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Balsamiq Makes 1.6 Million with 70% Profit in 2009 (balsamiq.com)
262 points by nsoonhui on Jan 3, 2010 | hide | past | favorite | 122 comments

Balsamiq has twice as many twitter followers as Facebook 'Fans'. I'm strongly of the opinion that the word 'Fan' and the way it shows up in your Facebook profile makes Facebook pages a lot less useful for businesses. I want to get info about balasamiq, but I am not ready to describe myself as a fan to everyone on my facebook friendslist, considering that I've not used it.

Facebook should allow you to 'friend' a business without having to be a 'fan' of it. I think if they allowed this, facebook interaction between business and normal users would be much higher, considering the much larger facebook userbase.

We have 5x as many Twitter followers as Facebook fans (363 vs. 74), but I'm not convinced it's as simple as semantics:

Facebook, despite their recent posturing, is for me still a personal sphere. Twitter, despite its flippant image, is for me about business. At the very least it's my web persona, rather than, say, my people-I've-known-since-I-was-11 persona. I follow a bunch of businesses (and moreso, business contacts) on Twitter. The only businesses I follow on Facebook are from friends who have nagged me about doing such. ;-)

Facebook is still a personal sphere, but some business do belong in my personal sphere. I'd probably not want your business in my facebook stream, since I don't use you, but there is this artist I know who often makes print that can be bought. I want to see what he's up to, and if there is something good, I'd like to buy it. My webhost, I'd be interested in seeing what they are up to, and knowing that all is safe. When Django is updated, would not mind seeing that in the stream too. I'd like to see politicians too - and I don't want to have to say I am their 'Fan' to see what they have to say or their photos!

I can construct my facebook to deliver the info I want to see. It's easy to hide info from a business when they start spamming and just as easy to remove them from my friends list.

So even though facebook started off as a personal sphere, I think it will have great utility for small business. It's possible to get personal with your customers.

Yep -- I can definitely see it on some of the more "personal" businesses (e.g. local arts). Balsamiq I think would fall out of that range for most users.

I wonder what percentage of web users start their sessions at Facebook these days? It's clear that that's what Facebook is going for, and what you're suggesting with something milder than "fan" (see updates from..., perhaps).

One interesting thing to throw into the fray there as well is that if a service that I regularly use is down, the first place I check is Twitter, and pretty universally, it works. Facebook still I think has a ways to go before it's seen as a primary source for news in the same way. Twitter is kind of the new RSS.

I don't think facebook has an interest in that - twitter is filtered rss. Friend filtered RSS. If more people would post links and less "Good morning!" then it would be more interesting.


His startup is called Directed Edge. They got into YC last year.

And is your handle really "callingyouout?" Go back to Reddit where gimmick personalities are appreciated.

Actually I didn't mention our name since it wasn't relevant to the point. I assumed it was clear from context that I meant, "a startup I work for". I originally wrote that in a reply to said comment, but it's just a trolling account, so I deleted it:


Twitter is useless compared to Facebook. You get a lot more engagement from Facebook.

With twitter your window of opportunity is the 5 seconds that you show up in their feed. With Facebook that time is a lot longer.

You can have 10,000 followers on twitter, but only 20 people will see your announcement, since you'll show up in their feed for 5 seconds.

Anyone who follows a business account on Twitter, is most likely following more than 100 people(and most likely >1000), which means you are one of hundreds of people trying to talk to them

I have repeatedly had exactly the opposite experience: I've gotten hundreds of respondents for surveys, driven traffic to new blog posts, and fully enrolled a class off Twitter posts, and have had Facebook attempts at the same things fizzle. Twitter has been a much more valuable tool for us than Facebook.

Which is fine, because my Facebook list is filled with people I went to high school with, who couldn't give less of a crap about what my company is doing this week.

I just don't get the utility of twitter for business. I see one great use for twitter, which is what I am using it for right now: Get major influencers to follow you. When you do that, you have a good chance to be republished by one of them, which is great PR.

(That's why I bothered writing two articles recently, trying to raise my twitter 'important people' follower count. It actually works somewhat.)

I'll give you an example, I needed to buy some wine as a gift. So I tweeted out to Gary Vaynerchuk what to buy. He tweeted back with a few suggestions. And I got into my car and drove down to Wine Library and bought one of his suggestions.

youre from jersey? respect++

That's why you @reply them.

Not in a spammy manner, of course. But if someone's talking about your business on Twitter, engage them.

I was talking more about announcements.

I do the @reply thing, but it's a little sucky, since that @reply shows up in everyone's feed.

