Nobody hits the ground running


“We just want someone who can hit the ground running” is the common refrain for companies seeking to only consider senior-level job candidates. This is usually based on the premise that there just isn’t time to hire someone junior because they need on-boarding, training, and mentorship.

That’s all true. You shouldn’t expect a junior hire to immediately perform at the level of your existing company veterans. Everyone instinctively knows and accepts this.

Where instincts clash with reality is when hiring senior-level people. There’s a natural assumption that someone who was already, say, a lead programmer or designer in their past job will be able to step right into that role anywhere. That just isn’t so. Organizations can differ widely. The skills and experience needed to get traction in one place may well be totally different somewhere else.

Let’s take managerial direction, for example. At Basecamp, we’ve designed the organization to rely on managers of one. Especially at the deep end of the seniority spectrum. This means people are often largely responsible for setting their own short-to-medium term direction, and will only get top-level directives.

That can be an uncomfortable and confusing setup when someone is used to having far more hands-on, day-to-day direction on what to work on and when. The more accustomed someone is to that kind of directed form of work, the more there is to unlearn to mesh with how we work at Basecamp. That kind of unlearning can be just as hard as having to pick up entirely new skills, and sometimes even harder.

Getting the traction that someone would expect of a senior-level hire depends as much on general skills as it does on particular organizational compatibility. But because there’s an assumption that senior-level people should be able to just “hit the ground running”, there’s a bigger risk that expectations won’t be fulfilled quickly enough.

The fact is that unless you hire someone straight out of an identical role at an identical company, they’re highly unlikely to be instantly up to speed and able to deliver right away. That doesn’t mean a particular opening might not be best fit for a senior-level person, but it shouldn’t be based on the misconception of immediate results.

The deal Jeff Bezos got on Basecamp


In 2006, Jeff Bezos bought a minority, no-control stake of Basecamp from Jason and me. We didn’t need any money to run the company, as we’d been profitable from the get-go, so none of it went to fund “our incredible journey”. As the Valley players say, we took money off the table.

It was an unusual deal for a number of reasons. First, Basecamp remained an LLC, which it still is. Not a corporation. Bezos’ personal investment shop simply took the role of a member in the LLC. This means that even to this day our paperwork and administrative overhead is laughably simple (Basecamp has no CFO, not even a full-time accountant!).

Second, there was no exit lined up! Jeff did have a one-time provision to sell his stake back to us after, I believe, seven years, but we didn’t trigger it, so now we’re in this together with no end in sight.

What Jeff got was the same deal that Jason and I had: His share of the yearly profits. What a quaint concept! But also a profitable one. Over the more than a decade that Jeff has been onboard, we’ve paid him back his initial investment five times over through profit distributions! And he still owns the stake.

What Jason and I got from the deal was the total confidence to go the distance. In 2006, we’d only been running Basecamp for a few years. We’d been besieged by venture capitalists and acquisition sniffers. But Basecamp wasn’t actually making that much money yet. Profitable, yes, but modestly so.

It’s only human to be tempted in such a situation. Only a year earlier, Yahoo had bought Flickr for some twenty million dollars. Jason and I had both been through the dot-com bust of the early 2000s. Now all of the sudden money was flowing again. So your mind wanders.

But thankfully it didn’t wander all that far. We had a good thing going, and we had no interest in giving it up. But at the same time, it seemed prudent to hedge the bet at least somewhat. It was entirely possible that Basecamp could have petered out, and we’d been back to doing consulting with no residual to show for it. That wouldn’t exactly had been the end of the world, but surely it would have engendered some regret.

Speaking of which. When we first started talking to Jeff, he spoke of his regret-minimization framework. It applied very well here. If we sold part of the company to VCs or all of it to some big company, there was a very good chance we’d end up regretting it. We’d be working for someone else, be on their timeline. All the ills we’ve been talking about for a long time.

But selling a small, no-control stake to Jeff? If Basecamp was going to fail, clearly we wouldn’t regret that. And if Basecamp was going to succeed, we’d not regret it either, since Jeff’s involvement would only mean giving up a small slice of the upside, without any of the normal investment-induced drawbacks.

