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Jason Fried

About Jason Fried

Jason co-founded Basecamp back in 1999. He also co-authored REWORK, the New York Times bestselling book on running a "right-sized" business. Co-founded, co-authored... Can he do anything on his own?

Why the hell not?

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 9 comments

Whenever I dive into something new, I try to find at least one “why the hell not?” moment. And when I can, I try to leave evidence of that moment in whatever it is that I’m building.

When we launched our company (37signals) back in 1999, we launched a black and white, text-only site without a single piece of portfolio work to be found. All the other agencies we were competing with had very flashy pages, loaded with pictures of their work. So why black and white and text only? Because why the hell not lead with ideas rather than compete on pictures? We thought it could be better that way. It worked out well for us.

One of my favorite why the hell not moments was when we were writing REWORK. One of the things that always bugs me about paper books is that you have to leaf through a dozen or so pages before you arrived at page one of the actual text. You’ve got the testimonials, the table of contents, the dedication/acknowledgement page, the copyright page, usually a blank page, a title page, etc… THEN you get to the book. This is also one of the reasons I really like cracking into a new book on the Kindle – you start right at the text.

So when we were talking to our publisher about how we wanted REWORK to be organized and designed, I asked them if we could put the copyright page at the end, rather than the beginning. It would be one fewer page to leaf through up front, and if any page was ignored more than the others, it had to be the copyright page. So why the hell not just put it at the back?

Initially our publisher didn’t know how to respond. No one had ever asked that before and they’d never seen an example of a copyright page in the back. But ultimately they said yes, so today if you pick up a copy of REWORK, and go to the last page, you’ll find the copyright page right there in the back of the book on page 280:

You’ll also find the acknowledgement page on page 279, rather than right up front:

Whenever I’m struggling with a decision that seems “unusual”, I’ll look back at these two pages in REWORK and remind myself that just because everyone else does something one way doesn’t mean you have to do it that way. Sometimes it’s just worth saying why the hell not and going for it.

Do you have to love what you do?

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 16 comments

Attend enough startup conferences or listen to enough motivational speakers and you’ll hear one piece of advice repeated over and over again: You’ve got to love what you do! If you don’t love what you do, you might as well stay home. No less a giant than Steve Jobs famously told Stanford’s 2005 graduating class, “The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”

I don’t buy it.

There’s nothing wrong with loving what you do, of course – I just don’t think it’s a prerequisite for starting a business or building a fulfilling career, let alone doing great work. In fact, I think it’s disingenuous for really successful people to put so much of the focus on love, just as it’s disingenuous for really rich people to say money doesn’t matter. People tend to romanticize their own motivations and histories. They value what matters to them now, and forget what really mattered to them when they started. It’s human nature, so it’s an easy thing to do.

The way I see it, many great businesses and important innovations are actually born out of frustration or even hate. Travis Kalanick and Garrett Camp, the co-founders of Uber, didn’t start their ride-sharing service because they loved transportation or logistics. They started it because they were pissed off that they couldn’t get a cab in San Francisco. Kalanick may love running Uber today, but he really hated not having a way to get home. A random brainstorming session one night in Paris turned that frustration into the seed of a multibillion-dollar company.

I talk to other entrepreneurs all the time, and many of their companies sprang into existence for similar reasons—because the founder wanted something that didn’t exist or scoped out an opportunity to do something better than it had been done before. Love for their subject matter may or may not play a role in their stories, but hate for the existing options, along with strong opinions about how things could work, does and is a much better predictor of success.

My own career is no exception. Back in the mid-’90s, I was looking for a simple tool to keep track of my music collection, and all of the available programs seemed bloated and unnecessarily complex. Those are two things I hate, so I set out to make my own tool and eventually released it under the name Audiofile. I didn’t love music collecting. I didn’t even love software development. (I was just learning it at the time.) And I didn’t have any aspirations to run a software business – I just saw a need, and I filled it. Nothing wrong with that. A similar situation led me to start my current company, Basecamp.

