I was shown the value of volunteering from my friend and former boss Robert Tatsumi back at Macromedia: he and his wife Sharon often organized volunteering outings: sorting items at the San Francisco food bank, packing sandwiches for the homeless at the Glide Memorial Church, etc.
I had never done anything like that before, and I remember being amazed at how much a group of motivated people could achieve in just a few hours, and how easy it was to make a difference in someone else's life.
I decided then that volunteering and donating were going to be part of my life going forward and that I wanted to make it part of my nascent family's values and traditions.
In preparation for staring Balsamiq, I read Guy Kawasaki's The Art of the Start (required reading for any tech startup), which he starts off with the "Make Meaning" chapter. Here's a short video in which he talks about it:
This really resonated with me. Problem was: how much meaning was Mockups going to make? Was "write software to help rid the World of bad software" a powerful enough goal? Could it really make a tangible difference? I wasn't entirely sold. I felt the need to do more.
I remember asking one of my advisers about what else I could do: should I pick a charity to donate a percentage of profits to? Should I make one-time donations to a different charity every quarter? And if so, which? His answer was "worry about getting any revenue first, you'll figure out how to give back as you go along". He was right, it didn't take long...
I remember reading it thinking: that's a very nice way to do it and I'll certainly match their policy, but is this it? Who will want my software? :)
The answer came to me a few days later, in the form of an email:
Just found your software.
My wife and her friend have started a small nonprofit to alert local groups about climate change impact.
I'm a software person but do Java server software, not UI. As any nonprofit, they're starting on the cheap. My wife put that site together using Google Sites.
They want to get a friend to do a 'real' site for them and are having trouble deciding on a design.
I've tried to give them help but they're visual, I'm verbal and I can't draw.
I remember thinking: whoa, interesting! Here's someone who's clearly doing some good for the World, and all I have to do to help them is generate a license key - a 45-seconds operation: copy+switch+paste+click+switch+paste+send.
Something that took me less than a minute to do could have a material impact on someone's efforts in helping others and making the World a better place. The reward/effort ratio was extremely high.
If you are a do-gooder of any sort (non-profit, charity, open-source contributor, you get the idea), email us with a short blurb and we'll send you a license, FREE of charge.
That was 14 months ago.
As Mockups gained popularity, the number of do-gooder requests I received each day rose proportionally. After about five months it got to a point where I couldn't keep up with it by myself, so I asked my wife Mariah to help me with it.
She did a wonderful job for a few months, but it become too much for her to do with a little help from me as well. That was one of the reasons we decided to hire Valerie, and she's been doing a wonderful job at it since.
Right now I'd say we dedicate about 20-man-hour a week to sending licenses. I estimate it's about 15% of our collective working time. Given that salaries are by far our biggest cost, this is not a small investment.
In preparation for this post I ran some GMail queries to calculate how much we've donated so far. Here's what I found out:
# of keys donated
Equivalent Unit Price
Mockups for Confluence
Mockups for Desktop (site-wide)
Mockups for Desktop (single license)
Mockups for JIRA
Mockups for XWiki
*A site-wide license of Mockups for Desktop would cost a lot more than $709 (in fact, we don't even sell those), but I calculated that the average non-profit in the US has 10 employees (12.5 million US non-profit workers in roughly 1.2 million organizations - it's 2001 data but it's the best I could find, LMK if you have better info), so I used the same price of our 10-User pack.
I admit I was really surprised at the number: $680K is a lot of licenses! :)
I love it, I'm very proud of us right now.
Too Much? I disagree
If you think we're donating too much, I'd like to try to convince you of the opposite. In fact, if you're a software business owner, I'd like to persuade you to do more than what you're currently doing.
Here's the way I see it.
It's a moral duty
The fact of the matter is that we (people in tech, knowledge workers) live extremely privileged lives. Just think about how much time you've spent on Twitter or Facebook lately, and compare it to how much time you spent worrying about providing for your family.
As software entrepreneurs, we enjoy insanely high profit margins (ours are in the 80% range for instance). In my view, that's so high it's kind-of unfair, and there's definitely enough to share for a better cause.
