Peldi's 15 Tips For Public Speaking

If you are thinking "I want to give a talk at a conference / event / workshop", I have some tips for you. Well, they aren't from me; they are from a workshop called "A talk about talks" that our fearless leader and frequent public speaker Peldi gave us during our 2014 Company Retreat.

Let me break it down for you. Here are Peldi's 15 steps for a successful conference talk:

peldi-speakerImage credit: ©John M. P. Knox

1. Get Invited

Sadly, judging from most conferences' "Speakers" pages, the first step to be invited to speak is to be male, white, tall and in your early thirties. Things are changing though, and hopefully we'll all be able to go to better, more diverse conferences.

One good way to get invited is to write a blog. Blogging is the easiest and fastest way to get noticed.

You can also straight-up ask to be invited. If you love a conference and you are dying to speak at it, flat out ask the organizers. Peldi did this for Business of Software, and asked Neil Davidson: "What do I have to do in life to be able to speak at BoS?". And he did it! Peldi gave his first talk Do worry...Be happy! at BoS in 2010, and that was the beginning of his public speaking "career".

Tip: If you are not famous, start by going to talk where no one else wants to go to, because it's far away or not in a sexy location. This will be great practice for you, and once you speak at a conference, you can put “Public Speaker” on your Linkedin profile and signature! Remember, conference organizers are always looking for speakers.

2. Have Something Useful to Share

The worse thing you can do on stage is to do a sales pitch for your product or yourself. Instead, talk about something that people clearly want to hear about; for example, your talk could be based on your blog's most popular post(s).

After a while you might get invited to speak just because you are well known; in that case, ask the organizers what they would like you to talk about and send them a few topic ideas.

Tip: Send the organizers your talk’s outline at least two or three times. Work on it together. The worst thing you can do is go to the conference and disappoint the organizers.

3. Know the Audience

Who attends this event? What kind of people are they? What do they do? These questions help you set the register, the tone and the language to use. Don't forget to ask the organizers about it; usually they have data from the previous years.

It is equally important to know why are they going to that conference. Put yourself in their shoes: if you were to go as an attendee, what would you want to learn?

Lastly, answer this question: what do you wish someone had told you when you were just getting started? Don’t forget that a lot of people that go to conferences are less experienced than you, otherwise, you wouldn't be the one giving a talk. In a way, your job is to try to remember what it was like when you first started getting interested in that topic and the things you were googling, the things you wanted to know...

Tip: Go the extra mile and think about any shortcut you can provide to your audience about your experience on that topic; they will be thankful for that.

4. Give it Time to Ripen

Peldi usually describes his process in this way: first, ideas come up in his head and then they go to his belly and they ripen; there is a "pregnancy" stage that could last one or two months, depending on how much time he has.

Let it simmer, don’t rush it out. And then you will feel one day it wants to come out. That is when Peldi opens Keynote, and in 1 hour he has all the structure down!

When you go to Keynote, the first step is make one slide per bullet, then save and close; within a minute you will open it again! The very first days are all about opening and closing Keynote. By putting your talk down in a structure it will help you think through and come up with ideas.

You’ll get more and more ideas over time; add them to Keynote as they come.

5. Work on the Talk Structure

Here is the classic structure of a talk:

It's a good start, but remember Kathy Sierra's advice: your goal should be to make your audience awesome. This means that talking about yourself and how great YOU are is just a waste of people's time. Jump straight into the content instead to maximize time for things that will help your audience.

So here are better and better structures:

6. A Clean Title Slide

It has to include:

  • The title of the talk.
  • Your name and Twitter handle: people will be tweeting your quotes during and after your talk, and there’s no better way to get feedback on how you did than looking at all your Twitter mentions! :)
  • Date and name of the event: for posterity and for people who will find the slides online.
  • Suggested hashtags: both the event's official hashtag and yours or your company's.

7. Skip the “About me” slide

People have already read your bio in the conference program guide, you don't need to prove to them that you deserve to be on stage. Plus it's much better to let the content speak for itself.

If you don't want to skip this slide altogether, you should make it very quick, as it makes you look sales-y and possibly insecure.

8. Skip the Table of Contents

Aristotle's advice is to "tell them what you're going to tell them", but I suggest skipping a TOC altogether. People don't have time and it takes away any surprise you might have during the talk.

9. Let The Meat of the Talk Emerge

What Peldi usually does is start dictating rough notes on his phone (because ideas come in every moment of your day, when you are falling asleep or while you are driving). He just puts random things related to the main topic in a note.

Just brainstorm, don't focus on structure yet: structure will emerge later in Keynote or PowerPoint.

10. Try to be Funny

Another ancient technique (this time from Cicero) is Captatio Benevolentiae: capture the goodwill of the audience at the beginning of a speech or appeal. Basically the first thing you want to do is to get the audience on your side. One of the easiest ways to achieve that is to make them laugh: start with a joke, or relate to the audience with something you might have in common. You can also make fun of yourself, it shows that you are humble, and it's a safe way to make a joke and not offend anyone.

Not sure what to do? Just add a cat slide! :)

peldi-obligatory-cat-photoImage credit: ©John M. P. Knox

If you can't be funny, you can steal other people’s funny stuff:

  • Videos.
  • Cartoons.
  • Memes!
  • Remember: Puns > Jokes.

Just give the author credit in a little note at the bottom of the slide.

11. Don't Make The Audience Read

Don’t make the audience read your slides, except for short quotes. People can read faster than you can talk, and then you lose them because they are reading your text and in the meantime they try to listen; it doesn't work. So have bullets show up one at the time: in Keynote, use “Appear” > “By Bullet”.

