How bringing UX design thinking to companies helped Motivate Design land on the Inc5000

How do companies on the Inc. 5000 list grow so rapidly? We interview Inc. 5000 compa-nies’ CEOs to break down what they do differently and find out as much as possible about their ‘secret sauce’. Today, we interview Mona Patel, founder and CEO of Motivate Design (Inc. 5000 honoree).

NXT: What is Motivate Design?

Motivate Design is a User Experience research, design, and staffing company.  We help businesses figure out what customers need and want from their products or services, and then we design solutions. Design thinking is all about using creativity to solve business problems.

NXT: And where does the “staffing” part come in?

In 2010, I started UX Hires as a separate entity.  While some companies wanted to kickstart the design and User Experience thinking and methodology within their existing teams, other companies wanted 10 fresh people to join their team – and we would help with recruiting them.

With many companies looking to bring UX thinking and methodology inside their walls, embedding this philosophy into the brand was really the right way to go.

NXT: How does a “UX Thinking” project work?

First, you need to make sure that you’re solving the right problem.  We typically ask questions and do a few activities to make sure we’re not just focusing on a symptom.

Then, you want to bring in divergent thinking by coming up with as many ideas as possible.  The key is to explore and cultivate potential solutions by creating a truly democratic way for the team to contribute.  We set up activities that encourage teams to go beyond the moment when they think, “I’m out of ideas.”

We typically get 60-80, but of course that’s no way to end a design process.  So, with a few more techniques, we narrow it down to the best ideas in terms of feasibility and driving impact.

And finally, we sketch out and prototype these ideas.

The whole process often takes 1-2 days, depending on the client’s desired pace and depth, and it’s very effective.  You can learn everything about our 8-step process in my book Reframe, and learn more at its website.

NXT: When did you start Motivate Design?

It all started in 2009, but it wasn’t a conscious decision. I never thought, “I need to leave my job and start a company.”  Not at all.

I had been using the method of design thinking for a while, and I saw what people were doing wrong.

Many were focused on odd things: why do people click, how long does it take to go to a page?  It was all too mechanical.  Big data is a great resource, but there was no soul or empathy behind it.

Instead, I feel we need to understand and measure what drives people and how to keep them engaged with a brand.

So we have developed — and keep refining —  our proprietary methods to help brands understand how they can better serve their customers.  Not based on what they say they need, but by doing the work to learn what they really need. That’s what leads to the brand affinity that everyone’s looking for.

NXT: Can you share an example of how you’ve helped companies?

Sure, there are many examples: a cable company coming for installation, switching energy providers, opening a bank account.  Think of all the interactions in your life that may be frustrating, and that’s where we come in.  We fix bad processes, and that usually translates into shorter cycle times and lower costs for the company, while making for happier customers.

Take an energy client of ours.  We did an in-home study to map out the complete customer journey.  It was a micro-moment by micro-moment flow of what a customer goes through —  including what they hear, feel, and say.

By doing this, we could help our client identify opportunities to streamline operations and pinpoint gaps where there was room to innovate and create a much better experience.

The outcome was:

  1. Increased customer satisfaction scores
  2. Received a JD Power & Associates award
  3. Saved money (by digitizing components of customer onboarding that no longer needed to be supported by labor)
  4. Launched a self-serve product (and saved a lot more money)
  5. Increased employee satisfaction (people began calling to say, “love you guys, you made this super easy!”)

When you improve the design of customer experiences, you can have a measurable and direct impact as well as meaningful ripple effects.

NXT: How did you find your first client, and how did you grow from there?

Clients came directly to me initially, and now to the company.  How?  This came as a result of investing in myself and offering mentorship, advice, and expertise for free.

NXT: How did you “invest in yourself”?

I gave talks, without being paid, on topics such as how to recruit hard populations, what I learned at NASA, or what I gained doing research in a hospital for a month.  I didn’t have an expectation of getting anything for doing it  — and I was doing it for 10 years before starting a company.

NXT: But how can someone go about getting these talks?

It’s really much easier than people think.  You can start by going to a Meetup, connecting with an organizer, and offering to be on a panel.  Perhaps you can put together a panel to help them out, or give a talk by yourself.

And I recommend starting an industry blog or posting on your LinkedIn page.  The more niche you are the better, as you will attract the exact audience you need.  You don’t need thousands or hundreds of thousands of people.  Getting a few hundred of your ideal audience is a great position to be in!

You can also reach out to industry organizations.  I used to reach out to a large UX-related organization and submit myself as a potential panel member, and they’d call me when they had openings.

As soon as you start putting yourself out there, things start to snowball.

NXT: How are you winning clients now?

It’s entirely word of mouth, and we’re very proud of this.  It’s good to know we’re doing right by our clients and they are spreading the good word around.

We have many thoroughly happy clients that come back again and again.  They treat us like a true partner, and recommend us to people they know.

NXT: Why do they choose to work with you, instead of going to competitors?

When you have a creative agency like I do, things are much more subtle than if you sell a product. There’s no spec sheet to share or features to point to. So it all boils down to this: can you convince the client that you’ll take them from point A to point B?

It’s about having the right people, methodology, and mindset.  And the client has to believe that yours is the right mix.

At some point, you will come across clients where your approach doesn’t work or they don’t believe in you.  And you have to be okay with that.  You can’t be authentic and resonate with everyone.

It’s best to cater to your ideal clients and be comfortable saying “no” to other opportunities.

Yes, it’s difficult.  And it will be tempting to branch outside your core expertise and clientele, especially when times are lean, but from my experience you should resist.  It inevitably leads to trouble.

NXT: What’s your secret sauce to growth?

I believe it has to do with our passion.  I truly believe that UX thinking and design are critical for the success of a business, and can have a huge impact.  This belief and passion comes out whenever we’re meeting with clients, and it spills over to the rest of my team.  There’s consistency in our passion for what we offer.

Many companies are compelled to chase all opportunities, but that disengages you from your mission and therefore your passion for what you do.  Clients can pick up on that.

Passion resonates!

NXT: So what’s next for Motivate Design?

We’ve been working a lot on digital interactions but there’s an untapped space of human interactions.  Think of all the layers where things can and do go wrong during human interactions.  I’m really fascinated by the question: “Could I be an interaction designer that does some good for the world?”

So we want to explore non-digital human to human interactions, and see how our design thinking can improve upon them.

I’m also working on a second book.  It’s animated and, while it may look like a children’s book, it’s designed for adults and companies.

The story is about an elephant, who sits on and breaks a swing, but then comes up with an even better version.  There’s also a skunk that always says “no” and ruins everything.  The revelation is that you can have either the elephant or the skunk mindset.  You can be a spectator, or engage and ideate!

Motivate Design


Maria, Associate Editor at B2BNXT and Business Development Associate at Startup Baker.

At Startup Baker we're a team of entrepreneurs who are NOT about selling courses, but rather we're passionate about truly creating success stories. Our platform produces courses featuring business practitioners and experts, as well as supporting communities, to help you build the business of your dreams!

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