Head of Product Design at Product Hunt shares her tips for building your own freelance business

Juraj Mihalik

Hi Julie. Please tell us who you are and what you do.

Bonjour! I'm French, and I come from a neighborhood Fox News once called a "No Go Zone." I'd not recommend my hometown to tourists, but I can say many good people grew up there and made the best out of what they started with to have a good life. I want to think I'm one of them.

Just like when you’re starting a new project, I’ve found that starting life with limited resources pushed me, and others, to be creative and persistent. Proving people wrong was and still is fuel for many, myself included.

Now, after 13 years of design under my belt, I'm the Head of Product Design at Product Hunt, where we help startups and fellow makers build and launch their products. I still live in France, more precisely in Paris, and I'm part of a fully distributed team which covers many timezones and many more ways of thinking.

Did you always want to become a designer?

When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming an architect on the Moon. Don't ask me why I was sure that by the time I’d be an adult, we’d be living there, and I was so ready for that. I’d draw beautiful little houses and then build them with LEGO before covering all this with a transparent plastic bowl, you know because you’d need a "bubble" for the oxygen and all. My parents are still making fun of me about all this.

And then, when I was a teen, we got the Internet at home. I don't remember what came first, the video games or the websites but I remember the first time I made a website for someone else. A Counter-Strike team needed one, and I was pleased to oblige. Soon, other teams asked me to create theirs, and that's how it started.

Around 14, I tried to explain to my parents why I didn't need a classical education because I’d decided that building websites would be my job. I couldn’t convince them and ended up graduating from high school. I applied to many universities and design schools, I was open to either design and programming... and got accepted nowhere. As I said earlier, the place where I grew up didn’t have a good reputation, and sadly, it still impacts students coming from my district nowadays.

Luckily, I found out about a school that offered apprenticeships in design and visual communication. For two years, I worked half-time for a web agency and spent the rest of the week in class. Being an apprentice, I was paid, which gave me my independence and the opportunity to leave my hometown. My salary was lower than my share for the rent, and I quickly started freelancing on the side. I worked hard to put my name out there: I participated in design contests and awards. Lost every time but didn’t give up. Eventually, I won a competition, just at the right time.

I had applied to the Gobelins, my dream school when the prestigious design magazine that organized the design competition published a full-page about me. Perfect timing to shine and be remembered during the application process. I was accepted in the Graphic and Motion design class of 2009.

What were you doing between leaving Dailymotion and joining ProductHunt?

Not long after graduating from Gobelins, I joined the video streaming platform Dailymotion for my first full-time design job at a startup. Working there was a fantastic experience. At first, I was as a web designer, and I mostly made banners and ads, but I wanted to do more and was very open about it to my colleagues. Some of them became my mentors. I was excited to go to work and happy to stay at the office to work on side-projects.

On a Friday night, with the lead front end engineer, we created a webpage to show the capabilities of the HTML5 video tag. A few weeks later, that same project was on a giant screen at the SXSW. I soon became a side project addict: I rebranded Dailymotion in my free time before making a presentation to the C-levels and seeing my little project turned into something real. I did the same with many components on the platform. Designed the first iOS app with the founder. The company paid for an ergonomy and user testing class, and I was offered the role of "product designer."

I was among the first people in France with this job title, and soon enough, I got many offers from other startups. Later, I joined Deezer, a music streaming platform where I founded the Product Design team and implemented new design processes. I enjoyed my time there very much but looking back; I was probably working too much, which explains why I left after a couple of years without knowing what I wanted to do next.

Many things happened between my time at Deezer and now. I worked for a long list of startups (Mention, GitBook, Dashlane, Prestashop) as an employee or freelancer in France, and I even founded mine before meeting the founders of TM, a design studio based in SF in 2015.

I was excited to join TM because I could work on several products, never get bored working on the same thing with the same problems and people. I also discovered remote work for real. Not just working from my home office, but working with different timezones, different ways of thinking, and languages. I wanted freedom, and TM offered it to me.

Product Hunt was a client of the studio and one of my main projects.

You’re building a platform called Remote Stories. Tell me more about this project.

