If you follow our company blogs, you already read about our first-ever team meeting. A highlight for us was on a Lake Como ferry to Bellagio, where we had our first-ever chance encounter with a customer!
When the retreat (or, as I called it, the advance) ended, we temporarily went separate ways. Marco and Peldi took Natalie to Bologna, Luis returned to Paris, and Mike, Malcolm, and I took some vacation days before returning to work.
You know what? We missed each other. 🙂
Our little Teeming Space
The dictionary defines the word teeming as "full of or swarming with" and I think that perfectly describes our brand-spanking new office space in Bologna. (Note: For the coming weeks, I will be working in Italy. This means some calls and email may have delayed responses.) For Balsamiq Studios to really be brick-and-mortar is an enormous step for our little company: until now, we have all worked from our homes. While it's far from a "corporate headquarters," it certainly feels a lot more grown up. In addition, it allows Peldi, Marco and Natalie to spread out, with room to focus, while allowing the personalization of our desks.
With this, we encounter a new challenge: we want a shared work space while maintaining without interruption the feeling that we can work from home just as effectively as working from "the office." Having an office became necessary by virtue of the huge amount of paperwork that goes along with having employees in a couple of different countries, and we had simply outgrown the second bedroom in Peldi & Mariah's home. While Peldi likes to think of it as "just a little space we rent out," I am still struck by the cool factor.
How refreshingly different it is to be in the same room with my colleagues! I haven't been in an office setting for nearly two years, and it's been three since I worked next to an engineer. I forgot how quiet coders are! Natalie and I frequently break into song and dance, and we gleefully jump up to show each other tricks and tips, and all the while, Marco quietly codes, building out the Mockups Components feature.
This may be a good time to mention a favorite joke I cracked often at Macromedia: How can you tell an extroverted software engineer? He looks at MY shoes when he's talking to me. 🙂
Another aspect of having office space is that it forces commute time. Lance Armstrong once talked about the zen of biking, how you can't really do anything but focus on your ride while making your way through urban streets. He's right: I adore my bike commute through Bologna, a city where streets traverse the walled section of town (and some seem to change names, almost randomly). Traffic seems virtually ruled by two-wheelers, and so far, cars and busses have been downright polite and deferential. The dedicated and well-marked bike paths seem to be respected by pedestrians and cars, and often are located on the wide sidewalks. While Natalie and I have had some interesting drive-by conversations with the locals, most seem to be helping us best understand the rules of the road. At the tops of their lungs and with both hands. 🙂
Working side by side to onboard Natalie has proven essential, since she and I will basically job share. We will manage the same tasks (responding to customer mails, freemails, and some of the financials), while I focus on the US business and she is dedicated to the Italian/European requirements. We had met once in California, and while we instantly liked each other, we have been cultivating a great esprit de corps here. Being in the same room means we can check in with each other at every turn, when questions arise and procedures need to be articulated and refined.
We went to great expense (both time and money) to bring our team together this month, but we all agree that it was extremely well spent. We gained trust and genuine affection for each other. I know companies (and you probably do, too) that dismiss these values, claiming that a job is just a job, but at a start-up, you must genuinely like your team. There is just too much to do, too many hats to wear, and too much overlap, especially when distributed around time zones. Working at a startup is like entering a marriage: you can't each give 50%, hoping it adds up to 100%, you must both give 100%. Lucky for each of us, Peldi has put together a team where each member hits the ground running, working hard, playing hard, and grabbing all we can with both hands.
It's fun times here at Balsamiq Studios. Thanks for coming on this adventure with us. Keep in touch and let us hear how we are doing from your vantage point. With all this travel and activity, we don't want to lose site of our main goal: to compete on product usability and customer service.
Do well, be well,