With more industries and organizations recognizing design as a pillar of business, a battle is brewing among makers of design tools. And with a fresh $40 million in Series C funding, Figma is ready to fight.
Cofounder and CEO Dylan Field explains that when he and cofounder Evan Wallace started the company, in 2012, IBM employed one designer for every 72 engineers. Today, IBM has eight engineers to every designer, and that ratio goes to 3:1 on mobile.
This shift, which is reflected more broadly across various industries, has led more people within their organizations to want to be involved in the design process. Which means that tools that once ‘got the job done’ for small design teams and individual freelancers working in a silo stopped being useful.
Field saw the need for real-time collaborative design tools, and dropped out of Brown to join the Thiel fellowship to build Figma. Since launch, the company has grown to 1 million sign-ups, with a total of $82.9 million raised on a $440 million post-money valuation.
Figma offers a freemium model, with the product remaining free up to three editors. From there you bump into the Pro tier, which offers unlimited version history and the ability to create a Design System for $15/month/editor. The org tier bundles in an extra layer of security and content control for $45/month/editor.
A big part of what sets Figma apart is its home on the web. Figma allows designers and collaborators to take care of every part of the process — from initial design to collaboration to storage to prototyping — right within a web app.
“We set out to make a cloud version of these traditional design tools,” said Field. “And what we realized is that once you put it all in the cloud, and make it so that the entire workflow across design and storage and prototyping and developer handoff and version control… once you connect all that, you’re not actually creating all those different products. You’re creating one integrated system.”
Because of this, common design problems like file versioning and real-time collaboration aren’t really an issue for Figma. Designers can work together, or make changes on their own, and those changes are reflected across the file in real time with a complete revision history. To share something new, they can simply send over a link.
Adobe and InVision, the two other big players in the ring, have both built native apps to handle the same full-stack problem of bundling design tools, collaborative prototyping, and file versioning together. Adobe has addressed its growing competition through its collaborative design tool Adobe XD. InVision, which started out as a collaborative prototyping platform in 2011, has either built or bought its products that expand up and downstream in the workflow.
And it seems that, for some big design teams, Figma’s web app has prevailed.
Which explains why Sequoia partner Andrew Reed changed his mind. Figma actually went to Sequoia when raising their Series B in 2018, and the VC firm passed up the opportunity.
“At the time, the product was interesting but the people we talk to about these products weren’t pointing to Figma as transforming their companies,” said Reed. “Over the past 12 months, things changed. We called people to ask their opinions and people were calling us proactively and telling us how impactful it was in their companies.”
After looking at the data, Reed said he discovered that there were Figma users at half of Sequoia’s portfolio companies. He reached out to Field, sent over a cap table in Figma, and within a week Figma closed on what could be seen as an opportunistic round, considering how recently Figma picked up its Series B.
But one perk of the deal is Reed’s experience from investing in GitHub, which is a great exemplar for design tool companies looking to bring some level of cohesiveness to a fragmented landscape.
“Collaboration is going to be embedded in the future of software,” said Reed.