Welcome to another series of tech talks with our clients. This time we’ll talk about Penpot, an open-source startup built just two years ago and already seeing tens of thousands of sign-ups and hundreds of positive reviews from happy customers. We’ll talk with Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz, CEO at Penpot, about the product’s conception, most difficult decisions made, and proven ways to innovate and effectively communicate within an organization, among many other things. Let’s go!
What is Penpot?
Penpot is the first open-source design and prototyping tool that facilitates true collaboration between designers and developers. It’s deployment agnostic, so you can use it as a web app or self-host it with Elestio or Docker.
Penpot allows you to create sleek user interfaces collaboratively, engaging all members of your team. You can create interactive prototypes with multiple starting points and beautiful transitions, design reusable components, upload the fonts you own, and best of all, build flexible interfaces in line with the latest CSS standards!
For developers scared to break someone’s board, Penpot offers a built-in read-only mode. With Penpot, it’s also easy to retrieve code for CSS styles and SVG markup, measurements and distances between objects, and inspect object properties.
Launched in 2021, Penpot has already been adopted by over 10 000 companies among which are big names like Google, Microsoft, Red Hat, and Mozilla.
QAwerk’s contribution to Penpot
Penpot turned to QAwerk to fully prepare their product for the official release. They were pressed for time, yet they didn’t want the product to feel rushed. So they devoted all their in-house resources and energy to finalizing killer features and delegated software testing and quality assurance to us.
We’ve helped them establish proper QA workflows for ongoing testing in the future. We performed functional, regression, UI, and compatibility testing to ensure the app has a polished feel. We also helped Penpot eliminate internal server errors and significantly improve overall performance.
With our support, Penpot successfully exited the beta stage and launched within the set timeframe. We’re proud to know that Penpot has reached over 250K happy users and their community keeps growing with every passing day.
We invited Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz, CEO & Co-Founder of Penpot, Taiga, and Kaleidos to discuss the idea behind Penpot, problems it solves, and the best way to monetize an open-source product. We’ll also delve into talent acquisition in Spain, tips for startup entrepreneurs, cooperating with QAwerk, as well as some leadership inspo. Read on to learn from the best!
Please introduce yourself.
So I am Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz, CEO at Kaleidos, makers of Penpot.
How did you get into tech?
Well, I entered the tech industry…My academic background is in Physics and Computer Science, and what really brought me into the tech industry was to bring the ethos, the collaboration ethos within science into technology.
Where did the idea for Penpot come from?
It came to us a few years ago, and we were trying to fix the problem where designers and developers actually don’t collaborate with each other because the designing and prototyping tools are not welcoming developers. So we thought that we could build Penpot to bridge the gap between designers and developers and finally made true collaboration a reality.
What is the biggest issue with Adobe?
Well, Adobe is a mega corporation; it’s a huge company that has been developing design tools for more than 20 years now. I think the biggest issue with Adobe, in terms of how designers look at it, is that they have very aggressive monopolistic practices and that turns designers away.
So I think it is normal that designers are actually looking for alternatives because Adobe hasn’t proven that they can be trusted in the space.
Did Adobe’s acquisition of Figma affect your business?
Well, it was a breaking moment for us back in September 2022 when that agreement, that acquisition deal was announced, and it made us clearly like the only viable alternative to that merger. So it has given us a ton of exposure and a lot of people have learned about Penpot thanks to that acquisition deal.
Have you pivoted your product idea?
I think we haven’t really pivoted so much as to have strengthened the idea of collaboration between designers and developers. At the beginning, Penpot was conceived primarily for designers. But every time we revisit the product’s value, we always encourage more collaboration between designers and developers as a building feature and benefits.
What mistakes do startups make while determining product-market fit?
The most common mistakes for product-market fit is not doing the right amount of research before you start actually building the product and also not having the right metrics for user or team activation.
How did you attract your first 1000 users?
Our first thousand users probably came in just about an hour after we were featured in Product Hunt and Hacker News.
Why did you decide to go open source?
We went for open source because at the core of the company we are an open-source company. We believe that open source is both a viable business but also the right business to do. So, it’s very dear to us, the whole set of open-source values. We do have experience, previous experience with Taiga, and our other open-source projects.
And so we had a ton of lessons learned about how to successfully bring a new open-source project to the market.
