Our Spring 2010 Travel Plans

Hi everyone.

We are all heads down making a TON of progress on all areas of our business: the website, the product, the web app, our internal processes...it's awesome. Now that Mike is on board we seem to have all the skills we need to really go as fast as we want to, with the quality we want. I gotta tell you, it's exhilarating.

You'll start seeing the fruits of our recent labor here soon. In the meantime, I wanted to share with you our Spring 2010 travel schedule.

March 12th - 16th: Peldi will be at SXSW Interactive, in Austin, Texas (here's my tentative schedule, also in SitBy.us form)

April 9th - 11th: Mike will be at the IA Summit in Phoenix, Arizona.

May 5th - 6th: Marco and Peldi will be at Better Software in Florence, Italy. Peldi is giving a talk there.

May 19th - 20th: Luis will be at the GR8 Conference Europe, in Copenhagen, Denmark.

May 21st - 22nd: Peldi will be speaking at LessConference 2010, in Atlanta, Georgia (the 2010 website isn't up yet).

June 9th - 11th: Valerie will be at the Atlassian Summit in San Francisco, California.

We hope to organize a local last-minute meetup at each of these events (think "Beers on Balsamiq tonight"), so stay tuned here, on our Facebook page and our Twitter stream for updates as the events draw near.

Hope to see you there and meet in person for a change! :)

Peldi for the Balsamiq team

Back from San Francisco

Bridge

Hi all, this is Marco writing. I just got back from the Business of Software conference in San Francisco. This is my trip report.

Valerie

While Valerie and I have been colleagues for 8 months already, we had never met in person. Coming to the Business of Software conference in San Francisco gave us our first chance to spend few days together. Guys, what a crazy week in San Francisco with Valerie!

We traipsed around The City, mile after mile, on foot and by car, and I soon felt like a San Franciscan. I saw so many interesting, unforgettable things. In addition to traditional sightseeing, like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge or buying underpants in the Castro, we also attended exceptional events, like Reverend Cecil Williams’ 45th Anniversary Celebration at Glide Memorial Church, led by Joseph Lowery. (He delivered the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.)

And we talked. Oh yes, we talked, for I don’t know how many hours, about everything: our families, Balsamiq, religions, and politics… We made up for months of remote teaming in four days of spending time together.

I spent the last night of my trip at their home, where her husband enjoyed Bologna’s delicious chocolate and the kids now do their homework in the blue Snuggy, courtesy of Business of Software. Valerie, I will see you soon in Italy!

Valerie's family house

The city

The incredible mix of different ethnicities, religions, and customs makes San Francisco a dynamic community. If ever a conflict-free society is possible, San Francisco has good chances to be the place. ;-)

I stayed in Hotel Monaco, a charming hotel in the downtown. Having a short walk to go to the conference was nice. I saw more strange sporty cars in the center of the city than in the rest of my life. The Americans love everything is big, comfortable, automatic, powerful, and has wheels, of course.

Car

San Francisco looks like a movie set and people are exactly like in the serials I used to watch in Italy. I could not resist the temptation to enter a fast food restaurant and ask for a cheeseburger. The ten minutes of waiting for it were pure joy of observing the other customers and listening to their matters. Then the cheeseburger: it came with a generous portion of french fries and it is simply wonderful to eat, a true explosion of taste. Perhaps, it was not so easy to digest… my liver was still asking clemency after 12 hours.

Cheeseburger

The conference

The value of the Business of Software conference is so great that every boss of every software company should begin making plans for next year's conference in Boston. Pick one (or even two!) of your best developers. Choose people who are really open-minded, who aggravate their managers, saying “we should do that instead of this”, who are able to change the way they work, who really love to write software, and send them to Boston next October. It's the most rewarding investment in R&D you can do. And then, when they come back, just LISTEN TO THEM. I'm giving an imaginary high-five to all the developers hoping to make big changes in their companies, I am with all of you!

If you just started your own company or it is in your plans to start one, then you will find a lot of help going to Business of Software. You will meet people in your same situation and learn from their stories. Neil Davidson was right when he said that great speakers are only half of the conference, the other half is sharing real experiences with the other attendees in similar start-up situations.

