Scrutiny is the prize of success

There’s an unfortunate pattern amongst the Silicon Valley set whenever a startup heralding from their midst is subjected to even mild scrutiny. It’s perhaps best illustrated in its archetype by this tweet from Paul Graham:

(Screenshot provided for legion of Twitter users blocked by @paulg 😄)

In 2008, Facebook had a mere 100 million users. In 2018, they had over 2 BILLION users. The scope of a startup’s impact and influence is correlated to the amount of scrutiny it receives. This is a feature, not a bug!

And while Facebook is almost too easy of an example of this pattern, it’s far from the only one. Just yesterday, Mike Davidson wrote about the appalling and abusive read receipts feature in a new email client called Superhuman. The general response from Valley boosters was predictably disappointing (peruse @mikeindustries for countless examples), but I want to pull out one subtweet that struck me as another example in Graham’s spirit:

Do you see a thread here? It’s like the thinking goes that success does not attract scrutiny because of the broader impact it affords, but simply because conspiracy theorists are trying to hold down the makers! Yeah, the current Valley darling for email that’s received tens of millions in venture funding and is valued at a quarter of a billion already is the scruffy underdog. And just received a glowing puff piece in the NYT that didn’t address the privacy angle much. Ehhh…

I get it. Tribalism is in our DNA, and there’s nothing inherently wrong with rooting for the (spiritual or geographical) home team. But when that affection becomes a set of blinders or an apologist shield, you can’t be surprised when the broader community raises an eyebrow and is encouraged to dig deeper.

The reason this matters is that what may seem like small decisions early on become the basis for many more decisions down the road. These decisions affect your ethical trajectory as a company.

Mike Davidson

Davidson’s point about the ethical trajectory of a company is spot on. But it goes even further than the single company. There’s an ethical trajectory of a whole ecosystem, and the one in Silicon Valley is in need of some serious recalibration. Springing to the defense of appalling privacy abuses with excuses like “well, everyone else does it” only reveals just how dire the need is for that recalibration. A process that has to start with one company at a time.

But even if Silicon Valley was a beacon of ethical behavior, you’d still want successful startups on a strong trajectory to have their business model and practices subjected to scrutiny in proportion to their success. The more people are using something, the greater the potential for harm (and good). This isn’t rocket science.

Successful startups (and their boosters) should celebrate the scrutiny when it arrives by listening and making changes in actions and culture. The earlier you catch yourself drifting off course, the easier it is to get back on track. Not just of your goals for SUCCESS, but for being an ethical, responsive, and responsible company that even people outside the Valley can cheer for.

When did work-life balance become such a bad thing?

The term work-life balance has taken a beating lately. It seems to be a favorite punching bag for grandstanding about what you really need is integration or that balance is a mirage anyway. Wat?

Balance simple means that each portion of the system has a sustainable weight which keeps the composition in harmony. Going down a pedantic, semantic rabbit hole of “well, actually, work is part of life, ergo seeking balance is wrong” is some perfidy circular logic.

It’s possible to enjoy, like, or even love work, and yet also appreciate life away from work. Appreciate the breaks and the distance from work that rewards us with perspective. Scheduling such regular breaks by limiting the hours spent working during a normal week, and taking plenty of vacation away from it entirely, is not some exotic, impossible arrangement. It’s the pursuit of just that balance.

So let’s take a break from worksplaining the concept of work-life balance into a negation. Balance is neither bad nor impossible. It’s the cornerstone of a healthy, productive, and sustainable state of being.

Fuck hard work

If I have to listen to one more banal ode to “hard work”, I’m going to puke. It’s such a trite tribute that keeps getting heaped on anyone who’s ever become even mildly successful, as though it was somehow this unique aspect of their achievement.

The first rebuke to this reflexive compliment should always be to point out the survivorship bias. The world is full of people who work very hard, in that literal, long-hours sort of way, and yet only a tiny minority of those end up with fawning fans celebrating that oh-so-hard work.

But, I think, more interesting is that the world is also full of successful people who don’t work very hard at all, again, in that literal, long-hours, no-vacations, self-flagellation sort of way everyone is so eager to cheer for (at least in the US).

Yet even most of those, who might commonly “just” log 40 hours a week – putting in quality hours to make quality work – seem commonly obligated to celebrate “hard work”. You know what? Fuck hard work.

Effort is not accomplishment. If you repeat the same lesson a hundred times over, you’ll be left behind on the path to insight by the person who advances through a hundred different lessons.

