Democratising design

Third Design is a 3D design platform headquartered in Tunisia. It was founded in 2019 by Safwen Bouali. This week we caught up with him to learn more.

What challenge does Third Design solve?

We empower everyone to design immersive experiences. 3D has long been a field for experts, but it has shown promise of being the next medium in media consumption. Our platform enables non-technical people to create 3D scenes, animate them and publish them easily without having to download or learn any software.

What‘s the story behind the company?

Originally, my co-founders and I were mixed-reality enthusiasts. Back in 2015, the Microsoft Hololens announcement blew our minds with what is possible. We took the view that MR (Mixed Reality) would be the future of computing so we set our careers on that path. 

I was a game developer, Cherif (CIO) was a mixed reality developer and Amine (CTO) was a cloud and devops engineer. 

While building games and MR experiences, we noticed that an average experience can take us from 3 to 12 months in development time, so we thought, if we’re struggling to ship fast, maybe others like us are too.

That led us to understand that the basic 3D creation tools are not as democratised as 2D (look at Canva, Figma or even Adobe), so why not bring that future closer for everyone?

How did you get Third Design off the ground?

From the get go we wanted to steer clear of any competitions and contests, focusing our time on shipping value for one of our customers, a local automotive company. We understood a simple business principle that the more value you create for your customers the faster you grow. So we acted on this.

We got scouted by Flat6Labs Tunis, where we raised our first pre-seed round. They provided us with support and mentorship during their acceleration program. From there on, we joined multiple programs in Station F in Paris, but most importantly partnering with Zendesk to bring our solution to the customer experience space.

We raised with Kepple Africa Ventures and some Tunisian and French business angels after that, in order to be able to focus on finding product-market-fit and growing from there. So far we’ve raised a total of $250K.

What went into building the early stage product?

As we are 3 technical co-founders, we leveraged the “customer discovery method” by Steve Blank to try and decide what to build. Many mistakes were made, but we were able to iterate very fast. We shipped tens of iterations, with learnings on the market coming from each one.

What’s your tech stack?

We delivered on many platforms early on but now we are focusing our efforts on the web, distributing under a SaaS model. Leveraging the cloud from our different providers, namely AWS and Google.

Where do you currently operate?

Currently we are based out of Tunis and Paris. Our product is international by nature so we certainly have big ambitions from that perspective.

What’s the existing startup landscape like in Tunisia?

Tunisia has one of the most promising tech landscapes in Africa, capitalising on a proximity to the European market in terms of geography and culture. Many tech firms set up shop in Tunisia due to access to top quality talent at very competitive costs.

The startup scene is flourishing especially with things like “The Startup Act” which puts the legislative groundwork to help entrepreneurs and investors alike. Certainly there is a lot of “legacy” legislation putting one roadblock after another for founders, but what are founders without challenges ?

What’s your business model?

A subscription model which is free for now. We truly want to democratise 3D.

What metric do you use to measure success and why?

Happy customers is our only metric. We measure happiness by two things: the amount of output (aka content generated) and NPS scores. The customers side is pretty easy to grasp - we measure MAU’ (monthly active users).

What’s the most useful tool you use in your business?

One of the most useful things is to “not get held up on tools”. Picking a tool can become a task in itself, we’d rather focus on results, no matter the tool. On the collaboration end, we took a bet on Teams as early as mid-2019, and that bet paid off.

Third Design was recently selected as one of 15 companies to join Google’s Startup Accelerator for Africa. Can you tell us more about the application process?

GFSAA has a smooth yet selective selection process. The whole thing was a breeze and we enjoyed meeting and chatting with the Google team. We share the same values of lifting and uplifting the continent, and here we are working with google towards that.

What company do you look to for inspiration and why?

There are many companies we look up to, namely, Github, Stripe (Paystack wink wink), but let’s stick to our field. Canva did something nobody thought was possible - making everyone a designer. The whole story of digital inclusion and giving superpowers to everyone is inspiring, that’s what we aim to achieve.

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt so far?

Thinking actively about the product and customers. Everything else is noise. It’s easy to get lost in the noise or get bad feedback. Knowing where you are in terms of stage and what you need at that stage is crucial, a matter of life and death for your company.

What are your views on the African tech ecosystem?

The tech boom is coming, the internet is changing mindsets across the region by educating people and setting higher standards. 

Not all people who want higher living standards flee their homes, some, choose to stay and create that reality here. In the next century, we’ll be telling the stories of those who stayed and created opportunities for others.

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