Truth be told, even today I don’t always love what I do. The paperwork, the reporting, the day-to-day minutiae that come along with responsibility for a large and growing company – none of those things make me swoon. Yet I’d still rather be running Basecamp than doing anything else. I think I’m good at it, every day I get to do challenging, creative work, and I continue to find making better project-management tools a worthy and rewarding cause. It’s also a real pleasure to work with such amazing people as I do every day of the week.

If I were giving a motivational speech, I’d say that, if you want to be successful and make a real contribution to the world, you have to be intrinsically motivated by the work you do, and you have to feel good about spending your days on it. Love might grow – and it’s a wonderful thing if it does—but you don’t need it up front. You can succeed just by wanting something to exist that doesn’t already.

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Printed in the February issue of Inc Magazine

IMG_0121.jpg

Comparing warning labels on gym equipment. From the 80s on the left, from the 2000s on the right. The one from the 2000s says a lot more, but the one from the 80s means a lot more.

Jason Fried on Jan 18 2015 10 comments

Introducing the 5x12

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 15 comments

Last year we topped 40 people at Basecamp. And that’s when I began to notice that we didn’t know as much about each other as we used to when we were smaller.

When any group gets to a certain size, it naturally begins to splinter into smaller groups. Cliques form and conversations often stay inside those cliques. That’s natural and OK, but I thought it would be nice to force some cross-clique personal conversations so everyone could get to know everyone else a little bit better again.

So I had this idea to bring together five random people (plus me and David) once a month for a one-hour free-flowing anything goes conversation, and then share the conversation with the rest of the company after it was over. The topics weren’t forced or pre-determined – whatever emerged was fair game. I’d sort of moderate the discussion to get it going, but after that whatever happened happened. The plan wasn’t to talk about work – it was to get a glimpse of what was going on in everyone’s lives outside of work. Could be exciting stuff, boring day-to-day stuff, whatever stuff. Life stuff.

We called it the 5×12. 5 people, 12 times a year. Andrea, our office manager, would select the people for each call, and the participants on the call would be kept secret until the call started. No one would know who was on this particular 5×12 call until each person popped into the conversation. A little surprise would help break the ice and just generally make things a little more interesting.

Since we’re a majority-remote company, we’d hold these monthly 5×12 video sessions using Google Hangout. Only the people on the call would be in the Hangout, but Andrea would transcribe/interpret each call and then post that transcript to Basecamp a couple days later so everyone in the company could read it. This way the actual call would remain intimate, but the stories would be shared company-wide.

I wasn’t sure how it would go – it was just an experiment. We’ve done six of them so far and I think they’ve been a big success. We continue to do them today (in fact today is the seventh one). We all get to learn a bit more about each other every month, and everyone looks forward to reading Andrea’s often humorous take on the conversation.

If you’re finding that you’re not as in tune with the people you work with as you once were, I’d recommend giving the 5×12 idea a try. I think it’s especially important for remote teams. I definitely feel like we’re all a little closer than we were before.

I thought it would be nice to share one of the transcripts from the 5×12 calls so you can get a sense of how these go and the sorts of things that came up in conversation.

What follows is the transcript from the very first call back in July, 2014. Enjoy!


TRANSCRIPT

Partipants: Jason, DHH, Mig, Ann, John, Natalie, and Javan.

Ann asked about the metal chotchke in the team room. JF said Ben is researching BC stickers, and one idea was a metal emblem. He’s getting samples from people who do metal work, and that was one example, but it is too ornate. He’s also getting some other samples in wood and other materials.

