It’s all the same Jason 27 Apr 2006

41 comments Latest by partt poker

People will often ask us “how do you find time to do PR or marketing when you are building your products?” Or “When do you find time to do customer support?” Or “How does such a small team accomplish so much? What is your time management secret?”

Here’s the secret: it’s all the same thing.

Product development, marketing, PR, support, design, programming, etc — it’s all the same thing. We don’t put time aside for PR or time aside for design or time aside for tech support. We’re always doing all of these things. They are all part of the same thing: building products we love to build.

Building and improving Rails is PR. Designing great interfaces is marketing. Providing quick customer support is advertising.

We don’t spend 2 hours every day on marketing, we spend all day on marketing. We don’t spend 1 hour every day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do, we spend all day figuring out the best way to communicate what our products do. We don’t spend 3 hours on interface design, we spend all day on interface design.

When the edges are blurred, and one thing is many things, you can achieve so much more with less time, effort, and people.

41 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Uzi Shmilovici 27 Apr 06


I have to admit that I am a huge fan. But I think that sometimes you take amazing things that work for you, because of certain circumstances, and try to make a rule out of them.

37s is doing great and is getting a lot of publicity. You enjoyed the koolaid point (thank you kathy sierra) and everything you do gets a lot of publicity.

But, marketing is important. And marketing is marketing.

Anyway, keep up with the great work.



johnmac 27 Apr 06

This stuff ties in really well with the idea of hiring multi-skilled people too (the “Get Well Rounded Individuals” approach). Employees who are engaged in many facets of a business (rather than being pigeonholed into a rinse-and-repeat set of “specialised” tasks) provide *and* derive so much more value from the experience.

Another great perspective post! Cheers.

JF 27 Apr 06

But, marketing is important. And marketing is marketing.

As I said, we are marketing. Unconventional marketing, but marketing is marketing, just like you said.

We’re here to share what works for us. We’re not here to share what works for you. If what works for us works for you, great. If what works for you works for us, great. If what we do and what you do don’t mix, that’s fine too. Nothing works for everyone.

Marc Hedlund 27 Apr 06

Love it. +1.

Luis 27 Apr 06

I totally agree with Jason’s entry. In my work I have to deal QA assignments: testing, creating docs, dealing with developers, sometimes dealing with clients, etc. All of this while working on different projects as well.

I simply call it multi-tasking. As soon as you try to assign a specific title/task to something an cling to the idea that it should be looked on a singular level, then it makes the job that much harder.

How else would I be working, while posting comments on Signal vs. Noise? :)

jetrac 27 Apr 06

I completely agree. The biggest problem most tech people have, IMO, is a lack of understanding of big picture things, whether that be business strategy or even as simple as how important it is to be nice to people and not say “no” before you’ve thought about “yes.”

jeb 27 Apr 06

Exactly. This is exactly what those hot chicks that work in marketing need to understand, doing stuff just for marketing’s sake is such a waste and gives marketing and PR a bad rap.

sham 27 Apr 06

If you simply insert the short parenthetical phrase (for us) after much of what these fine people at 37signals say, it’s much easier to understand.

It’s all the same in my business too, but that’s because we’re a small, focused group. Each person has the authority to do marketing, product development, advertising and customer support. In fact, they are expected to.

We also plan to stay small, at least as far as staff size is concerned. We plan on doing what we’ve been doing for 35 years, it’s worked for us.

Uzi Shmilovici 27 Apr 06


I agree that marketing, PR etc. ain’t worth nothing if you are not doing WOW work (that’s great UIs and great customer service).

I agree that doing all that stuff also creates passionate users that generate word of mouth advertising.

But you still need time to be interviewed for a businessweek article (That’s PR), and you still need time to perform at SXSW (That’s great marketing), and you still need an ad on Vitamin (That’s advertising).

So, doing all those things is just a part of the big picture. An extremely important one, but yet just one part.

Indi 27 Apr 06

I believe this applies even in large organizations. Sure we do have a marketing department and sales, customer support, etc. But each of us performs marketing and sales and customer support whenever we talk to a customer and field questions or concerns at a meeting or over the phone.

Javier Cabrera (ClearYourMind) 27 Apr 06

I think you’re right Jason, it works for me too; maybe not at the same level because we didn’t do any framework, but it works pretty fine. I think that instead of setting time aside for marketing, or for PR, it’s better to think on how to integrate those tasks to your regular ones, so you end up doing everything at once.

That is what I call “working smart”.

Javier Cabrera

RS 27 Apr 06

Another perspective on this: you don’t lose something by taking it out of the silo. You free it to change.

Each of our practices — design, coding, marketing — competes for time and energy. We do all these things, but we don’t compartmentalize them.

Silos are cages that enforce old habits. We prefer to take the code, design, and marketing animals out of their cages and let them evolve a bit.