Most of all, I believe non-profits should spend their limited money on doing good, not on software needed to help them achieve their goals.
It's extremely rewarding
Because of our do-gooder program, we get THE BEST emails!
Each of them reminds us every day that humans are generally good, generous people.
The wide breath of causes we hear about is inspiring. It really spans the gamut, from large groups like Amnesty International to a single guy working on a new website for an orphanage in Honduras. From tech-y organizations like Mozilla.org to the Heart & Stroke Foundation of Canada, we hear from literally hundreds of people every week (here's a very partial list).
Here's a sample story from a do-gooder license recipient:
[...] thanks to your fast response, I was able to use Balsamiq mockups 8 minutes later, in a 3pm UI meeting yesterday with our donor database software vendor. We jumped into using the tool "cold", using it full-force in the meeting.
Using the tool really helped keep folks focused and on-task, identifying additional requirements and solving detailed UI design issues right then and there. Everyone was very very impressed with power and ease of use. My coworker and I continued tweaking the mockups on the train ride home, and sent PNG copies back to the developer. Now he is off and running with these!
Bottom line, it went extremely well, and your tool was critical in that success. What a huge improvement over whiteboarding and/or paper mockups (especially since I have awful handwriting). Thanks again!
One of the most difficult parts for any project is the startup phase. Bridging the gap beween what is envisaged and what is in the mind of IT professionals is a big initial step. The use of Balsamiq Mockups drastically shortens this step and makes working on the project fun from the very start. Clients and IT professionals can use the intuitive interface of Balsamiq Mockups to shape their ideas and quickly reach an agreement on how things should look and what the basic functionality should be. Apart from being a good way to start collaboration within the project, it simply saves a lot of time lateron in the project by being clear on what needs to be done from the word go.
I have used Balsamiq Mockups occasionally after installation. Mockups has provided efficient collaboration with the church's administration. I change the Home page of our website every liturgical season or for a major holy day, and the turnaround time sometimes is very fast. Mockups helped me communicate page layouts to decision makers very easily.
Thanks again for a great product and your generosity,
Best regards, Rene R.
and here's one more:
My name is Fitzgerald Steele, I've recently joined ACT, Inc as a User Experience Designer. ACT is a not-for-profit US corporation. Our mission is "helping people achieve education and workplace success."
Mockups has been an invaluable tool for our UX team. We use it to visualize and communicate design options to stakeholders. We use Mockups to rapidly prototype application information architecture and perform quick UX evaluations. For me, Mockups is great because it allows us to quickly build visual, interactive prototypes, put them in front of project stakeholders and users, and generate conversation and consesus about project features and priorities. Since we've started using it, others within our organization have asked about it and have started using it as well.
Thanks for a great product!
There are lots and lots more - we'd love it if you shared your own story in the comments! :)
It's really heart warming. Who wouldn't want to receive emails like these every day?
In other words, this is really a case of the more you give, the more you get.
I am going to try and put it in terms that even Scrooge would appreciate, so apologies if the bullets below sound cynical.
By donating your software:
you get FREE testing and feedback: license recipients find bugs for you, give you great ideas on how to improve the software and do it in the nicest of ways, both because they're usually nice people and because "they owe you a favor".
you get the best kind of word-of-mouth publicity. Non-profits regularely meet with corporations and other people who won't qualify for a free license. If your software is good, they'll likely recommend it to them.
you improve the Triple-Bottom-Line: I heard this term for the first time in this Startup Success podcast episode. Basically as products and services become commoditized, customers start caring more about how what they buy impacts the World, both from an environmental and social aspect. Showing your commitment to making the World a better place sets your company apart from your competitors who are just in it for the money.
you get great street cred with the open-source community: if I wasn't trying to make a living as a software vendor, I'd very likely release Mockups as open-source. I also benefit from open-source software every day, so IMHO donating to OSS projects is the least I can do to give back. People on the OSS community respect that, and that's a very powerful endorsement.
you have a convincing arguments against hackers. Every few months we notice someone cracking our software and posting license keys or even key generators to the dark corners of the Web. It's ok, it's normal and it's a sign of success. So far, we have always convinced these smart, usually young people to take those keys down with this simple argument: look, we're good people, why are you trying to hurt us?
you might be able to treat part of your donations as a tax deduction (ask your accountant).