12. Use Different Media

  • Use “Section Title” slides: they help you with pace and prompt your memory.
  • Use photos: a big photo + 0-3 words = Great Slide. A photo sets the mood, people read a lot into it without you have to say anything. Note: Do not use “stock photo” photos, except ironically.
  • Use videos: they can be very powerful. But don’t overuse it and keep the clips short (even a 5-minute video is too long). Remember to check with the venue about audio. If you are going to give a technical talk, this is also a great (and safe) way to do a demo: just talk over a pre-recorded video with no audio instead!
  • Use screenshots, for example from Wikipedia; it's better then just writing some text, it's more powerful for the audience.
  • Use short quotes, and give people time to read them. The best quotes are from people the audience looks up to and people that they might recognize. This reinforces that you understand them and you are all together in this. Peldi used a great Steve Martin quote in some talks, "Be so good they can't ignore you"; what happened is that people magically attribute that quote to Peldi, even though he kept saying "It's not from me!". Well, you can’t fight it, it’s human nature...
    Bonus Points: quote previous speakers at the same conference and provide a respectful counterpoint. That means you’ll be working on your talk until the very last minute and it makes connection between people (this is called "pulling a Paul Kenny".)
  • Use cartoons the audience might love: people love thinking “I remember this one!”. This is another way to make connection. Give people 5 seconds to read the caption and laugh before starting to speak.
  • Use charts / infographics: usually people love to look at them. You can also use some Prezi-style presentation software, where you dive in and zoom in. But be careful that they don’t overshadow your content: people might be more excited about the zoom in and out than the actual content.

13. Iterate!

Iterate, at least 5 times, up until the minute you give it. Don’t think that it’s going to be good the first time, this is one of the most iterative things that Peldi knows of. Some organizers say: "Send me your slides 3 weeks before the talk", and Peldi always says "no", because he feels that he's got nothing until the minute he goes on stage. Your answer might be: "The slide will be ready after the talk". There’s always something to change or add!

As you work on your talk, hit play; go left and right. Flip through it over and over! You need to feel the rhythm; it’s a dance, so choreograph it! It’s like a song or a poem, pay attention to the cadence.

Tip: Stub slides with words, then find images or short videos to replace the words to communicate in a more powerful way.

14. End with Thank You + Links

  • “Thank you”: you should always say thank you, possibly in the language of the audience, or something like "I hope this helps".
  • Your name, email, Twitter handle: people will have questions, but most of them are shy and they won’t come to you after the talk. But they will send you an email!
  • Ideally, a short link (e.g., to PDF of slides. Right before he goes on stage, Peldi prints the Keynote to PDF and saves it to Dropbox. Right click, "copy public link", go to the last slide and put the link in there. Super quick!
  • Social links galore: by then, it’s OK to sell yourself a little bit. :-)

15. Rehearse!

This is the difference between a great speaker and a bad speaker. Show your talk to at least one more person (a colleague? a spouse?): if it’s an important talk, rehearse at least 4 times, 2 of which in front of someone. Even if they have no feedback, it will be useful to you. You don’t really care what they think, but it forces you to go through it. Plus, it’s the only reliable way to know how long the talk will actually take.

Tip: The more you do it, the more you memorize it.

See the full Slide Deck!

For all the details and more tips, here's Peldi's original slide deck from the Balsamiq retreat about this topic:

I hope you enjoyed Peldi's Tips on Public Speaking.

Do you have questions, or other tips to share? Post them below!


    On Working from Home, Better

    Balsamiq is a company optimized for working remotely. Of our ~20 employees, only nine live within commuting distance of our only office in Bologna, Italy, and even those employees rarely go in five days in a week.

    As I come upon three years at Balsamiq, I find myself reflecting on what I've learned about working from home in that time. There is truth to what Peldi has said: "the first year is great, then it gets hard."

    The Daily Routine

    There are a lot of articles out there with tips for working from home (like thisthis, this, and this). Many of them will tell you to get dressed and/or shower first thing in the morning, to create a routine as if you were going into an office.

    This is good advice for someone new to working from home. After all, we all want to avoid this.

    But I've experienced that getting really good at working from home (especially if you do it full-time) is less about replicating your office job life and more about unlearning it.

    Forget what you think working looks like.

    The first thing I tell people when they ask me for advice on working from home is to forget what you think working looks like. In an office, working looks like typing on your computer or sitting in a meeting room. Well, many of us have learned that meetings are a waste of time (to generalize). And sitting in front of a computer screen all day, typing away? What are we typing, anyway? TPS Reports? Just "stuff," to look busy?

    At home nobody is looking over your shoulder, which is probably the best thing about working from home. So forget about "looking busy" and do whatever you need to do to do good work. It's very liberating once it really sinks in! The problem with sitting in front of a computer is that it makes it hard to think. And, for most of us, good thinking leads to good work.

    Working from home as a skill is about managing a balance of working with your natural inclinations and working against them. You should work with own rhythm when it aids your productivity and work against it when you get in your own way.

    Working with yourself

    I find that I like to start work right away when I get up. I drink my coffee and check in on things, then I get up for breakfast after about an hour, then get dressed sometime after that. I enjoy being able to do things in that order (that would not work so well at an office).

    I've also started embracing that I sometimes need a long-ish break early in the day but that I'm often ok with short breaks for lunch. This actually took some time to occur to me because that's now how I was "taught" to work in an office.

    Pushing against yourself

    For me, I've learned that if I start tabbing through all my windows without doing anything in them that I've hit a productivity wall and I need a break, even though I may not really feel like it. So I try to get myself to just stand up as the first step. Once I'm up I'll go for a walk or do some chores. This often does wonders. Being physically away from the computer makes me feel more ready to work when I come back.

    distractionsImage credit: © The Oatmeal

    "Commuting" by walking around the block can help transition from home to work.

    Another challenge that I've tried to work around is the difficulty of transitioning from "home" to "work" and especially from "work" to "home" at the end of the day. To combat this I started taking a walk around the block before I start working and another walk around the block (in the other direction, of course) when I finish. I call this my "commute." Those few minutes can make a big difference and help me arrive back in a better state of mind than when I left.

    Zooming Out

    As for the broader picture, I tell people (ok, usually myself) that there will be times of low productivity. Days, weeks, or even longer. The first time this happens you might freak out ("I will never be productive again"), but after the 3rd or 4th bout you start to realize that it's an ebb and flow, that fighting it isn't the right response. You just gotta ride it out and know that it will end.

    There will be times of low productivity. Ride them out.

    One of the first articles on working from home that really resonated with me was David Tate's "How to work from home without going insane" and he has a section in it called "Crippling Depression – ride it like a wave." I return to this article at least once a year. That expression "ride it like a wave" has come back to me over and over and it helps me accept the state of things whenever I'm in a tough place with working from home.

    How Balsamiq Deals with Working from Home

    Balsamiq is optimized for working from home (more about that here). Even people in the office use our wiki and HipChat to communicate and keep people in the loop. This ensures that we really don't miss all that much from the office.

    Even office employees use remote tools to communicate and keep people in the loop.

