For years people have asked us how we work at Basecamp. We’ve shared our business and development philosophies in Getting Real, REWORK, and REMOTE, but we’ve never lifted the veil on our unusual work methods.
What does our day-to-day look like? How do we organize and manage work? How do we communicate across the company? How do teams coordinate? How do we gather ideas, consider feedback, break work into digestible chunks, build, and deliver?
We’ll share everything behind the scenes. We’ll show you how we use Basecamp to run Basecamp. Everything will be exposed. After this workshop you’ll have a new perspective on how people can work together, how and when to communicate this way vs that way, and how keeping everything together in one place is the secret to a few small teams making some really big things.
None of this has been shared in an interactive setting like this before. The workshop will be held in the theater in our headquarters in Chicago, IL. Only 25 seats will be available, so don’t miss out: Buy your ticket here.
UPDATE: The event has sold out. The plan is to do these often, and eventually make this material available online for anyone to watch. Stay tuned to our Twitter feed at twitter.com/basecamp for announcements of future events.
“Just be yourself!” is commonly served as encouragement for people facing challenges in life. Whether that be in personal relationships or job hunts or speaking at a conference. If you’re already the perfect person, that’s sound advice. If not, it’s worth closer examination.
Whoever you happen to be right now, at this very moment, is highly unlikely to be the person you ultimately want to be. Maybe you occasionally have a short temper. Maybe you don’t know as much about programming or speaking at conferences as you’d like to. Maybe you procrastinate too much.
Whatever it is, you could probably stand to be more like other people in a bunch of areas. Being content merely being “you”, and whatever incremental iteration on that concept you can scrape together, is a sigh of resignation.
This is where the power of envy comes in. As emotions go, envy doesn’t exactly have much popular support. I mean, when you make it onto the list of the seven deadly sins, it’s probably best something to steer clear of, right? I say wrong.
Envy is a useful jolt of motivation to be more like someone else. Better, smarter, wiser, hell, even prettier and richer (oh, the horror 💀!). All attributes that can be refined through your own actions. You can learn new skills, you can read more, you can work out, you can save money.
I’m not the same person I was 20 years ago. Thankfully! I decided early that there was nothing so special about this happenstance of personality traits, skills, and knowledge I had acquired by age 16. Not only that, I reveled in the fact that there were lots of people that were downright better than me at all sorts of things. Things I wanted to be better at. They provided a clear template to first emulate, then adopt from. In other words, I was envious.
I remember attending JAOO 2003, a programming conference in Denmark, and seeing Kent Beck talk about Extreme Programming. Not only was the subject matter interesting, but even more so the manner Kent delivered it. I felt deeply envious at his excellent delivery and vowed to be more like Kent. To study and emulate him until I had become more Kent than me (at that time) at delivering a convincing argument on stage.
At the end of 2015, we launched an account switching feature in the Basecamp 3 Android app. On the surface it’s a pretty basic feature — if you’re part of more than one account, you can just tap a menu and flip over to another account.
This feature met all the criteria our team looks for when picking new work to start: it was something customers wanted, it was something we wanted, and it seemed shippable within a two week budget.
The result: We shipped a great version of the account switcher. Success!
The fine print:It took us six weeks to ship. We completely blew the budget and deadline. 😭
What happened? How did we balloon from two weeks to six weeks? And how can we call this a success?!
The Problem: We Didn’t Have All The Information
As many programmers have (rather painfully) experienced, we didn’t have all the information up front. When we originally budgeted two weeks worth of time, we assumed that our foundational code was solid enough to keep building on.
That assumption was wrong.
Over time and in the natural rush leading into launch, some things slipped. Our code wasn’t quite as organized as it used to be. AsyncTasks were making our code hard to read, and even harder to maintain. Our local data storage scheme was hard to use. Somehow four different authentication paths got bolted on. Our unit test coverage wasn’t as robust as it should have been.
