$10,000 in revenue in the first 6 weeks

The huge amount of attention that my "Profitable, in 3 weeks!" post has received so far tells me that there's a thirst for financial results of small bootstrapped startups in the interweb, so here's another milestone report:

Less than 6 weeks from launch, Balsamiq Studios reached USD 10,000 in revenue.

Here's the breakdown, week by week:

You see 7 columns there because I launched on a Thursday, but the chart shows weeks as starting on Monday.

Mockups for Desktop accounts for 98% of my sales and 89% of the revenue. Hopefully after yesterday's licensing change sales of Mockups for Confluence will pick up some and contribute more.

Saying I am happy with this milestone is a big understatement, the feeling I have is more one of incredulity than anything else...if it's a dream, don't wake me up. 🙂

I'll post another financial update here if I reach $100,000 in revenue (I wish) or if things go dramatically south. I sure hope it's the former! 🙂

I have a very long TODO list for Mockups and for Balsamiq in general, so I'd better get back to work and keep the momentum going!

P.S. Some people asked me why I share my financial data so openly on the web. My short answer is: why not? The long answer could be the subject of another blog post: it has to do with gaining the trust of prospective customers by making Balsamiq Studios an open, honest and approachable company you'd want to do business with.

UPDATE: I wrote this post yesterday, but today was another record day, with 2 Team licenses of Mockups for Confluence and 4 licenses of Mockups for Desktop sold. So now the revenue is at $11,488. Also, I had an exciting thought: could Mockups be the highest grossing Adobe AIR app to date? That'd be cool.

Weekly update - one week to launch

Hello there. As usual, I'm a little late with the weekly update (I might have to find a different name for it). This has been a busy 2 weeks. First off, ConnectNow shipped as part of Acrobat.com. I have never worked harder on a project before, and I am extremely proud of the reception it's getting in the blogo/twitter-sphere. The ConnectNow team at Adobe is a spectacular one and I will always be proud to having been part of it.

On a related note, today is my last day at Adobe, after 6 and 1/2 years to the day. I know I brought this upon myself by leaving to start Balsamiq and relocate to Italy, but I can't help being sad about not being able to work with all the amazingly talented people there day in and day out. Everything I know about making software and caring for the end user I learned there - Macromedia's "Experience Matters" is one of my deepest beliefs to this day. It was an amazing 6-job-titles-in-6-years ride, and let me tell you it's fun to be able to shape the future. 🙂

Balsamiq-wise, it's been a busy two weeks: as always, Twitter is the best way to know what I did when. Next Thursday (June 19th) is launch day, so most of my efforts have been on cleaning up the website and contacting bloggers who might be interested in covering the launch. We'll see what happens, I am really curious how much attention a single person with a laptop and a small idea can get these days, we shall see.

I have a couple of small bugs to fix and have to redo the Mockups intro video, but other than that I feel ready for the launch. I expect it will be a crazy few weeks after that, fixing bugs and responding to feedback as fast as I can. I am already planning a 1.1 release for mid-July, just in case. As long as each build is better than the previous, things should be ok. I am just starting so hopefully people will be understanding if I mess something up... 🙂

I am also closing down my private beta program today, as I have nothing more to hide. We can move all conversations to GetSatisfaction. To the beta testers: THANK YOU! Your feedback has been invaluable. Please keep it coming, you guys are the Balsamiq Mockups experts now!

I think that's it for now, wish me luck!

Weekly update, a bit late

Hey there, sorry for not posting this last Sunday. Basically the update is that I haven't be carve out some uninterrupted time to focus on Mockups development this week. The move to Italy (next Thu, can you believe it?) is seriously keeping us busy, plus saying goodbye to all of our friends here is a bit emotionally draining.

