People ask, “How big is your company?” It’s small talk, but they’re not looking for a small answer. The bigger the number, the more impressive, professional, and powerful you sound. “Wow, nice!” they’ll say if you have a hundred-plus employees. If you’re small, you’ll get an “Oh . . . that’s nice.” The former is meant as a compliment; the latter is said just to be polite.
Why is that? What is it about growth and business? Why is expansion always the goal? What’s the attraction of big besides ego? (You’ll need a better answer than “economies of scale.”) What’s wrong with finding the right size and staying there?
Do we look at Harvard or Oxford and say, “If they’d only expand and branch out and hire thousands more professors and go global and open other campuses all over the world . . . then they’d be great schools.” Of course not. That’s not how we measure the value of these institutions. So why is it the way we measure businesses?
Maybe the right size for your company is five people. Maybe it’s forty. Maybe it’s two hundred. Or maybe it’s just you and a laptop. Don’t make assumptions about how big you should be ahead of time. Grow slow and see what feels right — premature hiring is the death of many companies. And avoid huge growth spurts too — they can cause you to skip right over your appropriate size.
Small is not just a stepping stone. Small is a great destination in itself.
Have you ever noticed that while small businesses wish they were bigger, big businesses dream about being more agile and flexible? And remember, once you get big, it’s really hard to shrink without firing people, damaging morale, and changing the entire way you do business.
Ramping up doesn’t have to be your goal. And we’re not talking just about the number of employees you have either. It’s also true for expenses, rent, IT infrastructure, furniture, etc. These things don’t just happen to you. You decide whether or not to take them on. And if you do take them on, you’ll be taking on new headaches, too. Lock in lots of expenses and you force yourself into building a complex businesss — one that’s a lot more difficult and stressful to run.
Don’t be insecure about aiming to be a small business. Anyone who runs a business that’s sustainable and profitable, whether it’s big or small, should be proud.
This essay and many others like it appear in the book REWORK, written by Jason Fried and yours truly. See what we’re up to with our 12 year-old business Basecamp, which just launched a brand-new version 3.
Osmo Wiio is a Finnish researcher of human communication. He has studied, among other things, readability of texts, organizations and communication within them, and the general theory of communication. His laws of communication are the human communications equivalent of Murphy’s Laws.
If communication can fail, it will.
If a message can be understood in different ways, it will be understood in just that way which does the most harm.
There is always somebody who knows better than you what you meant by your message.
The more communication there is, the more difficult it is for communication to succeed.
And I particularly like his observation that anytime there are two people conversing, there are actually six people in the conversation:
Radically more powerful than any Basecamp before it, it still maintains — and expands on — the straightforwardness and ease-of-use that people around the world have come to know, trust, and love about Basecamp. Basecamp Just Works.
This combination of power, ease of use, and unique approach is why over 5,000 companies and organizations sign up for Basecamp every week. We’re dedicated to continuing to delight them and to try win over a million more with Basecamp 3.
Basecamp 3 is built around the premise that no matter what kind of work you’re doing, there are a few things every team needs: A way to divvy up work, hash things out quickly via chat, make big announcements, keep discussions on-topic, store and organize key files and assets, lay out milestones and deadlines, and have regular check-ins to make sure everything’s all right. These are the simple truths of working together well.
And rather than have to duct tape together a DIY-suite of separate products by separate vendors with different interfaces, separate user accounts, different billing schedules (and prices), and decentralized storage of information (some stuff in this one, some stuff in that one, end up with stuff all over the place, etc), we’ve built everything you need into a single, coherent bundle. That’s what Basecamp has always delivered. And now it’s delivering more of it, better than ever before. There’s nothing else out there like it!
Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a lot more about Basecamp 3, but I wanted to start by focusing on a few big new things in Basecamp 3:
A large portion of our customers are client services firms. Designers, agencies, dev shops, lawyers, accountants, you name it. People with clients. Client work is their bread and butter, and we wanted to make them the best damn sandwich they’ve ever had.
