How and Why We Give Away Swag

Giving gifts is a win-win situation. You make customers happy, cultivate loyalty, and get good marketing results simply by being generous and grateful.

Today we want to share our experience about how to and why we give away swag, in the hope that what we’ve learned will be useful to you.

Our Swag Story

Since Balsamiq launched, we've enjoyed offering tokens of gratitude.

We’ve been distributing stickers, pins, and sharpies mostly at the conferences we've attended. It always works as a good spark to start conversations with our fans.

Nevertheless, we wanted to do more to show our appreciation.

Our very first attempt at giving gifts was sending out little bottles of balsamic vinegar by mail, with handwritten notes, to a dozen of our clients.

A bottle of Balsamiq's balsamic vinegarA bottle of Balsamiq's balsamic vinegar

Later on, we've made it more scalable and started designing some t-shirts: less fancy than the balsamic vinegar, but surely a more sustainable way to thank all the love and support our Community's had for us.

And since nothing beats the sentiment of happy customers wearing our tee, it's become part of our way of building and nurturing our relationship with them.

In the meantime, we've kept on crafting a lot of swag apparel and accessories just for us, on special occasions like our annual company retreats.

part of our 2016 Retreat Swag, a bagOur 2016 Retreat Bag

Trying to excel at customer service is our way of doing marketing. Massively distributing company-branded articles wouldn't fit very well with our culture. But here's what happened: after giving away a few t-shirts, people started asking about them, so we decided to make them available at cost, without framing it in a marketing strategy. That's how the Balsamiq swag store was born. Yay!

Who Gets Balsamiq Swag

Our intention is to show how grateful we are to those that go above and beyond as members of our community. We want to keep it unique, and we give away swag only as a form of recognition of something someone did for us that was special, for example:

  • They helped us debug a tough bug.
  • They consistently report bugs or help others in our forums.
  • They gave us great ideas for new features.
  • They are Balsamiq Champions, sharing good practices and knowledge in general about UX.
  • They are do-gooders.
  • They were excellent candidates we met when interviewing for new job positions.

You get the idea 🙂

We also do it to welcome new hires or just craft new shirts for no particular reason other than our love for our company.

Here are pictures of part of our newbies' gear. Getting them makes us feel special and part of a great company since day one.

Swag for new hiresPart of our welcome swag

How We Send Swag

Joy, our does-it-all COO, buys discount codes in advance from Spreadshirt, the company that makes our swag. When we want to give someone a gift, we just need to tell Val, the heart and soul of all the swag-giving Balsamiq does. She will then email the codes to our recipients so they can choose what they’d like best from our store (design size, color...)

Every shirt, tote bag, or water bottle is a custom order. In this way, our supplier doesn't have any "stock" sitting around waiting to be sold, and we don't have to worry about what size or color the customer prefers.

Our provider sells through two online stores, one for the US and the other one for Europe. The distribution for the rest of the world could be a problem sometimes since it can cause an extra shipping charge to our recipients. But we don't want our friends to put their hands in their wallet to receive a gift! So, if you happen to know a better way to handle it, we are all ears. We'd love to get suggestions to smoothen out this part of the process.

Speaking of Spreadshirt

We like to do business with companies similar to Balsamiq in size and values, and Spreadshirt is a perfect fit. They produce high-quality items, crafted with responsible and eco-friendly practices by people who care about each T-shirt or accessory they manufacture.

They're focused on an excellent customer service, handling every interaction painstakingly with great empathy.

A quick story: on May 2nd, 2016, a sad day for the music world, we ordered new coupon codes under the name PAISELYPARK. It was a very unusual word, definitely unrelated to Balsamiq. Still, that confusing request didn't stop them from making us look awesome. They read our minds, and created the right codes under PAISLEYPARK; they'd understood we wanted to pay a little tribute to Prince using the name of his record label.

In addition to their great products, service and company culture, they're always going the extra mile with every purchase. They handle all the shipping and customs which makes the process cost-and-time efficient for us. They make sure our customers receive their personalized piece, timely and frictionless.

Take a look at how they print your t-Shirt!

They're awesome!

How Much It All Costs

The truth is, we don't know. We have all the data to calculate it, but we believe there’s no point in squeezing those numbers to get more information. We just have to make sure not to break the bank. 😉 However, if you’d like to know even a tiny bit of hard data, we pay an average of $25 for each item we send as a gift. If someone buys a tee directly from the store, we don’t get a cent.

Why Would Anyone Want Balsamiq Swag

You may ask.

We hope it’s because they love us 😊

We make the designs cool and close to our personality without a pushy branding agenda behind them. You can see the Balsamiq Mockups' smiley face, our tagline, and other witty messages, but the focus is never on the name of our company. We'd love that those who wear our stuff feel like insiders, not promoters.

It’s great to recognize each other as Balsamiq lovers and share this sense of belonging.
Besides, who doesn’t love a cool tee? ❤️

Take a look at our store. There's a bunch of goodies, from t-shirts and hoodies to aprons and baby onesies.

Return on Investment

If we don’t quantify the investment, we can hardly talk about a return. Yet, we have qualitative proof that this effort is worth it.

It pleases our customers and strengthens the relationships with our community. On top of that, we’re cultivating arguably the most optimal marketing method of communication, which is word of mouth.

People would most likely talk about us when we reciprocate on their awesomeness. With that gift, we’re giving people a story to tell, online and offline. It doesn’t matter if they are just a handful out of thousands.

We’re trying to do business the most human possible way. This happens in the small honest personal interactions that allow us to build trust. Have you ever read The Thank You Economy?

dominik wearing his balsamiq swag

A mug, a sticker or a pin are a perfect trigger to remind people about our little tool. Who knows? Maybe one day they will suggest Balsamiq Mockups to one of their friends. It’s a simple fun way to go from top-of-mind to tip-of-tongue. Have you ever read Contagious? 😉

#balsamiq #prototype #ux #mockup #stikers #good #stuff старая школа 🤘🏻😎🤘🏻

A photo posted by Andrey Zaytsev (@nabash2) on

We’d love to hear your story: what do you give? Or what did you get? What could we do better? Leave your comment below! 😊

Jess for the Balsamiq team

    Welcome Drew Lafferty and Lizelotte Green!