In general, I think everyone will agree that having a good reputation results in more sales.
Now, the beauty of this is that even if you don't believe any of the moral-duty, feel-good arguments I wrote about above and decide to start donating your software purely as a marketing move, the end-result is a big WIN for the recipients of your software anyways, so go right ahead! What do you know, even Scrooges can do good in the World! ;)
For full disclosure and for reference, we also donate licenses for marketing reasons, both to bloggers willing to give us feedback and publicity with a review and to people who want to demo Mockups in front of a crowd. These kinds of donations are not included in the $680,000 figure above, and their value amounts to just about 13% of all the licenses we gave away thus far.
I have been wanting to write this post for a while but decided to save it for a special day. Today is that day, and to celebrate it we decided to donate some more, but this time in cash donations.
I asked everyone at Balsamiq to come up with a recipient for roughly $4,000 in donations, and this is what we came up with:
Mariah, after 35 years, has found the Vietnamese orphanage she came from. We are still trying to figure out if it's still around, but our plan is to deliver them our donation in person early next year.
I am sponsoring my uncle Luigi's trip to Africa in January 2010. He is a surgeon and joined a group called "doctors without vacations", for which he and his colleagues use up vacation time to go to places in need of doctors and practice there.
Marco is planning on sponsoring one or more projects similar to what you could find at Kiva.org (also a do-gooder license recipient) but organized by an organization based in Bologna. It will basically sponsoring part of a long-term project somewhere in Africa (he'll share more details here or on Twitter as we figure out the details).
Valerie donated to a campership fund that helps kids get to a magical (but expensive) sleep-away camp in Northern California. She says: "Charities have seen a dramatic dip in donations, so we remind our customers to keep giving to your favorite recipients, just give less. Keep flexing your donor muscle, even if you are able to spare less now than during boom years. It's important to keep the generosity habit alive."
We can think of no better way to celebrate our little company's success, and are committed and looking forward to donating lots more in the future.
Speaking of which, I still have to run this through our accountants to see if it's logistically feasible, but for the upcoming web version of Mockups we plan on giving you an option during sign up to specify a charity of your choice (or pick from a list), and we'll donate 5% of the money you send us for your subscription to them.
That's cash donations, not licenses. This idea was inspired by Working Assets (now called Credo), a long-distance telephone carrier I used for years back in San Francisco: their idea is that they round up your phone bill and use the extra change for progressive causes. We won't round up your bill, but instead use part of it to do good in your name if you so wish. We'll keep you posted on this program as we figure out the details.
We hope this post will inspire you do start donating your software as well, it's really a whole lot of WIN.
Hi there. If you've been following this blog for a while you already know that lately I haven't been sharing as much as I used to. It's true and it pains me, so I want to try and figure out the reasons for this change by writing about them below.
The main reason is purely mechanical: with over 4500 customers and over 200 new customers every week, I have little time left for blogging, or anything other than customer support for that matter. I spend my days in GMail and have been feeling like I'm "chasing" my business for the last few weeks...by the time I have answered the most urgent messages and dealt with the bank/accounting/beurocracy issue of the day it's usually already 2pm, which leaves little time to do everything else. It's very frustrating and I am working on it (more news on this VERY soon), but let's just say that I now fully understand why Joel Spolsky suggests keeping your marketing, resources, quality and revenues in lock-step in this great Inc article from last year (make sure you check out the infographic). I have been actively holding back on some exciting changes because we cannot manage any more customers than what we're currently attracting at the moment...something I never thought I would have to do and certainly a good problem to have...still, it's stressful, trust me. Thank goodness for Marco and Luis who keep development going and for Mariah who keeps sending tons of free licenses out every day.
All the other reasons are related to the fact that Balsamiq Studios is growing and maturing as a company.
