Interview with Giacomo Guilizzoni, founder of Balsamiq Studios

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Home    Reviews on Design Tools & Software    Interview with Giacomo Guilizzoni, founder of Balsamiq Studios

I’ve been pretty quiet on the blog for quite a while. I’ve moved from Spain back to Belgium, I had to find a job and at the moment I’m moving into my new apartment … it’s been a busy 2010 so far. But not to worry, I have some very exciting plans with the blog and I would like to start with an interview I did with Giacomo ‘Peldi’ Guilizzoni, the founder of Balsamiq Studios and mastermind behind Balsamiq Mockups.

We’re also having a contest in which I’m giving away two licenses for Balsamiq Mockups. Keep on reading if you would like to compete and win your license.

Question: Hi Giacomo, first of all I would like to thank you for this interview. Maybe you can tell us a bit about yourself?

Hi everyone! First of all I’d like to thank you Paul for having me on your blog. Anything that helps the world get rid of bad software is worth doing in my book, and your blog is definitely helping lots of people, so thank you for everything you do! : )

My name is Giacomo Guilizzoni but I go by Peldi, as in “Pel di carota”, italian for “Carrot Top” – my hair was a lot redder growing up, it’s been my nickname for a long time… : )

I grew up in Bologna, Italy, where I went to school (studied Computer Science) and graduated from the University in 2000. I then moved to San Francisco, worked there for about 7 years and came back to found Balsamiq here in Italy.

At the moment I have very little time for hobbies, but I do enjoy cooking and playing tennis (I’m really not good, but it’s fun!)

So you worked in the US for quite a while, what changed your mind to go back to Italy?

It was a confluence of factors. The plan when I moved to the US was to spend 5 years there, learn everything I could from “big corporate america”, and bring it back to Italy to start my own thing here. It was a plan I didn’t fully believe in, but which turned out to be true in the end.

I decided to move back three years ago because of a number of reasons: our landlord in San Francisco told us he planned to sell the house in a year or so (i.e. he was going to kick us out), my mother called me to tell me that our apartment in Bologna was freeing up and we could stay there for free, my boss at Adobe quit so I was able to take his job and have management responsibilities, which was one of the last things I wanted to learn before making the jump…I had the idea for Balsamiq Mockups…it all happened within a month or so. The stars aligned, it really felt like it was “now or never”. : )

How and when did you came up with the idea of building a mockup tool?

It was a need I had from being a developer on a software team at Adobe. I’m a very visual person, and was always the one that got up in meetings and drew wireframes on the whiteboard. Problem was, I was also the one tasked with turning those ugly sketches into digital form to include in our feature specification documents…not a fun task.

I looked around for simple wireframing software and couldn’t find anything that I liked, so I decided to write my own! : )

Did you look for investors or someone to help you out with developing (or advisers) in the beginning?

I didn’t look for partners nor investors. The main reason I started Balsamiq was to keep learning: I wanted to do it all on my own, to see all that it took to go from idea to software company / product – programming, pricing, marketing, legal, support, all that good stuff.

That’s why I chose a small enough tool that I could build myself, funded with my savings.

When did you starting to feel like Balsamiq Mockups could be a success?

It was pretty early on. During the development I showed it to a few people, and everyone’s response was pretty much “I NEED THIS!”, which gave me the confidence to keep going.

Recouping my costs within the first 3 weeks was also a pretty good sign. It sort-of exploded right away, I never imagine such a success.

You also hired your first employee, which is a big step up. How exciting was that for you?

It was very exciting, and a very scary: having another family rely on my decisions for their sustenance was a big responsibility, so I put it off for as long as I could.

One day I woke up in panic, and the choice was clear as day in my mind: I had to hire someone THAT DAY or I was going to DIE! Not go bankrupt or anything like that, I was afraid the work was going to literally KILL me. : )

It looks like you’re keeping your team of employees rather small, any specific reason for that?

I think a small group of very talented people can do amazing things. I like to think of our company as a family, I’m trying to build the equivalent of a 5-star restaurant, but on the web. I like the idea of a business that lasts for generations, does excellent work, has lots of happy customers that know us by name…it’s just a nice life I think.

What’s next? How do you see the Balsamiq Studios in the long run?

My two year plan at the moment is to continue what we’re doing, with the same team we have now. We have lots to do for Mockups (Projects, Components, finish our web app, and much more)…after that, we’ll see. We’ll keep listening to our awesome community of customers and see what they need, plus we have a few ideas for new products of our own. The important part is that the team is now in place and ready to take on any kind of fun work we want to do.

What about mockups for the iPad for example?

It’s coming! I had a vision in a dream about a great “touchy” UI for wireframing, and we’ll try to see if we can pull it off on the iPad. Components and Projects come first though. Give us a few more months.

Could you tell us a bit more about the current stats? How many people are using your application? What is the sales volume like these days?

We have over 25,000 customers right now, with about 1,500 new ones each month. Sales are somewhat stable at $200,000 per month, which is fine: we’re working on optimizing our back-office as much as possible in preparation for the growth we’re sure will come once we implement the features we’re working on. Have a look at our roadmap for more information on this one.

Running a successful company like yours which started out with just an idea, can you give some advice to people who want to launch their own thing?

Man, that’s a tough question. What I can say is that I definitely do not regret it, but I was also pretty lucky to stumble on such a huge untapped market and be successful from the start.

It’s tough and a lot of hard work, but if you’re doing what you love, it’s incredibly rewarding as well.

I guess the best advice I can give is to be a sponge, find your idols and read everything they write and tweet about. Then read some more. When you feel like you’re not learning much from reading any more, it’s time to jump! : )

Peldi, thank you so much for your time and we wish you lots of succes in your future endeavours!

Good luck, and thanks again Paul!

