Basecamp 3: New feature round-up

Summer is winding down, kids are back in school and the Basecamp team has a fresh batch of updates to share. Here’s a quick look at some recent improvements that are available right now in all of your projects.

Getting over the hill

Hill Charts are a completely new way to track progress and a Basecamp 3 exclusive. People everywhere are loving this unique way to see where their projects really stand and answer the hard questions that get them un-stuck. Now it’s much faster to choose which lists to track on the Hill Chart. Take a look…

Set up Hill Charts.

Profile cards

Clicking someone’s avatar in Basecamp is often the best way to get a little more information about people you’re collaborating with—especially when you work with clients, people you’ve never met, or on a team spread across time zones. Now profiles show you which company someone is a part of, their role in Basecamp (Administrator, Owner, or Client), and what time it is where they live. These details can help you track down an admin, figure out who the new person on the project is, or avoid bugging someone in the middle of the night.

Profile now cards display additional details.

Coloring folders

Now you can color folders just like you could other items in Docs & Files. Add a little personality, make something important stand out, or come up with your own color-coding system.

Coloring and organizing folders.

Project tools

Basecamp features seven distinct tools to handle every situtation in your projects from communicating to organizing to tracking work. With the latest update it’s easier than ever to choose which combination of tools to use on each project.

Managing project tools.

Improved invites

One of the best things about Basecamp is it keeps everyone on the same page so that nothing falls through the cracks. That only works, however, if the right people are involved in the project. So we’ve removed some steps, cut some complexity and streamlined the process so that getting people into your projects is easier than ever.

Inviting people is clearer and more direct.

Managing My Drafts

You write a lot in Basecamp, we get it. Drafts let you work on that post, announcement, article, or note in private until you’re ready to share it. But not everything gets published and before this update it could be a lot of work to figure out what was what or simply get rid of the ones you no longer needed. With this update, you can see all of your draft Messages and Documents, when they were last edited, and in which project they live. Not only that, but you can trash them right from the list without having to click into each one first. More info, faster edits, less pain = win!

Managing My Drafts

Jump to projects

For Basecamp pros, the Jump Menu is a speedy way to get around in Basecamp. Just hit ⌘+ J to return to something you saw recently or type a few characters to quickly filter Projects, Teams, and People. With our latest update we made it easier to jump to another project by making them pop up to the top of the list. This makes the Jump Menu hands-down the fastest way to get to a project in Basecamp.

Filtering in the Jump menu now makes jumping to another project even faster.

Thank you ❤️

We’re so grateful for all our customers and we hope these improvements make your time working more calm, effective, and enjoyable. If you’re not yet a Basecamp customer and feeling overwhelmed because your business is growing, you’re buried in email, stuff is slipping through the cracks, and communication is a struggle maybe it’s time to give us a try. You can try Basecamp completely free and unlimited for 30 days. No credit card needed to sign-up!

Respecting privacy at Basecamp

I spend a lot of time as a data scientist thinking about how to use data responsibly, particularly when it comes to privacy. There’s tremendous value to be found by analyzing data, but the only way the data science field will continue to have data to analyze is if we are responsible in how we use it.

As a company, Basecamp strives to have the respect for user privacy that we’d like in every service we personally use.

I could talk about the things that we do relating to privacy:

  • We have a plain English privacy policy, and expect to be GDPR compliant by the deadline.
  • We use encryption for all communications between Basecamp and your browser, and we encrypt our backend services as much as is practical.
  • When you cancel, we delete your account and all your data.
  • We purge log data and database backups after 30 days.

But I think our privacy philosophy is better defined by the things that we don’t do.

We don’t access customer accounts unless they ask.

The only time we’ll ever put ourselves into a position to see a customer’s account is if they grant explicit permission to do so as part of a support ticket. We log and audit all such access.

We don’t look at customer identities.

Many companies, especially startups, review every signup manually and reach out to interesting looking customers. I get lots of these emails, and every one leaves me unsettled.

Tons of companies will also use the fact that you signed up as permission to identify you as a customer for marketing purposes. Over the years, I’ve had to ask no fewer than a dozen companies to remove Basecamp from their marketing material.

