When Townsquared set out as a San Francisco startup aimed at creating an online community for local businesses, it wasn’t obvious that the company was on its way to becoming an incubator for CCA alumni.
With their “We love local” tagline, Townsquared was founded in 2013 with Series B funding from tech giant Intuit and is headquartered about a mile from CCA’s San Francisco campus.
More than three years later, that local love is still ingrained in Townsquared’s corporate culture, with four CCA graduates on its design team, including two team leads and two designers who were Townsquared interns while completing their degrees.
Townsquared’s mission is to create places, both virtual and actual, where small business owners and staff share advice and resources.
These alumni proudly ascribe this ethos to the core values they learned as students in CCA’s Graduate Program in Design.
Of classrooms and community
Maru Carrion (MFA Design 2015), a former Townsquared intern who is now a product designer and researcher on staff, was introduced to the company by adjunct professor of design Christopher Ireland.
She says she still applies CCA lessons about the importance of observation as well as her exposure at CCA to the concepts of placemaking and community, to her everyday work.
“In my Business of Design course, they broke down complex ideas around business and strategy in a way that is not only memorable, but actionable to a designer,” Carrion says.
Carolyn Packer (MFA Design 2014) credits CCA’s emphasis on human-centered design with helping her succeed at Townsquared, and she also completed an internship at the company before becoming a full-time product designer and researcher.
“The idea of making work that matters has always resonated—that you’re making something that brightens or improves someone’s life.”
Townsquared Visual and Brand Lead
“We learned how to do research to gain empathy for the people we were designing for, and to have a strong understanding of what the problem is before coming up with solutions for how to tackle it,” Packer says.
“When you spend so much time getting to know your customers, it’s hard not to be passionate about solving problems for them.”
Among the problems Townsquared has notably been working to solve is the effect of the rise in encampments in San Francisco on small businesses. The company recently was recognized in the San Francisco Chronicle for helping their members create a channel where local business owners could come together to share information and updates on safety and other issues that were affecting them and their customers.
“The idea of making work that matters has always resonated—that you’re making something that brightens or improves someone’s life,” says Townsquared Visual and Brand Lead Tan-ya Gerrodette (MFA Design 2012).
“The design team has had to be flexible and fill a lot of different roles as this startup has grown, and getting collectively exposed to that at CCA was a good foundation.”
Creating networks that matter
Miwa Ikemiya (MFA Design 2012), Townsquared’s Chief Design Officer and also the company’s first employee, says she drew on her CCA network to hire and build the company’s design team, which was made possible by keeping close contact with her CCA professors and mentors as well as by her engagement with students as a mentor herself.
“So many classmates that I’m still in touch with are from CCA’s alumni network, and being able to compare notes to see how designers are viewed at different companies, at different stages, has been very illuminating,” Ikemiya says.
“So was being able to rely on teachers to be our sounding board, especially early on, when we were building a company from nothing.”
Looking back on her experience at CCA, Ikemiya says her coursework was as valuable as her networking opportunities. “I realize now that I took foundation classes for granted,” she says.
“But those are actually the classes that I still remember and use now, especially Business of Design.”
The language of humanity
“The Townsquared design team has operated as an amazing unit from the beginning because we had this common language. We were really able to lean on a process that had been taught to us,” Ikemiya says.
“Human-centered design can be applied to almost any challenge or problem, and we were able to apply that not only to the product and community we were trying to build, but also internally with the growth of the company, to channels of communication, prospects, and how to develop prospects.”
Ikemiya still considers Townsquared a startup, and says a learning curve will always be part of the design process.
“The startup environment is really about being a little bit scrappy, trying things out, experimenting, and not going in with the idea that we know everything,” she says. “The tools to help us do that is what we learned at CCA.”