The hardest part was actually talking Jeff down on the size of the purchase. Originally he wanted a bigger slice, which would have meant more money for Jason and I, but it would also have meant giving up more of the company. We decided that all we needed were a few million each to protect the downside of a bust, so that’s what we sold him.

I think it’s a shame that arrangements like this aren’t more common. I think many companies would be better off if the founders got to hedge their bet just enough to dare go the distance without the anchor of traditional venture capital.

The big financial cliff for most entrepreneurs is the difference between no net worth and a few million. The difference between having a few million and a lot of millions is vanishingly small in comparison.

Well, I suppose that even a lot of millions is now a vanishingly small difference to Jeff. He just got crowned the richest man in the world. But you get the point 😂

How we pay people at Basecamp

There are no negotiated salaries or raises at Basecamp. Everyone in the same role at the same level is paid the same. Equal work, equal pay.

We assess new hires on a scale that goes from junior programmer, to programmer, to senior programmer, to lead programmer, to principal programmer (or designer or customer support or ops…) We use the same scale to assess when someone is in line for a promotion.

Raises happen automatically, once per year, when we review market rates. Our target is to pay everyone at the company in the 90th percentile, or top 10%, of the San Francisco market rates, regardless of their role or where they live. So whether you work in customer support or ops or programming or design, you’ll be paid in the top 10% for that position.

If someone is below that target, they get a raise large enough to match the target. If someone is already above the target, they stay where they are. (Nobody will ever see a pay cut because they’re above our market target). If someone is promoted, they get a raise commensurate with the market rates for the new level.

We get the market rates through a company called Radford. They poll a wide array of companies in our industry (from the titans to shops more comparable in size to Basecamp). It’s not a perfect system, and we do frequently cross check with other sources, but it’s certainly better than a few “I’ve heard that X pays Y…”.

Our market rates are based on San Francisco. San Francisco is the top of the market for technology businesses. So whether you live in Tennessee or Arizona or Alaska or Illinois, we pay the same. (We don’t even have anyone who works for us from San Francisco!)

This means everyone has the freedom to pick where they want to live, and there’s no penalty for relocating to a cheaper cost-of-living area. We encourage remote and have many employees who’ve lived all over while continuing to work for Basecamp.

We don’t pay traditional bonuses at Basecamp either, so our salaries are benchmarked against other companies’ salary + bonus packages. (We used to do bonuses, many years ago, but found that they were quickly treated as expected salary anyway.)

There are no stock options at Basecamp because we never intend to sell the company. (But we’ve pledged to distribute 5% of the proceeds to all current employees if, against intentions, we did sell the company anyway).

We’ve also recently put a new profit growth sharing scheme in place. If total profits grow year over year, we’ll distribute 25% of that growth to employees in that year.

There are surely places where people can get paid more than they can at Basecamp. Especially if they’re ace negotiators and able to persuade an employer to pay them more than their peers for the same work.

There are also plenty of places that’ll offer stock options that could make someone a overnight millionaire, if they join a startup that eventually turns into the next Google or Facebook.

But Basecamp isn’t a startup. We’ve been in our current business as a software company since 2004. It’s a stable, sustainable, and profitable enterprise. Some people may even call it boring!

We don’t do all-nighters. There are no tricks or treats to lure people into staying at the office for untold hours. Just a great set of benefits that all focus on helping people lead healthy, fulfilled lives away from work.

No scheme of pay is perfect, but at least with a model like this, nobody is forced to hop jobs just to get a raise that matches their market value. Which is reflected in the fact that we have lots of people at Basecamp who’ve been here for a long time with no plans to leave.

Of course, pay isn’t the only reason someone might leave our company. We’ve had people leave Basecamp because they wanted to give the Silicon Valley trip a try or because they wanted a completely different career or for a number of other reasons. That’s healthy! Some amount of flow is a good thing, but pay shouldn’t be the main driver for most people.

When I hear that the average tenure in tech is just two years, I wonder how anyone gets anything done. When I hear such job hopping justified by the fact that changing companies is the only way to get a raise, I just shake my head at the short-sightedness of such companies.

Hiring and training people is not only expensive, but draining. All that energy could go into making better products with people you’ve kept happy for the long term by being fair and transparent about pay and benefits. Churning through people because you’re trying to suppress the wages of those who stay just seems like poor business.