    We also have two pages in our digital handbook: one called Managing Your Time and another with tips for working from home that contains a list of helpful articles about working from home.

    Our Managing Your Time page starts by saying "With practice it should be possible to work fewer hours and get more done." We are not rewarded here for working long hours ("Pace, not Deadlines"), and we really value work-life balance, so this idea is something that feels right for us.

    The page also lists some tips and tricks that reoccur in articles on getting things done, although it also acknowledges that what works for one person may not work for another.

    Of course, we also find ways to see each other. We have monthly video calls with everybody to check in, encourage local get-togethers for people in the same region or time zone, and spend a week all together on our annual retreats!

    The Lighter Side

    Finally, working from home can be a great source of humor, especially when you can share it with your work-from-home colleagues.

    timeImage credit: © The Oatmeal

    You know you work from home when...

    • You put "shower" on your to-do list
    • Instead of wearing different clothes each day you wear the same shirt and pants for 3 days and then switch to a different set
    • You laugh at yourself laughing to yourself
    • Your friends think you're "trendy" because you have a beard, but really you just stopped shaving
    • You lose track of time easily
    • You actually miss your old commute sometimes (just for a minute)

    Although some of us relish it more than others, I think that all of us "Balsamici" would agree that having the opportunity to work at home is a benefit to us and the company.

    Do you work from home? Do you agree or disagree with any thoughts above? Have any tips to add? Feel free to reply in the comments!

    - Leon

      2015 Balsamiq Retreat in the Loire Valley

      Since we are a remote, distributed team (9 from Italy, 5 from California, 1 from France, 1 from Germany, 1 from Netherlands, so far - and more are coming!), usually we see each other as two-dimensional people via webcam and, for many of us, just for a very short period during the day - what we call "Balsamiq Golden Hour" (8-9am PST / 5-6pm CET).

      Our Annual Company Retreat is a great opportunity to spend a significant amount of time together in person, and it has a special meaning for the first-timers; I know that for sure, because this was my first Balsamiq retreat, and I loved it! :)

      Our main goal for when we get together each year is to make shared memories. This means spending quality face time with each other, by cooking, eating, dancing, and doing different activities together. Basically the idea is to recharge our emotional batteries for the months ahead, when we each go back to our awesome but sometimes lonely home offices.

      We also use the retreats to talk strategy as a team and have company-wide conversations if needed, but that's only a small part of the retreat, as it eats into the having fun time! :)

      This was our sixth retreat together. Our previous retreat blog posts are here: 2010 (near Como, Italy), 2011 (near Recanati, Italy), 2012 (near New York, USA), 2013 (San Francisco, USA), 2014 (near Recanati, Italy).

      This year we put every lesson learned from the previous retreats in a magic pot, et voilà, we had an incredibly amazing fairy tale week together!

      Follow me, I'll show you everything.

      2015 Company Retreat

      The Location

      We always try to avoid hotel accommodations; nothing against them, but we prefer to spend our retreats in a more comfy and relaxed space where we feel at home, with no outsiders around.

      After a friendly competition between two different locations, the Chateau de Detilly, in Loire Valley won the contest.

      Chateau de Detilly, Loire ValleyChateau de Detilly, Loire Valley

      Can you imagine? A whole castle, all to ourselves. This was a big step forward, considering that during the previous retreats, we shared not only rooms, but also beds! We didn't mind, but we don't mind sleeping in fabulous rooms, as well!

      Fab rooms at the ChateauFab rooms at the Chateau

      We were split in two buildings, the Chateau and the Coach House. Most rooms were beautiful, but some of them were really amazing, with lots of luxurious extras. We randomly assigned rooms using


      We loved the theme from 2014 "Learning From and About" where we had an overwhelming 25 workshops!

      After that great success, we collected new ideas for this year's retreat. Everyone was invited to propose talks with the following characteristics:

      • It's a group activity lead by one person.
      • Participation is totally optional.
      • Suggested duration: 1 hour.

      Foldables workshopFoldables workshop

      Here are the workshops we had in the Chateau (click to see Facebook photos of each):

      It's amazing to see our colleagues leading a course and teach us how to do something. The best part is that in many cases, the workshop went beyond its hour and we kept talking and doing things even the days after. One example out of many is the knitting night led by Joy: it went viral and from that moment, every place and time were good for knitting!

      Knitting everywhereKnitting all the things!

      We also suspect that the Carlton dance that Mike taught us will come handy in many occasions. ;)

      Other Group Activities

      Doing things all together or in small teams is a real bonding experience. You can learn more about your workmates, both about their approach to challenges and goals, and how they cope with a project done as a real team. But more than that, it's great to have time to talk in person about this and that and deepen our relationships. For example, I will never forget the open conversations I had with a few Balsamici during our long Orienteering walk.

      Here are a few of the group activities we did:

      • 2CV Rally: in groups of three or four, we jumped in some classic Renault 2CVs and drove through the Loire Valley looking for places in a sort of treasure hunt.
      • Breton dancing: led by a local enthusiasts of historic dance, we learned how to dance in perfect Breton style.
      • Bike Tour: an afternoon biking on the Loire Valley's country roads.

        Bike Tour

      • Orienteering: three teams of five with a compass and a map, locating some games and challenges along the way.


      • Golf: a group lesson with a golf pro: putting, swinging, and playing a few holes!
      • Last but not least, 80's dancing! Check out the slow motion goodness below:

      Discovering the Loire Valley

      All countries have a lot to show: places, monuments, people, food... The Loire Valley in France is no exception. Early risers discovered the beautiful countryside around the chateau, with long walks and bike rides.

      Discovering the Loire ValleyAn unexpected encounter

      We toured a pair of places of interest: Fontevraud Abbey, a complex of religious buildings founded in 1101...

      Fontevraud AbbeyFontevraud Abbey

      ...and the city of Amboise, former home of the French royal court.

      AmboiseAmboise seen from the castle

      In Amboise Leonardo da Vinci spent his last years in the Chateau du Clos Luce, now restored, within Parc Leonardo da Vinci.

      Chateau du Clos LuceChateau du Clos Luce

      We also visited the city of Chinon, with its market and a Troglodyte village, where the houses are caves, carved in the limestone mountains rising up from the river.

      Food, food, food...! (and wine, wine, wine!)

      Being 17 people means that it's not easy for us to deal with cooking, preparing, doing dishes everyday, so we decided to hire Monsieur Dupree, Chef of Le Pélican Restaurant and a member of his staff, Monsieur Alain, for almost every dinner during the retreat.

