“Yo, last year was 'bout brandin', this one about expandin'”
— Benny The Butcher, Burden of Proof
It's been exactly one year since posting the From Zero to One post on Figmatic's 1st birthday, so I'd like to continue these annual posts to do the same again today, to celebrate Figmatic turning 2 years old!
I thought it would be interesting to condense many of the awesome stats and achievements to look back on and celebrate for 2021 into a bullet list, and then jump into writing an incoherent essay about missing some other goals further down below, and then finally look ahead to 2022 at the end.
Things to celebrate from 2021 (tl;dr)
- 0 investors and $0 funding (still happily bootstrapped/default alive)
- 1 brand new Figma plugin shipped (Emailify)
- 2 other new Figma plugins (still) under development
- 6 hours spent in meetings for the year
- 12 free Figma templates released
- 24 new YouTube tutorials recorded
- 36 styles of danger
- 66 new tweets on our Twitter
- 402 new plugin updates and improvements shipped
- 690 total followers on our Figma Community profile
- ~1,000 new customer conversations via chat/email
- 290,000+ active plugin installs (up from 61,000 a year ago)
- Launched our Pro Bundle plans
- Added anime characters to our plugins for fun
- Shipped our Pixelay Chrome plugin
- Released our Enterprise admin dashboard
The latter half of 2021
While I am happy with the amount of updates and important improvements that were made across the board for our customers this year (above), the latter half of this year didn't quite go according to plan (and that's okay, for the most part).
It's been about 6 months since the last Long mission, short hype update, and in the last section talking about "the next 6 months", I mentioned that we would hopefully have another brand new Figma out by the end of the year; but this didn't happen for a few reasons:
- Underestimating the scope of the new Figma plugin
- Prioritizing improving our existing plugins
- Hitting breaking point during our sixth lockdown
- Working on developing a second new Figma plugin
I'll go more into detail for these below:
Underestimating the scope of the new Figma plugin
I knew from the outset that the path for starting Figmatic and developing plugins was going to lead to building solutions to more complex problems. This was pretty clear from building our Emailify plugin, which was re-built from scratch 3 different times before it finally shipped earlier this year. Like with that plugin and also our Convertify plugin, I underestimated the scope of the project before starting it.
One would assume that I would have deeply interalised this lesson by now, but when you're building products, the endpoint usually isn't totally clear from the outset. You can see a general shape of what you think it's going to be, but it's only by showing up each day and doing the work that you actually figure out all of this along the way. The magic of discovering what a product is going to become is all in the process of creating it. However, this also leads to "unknown unknowns", where there are certain things you don't even know that you don't know until you discover them along the way.
Normally, I like to ship the first version of things as quickly as possible, then talk with real users and customers to continually iterate on it from there based on their own problems that need to be solved. This approach has worked well, but depending on the plugin, there's varying degrees of what can pass for an initial version. For example, shipping a Figma to Sketch plugin that converts 50% of the layers in your design is more useful that nothing, but not useful enough to really solve the problem.
This is also true for the Emailify plugin; the first version of the plugin was missing a bunch of things that it now has today: a live preview, dark mode styles, animated GIF support, Google font support, automatic platform integrations etc. These are fine to leave out, because the problem of exporting HTML emails can still be solved without them, but the first version also had to do what it said on the box: export HTML emails from Figma. Shipping an initial version that didn't support text, or didn't support images wouldn't have worked, because you can't solve the core problem without those.
I suppose this is what's truly meant when people talk about MVP (minimum viable product), the minimum that you can ship to your users and still offer value for solving their problem.
Similar to Convertify and Emailify, the "minimum" bar is much higher for it to be valuable. Even with removing a bunch of "wishlist" items that are on the future roadmap, solving the core problem is important to get right, and shipping a half-baked version (which is neither "minimum" or "viable") seems like it would just be more annoying than if it didn't exist at all.
Prioritizing improving our existing plugins
On top of underestimating the scope of the new plugin above, I also underestimated how passionate our customers are with helping us make our Figma plugins as good as they can be. Looking back, this ended up being the major theme of 2021; taking all of the work that was done to ship these 10 Figma plugins and work with our users and customers to really refine and improve them this year. It feels like they're all in such a better spot than they were at the beginning of the year.
This is an incredible position to be in, where it truly feels like our customers are super invested in us and the success of our products; because they actually are, especially when they adopt them in their company as the way to solve a certain problem (like HTML banners or emails) across all of their teams. Having customers who want to use our products because they love what we're building is awesome, and it allows us to continue building them.
Whether they're super small quality of life improvements, or larger features and updates, this forces you on an almost daily basis to assess these requests against any previous or current priorities and weigh them up against each other to determine which is the most important for that day, week or month; and more crucially, which are compatible or incompatible with the overall vision for the product.
