The Knowledge Project #54 Doing the Enough Thing: My Interview with Basecamp CEO and Co-founder Founder Jason Fried.

Full podcast here.

  • Jason on one of the lessons he learned from his parents: Always figure out the right thing to do in any given situation. You won’t always do the right thing, but you should know what the right thing is. An example: Jason’s dad paid for basketball camp for a friend that couldn’t afford it. [2:54]

  • We made sure to create an environment where no one is looking around to see who is working the hardest. Hard work to me is manual labor. We are making software. This isn’t hard work. We are fortunate to be able to do this. We can sit in AC and work on a computer. Jason wrote a blog post about this called If you’re reading this, you probably don’t do hard work. [5:47]

  • You don’t need 12+ hours a day to do great work. The reason people are working longer hours is not because there are 12 hours of work to do. It is because they can’t find a few continuous [uninterrupted] hours to do their work. [6:31]

  • Everyone at Basecamp gets a full 8 hours a day to themselves. How they spend it is up to them. If you want to take someone else’s time, you have to ask them for it. [7:43]

  • Time is incredibly valuable. You should have a good reason to ask for someone else’s time. [8:46]

  • Basecamp organizes product development in 6-week cycles. There are usually 2 to 3 product teams working on features we want to build. These teams are 3 people or less. 6 weeks is enough time to make substantial progress on something that is important. [9:24]

  • How does Basecamp pick what to work on next? As a cycle is coming to an end, a few of us get together and think about what we should do next. These could be ideas we’ve had or ideas that have come up through customer requests. [11:22]

  • You use the word feel. That’s interesting when we are in this age of algorithmic informed insights: I put a lot of value on feel, gut, and intuition. We are not a data-driven company in terms of product development. We use data [where it is appropriate] to measure the performance of our infrastructure, or how long it takes to respond to a customer. [15:44]

  • I try to be ignorant about the trends in the industry. Ignorant of what competitors are doing. The more I pay attention to that stuff, the less free my mind is. You have less space for your own thoughts. [18:22]

  • I prefer to pay attention to things out of my industry. I get inspiration from architecture, art, nature. [19:03]

  • We don’t need to dominate an industry. We just need to find a small number of customers who believe in what we are doing. We found many of them. Over 100,000 pay for Basecamp every month. You only need millions of customers if your costs are out of control. If you have thousands of people. We only have 55 people. [19:31]

  • Other business owners Jason admires: My friend as a small grocery store. I admire that he can get to know his customers by name. He can experiment faster by putting something out and seeing how it sells. There is a repair shop that has been in business for 80 years. That blows my mind. I admire what Stripe is doing and how they are doing it. I admire Charlie Munger for his clarity of thought. I admire his commitment to value and common sense. I admire a personal trainer I know. I’m jealous that it’s just him. It’s kinda nice to not have any employees. To truly do your own thing, your own way. [22:00]

  • You win in business by surviving. The best way to survive is to be profitable. [26:16]

  • If someone chooses to work at your company, they are saying no to a million other opportunities. I should respect that and create a place where they can do their best work. [28:49]

  • Be careful when setting arbitrary goals: I wanted to run a 6-minute mile. I didn’t hit that goal and I remember being disappointed. Why was I disappointed? I enjoyed the run. I got fresh air. I worked my body, heart, and mind. While I was running I saw exciting things. How are any of these outcomes negative? If you measure yourself against a number, you can feel disappointed. It’s not a satisfying way to go through life. [30:49]

  • I used to try to speed things up. I’ve come back to a slower pace. Why am I rushing? [34:14]

  • Advice for my children: Find your path. Figure out what you like. Find out what drives you. Find out what you are curious about and go into that. There is a lot of depth in anything. [44:26]

  • The thing that surprises me the most is how poorly school teaches people how to write and communicate. You can graduate from college and not know how to explain yourself well. Or not know how to get to the point. [46:03]

  • I’ve always been inspired by Chefs. They aren’t afraid of sharing their recipes. They aren’t afraid of someone taking those recipes, opening a restaurant, and putting them out of business. [52:09]

  • Shane has an idea that people that interrupt their time with their family to respond to work messages are trying to signal to their family that they are important because someone needs their help. It’s actually inverse signaling. His theory is the people that send messages after work are the ones that are most unhappy with their relationships outside of work. It creates a virus of unhappiness. [53:11]

  • Jason thinks it might signal [sadly] that that person would rather be at work. [56:04]

  • I think you don’t want a lot of screen real estate. I’m a one screen at a time person. I find that it helps me focus. I find it to be valuable. I see a lot of manic switching. A lot of attention deficit disorder when it comes to work. You see these people with 7 screens up. You don’t need that. This isn’t NASA mission control. [55:20]