The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist

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 jessica@balsamiq.com / @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.

        badass

        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:
        goldenpuzzle

        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

          Looking Back at 2015

          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, 2013, and 2014.

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

          Summary

          We continue to truck along nicely, executing on our vision one step at the time. As usual, a large part of our efforts happen behind the scenes, both in product development and in general company growth. Revenue-wise, 2015 was yet another record year for us, with sales passing $6.4 million. We continue to grow organically, just the way we like it.

          In 2015 we released Balsamiq Mockups 3, a MAJOR update to our product. In many ways, it's the product we should have built from the beginning. We also worked on bringing the new version to our different products, and will continue that effort in 2016.

          2016 is going to be another very exciting year for us, with the native version of Mockups we've been working on for years finally being released, at least in our browser-based products.

          The Nitty-Gritty

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

          Mockups

          After about a year of incredibly hard work, in March we released Balsamiq Mockups 3 for Desktop. It added native support for projects, a more modern and professional UX, easier to use symbols and assets, new icons, a new fullscreen mode, built-in support for "branching" via alternates, a trash bin, and even background music to help you focus.

          This is just the tip of the iceberg on what we added to Mockups in 2015. Take a look at these release notes for all the details:

          We also wrote a bunch of automated tests for the new codebase, and are always adding more.

          If you still haven't updated, you're really missing out. Just head over to our download page to get your free update!

          myBalsamiq

          The themes for myBalsamiq in 2015 were: security, yearly plans and switching to native.

          We did a lot of work with security researchers to make sure your data was as secure as it could be. We did twenty-five (25!!!) zero-downtime, invisible-to-you releases in 2015, and are very happy with where we are right now. We will of course continue to work with security researchers and follow industry best practices to keep your data safe and secure (email us at security@balsamiq.com if you want to get involved).

          After a lot of under-the-hood refactoring, we were able to finally ship annual plans for myBalsamiq, which are especially useful for our large enterprise customers, but convenient for all (annual plans get 12 months for the price of 10).

          Another big focus for myBalsamiq has been to bring the new editor features to it. Because our native HTML/JS editor is coming along very nicely, we've decided to use it for the next major update to myBalsamiq instead of trying to cram the old Flex-based one into it. For our myBalsamiq customers, this means having to wait longer, but we think the new stuff will be worth the wait.

          We also did a couple of small releases to lower the pain of those of you who work both with myBalsamiq and Desktop 3, by integrating the FontAwesome icon set in the "old" myBalsamiq editor.

          We also continued adding lots of automated tests, so we can all sleep better at night.

          In 2015 our users added 24,000 projects to myBalsamiq, which is now hosting about 140,000 projects. Sweet!

          Plugins

          2015 was another record year for our plugins as well.

          We released a new version of Mockups for Google Drive, which is now at feature parity with Mockups 3 for Desktop. We also started migrating our customers from the PinPayments payment processor to Stripe.

          On the Atlassian plugins front, we updated Mockups for JIRA to make it compatible with JIRA 7, and Mockups for Confluence to make it compatible with Confluence 5.9. We also added the FontAwesome icon set to them.

          We also worked on (and released in early 2016) a new version of Mockups for JIRA for Atlassian Cloud customers, which also brings it to feature parity with Mockups 3 for Desktop, and is sold only via Atlassian Marketplace.

          We are working with Atlassian on a new version of Mockups for Confluence for Atlassian Cloud customers, which will be released in 2016.

          Mockups 3 for Google Drive and Mockups 3 for JIRA Cloud use a new collaboration server we made which provides real-time collaboration, so that multiple people can edit the same project at the same time.

          We attended AtlasCamp in Prague and sponsored Atlassian Summit in San Francisco. Our commitment to the Atlassian ecosystem remains strong.

          The Long Road to Native

          We continued to invest a significant amount of effort in our "going to native" project. This means effectively rewriting our 7-year-old codebase in a way that will enable us to deliver our product as a native application, both on the Web and in all major desktop and mobile platforms.

          We started the year by building a proof-of-concept application on Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, and HTML/JS. This little project taught us a lot about possible performance issues and other "gotchas", and informed our architectural decisions for the main Mockups editor project.

          When that was done, we started working on the editor in earnest, replicating the existing features of Balsamiq Mockups 3 one by one. We still don't have too much to show you publicly, but we're super-excited about it, and are shooting for doing a private beta of a new version of myBalsamiq that uses the web client sometime mid-2016. Stay tuned here for updates.