There’s a fountain of happiness and productivity in working with a stable crew. It’s absolutely key to how we’re able to do so much with so few at Basecamp. I’m baffled such a competitive advantage isn’t more diligently sought.

The company isn’t a family


Whenever executives talk about how their company is really like a big ol’ family, beware. They’re usually not referring to how the company is going to protect you no matter what or love you unconditionally. You know, like healthy families would. The motive is rather more likely to be a unidirectional form of sacrifice: Yours.

Because by invoking the image of the family, the valor of doing whatever it takes naturally follows. You’re not just working long nights or skipping vacation to further the bottom line, no, no, you’re doing this for the family. Such a blunt emotional appeal is only needed if someone is trying to make you forget about your rational self interest.

You don’t have to pretend to be a family to be courteous. Or kind. Or protective. All those values can be expressed even better in principles, policies, and, most importantly, actions.

Besides, don’t you already have a family or group of friends who feel like blood relations? The modern company isn’t a street gang filled with orphans trying to make it in the tough, tough world. Trying to supplant the family you likely already have is just another way to attempt to put the needs of the company above the needs of your actual family. That’s a sick ploy.

The best companies aren’t families. They’re supporters of families. Allies of families. There to provide healthy, fulfilling work environments so when workers shut their laptops at a reasonable hour, they’re the best husbands, wives, parents, siblings, and children they can be.

Enough

This guy never had enough, is that really you?

The underpinning tenet of chasing exponential growth is that anything less than “all of it” is never enough. If there’s more possible, more out there, then it’s your gawd damn duty to hunt it down and make it yours.

Such a pursuit is undoubtedly exciting in its Napoleonic grandeur. Why stop at making a dent in the universe, if you can bend it whole? Glory awaits only those who stand atop all others.

Or at least so goes the virtue of conquerors. Dominators. WINNERS! It’s what we’re being sold over and over again as The Way. The path to relevance and impact. And who doesn’t want to bathe in those.

But it’s not the only paradigm available for rent. Once you realize that the prevailing narrative of entrepreneurship is a paradigm, and not an immutable natural law, you open your eyes to alternatives. One of which is that of enough.

Big enough. Ambitious enough. Profitable enough.

But how much, exactly, is enough? Well, obviously that depends. What’s easier than trying to pin down a goal a priori is to accept when you’re past it.

That’s where I am right now. At enough. Hell, I’m probably a fair bit north of enough, but like going from darkness to light, it takes a while for your senses to adjust. For ambition to stop running on autopilot. For your stomach to realize its full.

Enough is the opposite of hunger. The counter to paranoia. The antidote to anxiety.

But one thing is to recognize when you reach enough, another is to take its consequences. If things are going well in business, growth happens. And growth can’t help but change and mutate its host. And what luddite creature is against change? It’s the only constant™!

Oh, please. Change can be good, sure, but it so much certainly can also be the opposite. One of the most common changes in a business that grows is the increasing distance between owners and product, owners and customers, owners and employees. The more layers of delegation you stack to cope with growth, the further away you get.

Now some people clearly like that. To be generals in the modern sense of the world, safely placed at a desk far from the front lines. But there’s nothing inherently noble in such a preference.


My personal preference is to only be a general if it can be in the Roman tradition of charging in with the first wave. And I know I’m not alone in that.

The most common reminiscence I hear when talking to entrepreneurs who make it big is about The Early Days. Back when necessity required them to be intimately involved with actually making things with their own hands and head. Not merely as a drop-in supervisor or exclusively as an editor. When they couldn’t just derive strategy and rely on others for the tactics.

Yet in the recount of all these stories, there’s an underlying premise that of course it could not last like that. The inevitable price of success is that you must give up the direct involvement. That ever taller ladders of reporting is unavoidable.

Why? Why is that inevitable? Why is that unavoidable?

One explanation is that if you don’t chase all growth, someone else will, and when they’re finished with what you didn’t pursue, they’ll come back for your slice. Thus the only way to defend yourself is to buff up by gorging the business on whatever it can devour, and then you’ll be safe.

