Kilian Valkhof

Building tools that make developers awesome.

What it means to be a Firstversionist

Life, 23 April 2019, 4 minute read

I want to tell you about my new company Firstversionist. But to do that, I also need to tell you a little more about me.

I have been a bit of everything over the past 20 years of being active on the web. I started out at 10, having a little website focused on other kids my age, where I shared cool links (remember doing that on your own website?). When I was 16, I started an internet agency that eventually grew to 15 people. There I worked with startups, SMB’s, governmental organisations and multinationals. I’ve worn many hats: I’ve been a designer and a front-end developer, of course, but I’ve also been a SEO expert, a usability and accessibility expert, a teacher, an advisor, an investor and a manager.

And now, at 30, I’m back to being what I was 20 years ago. Simply a creator.

The Firstversionist Logo

Firstversionist is the home base for what I’ll be creating based on many years of wearing all those many hats. Software that makes people more efficient and helps them get better at what they do. Using technology to make work more enjoyable and to remove or improve the tedious aspects of so many parts of our day-to-day jobs.

Polypane is a large part of that, of course. And so is FromScratch. Both of these projects will become more than just side projects. They’ll continue to be personal labors of love, but they’ll get the attention and time they deserve. But there will also be new projects that I can’t wait to tell you more about. And who knows, maybe we’ll work together.


I’ve learned a lot in the past year. About who I am and what I want to do, what I’m good at and what gives me energy. But also what I want to stand for and what I value. Because of this, Firstversionist not only has goals, but it also has a set of values.

I value things like simplicity, openness, kindness and I firmly believe that done is better than perfect. These things have always been important to me but I have never laid them down so firmly. They will steer me and anchor me.

My values are the values of a beginners mind. In my life and in my work, having a beginners mind has always been enormously useful to me. It helps you sidestep conventional roadblocks, it lets you evaluate and re-evaluate choices and look at things from first principles. It lets you approach anything as if it was a first version.

Interestingly, the beginners mind is a concept from Zen Buddhism called Shoshin. While I didn’t have that specifically in mind when coming up with the name or the logo or indeed my personal values, there is a different Zen concept that was.

And that’s the ensō circle.

Nearly ten years ago, I visited an art exposition in Barcelona by an artist whose name I unfortunately forgot. They made huge ensō paintings and I remember them having a big effect on me merely by how they looked. Later I found out that an ensō is made by one (or two) continuous brush strokes and it represents “a moment when the mind is free to let the body create.”

Ensō circles are visually stunning, and they feel to me the way I feel when I’m creating something and I’m in flow. An ensō is always a first version, and the epitome of done is better than perfect. Once they’re done they’re done and you get the chance to learn, improve and iterate.

I don’t believe in top-down approaches, I know that when I’m starting something, some of my assumptions and ideas will be wrong. There needs to be a freedom to iterate and experiment and I have seen how denying that has doomed many projects, often from the start. As humans, especially in business, I get we’re not always comfortable with uncertainty. But it’s allowing this uncertainty that lets you find out things along the way you could’ve never known at the start.

Nothing beats having created something, but we often build up the idea of creating something. So much so that it becomes a Herculean effort and more often than not, we give up. Whereas if you keep creation small and choose to iterate, if you keep thinking of the next thing as your first version, there’s no limit to what you can do.

That’s what it means to be a Firstversionist.

Polypane browser for responsive web development and design Hi, I'm Kilian. I make Polypane, the browser for responsive web development and design. If you're reading this site, that's probably interesting to you. Try it out!