But none of that was obvious during week one of building this feature. Or even week two. Or even week three. You get the picture.
The Real Measure Of Success: Laying The Groundwork
Sam Stephenson, a programmer at Basecamp and one of the smartest people I’ve ever met, said it best:
Then, instead of solving the problem with an ad-hoc, one-off change, lay the groundwork for a general system that facilitates the specific change you want to make.
That, in a nutshell, explains how our two week feature turned into a six week mini-project. And it’s why we absolutely classify this venture as a success.
We ripped out AsyncTasks and replaced them with Android Priority Job Queue. We rewrote our entire data storage system. We cleaned up our authentication code. We wrote new tests and improved others. We did a bunch of things that would take too long to list here. We did everything we could to improve our general systems for future work. (And oh yeah, we wrote all the new code to make switching accounts work too!)
In short, our team recognized the incredible value in doing things the right way, not the fast way. We knew that rewriting, refactoring, and reorganizing large chunks of our codebase was a worthwhile effort to give us a more solid foundation going into 2016.
Yeah, we could have shipped thisfeature in two weeks. But it was far more important to lay a solid groundwork in six weeks. We respect our deadlines, but we respect the quality of our work much more.
What Did We Learn?
Even though we were happy with the end result, there were certainly things we could have done better. So what did we learn?
📅 After one or two weeks, we could have paused for a couple of days and taken a step back. This would have given us time to analyze more deeply, reset expectations, and set a new soft deadline. Even if we came to the same conclusion / deadline, resetting still would have been beneficial for getting us all on the same page and reassessing our current priorities.
🎥 As soon we had a feeling this was going to take more than two weeks, it would have been helpful to schedule regular Google Hangouts for our team. Discussing things “face-to-face” (in moderation) can really bring out a lot of good ideas and attack vectors to problems.
📝 We could have done more frequent, small written pitches to help describe interactions and systems. When discussing something complex, sometimes rapid-fire conversations in Campfire can be hard to follow. Luckily, Basecamp gives us a lot of options like to-dos, documents, or messages to take things down to a slow gear — letting us write more methodically and thoughtfully to clarify our thinking.
🏃 Rushing gets you nowhere. There were a few moments where I felt the need to push harder, to rush, to race to the finish line. I think that’s only natural when you’re motivated and want to do great work. But my teammates were supportive and we were able to refocus on the long-term. Great teammates will always help you make the right decision.
So in the end, we shipped a pretty nice feature, laid the groundwork for 2016, and learned a lot along the way.
I guess doing all that in six weeks doesn’t seem so bad. 🎉
Many people ask me, “How can I get started in web design?” or, “What skills do I need to start making web applications?” While it would be easy to recommend stacks of books, and dozens of articles with 55 tips for being 115% better than the next guy, the truth is that you don’t need learn anything new in order to begin. The most important thing is simply to start.
Start making something. If you want to learn web design, make a website. Want to be an entreprenuer and start a business selling web based products? Make an app. Maybe you don’t have the skills yet, but why worry about that? You probably don’t even know what skills you need.
Start with what you already know
If you want to build something on the web, don’t worry about learning HTML, CSS, Ruby, PHP, SQL, etc. They might be necessary for a finished product, but you don’t need any of them to start. Why not mock-up your app idea in Keynote or Powerpoint? Draw boxes for form fields, write copy, link this page to that page. You can make a pretty robust interactive prototype right there with software you already know. Not computer saavy? Start with pencil and paper or Post-it Notes. Draw the screens, tape them to the wall, and see how it flows.
You probably don’t even know what skills you need, so don’t worry about it. Start with what you already know.
You can do a lot of the work with simple sketches or slides. You’ll be able to see your idea take form and begin to evaluate whether or not it really is something special. It’s at that point you can take the next step, which might be learning enough HTML to take your prototype into the browser. The point is, go as far as you can with the skills and tools that you have.
