Our new book “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work” is out!

Now available in the US, Canada, the UK, Austrailia, and New Zealand. Other countries and languages will follow.

A couple years in the making, our brand new book, “It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work”, is now available in bookstores near you. There’s a hardcover, paperback (UK markets), audiobook, and ebook.

The Economist says…

Their book is funny, well-written and iconoclastic and by far the best thing on management published this year.”

800ceoread calls it an Editor’s Choice and says…

…Each [short chapter is] packed with a punch that seems both profound and practical — profound for how clear and different they tend to be from most accepted business wisdom, and practical because almost everything they describe is immediately applicable.

And the ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ Amazon reviews are flowing in as well. And, BTW, if you’ve read the book, please do leave a review. Thanks much.

If you’ve read and enjoyed REWORK, you’re going to especially love “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work”. It’s really the spiritual follow-up to REWORK. Irreverent, direct, fluff-free, short-essays, and straight to the point. And because we hate long business books we can never seem to finish, we wrote “It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work” to be read in just about 3 hours.

What’s the book about?

We put it all right on the cover.

The lessons and stories in the book are based on nearly 20 years of experimenting with how to build a calm company. Inside we push back hard against unhealthy work practices, the obsession with growth at all costs, and treating people as if they’re simply limitless resources rather than human beings. We also share the things we’ve tried, and how we came to figure out what works and what doesn’t.

If you’ve got a few minutes, here’s the full intro below to fire you up…

“It’s crazy at work.” How often have you heard that? Or said it yourself? Probably too often.

For many, “it’s crazy at work” has become their normal. But why’s that?

At the root is an onslaught of physical and virtual real-time distractions slicing work days into a series of fleeting work moments.

Tie that together with a trend of over-collaboration, plus an unhealthy obsession with growth at any cost, and you’ve got the building blocks for an anxious, crazy mess.

It’s no wonder people are working longer, earlier, later, on weekends, and whenever they have a spare moment. People can’t get work done at work anymore.

Work claws away at life. Life has become work’s leftovers. The doggy bag. The remnants. The scraps.

That’s just not OK. It’s unacceptable.

What’s worse is that long hours, excessive busyness, and lack of sleep have become a badge of honor for many people these days. Sustained exhaustion is not a badge of honor, it’s a mark of stupidity. Companies that force their crew into this bargain are cooking up dumb at their employees’ expense.

And it’s not just about organizations — individuals, contractors, and solopreneurs are burning themselves out the very same way.

You’d think with all the hours people are putting in, and all the promises of tech’s flavor of the month, the load would be lessening. It’s not. It’s getting heavier.

But the thing is, there’s not more work to be done all of the sudden. The problem is there’s hardly any uninterrupted, dedicated time to do it.

Working more but getting less done? It doesn’t add up. But it does — it adds up to a majority of time wasted on things that don’t matter.

Many modern companies seem to be great at one thing: wasting. Wasting time, attention, money, energy.

Out of the 60, 70, 80 hours a week many are expected to pour into work, how many of those hours are really spent on the work itself? And how many are tossed away in meetings, lost to distraction, and withered away by inefficient business practices? The bulk.

The answer isn’t more hours, it’s less bullshit. Less waste, not more production. And far fewer things that induce distraction, always-on anxiety, and stress.

Stress is an infection passed down from organization to employee, from employee to employee, and then from employee to customer. And it’s becoming resistant to traditional treatments. The same old medicine is only making it worse.

And remember, stress can not be contained. It never stops at the edge of work. It always bleeds into life. It infects your relationships with your friends, your family, your kids.

The promises keep coming. More time management hacks. More ways to communicate. More information spread across separate platforms and disparate places. New demands to pay attention to more and more real-time conversations happening all the time at work. Faster and faster, for what? Panaceas left and right. Snake oil.

On-demand is for movies, TV shows, and podcasts, not for you. Your time isn’t an episode recalled when someone wants it at 10pm on a Saturday night, or every few minutes in the collection of conveyor belt chat room conversations you’re supposed to be following all day long.

If it’s constantly crazy at work, we have two words for you: Fuck that. And two more: Enough already.