This obsession with “hard work” is founded in a pessimistic view of natural state of humanity being lazy loafers. That unless we constantly reinforce the virtue of “hard work”, we’re all just going to slouch on the couch. Nonsense. The drive for creativity and creation is innate.

The virtuous label of “hard work” is only necessary when you seek to cajole people into doing a lot of what they intrinsically do not want to do. Like exploiting others, hoarding endlessly, growing aimlessly. Chasing alienating goals in service of someone else.

So please, for fuck’s sake, the next time you reach for that tired “hard work” compliment, just stop and think: Why am I celebrating mere effort? Celebrate creativity, insights, breakthroughs, rebellions, anything but mere effort. Effort has gotten enough praise to last a century or two without another serving.

Don’t buy the hiring lottery

It’s never easy looking for a job. Trotting through shitty, vague, unrealistic openings that are frequently been written by people thrice removed from those you’ll eventually be working with. Then hoping to hear back from the black hole that is the application process at many companies. Ugh. No wonder many applicants end up jaded, if stuck in that process for too long.

But sitting on the other side of the process can certainly also make you jaded. Reading through hundreds of applications from people who aren’t even trying. Trying to understand the role or trying to express why they’d be a good hire.

I think part of the problem is the idea that “if you don’t apply, you can’t get it!”, which sorta sounds like a “if you don’t play, you can’t win” slogan for a lottery. That’s a perfectly reasonable conclusion from someone who has gone through one too many black-hole application processes, but it’s also wrong.

Sure, you can’t hit if you don’t swing, but it doesn’t matter how many times I swing, I’m not going to hit a homerun against a Yankees pitcher. Not one in a hundred, not one in a thousand. Yes, step one of being in the game is showing up. But unless step two is being somewhat qualified for that game, you’re still going to lose.

This doesn’t invalidate the idea that there are perfectly qualified candidates who hold themselves back from applying due to imposter syndrome or anxiety or other reasons stemming from a lack of confidence. Boosting that confidence amongst the qualified with encouragement is ace. Let’s keep doing that.

But let’s stop pretending that the hiring process is a lottery. That sending out the most resumes is how you win it. That you should apply to positions no matter how remote of a stretch it is, because, hey, they gotta hire someone, and that might as well be you!

Applying for a job is hard. Every time you don’t hear back, you can lose a tiny little something of yourself. You thus might try just that little bit less next time. So if you keep applying for unlikely-to-get jobs, you might eventually water yourself down, and dilute your application, until it’s a very thin cup of tea indeed.

Don’t do that. Apply when you have a real shot. Stretch a little, but not too much. Save yourself and your ego from the lottery trap.

Minimum pay at Basecamp is now $70,000

We pay at the top 10% of San Francisco market rates for salary + bonus (but not stock options) at Basecamp. Those rates apply to everyone here, regardless of the role or where they actually live. We don’t even employ anyone who live in San Francisco!

We picked San Francisco as our benchmark because it’s the highest in the world for technology, and because we could afford it, after carefully growing a profitable software business for 15 years.

For programmers, designers, operations, administration, and the vast majority of other roles at Basecamp, simply following the top of the market rates is a pretty sweet deal: High salaries, benchmarked against the top market, yet most people live in places with far lower cost of living, which means we’re even more competitive in local markets.

(While we might be top 10% for San Francisco, I’m pretty sure we’re in the top 1% for, say, Fenwick, Ontario or Spokane, Washington or Madrid, Spain.)

But where this doesn’t work as well is when the San Francisco market rates reflect how technology hasn’t really raised all boats. While the rates there for programmers and designers are far higher than many other places, this is a lot less true for, say, customer support or other roles that hasn’t seen the same market competition.

Keep reading “Minimum pay at Basecamp is now $70,000”

We’re hiring a Director of Operations

Basecamp is hiring a director of operations to run the team responsible for all our technical infrastructure. Our suite of applications is served from a mix of our own servers in leased data-center space and cloud setups in Google Cloud and AWS. The job is to ensure that everything runs smoothly, the lights stay on, and we’ve prepared for bad luck with good planning.

This is a role for someone with experience running a team at least as big as ours and a multi-million dollar budget. You’ll be managing a team of seven and report to the CTO.

Basecamp is a remote-work company, but you’ll need at least 4 hours of overlap with Chicago time in your normal work-day routine.

We strongly encourage candidates of all different backgrounds and identities to apply. Each new hire is an opportunity for us to bring in a different perspective, and we are always eager to further diversify our company. Basecamp is committed to building an inclusive, supportive place for you to do the best and most rewarding work of your career.