Let's talk about blogging about our financial results for instance. I received huge amount of attention each ofthefourtimes I shared our numbers in the past...I wasn't doing it as a marketing ploy but it sure worked as one! :) Everyone likes to hear of other people doing well, myself included. Problem is, we are now doing SO well that we are embarrassed to talk about it. Although we're always happy to share our figures if someone asks, publicly talking about them on this blog would just be boastful and distasteful, it's simply not our style. The reason I talked about the numbers in the past was to reassure potential buyers that Balsamiq will be in business for the duration of their support period, and hopefully the years ahead. Now that we make enough to cover our yearly salaries every month, that's no longer needed.
Another reason for not blogging as much is that my own personal need to blog is not as strong as it used to be. Just like most parenting blog (ours included) don't last more than a couple of years, once things start humming along and you start getting into a rhythm, the insecurities that resulted in the need for venting dissipate. We are now "out of the tunnel", if you will...plus with Marco here every day I get to vent to him instead of here on the blog...poor Marco. :)
I am also personally in transition...I no longer feel like a total newbie at this entrepreneurship thing but I am definitely far from being an expert, confident enough to give advice to anyone. On one hand I can’t really ask dumb questions publicly any more (I am embarrassed to show our big enterprise customers how clueless I am in some areas), and on the other I'm no Paul Graham, Joel Spolsky, Marc Anderssen, Guy Kawasaki, Gary Vaynerchuck or Seth Godin...maybe in 20 years, if ever. ;)
Speaking of which, I would love to speak at some conferences in 2010 - mostly because it's a great way to travel, I like to speak in public and I don't like paying to attend conferences ;) - but I'm not really sure I'm in the position to teach anyone anything yet...let me know if you disagree (hi mom!) and if so feel free to suggest some topics I could talk about! ;)
So there you have it, I think that's why this blog is getting a little more centered on product announcements and yes, more boring than it used to be. I'm ok with that, at least for now. I am trying to build what DHH calls "a little italian restaurant on the web"...so while it's good to know the owners and know that they are doing well, that shouldn't be the reason you go eat there: it's the quality of the food (ehm, product) that matters most.
Interestingly enough, while this blog is becoming a little more corporate, I am becoming a little more personal in what I share on Twitter...so let's chat over there (@balsamiq) if you'd like! ;)
P.S.If you can think of something we should blog about, don't hesitate to ask! For instance, Marco is thinking of doing a set of more technical programming series of posts, and we're thinking of doing a "customer success stories" series as well. Would those be interesting to you?
[Update: this post was picked up by Hacker News, you can follow/contribute to the discussion there]
Hi there, I thought I'd celebrate my 999th Twitter follower with a little blog post I've wanted to write for a while.
Back when I first started using Twitter, I treated it mostly as an extension of my blog, a marketing channel for announcements and customer service in case someone wanted to contact me that way.
Then I discovered Summize (now search.twitter.com) and the fact that you could get RSS feeds of the search results, and was amazed by its great marketing potential.
I started scanning Twitter for mentions of keywords related to my product and sent @-messages to people who I thought would benefit from using it. To make it clear I was trying to sell them something, I would start my Tweets with $$, a convention I came up with (and that I've seen a few others pick up, but it never really spread). Here's the full blog post about it: "$$ tag for Twitter ads? I want to pay for Twitter!", in which I declare that I'd be willing to pay Twitter $1 for each of these $$-tweets, thus solving Twitter's elusive business plan in the bargain. ;)
The best idea to came out of that whole post came in a comment by guruz from p300.eu, who suggested that 50 cents of that dollar could go to Twitter but that the remaining 50 cents should go to the receiver of the unsolicited Twitter message. Now that would be nice: getting paid to be advertised to? I want to live in such a World! :)
I have to say I felt like I was threading a fine line with the $$-tweets, so I was as cautious as I could be with them - I think I sent maybe a dozen total, and from a separate @balsamiqads account, as you can see for yourself. Nonetheless, my idea made some waves and I was even interviewed by Bob Walsh about it for his "Twitter Survival Guide" e-book.
As a way to be able to get to read the book for free ;) I also did an editorial review of it for Bob, and that's where my Twittering really turned a corner.