At the heart of it all is an unhealthy obsession with rapid growth. Towering, unrealistic expectations drag people down.

It’s time for companies to stop asking their employees to breathlessly chase ever-higher, ever-more artificial targets set by ego, not need. It’s time to stop celebrating this way of working.

Over the last 18 years we’ve been working at making Basecamp a calm company. One that isn’t fueled by stress, or ASAP, or rushing, or late nights, or all-nighter crunches, or impossible promises, or high turnover, or over-collaboration, or consistently missed deadlines, or projects that never seem to end, or manufactured busywork, or incorrect assumptions that lead to systemic institutional anxiety.

No growth-at-all-costs. No constant, churning false busyness. No ego-driven decisions. No keeping up with the Joneses Corporation. No hair on fire.

And yet we’ve been profitable every year since the beginning. We’ve kept our company intentionally small — we believe small is a key to calm.

As a tech company we’re supposed to be playing the hustle game in Silicon Valley, but we’re blissfully far away in Chicago with employees working remotely in 30 different towns around the world.

We each put in about 40 hours a week most of the year, and just 32-hour four-day weeks in the summer. We send people on month-long sabbaticals every three years. We not only pay for people’s vacation time, but we pay for the actual vacation too.

No, not 9pm Wednesday night. It can wait until 9am Thursday morning. No, not Sunday. Monday.

Walk into our office and it feels more like a library and less like a chaotic kitchen. Noise and movement are not indicator of activity and progress — they’re just indicators of noise and movement.

We’re in one of the most competitive industries in the world. An industry dominated by giants and frequent upstarts backed by hundreds of millions of dollars in VC money. We’ve taken zero. Where does our money come from? Our customers. They buy what we’re selling and we treat them exceptionally well. Call us old fashioned.

Our benefits are focused on getting people out of the office, not enticing them to stay longer. Fresh fruits and veggies are delivered to people’s houses, not the kitchen at work. Want to learn to play the guitar in your own time? We’ll gladly support you and pay for that too.

We’ll pay for you to get a massage, but we won’t bring the masseuse to the office. Loosening up for 60 minutes only to tense back up hunched over your desk is faux relaxation. No “stay here” signals. Everything’s about wrapping up your reasonable day, going home, and living your life.

Are there occasionally stressful moments? Sure — such is life. Is every day peachy? Of course not — we’d be lying if we said it was. But we do our best to make sure those are the exceptions. On balance we’re calm — by choice, by practice. We’re intentional about it. We’ve made different decisions than the rest.

We’ve designed our company differently. We’re here to tell you about it, and show you how you can do it. There’s a path. You’ve got to want it, but if you do you’ll realize it’s much nicer over here. You can have a calm company too.

This book points out the diseases plaguing modern workplace and work methods. It calls out false cures, and pushes back against ritualistic time-sucks that have infected the way people work these days. We have a prescription to make it better.

Chaos should not be the natural state at work. Anxiety isn’t a prerequisite for progress. Sitting in meetings all day isn’t required for success. These are all perversions of work — side effects of broken models and follow-the-lemming-off-the-cliff worst practices. Step aside and let the suckers jump.

Calm is profitability.
Calm is protecting people’s time and attention.
Calm is reasonable expectations.
Calm is about 40 hours of work a week.
Calm is ample time off.
Calm is smaller.
Calm is a visible horizon.
Calm is meetings as a last resort.
Calm is contextual communication.
Calm is asynchronous first, real-time second. 
Calm is more independence, less interdependence. 
Calm is about sustainable practices that can run for the long-term.

By the end of the book you’ll understand it all.

It would mean a lot to us if you’d pick up a copy, absorb the ideas, consider the suggestions, and try to make the work world a better place for a lot more people. We hope you ❤️ it. Got questions? Post ’em below and we’ll do our best to answer everything we can. Thanks in advance for reading!

-Jason and David


You in business? What are you doing to last? Not to grow. Not to gain. Not to take. Not to win. But to last?

I wouldn’t advocate spending much time worrying about the competition — you really shouldn’t waste attention worrying about things you can’t control — but if it helps make the point relatable, the best way to beat the competition is to last longer than they do.

