The huge amount of attention that my "Profitable, in 3 weeks!" post has received so far tells me that there's a thirst for financial results of small bootstrapped startups in the interweb, so here's another milestone report:
Less than 6 weeks from launch, Balsamiq Studios reached USD 10,000 in revenue.
Here's the breakdown, week by week:
You see 7 columns there because I launched on a Thursday, but the chart shows weeks as starting on Monday.
Mockups for Desktop accounts for 98% of my sales and 89% of the revenue. Hopefully after yesterday's licensing change sales of Mockups for Confluence will pick up some and contribute more.
Saying I am happy with this milestone is a big understatement, the feeling I have is more one of incredulity than anything else...if it's a dream, don't wake me up. :)
I'll post another financial update here if I reach $100,000 in revenue (I wish) or if things go dramatically south. I sure hope it's the former! :)
I have a very long TODO list for Mockups and for Balsamiq in general, so I'd better get back to work and keep the momentum going!
P.S. Some people asked me why I share my financial data so openly on the web. My short answer is: why not? The long answer could be the subject of another blog post: it has to do with gaining the trust of prospective customers by making Balsamiq Studios an open, honest and approachable company you'd want to do business with.
UPDATE: I wrote this post yesterday, but today was another record day, with 2 Team licenses of Mockups for Confluence and 4 licenses of Mockups for Desktop sold. So now the revenue is at $11,488. Also, I had an exciting thought: could Mockups be the highest grossing Adobe AIR app to date? That'd be cool.
Hello there. As usual, I'm a little late with the weekly update (I might have to find a different name for it). This has been a busy 2 weeks. First off, ConnectNow shipped as part of Acrobat.com. I have never worked harder on a project before, and I am extremely proud of the reception it's getting in the blogo/twitter-sphere. The ConnectNow team at Adobe is a spectacular one and I will always be proud to having been part of it.
On a related note, today is my last day at Adobe, after 6 and 1/2 years to the day. I know I brought this upon myself by leaving to start Balsamiq and relocate to Italy, but I can't help being sad about not being able to work with all the amazingly talented people there day in and day out. Everything I know about making software and caring for the end user I learned there - Macromedia's "Experience Matters" is one of my deepest beliefs to this day. It was an amazing 6-job-titles-in-6-years ride, and let me tell you it's fun to be able to shape the future. :)
Balsamiq-wise, it's been a busy two weeks: as always, Twitter is the best way to know what I did when. Next Thursday (June 19th) is launch day, so most of my efforts have been on cleaning up the website and contacting bloggers who might be interested in covering the launch. We'll see what happens, I am really curious how much attention a single person with a laptop and a small idea can get these days, we shall see.
I have a couple of small bugs to fix and have to redo the Mockups intro video, but other than that I feel ready for the launch. I expect it will be a crazy few weeks after that, fixing bugs and responding to feedback as fast as I can. I am already planning a 1.1 release for mid-July, just in case. As long as each build is better than the previous, things should be ok. I am just starting so hopefully people will be understanding if I mess something up... :)
I am also closing down my private beta program today, as I have nothing more to hide. We can move all conversations to GetSatisfaction. To the beta testers: THANK YOU! Your feedback has been invaluable. Please keep it coming, you guys are the Balsamiq Mockups experts now!
I think that's it for now, wish me luck!
Let's see, what did I do this week.
- I set up Google Webmaster Tools, interesting stuff
- I coded up a monthly newsletter with CampaignMonitor. Head over to http://www.balsamiq.com to sign up for it, I'll be sending the first test newsletter out soon.
- I set up CruiseControl. This is totally awesome. I check in a feature or a fix, and within 2 minutes my website is updated with the latest build, of every variation of mockups that was touched by my check-in. Just like magic.
- I added 12 new icons (bringing the total up to 71) and the following control types: Image Placeholder, Street Map, Charts (Line, Bar, Column, Pie), Cover Flow and a Formatting Toolbar (so that you can mock up a text editor). This brings the number of controls available to 53, which I think is plenty for version 1 (but if there is something you really miss let me know, it takes me about 10 minutes to add a control type).