I find both of these practices to be distasteful. There’s no reason I, or anyone else here, needs to know the names of people who are signing up for Basecamp. It’s unnecessary.

We don’t share customer data.

There are a few aspects to this, but our basic premise is that it’s your data, and not ours, so we shouldn’t be sharing it.

We get lots of people writing us from big companies asking “does anyone else at Acme use Basecamp?” or people asking “can you tell me any companies in our industry that use Basecamp?”. Just like we don’t look at identities ourselves, we also don’t disclose them to people who ask.

We’ll only provide customer data to law enforcement agencies in response to court orders. Unless specifically prohibited from doing so, we’ll always inform the customer of the request.

It should go without saying, but we don’t sell customer lists or any other data to anyone.

We don’t look at identifiable usage data.

To make Basecamp better, we do analyze usage patterns, and we have instrumentation to enable us to do that. This inherently requires us to in some form look at what people are doing when they’re using Basecamp.

Where we draw the line is that we never look at identifiable usage data. Any data that we use for analysis is stripped of all customer provided content (titles, message or comment bodies, file names, etc.), leaving only metadata, and it’s blinded to remove identifiable information like user IDs, IP addresses, etc. We try to do these things in such a way that it’s impossible for anyone analyzing data to even accidentally have access to anything identifiable.

This choice to never look at any identifiable data (or even be able to) does place minor constraints on the analyses we can perform, but so what? There’s plenty of value left in what we can do. My job might be a little bit harder, but I’m happy to spend the extra effort to be respectful of customers’ privacy.

We don’t send customer data to third party services.

As much as possible, we avoid the user of third party services that require any customer data to pass through them. There are many cases of such tools capturing too much, and we can’t control what happens with data once it reaches them.

There are a few cases where we do use third party services, which I’m happy to disclose:

  • We use Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud Platform to host some parts of our applications. In those cases, we use available encryption options to prevent the platform provider from having access to the underlying customer data.
  • We use third party analytics tools (currently Google Analytics and Clicky) on public facing websites only. They capture IP addresses, etc., but are not put in any place where they could capture user provided content.
  • We use a third party helpdesk tool for answering support cases (HelpScout). This mean that HelpScout has any data that gets sent in a support ticket.
  • We use third party tools for sending some emails (MailChimp and, which have access to customer email addresses and metadata required to know when to send an email. We don’t send any customer provided data to either service.
  • We use third party CDNs (Akamai and Cloudfront) for serving static assets. Those services have access to IP addresses, etc.

We don’t want you to feel creeped out.

At the end of the day, this is the bottom line. We don’t want to do anything that feels creepy or that we wouldn’t want done with our data.

We know that you’re putting your trust in us when you use Basecamp, and we want to do everything we can to honor and live up to that trust.

New in Basecamp 3: An all-new Schedule design

Big update today! Starting right now, Basecamp 3 customers will see an entirely new design when they flip over to the Schedule screen in any team, project, or HQ.

The schedule used to look like this…

BTW, this is the actual schedule for our all-new REWORK Podcast.

It was colorful, and it provided a nice overview if you only had a few events, but it quickly got out of hand if you had a lot of events or to-dos mixed in. And when you wanted to get in there and see exactly what was happening next week, or if there was anything on the schedule this Friday, it fell down pretty hard.

So we fixed it. And more!

And here’s the new schedule…

At the top you have a grid showing the current month + the next month. You can page through the months using the arrows top left and right. Every event or to-do that’s due on a given day is represented by a dot. Three events, three dots. If there are no dots, there’s nothing on the schedule for that day. Now you can see gaps and openings and weekly overviews — something that wasn’t possible with the previous design.

A LIGHT project on the left, a HEAVY project on the right.

Below the grid is a straightforward agenda view. Events are clearly grouped by days (if there’s anything on a given day). And you can jump around the agenda view by clicking around in the calendar above. Want to see what’s happening next Wednesday? One click and it pops right to the top of the agenda view. This was something you couldn’t do before.

