You’re reading Signal v. Noise, a publication about the web by Basecamp since 1999. Happy !

Basecamp HQ Mural

Nate Otto
Nate Otto wrote this on 1 comment

When I painted a mural on the wall of the first 37signals office back in ‘99, or 2000, I didn’t have a camera phone in my pocket. That’s why I took pictures of the wall with a disposable camera. If back then I was the competent human being I am now, I would have gotten those pictures developed, but I was an idiot then, and I have no documentation of that mural. I remember that it had monsters in it. I was into painting monsters.

About a month ago I completed a new mural in the front entrance hallway of the Basecamp Headquarters. Luckily I have a camera on the thing I browse Facebook with, and I keep it in my pocket. I was on a black and white abstract cityscape kick when I pitched the idea to Jason and Michael Berger. Jason had some ideas but gave me the license to do whatever I wanted. Doing whatever I want is what I do best. I’m really proud of the results, and grateful for the opportunity. I’ve done several murals, but this one might be my favorite. It was Jason’s idea to go around the corner.

I put a few Easter eggs in there. It says Basecamp. It also says 37signals and Spinfree. There is something that looks like a ruby on some rails. Jason didn’t want it to be too Basecamp specific, and I agreed with that, so those things are all somewhat hidden.

By the way, I love doing murals, and I especially love doing them in offices. It gives me a chance to soak up a company’s culture for a few days or a week while I work, and tech companies always have snacks. I’m down to fly to Germany (or wherever) and do a mural in your office. Basecamp is a fifteen minute bike ride from my house, I’m already familiar with the culture and the people, and I have a fob, so this was a fun one. Say the word and I’ll paint the whole place!


Chocoholic Anonymous

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on Discuss

Athena Uslander is the Cyrano de Bergerac of brownies. The company she co-founded in 1983, Silverland Bakery, makes sweet treats that are sold under the names of grocery stores and restaurants across the U.S. and even internationally. Silverland Bakery may not have the consumer name recognition of a Mrs. Fields or Betty Crocker, but Athena Uslander has the sustainable business and entrepreneurial career she always wanted. Check out the latest episode of The Distance:

Building Basecamp 3: Mobile Prototypes

Jason Z.
Jason Z. wrote this on 8 comments

Interactive prototyping was essential to designing Basecamp 3 for iOS and Android. In this article we’ll look at how we chose a prototyping tool and take a peek at a few of our prototypes.

At Basecamp design happens through iteration. We don’t make highly-polished comps but instead work right in Basecamp’s code making hundreds (even thousands!) of tiny revisions until the design is just right. We can then see and click the work-in-progress design just like our customers will the finished product. We’ve done it this way for years—our workflow and development stack are highly optimized for it.

When designing Basecamp’s mobile apps it was a completely different story. Even for the simplest of changes the difference between refreshing a web browser and building an app to a device (or simulator) is orders of magnitude slower. It’s worse when you consider that making even seemingly minor visual changes to iOS or Android designs in native code can take much more time than you might expect. Over the course of a day that time adds up. All told, we had to find a better way.

Basecamp 3 mobile wizard

Solution: interactive prototypes

We knew right off that static Photoshop mock-ups weren’t going to cut it. We wanted to see and touch our designs on real devices. It was tempting to simply make prototypes in HTML, CSS and JavaScript—tools we’re very familiar with—but it turns out they’re a poor fit for the kinds of designs we wanted to try. Simple things that are essentially free in native code can be difficult or quirky in web browsers. For example, full-screen transitions or fixed navigation bars.

So we set out to find a prototyping tool that met these requirements:

  1. Fast. Above all a suitable tool had to be faster and easier than putting something together in native code or even HTML/CSS. It was equally important that the round-trip was short between making changes, previewing them, and making further tweaks.
  2. Real devices. We wanted to see and touch designs on real devices, desktop emulation alone wouldn’t cut it.
  3. Shareable. Prototypes would serve two purposes: Quickly sharing work-in-progress designs for critique and sharing the final, high-fidelity reference designs with our programmers.
  4. Cross-platform. We’re all developing on Macs but it was important that any tool worth considering would be suitable for prototyping both iOS and Android app designs.

We looked at a ton of tools and put several through their paces including Quartz Composer w/Origami, Form, Pixate, and Briefs before settling on Framer.

N.B., We evaluated these tools nearly one year ago at the beginning of Basecamp 3’s mobile development so some of the reasons we choose Framer over the others may no longer be true. In fact, Quartz Composer was my favorite tool to use—the springy-band UI is unique and super-fun—but it lacked on-device preview at the time, a deal-breaker for us that has since been corrected. What I hope you’ll find interesting in this article is how Framer met our requirements and what we learned about those requirements after we had been using it regularly


I don’t want to be a winner

David wrote this on 22 comments

Is there anything our society exalts more than The Winner? That fiery someone who crushes all competition to stand alone and victorious at the end. A genetic predisposition, I’m sure.

