Not too proud to ask

I hear from people all the time who’ve been following this blog, read our books, been loving Rails, become impressed by a job post, or been inspired by a conference talk we’ve given. It’s intensely gratifying to hear how something you put into this world has had a chance to affect someone. Especially when the impact was large enough to open up a novel perspective or prompt real change. It warms.

But it also disappoints when I ask whether the person has tried Basecamp and the answer is “oh, I haven’t, we use [some assortment of big tech / valley combination] – hadn’t even thought about it”. Though the disappointment is not so much in the person as in ourselves. We’ve failed to do the work; failed to draw the connection.

Part of it is the lazy assumption that since you’ve been around for a long time, then of course people who like your philosophy or perspective would know what you make, and would have given it a try. We’ve been making Basecamp for over 15 years, so that erroneous assumption has had a long time to fester.

But that’s not how it works. If you want people to give your product a chance, you gotta ask them. Most companies do this via marketing budgets. They ask a bunch of strangers to try their product that they’ve targeted through the mechanisms of surveillance capitalism. We’ve historically been pretty hands off on ad spend, and remain staunchly opposed to invasive ad targeting.

What we’ve done instead is rely on the goodwill and word of mouth that making, sharing, and teaching affords. And it’s worked well, but it isn’t automatic. You have to activate that goodwill, if you want it to translate into sales that sustain all that making, sharing, and teaching. I don’t think we’ve done a great job at that lately. We’ve taken it for granted.

But how do you ask people who might not be your friends, but don’t feel like strangers either, if they’d try your product? Not just once five years ago, but regularly, without coming off as an annoying, self-promoting shill? I think that’s still largely an open question, but I’m really interested in trying to find the answers.

While we search, though, I thought I’d just remind myself to keep it simple and to keep it direct. So I’m not too proud to ask: Have you given Basecamp a try recently? If you like how we think about work, culture, and people, I think you’re going to like how we make software too. We’ve poured all of us into Basecamp. It would mean a lot if you’d give it a try ❤️

27 thoughts on “Not too proud to ask

  1. I’ve tried and failed to introduce Basecamp at different firms. The reason had nothing at all to do with the software.

    It had everything to do with change, growth, learning and ergonomics. They didn’t want it. And they didn’t even know why they didn’t want it.

    I erroneously thought that the software would be a great way to push for change. But that was naive.

    The question to you is, did you need them? Do you need people who don’t get it?

    1. I even lent by boss my copy of Rework. “Yeah, it’s nice, if you’re a startup …”

    2. We most certainly don’t need everyone. Basecamp is not here to conquer the entire market or capture all the customers. We’re more than happy to sell to people who like what we have to offer. I’m just reminding myself (and others) that you can’t tell if you like something or not without giving it a try 😄

      Thanks for your advocacy ❤️

  2. I have used basecamp in the past (2011-2013). I also remember a significant UI shift around that time, and my team not being too fond of changes (*see countless facebook timeline uproar).

    Then went on to open a business that did not have PM needs and falling off the product. Lately, I’ve been using Asana extensively on different projects. Not going to lie, I like Asana. The basic account lets you do enough for a while, and as the project grows, you can switch to a premium account and get a nice feature set.

    That being said, I will give it a go again. Big fan of everything that stems out of your team, it’s a no-brainer to give you the benefit of the doubt.

  3. We’ve been using it for a long time. Nearly 10 years at this point. While there’s a lot to love I’m afraid it’s missing something. At times I’m thankful that it’s bound by your philosophy, but more often it’s frustrating. I believe it comes down to flexibility as we feel forced to adjust to it. We’ve spent countless hours finding creative ways to work around it’s rigid ways. Maybe those are design decisions, maybe it’s philosophy, maybe both?

    We’ll continue to use it as there’s nothing better out there, but that doesn’t mean I can’t hope for more.

    1. Software is never done! Thanks so much for your incredible patronage for such a long time ❤️

    2. Matt: I’d love to hear about your workarounds. If you’re interested in sharing, write me at ryan at basecamp dot com.

  4. I’m a long-time user of Basecamp, since 2007 if I remember well.
    When I look at the number of users of Basecamp on your site, I see a very successful company. And maybe part of this success is the approach you have with your subdued marketing. I know Basecamp is not for everyone; we even use other tools that we feel are better for other tasks, like Asana for to-dos.

  5. Like Jonathan, I’ve been wanting to use Basecamp in places where I worked, for implementing a different way to work, as a lever to firm up the culture.

    Early on though, I caught on that a team chooses a tool which answers a job-to-be-done, and selling a solution before its time was a waste of effort.

    It helped me a lot when you guys shared what you learned by interviewing your customers over the years. I stopped pushing the product for “culture change” when I learned, for example, that Basecamp was “hired” when a team went from three to four and struggled to know where to find project stuff. Or how Basecamp was hired when a team was an organizational blame target and needed to “cover its ass”.

    If you guys want to help the believers, why not help highlight:

    1) more of these anecdotes where Basecamp was hired, especially by a trend-setter and;
    2) when to hold ’em, when to fold ’em, and when it’s a good time to make the pitch.