That said, I was able to dedicate little bits and pieces of time to more market-y activities:

  • I am trying to make a big splash in the blogosphere on June 19th, so I cold-emailed the following blogs: ReadWriteWeb, WebWorkerDaily, ValleyZen, IndieStartups, WebWare and I have a few more on my list. Out of these I have a product review lined up with one and I'll be writing a "guest post" about Web Office Plugins in general for another. Yay! We'll see if I have more success in the coming weeks. I am learning that the way these blogs operate is "get something tonight, post it tomorrow", so me giving them 6 weeks of notice might just be way too much. 🙂
  • I discovered Twitter (not sure if I'm late or early on this one). I find it an awesome tool for a small business, I'll write a blog post about it one of these days. You can follow Balsamiq here
  • I seeded the GetSatisfaction forums with a few more threads
  • I wrote a blog post on why I don't want to have a subscription model
  • I did fix a few bugs and implemented a tiny new feature (icons can have colors now), thanks to a new awesome beta member (thanks David, you rock!)
  • Now that even my current boss knows about Balsamiq I have started lifting the veil a bit and posting my link in a few places, like this - so far the reactions have been good.
  • I updated this page - I decided I don't have the time to create a WidgetBox-style site myself, I'll just try to nudge the vendors to have better plugin directories.
  • I started using the bugbase in earnest for all my bugs and TODOs - thanks Atlassian for hosting it!

This week and the next are going to be nuts. I am looking forward to this move being behind me, I can't wait to have a few hours to fix some bugs and finish the JIRA plugin!
Peldi

Why don't I host Mockups myself?

A couple of beta testers have asked me why I don't host Mockups on balsamiq.com as a ad-based or subscription-based niche Web 2.0 app.

First let me get the "advertising-based" part out of the way: ad based business models for startups make me laugh. Ad-based business models only work if you have MASSIVE traffic numbers, so all the startups that say "we'll be ad-based" really mean "we hope a big player will buy us". Luckily I feel like that insanity is drying out. Not to mention that ads are annoying, look unprofessional and get totally tuned out unless they are useful to you (i.e. you are in the "I'm looking for answers" mode). Ok rant over.

As for subscription-based, my short answer is: I can't afford to.

Lots of startups today don't realize that hosting a web app on your site is a lot of work:

  • you have to keep track of your users. Usernames, passwords or even credit card numbers. Private data that hackers would LOVE to get their hands on. Protecting that data is not easy and your customers will want to make sure that you protect it properly or they won't buy. I just don't want to take that risk right now, nor I can afford to spend the money to do it right. When you buy a Balsamiq product, I - actually, PayPal - asks you the minimum amount of personal information necessary to make the sale, and don't save any of it in a publicly accessible part of the site (I keep your name, company name and license key in a private Google Doc)
  • if you are popular, you'll have lots of users. How are you going to support them? Sure forums and GetSatisfaction can help, but once people start paying you they expect to be able to get an email or even phone answer in a reasonable amount of time. As a small startup, I just cannot support tons of people, nor I can afford to hire people to do it. I'd much rather give a higher level of support to fewer customers, who each pay more than a few bucks a month.
  • you have to keep your servers running. Three nines, four nines, yuck. Even two nines basically means "I can't ever take a vacation" to me. I appreciate people whose job is to keep things humming for the rest of the world, but as a small company, I don't want to live like that.
  • the profit margins for hosted services are too low. Should I charge $5/month? I doubt I'll be able to justify the overhead, seems more like a hassle than anything else. Even 37Signals guy says that. Could I charge $30/month per user just to use Mockups? I wouldn't pay for that, and I doubt anyone else would. 37Signals builds very horizontal web apps because they need to have big numbers to justify the hosting.
  • A good and reliable hosting provider is not cheap (around $100/mo maybe?) - please don't tell me that AWS or GAE will make it all cheaper and easier. That's just another ISP, the customers are still yours and you have to support them.
  • if you are serious about selling subscriptions, you need tele-sales, i.e. lots of people who call potential customers and try to make the sale. Notice how the big subscription players like WebEx or Salesforce all do this. Now you wouldn't need to do this at first, but you would if are serious about your service and want to make it big. I can't afford to hire anyone to do this, nor I want to. I'd rather use my "cold calling" budget for someone who might give me $4K all at once, not $5-$40 a month.
  • I would be stretching myself too thin: running a hosted service is an every day work (it's actually a 24/7 work). I would much rather have a regular work and spend time with my family without having to stress.

That said, I have lots of ideas of what a community site powered by Mockups could be. Interface architects giving each other feedback on UI's usability, a rating system, templates, designers iterating on designs with customers through my site, etc. Maybe one day...but now I can't afford to.

