Business has never been better at Basecamp. Despite all the competition, all the noise, and all the changes since we launched 14 years ago, 2017 was the year we earned the most revenue ever.
While that alone is cause for some celebration, it’s hardly the most important thing for Jason and I, as the business owners. Sure, it’s nice to see numbers tick ever higher, but we passed enough many years ago. What matters far more than big numbers for us today is how the business feels.
And it’s really never felt better, in almost all the ways. Basecamp the product is the best its ever been. Tens of thousands of new businesses and teams continue to sign up every month. We keep hearing from customers about the profound changes to their organization, productivity, communication, and even sanity that Basecamp helps them realize. It’s deeply rewarding.
We’ve also kept up with our founding mission to out-teach and out-share rather than out-spend the competition.
Since shortly after the launch of Basecamp, we’ve been stewarding the Ruby on Rails movement. The latest major release has a brand new framework, Active Storage, that was extracted from Basecamp 3. So too was the last major new framework in Rails, Action Cable. And now we’ve shared our entire two-pack punch to front-end development with Stimulus and Turbolinks.
Jason and I are finishing our fourth book, extracted from the lessons running Basecamp. It’s called The Calm Company and will be released this year. And after a lovely run with The Distance podcast, we’ve launched a REWORK podcast to share ever more of our lessons and perspectives.
So. Things are good. Really good, actually. Which invariably invites the question I get asked so often: WHAT’S NEXT?! Which is really a question of WHAT’S MORE? What else are you going to do in addition to all the shit you’re already doing? It’s so ingrained in our entrepreneurial culture that you must always be on a conquest. Once a set of territories have been subdued, you’re honor-bound to push further north.
Thanks, but no thanks. Basecamp has never sought to conquer the world or the markets. We do not have to win a total victory from a total assault to be fulfilled. Which partly stems from the fact that we aren’t beholden to financiers, partly because the satisfaction of running Basecamp comes more from doing the work, less from owning the work.
It’s this focus on the satisfaction of doing the actual work that’s been driving our outlook since the inception of Basecamp. How can we structure the business in such a way that Jason and I are able to spend the bulk of our time doing our favorite things? Designing. Programming. Writing.
That’s harder than it sounds. The momentum of growth assumes control of the ship quickly, if you don’t dare wrestle back the wheel. It’s so easy to just go with the flow. Of course we’re going to hire more people! Of course we’re going to spend more money! Of course we’re going to build more features! Of course we’re…
Before you know it there’s no longer time to do your favorite things. Now all the things that simply have to be done fill first your weeks, then your months, and then finally the whole year. I keep the parable of the fisher man in my mind often not to forget this boiling pot.
At just around 50 people and no full-time managers, it feels like we’re just at this crucial break in the waves at Basecamp now. On the other side, the tide will pull us out further and further out to sea. And maybe there are ever-greater riches to be found out there, but we’d be lost and adrift. If we dare resist the pull, we can stay anchored and connected.
So we’ve decided to dare. To resist. And thus, in our celebration of BEST EVAH, we’re taking the unusual step to drop that anchor and freeze all hiring at Basecamp¹.
“Wait, what?”, I can imagine a few puzzled minds thinking. Hiring freezes are usually for companies that are struggling. Trying desperately to cut costs to stay afloat. And here we are, doing better than ever, pulling that same move? Yes.
We’ve always been great fans of constraints, and capping the headcount in the face of growth is perhaps the biggest constraint of all. Especially because we’re not at all about running faster. Squeezing out more productivity from fewer hands. Quite the contrary.
The constraint of having the same team means that you also only get to do the same amount of work. But you don’t have to do the same actual work, you can do different work. You can judo the work. You can say no to more work. You can focus on more effective work.
That’s the kind of environment that excites me.
¹ The sole exception may be support, which is the only department that doesn’t yield well to just “do less”. If there are more customers and they need help, you gotta help them. But we’re working on making sure that they both need less help and that we don’t take on excessive amounts of new customers.