          In the meantime, you can get a taste of what's to come by using the native HTML/JS viewer in Mockups 3 for Google Drive, or the newly released Mockups 3 for JIRA Cloud.

          This is going to be our biggest project of 2016. It'll be great.

          Ops

          Operations is often the unsung hero of the story: if things work smoothly, no-one notices! :)

          As always, we did a lot of ops work in 2015, including migrating the myBalsamiq mySQL version from 5.5 to 5.6 (harder than it sounds), we moved the build archives from an old Rackspace account to AWS S3, we did several updates to our build machine and Jenkins, we reserved AWS instances and regularly reviewed AWS Trusted Advisor for security and other improvements. We also added DKIM/DMARC to our domains to ensure a more secure and reliable delivery of our emails.

          Here's a Pingdom report for all of our monitors for 2015.

          pingdom

          As always we could do better, but we're pretty proud of all those 100%s!

          Sponsorships and Philanthropy

          • As usual, we donated 3% of our 2014 profits to different non-profits!
          • We sponsored 85 new events in 22 countries!
          • We gave away over 306 months of free myBalsamiq service!
          • We raffled off tickets to 6 different conferences and events!
          • We gave away 781 free licenses to do-gooders of all kinds!
          • We gave our employees lots of free time to volunteer, and organized a few volunteering company outings.

          It feels good to be a good citizen! :)

          Marketing and Website Updates

          Now that we have a product we're proud of and a great organization to support it, we started pushing on marketing a bit more.

          Support, Docs & Sharing What We Learned

          Website updates

          • We switched balsamiq.com, support.balsamiq.com, docs.balsamiq.com, blogs.balsamiq.com, forums.balsamiq.com and uxapprentice.com to HTTPS. It's more secure, and Google likes it better.
          • We made all of our websites responsive, so that they look great on tablets and phones.
          • We switched our site search provider from Google Custom Search to Swiftype. Try it out, it's awesome.
          • We improved our product comparison page.
          • We improved our company page and added a little easter egg to it (click on the team photo!)
          • We improved our What should I make for dinner? page and published 12 new video recipes.
          • We changed how we build our balsamiq.com website, from grunt to gulp + webpack.
          • We created a new React-powered contact form to help us skip a few steps when giving people support.
          • We also created other React-powered forms, for applying for a sponsorships, free software or a job at Balsamiq. These forms integrate directly with Desk.com (our help desk service) and Confluence (our internal Wiki).
          • UX Apprentice is now translated in 6 languages (English, French, Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish), and we added a useful resource page to it.
          • We added a curated press list to our site.
          • We created a new page for our talks and interviews.
          • We updated our brand a bit: gone is the sad old dark red, welcome the new bright red! :)

          Admin, Finance and More

          Making sure a 20-person geographically-distributed startup runs smoothly is no small task.

          We hired 4 people, in 3 different countries: as you can imagine, that's a lot of paperwork. :)

          In 2015 our friend Ben Norris left us to follow his dreams - we miss you Ben! :) - so we decided to leave the state of Utah and instead establish a nexus in Illinois, where Brendan lives.

          We also organized a company retreat in a castle in the Loire Region of France, which was amazing.

          We hired an intern (Alain) to work on an exciting new feature of Mockups, coming soon.

          We continued to improve our local benefits packages, by offering food vouchers for our Italian employees, adding a pension fund in Germany, better medical support in the Netherland, introducing 401(k) matching for our US employees, added a $250/mo co-working allowance for everyone, and more.

          We also changed our vacation policy from being "unlimited" to "minimum expected days", which is more effective in encouraging employees to actually take vacation. We got written up about it on CNN Money, which was pretty cool. :)

          As usual, we worked with our accountants and lawyers and investment bankers, to make sure we're doing everything right. :)

          We also raised the price of Mockups for Desktop for the first time in its history - from $79 to $89 for a single license - and extended the trial period from 7 to 30 days.

          Here are the revenue figures for 2015:

          2015_revenue

          As you can see, revenue is a healthy $6.4M, up 4.87% since 2014. Nice and steady growth, just the way we like it.

          2015_revenue_by_product

          2015_revenue_area

          The two charts above show that people continue to gradually migrate from Desktop to SaaS, in line with the whole software industry. This is lovely for us, as SaaS revenue is super-predictable, and recurring! :)

          2015_geo

          The chart above is also very similar to last year's. As always, Australia is over-represented in this chart because that's how we track sales that happen via Atlassian Marketplace (Atlassian is based in Australia, but the customers really come from all over the world).

