Figma, Speed of Execution, and $20 Billion

Last week, Adobe announced that it will acquire Figma for $20 billion. That’s a massive outcome for founders, employees, and investors. Digging into Figma’s history, I noticed something interesting. The company was founded around 2011, about eleven years ago. But it didn’t launch the product until around 2015. Even then, the product wasn’t readily available—it was launched to a group of private beta users around 2015 and made publicly available around 2016. That means the company spent roughly four years getting things right before putting the solution in customers’ hands.

Speed of execution matters for start-ups. It’s one of the most important characteristics of successful founders. It might appear that Figma wasn’t executing quickly since it went four years without shipping a product. Given the product’s growth post-launch and this acquisition, I’d bet otherwise. I don’t have any direct knowledge of this situation, but I suspect the team was executing quickly—it was just that what they were trying to accomplish was so massive that the hurdles were extraordinarily high. They were trying to displace entrenched tools like Photoshop (which Adobe owns). They likely had to dive deep to understand the component problems with tools like Photoshop and to understand what users needed (not wanted) and then take a first-principles approach to create a new solution. That’s not an easy or quick process.

I’m sure there were lots of mistakes along the way, too, that prolonged things. But in the end, Figma spent four years building a better mousetrap to disrupt Adobe (and others) and ended up getting acquired by the eight-hundred-pound gorilla it disrupted. I’d say things worked out pretty well and the approach was the right one for what they were trying to do.

When you’re trying to accomplish something great by disrupting incumbents in an established industry, speed of execution is crucial, but it might look different (especially to those outside the company). And that’s OK as long as the end result is a solution that’s ten times (at least) better than what’s already available. Figma understood this and ended up with a superior product that customers (and now Adobe) love.