“But then I thought wait a minute! Why did I even start this company?”
Last year at Business of Software Conference USA 2015, Peldi returned to detail the most painful moments he experienced as Founder/CEO of Balsamiq as it grew.
In particular, Peldi he discussed an offer to buy the company he had grown from scratch. He talked about how despite it being the dream for many, it wasn’t right for him and his employees. You had to be at Business of Software USA 2015 to get the full details, but the video below shows the thoughts of a CEO/Founder who chose to stick to the original dream of owning a lifestyle business.
This transcript and video have been edited to exclude any of the commercially and personally sensitive information in the talk, made with permission of the potential acquirers.
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Peldi Guilizzoni, Balsamiq: All right! Hi, everybody! So I guess I’m just gonna get started. Thanks, Mark for having me! Ok. So this is my company’s only metrics we track. Revenue, profits and employees. And this is it, so revenue has been growing and growing and slowing down as you can see, but the green thing is pretty incredible for me. We built this money printing machine that for the last 5 years has made about $2 million in profits every year, despite having me as a CEO. You understand why, it’s incredible! And the employees have grown, so amazing! I’m a genius! This is all according to plan. Yeah, and not so much.
In this talk I think you will finally believe me when I tell you that I really don’t know what I’m doing. In fact, I might never be invited here again.
It’s ok, if you don’t want to talk to me after it’s fine. All right, so I started 2007 and I had a simple plan and the plan was this, right? These were my heroes, I wanted to be like these guys. Joel you all know of course, Patrick – where are you? He’s here somewhere. Anyways – still my hero and I don’t know if you all know Andy Bryce. He is the owner and sole member of perfectableplan.com. It’s a software that allows you to do table plans for weddings and events and he’s been working on this for 15 years by himself and this product by now has artificial intelligence in it. There’s rules like my mother in law cannot sit next to that person. You can specify all these rules. And he works on it and it’s his passion and has only happy customers. So that is what I wanted to do. These were my heroes. I wanted to find the smallest problem that I could solve so that I too could have a one man band software company and learn everything that there was to do. You know, to know about making and selling a little software tool.
So I tried to pick the smallest tool that I could think of, you probably know what my tool does but I actually describe it as a drawing tool that doesn’t actually let you draw, and the drawings that come out look like crap. So I thought this is small enough, I should be able to do this by myself.
And I had a business plan that was ridiculous and made no sense, but I didn’t want to just sell it, I wanted to sell it as a plug-in, so even a smaller market, I just wanted to be at a classic plug-in willing to do this little thing because I was gonna be alone. So I wanted few high paying customers, so that I can support them well by myself. I definitely didn’t want to do desktop because it’s 2007. Who uses desktop apps anymore? It’s all going to the web, right? By the way 2015, the desktop is still by far our best seller. I am a Shareware guy in 2015. Don’t tell your friends! It’s true. And I definitely didn’t want to do SAAS because it was gonna be me and I wanted to sleep at night without having to fix servers. So it was just plug-ins. That was my business plan, totally failed.
Even during the beta it failed because people who did their private little beta were like this is great! But I wanted a tool without the plug-ins. And I was like no. Yeah, I know this is really great but can I say the data is not in the interest of cloud? So anyways, my business plan failed. There’s that quote that is really true that no business plan ever survives the first impact with customers and mine was no exception.
I had to do the desktop but then if I do the desktop, I can’t support you. It’s a small tool and I can’t charge very much for it, it’s a small desktop app. So I had lots of customers and I don’t know how to support you by myself. And they said just do it without support, use forums only, we’ll all support each other. And then I was like, I don’t know how much to charge and this one guy says well I’ve found this other tool that’s just $79 and I think yours is betters and I was like ok, $79 it is. That’s how you do pricing by the way. And they just raised it after 6 years.
Anyways, I was by myself and I took it – it blew up in my face and I was extremely lucky to find product market fit after this desktop adjustment. Talking to 3.000 customers in about 8 months, then I started to about ask for help, ask my wife to help me with email so that I could code a little bit but then after a good 6 weeks of doing email all day and night because I was in Italy. So after my dinner is your workday, so day and night doing email and then in the weekend coding, because it was version one. It was a piece of junk, to try and make it better. Working like this for 6 weeks. One morning I woke up, thinking I was gonna die and I told you this story before. And so I had to hire someone. I hired a programmer.