The MZA 27 Apr 06

I think this is especially true for people working on side-projects in their own time, and usually, on their own.

I think it’s perfectly possible for that one person to work on customer support, promote their work, and still find time for development because each is very much interlinked on the net.

For other fields, it may not hold so well, but online very small teams can build and maintain wonderful things. Isn’t that the essence of Getting Real?

J Wood 27 Apr 06

Jason’s comments also strike me as consistent with the craftsperson mode of development, as opposed to the assembly line approach. Let the product do 80-90% of your publicizing, and hang a sign out so the passers-by can know the service is available.

This also strikes me as similar to what happened with beer in America during the late 80’s through the 90’s. I know from personal experience how advertising and pushing for broader markets killed many mid-size craft breweries around the turn of the decade (my dad worked at one for 30 years, until Stroh’s bought and bnakrupted it; if you’re reading this from Chicago, you know Old Style). Recipes were watered down in the search for cuts in production costs, yielding savings that were shifted over to gimmicky marketing campaigns. Many mid-size breweries coudn’t keep up with the Budweiser’s and Miller’s, and were eventually bought and chewed up. In the meantime small microbreweries started mushrooming up (because hey, man cannot live on Bud, Miller, and Micheolob alone) and all they could afford to do was let the beer speak for itself. And it did, loudly. Wisconsin (where I grew up) now has more breweries than Germany precisely because of this market shift, and a number of these breweries, despite wild success, had resisted growth and have been satisfied with a narrower but consistently satisfied market. (New Glarus Brewery is a perfect example; they stopped selling in Illinois and Minnesota in order to focus on product.)

And for the few smaller breweries that did head over to advertising, like Sam Adams (more a mid-size brewery, but started small), their campaigns tend to focus on the company model and just letting the product speak for itself —no need for athlete spokespeople or terriers in bermuda shorts.

Not a Hata 27 Apr 06

“Here�s the secret: it�s all the same thing.

Product development, marketing, PR, support, design, programming, etc � it�s all the same thing.”

Am I missing something? They clearly are not all literally “the same thing”. Unless you have figured out a way to be omnipresent, when you are responding to a support email, you are not programming. When you are programming, you are not doing support. You can spout out all the motivational seminar “but support is marketing, as good support = word of mouth advertising” and “programming = less support calls”, but what people are asking is if programming “new product X” takes say 100 hours, how do you find time to also do active marketing (write on this blog, go to SXSW, etc). Maybe your answer is that it only takes 5 hours to code, 2 hours to do tech support and 1 hour to play with the blog, but you you’re not literally doing them in “at the same time” any different then any other similarly sized company.

Andrew M. Lin 27 Apr 06

This is the best blog post I’ve seen from you guys, bar none. When you blur the lines and have multi-talented people onboard, working in small teams is not only faster, but more productive. Hallelujah!

RS 27 Apr 06

(New Glarus Brewery is a perfect example; they stopped selling in Illinois and Minnesota in order to focus on product.)

I love Spotted Cow!

Ara Pehlivanian 27 Apr 06

If everything’s the same then everything competes in priority and nothing has a dedicated staff so how do you keep from falling into utter chaos? How do you prevent things from falling between the cracks?

Jack of all trades, master of none.

Chad Brandt 27 Apr 06

Here’s a slightly different question: How do you manage time between products? I know that *sunrise* is on the horizon (sorry-bad pun) and a calendar is in the works for backpack. As you release more products, how do you make sure that each app receives the attention it deserves?

JF 27 Apr 06

As you release more products, how do you make sure that each app receives the attention it deserves?

You just do. We don’t bite off more than we can chew. You also have to realize that just because everything can always be better it doesn’t mean everything has to be better all at once.

Arik Jones 27 Apr 06

I think everyone understands the small iterations philosophy. You can’t really get away with saying its all the same, cause fortunately your succession contributes to grass roots promotion from its users and active testimonials. And that in itself is marketing. So its not all the same. If consumers didn’t like your product, you’d have no marketing and would have to actually pay attention to marketing. Even unconventional marketing employs some sort of separation from other tasks like tech support or advertising. Lumping them all into one way of doing things is just simply enjoying the splendor of your users promoting (and unconventionally marketing) the product for you.

I’ve suggested basecamp to a couple teams, and they both use it now. Before that, they didn’t even know 37s existed. And I’m sure many here have done the same thing for your products.

But don’t get me wrong here, the users and customers of your products are not deserving of all the praise, you make up 50% of that “unconventional marketing” by building great products and showing that you as well as those who use them enjoy them and love using them also.


Jonathan M 27 Apr 06

And that’s why Peter Drucker says

“Marketing and innovation are the only things that make money. Everything else is a cost”.

Because all activities that make significant contributions in business can eventually breaks down to those two categories, regardless of which department you think you are doing work for. In addition, I believe both marketing and innovation are co-dependent. In fact, one is (and should be) ‘marketing’ from the very moment that one is starting to build a product/service so marketing is a ‘built-in’ component.

