Just took an Uber Black Car to the office today and noticed that they round down the price and make it clear on the receipt. $21.00 is definitely more luxurious than $21.71. Nice touch.
A few weeks ago I spoke at Inc’s GROWCO conference in Nashville. After my talk, I had a scheduled book signing over in the conference bookstore area.
Most people came up, said hi, chatted a bit, bought a book, shook hands, and then moved on.
But one guy came up, put a laptop-like device on the table, unhinged it, spun one side around to me, flipped up a little screen, and then did the same on his side with his half of the device. It took about 10 seconds to set up. Then he started typing.
The screen was split in two horizontally. At the top was what he was typing. On the bottom was what I was typing. No explanation was necessary – it just worked all in real-time.
We started typing back and forth. I wasn’t sure what was happening at first. Why was I using this thing? What was this thing? I knew how to use it, but what was it for?
Then he explained that he was deaf and that he was using this machine so he could communicate with people without an interpreter or without the other person knowing how to sign.
I was moved. I’ve been in a billion chats before. But this was different. This wasn’t about convenience, this was about necessity. I was able to communicate with someone who couldn’t hear me. He was able to communicate with someone who didn’t understand sign language. We were face to face. It was an amazing moment.
We chatted like this for about 10 minutes.
Turns out, this guy’s name was Jason Curry and he was the inventor of the UbiDuo.
The company and invention was born out of frustration. Back in 2005 he was sitting across from his father at Perkins restaurant for breakfast, but they just couldn’t communicate as freely as he liked because his dad doesn’t know how to sign. That’s where it all started.
Check out this video to see how it works.
A few weeks ago, Jamis Buck, a programmer who had been with us for nine years, asked to meet with me and David. We grabbed a conference room, and I immediately felt something heavy in the air. Jamis told us it was time for him to move on. He’d had an incredible run, but recently he’d felt stuck. He wasn’t sure yet what he would do next – which terrified him – but he had to follow his heart.
Naturally, it was hard to hear. We love Jamis. Everyone who’s ever met Jamis loves Jamis. The guy is a model of honesty, hard work, and humility. But we knew deep down it was time. As he poured his heart out to explain, we offered no resistance, only support.
Now that Jamis has moved on and time has pushed some emotions out of the way, I’ve been thinking about his legacy here at Basecamp. On the one hand, losing Jamis means we’ve lost a cultural touchstone. Maybe you’ve had a similar experience: A key team member takes with her a piece of the company’s soul. But the situation also presents an opportunity to make sure that the person’s values stay with the company, so I sat down and tried to identify the principles of Jamis’s success. I’m not sure yet how we’ll formalize some of these things, but just reflecting on his impact will, I’m sure, help carry it forward. So here it is, the Jamis Doctrine…
Respect the Work
Jamis wrote code that was concise, clear, and thoughtful. He coded the way a great writer writes prose, which is to say he did it lovingly and invested himself in the work. Because Jamis was the second person ever to touch the Basecamp code base, his example is all over the place, and every programmer gets to learn from it. I hope his example will resonate with people in other departments, too. It’s never enough just to get the work done.
Take Time to Teach
Jamis always did. Whether that meant helping another programmer or showing someone in customer service how something worked, he was always available and eager to explain. When people wrote up their goodbyes to Jamis, many of them mentioned things he’d taught them. What a great example to follow—it’s the kind of thing that turns co-workers into a team.
Jamis took on an interesting new hobby every year. One year, he learned to make bow ties (and made some for all of us). Another year, he mastered the art of marshmallow making, and another he learned to draw (and started hand-illustrating his presentations). This past year, he decided to write 1,000 words a day. Jamis’s deep curiosity – and willingness to share it – was one of the reasons we instituted a continuing-education benefit years ago. I hope we can continue to help everyone at Basecamp pursue personal interests, because an intellectually satisfied employee is a happy one.