So then I was like all right. First plan, the perfecttableplan.com and the Patrick McKenzie, that’s failed already – it didn’t last very long.
We’ve got to come up with a second plan.
And I sort of had this in my back pocket because the last job that I had before starting Balsamiq, I was at Adobe as starting lead. That’s a great job because you have a team that you lead but you’re not the boss. For any difficult conversations, you can send them to the boss and you don’t have a budget and if you get an engineering lead as a job position it’s awesome. And I was really good at it! I had a feeling where I was like dude, I was born for this! I did my best work. And I had 5 people on the team and I am like all right, you know what? Let’s do that now. I’m gonna do 6 and that’s it.
So we had – this is a little track that I did before our first company retreat. Who’s met who, etc. And this was the 6 people and Natalie, she was number 6 and she just got hired. And this is what I wrote in the blog post where I announced that Natalie joined, I said that’s it, we’re done! We are fully staffed! Even better – hold on. Let me see if I can read. I need a new 2 year plan. But wait, I already have one! I would like everything to stay the same for the next two years. That’s cute, right? That’s adorable. Look at that! A wonderful small group of people doing what they love together, right? Yeah, that didn’t last.
That lasted 3 months, it was even shorter than the first one because the customers just kept coming in and this was it. Everybody wants this problem, but drowning with the customers is still drowning. Risking and having – we don’t track any metrics, but if we did, the metric would be customer satisfaction down because we were struggling. And there’s this thing where I was like no. Stop! This is it! I have a plan, nothing is gonna change! This is what dream – I have achieved my dream for the company, go away! Am I not entitled to have my dream? Stupid market! Why do you want us to grow?
So then you have the option to raise the prices and have fewer customers and then of course then there’s people that come at the bottom they disrupt you, I’m terrified from creating a gap so I didn’t want to raise the prices either. And I realised this concept that was useful about the natural size of the company to solve a problem. So say you want to start a sushi bar. Maybe you need 2 or 3 people. One in the kitchen, one cleaning – 3 or 4 people. And you can do that for 20 years with 3 to 4 people.
Say you want to eradicate malaria. You’re not gonna do it with 3 or 4 people. And this was the market saying no, this little crappy drawing tool requires more than 6 people. And if you think about it, the authoring tools, the panic – I don’t know if you know the developers. The Omni group they OmniGraph etc, they’re about 20 to 25 people. That is the natural size for a company that’s trying to do a graphic design tool. That’s what the market has dictated and I was so pissed because that was not my dream. And I was looking for a new vision and didn’t want to let go of my vision. And then I was like – I just wanna code. I know the product is still a piece of junk and it’s far away from where my vision wants to go. I wanted to do that and that is more fun to do it with people. Just let me code! Maybe I should hire myself a CEO?
But then I thought wait a minute! Why did I even start this company? I wanted to – I started it because I wanted to learn – like I said, everything that there was about making software and selling it and being an independent software developer. I wanted to be a CEO, so I felt like it’s kind of a cop out. I can’t – on one side it was very attractive but on the other side it wasn’t. And then I must have been sending some vibes over the ether because a third plan right there and this is after only like I said 3 months of plan number 2 starting appearing. So before I continue, I would like to ask you guys to maybe stop tweeting for a bit! I would like for this story to say in here if that’s ok and we can even remove it. Somebody tripped the video camera guy.
This part of Peldi’s talk has been removed in prior discussion and agreement with Peldi. You really had to be there…
You may resume tweeting now if you want. So that was the third plan. The third plan was basically get expensive. Get too expensive, so expensive that people will leave us alone. And somebody told us this magical number, $10 million revenue. People don’t call anymore because you’re too expensive. That was our goal. And that was it, that was the vision for the next 2 years. Just get expensive! And to do that we were gonna ship the web app and now we have more people and we’re gonna ship this big feature. And that was the reason why we haven’t shipped in the last two months working on this big feature.