The best part of Bob's book, IMHO, are the interviews (minus mine, I guess, sorry about that). Specifically the one to Ben Metcalfe (@dotben) made me realize that I really wasn't getting Twitter at all. Buy the book just for that interview, it's worth it.
My use completely missed the social and collaborative nature of Twitter. In other words, why should anyone follow me when everything I do is pimp my product or spam people with unsolicited tweets?
At the same time, I started following @timoreilly, and noticing how much I was getting out of it. Most of his messages are Re-Tweets (RTs) of news that are interesting to me, he is acting as a human filter for his followers. What was I doing for my followers? Not much.
So I started slowly retweeting UX-related Tweets and others that I thought my be helpful. At some point someone pointed out the excellent TwitterSheep, which generates a tag cloud based on the Twitter bios of the people that follow you. Here's mine:
Now that I know that most of my followers are web developers and software entrepreneurs I can cater my retweets to them and provide a better service.
Another aspect of Twitter that I was completely neglecting is the fact that Twitter can be so much better than Google sometimes. For instance, I once vented on Twitter about having spent hours setting up a mail server on my server. Within minutes I received a bunch of tips and links which would have saved me an afternoon of pain had I asked beforehand.
Asking for the Twittersphere's help is still not second-nature to me, but I'll try to remember to do it more in the future. I believe people generally like to help others, and I know I've answered a few questions in the past.
I have also started to have very interesting conversations about my product via Twitter, but I suspect FriendFeed might be a better venue for those (I have to admit I still don't "get" Friendfeed yet, no matter how much I listen to @scobleizer rave about it).
Last but not least, just today I searched Twitter for Freshbooks before deciding whether to subscribe to their service or not, to see what people thought about them. I was pleasantly surprised to find @freshbooks had an active account, and impressed that they responded to one my tweets, and with a sense of humor, too! I am now a happy Freshbooks customer.
In case you're wondering about the $$-tweets, I have completely stopped with those, for three reasons:
I have seen others use Twitter this way (I was even on the receiving end of a marketing tweet), and I gotta say, it's pretty yucky. Even if you have the best intentions, you're intruding into someone else's semi-private lifestream without asking first. Now, if recipients got 50 cents or more out of it, I'd be OK with it (you're paying for your intrusion)...but as it stands, I'm not going to do that any more.
I don't have time to scan Twitter for much of anything any more, my time is much better spent elsewhere. In fact, if you have time to do $$-tweets, you're either a community manager at a large company or you're desperate for attention (which I was when I just started). Sadly, it shows.
In a way this is very conforting, it means I can go back to focusing on making the best product possible (a product worth suggesting to your friends and followers), leaving the marketing to take care of itself.
I'll leave you with a screenshot of my second monitor...Snackr at the top, TweetDeck is the left half, then Twhirl (for my @peldi account), then Skype and Adium.
...all applications I can't seem to live without but that I love to QUIT, as it means I'm getting ready to get productive for a while.
All in all, Twitter rocks. Thanks for changing the World for the better @jack! :)
Update: the fine folks at TwitterCounter.com were kind enough to send me a csv with my Twitter followers history over time, here it is with annotations:
The article resonated with me, I highly recommend it. If I were to state my "big hairy audacious goal" for Mockups it would be
"to make the World a better place by helping people build better software"
Clearly it's not on the same league as what a Google.org or The Gates Foundation might do, but for a tiny startup like mine I'd say it's a pretty big goal, and audacious enough. I certainly feel passionately about it.
Tim's first point is to "Work on Something That Matters to You More than Money". The quality/usability of a GUI has a tremendous impact on people's mood: words like "frustrating", "horrible" and "annoying" are fairly common when describing software, and if you were ever forced to use an enterprise HR or Payroll system you know how maddening bad software can be. On the other hand, excellent software elicits powerful feelings as well. I simply LOVE the ease of use of DropBox, Posterous, GMail and yes, Mockups too. Using them makes me feel creative, confident and powerful. I believe that if all software was well made, people would lead happier lives. Life is too short for bad software. If I had a small role in helping people design better software, which in turn made its users happier and more productive...well that matters to me a lot more than money.