John talked about moving to Indy. He lived there for 4 years during college, now back in the suburbs which is weird, little but of an adjustment living in a subdivision, and not where i saw himself living, but it’s okay. Jason asked how they decided to move. JW said the choice was between living close to Marie’s parents in Indy or JW’s parents in the middle of nowhere, so they chose Indy. They were in a motorhome for awhile, the idea was to keep traveling, “then Marie got pregnant, and living in a confined space with a pregnant wife is not the best option”. (<—quote) They still have the motorhome in storage and camp on a regular basis, just not going all the time. John bought the motorhome new, and there’s a warranty, but still tons of bugs to be worked out. The guy who sold it to them said “you’re putting a house on wheels with a big engine, things are going to break”.

DHH tries to get American motorhomes in Europe, because the European versions are shitty: “Americans know how to put a house on wheels”. At Le Mans, one of the racers asked about a hotel room, and his team got him a motorhome instead. It was a European “shed on wheels”.

Mig drew a mustache on DHH, and DHH danced like a mariachi and then stroked his chin, like an old timey train robber.

NK has been camping a lot this summer and went to Norway a few weeks ago, near the Arctic Circle to camp on an island for 9 days. She just signed a lease on a new apartment which has an office. Some questions from the group about the Arctic Circle — NK says she went to the highest area in Norway and camped, it was cold but not unbearable — 8 Celsius, and midnight sun. Sun didn’t set the whole time they were there.

Mig put a Cat In The Hat hat on DHH. Unclear if he noticed.

JF wants to see the Northern Lights one day (and space shuttle launch). AG saw the Lights in Door County when she was a kid and it terrified her.

Someone drew a monocle on John.

John and family are planning on going to Cape Canaveral to see a SpaceX launch. He doesn’t know which viewing areas are open to the public, but they’re just going to go and figure it out.

Mig & Javan had a weekend in Michigan “Basecamp boys weekend” for 4th of July with Michael and Trevor. JM showed them around, really fun, hung out in nature. Then they checked out Detroit and 1/2 were scared shitless. AG asked which half, and Mig admitted it was actually all of them. Every building was dilapidated, but then they ran into pockets of cool places and shops, followed by other scary pockets where you shouldn’t walk. DHH wondered how dangerous Detroit is. He said it’s funny how you get perception of an area – before the World Cup, you’d hear how Brazil is dangerous, and then you see the stats for Chicago (37 shootings in one weekend), and it’s interesting how relative “danger” is.

MR also saw Javan’s new car – MR knows a lot about cars, and described it as blue, shiny, vintage, well kept, “dreamy”, very nice. He shared the Instagram pics, and the guys looked like they’re in a boy band. DHH commented that there was not enough duck face.

Javan actually knows something about cars (not really) and described his new car: 1970 BMW 2002, 44 years old. He bought it on eBay, which was a weird experience. He never saw the car, he bought it from someone in Delaware. He took a blind leap and clicked “bid” and won. Two days later it showed up on a truck at his house, very bizarre, impulse buy on something that could be totally fucked up when it shows up. He’s been driving it more than he’s supposed to. It’s registered as a collectors car, legally supposed to drive it to only car shows and club trade events, but he’s been driving it on errands. It’s been raining a ton, and he can’t get the car wet because it leaks and will rust, so it’s been in the garage lately.

JF asked Javan: why did you buy it? JM used to have a 1979 Saab he bought for $1000, not a fancy car but he loved it. Every single thing was mechanical, everything was solid, nothing broke because it was just metal. He got rid of it 5 years ago and was missing it. This winter was cold and boring, so he looked at fun cars and fell in love with this one. Old cars are romantic, they’re pleasing in a way that new cars aren’t, and they have character that new cars don’t have. Maybe some new small batch nice cars, but the factory mass produced cars today won’t age with the same character as old cars.

JF said old cars make people feel good. People smile and ask about them. He asked if Javan finds that true? Javan said that in Michigan, the car stands out a little more, there aren’t many cars like it on the road. “Lots of cheers & fist pumping when I drive by.” Lots of old timers want to know a lot about it, and young kids just want him to rev the engine and drive fast. The factory stats say the car does 0-60mph in 12.9 seconds, so it’s probably even slower now. JF’s dad has an early 1980s model car, and there are alway people telling him about it when he drives around.

