April 6, 2022

Design Thinking And Scaling A Bootstrapped Startup with Win Lin

This week on the Scale Academy Podcast, Ned Arick and Hilmon Sorey are joined by Win Lin, Founder of Catalog, to talk about how he got started in design, his transition from graphic design to product design, why he chose to bootstrap Catalog, and his go-to-market strategy.

A Spirit of Interest

Win begins by admitting that, as he was about to make the transition from high school to college, he wasn’t very sure of what he wanted to do, but he wanted it to be something with business or engineering. He stumbled upon a School of Visual Arts, was enthralled by their portfolio of Nike and Coca-Cola ads, and decided that that is what he wanted to do. Throughout his time there he never really felt like he quite belonged, and upon graduation he landed a job as a graphic designer. However, with it being a time of a lot of big tech coming out, he quickly transitioned into product design. Continue listening at 00:27 to learn more.

The Transition from Graphic Design to Product Design

Win explains that graphic design is much more subjective than product design because everyone has an opinion; whereas product design is much more grounded in things that have been proven in data; tried and true cases. Product design can also lead into other functions such as marketing and growth, and this side of it is ever-changing. However, while there are many differences between graphic design and product design,  the fundamentals of both never change, so if you have mastered those things, then the shift from graphic to product design is not that difficult. Learn more at 02:49.

Measurement of the Impact of Design

Win feels that measurement is important to startups that are looking to test things and validate ideas, such as value props. However, when it comes to design, once you understand the trends, it becomes less about exploration and more about moving as fast as possible to be unblocked and not overperfecting. For Win, it becomes more about creating the assets to help unblock them. Continue listening at 06:49 to learn more.

Working with Startups

Win explains that when working with new startups, there are times when they have to do a lot more hand-holding than others. With startups that have never worked with a designer before, Catalog really has to take the time to explain how to work with designers, how to give briefs, what the pace is. Whereas, when working with startups who have worked with designers before, the things they care about are a little different; they trust the designers with more without all the hand-holding. Listen at 08:57 to learn more.

Why Bootstrap?

After witnessing what many founders go through with venture-backed startups, when Win decided to start Catalog, he decided that wasn’t for him. He wanted to build his business and have total financial and creative freedom. He did not want to have to answer to anyone. He liked the idea of controlling his own destiny, and this is what led him to bootstrapping Catalog. Learn more at 13:06.


When starting their own thing, people tend to want to do too much too soon; things that are outside of their own abilities. Win recommends, instead of going out and trying to hire a bunch of people to run the business, figure out what is in your wheelhouse, something that you can do yourself today, without hiring anyone. When Win started Catalog, he took on all the clients and managed them all himself until it became too much to handle on his own. Continue listening at 16:12 to learn more.

Acquiring the First Clients

At 17:25, Win admits that at first, the business was freelance- he worked it at night and on the side in addition to his full time job. He ended up acquiring his first client through networking with other people he knew. He also kept his pricing really low to be more attractive to potential clients. Continue listening to find out more.

Scaling the Business

Win admits that when it comes to scaling the business, he is not a big planner; instead, he looks for signals that it is time to bring more people in. The signals help him navigate what the next steps are and how to achieve them. Listen at 21:27 to find out what signals Win looks for and how they attribute to scaling Catalog.

Word of Mouth

Catalog is all referral-based. They do not do any sales or marketing and rely on word of mouth to get clients. Win designed the business this way in that he puts extra effort into their current clients so that they will go out and spread the word for him. Continue listening at 24:30 to find out more about how Catalog continues to thrive without any marketing.

The Theory Behind the Sales Process

Catalog charges a flat rate for their services. Win designed the sales process this way because he knew that the value that Catalog provides is worth way more than what they charge. He also saw that the bar was low because most other traditional studios do not cater to early stage startups. There are many small things that Catalog does in the way they operate that add up and resonate well with their clients. Win also admits that design is very hard to quantify, which is another reason they landed on a flat rate price for their services. Listen at 28:35 to learn more.

Design Application

Win gives his opinion who does great B2C design and who does great B2B design. His answers are AirBNB and Mercury. He goes on to explain, in-depth, why he chose these two businesses. Continue listening at 32:43 to hear his reasoning.

The Evolution of Design

In terms of aesthetics and usability, Win feels that B2B and B2C are beginning to merge due to how jobs work and who business owners are. This is why we are seeing more B2B apps that can really be used by anyone. There is also a lot of new innovation around how we think about design and certain paradigms are being broken down. Continue listening at 35:56 to learn more.

The Best Advice

Win feels it is important, in regards to venture-backed versus bootstrapping, to figure out what you really want in life. Take a look at both roads and think about what your life would look like either way. The decision you make can change the whole course of your life. Hear more of Win’s advice at 39:23.

Anyone that wants to contact Win can reach him via email at win@trycatalog.com or check out Catalog’s website and contact the team there.

Key Snippets

00:27 A Spirit of Interest

02:49 The Transition from Graphic Design to Product Design

06:49 Measurement of the Impact of Design

08:57 Working with Startups

13:06 Why Bootstrap?

16:12 Go-to-Market

17:25 Acquiring the First Clients

21:27 Scaling the Business

24:30 Word of Mouth

28:35 The Theory Behind the Sales Process

32:43 Design Application

35:56 The Evolution of Design

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