Free eBook: Balsamiq Interviews

Hello friends!

We have teamed up with Bob Walsh, author of the MicroISV books which have been so useful to me in the past, and asked him to interview nine people with varying backgrounds and job titles to learn how Mockups fits in their workflow, how it helped them, but even more importantly how it did not help them.

The results were really interesting, so we’re publishing them in a free ebook for everyone to see.

The book is called Balsamiq Interviews and is available in PDF, EPUB and MOBI formats.

If you are a developer, product designer, product manager, UX consultant, venture capitalist, incubator, creative professional or a startup founder, you’ll be able to see how others like you use Mockups for their job.

We’d like to thank Bob Walsh for interviewing everyone and editing this book, and of course our wonderful interviewees Ryan Carson, Robert Frye, John Clark, Adam Wride, Mark Smith, Jaleh Razei, Theresa Neil, Hadar Wissotzky, James King and our own Michael Angeles for sharing your experience with our little tool with us and our community.

Download the eBook now!

Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

Holiday Reading: Free eBooks and Good Blogs

Hello again!

'Tis the season of giving, and hopefully most of you will have a little more time to do some reading, so I thought this would be a good time to share the following links with you.

Free eBooks

In the last few months we've seen a bunch of good free eBooks come out. I'm not sure how this trend started, but I suspect this TechZingLive interview with Jason Cohen might have something to do with it. :)

Here are four eBooks I think you might like, which are all free:

Do you know any other good eBooks along these lines? Don't be shy and post the links in the comments if you do! :)

My favorite non-tech blogs

I follow A LOT of blogs, mostly tech and business stuff. It's all good and useful, but the echo-chamber makes me a bit queasy after a while.

That's when I like to look at these:

  • Letters of Note - these are always entertaining
  • Today and Tomorrow - crazy digital art, designy furniture and artsy animated GIFs (remember those?)
  • Strange Maps - for map nerds like me
  • The Big Picture on boston.com. A view of our World through gorgeous, always though-provoking pictures
  • Indexed - I just started following this one recently. Very smart stuff, plus I have a soft spot for hand-drawn things ;)
  • Minimal - not at the same level of the ones above, but quick to read

What are your favorite "escape from the technosphere" blogs?


Mariah's Bycicle, 12/19/2009

Have a great holiday break everyone, happy reading!

Peldi

My Bookshelf

Hi there, a couple of people have asked me for this so I quickly put together this collage of my home office's bookshelf, as well as my e-books folder.

Some books I consider essential and read more than once, some I didn't like at all and some I haven't gotten to yet.

Click on the image to enlarge it.

bookshelf1

Notably absent from the photo is "Getting Real", which I just lent out to a friend.

And here's my ebooks folder:

picture-13

Sorry for the not-very-descriptive names.

If you have any questions about any of the books, ask away in the comments! :)

Now that you know what I read, are there any books you'd recommend?

Weekly Update: 1st week of April

Man things are hectic around here, there are boxes everywhere! I just sold half of my personal belongings to my friends, crazy mixed feelings abound. Anyways, quick update:

  • It took me 8 hours (if not more) to make this crappy 5 minute video - man this stuff is hard. I want to redo it some day but I don't have the energy right now. Hopefully it drives the message across anyways. Let me know what you think.
  • Other "fun" stuff: I wrote a EULA (I don't expect anyone to actually click on that link). I have accepted probably 100s of EULAs in my life, it's nice to actually know what they say...I went from not having read one ever to having to write one, which was interesting. Anyways it was painful but it's done. I sent it to my lawyer for review and to a potential customer who had asked for it, we'll see. I based it heavily on the Atlassian's EULA, since I figured my customers will have to agree to that one before they even look at mine.
  • While I was in legalese-land, I also decided to add a "Terms of Use" page for the site, which basically says "you may not decompile my sample code" and "don't sue us if your computer blows up because of this site" and other CYA things like that. Yay. This one I based off of the one for adobe.com, which I figured is a site similar enough to mine (with both content and apps on it). Again, not so fun but it had to be done. I feel better having this behind me.
  • Fixed a couple of big bugs (with some help from my beta participants, thanks!)
  • Met with Jonathan again to go over a few bugs, catch up, and brainstorm about how to integrated Mockups and JIRA. It looks definitely doable, much easier than the confluence integration actually (I should have started with JIRA!). So I'm excited to do it, I just don't know when I'll find the time for it.
  • Balsamiq became an official Atlassian Partner (look at that big ole badge here) - this is good because it gives me legitimacy with my customers and keeps me close to "my new mother-ship".
  • I started to seed my GetSatisfaction page with some topics.
  • I got set up with a JIRA bugbase account for my bugs - thanks Jonathan, you rock!
  • I fixed the blog so that people can actually leave comments again. Let me know if you still have trouble.