- I refactored some code and fixed some annoying bugs related to clicking and dragging. The app should feel much smoother now. Try it out! http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/live
Beta and others:
- I added my friends R### and R###, thanks for joining guys
- I Installed Parallels and Windoze so that I can use Captivate and Quickbooks in it.
- I am looking for quotes to add to the website regarding Mockups or Balsamiq as a whole. If you have been using Mockups and have something (hopefully positive) to share and want to get a little free publicity, don't be shy! See Andrew's quote on this page http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups for an idea of what I'm looking for.
- I should be getting my business tax number this week. Once that's set up, I can get a bank account, CPA and all that good stuff.
Ok I think that's enough for now. Oh and I also worked full-time at Adobe and prepared some for the big move to Italy. No big deal. ;)
Until next week, Peldi
Hi there, you might be wondering what happened to me in the last couple of weeks. In short, so much has happened that I was too overwhelmed to write an update about it. The dust is settling a bit now, so here it goes.
- I made the jump: I gave notice at my job, there's no going back now! :)
- I bought one-way tickets to Italy for May 1st.
- I (mostly) integrated Mockups with Confluence
- I incorporated my LLC
- I met some great people
- I completely re-did the website, and this time it's for real
...not bad for a couple of weeks huh? :)
Quitting my job
I didn't sleep for 3 days about this one. I hated the thought of leaving my company, my friends, the products I have worked so hard on, and to cause stress to my boss and colleagues. On the other hand, I just had to do it, my mind is focused on Balsamiq and I really want to give it my best shot.
I had never quit a job before, so I was really, really nervous about it. Luckily my boss, and his boss, and really everyone at Adobe is a great, great person. Everyone was both sad and supportive and understanding and everyone wished me luck in my new endeavors. I was sincerely moved by everyone's reaction. It was really incredible. If you are reading this and are looking for a software job, go interview at Adobe right now. It's simply an awesome company to work for. I can't stress that enough.
I'm staying on part-time for a couple of months to assure a smooth transition, we are already interviewing some great candidates to replace me.
We're moving to Italy!
May 1st, one way tickets. We can't wait. Of course we have to sell / pack / store / give away all of our stuff now, which should be fun :( Stay tuned, I think I'll make a little Google Site for it.
Mockups, meet Confluence
With the help of Atlassian's Jonathan Nolen I was able to code most of the server-side integration of Mockups with Confluence in a couple of days. It was fairly smooth and a lot of fun. Jonathan is now on the beta, hi Jonathan! :)
Seeing the integration come together was awesome, it basically was seeing my vision come to life. I can't wait until it's all done and working well.
I also decided to make Mockups a plugin for JIRA as well, Atlassian's super-popular bug-tracking / project management tool. This will significantly broaden my potential customer base, which is a good thing.
I incorporated my LLC
Easy: I met with a lawyer that came recommended once, then the rest has been over email / mail. Two weeks later I have an LLC in California. Interesting how hard it seemed at first and how painless it was in retrospect.
I met some great people
I had a nice long lunch / walk with Chris Kohlhardt of Gliffy fame. We had a long conversation about Gliffy and Balsamiq and my motivations for going into business with this idea. I have a lot to learn from him and I am confident we'll find a way to help each other's companies be successful.
In my visits to Atlassian I also met a few people there like Laura Khalil and others: I like how young, fresh and "hungry" the Atlassian folks are...it reminds me of Macromedia back when I joined in 2002.
Another thing I want to mention here is that my friend Ryan at Yahoo really wants to buy Mockups, but they use Twiki there. So I looked into it and the integration looks doable, I'll have to dust off my Perl but I think it'll be ok. I sure wouldn't mind having Yahoo as a customer :)
Yet another website redesign
Oh man, this was a lot of work (like, three full days!). I started in Illustrator, designed it up, then coded it in Dreamweaver with CSS (I think I'm finally getting the hang of it), then ported my design to a Drupal theme (another first for me, I had never used Drupal before). I also decided that I hate the way Drupal deals with blogs, so I decided to keep my WordPress blog, just skin it with the same design as the rest of the site. The result is live at www.balsamiq.com.