          2015_transactions

          Our shopping cart handled over 123,000 transactions in 2015. Solid! :)

          Profits remain very healthy. We won't have the exact figures for a few months, but we suspect they'll be over 30% again.

          Conferences, Interviews and Press Mentions

          We attended the following conferences (bold means that one of us spoke at the event):

          • DotJS Conference Paris
          • UserConf 2015 San Francisco
          • Atlassian Summit San Francisco
          • Code Mesh 2015 London
          • Storytelling and Social Media Workshop Bologna
          • ReactJS Day - Verona
          • Newsletter and Email Marketing Workshop Bologna
          • Business of Software Boston
          • CITCON - Helsinki
          • Software Circus, Programmable Infrastructure, Amsterdam
          • Microconf Europe Barcelona
          • Madison+ UX Conference
          • ReactEurope 2015 Paris
          • AtlasCamp Prague
          • NSConference 7 London
          • Google+ workshop's Bologna
          • World IA Day Bologna
          • IXDA San Francisco
          • Interaction 15

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

          Looking ahead

          We're very excited about the year ahead. We are already working on some highly requested features, and the "going native" project is really coming along well. Our plugins will get a full revamp, we'll continue to invest a bit more in marketing, and we'll probably hire a couple more people to help us go even faster.

          As always, we hope you'll want to come with us in our journey.


          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 2016 brings you and your families health, happiness and success.

          Onward!
          Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

            A New Year's Toast to Some Awesome Non Profits

            Four years ago we added a company donation policy. Over the years we increased the amount we donate from 2% to 3% of our profits and we've added the ability for each employee to split up their donation between two organizations, instead of just one. Other than that it has remained unchanged and is one of our favorite annual practices!

            Allowing our team to choose which organizations to give to enables us to personalize how our company makes donations. We also get a chance to learn more about each other, as every year we hear our team members share why they picked the organizations and issues they did, which are near and dear to their hearts.

            We believe this diversity and individuality enriches the team as a whole. We see how we are different, with different interests and passions, and yet, the wonderful thing is, we also see how much we are the same, and how we share common core values.

            Some shared values we saw this year include promoting education and research, humanitarian aid, and supporting local community projects for those in need. We know non-profit work is rewarding, but also full of many challenges, so we wanted to give a special shout out to the organizations we donated to in 2015, thanking them for their dedicated work to make this world a better place.

            We've chosen three to highlight for you.

            Education and Justice - Sojourn to the Past

            During the 50th anniversary year of the March from Selma to Montgomery, it seemed particular fitting to support a wonderful non-profit founded to teach children about the Civil Rights Movement. Sojourn to the Past takes young adults to southern US States to visit the first schools to be racially integrated, churches that were firebombed, and other historical sites important to the movement. This trip, along with a dynamic curriculum, can be life-changing; it was for our colleague Val's family.

            When her son, Sam, decided to go, Val's husband Jake joined as a chaperone. They visited Stone Mountain, where the Ku Klux Klan held cross-burnings, participated in invaluable group exercises designed to help process their experiences, and they were lucky to meet with several real heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, including Congressman John Lewis.

            Congressman_John_LewisCongressman John Lewis with Val's son and husband - Photo credits: Audra Gray

            We are proud to support this organization, recently honored by the King Center, that promotes the values of diversity, education, respect and compassion, and social justice through non-violence.

            Humanitarian Aid - Syria

            2015 was also a year where we became more aware of the ongoing situation for migrants and refugees across the globe. Many of us felt compelled to donate to efforts to help with the Syrian refugee crisis.

            There are many organizations that should be applauded for their efforts in this massive humanitarian emergency. Leon, Marco, Natalie, Peldi, and Paolo added their support via three of them: Save the Children, The UN Refugee Agency, and Catholic Relief Services.

            Though it doesn’t actually seem like much in the face of such a huge, complicated, and painful situation, we're grateful to be able to help in some small way.

            Local Community Projects - Stella del Mattino

            We also value small organizations working to help those in need in our local areas. We chose various food banks, housing projects, and programs to help protect women and children from domestic abuse. One of these local projects is Cooperativa Sociale Stella del Mattino, an organization founded by Francesca's father. This Italian organization provides employment for 10 individuals with disabilities, who would otherwise have extreme difficulty finding a job.