Tell Blackberry or Nokia that. Giants tumble all the time. At the current churn rate, 75% of the S&P 500 will be replaced by 2027. More mass does not protect you from calamity, and often quite the contrary. And even if it doesn’t outright kill the business, it may well render it a shadow of its former self.

The longest lived businesses in the world aren’t the ones that were biggest in their day. Many of them are family firms, or small to mid-sized enterprises content with steady evolvement of their niche. Content with enough.

Bigger isn’t automatically better, and may well simply be more brittle. Bigger risks, bigger dangers, harder falls from grace.

Another explanation is that chasing growth is simply the fiduciary duty of a company, as a means to extract maximum profits out of the enterprise in service of its shareholders.

But here too the objective may well not be best served by getting as big as possible. There’s a long parade of companies that placed growth above all else, got big, then never got to actually extract any profits because the market disappeared or self-inflicted wounds took them down.

Taking profits every year, along the way, insulates owners from ending up as the last, biggest fool to buy a stake before the valuation stops growing.

So this brings us back to answering the question of why is growth inevitable? It won’t guarantee longevity, and it doesn’t promise profits. And aren’t those the two main, economic concerns of a business? To be ongoing and to make money?

When I look at the business Jason, I, and the employees have built in Basecamp, I can easily satisfy those basic, economic demands: We’re still here, we’re still making plenty of money.

Which brings me full circle to why this question fascinates me so much. Having reached a personal fulfillment of enough, having reached a business fulfillment of longevity and profitability, what would I give up to push any of that further? The answer is not much.

In the abstract, it’s easy to rationalize why we should push further still. Basecamp has reached just a small sliver of the addressable market, and there are so many more businesses that could benefit from using it!

So the question is better presented in the form of concrete trade-offs, like, would I double the size of the business, if it required growing from ~50 to ~150 people? No. Would I grow the profits of the company 20%, if it meant having to spend millions of dollars in advertising with companies like Facebook? Again, no.

The freedom of enough is the freedom to say no. No to the expected, no to the conventional, no to the “no brainers”. There’s a deep satisfaction in such “no”s that the lure of future potential just can’t match.

Ultimately, what defines enough is up to you. The paradigm shift is to decide that there is such a point, and that the point is below “all of it”.


Does the idea of having enough and being satisfied with that tickle your fancy? Then you’ll probably enjoy these related essays on the topic, like RECONSIDER and Exponential growth devours and corrupts. Hell, you might even like the product I make, Basecamp.

https://basecamp.com/svn

Uber’s CEO is out because of pressure, not some ethical epiphany from the board


It’s hard to predict exactly how much pressure is needed to affect change, but it’s clear to see when there is enough. And there was finally enough to flush out Uber’s CEO.

But let’s not kid ourselves. Kalanick didn’t get the boot because Uber’s board had some ethical epiphany. They presided over his misdeeds for years. Fat, golden years steered by toxic leadership and fueled by depraved acts.

Now greed has taken a backseat to fear. Fear that the pressure that once seemed so easy to ignore will suddenly drown them all. Flushing out the CEO goes from “impossible to even consider” to “impossible to avoid” in what seems no time at all.

On the board, it probably did look like “life comes at you fast”, but that’s only because they’ve been ignoring a dashboard full of warning lights for years. Blinded by those seventy billion dollar headlights.

When the gravity of the situation finally comes into focus, it’s all FOR GOD’S SAKE, DO SOMETHING! ANYTHING. ALL THE THINGS! RIGHT NOW, NO YESTERDAY! I ACTUALLY WANTED TO DO SOMETHING EARLIER, BUT, BUT, BUT…

No, it isn’t pretty, and it isn’t sincere, but it’s change. That’s what it looks like when the status quo gets a sucker punch from pent-up reality. It wasn’t going to happen any other way.

It’s easy to become jaded in this age of constant, social media outrage. To start thinking that none of it will ever matter. Because it doesn’t, as long as the levies hold. And then the final drop lands, and all of the sudden everything is different.

This is the social equivalent of an overnight success. The one that actually takes ten years to materialize. Uber’s fall didn’t just happen in 2017, it’s been years in the making. Susan Fowler’s expose was just the tipping point.