Is it challenging to monetize open-source products?
When you go the open-source business model, you need to think differently in terms of how much value you are creating before you start capturing value, before you start asking for some money.
So the specific challenges for open source really come from the fact that you need to be extremely generous, you know, during the whole lifecycle of your product, but particularly at the beginning to make sure that you’re creating so much value for a lot of people.
It is when you are successful in making sure that you are relevant, that your footprint is big, that you can start thinking how to monetize, how to capture a tiny, tiny, tiny fraction of that value you have created.
For us, it looks almost obvious that we will ship enterprise-oriented features that will be able to capture a tiny bit of that value. And since that value created is so big, then the ratio will still be pretty big for us.
Your team also built Taiga. Will Penpot inherit some of its features?
Definitely, Penpot is going to inherit a lot of lessons learned. Not so much features themselves, but mistakes not to make, new ideas that were working great for Taiga. I think what is very exciting is also the fact that we will combine both Taiga and Penpot, making both scope definition, which is what Taiga is about since it’s an agile tool, with design process, which is what Penpot is about. So Penpot brings design and code together; Taiga and Penpot will bring scope and design together.
How do you come up with innovative ideas?
We have a very special framework for innovation, and that is called the PIWEEK, Personal Innovation Week. It’s a week-long hackathon that happens every six months. So we have one in July and another one in December. And the whole company, the whole company is invited to freely explore projects, ideas, challenges, the way they want, either alone or in a team.
And by the end of the week, so that’s Friday, everyone shares their output, whether it’s a demo, or a document, or some learnings. Taiga and Penpot were born in PIWEEKs.
Is there a tech talent shortage in Spain?
Not at all. There’s no shortage of talent in Spain. Actually, I do believe that Spain has a better ratio per capita. There is bigger talent than elsewhere on average. We don’t have to tackle that challenge since there is no challenge per se. We just need to make sure that we attract the right talent for our company. Since we have a very strong cultural orientation around some values and we need to make sure that we have a cultural fit with that talent that comes to us.
Why did you turn to QAwerk?
So, we turned to QAwerk because we had a very important milestone and that was exiting beta. So Penpot was beta for a year already, and we needed to go into an official launch.
So, we had a very tight schedule and we needed a safety net that would bring us the assurance that the team could focus on features, on developing new features, polishing existing features, but not having the fear that there would be instability or an issue with the robustness, or the overall user experience would be buggy, like to get rid of the buggy feeling.
So we had a qualitative challenge but also a time challenge.
What results have you attained with the help of QAwerk?
Well, we achieved that safety net very quickly. So, the team was not distracted by having to find and fix bugs, but actually focusing on the value of the product.
So, we were able to achieve the date, the deadline that we had – that was January 2023. So we finally made it; it was the 31st of January 2023, so almost there. And we were able to release such an important product, making sure that when we said it was no longer a beta product, it was actually true. It was not a beta product. It was a robust full-feature product.
QAwerk is based in Ukraine. Did you fear war-associated risks?
Absolutely no fear. We didn’t have any fear around that. We wanted to have a strong company that had the experience that we needed and the capacity and expertise in our particular space to perform both manual tests and automated tests.
And we were happy, after looking for alternatives, we were really happy to find QAwerk.
Do you believe investing in QA helps retain users?
Absolutely. Particularly if you are in the productivity tool space. When you are developing a productivity tool, you need to make sure that the user doesn’t feel there is some distraction.
You need the user to feel they’re in the zone, that they are focused, and there’s nothing in the product that is jeopardizing that experience. So for us, quality assurance in that space is critical. Otherwise, users will just say, regardless of your features, I just cannot use and enjoy your tool.
What’s your favorite part about working with QAwerk?
So many things were really great. The quick onboarding from QAwerk for us, that was great. The rapid response times. Every time we needed an answer, some comments, they were really quick to answer our questions. And then the autonomy that they had, that was also great.
Who would you recommend QAwerk to and why?
I would recommend QAwerk for many reasons but I think two stand out – the quick, seamless onboarding experience. This is absolutely key for a team that is outsourcing something so critical as QA. So the onboarding was painless, but also the smart use of the different channels, the different communication channels that were used effectively with respect, you know, like with a really thoughtful mindset. That’s also very important because that conversation cannot be dysfunctional. And it wasn’t.