So the third plan worked for about a year. So better than the second plan.
But we got to 10 people and that’s very different than 5 and I was still pretty much resisting any kind of writing down any kind of company policy because it’s so corporate! I know. We are just a group of friends working together, everybody is independent, I describe this as a group of freelancers somehow going towards the same goals. We never were but that sounded good to me. There were first conflicts and so we started to reluctantly write down some policies that said like vacation time, take some vacation. Or I don’t know, it’s not very good. But we started writing something down – this was the time where I had my first bad hire and I can’t talk about this because when you fire someone it’s usually a contract and we’ll give you this big exit bonus. If you won’t say anything bad about us, we won’t say anything bad about you. So I can’t say anything about the story, but I can tell you that I was physically ill because of the stress. It was kind of like that plus the fever days. It sucked and it took months, we tried to turn this person around, 6 months of pain. The one thing I want to stress where it says this but don’t get enamoured with the idea of having one more person, so much that you overlook their flaws when you hire them. It’s like dating where this person likes me. It’s good! That’s all I need! But no, it doesn’t work that way. When you’re 14 maybe. But so take your time. Don’t wait too long until you’re desperate and you need someone today because that will lead you to cut corners and it’s the worst kind in my life. This is bad.
The radical transparency that was sort of one of our big things in the beginning. At this point it kind of slowed down. One of the reasons I didn’t blog as much because now I had a team to go to and I had some questions when it was just me. And sort of blogging was a way to clear my thought and prayed somebody would tell me if I would do a good job or not. I really was embarrassed to share that this was already our third plan for a 3 year company. And clearly I didn’t know what I was doing and then it was like we had a company in the wiki, we had a page with everybody’s salaries and some people came to me and said I’m kind of embarrassed over how much I make. Can we make that page private? And I was like ok, sure. I respect that, there’s some other companies now don’t do that, they shared everything. But I think that’s ok.
And then we also don’t share with customers as much anymore.
We used to say here’s our roadmap, here’s the features that we’re gonna work on and of course the roadmap changes and people find that post two years later and they say you’ve done nothing! This feature! Actually we just met and here’s all that we’ve done. We’ve done all this other stuff that is more important to us. So now we’re a little more cautious sharing this stuff as well.
So it’s 2012 and the company is about 10 people and we have to grow, we have big projects, we want to go native and so I know when I hire a few more people and then this – I come across this. You’ve probably seen it, the Valve company handbook. Who has seen this before? A good number of people saw it. So basically it’s this gorgeous PDF, beautifully designed where they say we are flat. There are no bosses above 250 employees, a flat organisation. And I was like oh, this sounds good. And so I started looking around for other flat organizations and I’d read all these books and this tomato company, morning star out of California, biggest tomato processing company in the world. So not like knowledge workers, this is actually people shovelling. They don’t have any managers, no bosses. Flat and they have this self-management institute and I buy and read books and then there’s not enough on the website to start a sub-reddit called flat management because I wanted to collect all the links about all this stuff. So I was reading all the time and I was trying to pull some stuff in practice creating some policies about we work around projects instead of teams. That was exhausting.
I even came here, I came in 2012 and I gave a talk about this is what I’m working on now. I think it’s worth investing and innovating. I don’t think that anymore. Because I started see this happening and this is a very recent article from 1970. Jo Freeman, very famous article. It’s all about the women’s liberation movement and it says a great emphasis are placed on what are called leaderless structure less movement groups as the main – if not sole – organisation form of the movement. The source of this idea was a natural reaction against the over-structured society in which most of us found ourselves and the inevitable control this gave others over our lives… So basically this is a long article, you can see here on the right, that’s the whole thing. It’s super long, but it’s worth the read.
It basically says a couple of things. It says that structure emerges whether you like it or not.
Humans are pack animals, there’s leaders and there’s followers whether you like it or not, that’s human nature. If you say that everybody is the same and flat, then this shadow structure that emerges is toxic because the leaders can do whatever they want and they don’t have any accountability. In fact, the people who are these shadow leaders they usually are the ones that say flat is great! And also she says these group discussions we all have together, were all equal. They are great from hearing everybody’s perspective and that’s useful in some cases, but it’s not very effective if we want to do stuff. Advance our agenda. For instance, she says, anyone can say I am the speaker for the whole women’s liberation movement and nobody can say no, you’re not perfect. It takes the whole thing to say actually you’re doing us damage. So I never noticed this happening in my company as well.