Avoid self doubt
Many times the reasons we don’t start something have nothing to do with lack of skills, materials, or facilities. The real blockers are self-criticism and excuses. In the excellent book, Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, the author, Betty Edwards, discusses how we all draw as kids but around adolescence, many of us stop developing that ability.
“The beginning of adolescence seems to mark the abrupt end of artistic development in terms of drawing skills for many adults. As children, they confronted an artistic crisis, a conflict between their increasingly complex perceptions of the world around them and their current level of art skill.”
At that age kids become increasingly self-critical and equally interested in drawing realistically. When they fail to draw as well as they know is possible many give up drawing at all.
This feeling continues into adulthood. We want to design a website or build an application but if our own toolset doesn’t match up to the perceived skillset we never start. It doesn’t help that the internet gives us nearly limitless exposure to amazing work, talented individuals, and excellent execution. It’s easy to feel inadequate when you compare yourself to the very best, but even they weren’t born with those skills and they wouldn’t have them if they never started.
Do — there is no try
People who succeed somehow find a way to keep working despite the self-doubt. The artist, Vincent Van Gogh was only an artist for the last ten years of his life. We all know him for masterful works of art, but he didn’t start out as a master. Compare these examples from Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain showing an early drawing compared to one completed two years later:
He wasn’t some child prodigy (he was 27 when he started painting), he learned his craft by hard work. If he’d listened to his own self doubt or despaired that his skills didn’t compare to Paul Gauguin’s it’s likely he never would have even tried.
This is all to say that there are many things that can get in the way of the things we should be creating. To never follow a dream because you don’t think you’re good enough or don’t have the skills, or knowledge, or experience is a waste. In fact, these projects where there is doubt are the ones to pursue. They offer the greatest challenge and the greatest rewards. Why bother doing something you already have done a hundred times, where there is nothing left to learn? Don’t worry about what you need to know in order to finish a project, you already have everything you need to start.
Originally published at signalvnoise.com, a blog by the team behind Basecamp, the world’s #1 project management app. Start 2016 (and your next project) with a free account.
I’ve been running businesses for over 10 years. I helped start Inkling at the end of 2005 with Y Combinator.
One of my biggest frustrations was simply how little the company spread through blogs and news sites. I echoed the wants of every other entrepreneur. How can I get more press? How can I meet more bloggers who want to write about us? Do I need to hire a PR person?
We had a blips of press when we first started. But for 9 years it was in business (was acquired last year), it’s a minuscule list.
Inkling had been able to stand despite the difficulty spreading the word the way I wanted, but I hated that feeling of being beholden to other people to spread what I was working on.
As I found myself dreaming of what I’d work on next, I was haunted with the struggle of finding people to spread my work.
In the late 1980s there was a teenage actor who was doing well finding movie roles. But as quick as his career started, it stuttered.
So he fell back to Plan B, and went to college. But he couldn’t let the acting bug go away. He kept looking for and landing parts. Then in his final year of college, he landed the best role of his life — a starring role in a movie filled with A-list actors and a great director. This was an Oscar-worthy movie.
So he quit school and moved to LA to pursue a professional acting career full-time.
Except, the movie bombed.
Critically, it did well. But it was a box office dud. And his hope that this was his stepping stone to stardom was squashed.
He was back to being a largely unknown actor, sleeping on friends floors in LA, with endless competition. He’d get an occasional minor role, but was making less than when he was a teenager.
He needed a breakout role. But no one was giving it to him.
So, he decided to do it himself.
He dusted off a script he had started in college, and with a friend put serious time into turning the half-written document into an actual screenplay. When they thought they finally had something, they started shopping it around. And, it wasn’t half bad. They got some interest from a big name studio, and made a deal.
Just one problem. The studio decided they didn’t want either of these guys to act in it. They wanted A-list celebs to star in the movie.
The whole point of writing the screenplay was to give them big parts to help launch their careers, and now the plan was falling apart.
