My Business Magazine: The Next Small Thing Jason 26 Jul 2006

38 comments Latest by Rick

This headline isn’t going to help me with the ladies, but…

A few months ago Rex Hammock flew out to Chicago to interview me for a story in My Business Magazine. My Business can’t be had on newstands — it’s a publication for the 600,000 members of the National Federation of Independent Business. NFIB’s purpose is to impact public policy at the state and federal level and be a key business resource for small and independent business in America.

I was really impressed with Rex. First off, he flew out here — he’s the first journalist from out of town to fly in to talk to us (most of our interviews are done over the phone). That alone meant a lot to me. He asked good questions, was genuinely interested in the answers, and his follow-ups demonstrated he was listening. I think the final article reflects this. We’ve definitely been blessed with great press over the past year (thanks!), but this is my favorite article so far. It’s concise, to the point, accurate, and written with a real passion for the subject matter. Rex believes in what he writes.

He also followed up the article with a blog post about our recent investment announcement and small business in general.

There’s an amazing thing taking place in the economy that gets lost in our obsession with that myth. There are lots of small businesses run by men and women of every race, creed, lifestyle and political belief, who are making lots of money on the Internet without ever making it onto TechCrunch. In fact, there are lots of folks selling tens of thousands of dollars of merchandise on eBay each month who have never even heard the term Web 2.0. You think there is a proliferation of Web 2.0 startups? It’s nothing compared with the numbers of small businesses that are started offline every week. Some will succeed. Most may fail (but not as many as conventional wisdom suggests). But they’ll keep being started and most of us will never notice because there will never be a “trend” story suggesting there’s too many of them chasing VC dollars.

Small businesses rule. They drive this economy, they provide the jobs, they provide the innovation, they provide the ideas. They fuel it all. Many are never noticed. Many are taken for granted. But people press on because it’s their passion. Small businesses are about passion and that’s why they’re so important. Passion and curiosity drive great things.

Thanks again Rex. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing our ideas with you.

38 comments so far (Jump to latest)

Ali Daniali 26 Jul 06

Congrads! Nice write up.


Gonzo 26 Jul 06

Don’t you guys ever smile? :-)

Rex Hammock 26 Jul 06

Thanks, Jason. Gonzo, yes, they smile alot.

Rabbit 26 Jul 06

Awesome! Congrats Jason. Screw the ladies (no pun intended), that cover rocks. :)

warren 26 Jul 06

jason fried: you say the same basic message a lot to different audiences (one that i agree with). do you ever get tired of trying to convince people and spread your message? besides creating buzz about 37signals and creating revenue for your Getting Real book, what’s the point of preaching?

djd 26 Jul 06

I love it!

It’s great to see a great story for a great company. :)

Don Wilson 26 Jul 06

Any way I can get the magazine without having to join the business group?

Steve R. 26 Jul 06

Jason and David spoke at DePaul Univ. a few months back (thanks again, gents!) and touched on the same theme (small business/entrepreneurship/passion), which is by now familiar but far from old.

Guys -

How many people do you think ‘get’ your message
However few do, please keep it up - you motivate a lot of people, and sometimes the flame needs a-fanning.

JF 26 Jul 06

Our message is well known by the small community that knows it, but we’re still a small company in Chicago that few people actually know about. We have a lot more shouting to do before we’ve made our point. It could be 5, 10, 20 years. And it’s a message that needs to be repeated over and over and over since the natural progression of businesses is to get big, slow, and muddy. We have to keep reminding people that it’s *not* how it has to be.

steve 26 Jul 06

Why isn’t your name on the cover?! Even magazines not destined for the newsstand should tell readers whose mug they’re looking at.

Rabbit 26 Jul 06

*bows* Well said JF. That’s why I _really_ follow you guys around — your ideas expand beyond the bounds of software development and design.

I’m excited to see what changes you guys are able to make happen.

Ben Atkin 26 Jul 06


I think the article was a good example of Getting Real. The writer kept it short and to the point. Most journalists couldn’t resist talking about DHH and Rails, but Rails and its popularity would have detracted from the main point of the article.

Rarely have I seen a finer piece of journalism.