Events (or to-dos) that span multiple days are shown in a couple ways. First, if they’re on the current day, they show an “Until” right under the event. And then, they’re shown in light grey at the top of subsequent days. They’re also repeated on every future day so you can get a very direct sense of what’s happening on a given day. You couldn’t see this in the previous design because they were only shown at the top of a month, and not on individual days where the event occurred.

See how “KA Sabbatical” says “Until August 27th” below it at the top? Now you know KA will be out until the 27th. And on the 24th you’ll also see “KA Sabbatical” at the top along with “JS Out” “AB Out” and “CJ Out” — the other long-running events that continue that day.

One of the really nice benefits of this is that you can see overlapping long-running events. In the example below, you’ll see Tom is out on sabbatical, and then “SU” starts his sabbatical on the 23rd. Now from June 24th — 30th you’ll see they are both on sabbatical. This was non-obvious in the previous design. Now it’s clear as day.

Here’s another before and after. Before on the left, after on the right…

← Before ……………………….. After →

You’ll notice the previous design (on the left) doesn’t show that KA, JS, AB, and CJ are even out on the 24th— you’d have to go back up to the top of that month to figure that out. Forget to do that, or not even realize you have to, and you’re missing out on important information. This is fixed in the new design.

Lastly, we’ve pulled this design over to two more places: “My Schedule” and the “What’s coming up” report. An example:

This report shows what’s coming up across all teams and projects across your entire account. You can see we have a lot scheduled in August, but things begin to lighten up towards the end of September.

Summarizing the improvements on the new schedule design:

  • Jump to any day to see exactly what’s happening that day. Just click a cell in the grid at the top of the schedule and the agenda below updates instantly with the selected day right at the top.
  • Now you can see gaps in time. Looking for an empty day to schedule something? Now it just takes a quick glance at the grid at the top to spot openings.
  • See busy days or weeks at a glance. Lots of dots tells you there’s a lot going on on a specific day or week. Just click into a cell to see exactly what’s up.
  • See long-running events on every day they occur. You no longer have to scroll back up to earlier in the month to see if there’s something happening on a given day.
  • Jump back in time using the same interface. Previously, if you wanted to see past events you had to flip to a separate tab called “Looking back”. This wiped the screen clean and listed old events. It was cumbersome to see something that happened yesterday. Now you just navigate using the grid at the top and jump between future days and past days the exact same way.
  • Plus a variety of smaller improvements, specifically around speed and performance.

One more thing… Now that you have a calendar view up top with dots that represent events, you may be wishing for a way to assign colors to different kinds of events. We agree! While we haven’t built this into this first revision of the schedule, it’s something we’d like to do down the road.

So there you have it. An all-new and improved schedule, available today in your Basecamp 3 account. You’ll see the same design in the iOS and Android apps as well!

We hope you find the new design useful, and thanks again for your continued support.

If you’re a Basecamp customer, thanks so much! And if you aren’t, but you find yourself struggling with messy email chains, overwhelmed by chats and txts, finding stuff slipping through the cracks, and generally feeling like your process is breaking down, it’s time to give Basecamp 3 a shot. It’s free to try.

Lots of new Basecamp 3 stuff

We’ve been plugging away this summer on a wide variety of improvements on Basecamp 3. While there have been a ton of improvements on the iOS and Android side as well, this post will focus on some of the larger improvements to the web/desktop version.

Focus Mode

Need to do some deep work? Go into Focus Mode. This will turn off all notifications, and hide all unread badges.

To enter Focus Mode, click your avatar top right, and click the “Turn on Focus Mode” button.

Color and highlight your text

Lots of requests for this one. Now you can color and highlight your text in messages, automatic check-in answers, comments, to-dos, etc. Basically anywhere you can turn text bold, italic, etc, you can now also color it up.

Just click the dropper icon in the toolbar to add some color.

Quick jump to projects, teams, recently visited pages, and people

Big one. No matter where you are, hit COMMAND-J (Mac) or CONTROL-J (windows) and you’ll pull up the quick switcher. Just start typing to filter down and jump to another project, team, recently visited page (a to-do list, a message, a file/document, etc), your HQ, your assignments, your drafts, or other people.

Type someone’s name to quickly see what they’ve been up to, what’s on their plate, etc.

