had their Social Security number stolen. WebTPA said…

Healthcare company WebTPA discloses breach affecting 2.5 million people

Featured Article

Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Microsoft won’t be facing antitrust scrutiny in the U.K. over its recent investment into French AI startup Mistral AI.

1 day ago
Microsoft dodges UK antitrust scrutiny over its Mistral AI stake

Ember has partnered with HSBC in the U.K. so that the bank’s business customers can access Ember’s services from their online accounts.

Embedded finance is still trendy as accounting automation startup Ember partners with HSBC UK

Kudos uses AI to figure out consumer spending habits so it can then provide more personalized financial advice, like maximizing rewards and utilizing credit effectively.

Kudos lands $10M for an AI smart wallet that picks the best credit card for purchases

The EU’s warning comes after Microsoft failed to respond to a legally binding request for information that focused on its generative AI tools.

EU warns Microsoft it could be fined billions over missing GenAI risk info

The prospects for troubled banking-as-a-service startup Synapse have gone from bad to worse this week after a United States Trustee filed an emergency motion on Wednesday.  The trustee is asking…

A US Trustee wants troubled fintech Synapse to be liquidated via Chapter 7 bankruptcy, cites ‘gross mismanagement’

U.K.-based Seraphim Space is spinning up its 13th accelerator program, with nine participating companies working on a range of tech from propulsion to in-space manufacturing and space situational awareness. The…

Seraphim’s latest space accelerator welcomes nine companies

OpenAI has reached a deal with Reddit to use the social news site’s data for training AI models. In a blog post on OpenAI’s press relations site, the company said…

OpenAI inks deal to train AI on Reddit data

X users will now be able to discover posts from new Communities that are trending directly from an Explore tab within the section.

X pushes more users to Communities

For Mark Zuckerberg’s 40th birthday, his wife got him a photoshoot. Zuckerberg gives the camera a sly smile as he sits amid a carefully crafted re-creation of his childhood bedroom.…

Mark Zuckerberg’s makeover: Midlife crisis or carefully crafted rebrand?

Strava announced a slew of features, including AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, a new ‘family’ subscription plan, dark mode and more.

Strava taps AI to weed out leaderboard cheats, unveils ‘family’ plan, dark mode and more

We all fall down sometimes. Astronauts are no exception. You need to be in peak physical condition for space travel, but bulky space suits and lower gravity levels can be…

Astronauts fall over. Robotic limbs can help them back up.

Microsoft will launch its custom Cobalt 100 chips to customers as a public preview at its Build conference next week, TechCrunch has learned. In an analyst briefing ahead of Build,…

Microsoft’s custom Cobalt chips will come to Azure next week

What a wild week for transportation news! It was a smorgasbord of news that seemed to touch every sector and theme in transportation.

Tesla keeps cutting jobs and the feds probe Waymo

Sony Music Group has sent letters to more than 700 tech companies and music streaming services to warn them not to use its music to train AI without explicit permission.…

Sony Music warns tech companies over ‘unauthorized’ use of its content to train AI

Winston Chi, Butter’s founder and CEO, told TechCrunch that “most parties, including our investors and us, are making money” from the exit.

GrubMarket buys Butter to give its food distribution tech an AI boost

The investor lawsuit is related to Bolt securing a $30 million personal loan to Ryan Breslow, which was later defaulted on.

Bolt founder Ryan Breslow wants to settle an investor lawsuit by returning $37 million worth of shares