As for Tim's second point "Create More Value Than You Capture", I think we're doing OK there as well. Clearly Mockups saves people time (or they wouldn't be buying it so much), and we give more and more licenses away every day (Mariah woke up to 81 license request emails just yesterday). This sentence also resonated with me: "Look around you: How many people do you employ in fulfilling jobs? How many customers use your products to make their own living? How many competitors have you enabled? How many people have you touched that gave you nothing back?". It sure helps me put things in perspective and feel better about the copy-cats that are popping up...hey if they also help people make better software, I guess we all win in the end! :)
As for point three, "Take the Long View", that's something I have known from the start (a lesson I learned from working on essentially the same product for over 6 years at Adobe). It takes time for software to mature, you just have to stick to it and improve it a little every day. This doesn't mean it has to be improved forever for the sake of it (I HATE bloatware), but there's lots of other aspects which could make the software more useful which also need work, like the community-contributed website for common UI patterns that we're working on. Good software lives for a long time, so you'd better be prepared for it (and be excited about the prospect!) when you start it.
Dharmesh Shah is one of those names that keeps coming up for me. In the startup/entrepeneurship books I read, in the blogs I follow, on Twitter...and his quotes are usually very smart and to the point. Foolishly, I never bothered investigating more about Dharmesh until two days ago, when he popped up again, this time by leaving a comment on my very own blog!
I have also been following @OnStartups on Twitter for months but somehow never made the connection in my head.
Although it's a bit all over the place (apparently he had the wrong deck), I really liked the talk, mostly because there's more than a few little nuggets that I had never heard before, or at least never heard expressed as clearly before, like "partnerships when you're first starting up? don't do them", which confirmed a hunch I had in my gut.
Highly recommended. I am going to be following Dharmesh's advice more closely from now on. You should too.
P.S.Oh, great, now I see that Dharmesh is the developer behind the excellent Twitter Grader as well...see what I mean? The guy's everywhere! :) Reminds me of a great Steve Martin quote: "Be so good they can't ignore you" (minute 52, also a great video to watch).
I feel a bit sheepish posting this since I don't want to come across as bragging, but a promise is a promise, so here it goes...
I just recently surpassed $100,000 of revenue. Balsamiq has been in business for less than 5 months, so as you can imagine this level of success goes beyond my wildest dreams.
The Raw Numbers
My interpretation: not a lot of data here, but Mockups for Desktop sales are clearly growing (I guess it really does save people time and $$!), Mockups for Confluence had a bad October (not a big surprise given the financial markets meltdown), Mockups for JIRA is just getting started and Mockups for XWiki proves that it's really hard to charge for a plugin built on top of a free platform - not a huge surprise there, but I'm still bullish! :)
This is the same data, but stacked. October was lower than September, but still really good given the financial crisis. November is looking on track to be the best month yet. Also, these numbers are INSANE. :) It hasn't really hit me yet.
This chart tells me that it's all still very spikey and that I shouldn't try to make revenue predictions. It also tells me that I need to try to make it more predictable (more on this later).
Same data as above, but stacked. Notice how much less spikey this is (8 straight weeks of >$5,500 in sales). This tells me that having a portfolio of products is a very good thing. I'll be working on expanding that portfolio in the future.
the chart above is more interesting when you compare it to the one below:
Now # of sales doesn't necessarily map to "# of users", since a Confluence sale can be for 25/50/500 people and a JIRA sale can mean a whole company. Still, there's clearly a lot of demand for desktop apps out there (in this SaaS age, who'da'thunk'it!), but the margins there are way smaller than enterprise sales (duh!).
I am still confident that the plugin versions will grow over time relative to the desktop version, as more and more people "see the light" and start working in the cloud. In the meantime, thanks desktop lovers for keeping me in business! ;)
The next two charts are kind-of useless because the costs don't include my salary nor my rent, and some other small November expenses I haven't gotten around to recording yet. Still, I think they are useful enough to show how little out-of-pocket costs I really have:
I just like the slope of that one. ;)
Web Site Traffic
Some people have asked me for this in the past, so here's the chart with the # of visits since launch day:
I don't look at these too often to be honest. All the big spikes were blog posts that got picked up by Hacker News: they rarely correspond to big spikes in sales...still, knowing that thousands of people read this blog is pretty darn exciting.
