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).
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!
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