    Hello, friends of Balsamiq! Our not-so-little-anymore team keeps on growing!

    Today I would like to introduce to you our two new team members: Drew Lafferty and Liz Green!

    Drew Lafferty

    Drew is a jack-of-all-trades Developer / DevOps, based in Chicago, Illinois.

    Drew Lafferty

    He loves working full stack and diving into both front-end and back-end code, as well as learning about new web technologies and anything Ops related.

    His main responsibility is to be the lead developer of Olio, our home-grown CRM web app.

    On top of that, he's something close to an "IT guy" for us: if anyone has a technical question or needs some programming help, Drew's there to help.

    We received over 200 applications for this job position and met some great people in the process. After three rounds of interviews, it became clear that Drew was the one who had the right combination of experience, skills, shared interests, location and culture fit for this particular job position.

    Drew is already becoming an integral part of our team. It's such a luxury having him around!

    Lizelotte Green

    Lizelotte goes by Liz, and her job title is "Tier 2 Sales Support and Product Manager for CRM". It means that she's going to become our in-house expert on how we sell our different products, and work with Drew to make Olio as powerful and easy to use as possible for our sales support team.

    Liz Green

    Again, we received over 200 applications for Liz's position and met some really great candidates, who we hope to cross paths again with in the future.

    We are ecstatic with having chosen Liz, though: she's smart, detail-oriented, enthusiastic, warm, driven and independent. She's also based out of Chicago, which gives her ample time to overlap with our CET and PST sales support team members.

    You can find Drew and Liz's contact info on our company page.

    Please join us in welcoming them to the Balsamiq family by adding a comment below!



    P.S. BTW, we're not stopping here. We'll have more hiring-related announcements in the future, stay tuned here and keep checking our jobs page regularly!

      Balsamiq Summer Camp: How We Planned Our 2016 Retreat

      Annual retreats have become an essential part of working together at Balsamiq. From our first gathering as an entire company in 2010, we realized seeing each other face to face is an essential part of building awesome relationships in our distributed team.

      This year Joy and I had the absolute pleasure of planning the retreat in Sonoma County, California where I live. Judging by the smiles on our co-workers' faces, we're pretty sure it went well!

      We'd love to share some of the things that went into planning it, some things we loved, and of course what we learned from the experience. We hope you find our ideas (or lessons learned) useful in planning your company retreat.

      Balsamiq Team in costumes

      Find the Right Location

      Location is by far the most critical part of the retreat. We've chosen the general location in different ways. This year was based on a contest we had in 2014 where we submitted proposals, like Olympic Games bids. France won for 2015, but second place was Sonoma County.

      There is a lot of logistical information to consider when choosing the location:

      • How much travel time is involved? (This includes getting the team there but also travel to get to activities. We learned in 2012, that we didn't want to spend too much of the retreat in the car).
      • What kind of housing is available? (The two most essential elements are decent Internet and comfortable sleeping arrangements, but after that, there are a whole variety of pros and cons to consider for each housing option).
      • What is there to do and eat in the area? (New experiences are of course important elements to any retreat, as well as good eating!)

      We already had a retreat in California in San Francisco in 2013, but after visiting the beautiful countryside together in Le Marche, Italy in 2011 and 2014 I was enthusiastic to show off some beautiful landscapes here in California too.

      I chose Guerneville, CA, which is nestled in the redwoods in the Russian River Valley. It's near the ocean, the oak woodlands, and the many vineyards of Sonoma County; it's a tiny town, with some great restaurants, and having been a vacation resort area for over a hundred years, still offers some quirky old California charm.
      A view of Guerneville
      For housing, we've enjoyed staying away from more corporate style resorts or hotels. We like the family atmosphere, but at 21 people, we have pretty much outgrown large homes (and even the castle last year had some housing issues!)

      Luckily after a lot of Googling, plus the benefit of doing a few site visits since I live nearby, we found Fern Grove Cottages, which worked fantastically. With 21 cabins built in the 1920's which have a total of 24 bedrooms, we had the entire little village to ourselves, and plenty of personal space too (most of the cabins have private decks, a separate living room, and fireplaces, and few have small kitchens.)

      Ferngrove Cottages

      The owners Jenny and Sherman made the experience very personable, which is something we love. We know finding something like this is going to be a challenge as we grow. We may have to jump to a regular hotel next year, but we hope even then to maintain the cozy, family feeling we've grown to love. (If you know of a great place with a family-like spirit that has rooms for at least 25, please let us know!).

      The actual location was just perfect for us: we had all the space, not disturbing anyone (except probably the owners), each of us had our privacy, but there was also space to spend time together.- Anna


      Listen to Everyone's Needs

      Another thing we've learned over the years is having a large number of people actively planning the details of the retreat can be difficult. Making decisions can take a long time in particular, so in the last few years, we've had a very small team doing the actual organization. However, we don't think that means the entire team can't be involved in the process.

      Here are some ways we incorporated our team's ideas:

      • Old feedback: Joy and I looked at previous years' feedback. We collected it for a reason, so it's good not to forget to look at it!
      • Ask for new ideas: We asked team members to comment in our wiki at least six months before the retreat to give ideas of things they'd like to happen this year - housing, food, activities, pace, whatever! This was pretty close to feedback from the prior year but was kind of a chance to take a fresh look.
      • Workshops! We started teaching each other random skills in mini-workshops in 2014 and have continued this practice ever since. But this year, asking people to sign up to teach a workshop, actually gave us some group activities for the main schedule and even a meal. (Thanks, Brendan for the excellent instruction on how to make a Chicago Style Hot Dog!)
      • Meal Planning: This is a tricky one. Planning meals for 21 means we can't cater to everyone's specific preferences without making ourselves crazy, but I felt it was important to try to find some manageable way. I made a chart with rather ridiculously detailed categories for people to fill in their food requests.