So what should you do if you really want to use mockups but don't have Confluence/Jira or another Web Offiuce platform? You can use the Mockups Live demo version, export your mockups as XML and email that to your friends/customers. They'll be able to import the XML, see your mockup, tweak it and send it back. I know, it's not ideal, but it works. Working that way is not a lot of work for you and not a lot of work for me. I think that's a fair deal.

Next time: why don't I sell Mockups Desktop for $30 a pop?

Preparing for Launch

Doing my homework in preparation for launch:

Btw, I'm not sure about when to have the "launch day" yet, it will be sometimes in the 2nd half of June.

Update: I found some more links on the subject that might be useful:

Weekly Update: 2nd week of April

Hi there, quick update. This past week:

  • I fixed the remaining bugs in Mockups For Confluence. I spent 2 hours at Atlassian chasing down my last big bug only to find out that it was a Confluence bug, which they'll fix. Yay! Once again I am impressed with the folks at Atlassian: friendly, knowledgeable, enthusiastic. It's always a pleasure to spend some time at their office here in SF.
  • I got the EULA finalized with my lawyer
  • I started building a "social online persona" for Balsamiq: now you can "friend balsamiq" on Facebook or send Twitters to "balsamiq" if you have questions, or you can follow my twitters if you really care. 🙂 This is part of my continued effort to be as accessible as possible to my customers.
  • I started working on the JIRA plugin: so much fun! I really enjoy adding my plugins to other products, it gives me a good feeling to see great products made even better by the feature(s) my plugin adds. I have a lot more work to do here but none of it seems too scary.
  • Through a miracolous chance encounter at my coffee shop, I have lined up an interview with a hugely popular tech blog. I am calling the editor on 4/22, stay tuned. I am so excited about this I can hardly type about it. 🙂
  • I have put the FlatWorld demo back on the site.

Other than that, I have been spending more and more time on "the big move".

I have noticed a slowdown in the amount of feedback I receive from you guys, should I worry about it? Are any of you actively using Mockups to help with your work?

Until next week, Peldi

Weekly Update: 1st week of April

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

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

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

Until next week,
Peldi

Weekly Update, a bit late

Hey there, here's what happened in Balsamiq-land since last week's update:

  • I fixed the blocking Mockups+Confluence bugs
  • I set up my build machine to post new builds of the 30-day trial downloadable plugin automatically
  • I added the e-junkie shopping capabilities to the site, linking paypal to my business bank account, adding the necessary pages to the site etc.

The combination of these three mean that I am officially open for business!

If you'd like to try the Confluence plugin go here, download the trial, install it and start playing with it for 30 days. If you then want to buy it, the process is painless and starts on that same page.

Other things I did:

  • I am working on a new version of the introductory video...I haven't had some time alone to record a good quality voice-over for it but the demo/video is almost ready. I like it, stay tuned. P.S.This stuff is really time-consuming, and definitely not as easy as you may think.
  • I added a Tree Pane control. Thanks Stefano for requesting it!
  • I found a good CPA, but he won't talk to me until after April 15th, which is understandable. 🙂
  • I applied to become an Atlassian partner. Having the badge on my site gives me more legitimacy, plus since I'm betting the house on them 😉 I want to stay "as close as possible", so to speak. Also, I have heard a report of one person who was evaluating different wikis and chose Confluence after finding out about Mockups (thanks Jason for the word-of-mouth there). So who knows, I might help them sell some more of their great software.
  • I fixed a bunch of annoying little bugs: you can now hold down keys in the editor to repeat them, and add TAB spaces (I can't believe Flash/Flex doesn't support either of these out of the box), the property inspector moves out of the way when needed, the menus don't look as ugly, plus a bunch of other small fixes here and there. I am waiting for someone at Atlassian to create a public JIRA account for Mockups (hint hint Jonathan 😉 ) so that I can link to it from the site and track/prioritize them all. I am definitely switching to bug-fixing mode now that all the v.1 features I wanted have been coded.
  • I updated the blog to WordPress 2.5

For this week:

  • finish the intro video
  • write a draft for the EULA to give to the lawyer - SO FUN! 🙁
  • continue fixing bugs
  • work on the site a bit...I have gotten feedback that it's a bit "too wordy"
  • maybe start the brainstorm with Atlassian on how to port Mockups to JIRA.