It might not be the best site out there, but:
- it's fully my design (well of course it's inspired by what I consider the best sites out there)
- I can edit every aspect of it through a browser, including adding pages etc. - this is hugely important, since I seem to tweak the copy of it multiple times a day
- It's easy to maintain since it's template-based (one header and footer files, so to speak)
- I can easily tweak the design (colors and spacing) now that it's all CSS based
- It will scale better and (hopefully) it conveys my message better: "I make plugins for web office suites. Many plugins for many web apps. And my plugins are nice, you should buy them.". :)
I am happy with it. Of course now I have to populate it with the tons of pages I have planned and tweak it forever, but it's now much easier for me to do. I also learned a few things in the process (Drupal, PHPMyAdmin, WordPress themes, CSS, more Illustrator practice...), which is always nice.
What's next for Balsamiq
- Finish up work at Adobe
- More website content
- Back to the plugin (finish it for Confluence, finish/fix the client side, do the JIRA integration)
- Get a bank account for Balsamiq
- find a small business CPA (I have some names)
- Set up CruiseControl (I can't affort Bamboo..yet)
- ...a lot more
Here's another email I sent this week, asking for help. This time I wanted my advisors to send me a little blurb for my "about us" page, along with a picture. Here's the email template I wrote. I decided to send it individually to each advisor, and personalized it a bit with their name and an introductory sentence as well as a customized greeting.
Here's the email:
So I am getting ready to go live with the Balsamiq's website and I want to make sure there are no "todo"s in there. One thing that I would like to have on this page http://www.balsamiq.com/company.html is a list of my advisors, to enhance my credibility as someone you'd buy software from. If you scroll down a bit you'll see the place holders I put there for now.
First of all, would you like to be included in the list? I really don't want to pressure you into it in any way, I understand the value of privacy, especially when it comes to the Internet. So if you'd rather not be on the list just say "I'll pass" and I totally understand, I would still like to ping you for your advice "behind the scenes" once in a while. And if you don't have time for that either, again, I totally understand, just say the word.
If you do want to be included, I think it could be a little source of advertisement for you and maybe your company, if you're into that. I'm happy to link to whatever site you'd like me to as part of your "blurb".
As for the blurb, this is the structure I'm going for:
- a small square picture (facebook profile style)
- full name
- job title and company
- company link
- something about you, in 3rd person. Basically say that you are awesome and why.
- ideally, something about what you are helping me and why. I think this would make it much more personal and powerful of a message rather than me saying "she helps me with this and that".
What do you think? I'm going for a pretty informal tone and "the shorter the better" since it's for the web, so hopefully it won't be too much effort.
If you have any questions let me know, and thank you.
There it is, feel free to use this as a template if you need to, and let me know if it helps you!
One of the reasons I have this blog is to help others like me who might be starting a software company on their own (micro-ISV-ers?). So if you are like me and know nothing about legal matters and get a knot in your stomach at the thought of having to deal with NDAs, EULAs and LLC incorporating documents, the email below might help you.
It's what I wrote to a couple of lawyers that came recommended by some friends who had gone through this before. Somehow it was a bit painful to write (actually, the thought of writing it was the painful part, once I started it was actually not that hard). Anyways here it is:
Hello. My name is Giacomo Guilizzoni and I was referred to you by my friend #### ####.
I am starting a software company and I am looking for a lawyer to help me with the following:
- incorporating: I want to create a single-member LLC in California; it will have its own name and California address, but I will be managing it from Italy. I also expect to sell my software to customers in other states and countries.
- software EULAs: I suspect I need some boiler-plate license agreement here (I admit I never read one though I agreed to many!)
- any copyright/trademark issues I should be aware of
- anything else I should know to get started...what I do know is that there's very little that I know about the legal side of starting a company, hence this call for help.
I plan to be self-funded for the first year or two, and I am not looking to sell the company right away, so I won't need help with VCs and stuff, at least in the short term. Longer term, who knows.
Basically I'm small potatoes, but I do want to get incorporated pretty soon, so that I can get the company its own bank account and start accepting money for my software, which is about # months away from being ready.
I fully understand that a lawyer-client engagement is not a one-off service but more of a long-term relationship, and I am definitely comfortable with that. Now the question is: do you have the bandwidth for me?
I am looking for someone I could rely on when needed (hopefully not very frequently), someone who answers email promptly and is willing to do business over the phone (or Skype), since I'll be based in Italy starting in ###.