But another friend of theirs with some clout at a movie studio, was able to step in and find a new buyer for the script. The new buyer green-lit the movie, and put the friends back in charge. They gave themselves the parts they wanted, and the rest of the story is very well known.
In 1997, on Christmas day, the movie premiered. It made over $225 million in theaters, was nominated for nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, and won two of those awards, Best Supporting Actor, and most importantly…
The script Matt Damon had started while attending Harvard became Good Will Hunting and won Best Original Screenplay for Matt and his good friend, Ben Affleck.
Matt and Ben’s careers soared, catapulted by the success of that movie and their roles in it. All because they worked hard to become what it is they tried so hard to find — someone to put them in starring roles in a great movie.
Become that which you seek
Everyday I bump into someone struggling to find someone else to help them with their project or career. They are business people looking for technical co-founders or people like me at Inkling looking for someone else to write about me.
Now, from all these years in business, I realize that Matt Damon had it right. Instead of looking for some executive producer to give him a starring role, he was just going to become the executive producer.
If you’re a “business guy” stuck because he can’t find a technical co-founder: go become the technical co-founder. Go to some classes, conferences, meetups. Read and use the same blogs and forums. Do what you think a technical co-founder would do. You’ll be surprised that the action of trying to accomplish this actually puts you in the company of a great deal of people who would make… really great technical co-founders.
You know who Matt Damon met on the set of his movie? Steven Spielberg. Who then cast him for a role in Saving Private Ryan.
I was so sick of no one writing about me and the companies I work on, I decided I needed to become that writer. I put in years of practice and patience of publishing blog post after blog post and having three people read them (my wife, my mom and me). But, eventually, my blogging gained some traction and followers.
One of those followers turned out to be Chris Dannen, a senior editor at Fast Company, who asked me to write for them. About what? About me. And now, that’s turned into invites to write about my projects for other magazines and newspapers.
I had spent all this time looking for someone else to write about me. But, when I spent that time instead becoming the writer, better opportunities presented themselves.
Of course, this took a while. Everything worth it does.
But a funny thing happens when you do the work to become the thing you seek so much from others. You find it.
Basecamp is looking for talented interns to join our team this summer. We’re excited to work with you, and the things you work on will impact millions of users at the world’s leading online project management tool.
About the Basecamp summer internship program
Interns at Basecamp work on real projects and are mentored one-on-one by a member of our team who will guide you throughout your time at Basecamp. The projects you’ll work on as an intern at Basecamp are all derived from real problems we face as a business, and we expect you’ll have a meaningful impact during your time here. You’ll leave Basecamp with new technical, creative, and business skills and having accomplished something significant.
Internships at Basecamp are remote — you can work from anywhere you want, provided there’s some overlap in time zones with your assigned mentor. We’ll fly you to Chicago once or twice during the summer to get together with your mentor and the rest of the intern class, and you’ll talk regularly with your mentor via phone, Skype, or Google Hangouts. You’ll also participate in some of our dozens of Campfire chat rooms every day.
All internships are paid and require a commitment of 8–12 weeks of full time work between May and August 2016 (we’re flexible on start/end dates, planned vacations, etc.).
We’re hiring interns interested in working on programming, product design, operations, marketing, and data.
Regardless of role, there are a few key things we’re looking for in interns:
You are independent and self-driven. Basecamp is built on the concept of being a team of managers of one, and that applies to interns as well. You’ll get plenty of support and guidance from your mentor and the rest of the team, but no one will be telling you how to spend each minute of your day, so it’ll be up to you to make sure you’re making forward progress.
You are an excellent communicator. We write a lot at Basecamp — we write for our products, we write for our marketing sites and initiatives, and most importantly, we write as our primary way of communicating internally. Clear and effective communication is essential to being successful at Basecamp.
You have fresh ideas and you’re willing to share them. We don’t know it all, and we actively want to hear fresh ideas and perspectives that we haven’t considered.