The organization of the conference is well balanced between talks and unstructured "mingling" breaks. It will be surprisingly easy to discover relevant companies, shake famous hands, and even to talk with the speakers and ask questions.

Our meet-up

We love to meet people, especially our fans. ;-) Peldi had the good idea to organize a meet-up Tuesday night after the second day of the conference. Valerie and I were excited about it, and we spent two hours Saturday night with Martin, Valerie's brother, walking from a restaurant to a pub, from a pub to a café, to find the right place. The requisites were: 20-30 people, beer, some food, wireless internet is a plus. This walk was fantastic: I realized that you can enter everywhere with the excuse of organizing a private party, even places where they are actually having a private party and a couple of men in black at the door would kick your ass in normal conditions! Well, we opted for the underground room at Café Bastille, a nice French Café.

So Valerie set up a page on Facebook and I started to spread the word. The nice folks at Atlassian ended up co-hosting the party and Dave O'Flynn mentioned it in the last slide of his Pecha Kucha talk. "Oh, great!" I said. Maybe we will have 50 people. But then even Joel Spolsky from the stage of the conference gave the announce of the party, and Dave said "oh, f**k!" :-)

The party has been a great success, 150-200 people filled every corner of the room, and there was food and drinks for everyone! We want to thank all the fans and the curious who joined us at the party, we are so grateful for your sincere enthusiasm and supportive spirit!

How Balsamiq Fares

The presentation of Ryan Carson, one of the best talks, is a true challenge for Balsamiq. He explains in 8 points how to make your company remarkable. I think that Balsamiq is already good in 6 of them, and this is really awesome! :-)

But, as Ryan says, if you miss one, then you miss them all: we can't stop and wait. We have to "invest in good design." Mockups just got a new, nice looking application icon, so we are moving in the right direction. What to do next? We will try to figure it out.

I believe that we should not simply hire a designer and pass him every piece of UI for a cute touch. The risk is that the distinctive traits of Balsamiq will be diluted in a well-designed but anonymous UI. Our passion must be evident in all the things we do!

For sure I will stress to Peldi a lot about the talk of Ryan Carson, because Balsamiq will express its full potential only by taking and winning this big challenge.

Another interesting talk for Balsamiq was "10 Lessons about Venture Capitalists" by Heidi Rozen. At the moment we don't need (and don't want) VC funds. Heidi recalls that "we often turn down good companies," what a good advice to stick with our current decision. ;-)

Lots of valuable hints come from the talks of Geoffrey Moore, Dharmesh Shah, Joel Spolsky. It would be nice for the whole Balsamiq team to spend some time to compare our strategy with the suggestions of those talks. But before of doing that we have to ship our web-based service, so now I'll stop with the fun and get back to the work!! :-)

Ocean

Ciao!
Marco

Atlassian Summit Trip Report

Last week we participated in the Atlassian Summit, Atlassian's first worldwide conference and Balsamiq's first foray in being a conference sponsor.

Below is an account on what happened and what we learned from the experience, in hope it will be useful to some of you!

My Goals

When Atlassian approached me back in November asking me to sponsor for their first ever user conference I jumped at the opportunity. First of all, it was very affordable ($2,500 for a bronze-level sponsorship if I remember correctly). Second of all, it put something on the 2009 calendar so that we would have an opportunity to come back to San Francisco and see all of our friends, and third of all, it sounded like a great learning opportunity.

Oh, and it might be good for business as well. :)

Preparation

To help me prepare for the conference I hired my good friend Megara, whose full time job used to be organizing the American Ophtomology Association's yearly conference (about 25,000 attendees) and is now a freelance event planner. The Atlassian summit had 320 attendees, so it was a walk in the park for her.

She helped me ask all the right questions to the Atlassian folks, who BTW did a splendid job at keeping sponsors informed of everything: their "Summit Sponsors" Confluence page was the one place to find all the info, and it was always updated, we got notified of every change...ah, the power of wikis. :)

A great idea on their part was to record the monthly webinars they hosted for sponsors and post the recordings in .m4v format so that we could listen to them on our iPhones. Brilliant! If this seems iPhone-snobbyish to you, know that I am not convinced that EVERYONE in the Bay Area has an iPhone, that's pretty much all you see walking around the city.