      It was definitely worth it! Now we sampled a lot of French food, and are all pretty proud to be all about that bass now! ;)

      We also had one lunch at La Table de Mestré in Fontevraud and an amazing fancy dinner at Château de Marçay.

      Then on top of that, we were able to squeeze in two chocolate tastings, two wine tastings, and a large number of glasses on the dinner table every night.

      GlassesFive glasses. Every dinner!

      Monsieur Dupree had chosen four different types of wine for every meal, from the cocktail to the dessert wine. Good times indeed!


      Dining together after a busy day, and having someone else taking care of us was definitely the right choice: we had the time to relax and talk each other, and a lot of fun. I clearly remember three times where my ears and cheeks were hurting because of too much laughing! We also played Thumper during some dinners, and it was hilarious.

      What has worked well

      • It was critical to have a small designated planning team; and BTW, Anna and Luis did a great job!
      • We hired a local, Janet, our eyes on the ground who helped us plan outings, organize local transportation, and spoke English :).
      • One month before the retreat, Anna and Luis traveled to the Chateau for an on-the-spot investigation with Janet. Having an advance team do a walk-through helped us know what to expect on site, check wifi strength, etc.
      • Start with a "Day Zero" before the retreat so travelers from afar have a soft landing. For the same reason, don't plan anything for the first day of the retreat.
      • The good balance between activities and free time allowed us to work in small groups, keep an eye on everything (sales, support, bugs...), nap, play tennis and enjoy the pool.
      • As mentioned before, hiring a personal chef was great for us.

      What needs to be improved and what's next

      While this retreat was fabulous, we always practice Kaizen, continuous improvement.

      Here are a few things we're considering for the future:

      • Accommodations: try to find a place that fit all of us in the same building, and possibly with less "inequality" between the rooms.
      • Balsamiq retreats usually last about a week. Are they too long?
      • Currently we meet annually. Given than soon it will be too hard to find a week that works for everyone (we're just too many now), would twice a year be better?
      • Do we need a better process for date picking? Last year, we used a data picker in Google docs, color-coding our availability (Green="ok with me"; Yellow="not my favorite week but I could make it"; Red="I would skip the retreat it happened during this week") and numbers (from 0="won't come" to 10="love it")
      • Do we need a better process for location picking?
      • Do we want adjustments to the schedule (more or fewer outings, more or fewer workshops)?

      More Photos, and New Avatars!

      You can see 100+ retreat's pictures on our Facebook Page.

      Like we do each year, we took a new company picture for everyone; check them out on our Company page - and you may want to click on the framed picture of the team on the top for a little, Shakespearean surprise... ;)

      I hope you liked this little journey to our 2015 company retreat.

      Do you have some ideas to help us in the organizational process? Do you have any good experience of Company retreats? Let us know in the comments below!

      Bye for now,

        Volunteering at BOSS

        As I wrote recently, some of us use part of our Professional Development Time at Balsamiq to do some volunteering.

        We also encourage each other to share our learning experiences in order to inspire each other, so the "Bayamici" (the Balsamici from the Bay Area, CA) offered to talk about their recent volunteer experience.

        In accordance with our Donation Policy, "Each year, every full-time employee can chose one non-profit organization for the company to make a contribution to. The amount of the contribution is 3% percent of the prior year profits divided by the number of full-time employees".

        We keep track of our donations on a wiki page called "Donation Stories", where each of us writes about their donation, explaining their choice to their colleagues. Leon's donation for 2014 was to an organization called Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency in Berkeley, California.

        Here is what Leon wrote about BOSS:

        I found out about this organization when I volunteered at one of their transitional housing centers in Berkeley last year. I love my city and I want to give help to people here who aren't as fortunate as we are.

        A Different Friday

        On Friday, March 27th Joy, Natalie, Valerie, Leon, and Mike met in downtown Berkeley to volunteer at BOSS.


        They worked in a building that serves as transitional housing for homeless families with seven apartments where families can stay for two years to get back on their feet.

        The garden needed some TLC: weeding, planning and creating plant beds, pruning, weed-guarding, and mulching.

        Leon took on a big project with a centuryplant in the corner, weeding all around it, digging a bed, lining it with weed guard and mulch, and outlining the bed in vertical bricks:

        Before and After

        This process also uncovered some hidden bike racks that could come in handy in bike-friendly Berkeley!

        The center area was reclaimed by Joy who weeded, raked, added borders, and planted flowers. Natalie did the lavender topiary, more weeding, and created some new beds around existing plants. For curb appeal, Mike and Val weeded, raked, and re-bricked the edging of the front entrance.

        Joy Joy-Natalie-Valerie
        Gardening Mike

        Joy summed up her feelings about the project this way:

        As our guide for the day noted, having a nice, beautiful place to stay can do a lot for the family to feel good about themselves and their future. It was super fun to see everyone, to get involved in an organization that Leon donated to last year and to participate in a project in our greater local community.

        And Val:

        I love so much that we each are willing to put some sweat into the community.

        That's it! Taking a little time off work to do something like this can really make a big difference in people's lives. If you're interested, we'll be sharing more stories similar to this one in the future.

        What's your story? Does your company encourage volunteering activities? Let us know in the comments!

        Fra and the Balsamiq Team

          Professional Development at Balsamiq

          We have become hesitant about sharing our company policies because they are, and they should be, forever in evolution. That said, we do like to share things along the way with our community, both to inspire and to get your ideas on what we could do better.

          Today's topic is a policy that has worked well for us for over a year: our Professional Development Program.

          Balsamiq is a Learning Organization

          A few years ago, as we saw lots of clones trying to compete with us, Peldi realized that the one thing we have that competitors cannot copy is ourselves, our team. If each of us is great at what we do, and we work well together, we'll be tough to beat.

          The problem is that "being good" is not good enough. Each of us has a yearning to keep learning new things all the time, to get better. We're all passionate about it, but we realized that with the day-to-day routine, we rarely had time to dedicate to learning new things. It was frustrating, so in 2013 we started brainstorming how to fix this.

          Right as we were starting the discussion, we went to the Business of Software conference and, as always, had our minds blown by Kathy Sierra.

          Here's what she had to say about the importance of deliberate practice (scrub to 9:30 if you want, but I dare you not to listen to the whole talk, it's so good you won't be able to pull away):

          When we got back from BoS, we were committed.