During a Christmas break, two Product Hunt employees and I started Remote Stories; a website where people can share their experience about remote work freely.

Remote Stories homepage

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We've collected so many stories about remote work. It helped us understand how complex all this is and what people need for remote work to be possible for them. Some stories are our motivation to fix things, and others are what we would like to offer to everyone.

Remote Stories jobs board

For the past few months, Ayrton De Craene and I have been improving the website. We've invested time and efforts on accessibility. Remote work could help disabled people get their dream jobs in comfortable conditions or people who live in faraway regions. It's important to me that our product is easily accessible to them.

Remote work could help disabled people get their dream jobs in comfortable conditions or people who live in faraway regions.

We're currently working on resurfacing remote jobs and companies and our long-awaited newsletter!

Remote Stories - Story

As you mentioned you joined Product Hunt where you’re leading the product team. How did you end up there?

After almost two years at TM working on Product Hunt, I was simply in love with the product and the team. I joined them full-time, first as a product designer and now as Head of Product Design.

New PH homepage

We used to have a flat organization structure where everyone led their projects without anyone to oversee things. From a design point of view, it created problems because we lacked consistency, but more than that, it slowed down implementation and the product itself. My role is to prevent this from happening again as well as to facilitate my teammates' work.

Our design team's mission is to create tools that are easily usable and updatable. To ensure our products are accessible to everyone, no matter where they come from or who they are.

New PH post flow

My end goal is for Product Hunt to be an online tech hub that is safe for everyone. And yes, I hunt on Product Hunt! One of my projects was hunted back in 2014, and it changed my career for the better.

What projects are you currently working on?

We're a small team with around 20 people, and we are dedicated to our mission. On the design side, there are two product designers and one graphic designer.

Updating the comments on PH

Every quarter, the entire team discuss projects and help build the roadmap. We have a feature team model, meaning that a few people will be working on a specific feature or project during the quarter. I like this system because it allows rotation and also gives everyone a chance to lead their project. This quarter, we've been focusing on features for the community.

Dan Edwards, Senior Product Designer, has been leading efforts on what we call "Makers," our community section. He and his team have been improving the experience, adding features people have been requesting and much more. I'm pretty excited about this because Makers is a project I started last year, and seeing another designer turn it into something great as Dan did is very satisfying. Sometimes, you need fresh ideas to make a product shine.

Poll system on PH

On my side, I've been working on our Discussion system. Comments on Product Hunt exist since, well, I don't even know. It's been there for a while now. We’re improving users and products mentions, notifications, updating the text editor and making some other changes I cannot discuss for now but I'm very excited to ship this and see how people will use the new system.

We’re soon meeting to plan next quarter, so if you want something to be added or changed on Product Hunt, let me know on Twitter, and I'll bring it up during our roadmap meeting.

New PH Tab extension

What are some dos and don’ts on building your own freelance business?

If you're new to remote work or about to start working remotely, here are some tips for you:

  • Plan your week, not just your work. Include mandatory breaks in your planning.
  • Find ways to stay active, either go for a 30 minutes walk, go to the gym, walk your dog. But don't stay inside all day long if you work from home.
  • Working from home isn't for everyone. Try libraries, cafés, co-working or become friends with other remote workers and go work with them.
  • Be proactive in communication. Let your teammates know what you're doing. "TMI" doesn't exist in remote work (except if it’s not work-related, we don’t want to know you’ve spent the last 24 hours on the toilet 🙃)
  • If you're applying to a remote job: Too many people tell us they are excited to work remotely and forget to talk about why they want to work with us and why they are the right candidate. Wanting a remote job isn't enough.

What’s your favorite thing about remote work?

The freedom to do things when it’s best for me. I work when I'm the most productive. I go to the gym when it’s empty. I go on vacations when most people are at work.

What’s an interesting or fun fact about yourself we wouldn’t find on your social media?

Everything about me is on social media. 😅

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

When I'm not working, you'll find me at the gym. I like lifting weights and being told that I shouldn’t lift this heavy.

Bonus Question: Avocado vs Guacamole?

🥑

Want to stay in touch with Julie? Find her on Twitter, Dribbble, or check her website.

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