No more duplicated notifications on @mentions

Prior to this update, if you were @mentioned on a thread where a new message or comment was posted, you might get two notifications: One for the posting itself, and another letting you know you were mentioned in the posting. We’ve collapsed those two notifications into a single one. Now you’ll only get the @mention. This is better.

Automatic titles for Basecamp 3 links

Now, when you copy a Basecamp 3 URL and paste it into a Basecamp 3 message, comment, or document, we’ll automatically link it up using the title of the page as the link text.

My Schedule

There’s a new link on the home page below My Assignments and My Bookmarks called My Schedule. Click on that and you’ll see every upcoming event that you’re associated with.

Bulk to-do move and copy

Major workflow improvement: Now you can shift-select multiple to-dos on a list and move or copy them together to another list.

First you select which, then you say where.

Added list view to the home page

When we launched Basecamp 3, all teams and projects were shown as cards. We recently pushed an update which allows you to view teams and projects in a list format. You can control teams and projects independently — teams can remain cards while projects can be shown as a list, etc.

Pick your poison.

Add a personal note to invitations

Now when you invite people to Basecamp, you can include a personal note. It’s a great way to explain why you’re inviting someone, or give them a short introduction to Basecamp itself.

Message types

This one’s really useful: Now you can specify what kind of message you’re posting. You’ll see a series of options at the top of the “New Message” screen. If you pick one, the emoji will precede the message subject, making it more obvious from the start what kind of thing you’re publishing.

All-new emoji picker for Campfires and Pings

Just click the little smiley on the right side of the Campfire or Ping text entry box and you’ll see a panel with common emojis you can pop right into your message. You can always use any emoji you’d like — even ones not represented here — but this provides quick access to the most common ones.

Flexible scheduling for Automatic Check-ins

Basecamp 3’s Automatic Check-ins feature has been a game changer for so many of our customers. Automatic Check-ins prompt people, on a regular basis, to share specific kinds of information. Things like “What did you work on today?” “What are you planning on working on this week?” “How do you think this project is going so far?” “What’s inspired you lately?” etc. Originally we only provided a few recurring options — every Monday, every Friday, every other week, etc. But with this update you have far more flexibility in how often they’re asked, and when.

…And many more subtle tweaks, adjustments, and improvements.

Every day we’re improving Basecamp 3, and every 6–8 weeks we tend to ship significant improvements. We’re working on some great stuff now — we look forward to rolling it out when it’s ready.

Stay tuned to this blog, or follow us on Twitter at to stay up on the latest.

If you’re a customer, thanks so much! And if you aren’t, but you find yourself struggling with messy email chains, overwhelmed by chats and txts, finding stuff slipping through the cracks, and generally feeling like your process is falling apart, it’s time to give Basecamp 3 a shot. It’s free to try, and there are no limits during your 30 day trial.

Paying customers, not paying Facebook, Google, or Twitter.

Our new Basecamp Referral Program splits $100 between existing customers and new customers rather than putting it in the pocket of those that track your every move online.

Last year we experimented with running ads on Facebook, Google, and Twitter. All-in we spent 6 figures on the experiment. And then we stopped.

But what stopped us wasn’t the spend, it was the feel. Every dollar you spend is a vote, and we were casting hundreds of thousands of votes for big companies that are tracking people’s every step, every move, every curiosity, and every detail of their lives. Fuck that.

Yeah, they could bring us customers. But we don’t like the way they do it. We don’t want to be complicit in the how. No thank you, no vote.

So, armed with the dollars and the drive, how do we introduce Basecamp 3 to more people? Who can we vote for to help us do this? The answer became clear: Our customers.

Why give money to Facebook, Google, and Twitter when we can give it right back to our customers? They’re better advocates for Basecamp than any ad we can write. They’re not a platform, they’re people who know other people who can surely benefit from Basecamp just like they are.

We want to cast millions of votes with our customers. We want to pay customers for customers. So that’s what we’re going to do.

Introducing the Basecamp 3 Referrer Program.

It’s simple. Refer someone to Basecamp, and we’ll PayPal you $50 cash. And that person you referred will save $50 on their first month. We’re basically splitting $100 — half to you to say thanks for sending someone our way, and half to them to say welcome aboard!