So long as you start the tweet with @[twitteruser], your @reply will only appear in someone's feed if they follow you and also the person you are sending the at-reply to. Or if they are the person you're sending the message to, of course.

that's the point, if my message is only to that one person, why would my followers want to read about it?

To clarify, your @reply won't necessarily appear in everyone's feed. It will only appear if:

1) They are the user you are sending the @reply to, OR 2) They follow you AND the person you send the @reply to.

So for example, if I follow @balsamiq and @fogbugz and @balsamiq sends an @reply to @fogbugz, that message will appear in my feed. But if @balsamiq sends an @reply to a user I do not follow, I will not see it in my feed.

I'm pretty sure it doesn't work that way. I think everyone see's your @reply -- perhaps you mean DMs?

jsb is correct; they made this change a few months back.

Extra tidbit: this is the reason for those ". @foo ..." tweets you may be seeing. If any character precedes the @, then the tweet will appear in all your follower's feeds; otherwise, it behave as jsb described.

I've found facebook to be better for interaction with users. I have ~800 Facebook fans, and ~150 twitter followers, and I get much more than 6x the page views/comments/etc from Facebook fans than from Twitter followers.

With Twitter, your tweets easily get lost in the sea of tweets, whereas Facebook stories persist in the fans' News Feeds for a while, and then show up even more if their friends interacted with it.

Those are exactly my thoughts - facebook is a lot more involved with the user, and so an interaction between user and business would be more personal, more viral and with a lot more info about your users.

I tried using twitter for business shortly, but it is too difficult to handle effectively. I've switched to facebook, and I'm seeing better results but I still dislike this 'fan' thing. People don't want to be fans, but they are interested in interacting.

Great observation.

> Facebook should allow you to 'friend' a business

That has the same connotations to me, how about "follow"

Follow works even better. Now all we need is someone from Facebook to take part in this conversation...

Facebook does allow per-page-type changes in follow-verbs. For example, you don't "fan" a politician, you "support" them.

Page admins have no control over this, though, it's hard-coded per page type. So I can't imagine there's even that much work involved in changing the copy from "fan" to "follow" for certain page types (or even letting the page admin select among a few, pre-configure options when setting up the page).

What about I want to see what Linode vs Slicehost are up to, even though I am at Dreamhost? I would just like to follow them for a while while, get a feel of who they are before deciding. Not 'support' or 'fan' them. Facebook should change their verbs.

Pretty impressive for any company, let alone a bootstrapped one. I'm really glad Peldi still makes these sorts of posts, a lot of times the openness disappears when the money starts coming in.

I agree with the idea of openness. But, if that much money started coming in for something I made, I'd feel awkward reporting on the numbers.

Not sure if he'd thought it through that far, but it seems like a pretty good and calculated risk that's paying off. The fact that he is as open as he is (though hopefully he knows better than to report numbers that appear worse to the IRS), I think makes his customers want him to succeed that much more.

Broadly, it's a tool that enables others to build their own sites but also their own businesses (and I think entrepreneurs like supporting each other as it helps prove that the rewards do indeed exist). It lets users share, in a sense, in the success to be associated with a product they've used while also being inspired.

Of course, there can be a thin line between sharing and bragging/offending his user base, but I think he treads it quite well.

I think they moved HQ to Italy. Would they still have to report to the IRS?

We have HQ in Italy but most of our business comes through our US presence, so yes we report to the IRS...AND to the Italian taxman. We're a micro-multinational! :)

Hmmm that I didn't know. That could be complicated if they moved in the last year (e.g. deemed disposition of shares and all that). I guess as long as they're reporting to whoever the appropriate reporting authority is though I doubt Italy's tax department is as sophisticated as the IRS (they're known to have checked out facebook profiles).

This is making me feel really inadequate -- Tarsnap launched publicly only 5 months after Balsamiq, but it's nowhere near Balsamiq in revenues. (Possibly Tarsnap pricing starts at 300 picodollars/month rather than at $79.)

Oh well, humility is good for the soul, right? :-)

You posted the Tarsnap redesign 111 days ago, here: http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=820705

As far as I can tell you didn't incorporate a single piece of advice you received in that thread. I'd print out patio11's comment and staple it above my desk.

The homepage still looks like the website for any random, academic OSS project. It doesn't say "hardcore," it says amateur, and there's no way I'm trusting you with my money, let alone my sensitive data.

I just don't understand what that homepage is designed to sell, and why you're so insistent on keeping the "minimalist aesthetic," the crazy pricing, and the walls of text. Is it for your sake, or for your customers?