      Food request

      Provide Information before and during the Retreat

      We provided a wiki page some weeks before the retreat so everyone could have time to pack (and purchase things if needed). This included:

      • General advice on weather and clothes
      • Specific items to bring based on planned activities
      • And general advice on what to pack, and what not to pack.

      We've learned over the years some common questions that come up with packing, so this list is pretty easy to organize. We know, for example, whether or not a hair dryer is present on site is critical information for some of us.

      The other advice not to be left out each year, is a reminder about leaving space in your luggage for gifts. We always have a few retreat goodies (ok, more than a few), and figuring out how to bring them home has made for some creative packing.

      Advice to pack light really saved the day for me.- Luis

      After posting the packing list, some of our team members asked Joy or me some specific questions (like is there a place to do laundry nearby?). Instead of just answering the one colleague, we added details to the information page, just in case it could be useful for all.

      We also created a page in our wiki for each day with very specific details for the day. Our hope was it broke the information up, so people had an easier time finding out what they needed to know or wear for a specific day.

      Because the Internet wasn't always as fast as we'd like, and because we encouraged people to be less digital during the week (since we had the once-a-year chance to be non-virtual with one another!), we also posted a paper copy of some key schedule times in the main breakfast room.

      Our schedule for Day 4

      Get a Theme!

      This was a new element to our retreat this year, and by its popularity, I don't think it will be the last. Joy, Mike, and I met for lunch to do a site visit in Guerneville a few months before the retreat.

      After seeing the town, and the great 1950's cowboy décor of the cottages at Fern Grove, we decided we needed a theme, and it was going to be summer camp. Ideas and images like those from the Moonrise Kingdom soon flew in a private HipChat room. It was a little creative burst that was very enjoyable for us to design together, made the entire week more fun to plan, and I think made the retreat even more memorable for all.

      And so, after our site visit, Camp Paciugo, Guerneville, CA was born.

      Our "Camp Paciugo" swag for the retreat

      A little bit of back story: paciugo (“pah-choo-go”) is an Italian word for a nice mess; for example, when you eat an ice-cream in different flavors and mix them all up, you are creating a paciugo. Paciugo is also the name of the most used chat room in Hipchat, our remote office.

      Our theme permeated our week:

      • we designed a camp logo (thanks, Mike!)
      • our gifts were all summer camp supplies:
        • a forest green camp t-shirt
        • a metal water bottle
        • a canvas messenger bag
        • embroidered camp patches
        • a Pendleton trade blanket embroidered with the Balsamiq logo
        • a five-in-one utensil set
        • a flashlight
      • each cabin was given a name: Wild Turkey Lair (Sax), Baby Deer Hollow (Paolo & Marco), Sparrow Nest (Joy), Bobcat Den (Stefano), Peregrine Falcon Rookery (Brendan & Virgin), etc.
      • and the general theme helped as we decided on what activities to do during the week.
      I loved the Camp Paciugo theme, it reminded me of my Boy Scout days. The blanket is best retreat gift ever, I use it all the time now.- Luis
      I really liked the theme of the "camp" and it had a warm/cozy feeling.- Anna

      Planning Activities and Free Time

      There are often many great activities to choose from, so one of the biggest temptations in planning is to put too much on the schedule. This year it looks like we got it just about right. Here were some of the things we considered while planning:

      • People have come a long way, so we do want to make sure they get out to see the area.
      • We've also come to see each other, so chose activities that provide time for interaction and talking (not too many tours).
      • Make sure there is some unscheduled time each day (we aimed for at least 50% planned and 50% unplanned).
      • Since we still have to answer customer emails, provide time each day where the support team can do that without having to stay up until 2 am.
      • Pay attention to how long it will take to get to the activity. Is it worth the trip?
      • Provide options for easy free time activities (we had five bikes from Fern Grove, pool, public tennis and basketball courts nearby, a couple of puzzles ready to be made, and a variety of board games)

      Happy tennis players

      And of course we also chose things that seemed to be suited for Camp Paciugo! Here they are:

      Loved being able to walk to many things or take only short drives.- Michele
      Well balanced in the time spent for activities and to hang out together. I really loved how I had the occasion to speak and to bond with everybody.- Paolo

      Go Green

      During this retreat we tried to find ways to make our carbon footprint a little smaller by reducing waste. We didn't have a dishwasher available to us, so for the meals we ate at Fern Grove we found a few solutions:

      • Beverages:
        • Individuals used their refillable camp water bottle for tap water.
        • Wine and other glasses were provided in each cottages, and everyone was responsible for taking care of washing and keeping track of their own.
      • Flatware: was provided as a gift and like the glasses, we each washed our own.
      • Plates and napkins: washing is too much because of our facility limitations, so we bought a compostable kind. I made separate garbage for them and brought them back to my compost.

      Personalized glassesWine glass markers were expensive, and didn't come in packs large enough for 21 different glasses. But these vinyl children's stickers were very inexpensive and helped us keep track of our glasses!

      We Got Our Groove On

      Music played a big role this year. Thanks to a disco ball speaker my aunt gave me, our communal Honey Badger Lodge (cabin 7) was transformed into a place for a private Karaoke practice.

      It ended up being a great ice breaker for the week, and we continued our singing at a Karaoke night in town per a workshop activity suggested by Francesca. The balsamici practiced for months for this night, and I hope the locals enjoyed our performances, though I'm pretty sure we should probably keep making software.

      Val also led us in a Hootenanny by the campfire. Joy purchased various kazoos, triangles, and other musical instruments, and we sang acoustically before, of course, making s'mores.

      Campfire time was simple and yet perfectly beautiful. It was nice to just be together with a glowing light, blankets, and some singing.

      Embrace the Unpredictable

      There is a lot of unexpected magic that can happen if you don't plan out every moment. Instead, create the space, and the amazing people you are with, just by being together, will make some very memorable moments.