Duh? Yes, duh. Exactly. Business is duh simple as long as you don’t make it duhking complicated.

So how do you last?

Obviously you need to take in enough revenue to pay your bills. But we’ve always tried to reverse that statement: How many bills do you need to pay to limit your revenue requirements?

Rather than thinking about how much you need to make to cover your costs, think about how little you need to help you survive as long as you want.

Yes, we’re talking about costs. The rarely talked about side of the equation. I’m honestly shocked how little attention costs get in the realm of entrepreneurial literature.

Whenever a startup goes out of business, the first thing I get curious about are their costs, not their revenues. If their revenues are non-existent, or barely there, then they were fucked anyway. But beyond that, the first thing I look at is their employee count. Your startup with 38 people didn’t make it? No wonder. Your startup that was paying $52,000/month rent didn’t make it? No wonder. Your startup that spend 6 figures on your brand didn’t make it? No wonder.

Even today… Some of the biggest names in our industry are hemorrhaging money. How is that possible? Simple: Their costs are too high! You don’t lose money by making it, you lose it by spending too much of it! Duh! I know!

So keep your costs as low as possible. And it’s likely that true number is even lower than you think possible. That’s how you last through the leanest times. The leanest times are often the earliest times, when you don’t have customers yet, when you don’t have revenue yet. Why would you tank your odds of survival by spending money you don’t have on things you don’t need? Beats me, but people do it all the time. ALL THE TIME. Dreaming of all the amazing things you’ll do in year three doesn’t matter if you can’t get past year two.

2018 will be our 19th year in business. That means we’ve survived a couple of major downturns — 2001, and 2008, specifically. I’ve been asked how. It’s simple: It didn’t cost us much to stay in business. In 2001 we had 4 employees. We were competing against companies that had 40, 400, even 4000. We had 4. We made it through, many did not. In 2008 we had around 20. We had millions in revenue coming in, but we still didn’t spend money on marketing, and we still sublet a corner of someone else’s office. Business was amazing, but we continued to keep our costs low. Keeping a handle on your costs must be a habit, not an occasion. Diets don’t work, eating responsibly does.

Try it for a year. Think less about revenues and more about costs. In many cases they’re easier to control, easier to predict (seek out fixed costs that’ll stay the same as you grow, vs things that get more expensive as you grow), and easier to manage. But only if you keep them in mind as you make decisions about how you’re going to last — and outlast.

Fired up about a new idea, but can’t seem to get traction to make it happen? Chat rooms aren’t traction, they’re treadmills. Lots of talk without going anywhere. You need Basecamp 3 — discussions, to-do lists, schedules, the ability to hold people accountable. Don’t just talk about it, do it with Basecamp.

Insignificant details

We hired a professional photographer this Christmas and he almost lost our business.

My wife is one of four kids. One of those kids has four kids. We have a kid. Another sister has two kids.

There’s a lot of us.

And this Christmas we finally had most of us together. So my wife took to booking a professional photographer to snap some photos.

She went through the typical process of reviewing websites and inquiring if they could do a shoot near the holidays.

She found one she liked who had availability, but then a wrinkle came up. The end product was that they’d provide a CD-ROM of the photos.

That’s a problem. We don’t even have a CD drive in our house anymore. We’re not going to go through extra hoops to get these photos off of this thing.

We’ll find someone else.

But it occurred to us to just ask to see if they had another method. Could we just give them a USB thumb drive to put the photos on?

And they could — even mentioned they’ve done this with customers before.

Huh. So they almost lost our business because they failed to update a tiny detail of their process with recent changes around options for delivering photos to customers.

I think a lot of business are like these photographers. There’s a bunch of small details that pile up. Clearly they aren’t a priority. Taking and displaying awesome photos probably ranks much higher on a photographer’s todo list than updating policies and website FAQs on how photos are delivered.

But then they lose a customer here for this and a customer there for that.

So at Highrise, we cycle in time to at least get some of the small things done — the little nagging issues that don’t seem significant but may lose us a few customers here and there.