If the former, I think I know why Balsamiq has higher sales.

For example, imagine I'm a potential enterprise client who, for compliance reasons, needs exactly what you're offering. How much do you think I'd be willing to spend? Does your site even let me spend that much?

You have a beautiful piece of technology. My background is in mathematics so I really appreciate the brilliance that went into building something as comprehensive and innovative as tarsnap.

But that is the first step of 10. The other 9 steps are about marketing and sales, and Balsamiq is better at that than you are.

EDIT: An illustration of your distribution strategy vs. Balsamiq's.

http://www.google.com/search?q=secure+online+backups http://www.google.com/search?q=mockups

you didn't incorporate a single piece of advice you received in that thread

I filed a lot of it away for future reference, since I figured that having a website at all took priority over making it look as nice as possible.

Is [the current aesthetic] for your sake, or for your customers?

Both. Whenever I mention the possibility of changing the "feel" of the Tarsnap website, I hear an outcry from my current users. Of course, that is a rather biassed sample...

imagine I'm a potential enterprise client who, for compliance reasons, needs exactly what you're offering

If you need backups for regulatory compliance reasons, Tarsnap can't help you -- regulators need paperwork, and Tarsnap doesn't have it.

An illustration of your distribution strategy vs. Balsamiq's. http://www.google.com/search?q=secure+online+backups http://www.google.com/search?q=mockups

I absolutely agree, and I think this is my biggest problem -- getting people to the Tarsnap website in the first place, when the crowded market makes it almost impossible for someone to find Tarsnap via search engines (unless they're already searching for "Tarsnap").

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think Google really cares about how flashy a website looks...

It's not about looking nice, it's about selling and being in a sales/marketing mindset.

Balsamiq's sales are absolutely dominating tarsnap's. What are they doing differently and how can you learn from them?

Most of the answer, IMO, is contained in the thread from 111 days ago.

Your technology is awesome and deserves an awesome sales effort.

regulators need paperwork, and Tarsnap doesn't have it.

Well, if this is a pain point for your customers, then perhaps you should consider paperwork? Would also provide additional peace of mind to those not needing paperwork.

Sometimes the customers you end up with aren't what you had in mind at the outset. Don't know if this is how you'll end up, but you may want to consider it if you end up switching your marketing message from "this is only for true geeks who like to compile their own code. Others need not apply."

You can do the SEO though. There's not much to it. Basically you just email people and ask them to link to you, or if they really want to do you a favor, link with the keywords "secure online backups" or whatever phrase you want to target.

You can do the SEO though. There's not much to it.

Huh. Really, that's it? I thought SEO was all about "optimizing" website text to include keywords multiple times and stuff like that.

Yeah, SEO consultants pretend there is a lot of voodoo to it, which is only true if you're doing heavy affiliate marketing stuff. In your case, you just need to give Google the info it needs to appropriately rank your site via inbound links.

That doesn't hurt, but I think that only really works for less competitive keyword phrases. SEO is mostly just best practices. Some HN member posted their site http://360voltage.com/ here, it will point out where your site is not following SEO best practices. If you can get 5 or 10 or 20 good links to your site, especially from weighty BSD domains, it should go a long towards improving your search engine rankings.

Another thing you can do is a yahoo search for your competitors, say site:mozy.com and then look at their inbound links and think about how you can get similar links.

As a start, how come you haven't been on Techcrunch yet? Your narrative should play well there.

how come you haven't been on Techcrunch yet

I don't know enough about how Techcrunch selects its stories to answer this question. I'd certainly be happy to appear there.

Mostly you just need to ask and not have been covered on Mashable.


Let them know who you are, why it's interesting, and why it's news. I think your narrative, "BSD security guy creates idealized secure online backups" is interesting enough by Techcrunch standards.

You should also watch Arrington's Startup School talk.

Thanks, I'll send him an email next week (I'm doing a reddit ad experiment this week, and in the interests of science I don't want to have an unrelated spike in traffic at the same time).

An anecdote that may help you...

One of my former employers had a product that came about sort of by accident, providing a Perl hook into a Sendmail milter interface. It wasn't vastly better than a few open source CPAN modules, daemonized. Management found that it was taking time away from all the really cool geeky stuff we wanted to do. We, the programmers, complained loudly over and over again that at $700, this product was ludicrously overpriced.

Meanwhile, out in the real world, our customers were dealing with a rising tide of spam. They were bowled over that there could be such a powerful and flexible solution that fit right into their existing mail infrastructure. It was a perfect match for big institutions like universities.