Do the Right Thing, Not the Easy Thing
Jamis always put what was correct before what was convenient. In nine years, I can’t remember talking to him and not feeling as if he gave me a straight answer. There’s a difference between aiming to please and aiming to please properly, and he did the latter. In many ways, it was that quality that inspired me most, and it’s especially important for me, as the boss, to embrace it.
A box arrived today at work. In it was a short story that starred two characters named Basil and Fabian. Over the years, Jamis had written a series of weird little tales that starred these two. This time, Basil and Fabian were talking about marshmallows. There was a personal note from Jamis in the box, and nestled below that was a bag of his chocolate-covered coconut marshmallows. I ate one – OK, two – and smiled. I think everyone at the office did.
(Note: this article was originally published on Inc.com)
I really like Jeep’s text-based 7-bars + headlights subject lines in their marketing emails. Fun touch.
I’ve always had a fascination with old. Old trees, old buildings, old people, old objects, and old businesses.
The world is constantly pushing the old out of the way to make room for the new. So if something can stand up to the world, push back, and go the distance, then there’s probably something special about it. I believe those things are worth celebrating.
Today we launch THE DISTANCE, an online magazine that celebrates one type of old thing – the old business. THE DISTANCE is about interesting private businesses that have been in business for 25 years or more.
Everyone talks about how hard it is to start a business. It is hard, but it’s not as hard as staying in business. Every business is new at least once, but very few actually survive to old age (or even adolescence). We want to celebrate those who’ve figured out the hardest thing to do in business: how not to go out of business.
Some of the businesses we’ll be covering have been in business for a hundred years or more. Some are still run by the original founder. Some are now run by a long-time employee. Some are run by the son or daughter of their father’s grandfather who founded the business way back in the day.
Every month we’ll be publishing a new article about one of these businesses to thedistance.com. We’ll introduce you to some real characters, some amazing stories, a few secrets, and the sustained blood, sweat, tears, and persistence required to keep the lights on for so many years.
Our first article is about the Horween Leather Company out of Chicago Illinois. A fourth-generation business founded in 1905, Horween makes leather the old fashioned way. As the last remaining tannery in Chicago, they’ve stood strong, learned how to survive – and thrive – in a challenging environment. They have a lot to teach us.
If you like these kind of stories, we invite you to follow @distancemag on Twitter. We’ll be sharing all sorts of things about old businesses, long-time employees, and other tidbits you may find interesting. Whenever we publish a new story to THE DISTANCE, we’ll announce it first on the Twitter feed.
So, here we go! Head over to thedistance.com to read the story of Horween Leather, the last tannery in Chicago.
And BTW, if you know of great little 25+ year private businesses that would be a good fit for THE DISTANCE, we’d love to hear about them. Could be the mom and pop shop around the corner. Could be the holdout manufacturer on the edge of town. They’re all interesting to us! Drop an email to email@example.com and we’ll follow up. Thanks for helping us with THE DISTANCE.
Great UI in Chrome here… I had about a dozen tabs open, and some audio was playing. It was an auto-play ad, so I didn’t initiate it and I didn’t know where it was coming from. I happened to look up in the tab bar and spotted a little speaker icon in one of the tabs (see the middle tab in the photo). I clicked it. Sure enough, that’s where the sound was coming from. When the video ended, the little speaker icon went away. Great little touch that answers a common question… “Where’s that sound coming from?”
Nearly every boss has said it. And just about every employee has heard it. Yet it’s one of the most meaningless lines ever spoken in the office:
“My door is always open.”
The statement usually is followed up with some version of, “If you ever have an issue with anything, please come talk to me.”
What’s wrong with this? Isn’t it important for your employees to know that you are open to hearing their suggestions, concerns, and criticisms? Of course it is.
But let’s be real here: In most cases, “My door is always open” isn’t really an invitation to speak up. It’s a cop-out. It makes the boss feel good but puts the onus entirely on the employees. You might as well say, “You find the problems and then take all the risk of interrupting my day and confronting me about them.” How many people have taken you up on that offer?
Your employees have lots of opinions about everything—your strategy and vision; the state of the competition; the quality of your products; the vibe in the workplace. There are tons of things you can learn from them.