I don't have a TODO list for next week yet, this big inter-continental move is definitely keeping me busy. I'll see what I can do a little bit at the time.

Until next week,
Peldi

Balsamiq update: Week of Feb 11th

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 re-did the icons to be hand-drawn (thanks Mariah) - a lot more icons to come but it should be very easy to add new ones now
  • Added the following UI control types:
    • Volume Slider
    • Playback Controls
    • Video Player
    • Vertical Tabs

    Try them today! http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/live

  • You can now hold shift down while resizing to constrain proportions (thanks Will)
  • Option/Alt+drag clones and moves the selection, just like in Illustrator (thanks Will). It's not super-performing right now but it works, which is really cool - it's also cool that it took 5 lines of code to make it happen, it means my foundations are good. I was surprised :)
  • the text field used to edit text is now more WYSIWYG (thanks Jason) and its background is not so jarring (thanks Daniel)
  • Improved the icon inspector and border inspector (thanks Jason)

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?

Website Update

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! :)

Beta Updates

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!

Business Update

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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...
  4. 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,
Peldi

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!

Balsamiq Update: Week of Feb 4th

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:

  • DataGrid
  • Accordion
  • Calendar
  • Date Chooser
  • Webcam
  • Numeric Stepper
  • Tabs

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

Website Update

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".

Beta Updates

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.

Business Update

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,
Peldi

Import/Export, new "first time experience"...

Hi it's me again. Today was a good day. I just updated the build with the following:

  • improved "first time experience": when you first open the app you'll see a sample mock-up with some instructions and tips. To see it, do this: select all, delete, reload the page. A mockup like this one should appear:

myimage-9.png

  • added import/export feature: Export basically gives you an XML representation of the mockup, Import reads such a string and turns it back into a mockup. Why is this important? It enables a number of things: it's now easy to duplicate a mockup, which I think is a common thing people want to do (duplicate then tweak the second to show another step in the user interface - I hate that Gliffy doesn't have this for instance).I chose a human-readable format like XML because proprietary data formats are BAD and open ones are in vogue these days AND enable all sorts of innovation. For instance, someone else could write a converter from my "mockup XML" to MXML or other languages...see where I'm going?

    I like it when a small feature opens up many doors like this.

  • fixed some bugs here and there, added a "paragraph" text control, made some defaults better...I forget what else.

Give it a spin: http://www.balsamiq.com/demos/mockups/Mockups.html

As always, if you use it for something real I'd love to see your PNGs!

BTW, I just finished reading (ok really it was more like "devouring") this book - it's required reading, it will change you. It totally confirmed hunches I had and reinforced them.

This is so much fun!

Books Books Books

· Posted by peldi in Books · 1 Comment

I have been reading a lot of books in preparation for "the big jump". I thought I'd post links here for the ones that I keep going back to, since they might be useful to someone.

Keep these within arm's reach

Keep these on the nearest bookshelf

These were "just ok"

And these are on my bedside table, either half-read or waiting for me

You can also look at all the blog posts in the Books category.

One frustrating issue with these books is that they get my mind racing, so I can't read these at night or I won't be able to sleep. Which basically leaves no time for me to read, aside from a couple of nap-times during the week-ends and my weekly breakfast-alone outing (20 minutes). Oh I wish there were more hours in the day... :(

Igor Naming Guide

I just read this excellent PDF I found while thumbing through Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality again in preparation for my meeting with the branding gurus tomorrow. It made me like the name "balsamiq" even more. We'll see what Rob thinks about it tomorrow! :)

Book: “Founders at Work”

I am reading Founders at Work: Stories of Startups' Early Days, a collection of interviews to founders of some pretty famous companies, and some that failed famously like Visicalc.

The most interesting thing about the book for me is to see how clueless some of these people were when they started. But they made up for it by being young, single (i.e. could work 18 hour days, nothing to loose, etc) and persistent.

Still, I have definitely learned a few lessons from it, I recommend it.

Also, the link above is an Amazon Associates link. My first source of revenue? :)