So with Basecamp 3 we introduce The Clientside — an entirely new, fresh take on working with clients. It’s built right into Basecamp 3 is it’s available on the Basecamp With Clients package.
Basecamp 3’s exclusive “Clientside” feature keeps client feedback on the record and completely separate from the rest of your project. This means your client never sees anything they shouldn’t, and your team doesn’t have to tip toe around worried about saying the wrong things. It eliminates all the anxiety and fear that are often tied to the client-firm relationship.
Further, the Clientside puts zero demands on your clients. They never have to create an account, they never have to log in, they never have to learn a system or install any apps. Everything they do happens via email so there’s no burden on them whatsoever. They don’t have to change a thing, and it’s so much easier for you since you never have to feel like you have to tell them they’re doing it wrong. They can never do it wrong in Basecamp 3. No awkward conversations about tools! Your clients will love you!
If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available all the time. Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them, but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you should reply.” And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at 9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work time.
We don’t believe tools are at fault for this — tools just do what toolmakers build them to do. But we do believe toolmakers can build tools that help you draw a line between work and life. We’ve baked these good manners into Basecamp 3 with a feature we’re calling Work Can Wait.
Work Can Wait lets you set your own notifications schedule. Each person in Basecamp 3 can set up their own work schedule with their own hours. You can of course choose to to receive notifications all the time, 24/7/365, no matter what. Or, you can say Work Can Wait — only send me notifications during my work hours. Then you can set the start time and end time and also mark off which days you work.
Outside of this range, Basecamp will basically “hold your calls”. Notifications will automatically be silenced until it’s work time again. Once the clock strikes 8am, notifications will start back up again. Of course at any time you can go into the web app or native apps and check your notifications yourself, but that’s you making that decision rather than software throwing stuff at you when I’m going for a walk with my son on a Saturday morning.
The more customers we talk to, the most interesting and unusual uses for Basecamp we find. People are using Basecamp for all sorts of things that aren’t traditional “projects”. Us too — we use Basecamp in sorts of ways that no one would define as “projects”. Yet, we’ve always called things “projects” in Basecamp. It’s just too limiting. Time to change that.
For now on, you don’t make projects in Basecamp. You just make Basecamps. This closely follows the language our customers have been using anyway. “Go make a Basecamp for that”… “Let’s make a Basecamp for that!”… “Kick it off by setting up a Basecamp for the client”, etc. Rather than try to swim upstream against our customer’s vocabulary, we’re going to adopt their language and go with the flow. So “projects” are now simply “Basecamps”.
And now when you make a Basecamp for your company intranet it won’t feel so weird. Or a Basecamp for your customer support group. Or a Basecamp for that event that’s coming up. These things aren’t just “projects” — they’re teams, and groups, and departments, and moments. So calling them Basecamps opens up a whole new set of opportunities for everyone to use Basecamp in new ways. We can’t wait to see where people take it.
Communicating in high and low gears
We’ve been running group chat in our business longer than nearly anyone. Back in 2006 we invented the modern business chat tool when we introduced Campfire. For nearly 10 years we’ve experienced all the pros and cons of different kinds of communication methods. So with Basecamp we wanted to introduce a balanced attack. Not just chat. Not just direct messaging. Not just message boards. Not just threads. But all of the above in just the right way in just the right places.
Chat is fantastic for hashing certain things out quickly, but it’s also terrible for long-term organization. And organization is a very important thing when you’re trying to make progress on something with other people. With chat, stuff speeds by on a conveyor belt, conversations are crossed, and it’s just so easy to lose context. People feel like they need to pile in and pile on just so they’ll be heard before that part of the conversation scrolls away forever. Speak NOW or forever hold your peace isn’t a great way to think things through and give ideas due time to develop. Chat also causes anxiety of fear of missing out — they’re often like being in an all-day non-stop meeting.
And traditional message boards are great for long-term organization and keeping discussions threaded, focused, and on-topic, but they are typically too slow for discussions and decisions that require back and forth real-time speed. They can feel frustrating if you want to move quickly or just “toss something in the ring” to see what people think.