Also, another thing I don't know is if I can afford your services, since I have never done this before. I admit I don't even know a ballpark figure of what incorporating will cost me.
Anyways, looking forward to your reply. Let me know if you'd rather talk on the phone or meet in person, my schedule is pretty flexible.
Giacomo Guilizzoni (I go by Peldi)
The above worked well, as I got a response within 30 minutes, and met the lawyer within 3 days of that (that was last Tuesday). We are going ahead with the LLC work, which is going to cost around $1,500 (I know, I could do it myself, but like I said, I'd rather pay someone qualified to do it and spare myself the pain) and take 10 days or so. Love it.
Ok, hope this helps. I'll post some other of these emails (here's another), feel free to use them as templates if you need to (and let me know if they work out for you).
Welcome to another long rambling weekly update.
In this post:
- Product Updates: Mockups
- Website Update
- Beta Updates
- Business Updates
- What I’m reading
- How I’m feeling
Product Updates: Mockups
Fixed a few bugs and made the following improvements:
I have also update the product's home page http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups to focus more on the benefits and less on the features. I also shifted the focus a bit from Mockups being a tool for Product Managers (thanks Karen) and more towards "the whole team", including developers - this is a direct result of the feedback I have been getting from you guys: Jason, Seth and I (all developers) are the ones using this tool the most! :) Anyways, more thought must be put into this (more on this below).
The focus for next week is *no new code*, just fixing bugs and dealing with edge cases, basically I'd like the tool to feel smoother to use than it is now - that's one of my differentiators so I really want to spend some time on it.
Oh, one thing: Daniel suggested moving the UI Library to the right and make it two columns wide, what do you guys think?
I removed username and password and instead put up a bumper page here http://www.balsamiq.com/
I continue to make tweaks to the website copy every day. It's really hard, but I feel like I'm really learning a ton in the process.
The big news is that I have decided that I'm not happy with the current website at all...I know, after all this work! :(
The main problem with it is that it's too broad, it represents where I want to be in a year or so (a few plugins for a few Web Office platforms) and what I have now is only a very small subset of it.
In other words, I can't wait to "go live" with what I have, and I want the website to reflect where I am, not where I want to be. So I'll be slashing and rearranging content in the next few days, stay tuned.
This will be the 3rd version of my website, and I'm not even public yet. Funny? Ironic? Pathetic? Oh well.
The nice thing is that I'm using Mockups to think about the new site content/design, it works pretty well! :)
I added Google Analytics code to all my html pages, not a lot of data there yet but at least it's set up.
We have two new participants in the beta:
- my main mentor and great friend R## T##
- D## W##, a good friend and one of the top AIR developers in the World ;)
Thanks for joining and for your time!
Branding: I met with my branding-guru friend Rob on Friday and I'm going over to his office on Tuesday to continue the conversation. Most of what he says is still pretty much Greek to me ("you need to think about the media conversation...", "what do you want your brand to do for you?" and stuff like that), but some of it is slowly starting to seep in via osmosis. He clearly knows his stuff, and I am lucky to have him help me. He is warming up to "Balsamiq", the thing he liked the most is a sentence that I wrote on the site: "my software adds flavor". So we might explore that "flavor" direction more...like I said, Greek :)
I also explored other business-related things this week, like getting a Skype-in phone number, a bank account for the company and setting up an account at E-Junkie (more on that in a future update), which made me want to incorporate ASAP.
So I bit the bullet and wrote an email to a lawyer (talk about being out of my element), and he replied in 30 minutes, on a Saturday. I'm impressed. I'm meeting him on Tuesday afternoon. I hope he can help me set up my LLC and explain to me why I need a lawyer in the first place. ;)
I am also getting another two referrals from some other friends, we'll see. Look at me, shopping for lawyers...who am I? :)
If I can get myself to do it I will email a small-business CPA next, who knows maybe the lawyer will know someone.
Anyways, I want to get this admin/legal stuff behind me as quickly as possible. I think that Mockups is in good enough shape to be shown to the public (even without the Confluence integration). I feel a certain sense of urgency in going public because I think that people who use it can help me define what it is and who it is for. For instance, if it's developers that use it the most, maybe I should integrate with JIRA (Atlassian's popular bug-tracking / project management tool) instead of Confluence (their Wiki).