      We had two great unexpected ones this year.

      We like to set some time aside each retreat for team reflection, and this year Luis led us all in a process called Case Clinics. One member of each group of 5 or 6 people was to give a "case" or an issue that they were struggling with at Balsamiq or just personally, and the other people in the group would "coach" them by listening deeply and asking questions. Many of us weren't sure what to expect out of the process. Would it work? Would it be awkward? Would it be beneficial to the coaches or just the case-giver?

      After the 60-minute exercise we all gathered to hear how the experience went for people, without sharing anything in particular about the case itself. I think the most beautiful takeaway, was it seems the process of deeply sharing and deeply listening, brought each group together in a very special and intimate way that we hadn't anticipated.

      And the second experience was at our final dinner together in the stunning Grange loft of SHED.

      Last dinner at the SHED

      Towards the end of the meal, someone started teasing Stefano Brilli that it was a tradition for the newest employee to give a speech. (There, of course, is no such tradition). He, in good faith, got up and gave a touching speech about what it meant for him to join the company. And soon after, Brendan stood up and did the same, and then Virgin. And then one by one, in order of being hired at Balsamiq, we all spoke with much laughter, warmed hearts, and even some tears.

      What started as a joke, ended in one of the most magical evenings we've had at any retreat.

      Probably my favorite moment was the last dinner. You were all there, so I don't need to say much. But things like this just happen once, you know. I'm just glad I was there.- Stefano M.

      And When It's All over, Enjoy the Memories!

      We shared a million pictures with one another, which meant we could laugh and talk about the experiences all over again after we had packed our bags and taken our cars and flights back home.

      If you'd like to see a few photos from our week, we've posted an album on our Facebook page.

      It was a wonderful experience for Joy and me to plan the retreat and even more to watch our colleagues experience it. We collected feedback, good and bad from this year, so next year's team will be ready to go!

      Our newest ideas are: have someone specifically in charge of the Internet connection, who can come prepared to MacGyver solutions onsite, and schedule non-support people in advance to help at meals to make it easy on the retreat organizers.

      We hope one or two of our ideas have inspired you in your retreat planning. Our team is already looking forward to the 2017 Retreat. We're not sure where it will be, but I can't wait to hear the theme!

      Natalie for the Balsamiq Team

        Tools We Use for Social Scheduling

        Hello friends of Balsamiq!

        This is the last installment of our 5-part mini-series of posts about how we do marketing.

        Here's the full list:

        1. The Balsamiq Mantras
        2. The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist
        3. Tools we Use for Brand Monitoring
        4. How We Do Content Discovery
        5. Tools We Use for Social Scheduling.

        Today's topic is Social Scheduling: how to share interesting content with your community without going crazy logging in and out of all of your social media accounts.

        Social Scheduling

        Scheduling your social accounts' activity is crucial if you manage a bunch of them and want to have a steady and consistent stream of updates.

        Finding out a good tool to do the job is vital if you don't want to do it manually. We used to manually post messages on our different social accounts, but it was way too time-consuming.

        Even if there are a lot of tools out there, we still haven't found "the perfect tool" we're looking for: a solution that works well with all the major social media platforms and provides extra features, such as analytics. That's why we currently use 3 different tools for social media scheduling over our main social accounts.

        Buffer (and Hootsuite and Facebook)


        Balsamiq has accounts on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin (Company page and Balsamiq Lovers group), Google+, Instagram - and more will come.

        For Twitter accounts and Google+ we use Buffer. Buffer is like a big 'tank': the first step is to predefine posting schedules for every day of the week - this is its biggest timesaver feature. After that, you just have to write your tweet or message, attach a link (images are optional) and put it into Buffer. When the time comes, Buffer takes the oldest tweet/message from the tank and shares it.

        You can also decide to schedule a message on a particular day and time, if you want - I have a hybrid approach to it, depending on the content I'm sharing.

        You can also drag and drop messages if you need to switch the schedule around.

        What We Like About Buffer:

        • Thanks to the posting time feature, you can schedule posts for weeks in advance (we recently did it to cover our company retreat period) so that your accounts are active and you don't have to think about it. But be careful and check on them, because they are still there and keep going! You may run into a flame or an #epicfail without realizing.
        • It provides easy analytics for every post: this helps us find out the most favorite tweets and what our community likes the most, so that we can share them again after a few weeks for those who missed them the first time:
        • It comes with 5 flexible payment plans, and one of them is free!

        What We'd Like to See Improved:

        • The way Buffer shares content on Linkedin. One year ago I was struggling with Buffer and Linkedin a lot: when I shared a content (consisting of a link and a short comment about it), it ended up with something weird on the Group page: a Linkedin conversation without a title (that means without a URL) and other visualizations outliers.
          As they emailed me, they were aware of the problem, which depends on the limited access they have to Linkedin's API.
          I must say things have improved since then, but there is still room for improvement (this is why I've started using Hootsuite for sharing on our Linkedin Company Page and Group).

        Apart from that, Buffer is great for scheduling. :-)

        For sharing on Facebook, we still prefer to use its own built-in scheduling feature: it works very well, and I believe it’s nice for people to see that we use Facebook from the “inside" (if you use an external tool, they can see it). More than that, sometimes Facebook messes with metadata and your update ends to be published with a weird title or image, or nothing at all:


        and you have to add them manually. So at least at the moment, the only way to be sure it will come out right is to do it all within Facebook.

        Repost App

        We recently opened an Instagram account with the aim of showing people's wireframes to our Community.

        We rely on Repost to post our favorite sightings and properly mention the authors.


        What We Like About Repost:

        • It keeps improving and becomes easier and quicker to use. We don't mind "poor" customization, and we definitely don't want to get rid of the repost mark (but you can, with a small fee): in fact, we regard as important and essential to give credit to the original poster.

