Looking Back at 2016

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

Peldi here with our traditional yearly "state of the union" post.
Older editions are here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2009 and 2008.

team

Once again, this is going to be an epic-sized post.

Summary

We continue to truck along nicely, executing on our vision one step at a time. As usual, a large part of our efforts happen behind the scenes, both in product development and in general company growth. Revenue-wise, 2016 was yet another record year for us, with sales almost reaching $6.6 million. We continue to grow organically, just the way we like it.

If the sentence before sounds like I copied and pasted it from last year's post, it's because I did! 🙂 I just had to tweak it a tiny bit. I consider this a sign of success: nice and steady progress is exactly what we're aiming for.

The biggest effort of 2016 was to finish rewriting our product in Javascript (bye bye Flash!) and to build a whole new web application to go with it.

We are SUPER-excited for 2017: in just a few months we will ship the new web app, after which we will bring the native editor to the desktop app.

The Details

Let's jump in!

Our Products

Balsamiq Wireframes and Balsamiq Cloud


Rewriting the application from scratch
really made us think. We're basically taking everything we've learned over the last 8 years about what makes the perfect low-fidelity wireframing tool and putting it all together in a sweet little package.

In many ways, this feels like a big reboot for us. To paraphrase DHH, we built a product in 2016 to compete with our best ideas from 2008.

Since we're rebooting, we decided to give the product its proper name. Our product was never for making mockups, that's just what I called wireframes because I didn't know what they were called back in 2007. So instead of calling the native version Balsamiq Mockups 4, we're going to call it Balsamiq Wireframes.

We have also rebooted myBalsamiq, our web app. We took everything we learned about what a collaborative online wireframing tool should do, and built that. We removed a bunch of unnecessary features, and built the ones everyone wants instead. And we're giving it a clear name as well: Balsamiq Cloud.

Inspired by Basecamp, we decided that we're going to treat Balsamiq Cloud as a new, separate product from our existing web app myBalsamiq.

People will be able to move their data easily, but we have no intention of shutting down myBalsamiq any time soon. People don't like change, we shouldn't force it on them.

I CANNOT WAIT to be able to share more about these new products. Give us another couple of months! Subscribe to our newsletter if you want to be the first to know.

Balsamiq Mockups 3

While the bulk of our dev team was working on the new stuff, we definitely didn't rest on our laurels when it came to Balsamiq Mockups 3 for Desktop.

We did 14 releases in 2016. Here are some highlights:

  • 3.3.1 introduced hierarchy to the wireframes navigator, "Big Boy Arrows", the "Back" meta-link, and a bunch of other little features and bug fixes.
  • 3.3.5 introduced the "Resize To" feature, super-quick site maps, and more.
  • 3.3.9 introduced the full-screen "Project Centering Rules" feature.
  • 3.3.11 finally fixed an annoying autosize behavior, as well as a lot of other little bugs.
  • 3.3.14 made it easier to access alternates, and introduced some more Android-y controls.
  • 3.5 introduced better material design support, a generic mobile phone control, and improved the custom icons feature.

Overall, we're very happy with Mockups 3. Even if it's getting to be a little long in the tooth and will be replaced by Balsamiq Wireframes this year, the app is solid, easy to support, and has most of the features people need.

Oh, and it's still our best selling product! 🙂

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

Our Plugin Versions

This was a good year for our plugin versions. We shipped two new plugins for Atlassian Cloud: Balsamiq Mockups 3 for JIRA Cloud and Balsamiq Mockups 3 for Confluence Cloud. Both include the Mockups 3 editor, and have been well received by our customers.

We also made Mockups for Confluence Server compatible with Confluence 6, and are almost ready to open a private beta for the new version of Mockups for JIRA Server, which includes the new native Balsamiq Wireframes editor.

Mockups 3 for Google Drive is trucking along nicely, and passed the $100,000 yearly revenue mark. We have big plans for it in 2017, and we finally have a team in place who can execute them.

We're already at work bringing the native Balsamiq Wireframes editor to all of our other plugin versions. We hope to ship an update to all of them with it this year.

To help us with all these efforts, we added a developer in testing to the team: Stefano Gozzi!

Exciting!

myBalsamiq

The biggest change in myBalsamiq was releasing annual subscription options for it, a highly requested feature.

Other than that, our focus was to make our infrastructure more scalable and resilient to possible security attacks.

As I said before, even if Balsamiq Cloud will be the new kid on the block this year, we have no intention of shutting down myBalsamiq any time soon.

Hosting almost 170,000 projects, it clearly works very well for many of you. If you're happy with it, nothing will change.


Operations

Once again, I'm really proud of our uptime numbers for the year:

uptime

There is A LOT of unseen work in keeping those numbers so high. Huge props to our ops and dev teams.