The important thing to note here is that we don’t actually need Uber’s board to have an ethical epiphany for things to get better. Do you think that United’s CEO suddenly came to realize the prudence of treating his passengers with a modicum of respect because he saw the light? Come on. United, like Uber hopefully will, changed its policies because they felt no choice.

This is how we improve matters. Once the survival of a company, or at least its reputation, hangs in the balance, all sorts of impossible things suddenly become possible.

Pressure works. Every drip counts. Be a drop.

Celebrate the web by using another browser than Google’s Chrome

I like Chrome. It’s a great browser. But it’s not so good that it deserves to be the only browser. And that’s the unfortunate opportunity we, people browsing the web, are opening for Google by so overwhelmingly choosing to use it in face of the alternatives.

And this is what we get by doing so: DirecTV just announced that they’ll be turning their website into a Chrome desktop app on June 1st. They don’t actually say that, but that’s what they mean. You can’t call directvnow.com a website if it only works in a single browser.

You don’t have to be that old to remember the dark days when Internet Explorer strangled the web by its utter domination. When large swaths of the web was only accessible through Redmond. Those were not happy days.

Ironically, it was Google’s Chrome that helped fight back the scourge of Internet Explorer’s monopoly. Well, that plus the utter neglect and contempt Microsoft showed the web in those years after they had cut off the air supply to Netscape. Would you believe they even disbanded their browser team after they had conquered the competition? Yup.

Why on earth would we want to go back to such arid times? Nobody wins when the beancounters at companies like DirecTV can eye the browser market shares and justify turning their back on the open, standards-backed web to embrace a few cents on the dollar supporting only the victor.

But you can stop it. By balancing the browsers, choosing to use not just what’s convenient, but what’s lesser used, you can make the business case for monopoly plays a bad deal. Consider it your civic duty as a fan of the open web.

It’s never been easier on web developers to support evergreen browsers. You no longer have to cover every variation of every flavor. Good browsers update automatically. And good browsers support open standards to a degree a developer in 2005 would have cried to have.

So please, if you’re using Chrome, take a moment to download another browser and incorporating it into your routine. I personally love Safari and use it for the bulk of my browsing (with Chrome as a pair for development). But the good folks at Firefox deserve your usage just as much.

Oh, and if you’re a customer of DirecTV, please tell them what you think about their short-sighted move on Twitter. I hear they just love to get feedback!

Trickle-down workaholism in startups

“And then I said anyone not willing to break their backs working for me was a tourist!”

If you want to understand why so many startups become infected with unhealthy work habits, or outright workaholism, a good place to start your examination is in the attitudes of their venture capital investors.

Consider this Twitter thread involving two famous VCs, Keith Rabois and Mark Suster:


These sentiments are hardly aberrations. There’s an ingrained mythology around startups that not only celebrates burn-out efforts, but damn well requires it. It’s the logical outcome of trying to compress a lifetime’s worth of work into the abbreviated timeline of a venture fund.

It’s not hard to understand why such a mythology serves the interest of money men who spread their bets wide and only succeed when unicorns emerge. Of course they’re going to desire fairytale sacrifices. There’s little to no consequence to them if the many fall by the wayside, spent to completion trying to hit that home run. Make me rich or die tryin’.

The entrepreneurs who sign up for such pressures may have asked for it. If you, knowing their sentiments, ask Rabois or Suster for millions to fund your venture, then you probably should expect to have your vacations, weekends, hobbies, family time, or outings with the kids questioned.

But the pressures don’t stop with the person who signs the term sheet. That shit trickles down. In fact, it’s likely to amplify as it rolls down the hill, like a snowball gathering mass. Because once the millions have cleared, and the headcount has been boosted, it’s usually other people who actually have to make good on those exponential expectations.

The sly entrepreneur seeks to cajole their employees with carrots. Organic, locally-sourced ones, delightfully prepared by a master chef, of course. In the office. Along with all the other pampering and indulgent spoils AT THE OFFICE. The game is to make it appear as though employees choose this life for themselves, that they just love spending all their waking (and in some cases, even sleeping) hours at that damn office.

And if the soma-like inducements don’t work, there’s always the lofty talk about THE MISSION: We’re not just here to capture more attention or steal more privacy in the name of advertising, no, we’re connecting the world! Your single-track life has meaning! All your sacrifices are for a greater good!

