It took guts to build such a complex app in the browser at the time
Back in 2012 when Dylan Field was a student at Brown University, he came up with the idea of building a browser-based design tool. At the time, design tools were all on the desktop, which meant that designers worked alone, sending files for review to the various stakeholders involved, then making changes based on feedback in a rather inefficient non-digital loop.
Field and co-founder Evan Wallace launched Figma to completely alter the design paradigm, one where instead of printouts traveling back and forth between reviewers and designers, everyone could work in the same tool together.
It was not unlike Google Docs, allowing multiple people to work on the same file at the same time, leaving comments and generally interacting and collaborating with each other on the web. The problem was that web technology in 2012 wasn’t really ready to enable this kind of design functionality and deliver it in real time to multiple users. Design is far more complex than a text document.
What’s more, designers seemed to like being in control of their tool and having the stakeholders come to them. Even after Figma overcame all of the technical hurdles to deliver a viable working product, it had to overcome user resistance to this approach — even though it seems like the most sensible approach in the world today.
It took until 2017 for Field and Wallace to bring a product to market to the point where they could start collecting revenue, yet their investors remained patient, recognizing that revolutionary ideas sometimes take time to bake.
It was worth the wait. By June 2021, the company collected a $200 million investment on a $10 billion valuation, and then in September 2022, Adobe announced its intention to buy the company for double that. The deal has run into regulatory scrutiny in the U.S. and Europe and remains in limbo for now, but the story of how it got to this point as a $20 billion company, overcoming countless technical hurdles, while tenacious investors stood by, is a compelling one.