Keeping our infrastructure solid and secure is never ending: we're constantly doing updates in order to include the latest operating system security fixes and patches.

This year we also adopted two new tools for Ops. One is Logmatic, a very nice way to gather the logs from our different services in a single, powerful interface.

The other is Convox, a layer on top of AWS which helps us manage all of our services. It's really well done and powerful, you should check it out.

To keep these standards high and to make them even better, we hired a second DevOps this year: Drew Lafferty!


Support, Docs & Sharing What We Learned

This was a big year for our tech and sales support teams: we grew the team 30% by hiring Liz and Phil, and set ourselves up for providing even better support going forward.

  • Early in the year we launched a whole new Support Portal.
  • We set up toll-free phone numbers for Tech Support (we only provided Sales support via phone before).
  • We started having "All Support" Monthly meetings, with both tech and sales support teams.
  • We started monitoring and replying to Google Drive reviews.
  • We joined the Designer Hangout Slack as a sponsor, with our own channel.
  • We built a tool that uses the Pivotal Tracker APIs to help us figure out what our customers' top feature request and issues are.
  • We redesigned the tutorials page on our support site with more emphasis on videos and Udemy and Skillshare courses.
  • We did a BIG restructuring of our documentation site to make things easier to find, and to set us up for future versions of our products.
  • We wrote a few FAQs, tutorials and docs, and updated existing ones.
  • We made our support site and docs site open-source, and incorporated some improvements from the community!
  • We published a Wireframing for Newbies video, and accompanying blog post.
  • We changed the way we give our products for free to schools. Instead of giving myBalsamiq sites, we now give professors extended Mockups for Desktop trial keys. Check it out.

Marketing and Website Updates

The biggest change in marketing in 2016 is that we hired Jessica to help us with it! 🙂

Our theme for Marketing in 2016 was "play to learn". In 2017, we'll transition to "play to win". 🙂

With that in mind, here are some of our marketing projects from 2016:

  • We considered starting a Medium blog but haven't started yet.
  • We started boosting Facebook posts.
  • We cleaned up our YouTube presence.
  • We purchased balsam.iq to use for short URLs via Bit.ly.
  • We started using GIFs much more on Twitter.
  • We got our Twitter account verified.
  • We updated our Twitter background.
  • We ran a series of crazy ads on the MegaMaker podcast.
  • We made all of the blog posts responsive (we had to update hundreds of images in old posts).
  • We finally managed to get the Balsamiq Wikipedia page updated.
  • We started using Edgar to schedule posts.
  • We made a demo reel for the Atlassian Summit.
  • We updated how we use Google+.
  • We shipped the UX Apprentice German translation!
  • We prepared to have our own newsletter, which we launched TODAY! Join it now!

As for our balsamiq.com website, other than regular maintenance, we only made a few changes:

We plan on doing a full revamp of our website in 2017, to reflect our new product line.


Conferences, Interviews and Press Mentions

These are the conferences we attended this year. Bold means one of us spoke at the conference.

  • NoSlidesConf Bologna (we had a booth!)
  • AWS re:Invent Las Vegas
  • Reactiveconf Bratislava
  • Elevate Summit Palm Springs
  • Atlassian Summit San Jose (we had a booth!)
  • Business of Software Boston
  • ReactEurope 2016 Paris
  • React Meetup Amsterdam
  • Atlascamp Barcelona
  • Write the Docs North America 2016 Portland (video)
  • dotSecurity Paris
  • Write the Docs Meetup San Francisco
  • React Conference Amsterdam
  • SmashingConf San Francisco
  • An Event Apart Nashville
  • Codemotion Techpills Meetup Amsterdam

We were interviewed a few times:

Here are the most notable press mentions from 2016:


Philanthropy and Sponsorships

Our Donation Policy is one of our favorite perks. In 2016, we split over $61,000 (3% of our profits) between 24 different charities. It's SO GREAT to be able to give back to our communities and help those in need.

We replied to over 2000 requests for free software, pretty much the same as in 2015.

We also continued with our policy of sponsoring events and resources we want to see succeed, because they're making the world a better place.

Here are some sponsorship numbers and highlights from 2016:

Sponsorships 2016

Here is a list of the biggest sponsorships we did in 2016:

Admin and Finance

Our little multi-national keeps on growing, and making sure it runs smoothly, efficiently and safely is no small task.

Luckily, we have an amazing Admin and Finance team in place.