          Even the "theme" of our retreat last year was learning from each other, which was kind of inspired by our PD projects.

          Let our Awesome Blossom

          The first thing we decided was that we should encourage everyone to set some time aside each week for learning (roughly 5 hours a week).

          You don't have to do it each week, you can manage it whichever way you'd like.

          Each person can choose to pick work-related topics (anything that could be useful to Balsamiq as a whole, not just their particular job) but it's not a strict requirement.

          Expenses for learning topics related to a person's job can be reimbursed, so we set aside a budget of $3000/year per person. We review the budget each January, but we haven't changed it in the last 2 years, it seems to be a pretty good amount. There's no prorating and no rollovers, use it or lose it.

          These expenses can be books, classes, or travel, accommodation and fees for attending conferences. A quick sidenote about conferences: if you get invited to speak at a conference or if we have a sponsor booth there, those expenses don't count against your budget. Sweet! :)

          Everyone schedules their "PD Time" - as we call it - on the internal Balsamiq Shared Calendar, so that we all know when someone is not available because they are learning something.

          We are strongly encouraged to share our learning as much as possible (using the company wiki, maybe a monthly or a pre-recorded quarterly "what I learned last month" presentation...). We want to get others excited about learning new things!

          To make sure we take this seriously, we also added these questions to the ones we always go through in our quarterly review 1-1 meetings with Peldi:

          • are we on track with your professional development?
          • are you learning enough (on the job or in PD time)?
          • think long term: are you working on what you want to get better at, or should we change something?

          Examples of What We Have Learned

          To make the most of our PD time, a few of us have attended a great course on "Learning How to Learn". The initial spark came from Luis, who takes his PD Time very seriously, and he is often of inspiration for us!

          Luis and Anna took a course on Public Speaking.

          Mike is working hard on his music, as you can see in our latest release.

          Leon, who works from home in Berkeley, sometimes goes to a cafe for a change of scenery. He thought it would be neat to compile a community-curated list of cafes with good wi-fi, so he cobbled a site together using a bunch of free and open source tools and his own HTML and CSS knowledge: and here is Work From Homers Club - Berkeley.

          Ben wants to improve his iOS-code-skill and developed Pointedly, a nice mobile app to track and save points for multiple games. As he says, "it was a lot of work, and a lot of fun". Next step: the Apple Watch!

          Peldi had to study a lot when he decided to prepare a talk for the International Women's Forums in Bologna titled "Becoming an English-Speaking Female Entrepreneur in Bologna".

          Florian developed a Sudoku solver and extended it to a Sudoku generator. The program also supports variations like diagonal sudokus and hyper sudokus.

          Michele studied Android very deeply: online articles, books, conferences...

          Andrea wrote a plugin for Atlassian Confluence that processes data from Pivotal Tracker, to automatically fill his weekly agenda with what he has worked on each week.

          Val attended two courses about Emotional Intelligence at Stanford.

          I am reading "Where Stellar Messages Come From" from CopyHackers and improving my English attending a School twice a week.

          Natalie is going to an Italian Class while Stefano is attending some private lessons to learn Dutch.

          Some of us use that time to do some volunteering: we firmly believe that it's a personal and professional development, as well! Some weeks ago, Joy set up an awesome volunteer day for the Balsamici from California at BOSS; I'll tell you more about it in a future post.

          We are very happy with our PD program, and are finding it true that Creative Hobbies Improve Our Performance at Everything.

          Do you have any suggestion for us? How do you get better at what you do?

          Mahatma Gandhi Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

          Fra for the Balsamiq Team

            Tips for Customer Support

            Support is something really important to us.

            During the latest Balsamiq Retreat, Peldi asked Ben to teach his techniques for excellent customer support with the rest of the team.

            Here's what he taught us; we hope it will come useful for those of you who do support!

            The Perfect Support Interaction - Par 3

            Ben started the workshop with our mission: Balsamiq exists to help rid the world of bad software.

            Inspired by Kathy Sierra, we have realized that our goal is not to create awesome software, but to create awesome users. If our users are successful, they will create awesome software and other awesome users.

            In other words, support for us means helping our users get unstuck so that they can go back to work on ridding the world of bad software.

            One of the core principles for us in doing support is the concept of Par 3, borrowed from golf. Here's what we consider an ideal support interaction:

            1. customer writes in
            2. we reply with the perfect answer
            3. customer replies "Thank you, that's exactly what I needed"

            That's it! No need to follow-up, they get enough email as it is.

            The rest of this post explains how to craft that "perfect answer".

            Canned Responses: Yes or No?

            We believe canned responses are both helpful and dangerous.

            They're mostly helpful for repeated requests (though an FAQ on your site will remove the need for people to write you in the first place), but they're also helpful for those days when you are not 100% happy, but you still have to talk to people. ;)

            The dangerous side is this: if it’s not your tone, if it's not your voice, it’s going to sound fake. You just copy and paste something that someone else wrote that doesn’t match the rest of what you wrote. So it can be dangerous, but that danger can be solved: just write a collection of little pieces of canned responses written by yourself, in your style, with your tone, that you can pull together as needed.

            Anatomy of a Perfect Reply for a Bug Report

            Crafting the perfect answer might feel intimidating, but don't worry, anyone can do it, it's not that hard. Here's a formula to help.


            Note: this formula is infinitely adaptable, the order of the sections is highly contextual.

            1. Greeting

            The most important thing in support is to be yourself: first of all, we say “Hi” or "Hello": it's more familiar compared to other greetings. You may have noticed that we are not very formal; we are relaxed and comfortable and we want to be that way with our customers.

            Tip: Be natural but also be friendly: use their name almost every single time.

            2. Thank

            The support interaction is just beginning, but we recommend you thank the person who is writing, probably upset, to tell you that you have done something that has caused them pain.

            Part of the reason we feel this "thank you" section is so important is because it's very natural and common, when someone is attacking you, to get defensive; this "thank you" section changes everybody's mindset. You let them know that you are both on the same path now, trying to solve the problem together so that they can get back to helping rid the world of bad software.

            Tip: Write something that says "I know you have taken time out of your life to share this problem with us, without which we might not know about it and be able to fix it."

            3. Empathize

            Once you have thanked them for what they're doing for us, you have to show them that your understand their pain.