            The community helps its members gain some independence, and feel relevant and active participants in society. And it's even a place were love blossoms, as two members in the community met there and were married a few years ago. :-)

            We're honored to support groups focused on impacting the every day lives of those around them.


            We at Balsamiq are humbled and grateful to be able to support these organizations, and the ones listed below. Learning about the work they are doing, challenges and inspires us to see what we also can do with our hands, time, and talent to help our community, both from within the company and in our personal lives.

            We'd love to hear ways your company is striving to support its community and our world through donations of time or money.

            There is so much awesomeness happening in the world!

            Balsamiq Sends our Heartfelt Thanks to These Hardworking Organizations

            Alzheimer Italia (Italy) Die Tafel (Germany) Sacramento Loaves & Fishes (US)
            Associazione Italiana per la Ricerca sul Cancro (Italy) Electronic Frontier Foundation (US) Save the Children (Italy)
            Associazione La Conchiglia (Italy) La casa delle donne (Italy) (Italy) Sojourn to the Past (US)
            Berkeley Food & Housing Project (US) Mensa dell'Antoniano (Italy) St. Vincent de Paul Society of Marin County (US)
            Bimbo Tu (Italy) Mozaic-Breizh (France) Stella del Mattino (Italy)
            Buddhismo della Via di Diamante (Italy) Nuovo Rifugio Amola (Italy) The UN Refugee Agency (US)
            Catholic Relief Services (US) Rueil Digital (France) World Wildlife Fund (US)
            Center for Domestic Peace (US)    

              A Season to be Thankful

              Another year has gone and here we are, looking back to what 2015 brought us.

              As usual, Peldi will publish a detailed “looking back” post soon. In short, we have grown, released our biggest update ever, learned a lot of amazing things, and are all excited about the new year.

              Even if we keep on growing, we haven’t changed our best traditions. One of these is Christmas Gifts.

              This year, Santa brought everyone a winter jacket embroidered with the Balsamiq logo. And since we all have different tastes, every Balsamico got to choose their own jacket at REI. We like the idea of letting everyone pick something they need and want, and will actually wear! So we've done personalized clothing for a number of Christmases. Some of us are starting to be asked by strangers if Balsamiq is a brand of clothing. ;)

              balsamiq-jackets

              The end result is that we are all happy with our jackets, and proud too, to support REI and their effort to get everyone outside.

              We also received a photo-album from our last retreat (thank you, Anna!) and a whole pile of smiley stickers!

              balsamiq-gifts

              When I received my gifts, I was filled with gratitude and joy, but a lot of my attention was focussed on the little dedication that Santa-Peldi wrote for us. I'd like to share it with you:

              Every December when it’s time to write this little note I wish I had spent some of my PD time taking a writing class. :)

              This year is especially tough: I would like to say something thoughtful and appropriate about dealing with recent news events, but I’m not up to the task. What I do know is that, personally, I find great comfort in being surrounded by such a kind, warm and kick-ass group of friends.

              It really is a blessing and a privilege to be working through this personal and company Kaizen path with you all.

              It looks like 2016 is going to be yet another awesome year. Let’s take some time at the end of this one to relax and take a big breath, there will be time to dive back in in January!

              Please give a big hug to your loved ones for me - pets included!

              Peldi


              We hope you all have a great holiday season, and we look forward to working with you in 2016.

              Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

                Welcome Brendan, Virgin and Stefano!

                Hello friends of Balsamiq!

                It is my great pleasure to introduce to you three new members of the Balsamiq family today.

                Brendan Saricks

                Brendan is the guy in your family that everyone calls when their computer doesn't work. He has been a customer advocate (and nerd) for his entire adult life, and is excited to help the awesome Balsamiq community make the best software and websites they can!

                Brendan is based in the Chicago, Illinois area.

                Virgin Pereira

                We stole Virgin away from a certain fruit technology company where he was taking care of European customers. He is very excited to join the Balsamiq team and help users making their way through this great software!

                Virgin is based in Bretagne-de-Marsan, a peaceful village in the South-West of France.

                Stefano Brilli

                Stefano is an ambitious programmer working on Mockups. In the past he did everything, from embedded programming to web development. He is excited to learn how an independent software vendor such as Balsamiq works, and the possibility it provides to work on several different technologies.

                Stefano works out of our Bologna, Italy office.


                We are now up to 20 people, can you believe it? Our little 5-star restaurant on the web keeps growing up! :)

                Please join us in welcoming our new awesome Balsamici by leaving a comment below.