You don’t need to apply to be part of the referral program. All you need is a Basecamp 3 login. If you’ve got one of those, you’re already on board.

Just log into your Basecamp 3 account and look in the bottom right corner of your Home screen. You’ll see something like this:

Click it. Then you’ll see something like this:

Send your link to anyone you want. Or click one of the social sharing buttons below to spread the word on your social networks.

If someone signs up, pays, and remains a customer for at least 75 days, we’ll PayPal you $50. Easy peasy.

Designed differently

We used to have a referrer/affiliate program way back when, but it was complicated, you had to apply to be part of it, etc. We didn’t want to do it that way again. And many referrer programs pay you in credit towards the product you’re using. Problem with that is that if you’re on someone else’s Basecamp account, then your referral would give them credit. You wouldn’t see any of that cash. Not good either.

So we designed this program to pay cash to the person who referred, not credit to the account they’re part of. Now everyone can make a little something when they tell other people about Basecamp.

One for One

Ideally, we’d love to see every customer we have bring us just one more customer a year. That would be an amazing outcome.

Everyone’s gotta know at least one person who’s struggling at another small business with messy email chains, out of date files, stuff slipping through the cracks, constant hold-ups waiting for other people to get you information, and work scattered all over the place. Someone you know is swamped, and the tools they’re using are partially to blame. Let’s help them!

Save yourself $50 and do some good

If you aren’t already a Basecamp 3 customer, but you’ve been considering it, now’s a great time to try. Use my referrer link and you’ll save $50 off your first month. And I’ll donate the $50 that I’d be getting to the Chicago Food Depository.

New in Basecamp 3 for iOS 3.4.1

You know that with the Android app getting updated so recently, that an update to the iOS app was not far behind. In fact, the iOS team (Jason Z, Tara, Dylan and Zach) launched the latest version last week! It’s got a sweet set of new features I’m excited to share with you.

Hey! Who Moved My Pings?

In previous versions of the app, Pings were a little harder to find and challenging to start. Now Pings are smartly located in the Hey section, right at the top. You’ll see a row of avatars for your most recent pings. You can quickly start a new one or swipe through previous Pings.

You can also quick swipe on items in the Hey menu to mark them as read:

Docs and Files List View

The team also added a list view for Docs & Files, with new file icons, smoother re-ordering, tap to preview images, and swipe to move and archive.

These updates, along with a batch of the usual speed enhancement fixes, have made the iOS app better than ever! You can get the latest version of Basecamp for iPhone and iPad on the App store. If you like it, please leave a review! If you don’t have Basecamp 3 yet, get started with a 30 day free trial now.

A static business is a healthy business

Is that the sun? No, it’s our business. Read on…

Aim for many nondescript dots, not a few obvious ones

Last year I wrote an article suggesting that you shouldn’t let any one (or small group) of customers overpay you.

If you have a small handful of customers paying you significantly more than most of your customers, you’re no longer a product company — you’re actually a consulting company working for those big payers. You’ll do what they say — often at the detriment of your smaller customers — because the big guys pay the big bucks.

And if you don’t follow their money with your effort, an exodus of just one or two big customers could seriously impact your bottom line. It could put you at major risk.

So instead we take the other approach — a broad customer base where nearly everyone pays us roughly the same amount per month, all things considered. Over 100,000 companies pay for Basecamp, and we don’t play favorites.

Remember that picture up at the top of this article? This one…

Our star

That chart represents the lifetime revenue per Basecamp account. Each dot represents the lifetime $billings of a single account.

See how uniform that is? It looks like static. Static is a healthy business. No outliers, no major splotches. If you removed any one dot — or even any 10, 20, or 100 dots — you’d barely notice. You could probably remove 1000 random dots and it would still look the same.

You know what else it looks like? Insulation. Because it is insulation — insulation from risk. We wouldn’t want this to happen, but because our revenue is so equally distributed across a large number of independent customers, if a random 10% of our customers left tomorrow, we’d be fine. We’d never have to cross our fingers and hope that “Customer X” wasn’t part of that 10%. Can you say that about your business?

