How Basecamp built a $100 billion business by underdoing the competition and optimizing for timelessness



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The Gist

For over a decade, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (known online as DHH) have turned conventional business wisdom on its head. In their bestselling book Rework they share some surprising lessons they have learned while growing Basecamp to a $100-billion company - from bootstrapping to growing slowly, embracing constraints, saying no to good ideas and asking better questions.
Based on: Rework: Change The Way You Work Forever

Notable quotes

Grow slowly or not at all. Build half a product. Say no to meetings. Go to sleep. Underdo your competitors. What we think of as best practices or just the way the real world works is often nothing more than received wisdom that doesn’t hold up empirically. The way Jason and David put it, Our company fails the real world test in all kinds of ways.
Unlike many other tech companies, Basecamp don’t hustle to be hot, but aim instead to be timeless. They don’t strive to be the next big thing, but try instead to figure out how to be the thing that never goes out of fashion. They don’t look at their competitors and ask how can we beat them; they look instead at their users and ask what do they need that won’t change.
To achieve big things, you need to think small. Do just one thing at a time but do it exceptionally well. Indeed, think even smaller than that. Cut your ambition in half, Jason and David say. You are better off with an ass-kicking half than a half-assed whole.
Adding more features is a form of trying to please as many people as you can. But to really please one person, you’d have to piss another one off and so any attempt to meet different needs all at once ends up diluting the experience for everybody. In fact, if no one is upset about your product, it’s likely not because everyone loves it, but because it’s too boring to be worth the attention.
The way to build something your users actually care about is to act as a curator of their experience. Curators - from those who arrange gallery collections to chefs in great restaurants - think just as much about what they need to remove from the design as about what they need to add to it. Good design is like good taste: it’s largely defined by the omission of the unnecessary. Extraneous detail doesn’t enhance, it detracts from the desired effect. Basecamp is both praised and criticized for its minimal design, but it’s more a matter of essentialism than minimalism. True, its features are few but not merely few; they are, instead, as few as necessary.

The Authors

photo of jason fried

Jason Fried is founder and CEO at Basecamp, which started life as web design company 37Signals back in 1999. He grew up in the Midwest - a fact he partly credits with developing his preference for simple, sustainable business models. Jason is considered a contrarian when it comes to running a business and building a company culture: his team, for one, works remotely and never more than 40 hours a week. He shares his views on his popular blog Signal v. Noise as well as a number of books written with his co-founder David: Rework, Remote and Getting Real.

Jason on Twitter

photo of david heinemeier hansson

David Heinemeier Hansson (or DHH) is co-founder and CTO at Basecamp, creator of the open-source web framework Ruby on Rails and a class-winning racing drviver at Le Mans, the world's biggest endurance race. He was finishing a business and computer science degree in Copenhagen when, on his blog, Jason asked for help with some PHP code and David responded. Later on he was hired remotely to develop Basecamp, which he did using the then obscure programming language Ruby. Ruby on Rails grew out of this work as he tried to fit Ruby to his taste for elegant simplicity.

DHH on Twitter