            It can be a simple apology. What an unusual thing that is, in today's world, for a company to say: "It's our fault, we're sorry!" It's about taking responsibility. You do care, right?

            Tip: Try to really put yourself in their shoes. I bet you'd probably be upset too! :)

            4. Identify

            When someone is writing you with a support question, it's often much more emotional than logical. They're writing in a certain emotional state: they've lost time because there was a problem, they're now losing more time to tell you about it and share their experience.

            They need to feel like you understand both their emotional state and what has happened technically, in order for them to trust and believe that what you are going to tell them will help. If they don't feel like you understand them, they will resist whatever you're telling them, they're not going to listen to the solution that is going to fix their problem; so this Identify phase is very important.

            So: clearly identify the problem, give it a name. For example, "I can help you with sharing images," or "This is what I think is happening," or something like that.

            If they are not clear enough about their problem, you need to tell them your assumptions. Sometimes it can be a challenge to figure out what's happening, but with the goal of Par 3, your first response should not be "What product are you using?".

            Sometimes that's all you can do, but you should first try to figure it out. For example, we might say: "Let me know if I'm wrong, but it sounds like you're using Mockups for Desktop."

            Tip: Your reply back needs to be a mix of emotion and logic. The logic will help engage different parts of their brain, and calm them down. But if your reply only contains logic, you will come across as cold, impersonal and uncaring.

            5. Resolve

            The single most important part of a perfect response is to resolve the problem. Without this part, your response fails.

            One of the most effective resolutions that you can and should have, is: "This is all you need to do, follow the instructions on this link: {link to support article}."

            This is more and more of our answers in Balsamiq support, especially with beginners, also due to Leon's work on writing the support documentation for Mockups, which makes everyone's life easier. :)

            If you have a website section dedicated to FAQs and Support docs, this kind of resolution is very helpful also because it exposes users to your massive support knowledge base - I'm sure you have one, right? ;)

            Once they see all those articles, they'll understand you've taken time to think about this problem and think: "Maybe next time I have a question, I'll start here instead of tweeting, calling, or emailing." Bingo! :)

            Tip: Sometimes you have to tell them a workaround, such as another way to do something until the bug is fixed. This is often painful: the resolution is not always a happy thing.

            6. End

            Our favorite ending is one that leaves the interaction open.

            "Please let me know if you run into any trouble or have any more questions": even if your goal is Par 3, you shouldn't shoot down further interaction. You want them to feel like you are here and available when they get stuck.

            I hope you enjoyed Ben's Support School! Here are his slides: 

            In case you want to learn more about Customer Support, we recommend this book: “The Customer Support Handbook” written by our friend Sarah Hatter, CEO of CoSupport.

            The book is full of good advice for those who intend to have a career in Customer Support; some chapters are written by people who are great at it, and the book contains a large number of possible support cases, each with a proposed solution. In the "Best Practices" chapters you can find tips to write better emails, apologize to your clients and admit mistakes, deal with feature requests, do Social Support, etc.

            And remember, the best support is no support: it means that you're doing a great job with your product. :)

            Hope this was helpful. Any questions, post them below!

              Looking back at 2014

              Hello again friends of Balsamiq!

              Peldi here with our traditional "state of the union" end-of-year report. You can find previous editions here: 2008, 2009 and 2013.

              As usual, this is going to be a very long post.


              We're doing great. We're executing on our vision, one step at a time. Most of what we did in 2014 was behind the scenes, and will be released in 2015 (we're SO excited). Revenue grew about 4.5% (not bad considering our last official release was in March), and profit margins remain very healthy. Our micro-multinational finally feels mature, with all the processes and benefit programs we'll need for a while. Customers are gradually migrating from Desktop to myBalsamiq, as expected. Support load and competitive pressure are both low, so we can afford to stay focused on gradually moving to native platforms and other hard-to-do product improvements.

              The Nitty-Gritty

              Interested in all the details? Let's dive in!


              We only had one official release of Mockups this year, on March 13. With it we introduced bracketed text links and iPad and iOS7-styled controls. We also did 3 small bug fix releases, but overall, the 2.2 codebase has been mothballed since about April, when we shifted our focus to...

              Balsamiq Mockups 3: as you may remember from last year, our focus has been to gradually move away from Flash, towards native implementations on all major platforms, while sharing the bulk of our code-base between versions. It's a massive undertaking, and a risky one. To lower this risk, we decided to take two in-between steps: the first one was to refactor our existing code-base to separate the parts that required Flash from those that didn't. The idea was to end up with a core set of classes that could be translated to Javascript to form the core of our native editors. We spent months rearchitecting the existing code-base, pushing Flash-specific classes to the edges and cleaning up 6-years worth of technical debt in the process. That effort is now complete, the new codebase is a joy to work with, and will serve as the basis for the future Balsamiq Mockups native editors, coming sometime in the future. The other step we wanted to take to minimize risk in the migration to native was to make all of the UX changes we've been wanting to make to the product for years, BEFORE going native. This way we could deliver the changes sooner and test them on the existing code-base, letting the dust settle before we port the new UX to native platforms.

              These two steps (code refactoring and UX improvements) were meant to happen separately, but sometime in April we decided it made more sense to do it all at once. It took about 10 months, but it's all done. We are planning on opening up a public beta of Balsamiq Mockups 3 at the beginning of February, and starting work on the native editors in earnest right after that (we'll start with iPad and Android versions first).

              UX changes in Balsamiq Mockups 3

              The main change is that we are finally moving from a one-mockup-per-file to a one-project-per-file model. The new file format is called BMPR (pronounced bumper) and it contains all of the mockups, assets and symbols for a given project. Super-easy to share, and designed for the future (it will also contain mockup revisions, branches, comments, and more).

              Mockups for Desktop 3 is able to import and export your existing BMML files, but BMPR is its primary file format. BMPRs are based on sqlLite, which allows us to automatically save every change as you make it.

              The editing UX is much more mature: you can open multiple project windows at the same time, and we have adopted a "3 column" UI which is very common for authoring tools: the list of resources is on the left, and properties are on the right. The annoying floating property inspector is finally a thing of the past! :)

              We also made the full-screen presentation experience much more powerful, and greatly simplified creating and working with Symbols.

              In the process, we fixed over 750 issues between bugs and feature requests. The app is noticeably faster and able to handle large projects without much trouble.

              Balsamiq Mockups 3 is going public beta on 2/2/2015, stay tuned on our Product Blog for the download link!