The problem was that they wouldn't even consider a $700 product.

This is more than just institutional prejudice. At $700 a pop, they knew that we weren't putting any effort into this product. We wouldn't be there to expand for their needs, or respond quickly.

Everything changed when we started charging thousands of dollars. This product soon outstripped all others in revenue. It saved the company, gained us reliable customers, and led to an acquisition. Nowadays it's a very user-friendly system, with all sorts of GUI wizards, but at base it's just an elaboration of the Milter API.

So, the point here is, it is very possible to charge too little. You might be sending the wrong signal to your customers, that you aren't serious enough for the long haul. If your main product is totally secure backups that last forever, that kind of pricing signal might be important.

The Cynic: ask for picodollars and you shall receive picodollars.

Joking aside though, I think that I see something of myself in your marketing. Your web page, for instance, is very plain, which to someone like me is great. But people seem to not like that, for whatever reason. Maybe you should do some A/B testing with a "flashier" (but no flash, please!) version? I would be curious to hear about the results. This is one of those things that irritates me about the world at times: people ought to be looking at your product and its price, rather than fades, drop shadows and the like... but they don't.

Also: he's targeting people used to paying for stuff, whereas lots of Linux and BSD people are, well, kind of stingy. Maybe a bigger push towards Mac would be another idea?

I agree.

The tagline is "Backups for the truly paranoid". Yet the site looks like it was built by one person as a hobby. Why would the truly paranoid trust this web site to store his files?

Tarsnap requires the user to be a unix-geek that can compile the program himself and use the command line. But if I'm a truly paranoid hacker, wouldn't I just write a quick python script myself to encrypt and backup my files to S3? Why would I trust you? One thing that may help is that you should let the user upload the files to their own S3 account, not to your S3 account. That would certainly make me more likely to use it.

Also, nowhere on the home page does it tell me what makes Tarsnap so special. To me, it's just another backup program. What's special about it that makes it good for the truly paranoid? Tell me that up front.

From what I can grasp from their page, the paranoid part comes from the encryption used.

And, ironically, I'm not sure which I'm more paranoid about: Having other people read my backups, or accidentally screwing up my encryption protocol and being unable to recover my backups.

My worst nightmare is securely encrypting everything with a single key and than somehow losing that key to a fire, a thief, a tragic laundry incident, or a filing error (oops, I changed keys and accidentally shredded the new one instead of the old one! Oops, I put the paper with the key in this bag but then I forgot about it for a week, and cleaned out the bag, and the piece of paper got picked up by the office cleaning staff!)

I wish I could afford to use nothing but the Linus Torvalds approach to backups: Upload everything to the cloud in plain text and try to convince people to mirror it.

IMHO, the point is not that the site isn't flashy, but that it doesn't explain why would you want off-site and crypted backups in the first time. The site I would expect for a backup tool is one which scares the visitors to the hell, full of well known horror stories, and showing how tarsnap would have avoided them.

For example, Jeff Attwood, a well known and "smart" guy isn't he? Well, he also thought his hosting provider was doing adequate backups...

Astalavista? They had backups, but the cracker logged into the backup servers using the credentials stored in backup scripts and deleted them. Did you know that tarsnap may use a key for writing, another for reading and another for deleting?

It's true that being an UNIX oriented tool makes it a "niche" product since most companies use a combination of UNIX and Windows servers. But there is still a big chance of success among web owners running small to medium webs for a living on cheap VPS or shared hosting accounts on foreign countries. They should get very nervous every time they hear an horror story detailing how some site dissapeared because of a bad backup strategy...

another suggestion is to start shipping binaries. i just looked at your download page and while it's not much of an issue for me to compile it, it may be just enough work to make other people not want to try it. especially when you start talking about header files and dependency versions.

make deb and rpm packages, get it into the freebsd/openbsd/pkgsrc/fink port trees. make your installation page as short as "pkg_add tarsnap" and only link to the compilation instructions for other, less commonly used architectures. (do you have the ability to see what os/arch most of your users are using?)

Binaries are on my to-do list. I could build a bunch of binaries and put them on the website right now, but I want to have a scriptable build process before I commit to providing binaries.

FWIW, Tarsnap is in the FreeBSD ports tree already, but not in others.

Explore dual-licensing options for the daemon, too. Tarsnap is the kind of thing that could become a ubiquitous sysadmin tool, if done right!