So in Basecamp you get both. Chat (we call them Campfires), and traditional threaded discussions (on the Message Board). The best of both worlds in a single tool. We don’t lean in one way or another — they are both equal since both are equally powerful, depending on the situation. You also get “pings” in Basecamp — our version of direct messaging — so you can reach out to people in a separate, personal backchannel.
So two gears… Use Campfires when you want to shift into high-gear and go really fast. But use the Message Board when you want to shift into low gear, get some traction, put together a complete thought, and give people a chance to respond. Use Campfires when you don’t really care about the past, use the Message Board when you know you may want to refer back to something later.
Further, in Basecamp you can have an organized, threaded, on-topic discussion attached to anything. This is one of the real secrets to why so many people love Basecamp. Attach conversations directly to to-dos, files, calendar events. Keep the conversation in context, right next to the thing you’re discussing. It’s so much simpler, tidier, more organized this way. Because discussions aren’t just for who’s part of them now, but also for whoever comes into the company later. Preserve your knowledge in away you can point back to it later — don’t let it just float away.
Simplified packages and unlimited for everyone!
Basecamp has always been “project-gated”. This means you’d have to pay more the more projects you wanted to manage. We’ve torn down the gate in Basecamp 3! Every package includes unlimited Basecamps, plus everyone gets one Basecamp for free forever. Use that one Basecamp however you’d like. When you want to make another, you can select an unlimited use package.
We’ve simplified down to just three straightforward packages. Basecamp For Us for those who aren’t doing client work. Basecamp with Clients for those who do work for clients (this includes the awesome Clientside feature). And Basecamp Big for enterprise customers.
Prices start at just $29/month. That’s total — we never charge you per user. Basecamp pricing is flat and predictable, never variable depending on how many users you invite. People don’t cost a thing in Basecamp. Find out more about our pricing here…
So that’s enough for now!
There’s so much to check out! Please go and sign up for Basecamp 3 and give it a whirl. It’s free to try it out. No time limit.
Thanks to everyone who’s helped us build, test, and beta Basecamp 3! It’s gotten so much better because of you. Check out all the new stuff!
About 12 years ago, I co-founded a startup called Basecamp: A simple project collaboration tool that helps people make progress together, sold on a monthly subscription.
It took a part of some people’s work life and made it a little better. A little nicer than trying to manage a project over email or by stringing together a bunch of separate chat, file sharing, and task systems. Along the way it made for a comfortable business to own for my partner and me, and a great place to work for our employees.
Good intuition propels progress. Listening to your gut is faster than rigourously exploring all possible options. The more you can get away with leaning on intuition, the more things you can improve in the same amount of time. The best product makers have excellent intuition.
But exactly because intuition on a roll is so powerful, it also invokes a sense of invicibility: Hey, if I was right about the gut take the last twenty times, why wouldn’t I be right about this too?
“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose” — Bill Gates
That’s no reason to give up on intuition, but it is cause to consider a fallback strategy. The primary of which should be having answers to the following: What evidence would prove me wrong? Is my gut take falsifiable? Will I have the courage to admit being wrong, if the data proves it so?
Some times there’s simply no way to know before you act. That’s the providence of A/B testing. If the data isn’t there upfront, then let’s just try it and see what happens!
Other times the answers are indeed already there, we just don’t have the confidence to look. It’s so easy to fall in love with an idea that makes intuitive sense. The theory is just too satisfying to give up. We don’t even want to entertain the idea of being wrong, at least not yet.
The golden path is to give almost all intuitive ideas the benefit of the doubt, but then articulate that doubt as clearly as possible. The quicker you determine which ideas are duds, the quicker you can load the next batch.
A couple of years ago, I did an experiment: I kicked sugar for three months. I’d have whatever naturally occurred in foods, but I wouldn’t eat anything with added sugar. The goal wasn’t to eat like this forever. I just wanted to know what it felt like to get all that sugar out of my diet. How would I react? What would be different? Would I like it?