        Nothing to say about improvements: Instagram is relatively new to us. Moreover, unlike other social networks, it doesn't have a lot of features - and that reflects on third party apps like Repost.


        Speaking of Social Scheduling, I thought it might be useful to add a reference to our blog scheduling calendar.

        Trello is a project management tool with many potential applications, but we started using it for a small task: keeping a well-organized blogs calendar.


        We run 4 different blogs; there are 5 of us as main authors, but other Balsamici write blog posts, from time to time, and requests to write guest blog posts are growing. We felt that our old calendar (a simple Google spreadsheet) was too rigid and poor in features.

        Now when we open Trello we can see all the details at a glance: what the next scheduled blog posts are, who's in charge of them, how the month is going, etc.

        In our Trello Board, each column represents a month and every scheduled blog post has its own card.

        For every card, we provide:

        • a colored label for each blog, and a special color for guest blog posts we do on other blogs
        • one or two members: people who are in charge of that blog post
        • a due date, which is the day the blog post is planned to be published.

        After the blog post is published, I move its card to the Archive.

        What We Like About Trello:

        • It strikes the perfect balance between simplicity and richness of features. What we like the most is that we can keep all the stuff about a blog post in its Trello card: messages, images, draft URL, comments... so that we don't have to look for them here and there.
        • We love tools that are quick to use, and this is why we especially like the quick edit feature on Trello cards: you can add/change label, members, due date in no time.
        • Thanks to its flexibility, you can use it basically for everything and not only for work.
        • It's free, and they promise it will stay that way: "Trello is free forever. We may add pay-only features in the future, but everything that's free today will be free tomorrow and forever."

        What We'd Like to See Improved:

        • We'd like to see simplified the access to the archived items, because I often have to go there to grab the list of the most recent published blog posts.
        • I'd also like to invite contributors to join a card without making them members of the Trello board. I don’t want to bother my colleagues with signing up for the umpteenth tool, if it's not strictly necessary for them to have Trello in their toolkit.

        So, these are the tools for Social Scheduling we use right now. Maybe some of them will be replaced - we tend to adopt the most effective tools we can find on the market and the ones which fit our needs better.

        And what about you? What kind of tools do you use? Looking forward to hearing from you! :)

        -Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

          How We Do Content Discovery

          Hello friends of Balsamiq!

          This is part 4 of our 5-part mini-series of blog posts about how we do marketing.

          Here's the full list:

          1. The Balsamiq Mantras
          2. The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist
          3. Tools we Use for Brand Monitoring
          4. How We Do Content Discovery
          5. Tools we Use for Social Scheduling.

          Today's fun topic: Content Discovery!

          Content Discovery

          Content Discovery usually refers to platforms and algorithms to help you discover content you or your community may enjoy.

          Most social media platforms these days offer integrated features for content discovery, such as the "suggested posts" on Facebook or Twitter.

          We tend to use a broader definition of Content Discovery: for us it means all the activities we do related to finding excellent content, no matter the tool or channel.

          A big part of our mission to help rid the world of bad software is to help people learn how to make better software. Consequently, a lot of what we look for and share is about user experience (UX). We also share about other topics that our community cares about: entrepreneurship, working remotely, and others.

          In the past, we used to share content we randomly found on the web as we found it. Recently, since we hired our new community manager Jessica, we've been able to better organize our work and look for interesting content to share almost every day.

          Newsletters, websites, blogs, etc.

          To help us "see what's new", we created a page in our internal wiki, containing a growing list of sources to look at: websites, blogs, newsletters, Twitter accounts, Facebook groups, online communities, etc.


          We browse these sources and carefully read and vet a lot of articles. If we're not sure, we ask our teammates if something is worth sharing or not.

          It's a very time-consuming task, but we want to be very sure that the content we are about to share is worth of our Community's time.

          Another source of links to share - my favorite - are my colleagues. Thanks to Balsamiq's Professional Development Policy, a lot of us spend quite a bit of time studying and reading, so it's common for us to discover amazing resources and read extensive articles on what interests us.


          Pivotal Tracker

          Pivotal Tracker is a story-based project planning tool quite popular among Agile development teams. We mainly use it as a bug and feature requests tracker to develop Balsamiq Mockups.

          Since we had already adopted the tool for other teams, we decided to create a new Pivotal project to keep track of all the shared content, and where we shared them. Serving as social shares repository is not Pivotal's primary use, but I found a way to adapt it to our needs as Community Managers.


          Whenever we find an article we'd like to share, we add a story to Pivotal about it, including the following information:

          • the title of the article
          • its URL
          • where we want to share it ("big4" stands for Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Linkedin)
          • the author's Twitter account (we like to @-mention them on Twitter, they deserve the credit)
          • the short message(s) we'll use to share the content

          If our Twitter followers seem particularly delighted with a certain piece of content, we'll also add the label "Recurrent" to the story. In this way, we are able to quickly find and tweet it again after some weeks or months.

          Each story has a little table at the top with "story type", "points", "state" of the story itself, etc. It's something very important when it comes to tracking bugs and feature requests, but we don't use it for our marketing purposes.

          What we Like About Pivotal Tracker

          • It does its job: once you get used to it, it's very quick and smooth.
          • Collaboration is one of its strengths, and it's showing now that the team grows.
          • It has a free option, and the paid plans are very affordable. Here's the full pricing info.

          What we'd Like to See Improved

          • Pivotal Tracker is kind of rigid tool: it has default settings, prebuilt workflows and specific language and concepts. Which is perfect for a team of developers but it doesn't work so well in other, hybrid contexts. We'd like it to have more flexibility so that we could enjoy it more in a context different to software development.
          • Another problem is, whilst it gives me a very granular view of all the tasks on a specific content, I find it hard to get the overall view of the Content Discovery's state of play.

          As you can see, Content Discovery is simple: it just requires a lot of reading and a simple tracking tool. :)

          Do you have any advice for us? How do you do Content Discovery at your company?

          Next week we'll wrap up the series talking about Social Scheduling. See you soon!