You’re eager to learn. You’ll dive right in to new technologies, new approaches, and new concepts and apply them to your work.
How to apply
To apply, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org explaining why you want to be an intern at Basecamp, what projects you’re interested in working on (see below), what work you’ve done in the past, and why we should hire you. Feel free to include your resume, but we’re big fans of great cover letters over resumes. Be sure to tell us what dates you’re available this summer and where you’ll be located.
We’ll be accepting applications through Wednesday, February 24th. We’ll be in touch to confirm receipt of your application and let you know about next steps shortly after we receive your email.
As an intern at Basecamp, you’ll work on one of the following projects directly with a mentor.
Programming: Make our Android app more Androidy. Taking into consideration the foundation of our hybrid (web + native) app development philosophy, our Android team will help you explore ways to make uniquely powerful Android features — ones that make our customers reach for their Android device instead of the desktop app.
Programming: Change the way people find information internally at Basecamp by unifying various internal search tools into a single source of all the information people need to respond to customer problems. You’ll talk to internal clients, survey the state of the world, and then build out a solution.
Design: Understand how people work with clients in Basecamp through a mix of quantitative analysis and customer research (surveys, structured interviews). You’ll work to structure the problem, identify the data that you need, write survey questions and interview guides, conduct interviews, and synthesize findings and implications for client features within Basecamp.
Marketing: Help us target a specific industry (or “vertical”) by picking an industry, identifying the various stakeholders who are involved, interviewing them, and building out a sample Basecamp to demonstrate how Basecamp can help them accomplish their work. You’ll launch your work and then measure the impact of that work on the targeted vertical.
Marketing: Identify what people are saying about us on social media by using your analytical and digital marketing skills to help determine both quantitative and qualitative ways for us to know what people are saying about Basecamp. Are they generally happy? Satisfied? What are they talking about? How can we measure our impact?
Operations: Bring us into the IPv6 age by coming up with a plan for us to add IPv6 support to our public sites, testing support, deploying the new configuration, and providing documentation and training for our operations and support teams.
Operations: Establish a way of offering custom domains for Basecamp 3 customers. You’ll figure out how to automate provisioning, handle terminating thousands of SSL certificates, monitor for problems, and make it a great customer experience.
Operations: Upgrade our hardware provisioning process so we have a fully automated process to take a server from the point of arriving at our datacenter to being production ready.
Operations: Make it easy for new people to come on board or set up a new computer by figuring out how to run everything you need for development in a virtual machine or container.
Data: Help us find problems before we feel the pain of them by improving our ability to identify unusual values in the over 30,000 services we monitor to tell us about the health of our applications and businesses. You’ll identify the right algorithms to use to detect aberrations, the parameters needed to ensure that we balance false positive and false negative alert rates, and put the system into production.
I’m currently trying to teach myself coding and feeling a bit discouraged at the moment. Trying to hear of other’s success stories to see if it’s worth it to see it through to the end. (zeexik asks on Reddit)
Who hasn’t felt like this about something? We’re out of school, but there’s things we want to still learn to get where we want to go. But it’s daunting. We get discouraged.
17 years ago I spent my summer in Paducah, KY. It was friggin hot. It was even worse because on a lot of days I was wearing an acid proof suit — those things are made of an unbreathable plastic something that doesn’t react with acid; see Breaking Bad and why you don’t use acid in your bathtub 🙂
Why was I in this suit? Because I was doing experiments at a uranium processing plant where we used a lot of hydrofluoric acid. If that sounds dangerous, it was. We’d have to carry gas masks around all day; go through radiation detectors; some guy had recently burned a hole through his shoulder from some tiny, accidental leak somewhere.
It was my first real gig doing chemical engineering, and I hated it. I mean, aspects of using my education were incredibly enlightening, but I didn’t want to work in plants like this after college.
Fortunately for me that summer, I broke my ankle.