On a personal note, my one-way flights to Italy are exactly a month from now, so I'll have to scale back the Balsamiq efforts a bit and step up the "pack to ship / pack to store / try to sell / give away / throw away" efforts for the big move.

Until next week,
Peldi

P.S.I'm still having a lot of fun with this, EULA and all. I can't wait to do this full time! 🙂

Weekly Update: week of March 17th

Hi there, I'll try to keep it short this time

Coding

- I finally got around to writing the licensing, serial-key / 30-day-trial code I needed. I was dreading it, but it ended up being kind-of fun to write.
- I have a few critical bugs to file in the Confluence integration story, but after that I think I'll be ready to post a 30-day trial downloadable plugin to the site. So exciting, getting close!
- I added the serial key code to the MockupsOnAir version, so it's fully functional only to license holders and not everyone.

Site

- I added a couple of pages and refined some others. This is more of a way of life than a TODO item...anyways the site is pretty close to being ready to launch I think.
- I signed up for Google Webmaster Tools and submitted my sitemap to Google...boring stuff but it had to be done.

Company

- I got my EIN (tax ID)
- I opened a small business checking account

In other words, Balsamiq Studios LLC can now legally accept payments, whoo-hoo!

My TODOs for this week (and probably next):

- fix the remaining Mockups+Confluence bugs
- add my plugin to CruiseControl to publish my builds live auto-magically (gotta learn some tricky ANT+Maven stuff)
- set up my site with e-junkie (bad name, great payment processing service)
- add more pages to the site
- redo the introductory video using the confluence plugin version
- meet with a small business CPA and get set up with his favorite bookkeeping software (I did research into it, and all I have to say is YUCK!)

Thanks for listening and keep that feedback coming! I am especially interested in hearing what you are using Mockups for and how it's working for you. And if you are not using it, why not? 🙂

Weekly Update

Let's see, what did I do this week.

Website:

  • I wrote a few more pages, including the Privacy Policy (I know, fun). Still too many broken links though, I'm not at a state where I want people to see the site yet. I'd say I'm still a few weeks away, so please refrain from advertising my site to anyone.
  • I set up Google Webmaster Tools, interesting stuff
  • I coded up a monthly newsletter with CampaignMonitor. Head over to http://www.balsamiq.com to sign up for it, I'll be sending the first test newsletter out soon.

Coding:

  • I worked on the desktop version, which I'm calling "Mockups on AIR" to see if I can take advantage of some AIR buzz. This version of Mockups is important because it bridges the online/offline worlds (a shortcoming of many web apps today) and it supports full keyboard shortcuts without me having to go crazy with hacky javascript (for now). I am going to give a version of it away that only has a few features, with the full-featured version (with open/save/save as/export png features) available for free to people who bought the plugin. I don't want to sell it as a standalone product though, I don't think it's worth my time at $20-$50 bucks a pop. Try it out! http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/desktop (if you want to know the temporary user/pwd to unlock all the features email me).
  • I set up CruiseControl. This is totally awesome. I check in a feature or a fix, and within 2 minutes my website is updated with the latest build, of every variation of mockups that was touched by my check-in. Just like magic.
  • I added 12 new icons (bringing the total up to 71) and the following control types: Image Placeholder, Street Map, Charts (Line, Bar, Column, Pie), Cover Flow and a Formatting Toolbar (so that you can mock up a text editor). This brings the number of controls available to 53, which I think is plenty for version 1 (but if there is something you really miss let me know, it takes me about 10 minutes to add a control type).
  • I refactored some code and fixed some annoying bugs related to clicking and dragging. The app should feel much smoother now. Try it out! http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/live

Beta and others:

  • I added my friends R### and R###, thanks for joining guys
  • I Installed Parallels and Windoze so that I can use Captivate and Quickbooks in it.
  • I am looking for quotes to add to the website regarding Mockups or Balsamiq as a whole. If you have been using Mockups and have something (hopefully positive) to share and want to get a little free publicity, don't be shy! See Andrew's quote on this page http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups for an idea of what I'm looking for.
  • I should be getting my business tax number this week. Once that's set up, I can get a bank account, CPA and all that good stuff.

Ok I think that's enough for now. Oh and I also worked full-time at Adobe and prepared some for the big move to Italy. No big deal. 😉

Until next week, Peldi


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