What’s the most meaningful way to support Ukraine?
It depends on who you ask, whether it’s a citizen, a government or a company. We are a company. So the way we see this is to make sure that you have no fear at all when conducting your research to see which company can be your partner and never use the fact that Ukraine is suffering a war against the capacity of that company to perform their job.
What’s one tech trend that excites you?
There are two. One that has been super exciting for me forever, which is open source meeting design. That’s something unique. But of course, recently we are seeing generative AI. And I think that’s also very exciting for any productivity tool, for any team tool, that is something that might completely shift the whole market. So it’s cool to see.
Do you think AI can take jobs in your industry?
As with any new tech trend, new jobs can be taken. Also, new jobs can be created. I think the point here is whether AI will level up the whole labor market or not, and whether that will happen in a specific timeframe that makes people reactive and being able to cope with the changes.
I think the fear is not that we won’t have new jobs, very exciting ones, but how much of a singularity the job market is in and how much suffering for some people this could mean. But overall, I’m optimistic and I think the net gain will be positive.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
As a CEO of a company, I have strong opinions around how to make sure the company can be creative and innovative. And this PIWEEK thing of ours, the Personal Innovation Week, where you give absolute freedom to the employees to create whatever they want without having a winner, or any constraints, or any prizes, or any limitations but just allow for free creativity is not something that people want to take seriously in other companies, or the CEOs of other companies will consider that as a wrong approach, as a not effective approach. And I think they are super wrong. And I think we are proof that we were right.
What was the most difficult decision in your career so far?
I’ve made many difficult decisions. I think one of the most complex ones, because I had some fear around it, was when we decided to onboard designers in a company that was 100% developers.
We thought that designers would destroy our open-source culture and we would certainly be a different type of company and suffer the consequences for the long term. It didn’t happen. It actually made us evolve into something much better. But at the time, it was a difficult decision to make.
Any tips for entrepreneurs launching a startup these days?
I think my basic tip for entrepreneurs would be – make sure that if you’re creating a tool, you know whether it’s a tool for the individual, for the person, or for a team. A lot of people think about their tools being used by teams, that is like the target, but actually the value they are creating is just for individuals and vice versa.
Some people think they are building something for individuals and actually the core value lies on a team. I think you need to make sure, in this competitive environment, you need to make sure whether you are targeting individuals, augmenting their capacity, or you are targeting teams and improving their workflows.
What’s the best way to communicate within a company?
Organic transparency is at the core of building a true communicative company. I think it’s very important that everyone, whether they agree or not with the decision, trust the process and understand the reasons why something happened.
So it’s fine if people disagree with something they hear about within the company. But I think the most important thing is that they understand why that happened and they trust that it is in the benefit of the company. When you achieve that level of trustworthiness, then you have organic transparency and then you can build communicative goals on top of that.
What hobbies outside work helped you become a better leader?
Well, I have this strong opinion that leadership is earned. You don’t, you cannot just say ‘I’m a leader.’ People will give you that status. So if I look at my hobbies, I would probably see the ones that are on hacktivism to be relevant perhaps, but also tabletop role-playing games where it’s a team effort and a common goal. And I think that’s also a hobby dying out that perhaps, just perhaps helps me achieve that leadership status that was given to me, not taken from people.
What’s one book our audience should read and why?
I would strongly recommend that everyone reads The Futurological Congress by Stanisław Lem. He wrote this black humor science fiction short novel where Ijon Tichy tries to represent humanity at the Galactic Congress defending member status for Earth and looking at the contradictions that alien species would find in our supposedly worthy status.
So it’s a short novel. It’s fun to read, and it’s very, even if it was written a few decades ago already, it’s still completely valid, and I would wholeheartedly recommend that short book.
What’s your life motto?
Other than death, everything is fixable.
Work with Ukraine
Businesses like Penpot play a tremendous role in supporting the Ukrainian IT sector. Ukraine is home to thousands of ICT experts, most of whom stay in Ukraine and rely on partnerships with foreign companies to continue working, providing for their families, and supporting our defenders and those who lost their homes.
If you want to introduce a working QA process into your startup, if you need to polish your product before an important demo day or official launch, or to get a fresh perspective on your software and testing processes, do reach out. We have the expertise and would be happy to share it to help your business thrive.
Stand with Ukraine by working with Ukraine!