The paradigm of competition is so ingrained as the basic business narrative that we usually don’t even recognize it, much less question it. Well, of course there are winners and losers! What are you, a fucking communist?!

Actually, no. I’m a capitalist who doesn’t like direct competition. Is that an oxymoron? It shouldn’t be. In fact, it’s the profitable, justified motivation I smiled to see affirmed by Blue Ocean Strategy, the business book that explains this non-combative style with case studies like Cirque du Soleil.

I think that’s why I never really liked individual sports or games either. I remember how hard my heart would race playing 1-1 Quake, and how infinitely more shitty it felt losing than winning, and that even the latter wasn’t all that interesting!

Competition is the direct cultivation of stress and paranoia. Tapping fight-or-flight for game and gold. No thank you. Not for me, no siree!

The only competition I’ve come to love is the one against myself, and that’s not really a competition, now is it? The progress of betterment. Playing your part to the best of your abilities in a beautiful whole.

That’s the joy I take away from racing cars for endurance. It’s not so much being faster than the other cars, but striving to perfect your own contribution as part of a team. Pushing against the limits of perfect execution over the long term. 24 hours of testing your capability to avoid mistake and fatigue. Winning is almost incidental to that.

The same goes for making Basecamp the best software and the best company it can be. It’s not about taking out or choking existing or upcoming competition. It’s not about dominating a space to the exclusion of all others. I’m not sipping sour grapes or feeling bad when a competitor hits its stride. In fact, it’s so much more interesting when Basecamp is just one of many, different choices for people to make progress together.

The world is better off when its not being held in the palm of a few dominating winners.

Natasha “The Robot” Murashev joins Basecamp

Jason Z.
Jason Z. wrote this on 5 comments

We’re excited to announce that Natasha Murashev has joined us here at Basecamp as a programmer on our iOS team.

Despite receiving over 100 applications for this position, it was by far the highest quality group of candidates we’ve seen. Not only is Natasha an excellent programmer but what made her truly stand out is her teaching spirit. Her popular blog on the Swift programming language is the fruit of her habit of sharing everything she learns, a process that helps her to slow-down, articulate, and document the discoveries she’s made while benefitting the wider community. In addition she publishes a popular Swift newsletter, This Week in Swift, and is a regular conference speaker. As a company we have a long history of sharing what we’ve learned so we think Natasha is a great fit!

Basecamp 3 is just a week old but we’ve got big ideas for our iOS app so we’re excited to have the firepower to make them happen. Natasha will be working remotely for us from her home in San Francisco Seattle everywhere as a self-styled digital nomad. Naturally, she’ll be blogging her adventures.

Please join us in welcoming Natasha to the team!

A new episode and a big milestone

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on 2 comments

When Abdul Qaiyum, a young Pakistani immigrant and recent pharmacy school graduate, discovered Merz Apothecary in 1972, the Swiss German drugstore was on the verge of closing permanently after nearly a century in business. Qaiyum bought the store from the founding family and has run it ever since, transforming a modest purveyor of homeopathic remedies into a retailer that combines modern business savvy with old-world nostalgia. An additional fun fact about Merz Apothecary: Founded in 1875, it’s the oldest business we’ve featured to date.

It’s been a very exciting couple of weeks for The Distance! The show was featured on iTunes and hit No. 1 for Business News podcasts. Thanks so much for listening, rating/reviewing the show and spreading the word about the stories we’re telling. We appreciate it so much!


David wrote this on 38 comments

About 12 years ago, I co-founded a startup called Basecamp: A simple project collaboration tool that helps people make progress together, sold on a monthly subscription.

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!

I know what you’re thinking, right? BOOOORING. Why am I even listening to this guy? Isn’t this supposed to be a conference for the winners of game startup? Like people who’ve either already taken hundreds of million in venture capital or at least are aspiring to? Who the hell in their right mind would waste more than a decade toiling away at a company that doesn’t even have a pretense of an ambition for Eating The World™.

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.


Launch: Basecamp 3

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 37 comments

So today’s the day we finally get to unveil Basecamp 3! Nearly 2 years in the making, Basecamp 3 is the most ambitious product we’ve ever built. There’s so much new and hugely improved stuff!

Radically more powerful than any Basecamp before it, it still maintains – and expands on – the straightforwardness and ease-of-use that people around the world have come to know, trust, and love about Basecamp. Basecamp Just Works.

This combination of power, ease of use, and unique approach is why over 5,000 companies and organizations sign up for Basecamp every week. We’re dedicated to continuing to delight them and to try win over a million more with Basecamp 3.

