When I was younger, before entering the world of entrepreneurship, I wanted to be a film director. These are normally completely different fields, but read on and you’ll see how a lesson from film school carried over to our company, Picwing.

In film, there’s a term that’s used often by directors shooting a movie: “Kill your babies”. When shooting a film, you sometimes take a shot that you fall in love with. The composition, lighting, and focus are so perfect that you say to yourself, “I have to use this shot”. The only problem is that you have another shot that, for various reasons, makes more sense to use in the film. It may not be as beautiful or flashy, but using this shot will make the entire film better, as opposed to just the scene. From the 3rd person, the decision is simple: Make the whole film better, not the scene. But from the director’s perspective, it’s hard to throw away the shot that he/she falls in love with. Getting rid of this shot is like “killing your baby”.

Step I: The Drunken Rage

“Killing your babies” is just as important when running a web-based business. At Picwing, we recently made the transition to monetization by introducing Picwing Automatic Photo Printing. But we loved the design of our old homepage. It was simple, clear, and served its purpose of getting people to sign up for a free account. You can see a screenshot of our homepage design below.

 

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Step II: The Hangover

We loved our old home page design so much that we kept the overall site design the same, even though we were launching a new service. Sure, we changed a few images and text here and there to talk about the new product, but the design was by-and-large similar

Before launching, we met with Paul Graham of YCombinator, who provided the initial funding to our company. What he said to us was surprising: “You have a design hangover”. What he meant was that we had been drunk with love for our old design. Now that we are selling a new product, our drunken rage had ended, but we were still hung over. He suggested we change the design to better reflect our product and increase sales before launching.

We made some changes, but, as you can see from the screenshot below, we didn’t really take the advice whole-heartedly. We launched our photo printing service still hungover. And the results showed: 3 weeks passed and we wern’t getting the number of customer signups that we were looking for

 

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Step III: The Detox and Recovery

Our first 3 weeks was a sobering experience, and we learned a valuable lesson. A certain web design may work before, but when launching a new product, or making the move from a free to paid service, you can’t expect the same design to sell. We spent the next couple weeks redesigning and iterating our home page to better sell our product. I think I can go through each of the things we changed, but I think the differences are quite obvious, as you can see below

 

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Step IV: The Happy Ending

I’m happy to say that the redesign of our site has made a profound difference in sales. I now realize that Paul Graham saying “Get over the design hangover” to me was really the same thing that my film school teacher told me so long ago: “Kill your babies”. While we didn’t get a single signup using our old, hung-over design, we began seeing dramatic increase in sales almost as soon as we killed the design we loved so much and put up a new one. While we still have a long ways to go, I think we made a very important step in the right direction.

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