We launched Basecamp with a post right here on Signal vs. Noise on February 4, 2004. No traditional PR blitz, no advertising, no real expectations of big success. Just a product and a post and “let’s see what happens.”
Basecamp was a side project. We were a web design firm at the time. We built Basecamp because our projects and client communications were a mess. We were using email to update our clients. That works for about 5 minutes, then goes from ripe to rotten pretty quicky.
We looked around at some of the industry standard project management tools at the time. The leader was Microsoft Project. We didn’t get it. Projects aren’t about charts, graphs, stats, and reports. Projects aren’t broadcasts. Projects are about people and communication and collaboration. Projects are about back-and-forth, give and take.
Collaboration, not management
We also didn’t really like the idea of “management.” Management is hard work. Management is administrative. Management gets in the way. Collaboration better described what we were after.
So after experimenting with a manually updated blog-like project site, we decided to build our own tool. At the time, 37signals was just myself, Matt, and Ryan. Three designers. We weren’t programmers, so I hired a student from Denmark who I met over the web to write the code. I’d hired this guy before to write some PHP for a client project. I was happy with his work. We saw things the same way. This guy was was David Heinemeier Hansson. You know the rest of that story.
David gave us about 10 hours a week for about 7 months. Compressed that was about three or four months of actual work time. Ryan and I designed the UI, David wrote the code. I assumed we’d be using PHP, but he said he wanted to use this new language called Ruby. He hadn’t really used Ruby much before, but he thought this would be the perfect project to experiment. I didn’t know PHP from Java from Ruby, so I trusted him to pick what worked best. It didn’t matter to me what he used as long as he used what he wanted to use. I wasn’t writing the code so why should I care?
It turns out that the Ruby decision was the right one. Ruby on Rails was born from Basecamp. You know how that story goes.
A few months later we had a basic working version of Basecamp. It wasn’t really called Basecamp yet. We weren’t even sure if we would be releasing it as a product. We built it to solve our own problems.
Using it as we built it
We started using it on a few client projects. I believe the first project ever run through Basecamp was our redesign for Shopping.com. As we started running more projects through Basecamp our clients kept saying “This is great! I need something like this for our own projects.” I showed it to a few colleagues and they said the same thing. Hmm, maybe there’s a product in here.
A few days later “Basecamp” popped into my head. The domain wasn’t available, but who cares. We tacked on “hq” and we had the basecamphq.com our domain name. We ordered a dedicated server from our original web hosts at Tilted and turned it on. Basecamp ran on that single dedicated box for a year. One server, one year.
Come a long way
The original version of Basecamp just had messages and milestones. We added to-dos lists later before launch. We didn’t add file sharing until a few months after launch, and it required you had your own FTP server. Those were the very early days.
The original Basecamp home page.
Home page from 2005.
Today’s Basecamp home page.
We officially launched Basecamp on February 4, 2004. We knew we wanted to turn this into a business, so we put together a few plans and slapped on a few prices. The original prices were $9, $19, $39, and $59. In the past five years we’ve only changed our prices once. We’re now at $12, $24, $49, $99. We also added a new plan called Max at $149. We’ve added file hosting and additional projects per plan as well.
For many people, Basecamp was the first web-based tool they’d ever paid for. We’re very proud of that and thank them for trusting us.
Privately we though Basecamp would be successful if it could generate $5,000/month after 12 months. A $60k/year side project could pay someone’s salary. It turned out that Basecamp was generating $5,000/month after only 6 weeks. We were on to something.
So began the process of iterations. Listening to lots of feedback, making decisions about what made sense, making the changes, and updating the product. This process has continued ever since.
Since then Basecamp has grown from a modest project collaboration tool used by a few dozen web design firms into a slightly less modest project collaboration tool used by hundreds of thousands of companies of all kinds in over 80 countries.
Today over 3,000,000 people have Basecamp accounts. Over 2,800,000 projects have been created. Over 26 terabytes of files have been uploaded. Over 20,000,000 messages have been posted, over 31,000,000 to-dos have been added, and over 5,000,000 milestones have been completed. All in five short years over the web from around the world.
It’s really been a thrill, a pleasure, and an honor to have been part of all this. Basecamp has made so many things possible for 37signals. We’ve met so many interesting people. We’ve learned so much. Our customers are amazing.
One of the most rewarding things has been showing people that there’s a different way, a better way. Software doesn’t have to be a pain in the ass. Software doesn’t have to get in the way. Software isn’t about feature lists and sensational promises. Software is a concise set of tools that serve as an extension of your own mind. Great software lets you get things done and then it gets out of your way.
It hasn’t all been smooth sailing, but it’s been rewarding sailing. I won’t speak for everyone else at 37signals, but there’s nothing I’d rather be doing. I look forward to the next five years.
Thanks again for everything!