And you don’t have to be a software company like us to accomplish this. Just slot in some time to work on the non-priorities. Make one hour every Friday the time you spend doing a little polish. Touching something that isn’t going to move the needle. Change an email footer. Improve a single image. Rewrite a confusing sentence.

It’s important to not get overwhelmed with these bits or they’ll take over the time you should actually be working on the most important thing.

It flies in the face of everyone trying to chase Pareto’s Principle. “Just work on the 20% that brings you 80% of the impact.” But eventually, all those little improvements pile up to something pretty significant too.

P.S. You should follow me on YouTube: youtube.com/nathankontny where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a zero-learning-curve system to track leads and manage follow-ups, try Highrise.

About town

A few places Highrise has been spotted in the wild recently 🙂

Amy Schmittauer is killing it with teaching folks how to vlog, and she’s been a huge supporter of Highrise and my own vlog. It was awesome to see her showing the use of Highrise in her routine:

Alison Grove’s been buzzing on the podcast circuit.

and her chat with Support Ops.

Our new iOS app was Xamarin’s App of the Week. People have also really enjoyed hearing how we made a native mobile app that supports both Android and iOS with just 2 people working part time on the project with Microsoft tools:

Our writing has been showing up on guest blog posts like this one from Capterra by Lynette:

The Benefits of CRM Software for 5 Types of Small Businesses

And on Olark where I talk about making Business Human:

The Benefits of CRM Software for 5 Types of Small Businesses

And I’ve been on some podcasts too recently. I just spoke with DULO Wear about my origin story, building businesses, creating audiences, luck and a lot more:

I hope you enjoy the things we’ve been sharing. If there’s anything you’d be interested in us covering, or if you’d like to interview any of us, we’d love to chat. Please don’t hesitate to reach out (nate@highrisehq.com).

How much should I charge?

The Chicago Botanic Garden is large garden and tourist attraction that opened to the public in 1972. (It’s a funny name though since it’s actually in a suburb of Chicago called Glencoe.)

Besides the name, one thing I find interesting about the Chicago Botanic Garden is how they charge.

Most museums in Chicago, like most museums everywhere, charge an entrance fee. If you plan on visiting those museums with some frequency, they offer a membership where you get “free” entrance to the museum on all your visits.

But the Botanic Garden is free. For everyone. You just walk in the door and go.

What they charge for is parking. When you get a membership, really all you’re getting is free parking.

It’s an interesting take on membership for a couple reasons. One, they do something different than most of their peers.

And two, they charge money for something that actually encourages better behavior that makes the experience better for all their customers. If you do something good for your body and the environment (walking, biking, taking public transportation), you get in free. And for the rest of us who still have to drive, you can find a parking space nearby without having to circle a lot or park in some remote garage.

It strikes me because so very few of us bother to try pricing any different than our peers. All of us talk a big game about being “different” and then we charge just like everyone else.

For Draft, the writing software I made, I was hell-bent on charging differently than others.

I realized that a lot of people came to Draft for the simplicity of its interface. Whitespace was the premium real estate. So what if I charged for “more whitespace”? I added a button that simply said “Unregistered” that you could pay to remove.

It’s been a neat and successful experiment that could be pushed a bit further. But, it still doesn’t nail the idea of a business model that encourages people to perform better behaviors.

Most of us, Highrise included, charge in a way that actually discourages good behaviors. Many charge per user, discouraging people from wanting to invite more users. Or we charge per project, contact, case, whatever, again discouraging people from creating those types of object in our systems, where we should actually be encouraging folks to use our tools more.

From our Jobs-to-be-Done interviews, where we drilled deep into the reasons folks used Highrise, Ryan Singer had some great insight on charging for Highrise differently. Right now we charge in buckets, essentially: Small-Medium-Large. It still discourages people from growing their accounts.

Instead, we should experiment with matching our pricing to the specific job people have for our tool.

Perhaps, we should have three pricing plans fitting the three different jobs we found our customers had. So there isn’t really any choosing between plans: you either fit in plan A, because your business looks like A, or you fit into B, because your business function looks identical to B.

Or a single price that fits the single core user who benefits from Highrise the most.

