We’ve refreshed our policies

Spring is emerging in the US and as part of our company spring cleaning, we took a peek at our product policies, noticed some cobwebs, and got out the duster.

You can read our current product policies here. Besides rewriting sections to be more readable, we made four substantive changes:

1. We’ve consolidated our policies across all products owned and maintained by Basecamp, LLC.
That includes all versions of Basecamp, Highrise, Campfire, Backpack, and the upcoming HEY. This change mostly affects our legacy application customers, bringing their (stale) terms and privacy policies up-to-date.

2. We’ve added more details to our privacy policy.
Our customers deserve to be able to easily and clearly understand what data we collect and why. We’ve restructured and fleshed out our privacy policy to do just that, while also adding more details on your rights with regard to your information. Just as important are the things that haven’t changed: that we take the privacy of your data seriously; that we do not, have not, and never will sell your data; and that we take care to not collect sensitive data that aren’t necessary.

3. We’ve introduced a Use Restrictions policy. We are proud to help our customers do their best work. We also recognize that technology is an amplifier: it can enable the helpful and the harmful. There are some purposes we staunchly stand against. Our Use Restrictions policy fleshes out what used to be a fairly vague clause in our Terms of Service, clearly describing what we consider abusive usage of our products. In addition, we outline how we investigate and resolve abusive usage, including the principles of human oversight, balanced responsibilities, and focus on evidence that guide us in investigations.

4. We’ve adjusted how you can find out about policy changes.
In 2018, we open-sourced our policies by publishing them as a public repository on Github. One of the nice things about this repository is it tracks all the revisions we make in our policies so you can see what changed, when, and why. For instance, you can see every change we made to our policies in this refresh. You can also decide whether you want to get an email notification when changes are made by watching the repository. We’ll also be announcing any substantive changes here on SvN; if you prefer email updates, you can subscribe here.

As always, customers can always reach us at support@basecamp.com with questions or suggestions about our policies. You can also open an issue in our policies repository if you’d like to contribute! 

The Majestic Monolith can become The Citadel

The vast majority of web applications should start life as a Majestic Monolith: A single codebase that does everything the application needs to do. This is in contrast to a constellation of services, whether micro or macro, that tries to carve up the application into little islands each doing a piece of the overall work.

And the vast majority of web applications will continue to be served well by The Majestic Monolith for their entire lifespan. The limits upon which this pattern is constrained are high. Much higher than most people like to imagine when they fantasize about being capital-a Architects.

But. Even so, there may well come a day when The Majestic Monolith needs a little help. Maybe you’re dealing with very large teams that constantly have people tripping over each other (although, bear in mind that many very large organizations use the monorepo pattern!). Or you end up having performance or availability issues under extreme load that can’t be resolved easily within the confines of The Majestic Monolith’s technology choices. Your first instinct should be to improve the Majestic Monolith until it can cope, but, having done that and failed, you may look to the next step.

Keep reading “The Majestic Monolith can become The Citadel”

Why HEY had to wait

We had originally planned to release HEY, our new email service, in April. There was the final cycle to finish the features, there was a company meetup planned for the end of the month to celebrate together, we’d been capacity testing extensively, and the first step of a marketing campaign was already under way.

But then the world caught a virus. And suddenly it got pretty hard to stay excited about a brand new product. Not because that product wasn’t exciting, but because its significance was dwarfed by world events.

A lack of excitement, though, you could push through. The prospect of a stressful launch alongside the reality of a stressful life? No.

That’s not because we weren’t ready to work remotely. That we had to scramble to find new habits or tools to be productive. We’ve worked remotely for the past twenty years. We wrote a book on working remotely. Basecamp is a through and through remote company (and an all-in-one toolkit for remote work!).

But what’s going on right now is about more than just whether work can happen, but to which degree it should. We’re fortunate to work in software where the show doesn’t have to stop, like is the case in many other industries, but the show shouldn’t just carry on like nothing happened either.