The short answer: I felt great. I had way more energy, more balanced days, better mental clarity. But the most surprising outcome came when I reintroduced extra sugar into my diet. During the sugar fast, I wasn’t eating apples, but I tried an apple again. And wow, did I feel it. A sugar high from an apple? That was an eye opener. Even today, with my just-a-tad-of-sugar diet, I can feel the effects of the sweetener in ways I never could before.
I realize this isn’t a health magazine — so why am I talking about sugar? The food detox inadvertently got me to try cutting back on something else I was unknowingly overdosing on: industry news.
Up until about a year ago, I read industry news religiously. I’d load up Hacker News a few times a day, clicking away on the top-voted stories. I’d head over to Reddit and do the same thing on its tech-news subreddit. If I saw something on Twitter linking up a tech-news story, I’d be all over it. Clickity, click click click. I was a tech-news binger.
Then, last summer, I stopped. Cold turkey — just like when I stopped sugar. I had just reached the point at which I could feel an unhealthy level of toxicity piling up inside of me. I felt myself getting too involved, too absorbed, and a bit too anxious about what I was missing, and about what I knew or didn’t know, but thought I should know. I was checking Twitter too often and reloading sites too often. If someone told me about something I hadn’t heard of, I felt like I should have already known about it. Industry news was becoming an addiction.
The first couple of weeks after I cut the cord were challenging. My mind was craving the latest on tech as if it were a substance. While I could steer clear of the tech-news sites, it was difficult not to get hit by friendly fire. I was still on Twitter reading non-tech banter, but then a tech story would suddenly appear in my stream and that uneasy feeling would strike.
Finally, after a few weeks, I began not to miss the news. Whenever I’d see a headline on Twitter, or see people I follow chatting about some new company or technology, I felt a little disgust. It was similar to how I had felt when I saw people gorging on decadent desserts after I’d kicked sugar: It made me sick. So I came up with a new ritual. Every time friends tweeted about tech, I’d use Tweetbot to mute them for 30 days. Eventually my stream was cleansed of all the content I was trying to avoid.
The incredible thing is that a few months into the industry-news detox, I felt better not only mentally, but physically, too. My mind wasn’t on edge, waiting for the next big thing to hit. I was calmer, I found myself with more time, and I was far more focused on stuff I could control, like my product, my company, my person, rather than stuff I couldn’t, like the next “Basecamp killer” or some hot new startup.
It’s now a year later and I still don’t read industry news. Sometimes I’ll accidentally run into it. Sometimes someone will mention something to me wondering whether I’ve heard of it. I’ll often say no and ask for details. And then he or she will tell me about it in a way that’s actually useful, not sensationalized, as most coverage of new things is. I don’t feel disconnected. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. It’s no longer just empty calories: I eventually hear about what’s really important.
October 20 was the internal deadline we picked for Basecamp 3 back in early Summer. It was computed by the highly scientific method of two-parts sussing, one-part calendar dart throwing, and the full awareness of its arbitrary nature.
The purpose of a self-imposed deadline is to sharpen the edge of your prioritization sword and stake a flag of coordination for the team. It’s not a hill to die on. It’s not a justification for weeks of death marching. It’s a voluntary constraint on scope.
Yes, deadlines are wonderful! They’re the tie-breaker on feature debates. They suck all the excess heat out of the prioritization joust: “Hey, I’d love to get your additional pet feature into the first release, but, you know: THE DEADLINE”.
The opposite of the deadline, the once much heralded When It’s Done, is the oppression of a blank canvas. Unless your system has fewer moving parts than you can count on two hands, objective perfection is impossible. It’s always a trade-off, but one that now needs to happen in the uncharted territory of a team-sized illusion of agreements.
Putting in a good day’s work relies on the knowledge that you just moved a little bit closer to the finish line. If the finish line is constantly moving and constantly in dispute, it’s impossible to reap that satisfaction. Which in turn leads to stress and misery.
Don’t let the self-imposed deadline kill you, let it free you.
