Interview: Meet the Penzu Team!

Creating a journal web app just because you want an awesome one sounds like a great idea. Now how about taking that journal app, adding more features than most people could think of for a journal, designing beautiful themes so you can write however you’d like, and coding a whole ecosystem of apps so users could journal anywhere? Oh, and trying to turn the whole thing into a business?

That’s exactly what the Penzu team has been doing for the past few years. We’d originally reviewed Penzu early last year, and since then its continued to gain popularity. Our widely popular Penzu Pro giveaway last week was proof that tons of our readers love Penzu and find it an exciting way to keep a journal. The Penzu team has been kind enough to give us a few minutes of their time and answer some of our questions about their app and the future of Penzu. After the break, you’ll get an inside look at the team behind one of the most popular journal web apps today.

Tell us a bit about the Penzu team: when did you get started, where are you located, and what makes you excited to work on Penzu each day?

Penzu began as a side project in 2008. We launched a beta product in May and it started getting traction instantly. Ever since, working on Penzu has been thrilling. The amazing feedback we get from customers each day via email, Twitter, and Facebook drives us to create the best online journal in the world. We work really hard to make our users as happy as possible. That’s all that matters to us: making products people LOVE.

What inspired you to make a journal app? Is there a story behind Penzu’s name?

Penzu was born out of a personal need. At the time, there wasn’t a cloud-based version of a Moleskine or paper-bound notebook. We wanted to keep our ideas and thoughts in a place that was always backed-up, accessible anywhere, and password protected. Even today there isn’t a perfect substitute for pen and paper, but we think we’ve built something that is a great alternative.

As for the name, we wanted it to be unique, fun, and most of all available. Penzu also means “I think” in Spanish (from the Latin “pensare”) and it has the word “pen” in it!!

Actually, why should we keep a journal? Aren’t our Facebook status updates enough nowadays?

Facebook status updates are great, but they aren’t enough! Those short updates, when you look back on them, are relatively meaningless. While some updates or Tweets can bring back memories, there’s nothing like a journal entry to really transport you back into a specific frame of mind. The more open you are at the time of writing, the more you emote and express, the more valuable your journal becomes. Recalling memories is one thing, but evoking feelings—from years or even decades ago—is another. That is the “magic” of journaling, which you can only experience once you start. So what are you waiting for?

Furthermore, your perception of what you were feeling at a given time might not be what actually happened. As you continually recall past events, they can become simplified and distorted in your mind. If, however, you write a detailed journal entry as soon after the event as possible, the memory will be very clear, vivid, and accurate. Journal entries truly are windows into the past. Don’t you wish you knew what you were thinking after your first kiss? Your first time driving a car? Or your first job? If you answered yes to those questions, start journaling – NOW!

Why did you decide to make Penzu a web app instead of a traditional Mac or PC program?

We wanted to make a web app so that all users on all operating systems could use it. And having a consistent experience between computers is really important to us. So no matter where you are, if you have access to the internet, you have access to your Penzu account.

Penzu’s apps and themes are beautifully designed. Could you tell us something about your design process?

Thanks! We spend a lot of time on our user interface and themes. Each font, background and pad style is hand-picked to fit in within our aesthetic. We design our apps to be as simple and obvious as possible, always aiming to take the traditional notion of writing and journaling to the next level. And we’ve got more exciting stuff on the way!

Penzu has native mobile apps and a mobile web app. Which do you focus your efforts on the most, and what do you think of the future of mobile web apps?

Right now we’re focusing our attention on native apps. We initially built a mobile web app but the user experience wasn’t great. Uploading photos through a web app is still not supported, among other things. We will always have a mobile web app and we hope to update it down the road.

As for the future, it’s very hard to predict in such a fast moving space. While the web is open and free, the App Store and Android Market have some great momentum. Web apps do have their place now, though—a news site, for example, that wants a mobile experience can easily use a web app and avoid the search and download required for native apps. Rich apps (like ours) and immersive games, not so much. It’s still a couple years away from beginning to compare to a native client in terms of robustness, but who knows!

Penzu has a ton of features in both the free and pro versions. How do you decide what features to keep in which? Do you think the freemium model works good for your app?

That’s a great question and something that we think about a lot. Our goal is to make the free service good enough but not so good that users don’t want to upgrade to Pro. Being a bootstrapped company we rely on revenues. If we were VC funded like our competitors we’d probably be more focused on growth over revenue and make more features free. As Penzu becomes more successful, and as we release more products, we will gradually make our free service more feature-rich.

It can be so hard to keep a journal faithfully. Do you have some tips you could share with us on keeping a good journal?

Definitely. Keeping a journal can sometimes feel like a burden, and we have a great way to keep you writing: email reminders! With both Pro and Free accounts you can set email reminders either daily, weekly, or monthly to remind you to write. And Pro users can just reply to those reminders via email and the entry will get added to their journal. Penzu Post makes it super easy to fire off entries and quick thoughts. Just email [email protected] to get started!

Do you have any upcoming features you could share with our readers?

Right now we’re actually working on something called Penzu Classroom – an educational version of Penzu for teachers and students. It’s gonna be awesome! If there are any teachers or educators out there that are interested, please email us for early access.

One final question: Any chance we could get a peek at what your team’s journals look like?

Our personal journals are private! But a funny story: while we all have our own journals, I have one that is locked—and I can’t unlock it! One late night I was writing out some thoughts in my journal on a new Apple keyboard. I chose to encrypt my journal with the Encryption Lock, entered my password twice, and clicked “Lock”. The next morning I tried to unlock the journal and I couldn’t! I must have had a typo in my password (and managed to type it twice) and I’ve been trying to remember/figure it out ever since. When journals/entries are locked with encryption, they cannot be unlocked by anyone but the person with the correct password. Not even us!

Thanks, Penzu Team!

We’d like to extend a special thanks to the Penzu team, and especially Penzu’s CEO Alexander for taking the time to answer our questions about Penzu. We’re excited about the future of the app, and hope you enjoyed learning more about it. If you’ve got any questions for the Penzu team yourself, leave them in the comments below and we’re sure they’d be glad to answer them.

Stay tuned; we’ve got more interviews with exciting app teams coming up soon!