Then you see the videos and these guys are clearly geniuses, right? They’re amazing at what they do. Gabe Newell is the owner of Valve – watch this video and Valve they do video games and massive multiuser worlds. And so in the video he hired the Greek finance minister before he was that to regulate – he’s an economist – to regulate the online virtual worlds, the economy that happens there because there’s people selling and buying. And you hear him talk about rules that they try in the virtual world and then you hear them talk about Valve as the company and it’s the same thing. We try these rules and we try these things so there’s very little change between – I mean this guy literally creates worlds for a living and his company is the same as these virtual worlds. There’s a tiny bit of a god complex there. I’m not the boss, I’m just the god. That’s a little weird. And then this other guy, the owner of Morning Star, he’s like we’re totally flat and this is great! For example, this new factory that we started, there’s this guy that got elected to manager. He’s not the manager – I gave him 25% equity but I don’t ever go and tell him what to do ever. I just own the 75%. So you’re not the boss, but you get all the money. How is that fair, right? And in another video he says I still set all the salaries. So you’re not the boss. That’s a little weird, I don’t know.
So anyway, we started to say you know what? Let’s not entirely give up on this flatness thing. Let’s make it very clear what we are and how we work, because they’re separate things, right? We made it clear here that – by the way all this stuff that’s there, don’t try to read or you’ll go blind! If you want to get them, there’s actually a few more than what’s in here. So basically here we say we try to make it clear that look, Peldi owns the company, Peldi owns 99% of the company and his mom owns 1%, that’s a different story that I can’t tell you. Free rent for 5 years, ok? A good investment on her part. She invested 25 euros. And so then we say we don’t have plans to ever sell and so instead of doing a company equity plan, we do profit sharing so that every 3 months you get some money instead of having this paper equity that’s never gonna – unless we sell, which we don’t plan to do, it’s not gonna be worth anything ever.
If we decide to sell, in the remote chance that we one day decide to sell, we should have a vague plan in place on how to split the company and here we write 60-40. The same thing. And then if there’s another part of the offer, we’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Let’s not waste brain cycles on that. So that’s clear, right? I’m the owner and everybody else is an employee. What happens if I die or get hit by a bus? This was a funny one to work on, I can tell you. Should Peldi become incapacitated, dead or coma, etc., the company goes to my wife. If she’s also incapacitated, it goes to my mom and then until my son is 18 and everything goes to him. No major changes hiring, firing, liquidation, acquiring should not be for 3 months after the change of ownership so that we avoid any rash decisions. We keep a good runway in the bank, I’ll talk about that just in case. So this was actually – it was hard but it was actually good to write. I’ve never felt better about dying after this.
And then the runway that we keep in the bank. So starting from the very beginning, I kept all the earnings in the company, except for once I bought a car so I got some money out. And then this and that, and then – but there wasn’t any rhyme or reasons for how much dividends I was getting. And this was becoming €3 million in the banks and the accountants were staring to give out words like if somebody knows that you have all this money in the bank, they might sue you just to settle, because they know you’re so liquid. It’s not that great to keep all this money in the company. Why don’t you take some out regularly so that at least there’s one more barrier if someone sues you to get the money. I was like cool – so we came up with a formula.
And the formula is we keep a big cushion for 18 months, we want to cover 18 months of expenses and we came up with this formula. We look at the average earnings in the past 3 months’ project a constant decrease 10% a month which is very pessimistic because in software, you really have to mess it up to do that bad. We expect the expenses to stay constant and then we see how much do we need to cover those 18 months. For instance, for this year it’s $2,6 million and we keep that in the bank. We invest it too, but if there’s more than that, I take it and every June I do that. So that’s that.
And then – so that helped put a little bit of clarity and it helped me mostly because I always kind of felt guilty taking money and people were like this is the right thing to do, everyone is cool with this. So then we are like all right, let’s focus now on our people a little more. And so we came up with this –
we took this term which probably many of you already know, KAIZEN – it’s Japanese for continuous improvement.