A customer would never have to think before hitting that invite or “Create” button about some limit they’ll be up against trying to use the system more. They’ll just create.

I think most people find our prices pretty fair, but I think we can do better. Stay tuned. I hope we can make some changes in the near future to price a lot more like the Chicago Botanic Garden does.

P.S. Please help spread this by clicking the below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how we run our business, do product design, market ourselves, and just get through life. And if you need a no-hassle system to track leads and manage follow-ups you should try Highrise.

New in Highrise… Less!

We’ve recently done some customer research to investigate the ‘jobs’ our customers hire Highrise for — their Jobs to Be Done. I explore the process and outcomes a lot more in several episodes of my vlog, if you’re interested.

One of the key insights from the interviews was the importance that Highrise is a streamlined system for our customers to track leads and follow-ups.

It was fewer clicks, fewer things that needed to be learned, fewer things clamoring for attention compared to alternatives.

We also found “streamlined” can mean different things for different people. Some folks use Follow-ups but not Deals. Notes and email but not Cases. Bulk email but not our Group Inbox.

So we want to triple down on our effort to bring the most straightforward, simple, and streamlined CRM you can find.

With that in mind we’ve developed a new feature to… turn off features.

You can turn them back on at any time. If you have data in those features, don’t worry, nothing will be lost. You can read more about how this works: here.

We want to keep making sure Highrise helps you get your work done when you need it and stays out of your way when you don’t.

P.S. Please help spread this by clicking the below.

Honesty is the Best Policy

Downtown Vegas’ fire-breathing mantis & Staying on the set of The Real World Season 31

Two weeks ago Highrise had a company meetup in Downtown Las Vegas. It’s only seven of us, so you can imagine what traveling and meetups do to our customer support.

We have two people dedicated to customer support. They stagger their travel so when situations like this arise, someone is still on the ground answering email. Still, there are moments during a meetup like this where we can’t be as good about our response times on our support queue as we want to be.

What do we do?

We typically do our meetups in Chicago, and once in Boulder, CO in April. We got stuck in CO when the airport closed for a day due to snow [more on that crazy story here 🙂].

This time, Las Vegas came to mind as a place we could go in April and not have to worry about weather problems.

I’m also incredibly inspired with the effort Tony Hsieh, the CEO of Zappos, has put into resuscitating the Downtown area of Las Vegas. I highly recommend it as a place for meetups (Pro tip: use the Real World Suite as a place to work during the day).

So we mainly stuck to the Downtown area of Vegas, but we did take advantage of some of the fun things also on “The Strip”. For example, we saw Cirque du Soleil’s Love.

And we also went to a fancy cocktail bar overlooking a gorgeous human-made waterfall.

This bar came from a bunch of recommendations, but when we sat down something was off. The table was a little wobbly, so I looked underneath it and saw what appeared to be blood.

Can’t be. Maybe someone just stepped on a raspberry and it hasn’t been cleaned up yet.

The experience remained “off”. It took about 20 minutes before anyone even came over to our table to take an order. The person finally taking our order only uttered 3 words: “Are you ready?” We all ordered water too. But even after another long wait for drinks, the water never came. We had to reorder that too.

A little later, someone working there dropped a glass behind me. They cleaned up half of it and left the rest. It seemed as if they saw the rest of the glass, but they didn’t do the work to sweep what wasn’t in easy reach.

I heard people, sitting down behind me, later step on the pieces.

Maybe it actually was blood under our table.

To top off the night, the bill came with an automatic 18% gratuity, likely because there were 7 of us. This place didn’t deserve anything close to this gratuity. But… we’d already spent too much time there for me to wait around to talk with someone about it. I just wanted to leave.

So why was it like this? The biggest cause we noticed was that the main waitress taking all of our orders was the only one working tables and serving drinks. She was slammed. Clearly she was too busy to handle this well and that’s not her fault.

But what’s interesting to me is how some simple a handful of words would have made all the difference.

If she had just said, “I’m sorry for the wait. We’re slammed today and my backup hasn’t shown up yet.” Our entire experience would have improved with those expectations.