“Innovative marketing must accompany with innovations” - Jonathan M :-)


sham 27 Apr 06

Of course grassroots enthusiasm is marketing. But answering support emails quickly, making time for interviews in national publications, and let’s not forget making a good product are the things that inspire customer enthusiasm. You can’t buy that, you must earn it.

While perhaps not literally true, “It’s all the same,” is conceptually important. Realizing that when you blow off a customer email, you are losing a marketing opportunity is something you should be aware of.

Bernie Aho 27 Apr 06

The question I sorta was hoping to get answered Jason, is how do you evaluate or prioritize or refuse certain oppourtunies that can be perceived as casuing extra “busy” time. I mean we all know your busy, and yah its all the same thing but….What do you use to say , “yah i will do that conference 6 hours away”, “no I wont because we are so close with sunrise”…or yah we have time for another book….yadi, yadi…So essentially the same question where do you find time for the big things? What do you drop and what is the internal process for deciding?

RyanA 27 Apr 06

Releasing Rails as an open source project was an incredible strategic move!

Not only have you contributed to the web development community but you’ve also gained fame and respect from many people.

Now that’s marketing! Most product companies would go red in the face at the suggestion of releasing a core part of their product as open source. Nice one!

Denver Fletcher 27 Apr 06

Re the “marketing is marketing” thing: not every company in the world can *hire* well-rounded, multi-talented, multi-skilled people.

But I do believe that every company in the world *could* generate such people, if that was an objective the company was prepared to buy into, invest in, and get serious about making it happen.

Such people are *never* born, they’re always made. And sometimes they’re self-made (largely) and sometimes they’re forced by circumstances to become that way, but the key realisation here is that they *CAN* be made.

You don’t have to wait for that once in a lifetime confluence of really great people to “just happen” - you can MAKE IT HAPPEN!

Clark 27 Apr 06

This stuff ties in really well with the idea of hiring multi-skilled people too (the �Get Well Rounded Individuals� approach).

That sounds nice in theory but it’s actually pretty tough to find work these days as someone who is well rounded.

FredS 27 Apr 06

Lol. These posts are all the same. And yet, I keep reading.

Jaydee 28 Apr 06

Great post. This tells us that one aspect of a business could be done in a way that it results or benefits other aspects of that business. Like how providing good support for your clients addresses both the support issue and advertising, and how addressing your products’ bugs and feature enhancement requests not only addresses production requirements, but marketing as well.

Steve TE 28 Apr 06

Correct me if I�m wrong, but I suspect that each of the members of 37Signals concentrates a bit more on their specialized areas. Jason: marketing, David: programming, etc. Everyone chips in with the other person�s designated field and you all work together. In other words, you function like a large a scale corporation, only on a smaller scale. My spin on this is that you just function like every other small business out there. The comparison to a large-scale company is going to get some feedback, but just think how many times you have been asked to go to another department to give them a hand or to chip in a little on another project. Somewhere down the line, most people do this kind of thing. Being smaller just means that it happens a lot more.

MT Heart 28 Apr 06

There is a world of difference between people who work in marketing and marketers. Both are involved in ‘user experience’ - just that marketers know it and specialize in it (whether they realize it or not). As soon as you carve out separate departments, you just killed the kind of total user experience that a small company provides because now you have the “Oh marketing - that’s Fred’s job, not mine” mentality that bigger companies force into their prosaic “Big Book of Process”. Spend some time at a government contractor and you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Jonathan M 28 Apr 06

I agree that well-rounded people can be ‘made’ but i beg that most of them do not want to work for a big corporation because they want to start one :-) This is fine becuase they really dont need everyone to be ‘well-rounded’ in a big corporation, just enough in the key areas. There are companies (eg Apple and Dell) that have reinvent themselves over and over again. I dont think they can do that without enough well-rounded people.

MMS 28 Apr 06

I read this yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. It’s just an idle curiosity and I suspect I know the answer. Do employees of 37 signals have titles?

Lindsey 28 Apr 06

To “Not a Hata” above.

when you are responding to a support email, you are not programming. When you are programming, you are not doing support.

Sure, maybe not at exactly the same time. But as someone who does some of both at her job, I reckon they’re more related than you think. When I answer support email, it makes me a better developer because I understand where people are having problems and where they’re not, so I know where to focus my efforts. When I program, it makes me better at answering support email because I’m intimately familiar with how the software works and better able to understand how the user ended up in the place they did. Doing a little more of one can help me do a lot less of the other.

RS 28 Apr 06

Do employees of 37 signals have titles?

A title is just what you tell someone when they ask what you do. Beyond that, they don’t come up.

indi 28 Apr 06

it’s all a continuum of activities with shifts of focus flowing naturally