Step by step, so this is our philosophy on everything. We do it when we develop the product, we also use it when it comes to improving our company. So we started a monthly meeting where everybody can come and we talk about the company ideas for making it better. Every month we work on the companies within the company. We have a room dedicated to KAIZEN and these sort of articles that are interesting. Things that we can try. And then we have a project’s page, just like the features.
We have a back log to sort of address. And those that are thinking about benefits, because at the beginning it was all equal, everybody is the same and distributed remotely. And we wanted to give everybody the same thing. So we’re like all right, let’s give gym membership. Actually in Italy that’s illegal. You can’t. No, let’s try something else. No, can’t do that in this country. So in the end we did nothing, right? There was nothing and just stupid things and that was frustrating. And so I asked around some friends that worked in multinationals and what they do is they make a – like this. We started by offering really good policies compared to other companies in our same geographical areas when we can, we smooth the regional differences to offer more globally equivalent policies. And this got us unstuck and this works because people don’t care that in Italy people are getting lunch money, it’s normal there. Because here you get other benefits, you get the gym membership. In Italy the same thing. People, when they compare benefits, they compare with the people that they know locally usually and they’re – it’s ok. They have all these fears about it.
And this allowed us to come up with all these policies like benefits for Germany and The Netherlands, LLC medical vision. We came up with this vacation time, I have a vacation policy that was take some, which is a trap. Netflix just got a lot of press for saying that, right? Infinite vacation, that doesn’t work because then nobody knows which and how much is actually acceptable and so no one ever takes any vacation. So we do minimum vacation. You have to take at least 20 days, take however much you want, it doesn’t matter as long as your work is done and your pace is good we don’t care. So we came up with that, we wrote down the holidays and how is this resistance to write down these things because they feel so corporate. But then when Martin Luther King day comes around, people are like wait! Can I take it off? I don’t care, take it off but people always are a little hesitant. Writing it down, I can focus on my work.
We even came up with working hours and again, this is super cool. It’s super corporate! Who has a working hours for a distributed team? So this is what it says – we don’t track hours. Which can be confusing especially if you’re new to this way of working we care about pace of the deadlines. Work whenever you want. If you work more than 40 hours a week, tell Peldi because that’s a problem. We value physical exercise, professional development. Don’t be shy, take your time. We’ll talk about that. But please be online for the golden hour which is 8 to 9 pacific AM, 5 to 6 PM Europe, which is kind of the only time that overlaps. That’s when we have all of our meetings.
Now we started doing a professional development thing and this was directly inspired by Kathy’s talk which is that the team is our most important asset, it’s the thing that the competitors can’t beat but if the team doesn’t continue to do deliberate practice, to learn, we’re screwed. Because you think I’ve learned enough and stayed flat. No. If you don’t continue and put in effort, you’re gonna forget what you’ve learned. And so we say we can’t expense a lot of stuff but we can give you time. We can give you 5 hours a week more or less. During the working hours, where you’re expected to do PD time. Read a book, do an online course. Some people use it for volunteering which also makes it better people. Better at interacting with people, etc. We can only reimburse things that are related to your job. If you take a cooking class, you pay by it yourself but at least we give you the time. And share your learnings so we’ll learn together. We have a PD room where we share what we did. It’s really awesome!
And then we did exercise time. Same thing. If you don’t exercise, you’re gonna burn out, if you’re gonna burn out, that’s bad for everybody. So take the time. So we give 5 hours a week and people sometimes they go away for a day and then they do nothing for 3 weeks, do whatever you want but just to have an idea on how much is expected right? And so here we can’t give everybody a gym membership but we can give you the time. And it says that you’re expected to be offline and completely and I do it like Alex says, the leaders have to sort of show – I do it all the time. I take naps. And so that’s good. You can see that these are well. But we came up with these together, it’s not me.
This idea I resisted forever because this is the most corporate thing you can have. Business cards.