Our marketing material

Megara thought we should have business cards to hand out. I had printed and cut out some lame ones in the past, so I asked her if she could come up with some prettier ones. Being the multi-talented woman she is, she drew some very pretty ones, and came up with a company logo to go with it as well:

vinegarlogo
I like the bottle and the "We add flavor!" tagline on it, so you might start seeing that around here more in the future.

We also created a flyer to hand out at the booth to talk about the product and our company. Atlassian mentioned that in order to use less paper they were going to print out the conference schedule on a single page and "accordion-fold it", which I thought was a cool idea - yay environment!

So I came up with the following mockup for our own accordion-folded flyer:

summit_insert
One thing to note is the "Balsamiq Restaurant Guide" in the back, which has an interesting genesis: after setting up the 6-columns mockup and starting to fill it in I thought "what the heck am I going to write in all these pages!?." :)

Given that question, I went back to my principle of trying to be useful to others in whatever I produce, so I thought: "the people I am going to give this to are likely from out of town and might stay in San Francisco for the whole week because of JavaOne, so what could be useful to them?" - but of course! A list of our favorite San Francisco restaurants and bars! ;) The added benefit is that because of the restaurant guide people were going to be more likely to hold on to the flyer and look at it more than once. Ha! Marketing! :)

Once the mockup was ready, I made the decision to go low-tech: if Megara or I tried to create a design-y brochure, it would have come out mediocre at best (we're not graphic designers, as this site or Mockups itself makes it very clear, and I didn't want to spend money hiring one). So I asked Megara to use her beautifully legible and fun handwriting instead!

I think the result is more personal, fun and definitely stands out from the other flyers that were given out at the conference. I am really happy with it.

The Front (click to enlarge):
summit_flyer_front
The Back (click to enlarge):summit_flyer_back

The booth

For the booth setup, we continued with our "personal touch" and food theme: I smuggled imported 24 little bottles of 75-year-old balsamic vinegar with me on the plane, to give out as a "conference special" to anyone who bought Mockups while at the conference (this turned out to be wishful thinking, as people needed to go back and get permission to buy from their bosses, which makes sense). Still, the little bottles looked very nice on our desk right next to the looping video demos.

dsc07918

Megara had also prepared a big tray of little caprese tartines, which we drizzled with the vinegar. It sure beat the candy other people were handing out! :) She also brought a big basil plant, which smelled wonderful and looked great.

Manning The Booth

I had never sponsored a conference or "worked the booth" at one before, so I really didn't know what to expect. In fact, I didn't really have time to think about it until Megara and I started setting up the booth. I told her "I hope no-one comes and talks to us" - I like when other people say nice things about Mockups but I don't like to "pitch" or "sell" it myself, yuck.

So it took me a little while to get used to the thought of it, but Megara once again had the perfect advice: "don't sell it, just talk about why you built it and how it solves the problem for you". I can talk about that all day! :)

dsc07922

Manning the booth means doing a lot of talking...person after person comes up and asks you to describe your product to them, so you have to have a quick elevator-pitch ready to go and be able to repeat it over and over.

It was fun to meet current customers and potential new ones and to hear about their issues, I really recommend it.

dsc079261

The only issue I had was that I almost completely lost my voice on the first night, with 2 full days to go and two conference presentations to give. Sudafed, Emercen-C and Ricolas really saved me.

One of the busiest weeks of my life!

One last thing I wanted to share with you was my schedule while in San Francisco last week (click for a larger image):

sf_trip

I have to give huge props to Valerie and Marco who kept the company running while I was busy running around town - I only really was able to "work" (which means doing email these days) in little chunks of time in between things...all in all I made 3 visits to the bank, 3 visits to my accountants, spoke at two conference sessions, manned the booth 6 times and went to 8 social events with friends and former colleagues. I was happy to be able to squeeze in some quality father-son time with GJ in the end as well but MAN it was an exhausting week! I'm looking forward to my first vacation since Balsamiq started next week - we rented a big beach house near Charleston, SC with 17 of our best friends...lots of kids, beach...and relax! :)

Onward!