            Tools We Use for Brand Monitoring

            Hello friends of Balsamiq!

            We're back with more from our 5-part mini-series of blog posts about how we do marketing.

            Here's the full list:

            1. The Balsamiq Mantras
            2. The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist
            3. Tools We Use for Brand Monitoring
            4. How We Do Content Discovery
            5. Tools We Use for Social Scheduling.

            The next 3 blog posts are going to focus on which marketing tools we use in Balsamiq, and how we use them.

            We hope this will be useful in your daily work. Let's get started!

            Brand Monitoring

            Brand Monitoring is scanning the web to find out what is being said about your company, your product, your service or anything else connected with your business.

            Knowing what people say about us is crucial to identify opportunities for engagement and put our Mantras into practice.

            One very important channel to monitor is obviously Twitter. We've used it since day one - actually, two months before day one ;) - and we receive a lot of mentions there. But a lot of people are talking about us outside of Twitter.

            In the past we used to use RSS for this, but since it pretty much died when Google killed Google Reader, we've had to look for other ways to monitor our brand.



            We decided to use Mention to track any mention of our brand across the web.

            We check Mention weekly for "Balsamiq", "myBalsamiq", "UX Apprentice", etc.

            We also discard a bunch of links that we don't care about: license key cracks, job postings requiring Balsamiq as a skill, fake blog or twitter spam...

            Going through Mention is also a great way to discover new potential candidates for the Balsamiq Champions blog.

            What we Like About Mention:

            • It finds a lot of content everywhere, even articles where Balsamiq is misspelled or not explicitly mentioned (for example, a short-link to our site).
            • It sometimes finds out old articles, and this helps us fill in some blanks in our records.
            • You can also "teach" Mention to block some sources for the future, in case they're not interesting at all.
            • The UI is pretty nice and it's enjoyable to use both from desktop and tablet or phone.
            • It's not free! This means they'll stay in business! :) Here's the full pricing info.

            What we'd Like to See Improved:

            • We'd like to turn off alerts for our own social profiles. We don't need to see our Facebook updates, tweets or Instagram pics in our own Mention stream.
              UPDATE: we can do that! In alert settings, we have the option to exclude our own social post. Thanks, Mention!
            • Sometimes Mention shows the same link again some weeks or months after it was published, which is confusing.


            It doesn't matter if you are a social media marketer, a business owner, or a student. Sooner or later, you will face this problem: where can I collect and archive articles and links?

            There are a lot of solutions to this problem; I have to admit I used to send myself emails and put them in folders (true story). Lucky for us, Peldi started to use a nice "social bookmarking" tool since the very beginning.

            Back in 2008, we used When Yahoo pretty much killed it, we switched to Pinboard, and we couldn't be happier. Incidentally, Peldi is a big fan of Maciej Ceglowski, the 1-man-band behind it.


            We have a huge, public repository on Pinboard, where we catalog links we've discovered thanks to Mention or here and there during our working days. Each element gets neatly categorized: reviews (even the bad ones), comments, videos, tutorials...all out in the open for the world to see.

            For example, you can see all the Balsamiq Sightings we found on the web, or have some fun with this list of people who misspell the balsamic vinegar as Balsamiq, or look at our growing golden puzzle collection (more on the golden puzzle at minute 31:00 of this talk).

            We also browse our Pinboard links looking for the best reviews when we need to update our Press List.

            What we Like About Pinboard:

            • It's simple to use thanks to its Chrome extension.
            • It can be used by multiple people, without creating link duplication.
            • It's ugly minimalist on purpose, to make the design light and the information density high.
            • We especially like that we can add notes. We use them by copy-pasting some text: it's an easy way to keep some nice words alive, even if their web page won't exist anymore (it happens all the time.)
            • It's not free (good), and it's really cheap (very good). Here's the full pricing info.

            What we'd Like to See Improved:

            The Tag Autocomplete feature in the Chrome extension has an annoying usability issue. When I "pin" a link and want to add a tag, I usually type some letters and choose the right value using the arrow keys, as you can see below:


            But when I press "enter", Pinboard creates a new tag "balsamiq_p" instead of assigning the selected one. As a result, I unwittingly create "monster" tags and have to clean up my Pinboard account periodically.
            UPDATE: this is a user setting, you can change it. Thanks, Pinboard!

            So these are the two simple and affordable tools we use to Brand Monitoring these days.

            What tools do you use?

            I'll show you some Content Discovery tools next week.


              The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist

              Hello friends of Balsamiq!

              Today we would like to share another one of our Handbook pages with you. This time, it's about Marketing.

              We've come a long way since my guerrilla marketing approaches of 2008, and our marketing style has had to adapt.

              What Does Marketing Mean at Balsamiq?

              Marketing is a word that comes with baggage. It used to have a "push things down people's throats" connotation, but things are changing.

              We use the word marketing to define anything customer-facing that we do:

              Other ways to define it could be "customer communication" or even "most of what we do". :)

              We "Do Marketing" in 4 Ways

              1. Product and Customer Service. Similarly to Apple, we lead with our product. Our main effort should be about making a product that's "at home" good. After that, we should focus on supporting and educating our customers so well that they become successful. If we do those things, extremely powerful word of mouth will follow.
              2. Inbound / Content Marketing. We like to generously give back to our community by providing a lot of free valuable content, giving away our software to schools, non-profits and many others, and more.
              3. Content Discovery / Community Management. We actively participate in the UX and startup communities in order to stay abreast of what's new, discover content to share with our customer and to nurture our market as a whole.
              4. Advertising. We believe that once the right people find us, they will become more successful. So we also spend a little effort trying to reach people who might need it. We do this via Sponsorships and Ads which guide them first to our website, then to try the product, then help them make something with it.

              The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist

              We use this checklist anytime we write a new blog post, documentation article, tutorial, FAQ, web page, Facebook post, even a little Tweet!

              The list is very much inspired by our mantras, so make sure you internalize those first.