I would say this is a big one. I'm capable of compiling it myself, but honestly, for trying something out that's not very high on my to do list (since I have a workable solution of my own), the barrier to trial needs to be very low.

crypted off-site backups? wait, people pay for that? wtf, crashplan is free (forever). all you need is a buddy with some disk. a tb is about a hundred bucks these days.

good luck with that tarsnap thingy.

I think you are being downvoted for being so rude and straight but I think you make the point here. Tarsnap is shooting at the wrong target: everything about it seems to be designed to appeal geeks: the webpage style, the humor (the picodollars thing), the code to be compiled (!). Basically tarsnap is targeting the people that will never pay for this service. I am a geeky enough to recognize myself as possible target and therefore geeky enough to setup the same thing using 10 minutes of bash, truecrypt and S3 for half the prize.

Tarsnap does block-based differentials, in addition to its fancy crypto footwork. You can't set that up with bash, truecrypt, and S3.

Please don't get me wrong, it was not my intention to compare the features of tarsnap to a 10 minutes hack. I am sure there is a lot of good work behind and it looks like great code and a great project. I am also sure that a lot of businesses would be happy to pay for your service if they were directly targeted for it.

But I have no doubt the reason while your revenue doesn't make you happy yet it is because hackers are not the right target for it. I do differential backup using encFS and dropbox; it's not even remotely as cool as tarsnap but it's free for now. You see my point?

if your "backup" is on a single disk, it's not a backup

I think you're right on both counts. I have a friend who is trying to find a way to make the Tarsnap website look nicer without losing its essential geeky/minimalist character; if/when he comes up with something I'll definitely be doing some testing to see how it compares. That said, I don't think Tarsnap's conversion rate is particularly bad -- I'd say that most important issue is simply getting people to the Tarsnap website in the first place.

Promoting Tarsnap as a solution for OS X runs into the GUI problem: Most OS X users don't have a clue what to do with a command-line interface. Tarsnap will gain a GUI at some point in the future, but of course this is a rather non-trivial amount of code to write...

I have a friend who is trying to find a way to make the Tarsnap website look nicer without losing its essential geeky/minimalist character;

Maybe you misspoke here, but based on this quote I think your approach could be improved.

1) You went to a friend. Unless this person is an experienced designer of commercial websites, that doesn't sound like the right approach.

2) Your primary concern is preserving the site's "geeky/minimalist character", although that seems to be your Achilles heel. The last time Tarsnap was on news.yc, I made the same incorrect assumption, that this was not really a business, but just a side project of an academic. You and I even talked about that in the comments.

3) You're framing the problem as aesthetics, but it's really about poor communication. Engineers often make the mistake of thinking that visual design = making something look nice. This is like saying a database designer makes data nice.

Just like a database designer sees important patterns to capture, a great producer or designer understands how to drive website visitors to the right understandings and behaviours.

It sounds to me that if you go down the route you descirbe, you'll have all the pain of redoing the site, without solving the more fundamental problems.

You went to a friend. Unless this person is an experienced designer of commercial websites, that doesn't sound like the right approach.

I went to a talented web designer who understands my vision. I think understanding my vision is important -- otherwise I'm likely to pay $$$ only to be presented with a website which I hate and don't want to use.

I think what people are trying to tell you is that--with all due respect--your opinion on your website is not worth a damn.

I mean, if you're interested in pageviews, and revenue--and your comments wrt Balsamiq seem to indicate you are--you need to realize that the aesthetic you're looking for is likely costing you customers and hence money.

Nobody's going to fault you if you prefer to make less money and keep your website any way you want, but if you're going to complain about sluggish growth you've gotta realize that your customers' habits and tastes are much more important than your own.

In related news, the demographic you seem to be targeting is quite possibly either unwilling or unable to pay for it; the former because they'd rather hack something up on their own and the latter because they may not be the decision maker for their organization.

I've been following tarsnap from afar and think it looks like a great service. That said, an "unprofessional" look & feel is a deterrent for most people because it implies the service may be unprofessional (people tempted to click away before diving in to see whether you're qualified).

Think of it like the crackpots who submit their own math/physics theories. Sure, a professor can critically examine every submission, but it's not a good use of their time. It's easier to just read results in refereed journals.

If someone eccentric is doing something truly groundbreaking (Perelman solving the poincare conjecture), then most people expect somebody to tell them about it. Craigslist is like this -- if you saw the same layout on bobslist.com, you'd know it was some rinky-dink site. But craigslist built a reputation and that reputation is what made it spread.