They wouldn’t let me in the plant anymore for fear my cast would get contaminated with uranium. You know, typical summer intern problems. 🙂
It was fortunate because they stuffed me in a trailer outside the plant where I couldn’t get into too much trouble. And the only thing I could then do all day was use a computer. They’d give me Excel spreadsheets and ask if I could help them with some macros to speed up their calculations. It opened my eyes to what I really wanted to be doing.
I loved that work. Programming macros turned into me creating visual basic UI’s to make all these things that made the lives better of people around me at that plant. The feedback was instantaneous. Unlike the experiments I was doing that were dealing with all these messy chemical and physical problems people still couldn’t understand from decades of academic research, the computer obeyed my will, and allowed me to make so many people happy when it made their lives easier. I was hooked. I just dove in. Found everything I could about programming. Started making websites.
But then college was almost over, and I was still a chemical engineer, and instead, I wanted a job programming computers. So I took the closest thing I could get near the software business which was as a consultant for Accenture. And that sucked.
I was stuck gathering requirements all day. Typing up meeting notes. I didn’t have the skills for them to let me do any software engineering tasks. So I just kept at it. I’d bug all the engineers around me on what they were doing and learning. I’d go home and make more software. More websites. Try more things. Eventually I bugged enough people at work about the stuff I was making, they saw I had a hunger and new set of skills and they started letting me do some tasks on the side. I still had my requirements gathering and grunt work to do, but I’d stay after work for hours programming things for them, and learning some new reporting tools they had that they didn’t have time to learn yet, which included the ability to program UI’s to pull up the reports.
Eventually, I moved on from that role and they started putting me in software engineering roles. I still wasn’t any good. But I just sponged all the knowledge I could from the senior people around me. I did my work off hours too to see if I could make it better than they expected of me.
Eventually, I moved on from that company and was a pretty damn good engineer finally, and got a job at a software company.
Eventually, I moved on from that job and started creating my own software companies. First Inkling, where I was the CTO, then I was an engineer for the Obama campaign, then I made Draft (http://draftin.com) and then all of this led to Jason Fried and Basecamp picking me to take Highrise (http://highrisehq.com) and turn it into a separate company where I still get to write software every day.
So heck yeah, I’ve taught myself software development and make money at this. It wasn’t fast. It took at least a year of really hard work on the side to get people to give me some tasks that were programming related at work. And years after that before I’d say I was any good.
But it’s like anything. It takes practice. We suck at so much stuff when we start out.
I have a 19 month old daughter. She’s awful at everything.
Right? 🙂 Crashes into walls. Falls down constantly. Can’t figure this out or that. But we know she’s going to be awesome at this stuff she struggles with today. Look at how far she’s already come! It’s ridiculous how much she learns and learns and learns. And that doesn’t have to stop.
Don’t pick up software development if you’re just doing it for a paycheck or what you think the paycheck is going to be in the future. Pick it up because you like figuring out things like that. And I guarantee you, with enough practice and work, you’ll get better. And then better. And then better after that.
And as for the coding schools, I haven’t done any myself, but sometimes those are the best ways to learn for some folks. Some people get by with a book and a keyboard. Some really need the mentors and fellow students around them to bounce things off of. I would definitely experiment and check them out. I know people who’ve taken those courses and gone on to make their own things or gotten really great jobs. Claire Lew is a great example. She took a course at Starter League, and now Basecamp put her in charge of Know Your Company. That’s not everyone’s story of course. But let me share one more anecdote:
An acting teacher told his class of total beginners (which included me): “New York and LA are inundated with actors. It’s tough to make a career there. But… you can absolutely achieve it in Chicago. You won’t get everything you want all the time, but if you do the work you can get enough acting jobs, including commercials or industrial films, to make the money work. If you want to have a career as an actor, it’s yours.”
He absolutely believed that it wasn’t about what we looked like or innate talent we had at acting. If we wanted a career in acting, we just had to do the work.