              • Goal
                • what's the piece's main goal? Informational, inspirational, or...?
                • how does this help rid the world of bad software?
                • which of our personas is this useful for?
                  • how does this make them more awesome?
                  • can we make them feel smart by reading it?
                • does this even need to exist at all, or is it noise?
                • is it as short as possible without losing information and tone? (respect people's time)
              • Medium and Channel
                • what is the right medium for this message? For example, should it be a video instead of a blog post?
                • does it have a picture on it, preferably with a face on it? (no stock photo, and don't be shy with our own faces)
                • what's the best channel for this content?
                • how can we improve its chances to reach the right people?
              • Tone: does our personality shine through?
                • does it do it in a non-humblebrag, non-condescending and non-contrived way?
                • is it honest, authentic, humble, transparent, witty, endearing, cute, delightful?
                • does it show the bad with the good? does it show our current challenges?
              • Invite Conversation
                • does it speak to our community as peers?
                • does it mention members for our community, and thank them for their input?
                • does it ask for help and invite conversation?
              • Timing
                • is it time-sensitive? Does it need to be scheduled?
                • is it timeless, or is its impermanence made explicit?
                  • if it's meant to be timeless, don't use numbers
                  • if it's not, write it down "this is our current thinking, which might change"
              • Take it to 11
                • how can we possibly make this less about us and more about them?
                • how can we take this to 11? How can we make this "best of the web"?
              • Housekeeping
                • how does this fit with the rest of our content? What pages should link to this? How should this be highlighted?

              Download it as PDF!

              So there you have it. This is our current thinking about marketing. I'm sure it will evolve, but it's been serving us well recently. What do you think? How could we improve the checklist?

              Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

                Jessica Orellanes Joins Balsamiq!

                Hello, friends! I am Jessica, and I've just become the 21st member of the Balsamiq team as a Community Manager.

                Jessica Orellanes Community Manager at Balsamiq

                How I landed here is a mix of timing, location and -maybe- luck.

                My love for Italy and my newly formed family flew me 5,131 miles away from home. Once here, it took a deep interest in UX and Design, a rethinking of marketing and a Balsamiq mockup of my skills to get this bootstrapped little company's attention.

                Balsamiq Mockup of Jessica's CV

                Balsamiq's way of building and nurturing a relationship with the community is by helping them be more awesome at what they do. With the addition of my role, we intend to be more present and bring more value through our social media and other digital channels to be even more of service to our customers.

                I'd be pleased to know your thoughts about this role and what you think we can do to improve our communications and be helpful to you.

                If you have ideas you want to share, leave a comment or send me an email or a tweet at / @balsamiqJess :-)

                Jess for the Balsamiq Team

                  Peldi's Talk About Balsamiq's Journey So Far

                  Balsamiq's story is a compelling one: one man creates a product, builds a company and stays fiercely independent.

                  It sounds good, but as you can imagine it's not without pain. As we grow, many ask us how we did it, and we love to share our adventure.

                  Last September, Peldi had the opportunity to tell the story at the Business of Software USA conference. The ups, the downs, and all of the different plans we've tried to execute so far.

                  The video is now available. And, even though Peldi reserved a brief acquisition anecdote for our live audience, we are sharing it today in the hope it's helpful and maybe even inspiring to other entrepreneurs out there.

                  Hopefully, after watching this video, you'll think: "Hey, if Peldi was able to be successful, even if he clearly had no idea what he was doing, maybe I can make it too!" ;-)

                  If you liked the video, you might also be interested in this Peldi's "Ask Me Anything" session where he shares further on these topics.

                  We'd love to hear your thoughts about both, and if you have any questions, don't hesitate to add your comment below!

                    The Balsamiq Mantras

                    As we say on our company page, since starting out in 2008,

                    we are trying to build a company we’d like to do business with ourselves. We aim to be a company that’s human, respectful, transparent, inclusive, socially and environmentally conscious, and a good citizen of the world and the Web.

                    To help ourselves translate this aspirational goal into day-to-day practice, we recently created a handbook page which we call "The Balsamiq Mantras".

                    These are statements and concepts we try to keep in mind every time we interact with our community, and with each other.

                    It's all common sense stuff we've been doing to the best of our abilities for a long time, but we've only recently written it down, mostly for new hires.

                    I am sharing this today hoping it will be useful to other startups, and to ask for your help improving it. We hope you'll want to help us make our Mantras better in the comments!

                    The Balsamiq Mantras

                    1. Help Our Customers (And Their Users) Be More Awesome
                    2. Genuinely Care About our Customers' Success, Customer Service is The New Marketing
                    3. Be Good Servant Leaders, Be Good Citizens
                    4. Be Generous
                    5. Be So Good They Can't Ignore You. The Golden Puzzle
                    6. Inspire With Our Culture

                    1. Help Our Customers (And Their Users) Be More Awesome

                    Everything we do is geared towards making our customers - and even their customers - more awesome at what they do.

                    Kathy Sierra talks about this idea in her talk about Building the minimum Badass User or her book "Badass: Making Users Awesome". Both are highly recommended.


                    It's not about our product, our company, our brand.
                    It's not about how our users feel about us.
                    It's about how the user feels about himself, in the context of whatever it is our product, service, cause helps him do and be.

                    Just like a good UI, we should aim to disappear in the background and only be there when people need us.

                    That's why we talk about benefits instead of features, why we showcase people's success via the Champions blog, why we made the high five page, and lots more.

                    When you're working on something, consider: how does this make our users more awesome?

                    Think: what else can we do to make our community more awesome? How can we help our customers help their clients/customers/users become more awesome?

                    2. Genuinely Care About our Customers' Success, Customer Service is The New Marketing

                    As our email signatures say, we're good people, and we care.

                    The central idea is to try and really put yourself in the customer's shoes.