Mig moved into a new apartment. He’s not been home much, but loves the place. He can see the sunset with west-facing windows. It’s his first time living alone and first time in a loft style place, and it’s great. It’s close to nice places in the neighborhood & transit, close to the office, but still in a separate neighborhood away from work. He’s having a fun summer, going on weird weekend camping trips. He is glad to go out and do things, but also thinking more about being home and enjoying alone time. He lived with roommates since leaving high school, so it took him a few weeks to realize no one was going to come home, which was weird at first. Mig wears pants “most of the time”. The building has a cool roof deck and MR meets new people every time he goes up there – likes talking to different people of all different walks of life. He gets the feeling of living mates, but no one bothers him.

JF asked if anyone wanted to talk about work stuff.

Javan has been working with Sam for 3-4 months on Trix. It’s been super fun, and it’s the first time he’s worked with another programmer closely. Usually, everyone works in a team with others, but it’s rare for 2 programmers to work together, and it’s been fun. “Sam is obviously the smartest person in the world”, and Javan has learned a lot working with him. Javan says it would be cool to do more projects like that. He does not know if designers or other people feel the same way, but JM things programmers don’t get enough opportunity to work together. A lot of that is the nature of the projects, but it would be nice to do more often. JF: we’ve been pretty optimized for efficiency, which doesn’t lend itself to the same groups of people working together. As a company, we’re trying to do too many things at once — last cycle, we had 8 projects running concurrently. When you have that many projects and a product team and only 15-16 people, it’s not possible for a lot of people to work together. Moving forward, we want to have fewer projects and more people on those projects. Not 8—8 means most people are working independently. DHH: And it’s not even efficient. It has a veneer of efficiency, but there are all these other coordinations costs. This cycle we did some things that weren’t of the highest priority because we had the people. We want to have slightly larger teams doing fewer things in serial, rather than small teams working in parallel. It’s also hard for JF & DHH to be involved with 8 concurrent things. And fewer projects means everyone is pulling in the same direction. JF has been working closely with Scott and Conor, and that pairing is going well.

Someone asked DHH if the math formulas on the blackboard in the storage room is real? When we first moved into the office, JF tweeted, asking someone to come put “a bunch of math” on the chalkboard for the hell of it. A mathematician from U of C agreed, and he “put a bunch of shit on the board”. He said it was real, but we’ve never checked. There are a few eraser marks from the guy who did it, so we think they’re actually real bc he screwed up as he was writing it.

Mig talked about being paired with Julia this summer. It’s cool to have an intern and fun to see someone wide-eyed about things that he thinks are basic. She gives a different perspective when working on The Distance, and she’s so curious. It’s fun to slow yourself down to teach someone else. A challenge, but fun. Hopefully she’ll be able to hang out with everyone and work on some other stuff. She wants to work on everything. She’s working on some postcards. Mig gave her general creative direction, but told her to “make it something you’re proud of, it’s going in the real world and that doesn’t happen at a lot of internships, so run with it”. MR is very impressed with her work and ambition. George is killing it, too. MR is happy we’re taking on “green talent”.

JF was in a room with Julia & Mig, and they talked about art school. In school, they never make anything for real clients, make budgets, they never send things to press/do press checks – all that real life stuff doesn’t happen in school, and it should.

Mig does portfolio reviews a lot, and it’s disheartening to see so much fake work that never goes into production. MR wants to help educate students by using real projects because “that’s weird that school doesn’t do that for designers”. School opens the doors to design work, but he did’t really learn anything in school. Half the people at Basecamp learned on their own, no formal school, so going to school a gamble. Students think “an adulthood switch flips” and you have a job, but design school doesn’t really prep you for real work. They sell you on a dream job, but then the industry is saturated with unprepared people.