                Onward!
                Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

                  Company Policies: Time Off to Excercise

                  This post is part of a series about our VERY FEW company policies. Read this intro post for some context.


                  Joining a new company is always overwhelming.

                  When I started working for Balsamiq almost a year ago, I was excited and confused at the same time. This always happens when I start something new, especially a job: new colleagues, new things to do, a lot of questions in my mind.

                  As part of its on-boarding process, in order to make it easier for new employees, Balsamiq always assigns a "buddy" to them. The buddy's job is to be the go-to person for any questions or doubts a new employee has. Lucky for me, my buddy was Anna :-) We spent a few hours talking about everything in Balsamiq; most of our chats were on admin, benefits and logistics. A LOT of amazing stuff.

                  What particularly struck me was the part on Time Off to Exercise. Our Handbook page called “Working Hours” says:

                  "We also value physical exercise and professional development very much, so don't be shy in taking time off of regular work in order to do those activities."

                  We also have a Handbook page called "Time off to Exercise". Here it is, piece by piece:

                  Exercising has TONS of benefits… it prevents burnout, it makes us more productive, it makes us live longer, happier lives.

                  In order to encourage everyone at Balsamiq to stay healthy, everyone is encouraged to take some of their work time - say, up to 5 hours a week - to exercise or do some physical activity.

                  So basically, Balsamiq is saying: "Try not to wear yourself out (we all know it's completely useless). Try to live better. Trust us, you will be more productive overall if you spend a few hours exercising instead of working."

                  This is revolutionary. I was shocked. The first thing I thought of was, "If Balsamiq cares about our health so much, the least we can do is care about that ourselves!"

                  But what kind of exercises could we do?

                  This could mean going to yoga, taking a zumba class, going out dancing one night and sleeping in the next day, going for a bike ride or a long walk, or even shoveling gravel if you're into that kind of thing...

                  And what about the work activities?

                  During those hours it's expected that you will not be available for email, HipChat* or calls.

                  And what about our workmates? They might need us.

                  Try to plan in advance as much as possible, and if it's easy, add your exercise time slots in the Balsamici Availability Google Calendar so that others will know when you're out.

                  A final note about the sharing power:

                  Share what you do in HipChat* too, it will encourage people to do more as well!

                  *HipChat is our "virtual office."

                  When your company gives you the opportunity to stay healthy and you take it, a lot of things change in your personal life as well as at work. You will be more likely to search and accept challenges. You will be more committed. You will have much more energy to deal with everything. You will be happier and healthier. It's really a win-win situation.

                  Everyone here in Balsamiq takes this opportunity very seriously. Tennis, yoga, walking, running, basketball, biking, gym...

                  balsamici-biking

                  Some of us prefer to do exercise in the morning. I read a lot of articles stressing the importance and the benefits of an early morning workout; I also read some articles against that. I'm not sure where the truth is, but I like doing exercise at 7 AM: it provides me a boost of energy for the whole day. And I work better after a workout: I am more productive during those 6.5 hours than the other working days.

                  But it's not just about doing exercise; it's a change of mindset. As a company, we practice Kaizen, continuous improvement, in this area as well.

                  For example, some of us have been switched to the IKEA convertible desk recently. Peldi goes up and down a couple of times a day. If he needs to do "real" work, he stands up; for reading and reviewing, sitting is best for him.

                  As you can read in Everything Science Knows Right Now About Standing Desks, standing desks are good for energy expenditure, weight loss, metabolic risk factors. Moreover, they are good for your mood!

                  In one seven-week study of standing desk use, participants reported less fatigue, tension, confusion, and depression, and more vigor, energy, focus, and happiness—and when they went back to their old desks, their overall mood returned to baseline levels.

                  Don't you want a happier life? Don't you want your employees live happier lifes?

                  But if your company doesn't have a Time Off to Exercise policy, there is always a way to stay healthier.

                  1. Try to walk whenever you can. I try to go everywhere by walking. It was a bit difficult at first, because it takes longer than going by car or bus. But to be honest, it took me just a little while to get used to it! It's just a matter of being organized and good at Google Maps! :-)
                  2. Always take the long way. I can't explain how good it feels to make the extra effort. It's definitely something addictive!

                  As always, we hope our few company policies will be useful to someone else out there. That's why we were so happy when we found these tweets the other day :-)

                  Do you have any suggestion for our policy about Time Off to Exercise? Let us know, comments are below!

                  - Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

                    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., bit.ly) 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!

                    Francesca


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