With a job title. But people were like I’m so tired of going to conferences and having to take 10 minutes to explain what I do. Because I don’t have a job title. Can I please have a business card? Not for us, it’s for other people to understand what I do a little quicker. I was like ok, make up whatever job title you want, we’ll do business cards.
And then this time I was coming to grips with the B word, the boss. Which I still kind of have a little bit of allergy to. I think they don’t want to be called the boss. I don’t know, it’s such a negative connotation for me that word. If anything I’m like the helper and like Joe used to say, the hire is key, is inverted pyramid, the boss is below. I help. But people still call me that, they consider me that even if I say I’m here to help, no matter what. Whatever comes out of my mouth, even if it’s just a stupid idea, that’s what we’re doing then! I’m like no! So I’ve been having one of my professional development things and it’s to learn to always say this is just an idea. I’m just throwing this out, because they ignore that part anyways.
So – but I kind of came to term with that and the fact that people were craving a boss. Nobody was doing long term career advancement conversations with everybody. I was hurting the company by not embracing what I’m supposed to be doing. So we started this thing and I was depressed for a few days that I gave in to doing this. But now we love it. And it’s – every quarter we do a – with each employee I do a one on one.
It’s not called a review; it’s called a catch up.
And we founded this starfish retrospective. It’s a table 5 columns, keep doing more of, less of, start doing, don’t start. And everybody has a page that is restricted only I and the other person can see it. And we look at the table from the last quarter. What happened and didn’t happen. There’s no judgment, if something probably happened it’s my fault because I added something else in the middle. And then we do the plan for the next 3 months and we fill out that table and then I ask always the same set of questions. How’s it going? Very open ended. How is your workload? I wanna know because I do – that’s my job. Are we on track with your professional development? Are you working on stuff you love? Are you learning enough? What do you want to do long term? Because otherwise nobody stops, has time to stop and think long term. I always say if you’re doing the same thing two years from now, are you gonna be happy or do we need to change direction? Once a quarter it’s good to throw that out and start thinking about it. And then I have; do you have any tough feedback for me? And this is painful to say every time but it’s great. It’s been really good. I’ve been getting better because of this and people do. People have it.
Then there’s this one that kind of fails. Can you think of anything we could do to improve our processes? But I might change it with the one from Claire. Do you think that company is the right size right now? And then once a year we review the salary which by the way because I wasn’t the boss I’ve forgotten to do that for a couple of people for like 2 or 3 years. Such an idiot!
So it’s working pretty well but more working is hard to have a remote workforce is hard. You don’t know if someone is underperforming, it takes a long time to figure that out a little bit. The decisions where people are sleeping, it’s easy to have a meeting but one stakeholder is sleeping so you have to have the meeting again and it’s frustrating. The people from home – working from home is great for the first year. The second year you have to be the right kind of person or it starts to get lonely and so now we have only for the Americans because – this we could do for everybody. We have co-working allowance if people want to go and be with other humans. Then we have the office. So I have the people at home that complain that it’s lonely and the people at the office are complaining that the office is so loud. You can’t win!
And then culture of illusion is hard on people. The company has evolved with – already in plan or whatever. And so especially the early employees like now what? I got to put it on the calendar where I go? Yeah, because you can’t just tell me, there’s people relying on you in California. And this for me is awesome! Becoming boring finally. So people are leaving us along, no more press and it’s awesome! Our product and our customers that’s what I want and it’s great. But for the new hire’s they like being on anchor news. I don’t care. So it’s not so glitzy anymore.
This might hurt our recruiting efforts, right? We interview one guy and he’s like I don’t know if I’m ready to settle at Balsamiq. That’s a bad sign – he wanted something more exciting. All right. Revenue growth you saw slowing down a little bit. I’m ok with that, it’s still $2 million profits year after year and that’s plenty. Maybe there’s a little competition appearing but not really actually. Oh and then this happened. This is great! So they told you we are in the middle of migrating off of flash because it’s a dying technology unfortunately and so we’re refactoring which actually ended up being like a re-write our – I’m almost done – our product. And we usually ship every couple of weeks but this took a while refactoring and then stop everything else and go deep in the code with another guy and we’re programming and I’m working 14 hours a day and we’re like taking this engine apart. Supposedly everything is supposed to keep running at the same time but then we were like this is too much. Let’s break this part for now, we’ll fix it later. Then again. And we dig and we dig and the hole is deep and the more we dig, the more crap we find. And it’s tough.