DHH: Denmark pays you to go to school for 6 years, and you’d think that would change the culture. You’d think everyone would take a graduate degree, but the rates of graduation aren’t very different than the US. It does change the makeup of students and degrees—which in the US seems to be changing too. Students in the US go into tens of thousands of dollars in debt, and the end degree is not something you would buy for that amount of money. MR: art school costs over $100k, and there’s no education about education.

JW: also, whenever people talk about student loan debt, they call it “good debt”, that’s the sales bit. DHH said, but it’s actually the worst – there’s high interest rates, and you can’t clear it in bankruptcy. JW agrees, but mentions that they say it’s worth the interest, but what they don’t tell you is that you’ll be writing checks for the next 15 years. DHH the market makes no sense – people tend have a native instinct of small items being too expensive (e.g. a hot dog should not be $5, it should be $2), but people don’t have the same sense about large-scale items like education. JF says people who pay for their own education seem to have a better sense of the cost. If you’re paying out of pocket with no loans, you are more realistic. The loan makes you feel like it’s not your money. People who pay out of pocket get the same level of education, but when you get a loan at 18 years old, you don’t know the consequences of debt like that.

AG got rid of her car, rides her bike everywhere now, and she gets rained on all the time. She doesn’t even think about the rain anymore – about 5 years ago, she just accepted it. DHH said, in the US, being a “bicycle person” is part of your identity, and in Denmark, it’s just what everyone does. Two months ago, he was home and noticed that literally everyone bikes, people in suits, in long dresses. In California, the only people on bikes have a full spandex suit. In Denmark, people bike to go places. JF: do people who own cars in Denmark have car culture? Since it’s a smaller segment of the population, in the way that there’s a bike culture here? DHH said no, you’d think the minority would have an allegiance to each other, but they don’t. Javan: how do people bike in suits and then go to work? Don’t people sweat? DHH said they just don’t bike that fast, and it’s cooler there. People are more leisurely. Another funny difference – in Chicago, everything has air conditioning. Nowhere in Copenhagen has AC. If it’s really hot one day, that’s just the temperature. Natalie says it’s the same in Berlin, no AC, “and I sweat when I ride my bike”. AG also sweats. Mig is Filipino, which means he does not sweat but glows. DHH said there’s always a difference in cultural comfort zones. It’s hard to even imagine something outside of that comfort zone, like not having AC when it’s hot. But people are so adaptable. Few people in Denmark care about biking/sweating, or thinking about AC when it’s hot. The drawback of amenities is that we’re continuously shrinking our comfort zones. JF said DHH should start the trend in Chicago and get rid of his AC and car. DHH agreed (no he didn’t).

John bikes in Indy. There are no hills, cornfields, flat as a pancake, so he rides around in big squares. He rides on the outside of town, low traffic. DHH saw study on the safety of helmets. Motorists who see bikers with helmets tend to drive closer to the bike than they would if the biker did not have a helmet. Same principle as another study about mountain roads. On mountain road turns with guard rails, the accidents/fatalites shot way up – people drive as fast as they want because of the illusion of safety. Where there are no guard rails, people were more careful. In some ways, it’s “unsafer to be safe.” It’s perverse that the behavior that protects you in an accident potentially gets you into the accident in the first place. Illinois state law says there should be 3 feet distance between driver and cycle. Indiana has weird laws – bikers have to have a bell on your bicycle. JW has no bell. He stares down cops when he rides by, like a young James Dean.

Natalie said that she and James are starting European-based classes for Support, next Friday. They aren’t changing the class, but the time zone will cover a lot more people. AG asked if she is using the metric system (no). DHH hears all the time from people about Support classes – they love it, and he feels like the classes have a positive affect on retention. NK is learning German using Rosetta Stone and it’s going well. She’s hoping to be more fluent in 6 months because she has her visa renewal in 6 months and needs to be “more German” by then. NK is already German in that she uses walking sticks, has tall socks, and “a version of lederhosen”. She also likes pretzels. She is not German in that she has not had cheeseburger in a can.