But how many of these ideas and opinions have you actually heard? A tiny fraction, I’d bet. The reality is that companies are full of things that are left unspoken. And even when they are out in the open, the CEO is almost always the last to know.
I like to think of myself as a leader whose door is always open. But I recently learned that an open door isn’t enough…
We’re looking to add another product designer to our team! We don’t hire for this position often, so we really savor moments like these. We’re eagerly anticipating hearing from you.
Besides design, your job is to make an undeniably positive impact on our company, our culture, our products, and our customers. As long as you make your best effort, and you love to learn, we will do everything we can to support you creatively and help you do the best work of your life.
Product designers at Basecamp are always working on different things. You may be working on polishing up an existing feature, pitching and designing something brand new, or fundamentally rethinking how we do something. You could be working on the web or you could be exploring designs and interactions for a native mobile app. Projects at Basecamp always start with design, so you’ll constantly have the opportunity to lead us in new directions. Challenge us! Push us! Be original and show us the way!
We are not looking for someone who’s already expert in everything they do. We’re looking for someone great who demonstrates the interest, drive, and desire to keep learning new things and continually get better.
At Basecamp you’ll be working with great people. Friendly, talented, original folks from dozens of cities around the world. The people who work here have a wide variety of interests and interesting life experiences. You’ll have a chance to learn from some of the best people you’ve ever met. And we’ll get to learn from you. We’d love for you be part of our patchwork.
Working as a product designer at Basecamp is a unique opportunity. We have a small team, so you won’t be one of dozens. You’ll be one of a few, so your impact will be felt inside and outside the company. You’ll be working on a product that is used by millions of people. You will help drive us in new directions. You’ll help us see things we haven’t seen before, consider things we’ve never considered before, and bring fresh perspective to our team. Brighten us up and put a big smile on our customers’ faces.
You love to write, too. You understand that copywriting is design. The words matter as much as the pixels. Great visuals with weak words are poor designs. You should care about how things are phrased as much as you care about how they look.
We’re open to hiring the best person no matter where they are. If you’re in Chicago we have an open desk for you in our office. But more than half of our company works remotely all over the world, so you’re welcome to be part of the team no matter where you live. If you do want to relocate to Chicago we’re open to that as well.
How to apply
Send relevant work samples, and anything else that will make you stand out, to firstname.lastname@example.org. Extra effort and personal touches will be looked upon favorably. Show us how much you want this job and not just any job. Please include [DESIGN] in the subject of the email.
It doesn’t matter where you went to school, or if you even graduated. It doesn’t matter if this is your first job or your fifth. Doing great work and being driven to improve yourself and everything you touch is what matters.
If we think you’ll be a good fit, we’ll be back in touch with step two of the application process.
I’m often asked for advice. I’ve decided it’s time I give less of it. There are things I used to know that I just don’t know anymore. I should stop talking about those things – it’s unfair to anyone who’s listening.
If you want advice on product design, copywriting, reducing complexity, business strategy for a well-established small business, or building a team – happy to help. I know I can be valuable there because those are things I’m thinking about and working on every day. I’m current.
But if you want advice on how to start a new business, how to get your first customer, how to hire your first employee, or anything related to starting something brand new, I’m not your man. It’s been 15 years since I started my company. I just don’t remember what it’s like anymore. I’m out of touch.
Advice, like fruit, is best when it’s fresh. But advice quickly decays, and 15 year-old advice is bound to be radioactive. Sharing a life experience is one thing (grandparents are great at this – listen to them!), but advice is another thing. Don’t give advice about things you used to know. Just because you did something a long time ago doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it today.
Think you’ll get a good answer from a 30 year old telling you what it’s like to be 15? Or a 20 year old remembering what it’s like to be 5? Shit, I’m about to turn 40, and all I remember about being 25 is that I wasn’t 26. How clearly do you really remember anything from 15 years ago? And how many of those memories are actually marred by time and current experiences? How many of those things really happened the way you recall them today?
