Things Jason Fried @37 Signals Believes Matter

I’m "near real time blogging" from the SXSW Interactive Festival.

Jason Fried is one of the founders of 37 Signals. 37 Signals only has 10 employees, but it has the reputation of a company with a thousand employees. He spoke on 10 Things 37 Signals Has Learned. Being from Chicago, he’s a fast talker. Here I list the key points I was able to capture.

Don’t be afraid of the great unknown. Decisions today don’t have to be forever.

Red Flags:

Only a few words cause things to go wrong. Red flag words

Need Usually means they need something fast.

Can’t Usually means something else needs to be done first

Easy usually describes someone else’s job

Only We only need this one thing

Fast. Many times it doesn’t have to be that fast.

Be successful and make money by helping other people be successful and make money. For example Basecamp is successful because people use it to manage projects which make money

Spot chain reactions. Be the catalyst. Build products that provide people with value.

Target Non-consumers and non-consumption. A non-consumer is someone that has a need but there is no product to meet that need. It minimizes the chance for competition from entrenched players. Jason built Highrise a simplified contact management software that is targeted at people who don’t need Salesforce.com.

Minimize the chance for competition from entrenched players by flying under the radar of the bigger entrenched companies like Microsoft.

Question your work regularly. Why are we doing this?  What problem are we solving. Is this actually useful? Are we adding value? Will this change behavior? Is there an easierr way? What’s the opportunity cost? Is it really worth it?

Read Your Product The biggest problem with a lot of aps and sites is bad writing. Pay more attention to the words and less attention to the pixels. Words are also easy to fix. Read your site’s verbiage out loud. Rewrite it first redesign it second.

Err on the side of simple. Start with the easy way. You’ll find out the easy way satisfies 80% of your needs. Don’t start with an involved process. Things are easy by default, we screw them up.

Get three things done in one week instead of one thing done in three weeks. You can screw something up by spending too much time on it.

The longer it takes to develop something the less likely you are to launch it. People lose their passion if it takes too long.

Resist the urge to try to do more the second time around. Remember the reason you got to where you are is that your success was built upon your simplicity. Focus on what you are good at.

Invest in what doesn’t change. Jason calls this the best business advice he’s recently learned. What works today that will work 10 years from now. Google’s known for speed and accuracy. 10 years from now people still will want speed and accuracy. Amazon.com invests in fast shipping and customer service and that will stay the same 10 years from now. Jason’s company focuses on simple software.

Follow the chefs Be inspired by famous chefs. Famous chefs share a lot. They are on TV, they have cookbooks, etc. They build their businesses by sharing their knowledge. Be an expert and share your knowledge. It’s not all proprietary.

Interruption is the enemy of productivity. Taps on the shoulder, required meetings, calling someone’s name across the room. Passive communication reduces interruption. email, wiki, IM, are passive communications. Jason uses this a lot.

Roadmaps send you in the wrong direction. Business and financial planning. Jason thinks business plans lock you into the past. They are not flexible enough. "It’s okay to think about the future, just don’t write it down." Ricardo Summers. Your goal is to do the right thing at the right time.

Be clear in crises. If you are clear about what’s going wrong, angry customers will be less angry. Be open, honerst, public, and responsive.

The web desn’t shut up just because you have. If you don’t tell your story, others will make it up for you.

Tell your story. Do it in tiny increments. Celebrate little launches. Morale feeds off progress. When you make tiny decisions, you can’t make big mistakes.

Make it matter. Everything you do should matter. Everything. If it doesn’t matter, don’t do it.

Q and A:

Curiosity is the most important thing Jason looks for when hiring an employee.

I missed a couple of minor points Jason made and wasn’t able to differentiate between the 10 key points and the others. For that reason I’ll be listening to a podcast of his presentation that will be posted on the SXSW Web site after March 20. I encourage you to do the same.

2 comments

  1. Domenic Dennison

    It’s always interesting to read about 37signals ideas and philosophy, but they cannot be exepted by everybody. For example, our manager agrees that there’s a need to improved communications, but he needs accountability and reports as well. So we changed Basecamp to Wrike.com (http://www.wrike.com/). The tool is easy to use and I like it. But our manager just loved it, case now he finally has a very simple Gantt chart and can align plans a changes easily.

  2. Thanks for commenting, Domenic. It’s interesting you should mention that your company has left Basecano for Wrike. Jason made the point that a company should find its niche and Basecamp seems to be more of an entry level project management tool. I participate in half a dozen Basecamp projects and it’s ideal for people working on projects who need more than word processing yet less than, say, Microsoft Project. Wrike offers more than Basecamp so I think Jason would say that it’s the next niche up. Still, there’s a big market for Basecamp there.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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