One year ago today, Figmatic launched with little more than an article announcing that it's time to get back to the future. The general theme of the article is that our workflows in general, and design/development in particular, are broken. Not only that, they have remained largely stagnant for the better part of two decades.
Since we launched 12 months ago (with zero Figma plugins, zero users and zero revenue), we have built and released 9 premium Figma plugins; which as of posting this article, have 61,000+ active installs.
Starting a startup in a pandemic
Within a couple of months of starting Figmatic, like many places in the world, we entered a strict lockdown here in Melbourne, and were unable to leave our homes much for the next 7 months. I mentioned at the time that I had tried to ask myself if there were any benefits to starting a startup under those circumstances, and I came up with a few:
- There would likely be less competition, as fewer people will be interested in starting companies at the beginning of a pandemic.
- The shift to remote work would potentially lead to more adoption of Figma inside companies as a design tool.
- Less tolerance for wasted time/resources inside companies, where hopefully more design automation would be welcomed.
- Forcing function to focus solely on Figmatic while locked inside for 23 hours per day.
I was also struck by a Tweet from Paul Graham, which I really resonated with:
Any startup that gets started during the next few months is disproportionately likely to succeed. Success depends most of all on determination, and imagine how determined you have to be to start a startup in the middle of a global pandemic.
— Paul Graham, Y Combinator
I knew that if we could build a startup during a pandmic while remaining determined and focused on doing the right things, then we could not only manage to avoid death, but emerge stronger on the other side.
Hyperbolic Time Chamber (work every waking hour)
In the anime series, Dragonball Z, there's a structure you can enter called the "Hyperbolic Time Chamber", where one year inside the chamber is the equivalent to one day on the outside.
From March onwards, this is how I personally visualised and thought about building Figmatic during the pandemic lockdown. I knew that it would be this weird period, where days often felt like weeks, and if that could be leveraged to actually 10x the amount of work that would normally get done in a typical office environment, then it could end up being a positive for us.
Many people will argue that it's not healthy or beneficial to be working crazy 80+ hour weeks, as it destroys any sense of "work/life balance" or is just plain ineffective, and they will say that perhaps a better approach is to work many fewer hours per week, and just focus on the things that actually matter instead.
However, to my way of thinking, the best approach would be to do both. If you can remain hyper focused, continually choosing the single most important thing to focus your attention on and work like crazy at it, it seems like that has to be better than only doing one or the other.
Either way, this is how I personally spent almost all of my time during 2020. I worked ~12 hour days, every day, for the entire year; choosing the single most important thing to focus on each day and just working super intensely on it. I've found that this combination of focus and working hard has been a massive part of building/shipping/updating 9 Figma plugins in the first year of Figmatic.
Figma Plugins we shipped in 2020
Our plugins are always designed and built to solve important problems that very few people seem to be working on. Here are the Figma plugins we built and published this year (in order of date published).
Favvy automates creating production ready favicon packages for your website or progressive web app with one-click.
TinyImage automates image compression directly in Figma, allowing you to save up to 95% on your image sizes, as well as create custom PDFs, custom GIF animations and convert images to newer formats unsupported natively in Figma (like WebP and AVIF).
Bannerify automates exporting dozens of banners from Figma to production ready HTML, GIFs or videos in seconds; completely eliminating the "handoff" process and reducing the distance from design to development to zero.
Crypto allows you to add password protection to your Figma designs and prototypes, creating a unique URL that you can share with clients/stakeholders without them requiring a Figma account.
Pixelay syncs Figma designs and overlays them with your web development build, providing multiple ways to easily compare the design and build by using a real local development environment to easily spot the differences.
Pitchdeck helps you turn your Figma designs into a real, professional grade presentation, complete with animations, videos/GIFs, URL links and speaker notes. You can present the deck via the Pitchdeck web app, or export it to PDF or a PPTX file to use in PowerPoint, Keynote or Google Slides.
Convertify automatically exports Figma files to Sketch and Adobe XD files with one click, converting your entire design layer-by-layer into real Sketch/XD files; saving days of manually recreating Figma designs in other design tools.
HyperCrop brings batch cropping/resizing to Figma, allowing you to automatically crop/resize multiple images into multiple sizes; complete with smart cropping, dozens of common size presets for popular platforms and a high precision manually cropping tool.
CopyDoc lets you import and export text content from your Figma designs to CSV, JSON and Microsoft Word. Copywriters and UX writers can easily make their edits externally, then seamlessly re-import the text updates into Figma; export frames to DOCX files for Microsoft Word; export all of the comments in a Figma file; spell check Figma designs (in dozens of languages).
Building the future
While I'm super proud of what Figmatic has accomplished so far, there's still so much more to be done.
Our accepted/existing workflows are still largely broken, but I know that they can be fixed by continuing to augment human creativity with software that can help automate the less creative parts, which computers are far better and faster at handling for us.
I really believe that this hybrid approach is the key to bringing the distance between design and development closer to zero.
All of the Figma plugins that we've released so far tend to contain this approach to varying extents at their core — allow human creativity flourish, then use computer automation to take that work and export/convert/generate it into something that a human either simply couldn't do themselves, or would need to waste hours/days/weeks of time doing it manually.
As we leave 2020 behind and remain hyper focused on building our definite optimistic view of the future in 2021 (and beyond), I know that the problems we're interested in trying to solve are only going to become more challenging over time.
We have always been explicitly focused on choosing important problems to solve that very few other people are working on. If we do this correctly, then by definition, we must forge our own path and figure out things our own way. While this is exciting, there will inevitably be many more moments where the technical path ahead is covered in fog and it seems like there's no end in sight. This was certainly the case with our "Convertify" plugin, which as I wrote after it launched, felt like "a thousand mini mountains that you need to climb and then go back to basecamp and do it again".
However, giving up was never an option, and we were able to figure out each problem we faced along the way; continuing showing up day after day, no matter what.
Knowing this, I'm reminded of a quote from Atlas Shrugged, which I think is a perfect one to always keep firmly in mind as we enter the second year of working on Figmatic and remain focused on our mission.
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists... it is real... it is possible... it's yours.”
— Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged
We won't be saving anything for the swim back.