If you mapped your customers like this, what would your your star look like? If you started pulling away your 10 biggest customers, would you see big gaps, or would the holes be swallowed up by the whole? Would it be obvious with a few removed or would you be able to even tell the difference? Are you diversified or dangerously dedicated to a few big bets?

Over 100,000 companies pay for Basecamp. If you’re still running your business on email, text, chat, and meetings, come on over and see how much better things can be with Basecamp 3. There’s nothing else out there like it.

How some people walk into Basecamp

Different businesses, similar paths. From scattered to orderly, from cobbling it together, to seeking out a system designed to work.

Most companies start small. A person or two, maybe three.

They need to work together on something. That something may just be their company — putting it together, getting it set up, hashing out early ideas for what they want to do.

So they begin shooting a few emails back and forth. Maybe they use Dropbox or something to share some files. Maybe they use Google Docs to share some notes, or put together a simple spreadsheet.

Maybe they find a free to-do tool or maybe they don’t. Early on, basic communication may be enough to handle tasks. Maybe they use Google Calendar or Apple Calendar or another free shared calendar tool to start keeping track of deadlines ahead.

Then email starts to feel a bit inefficient, so they try out a free chat tool or two. Something as common as WhatsApp works just great for a small, unstructured group. Ok, things are more fluid now.

Their cobbled together set of tools works. But they’re doing a lot of work making it work. They know there’s got to be a better way, but with three people it’s not bad enough to motivate them to look around. So they continue working as they’ve been working.

Remember, they all “grew up” together on this system. It’s their system. They know how it works because they taped it together.

Their business starts to do well. And they hire a fourth person.

And this is where everything changes.

Number four is different. Now they have to bring a new person entirely up speed on how they work. What came natural to the original three is foreign to the fourth. Translation is required.

They have to onboard this new person in half a dozen places, get them set up, explain when to use this product vs. that product, help them figure out where things should go, which discussions should happen in Tool A vs. Tool B, and so on.

And sometimes they project… This is just number four. We have to do this again for five, and again for 6, and again and again and again for every person we hire? This isn’t sustainable.

That fourth person is like a mirror that reflects a jumbled together, inefficient, messy way to work. They hadn’t noticed it before because they didn’t have a mirror. Now they do. It probably didn’t matter with three, but with four, five, six, and the future 10, 15, and 20 people, how they work absolutely matters.

This reminds me of college… The guy who lived next door to us was a complete slob. But he was used to his own mess — and the odor of that mess. But whenever someone else walked in his room, they were hit with a wall of “wtf?!”. Visitors could immediately sense there something amiss, but he couldn’t because he was so used to the mess.

But I digress… Back to business…

And then there’s the matter of cost. If they’re using pay tools, they find themselves getting hit with the cost of adding just one more person to multiple products. Now they have variable costs rather than fixed costs, which means things are getting more expensive as they grow.

It’s not working, yet work is of paramount importance. They begin realize the penalty of building a business on a foundation of cracks.

So they instinctively say “we need a system”. It’s amazing how often this word comes up when we interview customers. So many say the same thing “we realized we needed a system”.

A system is solid. It’s designed to work together from the start — not to be pieced together later, seams showing, sheering, wearing, and tearing.

A cobbled together collection of tools isn’t a system — it’s a cobbled together collection of tools. This for chat, another product for to-dos, something else to store files, another thing to communicate “officially” when everyone absolutely needs to know something, something else to make sure deadlines are visible — and met. A scattered hive mind. Not good.

They need a system. A way to work. Something centralized. Something organized. Something that gives them visibility into what everyone’s working on, not just what people are talking about. And they realize that they want it all in one place — not all over the place.

Organized, not ugh-inized.

And that’s when they run into Basecamp. Most of the time through a referral from someone who went through exactly what they went through. A refugee of scatter who moved to Basecamp and became a citizen of order.

What triggers the move to Basecamp are growing pains. A look in the mirror, a desire to work better, the understanding that what they’re doing can’t be as good as it gets.

Basecamp becomes their system, and their business begins to change for the better.