The contest and how to participate

I am giving away two licenses for Balsamiq Mockups to readers who leave the comment at the end of this post and share their experiences with wireframing and prototyping. If you don’t have any experience, that is just fine – it is the right time to learn about it. You can also tweet about this contest.

Two winners will be selected randomly with the help from random.org and announced on Monday, October 11th 2010 12:00PM (GMT +1).

Good luck!

And the winner is…

First of all I would like to thank you all for participating and sharing your thoughts and experiences on wireframing and prototyping. Of course many thanks go out to Peldi, both for taking his time for the interview and the two licenses that we could give away.

But without any further ado I would like to announce the two winners who will receive a license for Balsamiq Mockups:

Sascha Diercks and Anuruddha.
Congrats to the winners!

 

Paul Olyslager

Paul is the creator, editor and most regular writer of paulolyslager.com. He's also working as UX Lead for Home24, a leading online shop for furniture and home accessories, based in Berlin, Germany. Read all about Paul or find him on Twitter, LinkedIn or Facebook.
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20 responses to “Interview with Giacomo Guilizzoni, founder of Balsamiq Studios”

  1. Balsamiq Mockups is awesome. #justsayin :)

  2. Yves says

    I enjoyed the interview, Paul. Keep up the good work!

  3. Roxanne says

    Wow, this looks like an excellent tool. I’m especially excited about the export options. I wonder how much combined time I’ve lost doing many of these same tasks in Photoshop, or even sketching out scribbled text on paper. Great interview; thanks for making me aware of this tool (and I hope I win one! ;) .

  4. jobrien says

    I have used Fireworks, Visio, InDesign, and even Word for wireframes over the years. There is definitely a need for a tool to enable the quick turn-around of down and dirty wireframes to convey a concept with speed. I think Balsamiq fills that gap/need. Thanks!

  5. We are first-time lovers of Balsamiq Mockups, which changed the way we give life to a project and – maybe most of all – we share it with our clients and partners.

    … and also have the chance to live a few steps from Balsamiq new headquarter in Italy :)

  6. Nice read :) I’ve not used Balsamiq before and to be honest there seem to be so many tools these days for constructing wireframes and mockups that it can be hard work to try and find one to use. In fact I have a whole list of them in my bookmarks somewhere that one day i’ll get round to sorting through! So I guess I tend to use pen and paper (always) for the early stages, then most often Fireworks. Also use quick tools like Keynote, Word, Pages. Tried an online prototyping tool once a long time ago but it wasn’t flexible enough to allow me to customize and draw my own elements. Used to use Visio at my old workplace.

  7. Cynthia says

    I’m part of a few meetups. One of them had a session titled designing an app without writing a single line of code. A few weeks prior to learning of the session, I had heard Giacomo’s mixergy interview. I thought what a cool idea to make design accessible…but can it be that popular?! I downloaded it – amazing ease of use. I figured users were a bunch of early adopters. What a surprise to find how large and diverse a community Balsamiq has, so that even my random meetup promotes its use. Great job!

  8. Farhad says

    A good tool coming from a good person & company.

  9. Deborah says

    “Recouping my costs within the first 3 weeks” – that’s amazing! Enjoyed hearing the background on how Balsamiq started. I’ve used Visio, ForeUI, and Balsamiq in the past for wireframes. Balsamiq is so easy to get started with prototyping.

  10. roth says

    I’d love to learn more about prototyping with Balsamiq :)

  11. Sylvain says

    I’m now using mocking bird, it’s a very good (new) solution, balsamiq looks really good but it’s not online !

  12. Gorsh says

    Balsamiq is THE ridiculous easy to use mockup solution. I love it.

  13. Brad says

    I totally love wireframes! I just need to do them more… :)

  14. Shawn Dai says

    I’ve mainly been using OmniGraffle or drawing low-fi pencil paper wireframes. Very interested in checking out Balsamiq Mockups and trying to incorporate it into my workflow.

  15. In my opinion prototyping is a great way to organize and plan the structure of a new project. On the other side, some clients lack the ability of imagination how the result will look like when the project is finished. A wireframe is just too vague for them. So you have to come up with Photoshop-Mockups.
    I’ve used Balsamiq in the past to plan the project inside our team, but created Photoshop-Mockups, if it came to presentations outside of the team.
    Nonetheless, at least for me, Balsamiq is still the fastest way to create prototypes an I’m really looking forward for the iPad-Version.

    And by the way: the Facebook-Button is overlapping the -fields if they are on the same height. (recognized in Safari)

  16. Anuruddha says

    One day one of my friend and I just read a career opportunity at jira website for visual designer. It said that candidate should know how to work with ‘balsamiq’. We never heard of it and just cut and pasted it to google. That’s how I found this tool.

    I just started using it and it is such great tool. I love how they have done it.

    It was made my life easier. !! love it

    Thank you

  17. hi, i follow and use balsamiq in last year. i appreciate the software, and the vision of the startup.

    i think that the use of this type of software to make the user interface design, reduce the delay during the interaction with the customers.

    we adopted the agile method to develop the projects, and i think that mockup is usefull to do this.

    in this months i convince the creatives to try to create the mockup with balsamiq instead of Photoshop…. :)

    here you can see an example of use:
    http://demo.nextep.it/famot/page/homepage.html

    and the graphics detailed proposal

    http://demo.nextep.it/famot/page/homepagegrafica.html

    :)

    good work balsamiq

    bravo giacomo

  18. Carlos says

    This is a great tool, I just want to use it in all of my new projects.

    regards from bogota,
    Carlos

  19. Thank you very much for taking the time for this post and giving away one of the licenses to me :)
    I really appreciate it.

  20. It’s nice to hear that you liked it :-). You can expect an email soon with all the necessary information!

I would love to hear your thoughts on this.

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