Penpot: Our Time Has Come

Today we are excited to announce our Series A funding led by Decibel Partners and want to take this opportunity to share what it means for the future of Penpot. This journey has been very long and meaningful, and in so many ways our story has just begun.

TL;DR Err… for those of you that were parachuted here from YouTube or Twitch reviews, yeah, Penpot AutoLayout, Advanced Components and import files from Figma are coming soon!


The Kaleidos team during a recent 2022 offsite event

2011-2014: First we went bankrupt

The team that created Penpot co-founded a company called Kaleidos Open Source in Spain back in 2011 as a software consultancy that believed strongly in open source. There were fourteen of us, and we couldn’t have chosen a worse time to put our savings at risk. Kaleidos was founded with the motto of “beautiful code” which comes from “beautiful form” (roughly what Kaleidos means in Greek) - since beauty is in the eye of the beholder, we decided that our code must be open to be enjoyed. We decided early on that if you are a user of open-source software, you also need to give back to the open-source community. This felt like the ethical thing to do, so we agreed early on that we would only sign up clients that would be willing to let our work be shared back with the community. This was a tough business decision - it was the middle of the Spanish financial crisis, and after some challenging times we went into bankruptcy in December 2012. Though it was very hard we never changed our beliefs and I still remember how we all pulled together to make the company viable again by February 2013—not one employee ever thought of leaving and in retrospect it made us resilient. A strong company culture was born!


Part of the Kaleidos team during one of our first week-long hackathons. Daily routine wasn’t much different from this!

2015-2018: Beautiful Code = Developers + Designers

We were a group of nerdy, backend engineers that did not really understand anything about design. Let’s be honest, developers and designers feel like they come from different worlds - we usually work in different silos, use different tools, and speak different languages. But at Kaleidos, there was something that did not feel quite right about separating design from developers. Like many back-end software consultancies, we used to contract out our design to agencies. As much as we prioritized writing beautiful code, we quickly realized that beautiful code was only possible with beautiful design. We kept feeling disconnected from the design of the product and never really felt that the outsourced designers shared the same vision as our engineering team. We knew there was a better way if we could break our pre-existing silos and allow developers and designers to collaborate fully.

We hired an amazing team of designers and invited them into our development process. The results were immediately better and our team became one of the best in the world at creating user-centric products and experiences. This led to one of our first major open-source releases, Taiga, a beautiful and inspired agile project management tool which is used today by hundreds of thousands of cross-functional teams around the world.

2019-2020: The birth of Penpot open source

The integration of development and design created great results - we took on more challenging projects that pushed the agility of the team and granted us awards, recognition and a deep sense of pride. Still, there was this growing concern for the lack of quality open-source design and prototype tools - we always felt someone would come along and create something great like an open-source community frequently does. At one point, our team hit a breaking point: the growing frustration for our designers became unbearable, they felt like second class citizens in the very open-source community they belonged to. I can’t recall exactly how many times I heard the designers scream the “F” word, but it was the moment of truth for the team. There had to be a better way, and we decided to build an open-source design and prototyping platform. Penpot was born!

The Penpot name beautifully encapsulated the ideas and values of accessibility, customisation and constant change and evolution.

(Ahem, well, to be honest, it was initially codenamed UXBOX and then someone suggested perhaps there could be some minor brand-conflicting issues along the way :thinking:).

2021: Seeding our early community

Building an open-source design and prototyping tool is a massive undertaking. We sought public funding in Spain and were granted enough to kickstart a small team to begin working full-time on it. We immediately shared our vision at FOSDEM in February 2020, not knowing that we were just weeks away from COVID19 and worldwide lockdown. You may recall, Spain was one of the worst hit countries in the world by the pandemic but we were fortunate to be able to raise our first external funding from several well-respected business leaders in Spain and financed the rest of the capital from employee savings. We announced our Alpha and won Product of the Day at Product Hunt and received tons of love on sites like HN. We knew we had struck a chord with our community and went on to raise our Seed round with Athos Capital and CDTI Innvierte. Our investors always shared alignment with us on the open source nature of the project and by November 2021 we were able to move the Penpot project to the Beta stage and experienced a new surge in adoption and love.

It’s easy to spot Feb 2021 “Alpha” and Nov 2021 “Beta” announcements’ impact on awareness. I don’t think I need to explain what’s behind that almost backward-leaning recent trajectory

2022: Finding the Right Series A Partner

Our community was growing fast and we had a long list of large enterprises such as Google, Microsoft, Red Hat, Tencent, Bytedance and Mozilla that were all starting to use Penpot internally as well as communities like Blender. The project was growing in ambition and we decided we needed to take on another investment to support the project, and set out to find an investor who shared our same vision. Most investors will love what you have achieved but also feel strongly about creating immediate commercial results. We were excited to learn that Jon, Sudip and Dan from Decibel were a different group of investors. If you want a patient investor who gets open source and community, look no further - nobody beats Decibel’s passion and care for your team’s vision and encourage you to build a strong open-source community around your company!