The language of hiring is broken. From the cog-like “human resources” to the scalp-trophy chase of “head-hunting”. Yuck. But no term gets me more riled up than “poaching”. It’s shockingly revealing: You’re an animal, our animal, and other hunters better keep their hands off our property.
Employees should go wherever they can get the best deal for themselves. I would! Better deal in the holistic sense of everything that’s involved with working for someone else: Most interesting and rewarding work, most freedom in living arrangements, autonomy/responsibility, and, yes, pay and benefits.
If you can only retain employees by fencing them in with non-competes, hiding them away from your about page, or blocking competitive deals from even reaching their attention, well, then you suck.
All your energy should be poured into making sure you have the better deal. That work aligns perfectly with having a better business in general, so it’s not like you’re taking a detour here.
If you’ve done all you can, if you sleep sound with a smile knowing you’re offering a great deal, then the sting of someone leaving should be manageable too. They found something that was better for them. Be happy! You helped someone get to a better place, and you’ll surely be able to find someone else to fill their shoes.
You can’t keep everyone forever, and you shouldn’t try. That’s called captivity. Some people will want to try something else regardless of how good your deal is. That’s natural, and fighting it is only going to make matters worse.
So stop nurturing your poaching fears with defensive moves and start putting in the work to make your deal better instead.
Most of the people I know who are money-making-machines got started really early. Lemonade stands, car washes, lawn mowing, baseball card trading. I think the reason they are money-making-machines today is because they started early. They learned the skills of negotiation, pricing, selling, and market-reading early. They have more practice selling than most people. That’s one of the reasons they’re better at it than most people.
Making money takes practice, just like playing the piano takes practice. No one expects anyone to be any good at the piano unless they’ve put in lots practice. Same with making money. The better you practice the better you get. Eventually making money is as easy for you as piano is for someone who’s been playing for 10 years.
This is one of the reasons I encourage entrepreneurs to bootstrap instead of taking outside money. On day one, a bootstrapped company sets out to make money. They have no choice, really. On day one a funded company sets out to spend money. They hire, they buy, they invest, they spend. Making money isn’t important yet. They practice spending, not making.
Bootstrapping puts you in the right mindset as an entrepreneur. You think of money more as something you make than something you spend. That’s the right lesson, that’s the right habit, the right imprint on your business brain. You’re better off as an entrepreneur if you have more practice making money than spending money. Bootstrapping gives you a head start.
So if you’re about to start a business, or if you already have a business and you’re thinking about taking funding, or if you’ve already taken funding and are considering going back for more, consider the alternative. Don’t raise money, raise prices. Sell sell sell. Get as much practice as you can. Force yourself to practice. Force yourself to learn how to make money as early as you can. You may hate it in the short-term, but it’ll make you a great businessperson in the long term.
“I’d love to start a company / become a great programmer / write an awesome blog, but there’s just not enough time in the day!”
Bullshit. There’s always enough time, you’re just not spending it right.
Now that’s some tough love, but I’m sick and tired of hearing “no time” as an excuse for why you can’t be great. It really doesn’t take that much time to get started, but it does take wanting it really bad. Most people just doesn’t want it bad enough and protect their ego with the excuse of time.
This excuse is particularly depressing when it comes from students.
“Oh, I have so many classes. Oh, I have so much home work. There’s simply no time to learn outside of school.”
Then you’re doing it wrong!
Never let your schooling interfere with your education, someone clever once said. Being willing to sacrifice at the edges is one of the most important skills you’ll ever learn.
I’ve received plenty of Bs and even Cs for classes that I was incredibly proud of because they came from hardly no time spent at all. Time that I could then spend on reading my own curriculum, starting my own projects, and running my own businesses.
And I did. During my undergrad, I created Instiki, Rails, Basecamp, and got on the path to being a partner at 37signals. Do you think I could fit all that and still get straight As and have lots of time left over for playing World of Warcraft? No.
If you want it bad enough, you’ll make the time, regardless of your other obligations. Don’t let yourself off the hook with excuses. It’s too easy and, to be honest, nobody cares on the other side.
It’s entirely your responsibility to make your dreams come through.