NK loves Rosetta Stone. If you’re speaking incorrectly, it’ll tell you right away. Some other programs, as long as you talk at all, it’s tell you you’re right. She also took group classes in person, and Rosetta Stone is better. DHH said, admiringly: “robots, man.” DHH’s wife is using Rosetta Stone for Spanish, and she prefers it even above a tutor. Her tutor’s pace was too slow, and Rosetta allows you to go at your own pace, review things. NK said you can also “make a fool of yourself to yourself” and it doesn’t matter, and there are no distractions from other students. This goes back to the value of education – a lot of people can probably learn better from cheaper classes online, robots, software. Robots, man, indeed.

DHH brought up the book on introversion (Susan Cain’s “Quiet”). Three-quarters of the population are extroverts, and the education system is built around them. The rest of the population probably learn better on their own, they find focus in isolation, so the move towards online distance learning is better for introverts.

THE END.

Google shows you a good time

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 9 comments

I ordered something from overseas and checked the tracking number to see when I might receive the shipment. The results looked like this:

Since the page wasn’t in English, and Google knew I was an English speaker, Google offered to translate it for me:

So I did. Then it looked like this:

The special part… Check out the time column. They “translated” 24-hour time into 12-hour time. They knew I was in the US and that’s our preference for displaying time. So they didn’t only translate the words into English, they went the extra step and translated the time format to match expectations. They certainly didn’t have to do that, but I definitely noticed that they did.

Delightful attention to detail, and thorough definition of translation. Well done.

Sharing a first draft

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 15 comments

Been working on some copy for the Basecamp site. I don’t know where it’s going to go yet – maybe on a new page, maybe it’ll replace something else, maybe we’ll even test it as the new home page.

But I wasn’t thinking of where it was going to go when I wrote it. I was just thinking about what I wanted to communicate, what I wanted to say. It’s sort of an ode to project managers. So I wrote it.

It’s not done, but I thought I’d share it so far. Here it is:


You’re responsible for getting a project done.

You need to pull together a variety of people with different skills, communication styles, schedules, and attention spans to work on this project with you.

Some of these people work inside your company, while others, like clients, vendors, or contractors, might be outside your walls. All people are created equal, but when it comes to working on a project together, they couldn’t be more different.

Naturally, the more people there are, the more chaos there is. So your job is to be “the organized one” and make sure everything’s under control and things go as planned. You need a clear view.

This is a tall order and a tough job and you rarely get the credit you deserve for doing it well.

You crave a system that helps you “effortlessly be on top of everything.”

You need a tool to help you divvy up, assign, and review work, set deadlines, make announcements, gather feedback, make decisions, follow up with people, share important on-the-record updates with stakeholders, and keep project-related reference materials easily accessible for anyone who needs it.

It’s absolutely gotta make things easier for you, but it can’t be at the expense of making it hard on others.

You know you can’t use a tool that imposes on the people you’re working with. It can’t be complicated, it can’t force people to drastically change the way they work, and it can’t require them to pay close attention all day long so they don’t miss something important.

You’re already fighting an uphill battle against deadlines, expectations, and human nature – you don’t want to have to fight against software too.

You’ve worked with people long enough to know some people rally around a new system, others will push hard against it. There will be folks who are all-in, and folks who just want to get stuff sent to them via email. So whatever system you adopt, it needs to work well regardless of how much other people choose to engage with it.

This tool needs to be your trusted assistant, not your damned adversary.

In the end, what matters is the work, the process, and the end product. You need to deliver something great, and people need to get along throughout. That’s what you take pride in, and, conveniently, that’s what they pay you for. You’re the leader. You must use a tool that’ll amplify your skills and support you every step of the way.

You’re in luck. We’ve made something especially for you.