Seth Thomas Rasmussen 27 Jul 06

I had my first exposure to the business behemoths this summer. It took me about a month or two really start to realize how soul-sucking it would ultimately be. They told me “Nice job!” and “Good work!” for a while, leaving me more or less alone until one day the hammer dropped. My “agency style” didn’t fit well in their “factory” operation (manager’s words), and that while he meant all those things he said, ultimately the quotas are the bottom line.

Let me put it this way. Every site coming out of this place had a “print this page” feature that involved generating separate markup that used the same stylesheet. Yeknow, unecessarily archaic stuff. It turns out they had some problems with white colored links not showing up in the print version then. The solution? Tell the designers not to use white for links until the print page situation can be “overhauled”.

greg 27 Jul 06

Congrats - well deserved. The article was well written, and kept me interested throughout.

John Topley 27 Jul 06

“Big business loves mediocrity: They put process first and product second.”

What a great quote. So true.

brad 27 Jul 06

�Big business loves mediocrity: They put process first and product second.�

I don’t think it’s “so true.” There are so many exceptions that it doesn’t seem like a good generalization. Apple is a big business, but they focus on product first because they have a very product-focused leader. There are plenty of similar examples (Toyota and Honda come to mind…you can yawn or snicker at their designs, but if you want affordable reliability and a car that you can plan on keeping for 350,000 miles, that’s where you’ll go. You wouldn’t go to GM, Ford, Chrysler, or Volkswagen for that).

I think that in any company, the balance of focus between process and product is established by its leader and the people that he or she chooses to run the business; I don’t think it’s inherently determined by the size of the company. Companies are made up of people. If you hire process-oriented people you’ll have a process-oriented company, no matter the size.

J Simmons 27 Jul 06

“Big business loves mediocrity: They put process first and product second. As long as you go through this process and all these objectives are met along the way, then what comes out at the end is considered successful, no matter what. It doesn’t up set anyone,but doesn’t make them happy, either. It’s safe. I can’t deal with that.”

This quote describes the company I work for so well it’s terrifying.

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

I think that quote describes a great of companies, big and small.

Isn’t it silly to talk as though somehow “small” means “better” and “big” means “bad”? Neither are necessarily true. Isn’t it more about how your business works than it’s size?

Will anyone honestly stand up and say, “all small businesses/teams are run amazingly well” and “every large business/team is run poorly.”?

Spencer Fry 27 Jul 06

Congrats, Jason!

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

I think that in any company, the balance of focus between process and product is established by its leader and the people that he or she chooses to run the business; I don�t think it�s inherently determined by the size of the company. Companies are made up of people. If you hire process-oriented people you�ll have a process-oriented company, no matter the size.

If I could edit, I’d just quote this and stick it in bold letters.

JF 27 Jul 06

Of course mediocrity flows in companies of all size. That’s a given.

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

If it’s a given, why the emphasized hate on big business?

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

I think the bigger point isn’t that mediocrity flows in companies of all size, but that greatness does too.

And that it’s silly to make sweeping generalizations, of course ;)

JF 27 Jul 06

Jack, “hate” is your word. I didn’t say anything about hate. I just took a position and made a point. It’s a quote. “It depends…” isn’t a position, it’s a hedge. I don’t like hedges. I like to make a point and move on. I assume reasonable people understand that “it depends” applies to everything anyway. It should go without saying.

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

If your “point” has an “it depends” that includes hundreds of factors, it’s not a point. It’s a sound bite.

Your actual point is that putting process ahead of product hurts the product. Which is a a great point. But, business size has absolutely nothing to do with that.

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

I don’t mean to harp on that quote. The article itself is very well done, and as always, congratulations.

Anonymous Coward 27 Jul 06

“But, business size has absolutely nothing to do with that.”

Absolutely nothing? Who’s talking in extremes now? It depends, doesn’t it? Jack, every point has an “it depends.” There are exceptions to every rule. Get over it.

J 27 Jul 06

Jack dude, chill out man. It was a quote. You know nothing about the context, the rest of the conversation. Journalists quote people, they don’t write entire conversations word for word. Why don’t you ask Rex about what else Jason said?

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

An. Co - of course every rule has exceptions. But the exceptions should be edge cases. In this case, I don’t feel they are. In my opinion, the distinct of big business in the quote is a sort of true scotsman argument.

