The Balsamiq Blog is my third blog.
In 2004 I started PatataMonkey, a pregnancy/daddy blog, which also ran for about 3 years.
In september 2007, long before telling anyone about my startup idea, I started this blog.
Each blog is different, but the motivation to start each of them was the same: I was entering a new phase of my life, jumping into the unknown, "having a new baby" if you will.
It was a stressful time, a time when I felt the need to process my thoughts by writing them down. I needed a diary.
Looking for advice on each new phase of my life, I googled and googled for a blog just like the one I wanted to read, one of someone who had gone through my same path before me or who was going through it at the same time as I was.
Each time I was looking for an established community, a support group: one about FCS development, one about "parenting in San Francisco in 2005" or one about a "programmer-turned-entrepreneur launching a bootstrapped micro-ISV in 2007".
After many years of using the World Wide Internet Webs I know now that no matter how small, the community you're looking for is already out there, hanging out in some corner of the Internet somewhere. You just have to find it.
Problem is, the Internet is a vast place, small communities are really hard to find. Each time I tried, my googling fell short.
So I decided to try and "get found" instead. Each time I decided to pinch my nose, jump in and publish my rants, in the hope that someone would google for my same kind of content one day and find me.
For PatataMonkey, I was desperate to find a new group of friends quickly: none of our "offline friends" at the time were even married, let alone expecting a child at that time. So as soon as I started the blog, I immediately put Google Adsense ads on it. The hope was that Google's all-powerful algorithms would be able to index and understand my content, returning me advertisements that would lead me to the people I was looking for. Oh mighty Google Spiders, what stores should I be going to? Which sites should I be reading? Is there a blog or forum I should look at?
Well, my nerdy scheme didn't really work out, but the blogging was a very effective therapy for me, so I kept at it.
Then, with time, as if by magic, a community started to emerge, organically, on its own. Someone would post a comment pointing me to a blog I should read, someone else would suggest a book.
All of a sudden blogging wasn't a lonely endeavor any more, I wasn't just speaking to the wind like a crazy person...I had...friends! People just like me, going through the same issues as I was! :) Slowly but surely, a little community gathered around my blog, and I started hanging out at other blogs as well, starting to recognize the names of frequent commenters like me.
I realized then that the Internet is a galaxy of warm little communities held together by blogs, mailing lists and now Facebook and LinkedIn groups, Ning networks, Twitter cliques and StackExchange-powered sites.
I guess people call it social media...I call it life in 2010 and beyond.
I read maybe a dozen different blog posts every day, and most of them teach me something new. My favorite posts to read are those written from the heart, those where you can clearly see that the authors needed to get something off their chest.
That's how I want to write as well: it's therapy that helps me and helps others in the process. Talk about a win-win!
At this point I cannot imagine my life without blogging.
Blogs are essential for business. Largely because of this blog we got written up in the New York Times and Inc. Magazine (twice!), I get to travel the world speaking at conferences and our software went from zero to leader in just 18 months.
As Paul Hawken says in his awesome "Growing a Business" - one of my all-time favorite business books - in order to be successful you need to get permission of the market first.
I define "the market" as the community of people who are passionate about the problem your company or product is trying to solve. It includes customers, competitors, complementary products, free-loaders. Asking for permission means earning their respect...ideally you need to become a thought-leader in your community.
As you start your blog, ask yourself: which community do I want to try and become a leader of?
Choosing your target should be easy because it should be "people just like me", or rather "people just like the one I hope to become". If you succeed in your quest, great things will happen. If you don't, the high goal you set for yourself will have pushed you to do your best work, teaching you a ton and making you a better person in the process.
It doesn't have to be related to your product, you're not doing this to generate more sales. You're doing this for yourself: to vent, to grow as a person and to be a good citizen.
Sure, if you do a good job your company will benefit from the higher exposure and stuff...but that's a side-effect, not the end-goal!
Becoming a leader in an online community is done by providing value to its members, continuously, over time. It means listening carefully and genuinely caring for the success of your fellow community members, without ever talking down to them - you're no better than them, you're just trying to help. It's hard work, but very fulfilling work. Share what's relevant, but don't spam. Try to keep it short, everyone's busy. Retweet! Make a Twitter list! Make two! Help others find your community, help it grow! Support it by sponsoring the best blogs and events!
Just the simple act of being yourself, but "in public", can make a big difference in someone else's life. You'll be surprised.
One of my goals for the year is to encourage everyone at Balsamiq to blog, to try to become a leader of their chosen niche.
My dream is for each Balsamiq employee to be better known within their community for their blog rather than the company they work for.
I want Balsamiq to benefit from the "halo effect" of these blogs, not the other way around.
All of us are first-time members of a tech startup. We are all going through a new phase of our lives, learning a ton every day. What better time than this to share what we learn and find our communities in the process?
Starting today, everyone at Balsamiq blogs:
This will be challenging at first, this is a new experience for both Val and Marco. I am thrilled at how enthusiastically they both accepted the challenge, and wish them luck. You can read Val's first post here and Marco's first post here (in Italian).
This will also be a significant time-commitment for our little team. Blogging takes time. For instance, it's incredibly 2:15am already as I write this.
I believe the benefits of us all blogging are more than worth it: if you're hesitant, just consider each blog post to be like a product release, only one that doesn't involve coding. It's that important.
Peldi for the Balsamiq team
I bet there are great resources out there by now to help people find communities online. I've sent people to this old Marshall Kirkpatrick post before, but I'd love to collect a few more links like it. Which do you recommend?
Another question: I am tempted to splinter off my posts into a new blog (/blogs/peldi perhaps), so that this blog could focus only on product-related news. What do you think? I like the idea of giving people more focused RSS feeds, but I fear that it would effectively mean "starting over" a bit. I don't know. What are your thoughts?
Thanks for reading this far! :)