At Highrise, when our support can’t be as top notch as we want it to, we make sure we tell you about it upfront.

Here’s what our help site looks like when we’re on a company meetup:

The yellow alert about our limited support is built into the custom made site so it’s easy to throw up in situations like these. It doesn’t go up often — the bi-annual company meetup, Christmas, an unexpected crisis.

But the effect has been tremendous. Instead of getting upset emails about a temporary slowness to our response times, we get email telling us to enjoy our holiday or time together and letting us know they appreciate the heads up.

It’s a strong lesson for those folks out there who are constantly trying to hide how things are really going. They make it sound like they have an international team running the business when really it’s just a solo entrepreneur making it all work. Or they pretend everything’s going great, even though everyone is clearly aware you’re barely getting by.

Pretending it’s something different doesn’t make it better. As your customers, we can tell. You might as well be honest. Exceed expectations every time you can. And set them appropriately when you can’t.

P.S. Please help spread this article by clicking the below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should try Highrise.


Have you tried to get an article published in a magazine and someone said No? Have you tried to start a business but needed some capital and someone said No? Have you tried to get a new job to change your career and someone said No?

In the 1940s, Evelyn Overton wanted to create a better life. She made a killer cheesecake. People loved it. So she decided to try making it into a business.

It turned into a bit of a thing in her basement. But life naturally got a bit more complicated when two kids entered the picture. She retired from the cheesecake business to help raise her children.

But the entrepreneurial bug bit again when her kids moved off to college. Evelyn and her husband Oscar moved to California and started selling their cheesecakes to restaurants and grocery stores.

Meanwhile, their son David realized his dream of a music career wasn’t working out. He moved West to see if he could help Mom and Dad with the business.

But he saw the business just wasn’t growing that well.

Trying to get other restaurants and shops to buy his mom’s cheesecakes was fraught with rejection. Too many gatekeepers saying No. Too many people controlling a distribution system of his Mom’s recipes. Too many people controlling their destiny.

My whole life I’ve bumped into people telling me no. It’s natural. There’s places we want to go and gatekeepers keep us out. It’s not always a bad thing. Sometimes we aren’t ready. But other times, we know we are. We just need a shot.

So we have to start a blog and create our own readership.

We have to self-publish that book.

We have to bootstrap and raise our own funds from customers for that new business.

The Overtons decided they could control distribution better by opening a restaurant to showcase their awesome cheesecakes.

You’ve probably eaten their food. Odds are you like it too. 🙂

In 1978, the Overtons opened up the very first Cheesecake Factory. Today, The Cheesecake Factory has 185 restaurants all over the world. It’s a public company making about 2 billion dollars of revenue each year.

Sometimes instead of waiting for someone else, we just have to do it ourselves.

P.S. Please help spread this article by clicking the below.

You should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should try Highrise.

How to innovate — 3 recent stories from successful brands

Last week I had the opportunity to attend ProFood Tech, a trade show for the food and beverage processing industry. I went to experience problems felt by companies outside my sphere of online software businesses. It’s funny though how much is still the same. Same problems. Same worries.

How do we grow this old brand? How have people’s tastes changed? How do we create new products without wasting tons of money?

There was a panel on innovation where three successful and aging brands shared recent successes at creating new products. There’s a lot to learn from them.

Bud Light

The CEO of Anheuser-Busch was visiting Asia when he noticed folks were pouring beer over ice. He immediately called his VP of Innovation, Pat McGauley, and asked for his team to figure out what was going on here. Was this a trend they could exploit?

The call was on a Friday. By Sunday, Pat was testing beers over ice with impromptu focus groups from the tour of the Anheuser-Busch plant in St. Louis. (I’ve been. It’s a great slice of American history.) Pat served beers over ice and got people’s impressions.

Everyone hated it.

This wasn’t going to work.

But Pat didn’t want to end up with a disappointing dead end for his boss, so he kept his team on the problem. If beer over ice doesn’t work here with US drinkers what would?

They came up with a margarita flavored malt beverage called a Lime-a-Rita and it blew up. Two years after launch the beverage was making $498 million in sales and commanded 28% of the flavored malt-beverage market (Adage).