About half the people who work at Basecamp have kids. They’re all at home now. Finding a new rhythm with remote learning, more cramped quarters, more tension from cooped-up siblings. You can’t put in 100% at work when life asks for 150%. Some things gotta give, and that something, for us, had to be HEY.

And it’s not like life is daisies even if you don’t have kids. This is a really stressful time, and it’s our obligation at Basecamp to help everyone get through that the best we can. Launching a new product in the midst of that just wasn’t the responsible thing to do, so we won’t.

Remember, almost all deadlines are made up. You can change your mind when the world changes around you.

HEY is going to launch when the world’s got a handle on this virus. When we either find a new normal, living within long-running restrictions, or we find a way to beat this thing. We’re not going to put a date on that, because nobody knows when that might be. And we’re not going to pretend that we do either.

In the meantime, we’ll keep making HEY better. We’re also going to put in time to level up Basecamp in a number of significant ways that have long been requested. The work doesn’t stop, it just bends.

If you wrote us an email to iwant@hey.com, you’re on the list, and we’ll let that list know as soon as we open up. If you think you might be interested in a better email experience when that’s something we all have the mental space to think about again, please do send us a story about how you feel about email to iwant@hey.com.

Stay home, stay safe!

Working remotely builds organizational resiliency

For many, moving from everyone’s-working-from-the-office to everyone’s-working-at-home isn’t so much a transition as it is a scramble. A very how the fuck? moment.

That’s natural. And people need time to figure it out. So if you’re in a leadership position, bake in time. You can’t expect people to hit the ground running when everything’s different. Yes, the scheduled show must go on, but for now it’s live TV and it’s running long. Everything else is bumped out.

This also isn’t a time to try to simulate the office. Working from home is not working from the office. Working remotely is not working locally. Don’t try to make one the other. If you have meetings all day at the office, don’t simply simulate those meetings via video. This is an opportunity not to have those meetings. Write it up instead, disseminate the information that way. Let people absorb it on their own time. Protect their time and attention. Improve the way you communicate.

Ultimately this major upheaval is an opportunity. This is a chance for your company, your teams, and individuals to learn a new skill. Working remotely is a skill. When this is all over, everyone should have a new skill.

Being able to do the same work in a different way is a skill. Being able to take two paths instead of one builds resiliency. Resiliency is a super power. Being more adaptable is valuable.

This is a chance for companies to become more resilient. To build freedom from worry. Freedom from worry that without an office, without those daily meetings, without all that face-to-face that the show can’t go on. Or that it can’t work as well. Get remote right, build this new resiliency, and not only can remote work work, it’ll prove to work better than the way you worked before.

Live Q&A on remote working, working from home, and running a business remotely

In this livesteam, David and I answer audience questions about how to work remotely. At Basecamp we’ve been working remotely for nearly 20 years, so we have a lot of experience to share. This nearly 2-hour video goes into great detail on a wide variety of topics. Highly recommended if you’re trying to figure out how to work remotely.

A live tour of how Basecamp uses Basecamp to run Basecamp

David and I spent nearly 2-hours giving a livestream tour of our very own Basecamp account. We wanted to show you how Basecamp uses Basecamp to run projects, communicate internally, share announcements, know what everyone’s working on, build software, keep up socially, and a whole bunch more. Our entire company runs on Basecamp, and this video shows you how.

Remote Working: The home office desks of Basecamp

People are always curious about work-from-home (WFH), remote working setups. So, I posted a Basecamp message asking our employees to share a photo of their home office, desk, table, whatever. Here’s what came in.

First, the ask:

And the answers, in the order they came in:

Keep reading “Remote Working: The home office desks of Basecamp”

How we acquired HEY.com

Back on June 9, 2018, I cold emailed help@hey.com:

Hey there

Curious… Would you entertain an offer to sell hey.com? I'd like to use it for something I'm working on, and willing to make you a strong offer.

