Designer Sophie explains what we can learn from start-ups

Could RSA Digital become more like a start-up?

Walking into the grand foyer on my first day, a building dedicated to the RSA brand, was a bit of a shock from my start-up background.


As part of my degree, I was lucky enough to have ventured to Amsterdam to work for a start-up as a UX/UI Designer. Spending six months at the start-up was an amazing and eye-opening experience. With no knowledge of how start-ups work, having previously only done internships with well-known brands, it was amazing to see how the company and team functioned.

I’ve now been at RSA Digital a couple of months as a UI Designer,  and have found many differences.  Below I have outlined some of my observations on how a start-up differs – the good the bad and the ugly…

The website went down – quite often!

It would be very rare for the RSA site to go down, and if it did it would be big company news. However at my start-up it was quite a common occurrence. Although usually within half an hour it would be back on (panic over).

We worked quickly 

The start-up philosophy was to make as much as we could and release it as quickly as we could. We would learn from our mistakes, and if things didn’t work, then we would find a way to improve it.

We committed to one week sprints and published in that time. The advantage of this was that we were able to build features quickly. It was a great way to get quick results for the better or worse. The disadvantage was there was a lot of bugs which were carried over to the following week.

At RSA this is one start-up mentality we have taken on – to be agile, test and learn quickly. We are constantly looking at ways to speed up our work process and have dramatically improved our production of work since first launching.  Having dedicated scrum masters and product owners keeps us on track to ensures we are achieving our goals (often over achieving!).  Having a thorough review procedure in place ensures quality is met, reducing mistakes spotted at release.

The company’s future is uncertain

90% of start-ups fail – it’s bleak but true. You need to be able to persuade investors your business is worthy of investment and be able to outline when and where you will be able to make money. If you don’t grow quickly you run out of money.

Every company has the potentially to go bust, however at a start-up this could happen suddenly, in a matter of months. If you or any members of the company don’t believe in the product, it is likely to fail.

The product isn’t always right

Insurance as we know it has been around for decades. As a product it works and people will buy it. Trying to convince people a new product they haven’t heard of, didn’t know they needed or want, is a challenge! That said, we do have challenges to create the insurance products that are right for our customers, and also to make sure we sell them in a way that’s appropriate and enjoyable!

Testing was experimental

The amount of traffic to a start-up website can be small, making it hard to get good results from A/B testing. The amount of traffic RSA has offers a great opportunity to collect valid results from a large number of people quickly.

We didn’t have the resources to do in-depth analytics, so multiple people (including myself) had to monitor our traffic. It’s nice to have specialist analysts who monitor and interpret data so well.

I got involved in everything

Working for a start-up you get involved in all areas of the business and everyone knows what is going on (like juicy gossip). In contrast, at RSA it’s harder to know what is happening in every area of the business, so you have to make an effort to connect to wider teams.

My role included bits of design, wireframing, content, copywriting, testing and analytics. Being introduced to a team of UX Experts, Analytics and Content writers, and being able to work together and ask for help is a great resource to have at hand here in RSA.

On the plus side…

Despite a few negatives working for a start-up also has a lot of pluses and rewards.

Community spiri

The biggest plus of working for a start-up in my opinion is the community spirit.  Someone once pointed out to me how unusual it was that everyone sat down away from their desks and had lunch together. It’s something that I hadn’t thought was unusual and is the done thing b0y all start-ups I have come across (unless this is just a Dutch thing!). This gives the team a chance to talk about something other than work and builds strong relationships within the team.  It’s something we could adopt here at RSA Digital – the chance to be social is always good!

This year at RSA Digital we have started to introduce more opportunities to get involved with team activities, (for example our successful volleyball and football teams) and it’s something we’re trying to encourage further. Next year we’re looking forward to having a ‘proper’ social team and a new charity team. We also started a lunchtime running club this year which is proving popular!

The future

I’m excited for the future to be part of a large organisation. One of the main things I missed with a start-up was having other designers to learn from. Now being part of a team of designers we’re able to share our work and get feedback on how it can be improved. I believe this is essential for becoming a better designer.

I thoroughly enjoyed my time working for a start-up and I think there are definitely things we can learn from the start-up mentality.  I admire everyone’s passion they have for a product, even if no one knows whether it will succeed or not. Everyone takes on the responsibility of being a key part in the success of the company. The ‘can-do’ attitude, that if we want something done we can do it ourselves, is great for capability building, and something that will stay with me.