We are thrilled to have Decibel lead this $8M series A round, the biggest series A for a Spanish open-source company to date. We’re also humbled to see Athos proudly following on and being joined by super-angels like Eric Wittman (Former COO of Figma), Grace Francisco (Unicorn Developer Relations Executive), Pedro Castillo (Founder and former CEO of Devo), Andy Fitzsimon (Former Red Hat Global Brand Manager) and Dave Crossland (world-renowed font expert). We will announce our Advisory Board very soon that will include open-source luminaries, design advocates, and other amazing individuals who truly share our vision.

What This Means For You!

We raised this round of financing to accelerate our vision of building an open-source design and prototyping platform that welcomes developers into the design process while offering designers the speed and inclusiveness of DevOps. We want to encourage adoption of Penpot by a much wider audience and continuously foster a great community that believes in collaboration between designers and engineers. This is more than just a software project - it’s a fundamental change in how we all build software and will require a platform that does not require anyone to compromise. We are going to make significant investments in our full-time team to build even more features and integrations as our community grows.

In the coming weeks, we will be releasing what the community has been asking for many months - the ability to seamlessly migrate from proprietary tools to Penpot. This means releasing Penpot Layout capabilities as well as Penpot Advanced Components. Also, we will unveil a completely new revamped onboarding experience that will showcase available libraries and templates to kickstart your new project. Stay tuned for our GA announcement - we are finally moving out of Beta!

The new funds will also allow us to invest in a cloud infrastructure that will be able to grow as fast as our signups and platform usage. We were experiencing sustained growth but a recent bit of news skyrocketed us not one but two orders of magnitude into a completely different scale. Rest assured that we have been supporting many thousands of organizations throughout the Beta period, and are ready to meet all of your demands.

Finally, I am grateful to all of you for coming along for this journey with us. Now is our time - our hopes of finding an open-source design and prototyping platform that can unite developers and designers are finally becoming a reality. Penpot is happening - please join us!


Kaleidos co-founders, Pablo Alba and Yamila Moreno (back), Alex Alonso and Pablo Ruiz-Múzquiz (front)

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Congrats and light speed in growing PenPot beyond what Figma is! We need open source tools like water :slight_smile: I like also this developer focus. Hope we will see more plugins or features to export directly code for websites/react components, etc.

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Enhorabuena Team Kaleidos, Team Penpot.

Open Source Design devroom at FOSDEM 2020 seem like from another era. So much has changed.

I am looking forward to the adventures in bringing true open source design tools to open source software, and beyond. You deserve good things.

And we look forward to seeing you at FOSDEM 2023! :kissing_closed_eyes:

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That 20min talk at FOSDEM back in 2020 will remain my favourite one for many years! We will always be indebted to the open source design community and the FOSDEM dev room. Ahem, I still remember how I was carried away when I promised the attendees their were witnessing the beginning of an amazing adventure. Sometimes I think that it was a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy for all of us. Thank you!

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Congrats! I can’t be more fan <3

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I’m so pleased to hear of your success and wish you all the best in everything you do. Congratulations!

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Congratulations! Looking forward to seeing more activity!

We also run a Clojure shop with a small dedicated team that makes custom digital solutions. We want to start moving to Penpot full time with current capabilities, as well as future things coming down the line. We primarily use Figma at the moment to provide first initial mockups, but penpot will do all that plus SVG standards.

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Huge congratulations to you all. You are so deserving of it. I have been following for a while and have been having a blast exploring. I hope that my company will be able to contribute soon. :smile:

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Congratulations and wishing you the best! Can’t wait to see how it’s going to move forward. We deeply need such tool. You’re building a bridge between dev and designers in the open source space and this, I’m convinced, is the kind of initiative that pave the way to a future where real UX innovation will arise first within open sourced apps.

Wishing you to manage to stay fully open and with MPL license all the way without any fuzzy open core scheme. That would be even more inspiring :slight_smile: Being able to self-host your tool is game changer compared to Figma :wink:

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Wonderful news! I’m one of the Figma/Adobe stumped refugees and look forward to how this tool progresses. I’d also like to suggest you make donations possible, to get a little extra funding here and there.

Cheers!

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Good news! This looks promising. I hope you take the best of the most popular tools (especially Figma) and become highly successful, but please don’t end up selling out to some soulless corporate giant :sleepy: :sweat_smile:

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Such a wonderful feedback! Let me try to address some of it in just one comment.

@Theo_Christiaanse You are real heroes! I’m sure you were extremely glad to see such a great tool made in Clojure and I’m sure you can imagine why. You probably already read this post by Andrey on our choice of technology but I want to repost it here for other curious people out there.