              The road to native

              In 2014 we focused on creating a multi-platform viewer of BMML files, as a first step towards native editors. It was a lot of work, but it came out really nicely. We now have a core set of Javascript classes that can render any BMML natively in multiple platforms.

              We soft-launched (or are about to launch) 3 incarnations of this native viewer:

              • a native OSX BMML QuickLook plugin: read more and try it out here. We are going to make this work in Yosemite and understand BMPR files soon.
              • an HTML+SVG viewer inside of myBalsamiq, in the single mockups view. This will ship publicly in a few weeks.
              • a native linux renderer (uses Node.js and Canvas to output bitmap files) to be used by myBalsamiq for creating thumbnails and PDFs. This will replace our current hacked-together and error-prone solution of running a cluster of Mockups for Desktop linux clients.

              The viewer supports skins, links, custom icons, assets...the works!


              2014 was a good year for myBalsamiq, our beloved web app.

              Just like for the Mockups editor itself, most of the work happened behind the scenes. We actually shipped 25 releases of myBalsamiq (all without any downtime of course). We added the ability to specify a secondary billing administrator, we added more events to the mockup-, project- and site-history streams, we added the ability to restore deleted mockups, made several performance updates and added features to help our sales support team extend trials quickly. We also worked extensively with security experts, making your data safer every day.

              Behind the scenes, we rearchitected how we save mockups in the database (we migrated the BMML data out of RDS and into S3), we merged custom editor code with our main browser-based Flash editor, started using Docker and Vagrant to develop and deploy different components of our web app, made the app work with our new Buy Page, gave our administrator UI a new look and feel and started React-ifying the front-end code.

              2015 will be the year in which we finally start investing more in myBalsamiq. By the spring, we should have 3 full-time developers on it (incredibly, we've only had Luis work on myB full-time until now).

              The focus for 2015 for myBalsamiq is to integrate the B3 editor (trickier than it sounds), to offer yearly subscription plans, and to revamp the UI to make it much faster and streamlined (moving to React). This will also help us simplify the server-side code, which will finally start having some real JSON APIs. You just wait, it will be great. :)


              In 2014 we simplified our plugin business by discontinuing two low-performing products, which ended up being less painful than we expected.

              In 2015 we will continue to work on streamlining Mockups for Confluence and JIRA, by moving to the Atlassian Connect architecture and trying to migrate as many of our customers to Atlassian Marketplace as possible.

              Mockups for Google Drive remains our best-kept-secret, which makes it the ideal test-bed for new and exciting things. In 2014 Mockups for Google Drive was the first product to adopt the BMPR file format, the first plugin to fully support Symbols, and the first to get real-time collaboration in the editor! In 2015 it will also be the first to offer Stripe-based subscriptions (the final step in migrating all of our payment processing to Stripe), followed by myBalsamiq.

              For 2015, our plans are to bring Balsamiq Mockups 3 to all of our plugins...and we will finally have feature parity between all of our product versions!


              Automated testing continues to be a very important part of our development process, allowing us to confidently deliver high-quality releases in a short amount of time.

              Our main growth area for 2014 was around security testing. We have learned a ton and put it all in practice, with the help of some security researchers who wrote to our address.

              Keeping your data safe is a never-ending effort, but one we enjoy doing. We cannot go into too many details, but rest assured that your data is even safer now.

              We continue to write new tests as new features are developed, and continue to make sure our testing bots run smoothly and quickly.


              Operations is another of those areas that "is never done", but that we enjoy nonetheless. :)

              In 2014, we quickly dealt with both the Heartbleed and Shellshock vulnerabilities. We upgraded our build machine, streamlined our AWS usage and even created our own private Docker registry.

              We are very proud of our uptime reports: our websites pretty much never go down (yay for static sites on S3!), and myBalsamiq had 99.97% uptime (not bad, but we want to do even better in 2015!).

              We improved how we build our static websites, swapping our Hammer workflow with one based on grunt. We also put, and behind a CDN, which makes them fast all over the world.

              Website Updates

              In 2015, among other things, we plan on switching to be HTTPS-only: the GOOG says it's time.

              Admin, Finance and More

              The main focus of our admin team in 2014 was to implement our new let's compete locally on benefits policy across our different geographical locations. For our LLC, this meant switching to a new 401(k) provider, new medical benefits plans that also cover family members and a new life and disability insurance. Similar improvements are about to kick off for our Italian, French and German employees.

              Other than that, we worked on the many little and big projects required to make a distributed micro-multinational work smoothly: we streamlined how we work with our accountants and payroll providers, we kept up with our local tax registrations, set up a new company nexus in Utah, we revamped our expense reimbursement forms, we updated our liability insurance and passed our PCI compliance audit, we learned about COPPA and made some changes to make sure we comply with it, we improved how we do international wire transfers, updated our transfer-price documentation, organized an amazing company retreat and several mini-retreat and get-togethers. We also formalized a bit how we organize retreats and picked a location for our 2015 company retreat: we rented a small castle in the Loire Valley in France at the beginning of June! :)

              We also upped our contributions to our Donations (now 3% of profits) and Profit Sharing programs (now 15% of profits), trained in first-aid and fire-fighting for office safety, updated our office safety compliance documentation, rented another garage, made business cards for everyone, and welcomed Francesca to the Balsamiq family!

              We also invested part of our cash reserves, finally putting our money to work.

              We continued to improve our Company Handbook, and we'll be sharing more of it in 2015. For now, I just want to mention three new policies we started in 2014 that are working out really well:

              1. We started to have quarterly 1-1 catch-up meetings between each employee and myself. The goal of these meetings is to take a step back and think more long-term than what we usually do.
              2. We started a Professional Development program: we encourage each of us to take half a day each week during regular work hours to learn something new or improve something we already know.
              3. We started a Time Off to Exercise program: we encourage each of us to take half a day each week during regular work hours to do some physical exercise.

              On the financial side, we created an internal dashboard to help us track sales. Below are a few of the charts for 2014.

              Here you can see revenue growing nicely, even if we haven't focused on it. Note that these numbers are not 100% accurate, but pretty close:

              Here's a count of transactions: we're handling about 10,000 transactions each month these days...not too shabby! :)

              Here's a chart showing where our customers are. Australia is over-represented because of our Atlassian Marketplace sales, which we don't break down:

              Here you can see that Desktop sales have slowed down while myBalsamiq sales just keep growing (as expected). Plugins are pretty steady:

              Here's another chart, showing how revenue is gradually migrating from Desktop to SaaS, as expected:

              We are at about $370,000 in revenue per employee, which is high. We plan on hiring one or two programmers in 2015, which will help us go even faster. Interested?