Guy Kawasaki says: "ship, then test".
What I'm reading
I did some research and started collecting a bunch of feeds from Micro-ISV owners and other small-business / software start up people. I found some good stuff that way already. For instance, I learned that there's a conference focused on micro-ISVs in Berlin in November. Mariah and I will make a week-end out of it! :)
I also read most of this e-book: http://www.47hats.com/index.php/2008/02/15/microisv-sites-that-sell/ - it's a pretty good book for me, it explains some marketing techniques in terms that a coder will understand. I will be applying those lessons when I redo the site this week.
How I'm feeling
I expected the emotional roller-coaster, I just didn't expect it to swing up and down so frequently! It makes a week feel like a month. Last week I was stressed out at the thought of quitting and talking to my landlord, this week those worries are gone and it's a whole set of new worries.
First the old issues: it's possible (likely?) that our landlord will not want to sell our place in the end, which means no buy-out for us (thanks a lot economy). He is now coming up on the 27th to chat. I'm OK with that, it was money that was going to help but that I didn't feel like I had earned, if you know what I mean. If he doesn't sell, we'll leave on June 1st. Quitting: every day that goes by I find it harder to go to work and give it my 100%, so I am now actually looking forward to "coming out in the open" with my boss. I suspect the conversation will happen at the beginning of March after I talk to the landlord.
On to the new set of worries: right now I see myself in front of 4 big walls, with only a little chisel in my hand:
- incorporating, legal stuff, banks etc - stuff that is totally foreign to me, stressful (money is involved) and just super-dry. As I mentioned earlier, I have started tearing down this wall already.
- website: the challenge here is both to structure it right and put the right text in it (includes the branding/positioning discussions), but I also want to design it from scratch myself (which means I'll need to master CSS and come up with something not-totally-ugly) and I want to put a CMS like Drupal behind it (which I have never played with before), all at the same time. Painful, but I'll tear this down too, with time.
- server-side integration with Confluence/Jira, etc. I don't know why I'm so afraid of this one. I basically want the Atlassian guys to dedicate a couple of hours of one of their engineers to help me get set up and point me in the right direction. Somehow I have been shy about asking. I'm sure I'll look back at this and laugh about how much I worried about it, it'll probably take a day or two of coding to do the whole integration in the end. Here's hoping...
- CPA/international taxation - I don't even want to think about it now, yuck.
So, it all feels a little daunting right now, but I'm hopeful it won't last. The first steps are always the hardest, then it should be downhill (at least until the next wall).
Overall, this start up thing is AWESOME. Both the ups and the downs. I am learning SO much and stretching my limits every day. It's a bit painful at times but I know they are growing pains, with *growing* being the key word here.
OK thanks for letting me ramble again.
Until next week,
P.S. If you use Mockups let me know OK? The feedback I have gotten so far has made a huge difference in its quality already. Keep it coming!
Hello friends. Here's what happened in Balsamiq-land this past week.
In this post:
- Product Updates: Mockups and FlatWorld
- Website Update
- Beta Updates
- Business Updates
- What I'm reading
- How I'm feeling
Product Update: Mockups
I finished the "group/ungroup" feature (try them and let me know, there might be bugs) and added the following control types:
- Date Chooser
- Numeric Stepper
Which brings the current control type count to 41.
I also made the SWF size smaller by removing some icons, and fixed some other bugs here and there. The app should be fairly smooth to use right now, please let me know if you think otherwise.
What's next: this week I will redo all icons, and hopefully add some of the following controls: Vertical Tabs, Volume Slider, Google Text Ads Column, Banner Ad, Media Controls and a Video Player. The list goes on.
Try it out: http://www.balsamiq.com/mockups/tryit.html
Product Update: FlatWorld
I spent some time this week cleaning up the demo for my free, to-be-used-for-marketing plugin ("loss leader"? Is that the term?), which I renamed FlatWorld (riding on the popular "The World is Flat" book). I created a page for it, added an "empty state", simplified the UI and fixed some bugs. I also added a quick red/yellow/green indicator based on working hours (thanks for the idea Andrew).