                    • This means really listening, reading their messages carefully, without rushing, trying to understand where they're coming from.
                    • It means being patient, empathetic, compassionate and non-judgmental. Remember: An Enemy Is One Whose Story We Have Not Heard [Irene Butter].
                    • Then, it means imagining the user as someone you like, someone you'd like to help succeed in life.
                    • In support, this results in really trying to imagine the best course of action for the user, including offering full refunds, suggesting a competing product, offering to recreate some lost data for them...
                    • In marketing, this means being clear and honest about benefits as well as shortcomings, being respectful and never talking down to our users, and always trying to align our goals with theirs.

                    When in doubt, choose to trust people's good intentions. Don't waste your energy trying to decipher if someone might be trying to scam us, it's not worth our time.

                    Be human, warts and all!

                    Think: how can we make our customers more successful? Do our processes support this goal?

                    NOTE: there is a tension here: on one hand we want everyone at Balsamiq to have the freedom to do what's right for the user, but we can't afford to overdo it. A line has to be drawn somewhere.

                    For example: giving our software away for free to everyone would undoubtedly help more people be successful, but it would also drive us out of business. Another example: we used to give all open-source projects, even tiny ones, free myBalsamiq forever. After a while we realized that this put a strain on our servers, so now we require that open-source projects have at least 20 contributors. We offer smaller projects Mockups for Desktop instead.

                    In other words, let's try to be accommodating, but also keep in mind the long-term sustainability of what we offer customers.

                    Think about it this way: going too far is actually something that hurts our customers in the long term, as it might drive us out of business.

                    Derek Sivers speaks about this in this excellent podcast interview, at around minute 18:00. He says you have to serve others within the limits of what you can sustainably do.

                    3. Be Good Servant Leaders, Be Good Citizens

                    As we say on our company page, we try to be good upstanding citizens of our online community.

                    We realize that we are only a small part of a community that involves our customers, our users, our partners, our competitors, their users, industry experts, bloggers, event organizers, and many others.

                    We strive to be considered leaders in our community, but we know we have to earn it.

                    Here's a quote about Servant Leadership:

                    The point of servant leadership is to serve others by thinking of their needs, recognizing their needs and supporting efforts to meet their needs. Doing that requires strength, clear vision, and an undeterred drive. It’s not about taking a backseat and deferring to the whims and wishes of others.

                    Highly effective leaders are more interested in creating more leaders not in gathering more followers. They see themselves as equals to others. They adopt an other-orientation so they are able to be more effective in reaching their own goals, too.

                    We also try to be good citizens by sponsoring do-gooders, volunteering, donating 3% of our profits, and more.

                    How this applies to competition: we never speak ill of our competitors: they are people, doing their best, just like us.

                    We compete on usability and customer service: if someone has better usability and customer service than we do, they deserve to win.

                    We are respectful of our customer's time: that's why we believe in quality over quantity, and we are extremely mindful of not spamming our customers.

                    Think: how else can we be of service to our community? We have time and money: how can we use them to provide something that the community needs?

                    4. Be Generous

                    Derek Sivers says:

                    All great service comes from this feeling of generosity and abundance.

                    We can afford to be generous.

                    We have the time, we have the money, helping people is what we should be doing. So, be generous!

                    If the word generous doesn't do it for you, you could try compassionate instead.

                    Think: having a hard time with a difficult task, or a difficult customer? Think to yourself: am I being generous enough?

                    5. Be So Good They Can't Ignore You. The Golden Puzzle

                    A big part of being REALLY GOOD at what we do is to really "GET" our customers. We strive to think outside the box in order to provide them with "the complete solution" and not just a piece of it.

                    Some examples of how we do this:

                    • we show inspiring quotes while people wait for things to load
                    • we have an "I need inspiration" Help menu
                    • we have a What should I make for dinner? menu
                    • we lighten the mood of a support call by Rick-Rolling them with our hold music.

                    ...all these things scream "we get you!" to our customers.

                    Atlassian calls this Always Be Marketing. We call it the Golden Puzzle: whenever someone writes something good about us publicly that's not about our core competencies (in our case, our product and our support), we call that a Golden Puzzle piece. Here's our collection.

                    I spoke about this concept in my Business of Software 2010 talk (from 29:32 to 34:25), take a look:

                    This is, of course, easier said than done. It's a high bar to reach, and we will not reach it every time. But it's a good goal to have, it's a fun challenge.

                    When people copy what you do, rejoice! It's a sign that it was really good! :)

                    Think: whatever you're working on, how can you make it go to 11?

                    6. Inspire With Our Culture

                    This is something that's hard to do because we run the risk of seeming boastful or, even more annoyingly, humblebragging.

                    At the same time, this is something that people respond really well to, and some people actively demand of us.

                    People consider us thought leaders in many different fields:

                    • bootstrapping a micro-multinational
                    • our progressive company policies
                    • being "optimized for working from home"
                    • being "a learning organization"
                    • providing outstanding support
                    • being human! (empathy, saying sorry, using GIFs, taking responsibility, REALLY listening...)

                    Our community wants us to share what we learn along the way. We're just trying to figure this out like everyone else. Sharing our progress helps us digest it and invites ideas we wouldn't have on our own.

                    We do this in this Life@Balsamiq blog, but we should do more.

                    Think: what are some topics we should share? What are some guidelines we can follow when sharing these kinds of topics? How do we deal with content obsoletion?

                    Questions and Challenges

                    Of course, this philosophy is not without challenges.

                    Here are a few questions we're pondering right now (we'd love your help in the comments for these):

                    • How can we make sure we preserve these values as our company grows?
                    • What risks does this expose us to?
                    • Is this clear enough to be digestible by everyone at Balsamiq?
                    • Is it too long? Too preachy?
                    • Does this page inspire people to do more, do better?
                    • Is this enough to insure we have a consistent voice?
                    • What's missing from this page?
                    • What would you remove, or re-work?

                    A final note to our awesome customers: please hold us accountable! We try to live up to our goals, but we're only human. Don't be shy with negative feedback, it helps us serve you better! :)

                    Thanks for reading this far, looking forward to reading your thoughts below.

                    Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

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