              Conferences, Interviews and Press Mentions

              We attended the following conferences:

              • Clojure eXchange 2014, London
              • Microservices Meetup, Amsterdam
              • Enterprise UX Meetup, San Francisco
              • Business of Software 2014, Boston
              • JS Conf 2014, Berlin
              • Atlassian Summit, San Jose
              • JS MVC Meetup, Amsterdam
              • AtlasCamp, Berlin
              • JSDay, Verona
              • You in UX Web Conference
              • 99u Conference, NYC
              • React 2014, London
              • WebRTC meetup, Amsterdam
              • Joy of Coding 2014, Rotterdam
              • Interaction_14, Amsterdam
              • Javascript MVC Meetup, Amsterdam
              • Strange Loop 2014, St.Louis
              • Leon spoke at a HCI class at Purdue University (video)

              My interview for the ConversionAid podcast was surprisingly popular, here's the link: How Balsamiq Bootstrapped Its Way Into a $6M Business.

              Press mentions around the web are too many to count, but here's a little sample of some of the most interesting articles:

              Looking ahead

              This year is going to rock: 2014 was for building, 2015 is for shipping! :)

              As always, things will take longer than expected, there will be ups and there will be downs, and we'll learn A TON in the process. Bring it on, we're ready! :)

              Thanks for reading this super-long post.

              If anything in this post surprised you or sparked your interest, don't be shy and add a comment! I'd love to answer any questions you might have.

              We hope 2015 brings you and your families health, happiness and success.

              Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

                Balsamiq, the Secret Sauce

                It's not hard to guess that our company has always had a strong affinity with food. Especially good, earthy, artisanal, unpretentious food.

                We even added a menu item in our software's Help menu about it! Clicking on it will take you to this page, where you'll find a playlist FULL of great and simple video recipes, made with love mostly by our own Valerie Liberty, queen of phone support and awesome chef of every-day simple meals.

                We called our company Balsamiq because our software has a lot in common with balsamic vinegar - the good kind, aged at least 12 years, made in Modena, Italy: it's artisanal, it's smooth, it's a treat to use, it improves other things (like our plugins do), it's made in Italy, and yes, it takes a long time to make, but it's worth the wait. :)

                Over time, we have noticed that this affinity has spilled over a few's a few examples of what we mean.

                Actual recipes

                We found a super geeky girl who runs Coders.Kitchen, "the only blog where food and tech connect". Her name is Sarah and she writes recipes inspired by different tech companies. For us, she came up with "Balsamiq Crock Pot Caramelized Onions"! Such a tasty recipe... yummy!

                Another blog, French Cooking for Dummies by a French girl named Véro, has 3 recipes with the tag 'Balsamiq vinegar': Warm goat cheese salad, Green asparagus and vinaigrette, Smoked duck & pear appetizer spoon.

                Last but not least, if you like squid you cannot miss this delicacy: 'Squid Adobo In Balsamiq Vinegar'.

                Instagram pictures tagged with "balsamiq"

                Oops, I think my mouth just watered. ;)

                I want to leave you with a little story: whenever we have to spell "balsamiq" over the phone, we usually say: "Balsamiq. Like the vinegar, but with a Q". Back in 2009, as our little business was taking off, Peldi's step-dad Eugenio made this prediction: "If you keep going at this rate, soon the city of Modena will describe the vinegar by saying like the software, but with a C!" :)

                Enjoy your meal everyone! :)


                  Even Santa uses Balsamiq?

                  As you know, our little company is spread out around the world. We have a Hipchat room we use to share day-to-day stories, which helps us bond. Today Stefano told us a story from his weekend which we'd like to share with you:

                  The scenario is the Annual Inescapable Christmas Party Among Italians™ for families living in Leiden, Netherlands. Here's what happened:

                  ...there I was, lost in the chaos of a horde of loose children, trying to hide behind a table full of cakes, pretending to look after Alberto who was happily working on his third slice of pandoro.

                  And then I meet this new face, a nice guy from Brazil, working on his PhD in Delft. It turns out we're both nerds so we start talking about stuff and then he says:

                  No way! I just lllloove Balsamiq! That's where I've seen your face! I'm trying to convince my whole department to buy a new license!

                  And so on. He also introduces me to his girlfriend... and then it occurs to me: "What are you doing in this forbidden hell if you're not Italian, you don't have children and don't even live nearby??"

                  "I'm supposed to be the Santa", he says". LOL!!

                  brazilian santa balsamiq fan

                  Thank you Stefano for sharing your little shiny story. And Happy Holidays to all of you from your friends at Balsamiq.

                    Santa visited Balsamiq today!

                    As Santa gets ready for his annual trip around the world, he came by for a visit to our different locations this morning. We all were ready for him, bouncing off the walls and with big smiles on our faces.

                    We must have been good this year, because he brought us such beautiful gifts!

                    Santa loot

                    • Creativity, Inc.: a book on what does it mean to manage well from Ed Catmull, the co-founder of Pixar Animation
                    • a terrific photo-album from our last retreat
                    • a generous Amazon gift card
                    • 2 things from our SWAG stores (US / European)
                    • brand new Business Cards! So what if they feel corporate! ;)

                    Santa-Peldi wrote us a little dedication, let me share it with all of you:

                    I know I say this every year, but it really fells like the years are flying by, and 2014 was no exception. A lot of what we did in 2014 was 'behind the curtains' stuff, but it was nonetheless incredibly important and exciting. I'm going to write a blog post about it around the end of the year, you'll be amazed.

                    Personally, what I loved the most about this year was noticing how each of us is getting better at what we do, while at the same time getting better at working together, even in our challenging geographically-and time-zone-distributed environment. Such Kaizen... very amaze... wow... ;)

                    I am SUPER excited about 2015. I don't know about you, but I still think that the best is yet to come for our little company! :)

                    Let's take some time to reflect and get re-energized... Try to be away from a screen as much as possible over the break! Play board games, make something with your hands, have long chats with friends and loved ones, in person! I know, radical.

                    Merry Christmas and happy holidays, Balsamici.


                    Have a great holiday season, friends!
                    Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

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