Unsolicited advice, but long story short: people make snap judgements to save time, and often times they are correct (I suspect most unprofessional-looking sites are not run by professionals in that domain). This can be overcome with word of mouth, but it's ideal to not have to "overcome" their initial snap judgement and make a good first impression.

Why not just take a gigantic leap of faith and build a 2nd front-end?

I mean, keep the existing website. And create a second one, using more traditional modern UX techniques. In my perfect fantasy here, this new one would be the .com and your current site would be the .net. That's likely not possible so you may need to find a variation of the domain or, hell, a completely new name for this "non geek" version. After all, "tar" doesn't have any meaning to the non-geek IT Biz Mgr anyway. Being sticky isn't a horrible visual for a backup service, but it's nothing special.

I'm dead serious, here. You have a vision. This is your vision. It's apparently not being successful in the marketplace. So why not just say, "hey, maybe I'm wrong" and go for an approach nearly 100% opposite of your current strategy?

I can't agree more strongly here. I elsewhere argue for a website change; this is even a better idea because it'll even more clearly show the difference. And hey--maybe all of us are wrong and the academic minimalist look is more profitable? If this is true, please come back and report it--maybe we're all wrong!

But unless your customer demographics are vastly different than those of many of the people here who earn good money with proven UI techniques, I'd bet you could do better with different marketing (website, etc.). But you don't really have to bet. What'll it cost you, 10 bucks for a domain name and some time? The first rounds don't really even need a designer, though you'll save some time if you procure one now instead of later.

Test, test, test. There are a good number of qualified people (not me) that are giving good advice, but your test results are king. Start running variations, and you and HN can look at the data and start making progress.

You should consider partnering with (or contracting out) to someone already well familiar with OS X and interested in writing a GUI.

Tarsnap has one of the technically best back-end implementations available, but the barrier to entry for an interested customer is incredibly high -- not just on OS X, but on UNIX as well.

Even on UNIX, producing a working backup setup requires writing custom scripts to do so, and implementing anything like snapshot-based backups is complicated enough that even I spent a couple hours getting everything working/tested, and I'm very familiar with this area.

I'll be bold: You solved the backup problem, now the number one hinderance to your growth is solving the user experience problem.

The UNIX utility should have an exceptionally easy way to configure backup schedules. Possibly even an optional web UI.

A Mac release must have a native OS X GUI (no qt!), be easy to use/configure, and be well-integrated into system services.

After the first iteration on the above you should consider implementing support for network-based backup administration, so that we can control backups/restores across all of our desktop/server installations from a centralized administration console.

If the above is not your forte -- if you're only interested in the crypto and backup issues -- then you need to find a parter or contractor who can step in and solve them for you.

I'll be bold: You solved the backup problem, now the number one hinderance to your growth is solving the user experience problem.

I agree 100% -- and this was exactly my intention. I wanted to make sure that I had a solid backup system in place before I made it easy to use, because I hear far too many nightmare stories about backup software which is the opposite way around -- easy to use, but doesn't actually work.

A GUI will happen. Sample cron jobs for automating backups will happen. A web interface... well, that might happen, but really it needs to be built in to something like virtualmin.

I think there's a rather strong correlation between people that are used to the command line and people who don't pay for stuff online because they use opensource products. It doesn't make things better that tarsnap works only on linux of course. (If I remember correctly?)

That might be part of the problem as Davidw is hinting at.

It doesn't make things better that tarsnap works only on linux of course. (If I remember correctly?)

Linux, BSD, Solaris, OS X, and Cygwin. Probably other UNIXy OSes too, but I don't know anyone using AIX or Tru64.

Tarsnap doesn't support Windows (except via a POSIX layer like Cygwin) or GNU Hurd.

Have you tried Reddit advertising?

Not yet. I'm thinking about it.

EDIT: Ok, finished thinking. Let's see how much traffic $20 gets me.

I'd love to hear about how this turns out for you.

I'll probably post to my blog with the statistics and comments about the reddit approach to advertising. I don't think much of the "buy a fraction of a day's traffic, but we're not going to tell you what fraction you're getting" approach, for one thing...

Experiment day is Thursday, so I'll probably have useful numbers early next week.

Link that to HN. It will be very interesting if you put up a thorough analysis of how advertising on reddit worked out.

Assuming I write such a post, I'll submit it to both HN and Reddit. (And given how these things tend to work, I'll probably get more traffic from Reddit going to the blog post about advertising on Reddit than I get from the advertising itself...)