And as I started watching the people around me succeed at acting, that’s exactly what they were doing. They were making a living at it. It wasn’t A-list Hollywood stuff all the time. Sometimes it was appearing in training videos about workplace sexual harassment, or chemical safety, or whatever. But those paid the bills so they could get up on stage every weekend to perform a play for a hundred people. The people with the rigid goal of Hollywood now or nothing? Those folks were bitter and gave up.
If you want a career in software, it’s yours. There is nothing stopping you from learning this. Just put in the work to learn it like anything else. It might take a bunch of only fair jobs before you’re good enough, but take what you can get and learn.
I’m often asked about the benefits we offer at Basecamp. Potential employees are obviously curious, but most of the questions I get are from fellow business owners and entrepreneurs. Everyone’s looking to know what everyone else is doing — as are we — so I figured I might as well post our current benefit list publicly.
Note: Since the majority of our staff works remotely, and some outside the US, some of these benefits are provided in different ways. For example, the 401k is only available in the US. We’re currently working on making sure everyone, no matter where they work, have commensurate benefits (or at least as similar as possible). We’re still working on this, so hopefully I can write more about how we’ve addressed this down the road.
Overall, our uptime this year was the best it’s ever been in our modern recorded history. All of our customer facing apps recorded 4 9’s of uptime or better (meaning 99.99x% uptime), and each individual app had less downtime than last year.
Our Applications 2012–2015
What About Basecamp 3?
Basecamp 3 isn’t on the list, because it’s had perfect uptime since launch!
Our team will continue working hard to deliver the most stable and performant Basecamp you’ve ever used. We’re looking forward to a great 2016!
Attend enough startup conferences or listen to enough motivational speakers and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated over and over again: You’ve got to love what you do! If you don’t love what you do, you might as well stay home. No less a giant than Steve Jobs famously told Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
I don’t buy it.
There’s nothing wrong with loving what you do, of course — I just don’t think it’s a prerequisite for starting a business or building a fulfilling career, let alone doing great work. In fact, I think it’s disingenuous for really successful people to put so much of the focus on love, just as it’s disingenuous for really rich people to say money doesn’t matter. People tend to romanticize their own motivations and histories. They value what matters to them now, and forget what really mattered to them when they started. It’s human nature, so it’s an easy thing to do.
The way I see it, many great businesses and important innovations are actually born out of frustration or even hate. Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the co-founders of Uber, didn’t start their ride-sharing service because they loved transportation or logistics. They started it because they were pissed off that they couldn’t get a cab. Kalanick may love running Uber today, but he really hated not having a way to get home. A random brainstorming session one night in Paris turned that frustration into the seed of a multibillion-dollar company.
I talk to other entrepreneurs all the time, and many of their companies sprang into existence for similar reasons — because the founder wanted something that didn’t exist or scoped out an opportunity to do something better than it had been done before. Love for their subject matter may or may not play a role in their stories, but hate for the existing options, along with strong opinions about how things could work, does and is a much better predictor of success.
My own career is no exception. Back in the mid-’90s, I was looking for a simple tool to keep track of my music collection, and all of the available programs seemed bloated and unnecessarily complex. Those are two things I hate, so I set out to make my own tool and eventually released it under the name Audiofile. I didn’t love music collecting. I didn’t even love software development. (I was just learning it at the time.) And I didn’t have any aspirations to run a software business — I just saw a need, and I filled it. Nothing wrong with that. A similar situation led me to start my current company, Basecamp.
Truth be told, even today I don’t always love what I do. The paperwork, the reporting, the day-to-day minutiae that come along with responsibility for a large and growing company — none of those things make me swoon. Yet I’d still rather be running Basecamp than doing anything else. I think I’m good at it, every day I get to do challenging, creative work, and I continue to find making better project-management tools a worthy and rewarding cause. It’s also a real pleasure to work with such amazing people as I do every day of the week.
If I were giving a motivational speech, I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow — and it’s a wonderful thing if it does — but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.