The many recurring tasks Natalie, Joy and Anna perform would take way too long to write here (but maybe we'll do a separate blog post about it if you're interested!), so here are some highlights:

  • We signed an Advance Pricing Agreement with the IRS. We're so fancy!
  • We withdrew from Utah, we no longer have a nexus there.
  • We started having "All Admin" bi-monthly meetings, instead of separate ones for our Italian and US companies.
  • We organized an amazing retreat in California and are hard at work planning for our 2017 one, which will be in Florence, Italy.
  • We finally switched Dropbox from many personal Pro accounts to two big Business accounts.
  • We reviewed and tweaked our investments, and invested some more of our reserves.
  • We improved our insurance coverage in Germany.
  • We fixed an issue with our French leave policy.
  • We improved our 401k program for our US employees.
  • We changed the Italian employee's contract to one with better benefits.
  • We now reimburse mobile Internet mifi's for employees on the go.

Here are the revenue numbers from 2016:

Revenue is growing steadily at almost $6.6M. It didn't grow quite as much as we expected because of a number of reasons, but we're not bothered by it. We've always focussed on long-term financial health, not quick growth.

Desktop and myBalsamiq had a good year. Plugins a little less but we know why: we migrated a large chunk of customers to Atlassian Marketplace, and gave each customer 7 months of free service to ease their pain.

The geographical distribution is pretty much identical as in past years. As usual, Australia is overrepresented 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).

We won't know our exact profit numbers for another few months, but we expect them to be very healthy as usual (we historically have over 30% profit margins).


Company Improvements

As our company grows, we're constantly evolving our policies to keep up with our challenges.

Here's what happened this year in the area we call Company Kaizen, continuous improvement:

  • At the beginning of the year, I asked the company if they wanted to introduce people managers. The answer was a loud, resounding no.
  • Instead, we formalized the role of Project Managers a bit. We now call them Team and Project Organizers (to get that loaded "Manager" word out of there).
  • We reviewed our Professional Development and Get Together budgets, and encouraged people to use them more.
  • Introduced Team Quarterly Review and Planning meetings.
  • We changed the format of All Hands Monthly page, to focus less on individual work and more on team work and individual personal news.
  • We revamped and renewed our Monthly Media Club meeting.
  • I got a CEO coach! I hired Paul Kenny of Ocean Learning and Business of Software fame to tell me what the heck I should be doing as the CEO. We had 6 great sessions, and I'm still executing on all the advice Paul gave me. Highly recommended!
  • At the retreat, we split into groups and had a lovely session following the Case Clinic format.
  • Our Bay Area employees got together for a few loneliness-busting co-working days.
  • We discussed the idea of introducing Sabbaticals, but we didn't take any action yet. We'll discuss it again in 2017.
  • We defined and published The Balsamiq Mantras.
  • We wrote and published The Balsamiq Marketing Checklist.
  • We updated how we run quarterly 1-1 reflections, and split the salary review into different meetings.
  • We started Health channel in Slack to motivate each other to stay healthy.
  • We started a Lovefest and an Opportunityfest channel in Slack. A blog post about them is coming soon.
  • We started having "Friday Funtimes" meetings: we put five employees chosen at random in a Google Hangout for 30 minutes every Friday, with no agenda. Just to hang out. This was something we stole straight from Michael Pryor's Business of Software talk.
  • We introduced "Peldi Office Hours": I'm available to any employee for 90 minutes every Monday to talk about non-work stuff.
  • We introduced a simple policy to help with "Conflict Resolution and Giving Difficult Feedback".
  • We started using KnowYourCompany and we're loving it!
  • We started looking into making project retrospectives (Postmortems) more common.
  • We built an internal tool to help us manage our many current and future projects, which we're calling Acetaia.

Projects that "Failed" this year

Not all of our projects bore fruit. It's a normal part of craftsmanship, no need to be ashamed of it.

Here's a list for 2016:

  • We tried to hire a full-time programmer in the PST time zone (again), but it didn't work out.
  • We tried to get faster internet at the office but couldn't.
  • We seriously tried to use Basecamp and Facebook Workplaces instead of Hipchat, but they didn't stick. We ended up switching to Slack instead.
  • We tried to hire an investment broker in the US but it got complicated.
  • We started developing some features in our Flex codebase only to decide that they were too risky to be shipped. We'll rebuild them on the new codebase instead. The features were: find and replace, nested symbols and a larger canvas size.

Looking ahead

We're VERY excited about 2017. In many ways, it feels like a "reboot" year: new codebase, new major product versions, new company policies to fit our new 25-people reality.

Our goal is to keep on growing and learning as we go. Honing our craft, one deliverable at the time.

We're truly blessed to be able to do it with such a great, smart, and supportive community of customers.


If you're still reading, thank you! You must be a true fan. 🙂

Have a comment, or a question? Post it below, or ask us directly via our brand new Slack Community!

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

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