Good work. For cheap stuff like this, you need to act right away to get data. Thinking doesn't really do anything. I hardly know anything about A/B testing (except what I read here), but I don't think you need to let this test stop you from other tests (just create different landing pages, I think.) You mentioned elsewhere that you were going to wait 'till this experiment ended to start another. Don't delay, do it now.

I think having a gui for OS X could really help it to spread.. I'd love to recommend tarsnap to friends but most of them don't want to use the commandline

You can look here for ideas on minimalist design:


I guess their revenue would be in pico dollars as well if you had to download, compile, configura and install the balsamiq software as well.

I have a number of clients who can't keep their data in the US due to privacy considerations. Sadly, I can't send them to you until you accept Canadian customers. Which is unfortunate, as it's typically Canadian organizations that have this privacy issue with US backup providers.

(I recognize why you've made the decision that you did, but it is definitely preventing you from getting a certain class of customer who really actually cares about what you're selling vs other backup storage providers)

Privacy laws generally don't care about encryption, so -- since Tarsnap hosts data in the US -- Canadians who are bound by such laws won't find Tarsnap useful anyway.

The common case is not being bound by privacy law, but rather having a pr/marketing/sales challenge due to customer fears of the patriot act being used to nab data in the US. Your service allows me to give them a solid answer as to why that risk has been mitigated while simultaneously maintaining the advantages of S3. If you offered Canada only hosting it would be better still, but I'm not holding my breath waiting for a major cloud provider to offer entirely Canadian hosting.

I can't see anybody who would be more inclined to use tarsnap than myself, and yet I wasn't able to register because I live in Canada. Why not hire an accountant or tax lawyer to figure that out for you? I was on the registration page and ready to give you money, but because you didn't figure out the tax implications, you lost some business.

Really, tarsnap looks like great technology and you are obviously very technically minded. But tarsnap doesn't look like a real business but rather a technology-based side project of yours. Which really is fine if that's all you expect it to be, but to somebody like me who sees a lot of potential in your ideas, the lack of business development is puzzling and frustrating.

in the end, thank you for your contributions to open source. It is very admirable. I would love to see you make a tonne of money off tarsnap and I really do wish you a lot of success.

I intend to deal with GST soon.

Something tells me improving the website design would make a difference. Just saying, boss, just saying.

Don't know how about you, but I find http://gomockingbird.com way better and attractive. It doesn't use flash, it has pretty controls and generally a better UI with tiny little details like, say, aligning the elements relatively to each other. But still, since they are profitable (good for them) and make that much money, there's probably a need for such services on the market.

Mockups is more than just an app that does mockups. It's integrated with other very important systems.

Smart partnerships and good networking are far more important than a pretty product. (When it comes to revenue)

Although I would expect that to be true, It doesn't appear to be. This post doesn't break out profit by specific product, but that last post that did so indicated that the desktop version of the app accounted for 80% of the revenue. That version doesn't really have any of the integration feature of the other versions of Balsamiq.

I am a big fan of gomockingbird. Fantastic app that does a great job in quickly cooking up a mockup. Plus...it's free!

Always been totally refreshing to read Peldi's blog , amazing amazing what he has achieved and how humble he is about it!

EDIT: I do have one question though, how is your typical work day? With a release every week, thousands of customers to support and a full fledged family - how do you manage to even stay sane ? :-)

Hi there. Typical workday is wake up at 7, get my kid ready and take him to school, than back to the office (home) at around 9:30. Work until 6:00pm, then family time again, then put the kid to bed at around 9:30, then work again until 12:00-12:30. It's a lot, but I can take a morning or a night off pretty often. Mariah only works on Balsamiq maybe an hour or two a day, Marco's workday is about 9:30 to 5:30, and Valerie's workday is...actually, I don't really know! It seems like she's always working! :)

Hi there. Just FYI, I'm reading this if you have any questions. Peldi

Being Italian myself, I'd like to commend you guys for your job: this kind of entrepreneurship is really rare in Italy and it's great you are contributing with such a fantastic example.

I have just read on your blog < http://www.balsamiq.com/blog/2008/10/14/personal-whats-your-... > how it all started and I found it so inspirational (maybe just because I am in a similar situation right now?!)

Can I ask you if you ever regretted moving back to Italy? It seems to me you managed to separate the good aspects of life in Italy (Bologna and the family) with the bad ones (taxes and servers, i suppose, are in the US).

Ciao crocowhile, we have not regretted moving back to Italy at all so far. Our servers are in the US, taxes are split in both places. HTH!

Hey Peldi,

Congrats. I've read your marketing advice in your blog. Do you have any other tips for small software companies getting their product reviewed or mentioned in the press / blogs ?