@David_O That’s so nice to hear. When people say “you deserve it” and they mean it, it makes a huge difference to us because we honestly don’t feel that way, we just want to make things happen. We’re so privileged to be able to dream of something and then build it in a collaborative way that the only things that matters to us is, “will this have enough of a good impact for the rest of the world?” So reading “your deserve this (attention, good news, success)” helps us pause for a moment and simply smile big!

@imacrea I might actually use some of what you said in our landing at some point! “pave the way to a future where real UX innovation will arise first within open sourced apps” sounds like dreaming big! And yeah, we plan to stay MPL for ever and find great ways to get funding without ever compromising that!

@SirMotte I keep reading this “Figma refugee” thing and it’s really terrible. Your idea of taking donations is a sound one and the team’s take on this is that if we take donations, we will redirect that money towards community projects. That might mean sponsoring local community events or funding some individual effort, I think it’d be fair to be able to manage those donations in a way that benefits the community as a whole, everyone wins.

@anton We honestly think beyond Figma. The recent news has put us under a Figma versus Penpot lens and we’re happy to have chosen a designer-first experience for the first couple of years of development work but very soon you’ll see we start to depart from designer-centric design/prototype tool. Regarding a potential sell-out, as I was telling some on Twitter earlier today is that good thing about Penpot being open source and open standards-driven is that you just have to trust the process, not a particular CEO.

Thanks so much! The whole team can feel this warmth all around them!

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Congratulations! I love to see how open source design tools are finding their way. :100:

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Congratulations! :champagne: :tada:

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@diacritica first of all congratulations to you and your great team. When taking on such ambitious projects it is important to be able to sustain them, and a good monetary support is essential. Especially when you want to go where huge potential is.

There’s great positioning around the FOSS codebase that is MPL-2.0 licensed. You are not strangers to working in such openness either, which is highly commendable for any business. Such decisions build Trust and over time with sustained action in the right directions, will establish your Trustworthiness. Trust is what attracts first FOSS contributors, Trustworthiness is what makes them stick around and help assure a thriving and open community.

My worry is that, by accepting VC money, there’s been immediate damage to that. I’ve read the announcements and your interactions on Hacker News and you have eloquently explained there’s no need for such concerns. Yet, because VC investors are among the most untrusted parties in Free Software communities, your involvement with them will have a dampening effect on their involvement.

In various Fediverse timelines and also Matrix chat I already see people have nagging doubts, about what this all means. I posted myself on the Fediverse just now, before I thought it’be better to react here as well:

On Hacker News you mentioned: “we, as a company, don’t actually own the whole thing”. But that’s only the ever growing in size and complexity codebase. What you do ‘own’ are:

  • The fulltime experts you can pay to work fulltime on this.
  • You, your board and sales department watching eagerly how to earn the significant ROI the “patient, fellow-founder” VC’s expect.
  • You own the strategy and project direction. The next VC deal in preparation, maybe??

Maybe in future you own the killer app that is suddenly publicly launched, and is entirely not so open. A PenpotHub, who knows, with a similar OSS strategy that made Github great…

At the moment no one contributor and community participant has any clarity. There’s no need to explain either, that is up to you. But more insight in product direction, strategy and vision may help put minds at rest, mitigate the dampening effect of the VC influence you are now subject to.

Before I end I want to mention OpenCollective whose acceptance of VC money has imho done a great deal of damage to reputation in FOSS circles and held them back. They are on an Exit to Community trajectory now, and I don’t know how far along that is. But they still have a major task in spreading the word on that, and regain Trust. With Trustworthiness following much further behind.

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Hey @aschrijver ! Your comment is just wonderfully crisp and thoughtful. I’ll try to address only a couple of points you make as a I tend to “go fractal” easily.

In terms of “ownership”, my point is that in order for Penpot (and other similar tools) to really become part of a new free & open source ecosystem, there has to be a shared ownership between what the company has to do to flesh out its vision as a team and what the community has to say in terms of what matters in the end. This is part of our ethos as the original “Kaleidos Open Source” company, where there’s no such thing as one founder that rules them all.

In terms of the risk linked to taking VC money, this goes back to be able to have the freedom to chose who you’re taking money from and why. I remember Jon Sakoda from Decibel unimpressed by the fact that I hadn’t added “Penpot will remain 100% open source for ever” to my suggested press release!

What is difficult to express, I think, is that as partners in this (their term-sheet from Decibel arrived back in February, way before the FigmaGate!) we actually don’t really know what a successful 100% open source business will look like for Penpot because we know we can’t just follow the traditional playbooks, they seem “dated” to us. That’s why I’m so excited about the whole project, because it actually taps into various “big topics” around open source. Monetization of any sort is not happening any time soon! I might sound a bit too grandiloquent here but, basically, we think this is too big to be distracted by money now.

