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Our First Company Retreat

· Posted by Natalie in Company and tagged · 3 Comments

I'm on a boat!

Being a Balsamiq employee for just over two weeks, I wasn’t sure my perspective of the staff retreat would be of much value. After all, I don’t yet have a complete grasp of all elements that make up our little company.

But in thinking of what I could write with just a few weeks behind me, I realized it wasn’t detailed how-tos of Balsamiq Mockups, or the long-term plans for the company that needed to be shared. More important was the custom ingredient that makes Balsamiq a rich and flavorful software company: the individuals behind our software tool.

Being so new, I feel very much like the baby sister within the Balsamiq family, but I have felt like a sister to Peldi since we first met about 10 years ago. What I can say about him, and I am pretty darn certain my fellow Balsamiqers will agree, is that he is a person of immeasurable amazing-ness. Peldi is an individual of such integrity, kindness, and vision, mixed with downright brilliant brainpower, that it has been an honor to have him as one of my closest friends.

Was it an honor to have him ask me to join the Balsamiq team as well? You bet.

That amazing vision I so value in him was one of the clearest things I took away from the 10 days that our team gathered in a small town outside of Lago di Como in Italy.

Ok, ok, who wouldn’t want to spend 10 days in Lago di Como you say? What kind of special vision does that take? Point taken, but there was something more subtly present. If you’ve followed interviews or blogs about Peldi, you’ve probably heard him describe Balsamiq as a cozy family restaurant on the web.

That vision, being a multinational company, while maintaining a neighborhood feel, is what I discovered at our retreat. How is it that you can create something like a cozy neighborhood family restaurant when your customers AND your staff are spread around the world?

Well, first have a great passion and love for what you do, and then gather a few others who feel the same. Peldi has been gathering our little staff over the last year or so, to bring together a community of people who have technical expertise as well as joyful and artistic spirits.

But would the experiment work? The true test would be bringing these individuals together, with their spouses and children all to one house to live together for 10 days. Such an experiment, if successful, would either show how a thoughtful selection of human resources can create a cohesive work community, or if it didn’t go so well, might at least be sent off as a pilot for a new reality TV show. 😉

Luckily, for our customers (and for us) Peldi is a master chef and has selected a great team of very cool people, each with varying, but complementary skills and attributes.

The location was an amazing place to gather! We were all (and I mean all eight Balsamiq staff plus their immediate families, 21 people total!) able to stay in a family estate home circa 1600, complete with gardens, swimming pool, soccer field, and tennis court.

Choosing to bring staff and their families to the retreat in Italy was not an inexpensive option for the company, but the decision to do so highlighted to me the value and commitment Balsamiq has to the “neighborhood.”

I saw very clearly the ethos of my co-workers individually, and with each day my pride (and humility too at being asked to join such a great team!) grew. I saw from being with them, both in “official” work time, and side by side in the kitchen as we cooked our meals, or enjoyed being with our families poolside, that they have determination and passion to always strive for excellence, and balance and wisdom to take time to enjoy every step and moment along the way. And though this in no way means we are without faults, these were just the kind of people I wanted to work with.

Our time together was rather informal. We worked some.

We played some.

We ate A LOT.

We were in a location that was really inconceivably fantastic.

But I’d have to say, even with such experiences like the magnificent boat trip on Lago di Como, the outstanding food and wine (including a trip to Switzerland for dinner), and the many moments of ridiculous laughter, my favorite experience was just a simple afternoon when the staff gathered in a small, hot, and stuffy dining room we had converted into an office.

Peldi asked us each to present to the others some of our personal heroes.

The few hours that followed in that unassuming (and did I mention HOT?) room were amazing. The heroes we shared were various: celebrities, filmmakers, artists, musicians, social activists, politicians, family members, and some software folks too. 🙂

It was inspiring to hear who my new co-workers admired, and their reasons.

I had been learning throughout the retreat about this new team of people I was joining. That afternoon in the dining room, I knew that I had a lot to look forward to at Balsamiq.

I could see that the best ingredient behind our great software was a group of people dedicated to making the best product possible, while having a lot of fun doing it. That, combined with uncommon hearts full of generosity, compassion, thoughtfulness, and integrity makes for a delicious recipe.

Yours truly celebrating the 4th of July at our BBQ party

I look forward to working with my new family at our little restaurant, and greeting and getting to know all the customers that make up our Balsamiq neighborhood.

Natalie for the Balsamiq Team

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Comments (3)

  1. Pingback: From our RetrEAT: a team that cooks together stays together | Life @ Balsamiq

  2. Pingback: Our response might be delayed…we’re on retreat! | Life @ Balsamiq

  3. Hey Natalie, what an awesome story! Trying to bring co-workers together like this is very risky … many organisations don’t have the togetherness and such “love ins” can actually push people further apart and make them resentful. I just smiled so much reading this, seeing the photos – geez even brought a tear to my eye it’s so awesome. Thanks for sharing!

    [balsamiqNatalie: Hi Nathanael, Thanks for your thoughts. It was a great trip, and so helpful for us since we work so closely together but live MANY miles apart! By the way, I was meant to be a Nathaniel….but my parents had to settle on Natalie instead for obvious reasons! ;)]