    How about that?

  6. On “how do you ask people who might not be your friends, but don’t feel like strangers either, if they’d try your product?”

    How much one-on-one, personal outreach do you guys do?

    I think there’s a big distinction between surveillance capitalism, ad targeting etc. and thoughtful, personal communication with a targeted audience.

    Many startups have teams reaching out to their target audience such as users of competing products. Some spam, many do it very badly… but Basecamp with all the credibility you’ve built over the years could have better results with a more personal approach.

  7. Sounds like a great interview question for your Head of Marketing candidates!😉

  8. My guess is there are perhaps three things at play:

    * Those who know Basecamp might assume they need all the bells and whistles of an Asana just because they want “all the options”. I found my last team just found all the extra steps a pain to input, and it required more ramp up time.

    * Those who know about Basecamp might think it hasn’t evolved much from the last time they used it years ago because they haven’t really heard or seen anything.

    * Some new marketing teams haven’t actually heard of Basecamp because other project management software solutions are more prevalent on their social media feeds and they look shiny/new.

    Sometimes a slight tweak in branding and a reminder on the new UI might help people give Basecamp another test drive. Why do your current users love it so much (I assume the simplicity and the fact that you can get set up and running in a few minutes with little overhead/training)? Emphasize that.

    I also think you should show off and remind people the easy Basecamp UI by having those product shots more prominently on the homepage. A few other competitors have their product shots right on their homepage, so if I’m in a rush and just need to find a solution I’m going to start with what I can easily see.

    I also think it needs to be super clear who Basecamp DOES work for and who it does not. Teams that are looking for x, y and z will be entirely very happy with Baseamp. If you really need to know a, b and c then you can look at other solutions. We actually might have outgrown our Basecamp implementation but were holding onto it just because it worked so darn well.

  9. Not only have I tried it; I sorta got deeply-sold on the richness of the philosophy fueling the software and how it operates.

    Only 3 months after becoming a customer (December 2016), I told our peeps WHY we use it: https://youtu.be/REf_u8DPNXc

    Since then, I’ve come to KNOW (not just believe, but ‘know’ with conviction) how the sum of Basecamp’s components are a powerful toolset that fosters leverage in work.

    That is part and parcel to why I adore Basecamp and its culture. The way I’ve always viewed it from a 300 foot perspective is like this: you guys honor the mantra: ‘Manage Things, Lead People.’ (not vice-versa).

    The very setup of the software nearly automates the first part of that. In other words, it makes room for leaders to focus on getting the best from collaborations and communication with colleagues.

    A pre-July 4th toast to self-reliance and technology that ignites simplicity in executing creative work-flow.

  10. I use Basecamp for three years now, and I like it a lot. I love it because of its brutal simplicity, which reminds me to do not make a mess around my projects.

    But I agree that sometimes it takes a bit of time to create some workarounds according to specific needs.

  11. I have! I am currently admin of one Basecamp subscription and a user of 2 others. We love it! I love it!

  12. I recently tried it and it rocks with regards to project management but more so with team collaboration! There are many things like some listed here (people fearing change) that might prevent someone from trying or using it enough. I personally think sometimes info overload is a big one. I thought of a friend of mine who owns a small business and personally can’t see her taking few minutes to find this let alone try it. She’s pretty heads down. So it might take a combination of different things to reach folks. I already heard great information on this single blog and that was a simple thing to post. Good luck!

    (Side note: I am having lunch with my friend soon and will chat with her about trying Basecamp.)

  13. As a long time fan of your company, I must admit I don’t necessarily like your product strategy decisions (which result in us using other project management tools for building our own products).

    For sure, scratching your own itch is really powerful. You can deeply understand the problem your product solves by covering your own use case. However, it works only if your company is similar to your customers – but Basecamp is pretty unique.

    I don’t know many firms where most teams are no bigger than 3 people. Usually it’s more (5-10), and these teams often work with other teams, too. Also, these teams use many different apps (for lots of reasonable reasons) apart from project management software. And here’s where Basecamp falls short.

    You lack integrations with other apps (Slack, Google Calendar, Trello, Jira and more). For example, you advertise your own Campfire chat instead of Slack. However, in most companies I know, Slack is so connected with other internal tools (monitoring, metrics, lots of custom scripts) that they won’t get rid of it. So Basecamp is rejected not because of the Basecamp app itself, but rather because it doesn’t like Slack.

    Same goes with Google Calendar. I feel that you force users to use your own solution which often does not make sense. The calendar itself is such an important app that it must be connected with other tools like Zoom or Calendly. Your calendar isn’t, so people don’t want it.

    Maybe what I’ve mentioned is a direction you deliberately chose. Maybe you don’t want to offer a product for companies that lead more hectic lives than Basecamp the company. But maybe it’s worth considering if you didn’t place the boundary too far.

    Cheers!

  14. I come at this from a different angle. I started my career in sales, then learned to code in Ruby and then discovered Rails.

