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Balsamiq Mockups - a solid case for AIR

Balsamiq Mockups - a solid case for AIR

AIR has been out for a while and while there's many good applications already. I've however felt that a really good success story was missing - until 2 weeks ago. Peldi Guilizzoni left a solid position at Adobe to create an AIR app he saw a need for. 5 months later he has earned his first $100.000 and his product line is expanding. We talked to Peldi to learn more about Balsamiq Mockups and his ideas about AIR as a business.

Peldi is a name that's been around in the Flash community for quite some time and when leaving Adobe he had no idea how far he would get. On his company blog, he was very open about how the product and business went. Two weeks ago, he passed the $100k mark - less than 5 months after the company had a product to sell!

The business idea was simple - make a product that can ease the process of mocking up applications. After a relatively short period of timing, the first two products was ready. The application offered a charming, sketchy look to the mockups and was published as an AIR desktop application and a Confluence plugin. Next came versions for JIRA and XWiki.

Let's start by congratulating you on the success of Balsamiq!

Thank you very much. It's a bit surreal...don't wake me up!

You've been in the Flash community for quite a long time? How did you get started?

Let's see. I started working with Flash in 2000, which I guess is a long time ago, but I'm sure many of your readers started well before me! I'm one of those people who came to Flash from the CS world, and while I was fascinated with the technology in the 90's, I just couldn't bring myself to use behaviors as a way to code. Back then Director was my tool of choice for visual, interactive solutions (those were the days huh?) ;)

And then you ended up working for Adobe?

I wanted to work for Macromedia for as long as I can remember. So after finishing school, I moved to the US with the clear goal of getting a job there. I got really lucky: at the time Macromedia was getting ready to release Flash MX and "Project Tincan" (what now evolved into Flash Media Server). My CS dissertation consisted in a multi-user chat room built with Shockwave Multiuser Server and Director, so it was a good fit. I started as a QE engineer, then moved into development after a year.

As a developer, I worked on Breeze, Adobe's web conferencing product, which then became Acrobat Connect Professional. My last project there was to lead the dev team that created ConnectNow and Cocomo - Nigel Pegg was the architect, my role was more "cat herder" / "code monkey" :)

In the 6+ years at Macromedia/Adobe, I had the privilege to work with many of the brightest, nicest people in the industry. If you want to be surrounded by people smarter than you and have fun while you're at work, you should really consider working at Adobe.

What made you leave Adobe?

Leaving Adobe was a really tough decision for me to make (I didn't sleep for 4 days before giving notice). My 5-year plan when moving to the US was to learn as much as I could from "big corporate America", then move back to Italy to apply those lessons in my own company here.

It took me a little longer than expected, but here I am. Many of the reasons for leaving were personal: my wife and I have a toddler, so we decided that this was a good time to spend with my large Italian family. If we don't like to live in Italy and decide to move back in a year or two, our son will still be young enough to hopefully not get too traumatized by the move. :) I share more details on my reasons for moving on my blog.

And then you started working on the first version Balsamiq Mockups. Was there any hurdles in the development process?

Ha! There's always hurdles, it's part of the fun of coding isn't it?

Let me think. I think I rewrote the foundation classes (the Model, the Input Manager, the base UI Component, etc) a few times until I was happy with them. First I started with each UI control handle the mouse events for moving and resizing itself, then moved all the mouse handling to a transparent InputManager canvas that sits on top of the view (similar to what I had done for Connect's whiteboard). I also had to learn and digest all the different options for run-time skinning before I was able to create a strategy that worked for my tool, which took a while.

Luckily I have been coding for a long time (21 years!) and was part of 3 or 4 major re-architecture / re-writes at Adobe, so I have a set of patterns in my toolbox that help me and my "gut feeling" is fairly well developed. I still have much to learn and still make mistakes often, and that's great!

 

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Example mockup - note the rough and simple style. This is how mockups should look and how Balsamiq Mockups deliver them.

Has your "gig" at Adobe helped getting exposure or have other factors been more influent on the success?

I don't think it helped me get exposure, but it certainly helped me gain credibility. When I left Adobe many former colleagues were nice enough to recommend me on LinkedIn, which I'm sure has helped some prospective customers trust me enough to buy my software.

I don't know what factors have influenced my success thus far, I suspect it's a combination of various things falling into place like in a puzzle. I like to think that my fanatical obsession with user experience, in everything from the software to the site to the emails I send out, has something to do with it :)

You've been really open about the progress of both product and company. Why did you decide to use this approach?

I am a one-man-company trying to sell software to large enterprises. Put yourself in the shoes of someone at a large company: would you buy software from a site if you're not quite sure who's behind it or if they'll be in business next year? I wouldn't. I don't have a sales team to help me ease their fears and hold their hand during the buying process, so I have to do it some other way. On my company page, I answer questions like "What if you go belly-up next year?" or "how can such a small team support large customers?". Releasing my financial information, especially since it's good, is another way to buildtrust.

Little did I know it would also become such a successful marketing tool! In general, my answer is "why not?". It's really hard to hide anything on the Internet, so why even try? I love it, transparency FTW!

The product line has expanded a lot since the start. What are the plans ahead?

I started with Mockups for Confluence and for Desktop. I always had plans to port to JIRA and to an open-source wiki solution, so I took care of those.

My original plan was to build two or three new products a year, but Mockups has been such a hit that I'd be dumb not to spend more time on it. So right now I'm thinking about a couple more variations of Mockups (hosted, for other wikis, etc). I also have a list of improvements for the app which should keep me busy for a while.

After that, we'll see. I have a list of ideas for new products which keeps getting longer and longer, but I never look at it or my mind will start spinning and I won't be able to focus on Mockups.

What advice would you give to somebody that has an idea for an app, wondering if their idea is good enough to make a living from?

That's a tough one. I would look for info on how to do "market sizing" and "market segmentation", I bet there are lots of books and blogs on the subject. In my case, this is what I did: I looked for a solution to a problem I was having. I found software that was either too expensive and complex or too cheap and cheaply made. There was a gap right where I wanted to be: simple to use but well done, and at a price range that made sense financially for a small company like mine.

Thanks for taking the time Peldi! We recommend anyone doing application development taking a look at Balsamiq Mockups. It's really simple to use and it runs either as a desktop version or a  plugin for Confluence/Jira or XWiki.

About Jens C Brynildsen

Jens has been working with Flash since version 3 came out. Since then, he's been an active member of the Flash community. He's created more than a hundred Flash games (thus the name of his blog) but he also creates web/standalone applications, does workshops and other consulting. He loves playing with new technology and he is convinced that the moment you stop learning you die (creatively speaking). Jens is also the Editor of this website.

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