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Interview With Minh Dao of Tattoo Hero

Tattoo Hero is on a mission to unite the multi-billion dollar market of tattoo industry. Today I am having Minh Dao, a multidisciplinary Canadian designer behind the Tattoo Hero. Minh has formerly designed at IBM Watson Analytics and currently is a co-founder of Tattoo Hero as chief product (design) officer.

I’ve reached out to Minh to get to know more about his path to success, challenges and his workflow when designing for a startup. I am pretty sure you will find some interesting facts from Minh’s biography so let’s dive straight into the interview.


Minh Dao played baseball for Canada.

What is your biggest passion and why?

I have a few passions: obviously design, technology and sports (I also really like sushi, ha ha).

I’ve always been obsessed with design and being creative. I grew up with technology all around me, and it naturally intertwined into my love for design. I always excelled at sports – I played baseball for Canada when I was 17 (at the Little League World Series), I also played for my university. I really thrive in pushing myself and playing within a team. I think the three passions often intersect and that’s where I excel.

How did you get into design?

Right through grade school all I did was draw. I went through hundreds of sketches in a few days. When I was in high school I was introduced to a technological design class where I naturally did well. I was lucky a teacher pushed me to pursue industrial design and ultimately a design career.

How was it working at a big name brand company?

Working at IBM was great overall. You meet a lot of great talented people in a large company like IBM and I was lucky enough to also work on great innovative projects as well. You learn to to work with many types of stakeholders, working with fortune 500 clients and understanding the business side of design.

I remember getting the chance to meet Ginni Rometty before she became CEO of IBM and hearing her speak in person, her charisma, it really opened my eyes and taught me what it is to be a professional.

What is the story behind the Tattoo Hero?


Tattoo Hero is a success story out of Startup Weekend. My co-founder Steve Tannahill pitched the idea (covered in tattoos, co-founder and CTO) of creating a website that would help people find the right artist in your area. The pitch won 1st place and I soon after convinced my colleague, Brandon Waselnuk (co-founder, CEO) who was also at IBM to do business strategy. We then went on to build our MVP together and launched at Montreal Startup Festival last year. The first day we launched we were covered on Techcrunch and Venturebeat which also inadvertently took down our servers. We later received funding from Real Ventures through their accelerator Founderfuel and raised an additional $250,000 seed round of investment. We are excited to be releasing our beta of Tattoo Hero Books, our software which powers the backend of tattoo shops.

What are the main differences between corporate and startup design process? Pros and cons?

I was fortunate to work in companies where the culture was based on user centered design (UCD) and design first type processes. The biggest contrast between the two is speed. In a startup you can be very agile and be ready to pivot quickly without severely damaging the company’s progress. As a designer and a co-founder I get much more input, impact the product and can advocate for design without much resistance.

In a corporation there’s bureaucracy, meetings, politics and variables that can influence the final product (sometimes sacrificing the design). I do think these things are important especially at large scale to keep accountability, but it also is a con. The cons of a startup is definitely time, time to do the entire process (personas, user stories and producing multiple iterations which you often do in a corporate/design firm environment).

At IBM I learned to hone my design style and skillset, being an young entrepreneur is about learning on the job, it’s all about experience and accelerated learning. I’ve learned more in the last 6 months then in the last 2 years at IBM.

As a designer how do you maintain energy levels so you don’t burn out?

Good work = energy = coffee + music + exercise + party (letting loose) + sleep. Energy level is not the hard part it’s making sure you’re always in a creative mindset, that you’re able to solve problems efficiently – that can be really tough in a startup.

Good work = energy = coffee + music + exercise + party (letting loose) + sleep.

Sleep is really important (even though I tend to work late, I always makes sure I get enough), after that it’s about getting your creative juices flowing – good tunes, good coffee, in a great spot for you to work. For me it’s in a busy cafe with headphones (with some EDM or Jazz).

We always say “Work smart and not hard.” That’s how you burn out.

What is the biggest mistake you did and learnt the most?

I don’t have any mistakes I look back on really, but more growing pains early on in my design career and in school. When working on a project I use to always design for others rather than for myself. I use to make changes directly based on a professors or colleagues feedback and criticism even if I disagreed and was more knowledgeable on the project at hand. Eventually I realized the work I was producing was not my own and was unhappy overall. Soon after I started to design for myself using my intuition. That’s where I really started to find myself and my own design style.

Why so many young designers and entrepreneurs fail with startups?

“B idea, A+ team” holds to be very true in a lot of the success and demise of startups.

When my co-founders and I get together and really hit rock bottom I can always trust they will never quit, find a creative solution and that they’re absolutely exceptional at their respective jobs. A lot of the successful designers I see are multi faceted and have a good understanding of technology and for business, I think that’s really important. I find a lot of designer’s can be very removed from the company overall so it’s important to have skills like marketing and basic coding for example.


Twitter: @tattoo_hero

Founded: November, 2012

Headquarters: Ottawa, Canada

People: Brandon Waselnuk, Minh Dao, Steve Tannahill

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