Let me know. Thanks!

-Jason

And that’s where it all began.

For the 25+ years I’ve been emailing, I’d say close to 95% of those email began with some variation of “Hey [Name]”. So when it came time to think about a name for a new email system we’d be building, HEY was a natural.

Further, the “Hey!” menu in Basecamp 3 holds your notifications for new messages, chats, to-do assignments, automatic check-in prompts, boost summaries, and the like. So we already had some prior art on Hey being a place for communication.

But hey.com – that would be an amazing email address, and, we rightly assumed, hard to get. But what the hell – if you don’t ask you don’t get, so I sent the email, crossed my fingers, and waited.

The same day I emailed, June 9, 2018, he replied. Turns out we’d actually talked before on This Week in Tech, way back when. This was his first email back to me:

Hi Jason:

Thanks for reaching out, I've always respected your business accomplishments and your writing. You may not remember but we spoke briefly a couple of times when I was at TWiT.

As you might imagine, I've gotten a number of offers and inquiries about HEY.com over the years. Usually I ignore them, but very happy to chat with you about this or any other topic. I'm on cell at ###-###-####.

Thanks!

Dane

So we set up a call and had a nice chat. Really nice guy. A few days later, I made an offer.

He said no.

So I countered.

He said no.

We were clearly way off. And the momentum went cold. He decided he wasn’t ready to sell. I thanked him for the opportunity and said let’s stay in touch.

Then on August 19, 2019, well over a year after my initial outreach, he wrote me back.

Hi Jason:

Not sure if you're still interested in Hey.com, but I'm in the process of vetting what appears to be a serious inquiry to buy it. The numbers being discussed are notably higher than what you mentioned previously. Given your previous offer I'm thinking you probably won't be interested, but I appreciated your approach and also what you've done for the industry, so I thought I'd let you know as a courtesy.

We caught up via Zoom a few days later, discussed again, and I made another offer. This time significantly higher than our original offer. It was a nervous amount of money.

Things were beginning to heat up, but there was no deal yet. I completely understood – he owned this domain for a long time, and he wasn’t a squatter. Dane used hey.com for his business. It was part of his identity. It was a valuable asset. He needed time to think it through.

We traded a number of other emails, and then I upped the offer a little bit more on September 18, 2019.

A few days later we’d verbally agreed to move forward on an all-cash deal with a number of stipulations, conditions, etc. All were perfectly reasonable, so we asked him to prepare a contract.

There were a few small back and forths, but we essentially accepted his contract and terms as is. We wired the money into escrow, we waited for some Google mail transfer stuff to finish up, and on November 20th, 2019 the domain was officially transferred over into our ownership. Funds were released to escrow, and the deal was done.

This was a long 18 month process, and there was uncertainty at every step. We’d never bought a domain like this, he’d never sold a domain like this. There’s a lot of trust required on all sides. And more than money, hey.com was important to him. And who he sold it to was important to him as well.

But it was truly a pleasure to work with him. Dane was fair, thoughtful, patient, and accommodating. And for that we’re grateful. Business deals like this can get messy, but this one was clean and straightforward. Kudos to him and his lawyer for their diligence and clear communication.

All in we traded 60+ emails over the course of the deal. Toss in a few zoom calls as well.

So that’s the story of how we acquired hey.com. One cold email to kick it off, no domain brokers or middlemen, and a lot of patience and understanding on both sides.

Wait how much was it? I know everyone wants to know, but we can’t say. Both sides are bound by a non-disclosure around the final purchase price. You’ll just have to guess.

As for Dane, he relaunched his brand under a new name. You can check him out at VidiUp.tv.

As for us, this April we’ll be launching our brand new email serviced called HEY at hey.com.

Note: This post was cleared with Dane prior to publishing, so he’s cool with me sharing his name, the story, and the name of his new company.