I think it's important to keep our Figma plugins super simple and easy to use, only shipping things that align with the clearly defined limits of what each plugin should be (and do) and what it should not. That means they're not going to be for everybody, and that's okay. I'd rather have a smaller number of customers who absolutely love one of our plugins and really resonate with our approach to solving these problems, than having a tonne of customers who "sort of like" the plugins if we tried to make them all things to all people.
Hitting breaking point during our sixth lockdown
It's probably no secret that we've had the longest COVID-19 lockdown down here in Melbourne, clocking in at 263 days in total; and since our last mid-year update, we entered our sixth (78 day long) COVID-19 lockdown here in Melbourne at the start of August.
These lockdown measures here in the state of Victoria mean you can't leave your home or see friends, family, workmates. You're allowed to leave your home once per day a total of 1 hour within a 5 kilometer radius to either get essential groceries and/or go for a walk, but otherwise you're just isolating home alone, along with 6.5 million other people in our state. The kicker is that you have no idea when it's going to end, as they're always advertised as a "short sharp 2 week circuit breaker", but are then extended at random intervals for months at a time.
I very purposefully developed a set of daily routines and habits at the start of 2020, to essentially make each day seem as close to Groundhog Day as possible. This worked incredibly well to maintain a sense or normalcy and allow me to focus 100% on building Figmatic as a bootstrapped company, and served as a much needed distraction from the pandemic at large. This consistent routine and hyper-focus is what helped to ship 9 Figma plugins in 2020.
I think most people you'll talk to in Melbourne had their own personal breaking point in terms of lockdowns, and for me personally, that was about a month or so into our sixth lockdown. Along with my mental state, those routines and habits also began to fall apart. I started to feel anxious and depressed, I wasn't sleeping properly, I was waking up with recurring nightmares, I didn't feel like eating as much, and was generally just having a hard time dealing with things that were going on with all this stuff at the time.
Unsurprisingly, this did carry over to my work. Even though things were still getting done, I felt my own productivity really slow down and wasn't able to do things at the pace that I had become so accustom to, which also added to my own frustrations (as I am totally my own worst critic) and led to me beating myself up a bit. I was also knocked about for about 8-10 days after receiving each dose of the Pfizer vaccine; I felt super fatigued and was only doing a couple of hours per day of decent work during those blocks of time.
Since our lockdown restrictions were eased recently and don't appear to be returning again, I've been making an effort to return to the routine and habits that I started in 2020 and hopefully put this all behind me.
Working on developing a second new Figma plugin
In parallel to the development of the new plugin I wrote about above, I saw a bunch of people (including our own customers) facing a set of recurring problems that I had also experienced in my previous life working in digital agencies. This became more evident when I started talking to customers about it and they were following up with me to know when we might have a product published that could help with it.
It's always hard to know if you're making the right call on prioritizing these things, but I do think certain products are more time sensitive than others, so I was comfortable with starting to design and develop another new plugin with a much shorter time horizon that could be released sooner, and solve these problems for our customers before shipping our other new plugin, which was always going to have a longer time horizon, either way.
By choosing to spend more time on this new (new) plugin, it means spending less time on other things. So much of this is just trying to use your best judgement make sure you're working on the most important thing at the right time, with all of the trade-offs and opportunity costs of all the other things you're saying "no" to taken into account.
After releasing 10 Figma plugins so far with Figmatic, I've learned that it's difficult to know beforehand which products are going to be received well, relative to the others. I've been really surprised with a few, and less surprised with others. This will be another one of those bets, which will be released into the wild fairly soon, and (as always) iterated on with real users and customers until we have a product that solves these problems for them.
“Today’s "best practices" lead to dead ends; the best paths are new and untried.”
— Peter Thiel, Zero to One
As I wrote 2 years ago when we first started, I want Figmatic to be focused on building Figma plugins that solve important problems that very few other people seem to be interested in working on. I believe that we've made some great progress in doing this so far.
The feedback we receive on a daily basis from our users and customers makes this more concrete. Whenever I hear that a company is changing their design/development/copy/marketing process to be centered around our one or more of our Figma plugins because it allows them to 10x, 100x or 1000x their workflows, it lets me know that our mission of reducing the distance between design and production to zero is still on track.
It's obvious from the entire section above that there's still lots of work to be done, but Figmatic is in such a great place right now, and I couldn't be happier with how the company and our super cool users and customers have grown over the last 2 years.
As I mentioned above, the focus will be to double down on getting these 2 new Figma plugins that are currently in development out into the wild for everyone to try. I think there's so much potential for both of them to really help with automating and improving some of our existing workflows, and I'm really looking forward to finally sharing them with the Figma Community in 2022.