That's great...now what?
When I started Balsamiq I thought that if everything went well, it would take about two years to get here. I was excited about the struggles ahead, the successes and the failures that were going to help me grow in those two years. So this kind of instant success, 18 months ahead of schedule, is a bit of a shock. I feel totally unprepared for it, so I want to be extremely careful about my next moves. I plan on doing a full round of one-on-one Skype sessions with my advisers soon, plus I have to finish 1.5 (I have a few bugs to fix and I'm waiting for a commercial Flickr API key...grrr) so I'll still be head-down coding for a little while longer.
Still, with over 800 customers to support, it's time to start looking up from the daily developer-work and ask myself some bigger questions:
where is my time spent every day?
where should my time be spent every day?
where do I need the most help, and what would it take to delegate it?
is it time to start thinking about adding a second full-time person to the company? (right now Balsamiq is a sole-member LLC, so I'd have to change that...it's a pain but I guess it's a good problem to have).
there's all this money in the bank now: how should it be best put to use?
what do I want to achieve in 2009, and how?
what about 2010 and 2011?
Is "adding flavor to Web Office Apps" still the right long term strategy?
how can I make my revenue more predictable?
to SaaS or not to SaaS?
Is Balsamiq no longer a startup, migrating towards "profitable and somewhat boring small business" status? I'd very much like that! Unfortunately, someone yesterday made me realize how far I am from it.
The "oh crap" question
Just yesterday, as I was preparing this post, someone emailed me the following (I paraphrase):
"We'd like to buy a big license. I was wondering how long you plan to stay a one-man company for.If you are in an accident, who will support us?"
And my world came crushing down. Though perhaps not the most tactful, the question is totally legitimate! I had a moment of panic imagining myself disappearing from the picture...what would happen to Balsamiq and its customers? Ouch, I don't know what sound implosions make but I'm pretty sure I heard it. Maybe it was my stomach.
Here I am, trying to be the "champion of one-man businesses", blogging about it all, trying to convince people to join me in "the future of software companies", and there I was: stumped by a simple, OBVIOUS question that hadn't even crossed my mind until then (and in retrospect, I'm glad it hadn't).
So...I think the days of Balsamiq Studios as a one-man-company are numbered. I don't really feel like I have reached my limits in terms of how much I can do by myself (I'm still not working crazy hours), but I'd be doing my customers a disservice if I didn't seriously start thinking about growing the company. And the numbers above tell me that I can afford to at least start considering it.
Like I said, I want to be extra careful in the next steps, so I'll take some time to do what's right for the company, my customers, and my sanity. :)
I have also had a very good experience with my first contractor, and I have hired a second contractor for a surprise little project starting on Saturday (stay tuned). I'll take it as practice in having people work for me.
Now, if you're reading this and are thinking "this guy is ripe for the picking", please abstain from making acquisition or "partnership" offers. This kind of challenge is EXACTLY what I was looking for when I started the company, and I am still LOVING EVERY MINUTE of this Balsamiq adventure. I want to stay independent, at least for a while longer, and grow the company organically, as needed. I am lucky to have great advisers and I'll be looking to add a few more to my board (more about that in another post). That said, if you have some "immediately useful" advice for me, feel free to email me or leave it in the comments (I'm thinking books or blogs to read, people to talk to, that sort of thing).
So that's the status update. I don't think I'll share more revenue numbers for a while, if everything goes well things should get "boring" on this front (i.e. predictable with a steady and manageable growth).
As for everything else, I will keep sharing at every step of the way, there clearly isn't enough info about the organic growth of bootstrapped companies out there.
Hi this is Peldi from Balsamiq. This blog is a mixture of product updates, company updates and posts about my experiences as a programmer-turned-entrepreneur. If you're into 37Signals and A Smart Bear, this blog is for you.