Keep digging

I’m reviewing transcripts from interviews we did with customers last year and came across a nice example of interview technique.

The hardest thing about customer interviews is knowing where to dig. An effective interview is more like a friendly interrogation. We don’t want to learn what customers think about the product, or what they like or dislike — we want to know what happened and how they chose. What was the chain of cause and effect that made them decide to use Basecamp? To get those answers we can’t just ask surface questions, we have to keep digging back behind the answers to find out what really happened.

Here’s a small example.

Doris (name changed) works in the office at a construction company. She had “looked for a way to have everything [about their projects] compiled in one area” for a long time. All the construction-specific software she tried was too “in depth.” She gave up her search. Some months later, she and her co-worker tried some software outside the construction domain: Monday and Click-Up.

I asked: How did you get to these options?

She said she and her co-worker did Google searches.

I asked: Why start searching again? You tried looking for software a few months before. What happened to make you look again?

She said they had quite a few new employees. And “needed a place for everything to be.”

That sounds reasonable enough. We could have moved on and started talking about how she got to Basecamp. But instead of accepting that answer, I kept digging.

Ok so you hired more employees. Why not just keep doing things the same way?

“It was an outdated system. It’s all paper based. And this isn’t a paper world.”

We have our answer, right? “Paper based” is the problem. No, not yet. That answer doesn’t tell us enough about what to do.

As designers that’s what we need to know. We need to understand the problem enough to actually decide what specifically to build. “Paper based” sounds like a problem, but what does it tell us? If we had to design a software fix for her right now, where would we start? What would we leave out? How would we know when we made the situation better enough to stop and move on to something else?

So I asked one of my favorite questions:

What was happening that showed you the way you were doing things wasn’t working anymore?

This question is extremely targeted and causal. It’s a very simple question that invites her to describe the problem in a way that is hard, factual, time-bound, contextual, and specific — without any analysis, interpretation, speculation or rationalization. Just: What happened. What did you see. What was wrong.

“The guys would just come ask for the same information over and over again. And it was taking up time for me. . . . They shouldn’t have to ask me some of these questions. You get asked 20, 30 stupid questions and try to go back to something you have to pay attention to . . . you’re working numbers and money you need to be paying attention to what you’re doing.”

Aha. Now we’re getting somewhere. She holds all the information. The guys in the field need the information. She needs to give them access to the information so they can look it up themselves. Then she’ll stop getting interrupted and she can focus on her own work.

This dramatically narrows down the supply side and begins to paint the outlines of actionable design requirements.

I check to see if I understand the causality here.

Was the number of interruptions worse after you hired more people?

“Oh yeah, absolutely.”

Because we kept digging for causality, we got to an understanding of the situation — what caused it, what went wrong, what progress meant to her, and why she was saying “yes” and “no” to different options as she evaluated them.

For more on this interview approach I recommend checking out Competing Against Luck by Clay Christensen.

The books I read in 2019

Here are all my extracted answers from our monthly Basecamp check-in question of What are you reading? for 2019. (See also my answers from 2016, 2017, and 2018).

The Sane Society
Another Fromm tome! This one starts from the premise of evaluating the different social characters of various societies. But not from the abstract, pretend objectiveness of “everything is equal; everything is just different”, but from a bold perspective of “some societies truly do better than others at promoting human health and flourish. That’s potentially a dynamite perspective, but Fromm handles it with utter grace and respect.

I particularly enjoyed the concept of mental illness or malaise as an act of rebellion against societal pressures and norms. Particularly the refutation that “the sane person” is whoever is performing their productive function in society. Yeah, fuck that.

I also really liked the depiction of a country’s social character to be an expression of what that society thought it needed. A German reputation for stinginess/savings as virtuous? A reflection of what the country needed in order to rebuild after 20th century devastation. It’s a fascinating recast of “stereotype” as something intellectually productive, and not just lazy othering.

Keep reading “The books I read in 2019”