If you want to know what it’s like to start a business, talk to someone who just successfully started one. If you want to know what it’s like to hire your first employee, talk to someone who just successfully hired theirs. If you want to know what it’s like to make an investment, talk to someone who just made a successful one.
While distance from the event itself can provide broader perspective, the closer you get to the event, the fresher the experience. If I want to know what something’s really like, I’d take a fresh recollection over a fuzzy memory. I think the same is true for advice.
With the big name change from 37signals to Basecamp, I’ve been feeling a bit nostalgic. So I decided to go back to the beginning and dig up some old work. Thank you Wayback Machine!.
Back in 1996, I landed my first web design freelance gig. I was still in college, so this was very much a part time endeavor. I learned basic HTML by viewing source and deconstructing other sites. I knew my way around Photoshop 3 just enough to be dangerous. So it was time to do some selling.
I looked around the web for sites that I thought I could improve. My interest was in finance at the time, so I reached out to a variety of financial sites. I often sent a short email to whatever email address I could find on a given site. Usually it was email@example.com.
I don’t have any of those original emails anymore, but they went something like this:
Hi there- My name is Jason. I'm a web designer in Tucson Arizona. I think your site is pretty good, but I think I can make it better. If you'd like, I'd be happy to put together a one page redesign of your home page to show you what I can do. It'll take about a week. Let me know if you're interested. Thanks! -Jason
As you might imagine, hardly anyone returned my email. But a few did. And one of those folks was Tim Knight, the owner of Prophet Information Systems.
Tim took me up on the offer, so I whipped up a quick redesign idea for him. Unfortunately I don’t have that work handy anymore, but ultimately it was good enough for him to hear me out on a complete redesign.
I pitched him a full site redesign (which I think was a few “templates” and a home page) for $600. He bought it. Tim became my first ever web design client. He was the first person to really bet on me like that. I’ll never forget that.
I can’t remember if I met with Tim in person before I delivered the first few design ideas, but we met a few times during the project. His company (which was just him) was based out in Palo Alto. So I’d find some time to head out there on the weekends in between classes. Or maybe I skipped classes, I don’t remember.
We went back and forth via email and phone and finally we landed on something we were both happy with.
So here’s the big reveal. Here’s my first ever commercial web design project from back in 1996.
The home page / splash page looked like this.
When you clicked enter, you went to a menu page. Remember when web sites had splash pages and menu pages? It was such a simpler, clearer time back then. Here’s what the menu page looked liked:
If you clicked one of the links, you’d end up on a page like this:
One of the things I really miss about that era of web design was the “links” page. Most sites back then linked up other sites that they liked or respected. It was a cool mutual admiration society back then. Companies weren’t afraid of sending their traffic elsewhere – we were all so blown away that you could actually links to other sites that we all did it so generously. Here was the links page at Prophet:
Last, one of the other things I really miss about that era was the ability to sign your work. There was often an understanding between the designer and the owner that you could have a credits page or a link at the bottom of the site showing who did the work. So here was the credits page (“Spinfree” was my freelance name):
You can actually walk through the whole site using the Wayback Machine. Here’s Prophet Information Services as it was in October of 1996.
It’s fun to look back and see where you started, who took a shot on you, how you did, and where you’ve been since. I’m so grateful that Tim saw enough of something in me to give me a chance (or maybe he just saw a cheap $600 price tag ;). Regardless, it changed everything for me.
Tim also taught me a lot about technical trading, so not only did I get $600 and my first client, but I learned a bunch too. I was a finance major, so it was fun to get some real-life exposure to technical trading. They didn’t teach this stuff in school, and Tim was a good mentor. I couldn’t ask for anything more. In the years after, I did a few more site designs for Tim at Prophet. He was a great client.
Here’s Tim today on LinkedIn. He blogs at Slope of Hope. In 2010 he wrote a book on technical trading called Chart Your Way To Profits. And to complete the small world loop, Tim has a show on TastyTrade network which is based here in Chicago. Good times.
So what about you? Who gave you your first shot? Who was your first client? Care to share some (embarrassing) early work?