Takeaway: I’m impressed by how fast Anheuser-Busch is getting experiments in front of new customers. They don’t let a formal process get in the way. They know they have customers walking through their doors every day on these tours, why not take advantage immediately of that signal and start using it. Too many companies waste countless time debating their experimentation process only to come up with the same result: the original idea sucks and they have to go back to the drawing board.

If a giant behemoth of a company like Anheuser-Busch can test out new product ideas in front of people this quickly, what excuse do you have?

Also worth taking away from this story is how margaritas weren’t actually new territory for Anheuser-Busch. They created a margarita mix years ago and it failed miserably. They sold it alongside the more popular margarita mixes copying every attribute they could: even the bottle design. The purposefully tried to blend into the current market and paid the price.

This time they made an effort to stand out. Get out of the mixed drink aisle and get in front of beer drinkers or people looking for a beer alternative.

Sometimes your product idea isn’t growing because you’re simply selling it in the wrong aisle.

It’s a task I’m working on actively at Highrise with some interesting results. How do we get out of the CRM ‘aisle’ with hundreds and hundreds of competitors?

Wheat Thins

Linda Lee, the CMO of Stonyfield Farm, shared her experience with Wheat Thins while she was still a Sr. Director at Mondelēz International, which owns the Nabisco brand.

Linda was in charge of Wheat Thins, and things weren’t going well. Over a decade Wheat Thins had seen decline. How could they fix this?

One thing Linda realized was the category of healthy snacking was actually growing. So something must be wrong with Wheat Thins itself. Knowing that helped them focus.

She realized the problem stood out right from the name: “Wheat”. Wheat isn’t trendy. Avoiding gluten is trendy. For example: 1 in 5 Americans are now trying to avoid gluten in their diet. (Thanks Bill Winterberg for the stat.)

Linda realized that if they could create Wheat Thin-esque crackers out of alternatives like rice and potato she might have a hit. So they created Good Thins. A nod to the quality, taste and texture of Wheat Thins but with trendy ingredients. And the product has taken off.

Takeaway: Linda studied not just her product but the whole category of products to figure out where the problem was. If you just focus inward you might not understand if it’s actually you or the market. For example, a Fax machine business today might mistakenly think their Fax machine doesn’t do enough; “let’s add more features.” But if you look at the market you realize Faxing as a category isn’t growing. Then you know it’s not just your product. You need to think about making more foundational changes. But if the market is growing, and you’re not, your focus changes. It’s you. Not them.

Which frees up your resources to focus on the right things to fix.


Nestle who makes Butterfinger was seeing global sales slump and wanted to come up with something new. Jeremy Vandervoet, Director of Marketing, was in charge of a turnaround.

One day Jeremey was searching through Pinterest as an early user of the platform and something struck him about his search for “Butterfinger”. People were posting tons and tons of recipes for dishes made with Butterfinger: cakes, muffins, cookies, you name it.

Jeremey had the insight of his career. Butterfinger isn’t just a candybar to their customers. It’s an ingredient.

So armed with this information, Nestle decided to take on a candy that no one ever dares to: Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. Reese’s is the best selling candy in the US with annual sales of ~$2 billion. People love their peanut butter cups. And the category got complacent.

Until Jeremy came along. In 2014, Nestle launched their Butterfinger Peanut Butter Cups. The first difference you’ll spot is a rounded square instead of a perfect circle. But the main difference you’ll taste is a peanut butter cup with a unique crunch to it from Butterfinger pieces inside.

It was a hit.

“[Butterfinger cups] has become the №1 launch in the history of Nestle U.S.A.’s confections and snacks division,” Tricia Bowles, manager of division and brand affairs at Nestle, told Food Business News.

It’s been so successful Reese’s is now trying and succeeding with their own comebacks at the “crunchy peanut butter cup.”

Reese’s versions with Pieces and cookies inside

Takeaway: Jeremy was able to look at his product more objectively than most. It’s not what you think your product is, it’s what your customers think your product is.

You start doing research like Jobs-to-be-Done interviews. You start watching customers and learn how they use your product in weird and unintended ways. You might just realize you made a thing that works rather differently than you planned for. But you can likely harness that other perspective and make it work for you.