Keep reading “We’re hiring a Director of Operations”

Work harder or the communists will win!

It’s desperate times for those still clinging to their workaholic, exploitive ways. From Japan to China to even the US, there’s a growing understanding that working 70-80-90 or 130 hours per week is not glorious. Not virtuous. Not healthy.

So what’s a whoever-works-the-most-wins advocate to do? Sidestep the question of efficiency, of health, of sustainability, of course. Just press the pedal on fear and competition. Here’s your host of terror, Jason Calacanis:


Yeah, that’s it. Those who reject the wisdom of overwork is really helping the ENEMY. This is democracy vs communism!! What is this, 1950? Whatever year it is, it’s stupid.

Rather than support a grassroots rejection of the exploitive abuse of the Chinese workers under the 996 regime, Calanis is doubling down on the premise that to “beat” the Chinese, you must submit to their worst work practices. What?

This is at best a lateral move from “work harder or the kitten gets it”. A trope that’s meant to be a punchline, not a policy recommendation.

Besides being imperial paranoia, urging American companies to adopt Chinese abuses, lest they be left behind in the chase of growth uber alles, is the furthest away you could get from winning. Accepting the terms of engagement by your so-called opponent is a basic, rookie mistake in any form of strategic out-maneuvering.

You’re not going to “beat” the Chinese by one-upping 996 with 997. You’re not going to top Jack Ma’s calls for sacrifice by injecting nationalist fervor and clash-of-civilizations rhetoric into these base pleas for a deeper grind. This is madness.

If you define winning solely as “who has the greater growth”, you’ve already lost. If you dismiss the standard of living enjoyed in Europe – one without medical bankruptcies, crushing college debts, or falling life expectancies – as a “retirement society”, you’re the one who deserves to be dismissed.

The ideological underpinnings of capitalism are already in an advanced state of ethical decay. You don’t save the good parts of said capitalism by doubling down on the worst, most exploitive parts. Racing to the bottom just gets you there faster.

What’s the one thing…

Wouldn’t it be great if there really was just one secret you had to know, and all your professional or entrepreneurial dreams would come true? Then you wouldn’t have to bother trying what works for your or your domain. You’d just have to apply The Secret, and voila!

Needless to say, if there is such a unifying secret, I haven’t found or heard of it. And yet, I keep seeing this false hope powering one of the most common questions I get in interviews: What’s THE ONE THING that you’d tell your younger yourself/other entrepreneurs/new programmers?! This is followed by the breathless anticipation of whatever profound wisdom the questioner most wish they could glean from my life’s experiences.

The boring truth is that the big leaps are all the result of an interwoven tapestry of practices, each contributing a strand of progress or insight. If you pull just one, all you have is that thin, disconnected strand. It’s only together the colors come alive.

That’s why all the books Jason and I have written together really are just a collection of essays. Yes, there’s a theme, but no single, unlocking narrative. REWORK is 88 separate essays, It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work has 66.

As long as you’re stuck on a quest for that one super-power practice or North Star principle, you’re not going to make space in your brain for the fact that no individual secret is going to make the difference. Only compound wisdom will.

The MacBook keyboard fiasco is way worse than Apple thinks

Apple keep insisting that only a “small number of customers have problems” with the MacBook keyboards. That’s bollocks. This is a huge issue, it’s getting worse not better, and Apple is missing the forest for the trees.

The fact is that many people simply do not contact Apple when their MacBook keyboards fail. They just live with an S key that stutters or a spacebar that intermittently gives double. Or they just start using an external keyboard. Apple never sees these cases, so it never counts in their statistics.

So here’s some anecdata for Apple. I sampled the people at Basecamp. Out of the 47 people using MacBooks at the company, a staggering 30% are dealing with keyboard issues right now!! And that’s just the people dealing with current keyboard issues. If you include all the people who used to have issues, but went through a repair or replacement process, the number would be even higher.

Worth noting here is that the 3rd generation membrane keyboard did nothing to fix the issues. Six out of thirteen – nearly half!! – of the 2018+ MacBooks we have at the company have a failed keyboard.

I backed up those figures with a Twitter poll that has over 7,000 respondents already. That’s a 63% failure rate!! But Apple is only seeing 11% of those, as the vast majority of customers are simply just living with their broken computer:

This is a disaster. A complete unmitigated disaster.

But as always, in a time of crisis, the event itself is less indicative of the health of a company than the response. Is Apple going to accept that they’re currently alienating and undermining decades of goodwill by shipping broken computers in mass quantities?