Basecamp 3 is built around the premise that no matter what kind of work you’re doing, there are a few things every team needs: A way to divvy up work, hash things out quickly via chat, make big announcements, keep discussions on-topic, store and organize key files and assets, lay out milestones and deadlines, and have regular check-ins to make sure everything’s all right. These are the simple truths of working together well.

And rather than have to duct tape together a DIY-suite of separate products by separate vendors with different interfaces, separate user accounts, different billing schedules (and prices), and decentralized storage of information (some stuff in this one, some stuff in that one, end up with stuff all over the place, etc), we’ve built everything you need into a single, coherent bundle. That’s what Basecamp has always delivered. And now it’s delivering more of it, better than ever before. There’s nothing else out there like it!

Over the next few weeks we’ll be sharing a lot more about Basecamp 3, but I wanted to start by focusing on a few big new things in Basecamp 3:

The Clientside

A large portion of our customers are client services firms. Designers, agencies, dev shops, lawyers, accountants, you name it. People with clients. Client work is their bread and butter, and we wanted to make them the best damn sandwich they’ve ever had.

So with Basecamp 3 we introduce The Clientside – an entirely new, fresh take on working with clients. It’s built right into Basecamp 3, and it’s available on the Basecamp With Clients and Basecamp Big package.

Basecamp 3’s exclusive “Clientside” feature keeps client feedback on the record and completely separate from the rest of your project. This means your client never sees anything they shouldn’t, and your team doesn’t have to tip toe around worried about saying the wrong things. It eliminates all the anxiety and fear that are often tied to the client-firm relationship.

Further, the Clientside puts zero demands on your clients. They never have to create an account, they never have to log in, they never have to learn a system or install any apps. Everything they do happens via email so there’s no burden on them whatsoever. They don’t have to change a thing, and it’s so much easier for you since you never have to feel like you have to tell them they’re doing it wrong. They can never do it wrong in Basecamp 3. No awkward conversations about tools! Your clients will love you!

The Clientside is a revelation. We think you’re going to love it. Learn more about it…

Work Can Wait

If you’ve used a modern chat, collaboration, or messaging app, you’ve probably noticed that there’s a growing expectation of being available all the time. Someone at work hits you up on a Saturday, you get the notification, and what are you supposed to do? You could ignore them, but what’s the expectation? The expectation is “if you’re reachable, you should reply.” And if you don’t reply, you’ll likely notice another message from the same tool or a tool switch to try to reach you another way. And then the pressure really mounts to reply. On a Saturday. Or at 9pm on a Wednesday. Or some other time when it’s life time, not work time.

We don’t believe tools are at fault for this — tools just do what toolmakers build them to do. But we do believe toolmakers can build tools that help you draw a line between work and life. We’ve baked these good manners into Basecamp 3 with a feature we’re calling Work Can Wait.

Work Can Wait lets you set your own notifications schedule. Each person in Basecamp 3 can set up their own work schedule with their own hours. You can of course choose to to receive notifications all the time, 24/7/365, no matter what. Or, you can say Work Can Wait — only send me notifications during my work hours. Then you can set the start time and end time and also mark off which days you work.

Outside of this range, Basecamp will basically “hold your calls”. Notifications will automatically be silenced until it’s work time again. Once the clock strikes 8am, notifications will start back up again. Of course at any time you can go into the web app or native apps and check your notifications yourself, but that’s you making that decision rather than software throwing stuff at you when I’m going for a walk with my son on a Saturday morning.

We think Basecamp 3’s “Work Can Wait” feature can help move the industry towards saner work practices, and we’re proud to lead the charge. Learn more about Work Can Wait here….

Basecamps, not Projects

The more customers we talk to, the most interesting and unusual uses for Basecamp we find. People are using Basecamp for all sorts of things that aren’t traditional “projects”. Us too – we use Basecamp in sorts of ways that no one would define as “projects”. Yet, we’ve always called things “projects” in Basecamp. It’s just too limiting. Time to change that.

For now on, you don’t make projects in Basecamp. You just make Basecamps. This closely follows the language our customers have been using anyway. “Go make a Basecamp for that”… “Let’s make a Basecamp for that!”… “Kick it off by setting up a Basecamp for the client”, etc. Rather than try to swim upstream against our customer’s vocabulary, we’re going to adopt their language and go with the flow. So “projects” are now simply “Basecamps”.

And now when you make a Basecamp for your company intranet it won’t feel so weird. Or a Basecamp for your customer support group. Or a Basecamp for that event that’s coming up. These things aren’t just “projects” – they’re teams, and groups, and departments, and moments. So calling them Basecamps opens up a whole new set of opportunities for everyone to use Basecamp in new ways. We can’t wait to see where people take it.