Why we never sold Basecamp by the seat

Even before software as a service became a thing, it was pretty common to sell business applications on per-seat pricing. The bigger you are, the more you pay! At Basecamp, we rejected that model from day one, and have stuck to our guns for 13 years. Not because we don’t like money, but because we like our freedom more.

The problem with per-seat pricing is that it by definition makes your biggest customers your best customers. With money comes influence, if not outright power. And from that flows decisions about what and who to spend time on. There’s no way to be immune from such pressure once the money is flowing. The only fix is to cap the spigot.

So that’s what Jason and I decided to do from the start. We weren’t going to have clients, we were going to have customers. And lots of them. All pretty much equal in their contribution to the business. This would leave us with three key truths about the business:

First, since no one customer could pay us an outsized amount, no one customer’s demands for features or fixes or exceptions would automatically rise to the top. This left us free to make software for ourselves and on behalf of a broad base of customers, not at the behest of any single one. It’s a lot easier to do the right thing for the many when you don’t fear displeasing a few super customers could spell trouble.

Second, we wanted to build Basecamp for businesses like ourselves: Members of the Fortune 5,000,000. And not just build software for them, but really help them. To be honest, I don’t really give a shit about the Fortune 500. The corporate behemoths are much more likely to be set in stone, unable to change. With the Fortune 5,000,000 we have a real shot at making a real impact. That’s just a lot more satisfying work.

Third, we didn’t want to get sucked into the mechanics that chasing big contracts inevitably leads to. Key account managers. Sales meetings. Schmoozing. Strippers’n’steaks. The enterprise sales playbook is as well established as it is repulsive to me. But it’s also unavoidable once you open the door to the big bucks from the big shots. No thank you.

Has this outlook cost us money? I’m sure it has. Over the years, we’ve gotten countless knocks on the door from large corporations and organizations begging us for an enterprise sales track. And while flattering, we said thanks, but no thanks.

Because whether you enjoy what you do depends not just on what kind of product you’re building but who you’re selling to as well. We sell to the Fortune 5,000,000 and let others worry about the Fortune 500.

Case study: How complexity creeps in

Seemingly inconsequential decisions can open the door to significant organizational and operational complexity

Lately we’ve been on a bit of a tear internally working to eliminate operational complexity from our business.

Complexity is like addiction… It comes on slowly, forming weak bonds that you can barely feel. But as it continues, the bonds strengthen quietly until they calcify and become hard to break.

Removing operational complexity involves eliminating manual busy work, bottlenecks, dependencies, promises to placate, and a whole host of other things.

I want to share an actual example in our business of how a couple small design decisions lead to significant operational complexity.

Basecamp Enterprise

In Basecamp 3, we used to offer a Basecamp Enterprise plan. Basically it’s a higher priced, annual-only offering with a few extras tossed in. The red flag here is “with a few extras tossed in”.

In order to differentiate and justify the value of a higher priced offering, we added a few line items to the pricing chart. We did this for two reasons: 1. To add more perceived $ value (more stuff = worth more), and 2. to visually distinguish enterprise from the other plans (longer list of benefits).

Here’s what the plan chart looked like (arrows added to highlight points for this article — they weren’t in the actual customer-facing chart):

Those four little lines on the right lead to four big flash points internally

Seems innocent enough. No big deal, right?

Complexity creeps in

Let’s explore what each of the lines marked with an arrow in the chart about really means inside our company:

