Introducing Marco Botton, Balsamiq's 1st Employee
Feeling a great mixture of excitement, pride and trepidation, it is my pleasure to introduce to you Marco Botton, Balsamiq's first full time employee.
How did this happen? A little bit of history
Warning: the following section reads a bit like the "how we met" section of a wedding website, you may skip it if you'd like. You have been warned. 🙂
Not long after moving back to Italy I received an email that read something like this:
"Hi, my name is Marco Botton. You don't know me but I remember you from high school (I am 3 years younger than you), and I also spotted you around the CS buildings at the University of Bologna. I stumbled upon your Facebook page and then on your site, and I was left speechless. I just wanted to tell you that you are awesome. 😉
A little bit about me: I have been working as a C/C++ programmer at company ##### and I am building an iPhone application in my spare time, we'll see where that takes me... If you ever need someone who's a fast learner, knows his stuff about coding, good UIs, knows how to work in an international environment, uses Unix and Mac, has good taste, solid work ethics and is not lacking a good amount of ambition...I'd be happy if you could get in touch with me.
In the meantime, congratulations again and best of luck.
I was immediately impressed, and replied that while I didn't need anyone at the time, I was always happy to meet good people.
Marco and I met for lunch a little while later, and we immediately hit it off. One thing that I really enjoyed was having someone to chat about tech stuff with...I mean, my poor wife can only take so much talk about Twitter... 🙂
We've been having lunch together once or twice a month since, and it's been great. With time, I started hoping to be able to hire Marco in the future, but I still couldn't afford to, nor was too overwhelmed.
At any rate, I hired him for a small little project, implementing the "sketch it" feature of Mockups 1.5. Since Marco had never done any Flash/Flex before, I had budgeted about two weeks' worth of work for it. Marco delivered it in 6 hours flat.
Around the beginning of 2009, things started to change: revenue shot up, as well as number of customers of course, which is wonderful, but also a bit overwhelming for me to manage alone (we passed 2500 customers last week, with about 150 new customers weekly). I noticed that during the week I had less and less time for coding, with email and customer service taking most of my time. Even if Mockups demands relatively little support, a single customer problem might sometimes take me 2 days to diagnose and fix, which meant that for those 2 days forward momentum had to stop completely. Other time consuming tasks are just part of running a business...sending out invoices, answering pre-sales questions, dealing with international taxation (I hope to write a whole series of blog posts on this hugely time consuming PITA topic one day), etc.
So I started using the week-ends for coding. Not sustainable, and not enough, especially with all that I have planned for 2009. I wasn't happy about the slow speed of updates, and I found myself getting frustrated at every new incoming email, definitely an alarm bell for me. I was feeling like I was stuck in second gear, and I hate that feeling. So one day at lunch I bit the bullet and "proposed"... 😉
Now, unless you are Italian you may not understand the magnitude of my request. People here don't quit their jobs...ever. If you have a stable job you're pretty much set for life...you may not have a long corporate ladder to climb, but you're pretty much sure that you won't get fired either. Marco is leaving a good, stable and relatively high paying job to take a one-year contract with "some crazy guy who had it made in the US and decided to move back to Italy regardless". 😉
We agreed to start with a 1-year contract because I was too afraid to do more (don't forget I'm a total rookie entrepreneur here), but I know for sure that I'll be able to pay him for this year (there's enough in the bank to cover it already). We'll see how things go this year, but I'm hopeful to be able to keep him on indefinitely starting in 2010.
In short, Marco is taking a big risk with me, and I really appreciate it.
Marco, being the classy guy he is, gave 6 weeks notice. His last day was on Friday, and today is already his first day at Balsamiq.
What's Marco role going to be?
Marco's job title, at least initially, is going to be "Tuttofare", which means "do-it-all" in Italian. In other words, with time I want him to be able to do anything that needs to be done around here, from bug fixing to blogging to UX design to IT administration to customer service and partner management, you name it.
Just to give you an idea, these are the first tasks he's going to work on:
- IT: figure out if we should switch to SVN or GIT for our code repository (sorry Perforce, I have to say goodbye, $700 a person is just too expensive)
- UX: design the "check for updates" feature
- Client-Side Coding: code the "Open Recent" feature
- Client-Server coding: build a proof-of-concept Flex app that loads and saves data from Google Docs
- Website: add text and screenshot for the latest changes to the documentation
- Website: change every "I" to a "we". 🙂
What I love about Marco is that he's not afraid of any of it...in fact, he's eager and ready to tackle any challenge I throw at him. 🙂
How does this change my role?
I'm not sure yet, I am pretty much going to continue doing what I'm doing, but with Marco moving us forward with the TODO list I'll be able to spend more time on longer-term items like finally putting together a reseller agreement, finally publishing some customer interviews on the blog, figuring out if AdWords is working or not, and all that other "soft stuff" that I just couldn't get to before. Oh, and I hope to be able to reach inbox zero a lot more often.
To close, here's a picture of Balsamiq's current Worldwide Headquarters...notice our new matching IKEA desks and chairs, the big whiteboard, the bookshelf and the printer. Not visible in the picture is the fact that Mariah shot this picture...from the bedroom of our apartment! 🙂