Communicating in high and low gears

We’ve been running group chat in our business longer than nearly anyone. Back in 2006 we invented the modern business chat tool when we introduced Campfire. For nearly 10 years we’ve experienced all the pros and cons of different kinds of communication methods. So with Basecamp we wanted to introduce a balanced attack. Not just chat. Not just direct messaging. Not just message boards. Not just threads. But all of the above in just the right way in just the right places.

Chat is fantastic for hashing certain things out quickly, but it’s also terrible for long-term organization. And organization is a very important thing when you’re trying to make progress on something with other people. With chat, stuff speeds by on a conveyor belt, conversations are crossed, and it’s just so easy to lose context. People feel like they need to pile in and pile on just so they’ll be heard before that part of the conversation scrolls away forever. Speak NOW or forever hold your peace isn’t a great way to think things through and give ideas due time to develop. Chat also causes anxiety of fear of missing out – they’re often like being in an all-day non-stop meeting.

And traditional message boards are great for long-term organization and keeping discussions threaded, focused, and on-topic, but they are typically too slow for discussions and decisions that require back and forth real-time speed. They can feel frustrating if you want to move quickly or just “toss something in the ring” to see what people think.

So in Basecamp you get both. Chat (we call them Campfires), and traditional threaded discussions (on the Message Board). The best of both worlds in a single tool. We don’t lean in one way or another – they are both equal since both are equally powerful, depending on the situation. You also get “pings” in Basecamp – our version of direct messaging – so you can reach out to people in a separate, personal backchannel.

So two gears… Use Campfires when you want to shift into high-gear and go really fast. But use the Message Board when you want to shift into low gear, get some traction, put together a complete thought, and give people a chance to respond. Use Campfires when you don’t really care about the past, use the Message Board when you know you may want to refer back to something later.

Further, in Basecamp you can have an organized, threaded, on-topic discussion attached to anything. This is one of the real secrets to why so many people love Basecamp. Attach conversations directly to to-dos, files, calendar events. Keep the conversation in context, right next to the thing you’re discussing. It’s so much simpler, tidier, more organized this way. Because discussions aren’t just for who’s part of them now, but also for whoever comes into the company later. Preserve your knowledge in a way you can point back to it later – don’t let it just float away.

Simplified packages and unlimited for everyone!

Basecamp has always been “project-gated”. This means you’d have to pay more the more projects you wanted to manage. We’ve torn down the gate in Basecamp 3! Every package includes unlimited Basecamps, plus everyone gets one Basecamp for free forever. Use that one Basecamp however you’d like. When you want to make another, you can select an unlimited use package.

We’ve simplified down to just three straightforward packages. Basecamp For Us for those who aren’t doing client work. Basecamp with Clients for those who do work for clients (this includes the awesome Clientside feature). And Basecamp Big for enterprise customers.

Prices start at just $29/month. That’s total – we never charge you per user. Basecamp pricing is flat and predictable, never variable depending on how many users you invite. People don’t cost a thing in Basecamp. Find out more about our pricing here…

So that’s enough for now!

There’s so much to check out! Please go and sign up for Basecamp 3 and give it a whirl. It’s free to try it out. No time limit.

Thanks to everyone who’s helped us build, test, and beta Basecamp 3! It’s gotten so much better because of you. Check out all the new stuff!

Check out Basecamp 3 today!. And be sure to get the outstanding, all-new iOS app and Android app as well! They’re fantastic ways to Basecamp!

What would it take to prove me wrong?

David wrote this on 4 comments

Good intuition propels progress. Listening to your gut is faster than rigourously exploring all possible options. The more you can get away with leaning on intuition, the more things you can improve in the same amount of time. The best product makers have excellent intuition.

But exactly because intuition on a roll is so powerful, it also invokes a sense of invicibility: Hey, if I was right about the gut take the last twenty times, why wouldn’t I be right about this too?

“Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can’t lose” — Bill Gates

That’s no reason to give up on intuition, but it is cause to consider a fallback strategy. The primary of which should be having answers to the following: What evidence would prove me wrong? Is my gut take falsifiable? Will I have the courage to admit being wrong, if the data proves it so?

Some times there’s simply no way to know before you act. That’s the providence of A/B testing. If the data isn’t there upfront, then let’s just try it and see what happens!

Other times the answers are indeed already there, we just don’t have the confidence to look. It’s so easy to fall in love with an idea that makes intuitive sense. The theory is just too satisfying to give up. We don’t even want to entertain the idea of being wrong, at least not yet.

The golden path is to give almost all intuitive ideas the benefit of the doubt, but then articulate that doubt as clearly as possible. The quicker you determine which ideas are duds, the quicker you can load the next batch.