Yeah, right.

Not only are these sacrifices statistically overwhelmingly likely to be in vain, they’re also completely disproportionate. The programmer or designer or writer or even manager that gives up their life for a 80+ hour moonshot will comparably-speaking be compensated in bananas, even if their lottery coupon should line up. The lion’s share will go to the Scar and his hyenas, not the monkeys.

Just listen to teacher / I know it sounds sordid but you’ll be rewarded / When at last I am given my dues!

And yet so many continue to go along, because they already went this far. Sunk cost is an easy theoretical concept, but it’s devilishly hard to put in practice. Which is why the yoke of the four-year vesting cliff, the short-exercise window for options, and all the other tricks and techniques employed by cap table-designing masters are so effective. Once the hook is in, the line and the sinker follows easily.

But it will be in spite of prevailing evidence on the power of sleep, recuperation, and sustainable work habits. Whether you’re a top-flight basketball player, like Kobe Bryant, whose off-season work schedule is limited to just six hours per day:

The Kobe Bryant workout routine features a hefty mix of track work, basketball skills and weightlifting. His off-season workout has been called the 666 program because he spends 2 hours running, 2 hours on basketball, and 2 hours weightlifting (for a total of 6 hours a day, six times a week, for six months).

Or his competitor, LeBron James, who frequently gets 12 hours of sleep. Or any of the other star athletes who prioritize their sleep and recuperation as a key component of their performance:

Since athletes need more sleep than average people, eight to 10 hours of zzz’s a night is recommended, and that’s not just before game day — that’s every evening. After all, the more often and more vigorously you use your muscles, the more time it takes for your body to repair and rebuild them. Roger Federer and LeBron James famously snooze for an average of 12 hours a night, while Usain Bolt, Venus Williams, Maria Sharapova, and Steve Nash get up to 10 hours a night. Federer has said, “If I don’t sleep 11 to 12 hours per day, it’s not right.

Or how about prodigious thinkers and writers, like Trollope, Dickens, or Darwin who all sought to complete their work within fixed, modest slices of the day, and then kept the rest for leisure. Here’s Darwin’s routine:

After his morning walk and breakfast, Darwin was in his study by 8 and worked a steady hour and a half. At 9:30 he would read the morning mail and write letters. At 10:30, Darwin returned to more serious work, sometimes moving to his aviary, greenhouse, or one of several other buildings where he conducted his experiments. By noon, he would declare, “I’ve done a good day’s work,” and set out on a long walk on the Sandwalk, a path he had laid out not long after buying Down House. (Part of the Sandwalk ran through land leased to Darwin by the Lubbock family.)

When he returned after an hour or more, Darwin had lunch and answered more letters. At 3 he would retire for a nap; an hour later he would arise, take another walk around the Sandwalk, then return to his study until 5:30, when he would join his wife, Emma, and their family for dinner. On this schedule he wrote 19 books, including technical volumes on climbing plants, barnacles, and other subjects; the controversial Descent of Man; and The Origin of Species, probably the single most famous book in the history of science, and a book that still affects the way we think about nature and ourselves.

Neither these athletes or these writers were giving up anything on whatever contemporaries that may have put in more time, more hours, or greater sacrifices. Their contributions to the world were in no way diminished by their balanced approach, quite the contrary.

So don’t tell me that there’s something uniquely demanding about building yet another fucking startup that dwarfs the accomplishments of The Origin of Species or winning five championship rings. It’s bullshit. Extractive, counterproductive bullshit peddled by people who either need a narrative to explain their personal sacrifices and regrets or who are in a position to treat the lives and wellbeing of others like cannon fodder.

Finally, as way of having my own skin in the game, we’ve been running a wonderfully successful business at Basecamp for some fourteen years now. One profitable since the get-go without demanding the total consumption of life force from the people working here. Neither from Jason nor I, nor from our employees.

Hell, right now, we’re working our four-day summer weeks until the end of August. This while servicing over a hundred thousand paying customers, stewarding Ruby on Rails, writing a new book, and ranting with a fervor against the extractive logic of many a venture capitalist. Forty hours or less has been plenty to do all of that since the beginning, and it’s likely to be plenty for you too.