Somehow remember how my body told me not to get acquired, right? This time last year my body told me in a different way. I developed claustrophobia. I don’t know if any of you is affected by this stupid, stupid thing but it really sucks. So basically what it means is that you’re afraid of small spaces but what it really means is that I have to sit on the aisle. I have to know where the exit is at all times, I had to stop going to yoga because it was too crowded. I ran out of a yoga session, made a fool of myself and tripped over someone because I was in a state of panic. It’s the lizard brain that takes over and you can’t freaking stop it! Started meditating, mind the gap. That helps, but your palms start sweating, you feel a tingle. I can’t really talk about it too much actually. It’s so stupid because you live with the fear of having the panic attack. That is the boring part. If it was just a thing that lasted 5 minutes that’s fine. But you’re like I can’t go to that restaurant because it’s up the stairs and the ceiling is too low. So it’s so annoying! But that’s the body telling you you have to slow down.
And then I saw this video and this was a disaster. So this is – I don’t know if you’ve seen this. Don’t watch it. They mapped the universe and so they say somewhere in the universe there’s a little blue ball and that’s earth with the atmosphere around it and that’s where everybody is that you know. All humans have been there forever and that’s in the middle of the solar system and the sun is one star in a billion stars in the Milky Way, but the Milky Way is one galaxy. If you zoom out, there’s billions of galaxies. Each pixel here is a galaxy. And now they know there’s galaxies that form these mega clusters. And I’m like what’s the point of this refactoring? I mean we are little ants on this little blue ball. What’s the point of anything? Looking back, I was clearly depressed. Like what is the point? We just think we are so important and we’re just this little speck of dust. Don’t watch it, really! Oh man! I kid you not, I had a panic attack because the atmosphere was too thin. How stupid is that? Oh my god!
So anyways, I’m much better because we shipped and it’s good. We finished and we put all this stuff together and it’s better. I’m much better, we hired more people, we’re going faster, our customers are happier, the product is finally maturing which means I can plan ahead more than 3 months’ time. The native versions are coming together. It’s very good. We have another somewhat painful year ahead because the native is not really done but I’m ok.
One of my quarterly goals is stop freaking out that everything takes so long. Enjoy the ride instead. Because you have to. Right now we have these rich people worries like everything is going so well I’m afraid that my people are just gonna sit down a little bit and I’ll lose some of the fire. So I’m hoping for some competition. That will help. We’re reaching 20 people and we might have to do the manager words. That’s what I hear, I don’t know. In the end maybe standard organisational models are not so bad? Maybe they’re pervasive for a reason. Like Justin said yesterday, never regret a decision to add more structure, which is weird but good. And then I’ve been too long and I may do enough of these inspirational leader things, I don’t think so. And right now I don’t have another plan other than finishing the stupid re-write. And then like there’s always the nagging doubt, like have I reached my limits? The revenue is slowing down, maybe that’s the best I can do. Sorry, that’s Italian for I don’t know.
So here I am 2007, still with Adobe working on some nights and weekends. Fresh faced, super excited and then the rollercoaster happened. And it’s not all – but then this is from our last retreat. Now I’m surrounded by – we’re still a bunch of clowns and we still don’t know what we’re doing but we love each other, we love working together, we do the work and we still are profitable. Even after all this mess and we’re gonna mess it up again and we’re gonna need plan 6 and 7. So it always looks bad from the outside. This is my journey, yours is gonna be different, you got to find your own way. Good luck!
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Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni is the Founder & CEO of Balsamiq, makers of rapid, effective, and fun wireframing software. If you’ve been to Business of Software Conference before, you’ll know Peldi – he’s the friendly one handing out stickers!
Peldi’s been attending since 2010, and has spoken 4 times – giving us a unique behind-the-scenes look at the growth of Balsamiq from a one-man project to a scaling software company of 25 at his most recent talk at Europe 2017. Balsamiq is now 10 years old, with over 30 remote employees.
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