    When I was lucky enough to join a company and get the opportunity to build for them, I was so proud when something I had built got used by a customer to solve a problem or make their life easier. When people were happy to pay for that, that level of pride was taken to another level.

    One thing I never understood in software was people’s reluctance to ask people to try or buy their product. I think there was an association that if you had to ‘sell it’ it wasn’t good enough. It had to sell itself.

    Sales has never been about persuading people to buy what they didn’t want. It’s always been about showing people you have something that can solve their problem. Only movies and people trying to sell you books will tell you otherwise.

    You have to be fair to people. Their lives are hectic and they are bombarded with messages and clutter every day. If you have something that you genuinely feel could make their life better but you don’t want to tell anyone about it, you are actually just making things more difficult for them.

    If you have something that you feel can help someone, tell them about it. I genuinely believe this. It’s just about the approach and tact you take to it.

    Also, I’ve used Basecamp and I think it’s great.

  15. I have used all interations of Basecamp at various times. I have always tried to get my workplaces to use it, not usually to much success. Currently I work for a govt agency and they trying to introduce MS Teams, it really highlights how much better Basecamp is and could be in our organisation.
    I think the biggest issue, which is very sad to me, is that people don’t or want to change. change is life!

    Ps… only thing missing for me is some spreadsheet functionality.

  16. Hi,

    Below are two links that pop up, when you do a simple Google Search:
    (a) Asana vs. Basecamp, a review – major conclusion: Asana is more powerful (https://www.cloudwards.net/asana-vs-basecamp/);
    (b) Intended audience of ~30 PM solutions – major conclusion: Basecamp is for small and medium enterprises (https://www.betterbuys.com/project-management/).

    Perhaps Basecamp should invest more in their R&D? The new Lambo, however, is much more rewarding though. But, probably, Luna is simply better that Ruby on Rails

  17. Somehow in 2019 one still has to recommend software carefully to avoid looking like an axe-grinder in a typical company. Basecamp is popular, and people are used to working in web-based software all day because it’s there, but the idea that good software helps people communicate and work better is still frightening if expressed plainly in a meeting. It just shows how much this blog and books like yours are needed!

  18. I think you are a genius and I admire your ways of thinking.

    That said, I’d love to discuss with you various ways to reach your target audience without being invasive. I don’t see the downside of using demographics and behavioral data to put an extremely helpful product like Basecamp in front of the people most likely to benefit from the product. Tasteful account-based marketing can be very effective. Using basic data to target those with a high propensity to buy will not only allow more people to benefit from Basecamp, but it will prevent those who have no need for your product from being bothered with information on Basecamp.

    I agree that companies abusing user data should not be utilized in the process.

  19. I just discovered that my basecamp2 account is still working! I abandoned it a long long time ago.

    I am not a big fan of expiring trials. With time trial you get a snapshot of the features and then you are cut off from a developing product. If some feature was missing or did not work as expected it is pretty much puts a fat cross on the future of the product. Even if missing feature is added later chances are next to nil that someone will go through the trouble of requesting another trial.

    Some companies offer free accounts as means of trial. It does not look like a sound business practice at first but it makes sense if done right.
    Most of those free accounts have features restrictions. This is really silly. A better approach would be to let free users use all features but on a somewhat small set of data entries. And set an expiration date on free accounts so users need to visit a dedicated page to renew account once in a while. This gets rid of abandoned accounts quickly, and also gives an opportunity for upselling and teaching about new features.

    Another option is to sell a very cheap option instead of giving accounts for free. Basecamp is something people can use to organize their digital life at home but at $1200 per year it is not a starter.

    In my opinion Atlassian struck gold when they offered licenses for their products for $10 per year for small teams. Of course they barely have any expenses since it is only a license; those licenses are pretty much free money for them and a source of champions to get Atlassian products into the door. Our company uses a lot of Atlassian products that started as $10 per license trial.

    Online services are a little bit more complicated because there are expenses involved to maintain accounts. You can offer a very cheap full featured accounts with a data set restrictions as above free accounts. And with price that makes sense for a really tiny family sized team.

    Here is an example how it works. We use much hated Jira at work, and I always look at alternatives despite knowing my boss will not jump the ship. There are two project management tools; one that I like because I know it quite well and another one is a very noisy and popular on Internet. First tool offers a free account that needs to be renewed once a quarter. I don’t really use account but when I get a message from them about a new feature or change I go and test it out. I don’t use their product but I can sell it. Noisy product has a two weeks trial and then you have to pay. I looked at it a year ago; it was not completely baked yet and some features were missing. Make a guess what product I will recommend if I have to make decision today?

  20. I tried it a few weeks ago. But as I used it to organise small, private projects like parties, birthdays, trips etc. only, the 99 USD was too expensive for me. So I stopped after the trial period.

  21. Hi:
    I used Basecamp in the past and liked it a lot. Now I am self-employed, and work on small project teams but the minimum is $100 per month. This is too high a price point.

    1. Same here, I used Basecamp since the very early versions of it, like from 2007. I would love to have a cheaper version for my gigs, but can’t afford $100/m.

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