Workaholism is a disease. We need treatment and coping advice for those afflicted, not cheerleaders for their misery.


If the ways of venture capital has you thinking there’s gotta be another way, then I invite you to read RECONSIDER and Exponential growth devours and corrupts. The alternative path exists.

https://basecamp.com/svn

Paranoia won’t save you in the end


Andy Grove, the former CEO of Intel, implanted paranoia as a virtuous neurosis in a generation of managers with his famous quote: “Only the paranoid survives”.

Since then, it’s been an article of faith amongst much of the business world that you should be working in constant fear and suspicion of the competition, or you just aren’t going to make it. What a tormented way to spend your working hours, always looking over your shoulder.

But hey, Mr Grove grew Intel’s business from nothing to $20 billion over thirty years, so of course we can boil that success down to that one key neurosis: PARANOIA. Right? No. Not right.

In The Halo Effect, Phil Rosenzweig discusses at length how we’re overly prone to attribute all manner of virtue to the things the successful do. As long as we can spin a sorta cohesive narrative, it’ll be compelling on its face due to the blinding light of success. But successful people are wrong all the time about all sorts of important issues.

Steve Jobs may have been the world’s greatest product manager, but he also thought he could cure his pancreatic cancer on a “special diet” and that screaming at people at the office would make them excel. Let’s just say that reasonable people can disagree whether either of those proclivities were wise, productive choices for life and work.

The same way that reasonable people should challenge whether developing a neurosis for paranoia is really going to help them stay or excel in business.

What exactly are you hoping to cultivate through this primal draw? Out-working the competition, by putting in ever more hours? Doesn’t work. Productivity and creativity craters on long-term overwork. Forcing yourself to make an even better product? Well, why aren’t you already trying to do that? Stressing about what the competition is doing that you can’t change anyway? For what?

For everyone Mr Grove and Intel convinced they survived on paranoia, there are millions of other business thriving on simply making the best product they know how and selling it at a fair price. Most markets aren’t the winner-take-all slugfests of microprocessors. Not every competitor is an existential threat, and, even when they are, you’re better off just focusing on your own work. Trying to copy or defend against what the competition is doing is going to put you on the back foot anyway.

Besides, even the paranoid ends up relegated to history soon enough. Intel is now a shadow of its former imperial glory. It no longer sets the tone in computing, ARM processors in mobile do. Sure, they’re still a mighty and profitable enterprise, but paranoia couldn’t save their crown. And it won’t save yours either.

Don’t subject your life’s work to paranoia. It’s just going to cause you stress and anguish over things you mostly can’t change. Double down on making the very best product or service that you can instead. Be inspired by competitors who do certain things better, don’t dread them. If they truly have a purely superior offering, they’re going to win regardless of what you do or didn’t do. Just ask Intel.


Paranoia isn’t the only affliction causing things to get crazy at work. Jason and I are working on a new book that seeks to diagnose the lot of them and prescribe better ways of thinking about work. You deserve a calm company.

What did you learn at work today?


Automatic check-ins is one of my favorite features in the new Basecamp 3. We have a bunch of them. Some social, like What are you reading? or What did you do this weekend?, others practical, like What will you be working on this week?

The magic of these check-ins is two-fold. First, it almost completes nixes the need for those awful status meetings. Second, it allows everyone to keep a diary of their thoughts, interests, and work.

Before Basecamp, I worked at a few other tech companies where I went to an office and worked with colleagues in-person. I knew most of those coworkers far less well than I do the ones I work remotely with at Basecamp. And these check-ins (and our manual hodpodge before making it a feature in Basecamp) are a key reason.

I also really enjoy the check-ins as a personal practice to review my week and how I end up spending my time. As well as having an opportunity to explain that work, those challenges, to the rest of the team at Basecamp. We’re 51 people now at Basecamp, and there are plenty of people working here that I don’t get to talk to every week. But I kinda feel like I do to some extent via these updates.

Anyway, here’s a taste of the last three days of my answers to that What did you work on today? question. This was a week blessed with a lot of technical work, including a new recyclable cache key approach for Rails 5.2, and some work on The Calm Company.