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Meet the 30-year-old on the verge of selling his company to Adobe for $20B

Almost overnight, this 30-year-old has become the tech world’s newest titan — and is poised to become one of the world’s youngest billionaires.

Dylan Field, the co-founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Figma, is on the cusp of an epic windfall after Adobe

announced plans to acquire his company for $20 billion this week. Field will stay on with Figma (which makes collaborative design tools), and he reportedly owns a a sizable stake in his company. Forbes estimated it at 10%, which means Field could be looking at a $2 billion payday from the deal. (Field declined to provide details of his ownership share with MarketWatch.)

Considered something of an upstart rival to Adobe, Figma describes itself as a “design platform for teams who build products together.” Its distinguishing factor is that it’s cloud-based, which has made its products especially valuable to designers and other workers separated physically from one another during the pandemic — or to those continuing to collaborate in today’s hybrid work environment.

And Adobe clearly saw value in Figma’s model. The acquisition is said to be the largest in Adobe’s history, although some Wall Street analysts have questioned whether it paid too much. (What’s more, Adobe’s shares tumbled toward their worst week since 2002 in light of the news.) But Adobe chief executive Shantanu Narayen advised investors that the deal will “significantly expand our reach and market opportunity.”

Either way, it’s a mighty leap for Field, who started Figma with Evan Wallace, a one-time Brown University classmate, in 2012. As a Wall Street Journal story noted, Field was living in a gritty San Francisco apartment just four years ago, and buying dollar cups of coffee on his way to work.

“I had a very small sip of Champagne last night.”

— Dylan Field, co-founder and CEO of Figma

On Friday, MarketWatch caught up with Field, who grew up in northern California, to learn more about the Adobe deal — and how it will change his life. Here is some of what he had to say (some comments have been edited for brevity and clarity):

On how Field’s life may change with the payout from Adobe: While Field wouldn’t discuss the specifics of what he’ll earn from the deal, he doesn’t deny he stands to benefit significantly. He says he’s not thinking about much beyond his company and its next chapter. “Right now, I’m just all in on Figma and trying to think about how to make Figma successful, especially in this new context,” he says. In other words, he’s not yet planning on colonizing Mars with his riches a la Elon Musk.

But Field admits he’s still pretty buzzed about the events of the past week. “It’s very cool though, I’m not going to lie,” he says.

On how he celebrated the deal: Field is known to love wine, but he says he hasn’t been drinking much in the last few weeks because he’s been so focused on his work and the deal. Nevertheless, he says, “I had a very small sip of Champagne last night” with the Figma team.

On Figma’s value proposition: Put simply, it’s all about the ability to work together via the cloud. “We’re able to make it collaborative,” says Field of the tools that Figma offers. “So, if you’re a designer and I’m an engineer, no longer do we have to exchange files back and forth… We can make edits together. We can riff off each other’s ideas. That collaboration mattered to a lot of our customers.”

A newer product that Figma offers is FigJam, which Field describes as a “whiteboard solution.” The thought behind it, Field explains, is “that we can help people go from ideation and brainstorming into the design process and all the way to production.”

On why and how the Adobe deal came together: Field notes that when he co-founded the company there was a serious question as to whether the world had enough designers to make Figma a viable entity. “We weren’t sure there’s a big enough market here,” he says. But with the world going ever more digital — and, by extension, tapping increasingly into digital design tools — the design community has flourished, and the need for good design has become ubiquitous. “Every company has to care about design,” he says.

“Adobe’s mission is creativity for all, Figma’s mission has been to make design accessible for all. Those are two sides of the same coin in some ways.”

— Dylan Field, co-founder and CEO of Figma

Thus, Adobe’s desire to tap into what Figma offers its customers as a leading-edge digital design platform, Field explains. And not just tap into it, but also help Figma expand its platform through adding different tools and capabilities — not only for the designer audience, but also for the broader creative audience. “That got us really excited, because it accelerates the impact that we already wanted to have, but also scales the impact,” Field says.

On Figma’s image as an “Adobe killer”: Yes, Figma has been described as that. And Field once even tweeted, “Our goal is to be Figma not Adobe.” Field says he still stands by the remark in that the two companies are distinct in certain respects, although he also notes they ultimately share similar goals: “Adobe’s mission is creativity for all; Figma’s mission has been to make design accessible for all. Those are two sides of the same coin in some ways.” He adds that both companies are aligned “around craftsmanship and community” and “there’s so much we can do together.”

On Field’s views about education: Much has been made of the fact that Field didn’t graduate from college — he attended Brown University, but left in his junior year to start his entrepreneurial career (he got accepted for a fellowship program run by financier Peter Thiel). Field says he is not anti-college per se. “I care a lot about learning, and (going to) a university can be a great way to do that in a structured fashion.” But he also says there are other ways to gain knowledge, pointing to online courses that are readily available. As a result, Field finds it hard to fathom that a lot of companies still require college degrees of applicants. “I think they’re missing out on a lot of great talent,” he says.

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