Personally, I’ve been overwhelmed by how many people are caring so much for Penpot and what it represents. For me, it’s about bringing open source and open standards to a new level of collaboration between designers and developers, and I can’t wait to see what this will mean for the broader open source community once you see designers joining the ranks “en masse”. I demand my open source flying car, I guess, so I can finally ditch my second-hand 2002 Renault Twingo :rofl:

Please, feel free to express discomfort at any time!

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Congratulations! :champagne: :tada: :boom:

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Thank you for your elaborate response! Which I think has some interesting handholds and points to further elaborate. I don’t want to veer too much off-topic though on this particular thread. Some thoughts though…

I agree, though given your explicit mention of FOSS I don’t know if “ownership” is the best way of phrasing. As you know in FOSS community people care that what they volunteer for and spend time on, becomes available to the Commons to the benefit of all, and is assured to stay part of the Commons…

In that sense it is likely most beneficial to all if you don’t see Penpot as the ‘inner circle’ where the product vision and project’s direction ‘sits in a treasure chest’, and then have the outer circle be the Community around that. Rather envision Penpot as being one constituent part of a budding Ecosystem that weaves its strands together to become a rich and beautiful cloth. This small shift in thinking is like a culture and mindset thing, but is also very strategical and with that can come… a very powerful approach.

Yes, and it is great that the investors give that much slack to first allow Penpot to establish a firm position. But somewhere down the line ROI is expected, and everyone knows that. To win Trust in FOSS circles it is crucial that this is not only fully acknowledged, but also that you are indicating (on an ongoing basis) where you expect to get that ROI from. Like “we intend to offer subscription plans for hosted Penpot and aim for the larger enterprises that have huge UX designs and demand support from our technical staff and consultants. Furthermore we will also facilitate large-scale and tailored in-house Penpot deployments”. Something along these lines.

We know what these are. And they are indeed big. There are people who say “Software has eaten the world”, and then I’d like to correct them and say “Yes, but it is more accurate to say that Open Source software has eaten the world”. This is a lotta OSS, and a smaller part FOSS. The FOSS folks are right to be suspicious of any kind of corporate and commercial developments. They have seen their hard work been monetized like crazy so many times with nothing but a “Thank you very much!” in return, while they still struggle to keep the chimney smoking.

But I am a strong believer there’s sustainable business around FOSS development. And that we are living in times with problems all around us that clearly have Hypercapitalism as their root cause. People start seeing that it is an inherently flawed system, as its failures are becoming very apparent. This creates the favourable conditions for these more sustainable models to thrive. And once again I think tackling those as collaborative ecosystems is key.

In Q4 I will dedicate more time to launching a new initiative called Social Coding Movement and Strategic Ecosystem Alliances will be a key concept. Btw, instead of all the biz-like names, we’ll align more to FOSS culture and values and call them Software Guilds. The first guild we are planning happen to be Penpot adopters already :smiley_cat: (this is part of the reason for me to react here, as the folks here share my concerns). This Guild encompasses the young ecosystem involved in Code Forge federation (intent on breaking the dominance of Github and creating a more level and open playing field):

Now, what would be absolutely fabulous was if Penpot really liked the philosophy of all these concepts I just introduced and would really ponder how “really become part of a new free & open source ecosystem” might fit neatly in there.

And finally, to raise the attractiveness of that thought pattern up a notch and referring to your expressed personal dream of really uniting designers AND developers I would like to explicitly mention that Social Coding is not only all about that unification and in a more holistic manner (considering everyone’s role, to foster diversity and inclusion), but that it will consider the entire Free Software Development Lifecycle (FSDL) - from earliest conception to end-of-life - in search of best-practices and tools that can help streamline work processes.

Furthermore the Social Coding Movement with its focus on evolving the Fediverse’s alternative social networking environment will explore the somewhat forgotten field of SX or social experience design. When contrasted to current practices of UX we consider SX to be the more holistic approach.

As for opportunity:

:hugs:  Nowhere else there’s greater need for closer UX / Developer interaction than in FOSS.

So where is there a better place to explore exciting and creative innovations that will position Penpot and its ecosystem prominently within the FSDL (or any other SDL for that matter)? :blush:

Don’t worry… me too as you can witness :joy:  let’s TL;DR this as:

:houses: Let us start to imagine a Guild design …

(Image: " Komona market" by David Revoy, license CC-BY)

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@diacritica congratulations!

I didn’t know you are the team behind Tiaga! :clap: I’ve been reading some of your posts and I’m curious to see what’s coming in TaigaNext.

And as a product designer I’m excited that F1gm4 finally has a solid competitor.

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Yes! And we’re working on having both Penpot and Taiga work seamlessly together uniting Scope, Design and Code, ha!

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