J - I’m not that worked up. I was just pointing out the silliness of the quote. If Jason was taken out of context, my apologies. Jason did attest to the accuracy of the article in the post, so I assumed it wasn’t an issue.

Aditya Pradana 27 Jul 06

Hi Jason,
Been following your move since the though. Congrats!

And a nice photo shot too…
Couldn’t stand to ask this: Was it your idea to wear a black turtle neck and denim or the guys from the magazine? ;-)

Don Schenck 27 Jul 06

That’s it! I’ve had enough. I’m building my own web app, buying an Audi A3, and *I* will be successful!

If that doesn’t work, I’m moving to Kitty Hawk and surfing my life away.

Congrats. I can only think of one person more deserving.

DHH 27 Jul 06

Jack, are you arguing that on average big companies doesn’t have more procedures and red tape than small companies? Of course they do!

Some exceptional big companies are able to still operate much as if they weren’t run by procedures and yes some small companies try to pump themselves up to look like a big company by having lots of procedures and thus ending in the same situation.

But speaking in broad strokes, I’d definitely stand behind Jason’s notion that big companies are at a far greater risk of succumbing to a process-driven mentality instead of a product-driven one.

One of the key features of procedures is to standardize behavior across a large number of people. Which makes procedure production more prevalent when you have many people.

Oh, and I hope you spot the irony in claiming that Jason is being too absolute in his assertions while at the same time stating that “…business size has absolutely nothing to do with that” :)

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

David, that’s what we call a “tongue-in-cheek” comment ;)

Jack Shedd 27 Jul 06

As for your other points, David, it hasn’t been my experience that larger organizations are any more or less likely to become process oriented in creative markets and endeavors. I certainly haven’t found it to be the case that larger organizations love mediocrity.

This isn’t to say I haven’t seen organizations, as they grow, tack on more and more process to ensure a standards of quality, or to make day-to-day operations predictable. As you said, larger groups require an increasing amount of oversight to function well.

But it’s whether that oversight, that process, hampers the end result that I take issue with. And more importantly, whether a larger organization is more likely to allow that to happen. Jason is explicit in saying that “big business” loves mediocrity, since it’s a safer way to go, and is easier to ensure through process.

But every day, larger companies turn out wonderful products, of insanely high quality. And every day, small business turns out complete shit you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy.

For Jason to say that big business is somehow more likely to turn out mediocre products, because big business is more likely to have processes which dampen the level of quality is a complete disconnect.

Process doesn’t guarantee mediocrity. Process and standards can help guarantee great products just as easily as they can facilitate terrible ones. And this truth is acted out everyday in the marketplace.

If process isn’t responsible for hampering quality than the size of the business has absolutely nothing to do with whether they are more or less likely to turn out mediocre products, and certainly has nothing to do with whether their internal procedures are responsible.

In my experience, talent and vision play the largest role. Most products are mediocre. Very few are great. Where the product falls on the spectrum of quality is a matter of numerous issues, mostly the talent and vision of those in the organization. The size of the business doesn’t seem to be a reliable indicator.

Now, it can be argued that too much process can get in the way of talent. That the more hoops you add, the more you hurt production by tying the hands of creators. That’s a fair point, and would certainly, on the surface at least, appears true.

But when you delve deeper, I usually find that the process isn’t what’s getting in people’s way. Process is usually something creative people view as just another constraint they have to work around to get to their goal. And yes, when implemented poorly, when the process itself is flawed, you can cripple talent. But it’s also true that, when implemented correctly, process can aid talent by directing their efforts. It’s a constraint, which I hear you’re quite the fan of David.

What gets in people’s way, more often than not, is other people. Whether they are customers, fellow employees, or managers. And in any business, where more than 1 person is involved (which is every business), you’ll find that.

Joe 27 Jul 06

Don’t you guys ever smile?

Jon 28 Jul 06

@Joe: That question was already asked and answered. Get with the program.

Rick 08 Aug 06


While you think that teams can function via remote relationships… you’d value a reporter coming to interview you 1 on 1.

Nice bad ass picture btw. Did you do some pushups before in order to pump up the biceps??