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Back from San Francisco


Hi all, this is Marco writing. I just got back from the Business of Software conference in San Francisco. This is my trip report.


While Valerie and I have been colleagues for 8 months already, we had never met in person. Coming to the Business of Software conference in San Francisco gave us our first chance to spend few days together. Guys, what a crazy week in San Francisco with Valerie!

We traipsed around The City, mile after mile, on foot and by car, and I soon felt like a San Franciscan. I saw so many interesting, unforgettable things. In addition to traditional sightseeing, like walking across the Golden Gate Bridge or buying underpants in the Castro, we also attended exceptional events, like Reverend Cecil Williams’ 45th Anniversary Celebration at Glide Memorial Church, led by Joseph Lowery. (He delivered the benediction at Obama’s inauguration.)

And we talked. Oh yes, we talked, for I don’t know how many hours, about everything: our families, Balsamiq, religions, and politics… We made up for months of remote teaming in four days of spending time together.

I spent the last night of my trip at their home, where her husband enjoyed Bologna’s delicious chocolate and the kids now do their homework in the blue Snuggy, courtesy of Business of Software. Valerie, I will see you soon in Italy!

Valerie's family house

The city

The incredible mix of different ethnicities, religions, and customs makes San Francisco a dynamic community. If ever a conflict-free society is possible, San Francisco has good chances to be the place. 😉

I stayed in Hotel Monaco, a charming hotel in the downtown. Having a short walk to go to the conference was nice. I saw more strange sporty cars in the center of the city than in the rest of my life. The Americans love everything is big, comfortable, automatic, powerful, and has wheels, of course.


San Francisco looks like a movie set and people are exactly like in the serials I used to watch in Italy. I could not resist the temptation to enter a fast food restaurant and ask for a cheeseburger. The ten minutes of waiting for it were pure joy of observing the other customers and listening to their matters. Then the cheeseburger: it came with a generous portion of french fries and it is simply wonderful to eat, a true explosion of taste. Perhaps, it was not so easy to digest… my liver was still asking clemency after 12 hours.


The conference

The value of the Business of Software conference is so great that every boss of every software company should begin making plans for next year's conference in Boston. Pick one (or even two!) of your best developers. Choose people who are really open-minded, who aggravate their managers, saying “we should do that instead of this”, who are able to change the way they work, who really love to write software, and send them to Boston next October. It's the most rewarding investment in R&D you can do. And then, when they come back, just LISTEN TO THEM. I'm giving an imaginary high-five to all the developers hoping to make big changes in their companies, I am with all of you!

If you just started your own company or it is in your plans to start one, then you will find a lot of help going to Business of Software. You will meet people in your same situation and learn from their stories. Neil Davidson was right when he said that great speakers are only half of the conference, the other half is sharing real experiences with the other attendees in similar start-up situations.

The organization of the conference is well balanced between talks and unstructured "mingling" breaks. It will be surprisingly easy to discover relevant companies, shake famous hands, and even to talk with the speakers and ask questions.

Our meet-up

We love to meet people, especially our fans. 😉 Peldi had the good idea to organize a meet-up Tuesday night after the second day of the conference. Valerie and I were excited about it, and we spent two hours Saturday night with Martin, Valerie's brother, walking from a restaurant to a pub, from a pub to a café, to find the right place. The requisites were: 20-30 people, beer, some food, wireless internet is a plus. This walk was fantastic: I realized that you can enter everywhere with the excuse of organizing a private party, even places where they are actually having a private party and a couple of men in black at the door would kick your ass in normal conditions! Well, we opted for the underground room at Café Bastille, a nice French Café.

So Valerie set up a page on Facebook and I started to spread the word. The nice folks at Atlassian ended up co-hosting the party and Dave O'Flynn mentioned it in the last slide of his Pecha Kucha talk. "Oh, great!" I said. Maybe we will have 50 people. But then even Joel Spolsky from the stage of the conference gave the announce of the party, and Dave said "oh, f**k!" 🙂

The party has been a great success, 150-200 people filled every corner of the room, and there was food and drinks for everyone! We want to thank all the fans and the curious who joined us at the party, we are so grateful for your sincere enthusiasm and supportive spirit!

How Balsamiq Fares

The presentation of Ryan Carson, one of the best talks, is a true challenge for Balsamiq. He explains in 8 points how to make your company remarkable. I think that Balsamiq is already good in 6 of them, and this is really awesome! 🙂

But, as Ryan says, if you miss one, then you miss them all: we can't stop and wait. We have to "invest in good design." Mockups just got a new, nice looking application icon, so we are moving in the right direction. What to do next? We will try to figure it out.

I believe that we should not simply hire a designer and pass him every piece of UI for a cute touch. The risk is that the distinctive traits of Balsamiq will be diluted in a well-designed but anonymous UI. Our passion must be evident in all the things we do!

For sure I will stress to Peldi a lot about the talk of Ryan Carson, because Balsamiq will express its full potential only by taking and winning this big challenge.

Another interesting talk for Balsamiq was "10 Lessons about Venture Capitalists" by Heidi Rozen. At the moment we don't need (and don't want) VC funds. Heidi recalls that "we often turn down good companies," what a good advice to stick with our current decision. 😉

Lots of valuable hints come from the talks of Geoffrey Moore, Dharmesh Shah, Joel Spolsky. It would be nice for the whole Balsamiq team to spend some time to compare our strategy with the suggestions of those talks. But before of doing that we have to ship our web-based service, so now I'll stop with the fun and get back to the work!! 🙂



Marco for the Balsamiq Team

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Comments (5)

  1. Hy Marco, glad to see you’re home safe! I’m Naicu we met @ BOS and on the KLM plane! 🙂

  2. No matter how much you grow as a company, never forget this “human touch”! Seriously, almost as thrilling as the blog updates about the platform itself. 🙂

    San Francisco is the best city in the world! Period.

  3. This is a great post! I got a lot of enjoyment out of reading your reaction to some of the very American things you encountered. The wonder you exhibit is exactly the same sort of stuff I experienced on my first few trips to Europe a few years back 🙂

    Good stuff, sounds like it was an exciting (and productive) trip!

  4. Is that the Pine Crest Diner’s table?
    Yes!!! You are a fast-food addicted! 🙂

  5. That meetup was a heap of fun, wasn’t it? I spent the first hour shuttling drinks down the stairs to thirsty folks. I don’t think the bar staff were quite ready for that – we drank them out of beer 😉

    It was great to finally meet you, and to hang out with heaps of happy customers.

    Dave O’Flynn