Hi samh, I revisited my old blog post as part of this interview: http://blog.asmartbear.com/balsamiq-studios-uncommon-intervi... - I hope it will be helpful! :)


How come you didn't include website traffic stats like you did last year?

Totally forgot, but it's also an indication of how little time I spend looking at them. What stats are you interested in? I can look them up for you.

can you post # of uniques and # of page views?

also a little bit more specific, so only post these if you want to...but can you post the top 3 traffic sources to your site for the last year.(if you have the user defined hack on Analytics, I'd love to know the specific urls which sent the traffic. But if not, just top level domain would do.) and maybe the top 3 keywords Google search queries that brought you the most traffic.

Ok here's the graph of visitors and page views: http://skitch.com/balsamiq/np3ws/balsamiq.com-2009-stats

Traffic sources are here: http://skitch.com/balsamiq/np3w5/balsamiq.com-2009-traffic-s...

FYI, I practically NEVER look at any of this stuff. But maybe I should? :)

I think it helps you know what words you rank for and where your traffic is coming from.

i.e. if you see that a particular site(that you never heard of), sent you 200 people, where each person went through 6 pages, compared to your average of 2...you know it's probably a good idea to go buy some ads there, since you know that site's audience will convert

Looks to me like approximately 1% of visits to your site result in a transaction (1146608 visits, somewhere around 12000 transactions in 2009) -- does this sound correct to you?

Hey, just a quick question:

Why don't you make it possible for the user to move the UI library pane from the top of the app to the left? It's a little bit of a pain to scroll left/right instead of up/down.

It IS possible! :) Get the latest build, then in the View menu, look for "UI Library Position": http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/desktop#download

I am officially an idiot. I was trying to drag-drop the pane to the left, instead of doing the most logical thing. :-)

Thank you, kind sir.

Stating the obvious, but clearly at that time for you that was the most logical thing.

Ok, we just found a sponsor for the Italy Hacker News Meetup ;-)

Wow, just fooled around with the mockups tool. VERY impressive and responsive -- like an internet version of Omnigraffle. Well deserved success.

Check it out:


My only feature request would be for more keyboard shortcuts. My fingers know Omnigraffle like they know Emacs.

(Also: from a technical perspective, looks like this is a Flex app. Very different approach than the 280north guys with their ObjectiveJ approach.)

Hi ramanujan, thanks for the kind words.

Try the Desktop version for more keyboard shortcut support: http://www.balsamiq.com/products/mockups/desktop#download

Browsers "eat" so many key combinations :(

Awesome! The profitability of your business made my jaw drop to the floor. I guess businesses in other sectors may have to generate more than ten million dollars of revenue just to be par with your bottom line.

I think this kind of openness is great. It attracts curious entrepreneurs to the site who might be thinking of hacking together an app and are interested in how other people have succeeded. Those same people might just use Mockups to help them. Great marketing.

The most important thing I take away from this: Peldi's success is very inspiring for anybody intending to do their own thing

Love the tool, but the price is a bit high for my limited startup wallet :) I especially like the Confluence integration.

The #1 result on Google for "mockups"—that is impressive!

They've truly found a great niche and carved it out themselves.

Wow. I am completely impressed! As a Flash developer who is getting majorly into Adobe AIR (which Mockups is written in), this is very encouraging. Its kind of sad that Flash and AIR get such a bad rap, but they are great at a set of things like this.

Good luck with 2010.

Go you guys! My company uses Balsamiq for mockups, and I was impressed enough that I started using it for personal projects too. I'm happy to see you do well.

Why couldn't you be fucked to spare a couple words to tell us what "Balsamiq" was? I have no idea what it is and, I suspect, neither do 99.99% of those who read this headline.

That's like someone linking a 37signals blog post and complaining that they don't tell you what 37signals does in every blog post. It's called going to the homepage. And I'd be surprised if the majority of Hacker News didn't know what 37signals is, and likewise with Balsamiq. Peldi's like one of the most active and well-known entrepreneurs here.

If you don't know what Balsamiq is you probably haven't been paying attention for the past year or so, or just don't read startup news all that often. Although they're not as well known as 37 signals, anyone that wants to start an internet business should know about them and their model.

Judging from the votes I would say 99.99% is probably a bit high.

As lame as the tone of this comment is, he's probably right that one should have a little intro about the product on blog posts like this. At the top and bottom probably, a small screen shot and a blurb/link would probably drive some sales and be informative for new readers.

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