  1. Pay by check. Larger organizations often prefer to pay for things by check since an accounts payable department handles large invoices. So we figured we might as well accept checks on the Enterprise plan. Simple process: Someone sends in a check and we process it. No biggie, right? But it turns out it was quite a bit of extra work for Andrea, our office manager, who was tasked with processing the checks and updating the accounts to make sure they were marked paid. As anyone who’s processed receivables knows, checks can come in without the proper identifying information. This turns what should be a simple deposit into a challenge for even the best detective.
  2. Dedicated account manager. If a customer pays us a lot, it seems reasonable and fair that they’re entitled to have direct contact with someone on our end. But we don’t have dedicated account managers. So that means we have to assign customers to someone on our support team who already has other things to do. Now that person is tied to a specific customer. And what if that person’s out of town? Now they have to coordinate with someone else to take over while they’re out. We’re just shifting the burden and expectations around and creating dependencies that tangle people together. And what are the expectations for an account manager anyway? We never really laid this out, so there’s a lot of assumptions baked in on both sides. That’s a recipe for a potentially complex relationship.
  3. A 60-minute personal tour for your whole team. Also seems reasonable if you’re paying $5000 a year for Basecamp. But who’s going to do it on our end? Who’s job is it to coordinate, to schedule, to reschedule if someone can’t make it? The account manager? Now that person’s schedule is chunked up further, and they’re unavailable to help with other tickets, etc. Yes, we already offer to give people tours on request, but an option is different than an obligation. We’re tying ourselves tighter and tighter to a specific customer’s schedule and needs — simply because they’re paying us more.
  4. SLA uptime guarantee. What does this even mean? We hadn’t fully nailed down the specifics by the time we popped it on the pricing chart. We figured we could just figure it out later. So we started a discussion thread in Basecamp. Who was involved in this conversation? David, Mercedes, Kristin, Chase, Noah, Merissa, Will, Jonas, and Taylor. So this involved ownership, our COO, multiple people on the support team, ops, copywriting, and design. It’s hard to remember other “simple”, inconsequential things that involved so many different people across the company. All to hammer out a promise that we thought would be a good idea, but almost certainly didn’t have to promise. I think the SLA uptime guarantee was originally my bad idea.

Now… Could we have handled some of the above different? Of course. We could have automated check payment, or at least significantly cut down on the manual labor. Could we tie downtime into automatic discounts? Could we have automatically fired off a “schedule a tour” email with a link to a shared calendaring system so the customer could jut pick a time and the whole thing would be automated? Yes and yes and yes and yes. But that would been a significant chunk of work for something that a small fraction of our customers were buying anyway.

But more importantly, let’s pull it all back to: Did we even need to offer any of this to justify a higher price? Or could we just charge a higher price. Big companies are used to paying more for basically the same thing — maybe they just wanted to pay more. Maybe they would have just paid more regardless. It’s likely pay by check swayed some who absolutely couldn’t pay by credit card, but the other benefits are a lot less obvious.

And pulling back even further… Why do we even want to charge some customers significantly more than others? Do we even want those customers? Does our business depend on a tiny fraction of customers paying significantly more? No.

We’re not an enterprise software company. We don’t want to be an enterprise software company. We have no interest in solving big company problems. Our interest — our love — is helping small companies run better businesses and grow in control. We know Basecamp 3 is better suited for this than any other product of it’s kind. Why take any attention away from helping the small guy just to make a few extra bucks off the big guy?

So why did we try to fish for the whales? Mostly because it seemed easy to do. And that, my friends, is where complexity hides.

The solution

So what did we do? We’ve stopped offering the Enterprise plan. Problem solved. Existing customers who are on it can continue on it, we’re just not offering it to new customers any more.

A few rules of thumb

How can you spot situations where you’re creating complexity? Here are a few rules of thumb, things to step back and consider when you do what you do:

  1. Am I creating work for someone else? It’s very easy to just add a line to the pricing chart and say “Oh, support will take care of that”. I know — I’ve done that. It’s very easy to do. And a shitty thing to do.
  2. “We’ll figure it out later”. This one isn’t always bad, but it’s a red flag. When you bury a bunch of unanswered questions so you can dig them up later, you’re probably avoiding them in the first place because you know finding the answer is going to be challenging.
  3. “If it becomes a pain in the ass we’ll automate it later.” Also not always a bad option, but recognize that historically we don’t often come back to automate things unless they are causing programmers/designers significant personal pain. If other people are experiencing the pain, it’s easy to just let it continue. Since automation requires understanding the problem deeply, and programmer and designer resources, it’s easy to say “it’s not important enough to push off more important customer-facing product work”.

I’m sure there are other rules of thumb. If you have some you’d like to add please post them as comments below.

Hopefully this post served to highlight how a few words in a few places can create significant organization and operational complexity. This is very much a butterfly flaps it’s wings kind of stuff stuff. Small moves, big waves.