Here at Highrise, the use we’re seeing isn’t of the “unintended” variety, but definitely in a place we haven’t paid much attention to: trade shows. Hence my work like attending ProFood Tech to uncover more of what makes trade shows tick.

None of these stories made it seem like these tasks were easy. But sometimes reaching outside of your core industry is also a great way to inspire some new thinking and ideas.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that below. And you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should give Highrise a look.

Beat the competition by sticking to the basics

At first glance the stories of Bubba Gump and Planet Hollywood restaurants seem similar: exploit famous brands to get people to eat your food.

Bubba Gump was the shrimping company Forrest Gump created in the Hollywood movie starring Tom Hanks. The film grossed over $677 million dollars worldwide. Bubba Gump was just a fictional company, but of course once there was a restaurant named after it, people went in droves.

And in 1990, a guy who used to run a London pub had a genius idea. He could open up a chain of restaurants, and give shares of the company to famous celebrities who would endorse those restaurants. Planet Hollywood was born. And it grew fast. At its peak Planet Hollywood had 87 restaurants in 36 countries. Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Whoopi Goldberg, Bruce Willis, all had their names attached.

But the stories rapidly diverge.

Today, Planet Hollywood is a shell of itself. The celebrities ran away. Bankruptcy protection was needed multiple times. And now there’s just a few restaurants left.

Bubba Gump stood strong, now in 44 locations. And the place is packed. Be prepared for a long wait to get a table at ours in Chicago’s Navy Pier.

So what went wrong for Planet Hollywood? How did famous people fail at growing a restaurant? Or what did Bubba Gump do so right?

Scott Barnett was the CEO of Bubba Gump during its start and rise. Scott wrote a book called Gumption, and did rounds of podcasts and interviews when his book was published. His story is packed with interesting anecdotes about what made them successful.

One that stuck out the most was how Scott hired waitstaff. He purposefully chose to hire inexperienced folks — as long as they were nice and happy people.

His philosophy was they could train someone to wait tables, but not to be nice.

But obviously, training wait staff who haven’t ever worked in a restaurant still isn’t an easy task. This is where they made an interesting innovation. First, they’d only give waitstaff sections of 3 tables. Keep their responsibility small.

Next, he realized that a table didn’t need a dedicated waitperson. That’s not the “job to be done” of a restaurant. You go because often you don’t want to cook and serve this meal yourself. Who cares if you have 1 waitperson or 10? As long as folks are nice and the food is hot and tasty.

So Scott implemented a system at Bubba Gump where you could flip a sign on the table. Red meant you needed service. Blue meant you were all good.

Pic from TripAdvisor

By implementing a system like this, you weren’t obligated to “waive down your waiter”. A common gesture most waiters abhor.

You could just move the sign to red, and any available Bubba Gump staff member would show up to help. That way inexperienced people who were falling behind could rely on others to help out in a pinch.

Simple idea. Genius results.

Bubba Gump’s service was excellent and in Scott’s words they were able to deliver: “Hot food hot. Cold food cold”.

Scott nailed the basics.

At one point while Planet Hollywood was rising, Scott met a Planet Hollywood executive who told Scott, “Planet Hollywood isn’t in the restaurant business, we’re in the trademark business.”

It’s clear where Planet Hollywood put their priorities.

Planet Hollywood is an example of a company that got too clever with their attempt at growing a business. They forgot the basics. And their customers felt fooled.

Sure you might be able to get people in the door because of a famous person’s endorsement. But if your service sucks and your food takes forever to get to the table, they won’t come back.

There’s a lot of businesses like that. They think the key to success is a clever innovation they dreamt up, or marketing plan that’s so smart they should win an award.

But they forget people often just want the basics.

Get the basics right and you might just get enough repeat business to keep you open for the long term.

P.S. If you enjoyed this article, please help spread it by clicking that below. And if you are interested in more, you should follow my YouTube channel, where I share more about how history, psychology, and science can help us come up with better ideas and start businesses. And if you need a simple system to track leads and follow-ups you should give Highrise a look.