Try it out: http://www.balsamiq.com/flatworld/index.html
It's got bugs, but it's a start. Let me know what you think
I spent some time re-learning CSS (yuck) so that I can make the website "my own" more. It's not been fun, but I can't afford a graphic/web designer so I'll suck it up and get there eventually. Ah, the joys of bootstrapping.
I also started this page (I know, it's super-ugly right now): http://www.balsamiq.com/directory.html and linked it straight from the home page. Basically it lists my competitors as well as my own products. If I can make it catch on I think it will improve my image but more importantly my search rankings. We'll see. First priority now is to make it look better :) Oh, and I will write some code that sends people to that page directly when they go to www.webofficeplugins.com, which I own.
Another concern I have with the website right now is that what I am doing might not be super-clear to people who don't already work the Web Office way. Arguably those are not my target customers but I feel that I shouldn't turn anyone away...also, I have to go through every piece of text and make sure I'm "selling the benefits and not the features".
I have been getting some very encouraging feedback from some of you guys (thanks, it means a lot), and some were accidentally sent to everyone. I don't mind, just remember to look at the address before you hit "send" :)
I am also looking to open up the beta a little more, I think I will invite some former colleagues/mentors/friends this week. If you know anyone that you think would be interested let me know!
Another feature on the list for all my plugins is to instrument them so that I can track how much you are using them and what features you are using exactly. Maybe this week.
I looked at OpenSAM http://www.opensam.org/ this week and it seems worth doing, but not right away. I could use it as free marketing if I could get my logo on their page but I'll probably just wait until some customer asks for it. Gliffy added support for OpenSAM a couple of months ago I noticed, not sure why.
Speaking of Gliffy: I looked at their website and I felt a little panicky...they seem to be overwhelmed by bugs and feature requests and forum posts and who knows what: I think they are trying to please too many people, which is hard. Still, I should brace for the tide too. Oh, and I have decided to go meet with them sometime before I leave, I got nothing to lose and people like to give advice.
Branding: I am having dinner with one of my advisors on Friday to talk "company name". Balsamiq has grown on me but it's still not focused on the customer enough: Balsamiq is about me and my software, not about the benefits to the end-user. What do you think of 9to3 (or ninetothree or 923 or all of the above) as another name? Basically my point is that you'll be so productive if you use my software that you'll be able to go home early every day. Anyways, this stuff is hard, and Rob is the man. Stay tuned.
I also got worried this week that the "web office plugins" space might be too small a niche for me to fill long-term, but I quickly reminded myself that most successful startups end up doing something quite different than what they were funded for (at least that's what I read), so who knows what I'll be doing long-term, it's not worth worrying about it. I'll just try to be successful in the next two years to start. :)
What I'm Reading
I finished reading "Optimizing Web Usability" by J.Nielsen and started "The Art of the Start" by Guy Kawasaki. Both excellent, I LOVE getting advice from people who know their stuff. Although it gives me a bit of a sinking feeling sometimes...I have a lot to learn and long way to go.
How I'm feeling
Stress level is pretty high right now. We are meeting with our landlord on the 18th to decide "when we're getting out of here" and the terms of our payout. So it's getting more real every day. The prospect of quitting my job at Adobe (which I still love) is also very stressful, I have a lot to do before I leave and there's not much time left. I have been rehearsing the "I'm quitting" conversation with my boss in my head over and over...I hate to do this to him but I just have to. Anyways, the countdown has started, and there's lots to do: more on that in the next updates I'm sure.
Ok, that's it. Thanks for reading and keep that feedback coming!
Until next week,
Ok one last post before I go to bed. I just wanted to write down how good it feels to have a blog again. This will be my third one (after peldi.com and patatamonkey.com), helping me work through another new phase of my life.
What's different about this blog is that I know I won't have any readers for maybe another 6 months, until I quit my day job. Still, writing things down is still suprisingly fulfilling!
It's also cool to have a new website to care about...I'm basically creating a new, more current online identity for myself...good stuff.
I'm loving this startup thing, every minute of it.
Ok I just learned about .htaccess and used it to password protect the entire site. I feel better now, I'm not ready to have people at work know what I'm doing with my nights and week-ends...yet.