Learning from BaseCamp

Scott Francis
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DHH of Basecamp (formerly 37 signals) wrote a post that should be inspiring to anyone starting or leading or working to build a company that doesn’t aspire to be a unicorn.

At the time of writing, DHH had been working at Basecamp for 12 years:

It took a part of some people’s work life and made it a little better. A little nicer than trying to manage a project over email or by stringing together a bunch of separate chat, file sharing, and task systems. Along the way it made for a comfortable business to own for my partner and me, and a great place to work for our employees.

That’s it.

It didn’t disrupt anything. It didn’t add any new members to the three-comma club. It was never a unicorn. Even worse: There are still, after all these years, less than fifty people working at Basecamp. We don’t even have a San Francisco satellite office!

This reminds me of what I’ve said about BP3 as we were starting and growing – we’re just building a really good BPM services business.  We’re just building some nice tools to help our services business be smart and productive.  We’re a small software and services shop that focuses on BPM.  We tried not to get over our skis in our discussion of what BP3 is or would become.  I loved this line from his post:

“Well the reason I’m here is to remind you that maybe, just maybe, you too have a nagging, gagging sense that the current atmosphere of disrupt-o-mania isn’t the only air a startup can breathe. That perhaps this zeal for disruption is not only crowding out other motives for doing a startup, but also can be downright poisonous for everyone here and the rest of the world.”

Not living in the Bay Area, disrupt-o-mania hasn’t affected us as profoundly as it has affected DHH, but I, too, have reservations about this endless focus on disruption rather than creating value and experiences that people are willing to pay for (you know, doing business).

For the thousands upon thousands of small startups and great businesses that keep plugging away year after year, should we be discouraged by not owning the universe?  By not being famous? 

DHH asks the question, and it is one that I like to ask when I give a talk:  “Why are you here?”

First, ponder the question: Why are you here?

I love his answers, maybe you can find inspiration in them, as I did:

  • I wanted to work for myself. Walk to my own beat. Chart my own path. Call it like I saw it, and not worry about what dudes in suits thought of all that.
  • I wanted to make a product and sell it directly to people who’d care about its quality
  • I wanted to put down roots. Long term bonds with coworkers and customers and the product.
  • I wanted the best odds I could possibly get at attaining the tipping point of financial stability.
  • I wanted a life beyond work

Good stuff. In particular selling product (and services) to people who care, and putting down roots with coworkers, customers, and product – these are highly motivating. More so as time goes on, I would argue.  And if you’re starting a business, you need to think about your list… your answer to why you’re here.  When you’re building a business, that why are you here question is just as crucial – not just for you, but for your business.

 

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