Meet Basecamp, your new best friend at work. Welcome aboard.

Faith in eventually

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 20 comments

Making something new takes patience. But it also takes faith. Faith that everything will work out in the end.

During the development of most any product, there are always times when things aren’t quite right. Times when you feel like you may be going backwards a bit. Times where it’s almost there, but you can’t yet figure out why it isn’t. Times when you hate the thing today that you loved yesterday. Times when what you had in your head isn’t quite what you’re seeing in front of you. Yet. That’s when you need to have faith.

There are designs that are close, but not there yet. There are obvious conflicts that will need to be resolved. There are lingering things that confound you, confuse you, or upset you, but you know that eventually they’ll work themselves out. Eventually you’ll find the right way to do something you’ve been struggling with.

It’s hard to live with something that isn’t quite right yet – especially when it’s your job to get it right. It’s important to know when to say “it’s fine for now, but it won’t be fine for later.” Because moving forward is critical to getting somewhere. And, eventually, you’ll figure it all out. It’ll all work out in the end.

This is what I’ve always believed, and have always tried to practice. A dedicated faith in the eventual resolution of a problem, the eventual execution of a concept, and the eventual realization of the right design. Even when something’s poking out you don’t like, or something isn’t aligning quite right, or the words aren’t as elegant as you’d hoped, or something just isn’t easy enough yet, you need to have confidence it’ll all come together eventually.

Remember that what you’re making is in a perpetual state of almost right up until the end.

In the meantime, you just press on and keep making things, trying things, and getting closer and closer to the time when you can tie the loose ends into a perfect bow and present it to the world. What fun it is!

Jack Mallers: from dropout to Starter.

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 1 comment

Back in June of 2013 I was at a The Starter League demo day and watched this kid named Jack present what he built in three months. Impressive.

Jack was confident, he was raw, he was rebellious, and he was clearly smart as hell. And he was just 19.

After the presentation I turned to Neal Sales-Griffin, one of the founders of The Starter League, and said “Who the hell is this kid? I have to meet him.” Neal gave me his email address and I shot him a note. We traded a few emails and I agreed to be one of his mentors moving forward. Since then we’ve met up a handful of times. I’ve helped him think through a bunch of stuff, and he’s helped remind me what it’s like to be young and hungry. I have to admit I’m a bit jealous of where he’s at.

After Jack’s Starter League experience, he applied to go to Starter School, the level-up program from The Starter League. It’s a 9-month intensive — and supportive — program where people learn the whole stack – coding, designing, the art of product, and the basic business building blocks necessary to eventually turn what they build into a business.

A few months ago, Jack and the rest of his classmates graduated Starter School. Along the way I had the privilege of meeting these students. What a fine group of people they are.

I spent hours talking with them, getting to know them, listening to their stories, and hearing about their experiences. A few of them were just under 20 years old. Others were college dropouts. Some had just quit jobs they hated. Some were part of family businesses, others weren’t sure what to do with their lives. Some were sick of just having “ideas” — they actually wanted to make something real for themselves for the first time.

I came away feeling like I just met an all-star team. They weren’t all where they ultimately wanted to be yet, but they were all on their way. Full of confidence, full of new skills, and full of opportunity. Some will go get jobs, some will start their own business and create jobs. And some will go back to what they were doing before, except that now they’ll be an entirely different person.

I asked Jack to write up his experience at Starter School. I wanted everyone to get to know him, and to get to know what’s it like to go through this unique program.

So, here’s Jack’s Starter School story, in his own words:


Two years ago I was packing my bags and off to St. John’s University in Queens, New York to start college.

One year and nine months ago I was officially a college drop out.

Today I am a developer, designer and entrepreneur. I’ve built two products that people use (and one that’s in the process getting acquired). I have serious job offers. And I’ve built relationships with some of the most influential people in Chicago’s tech community. Including Jason Fried, who asked me to share my story here on SvN.

What’s up everybody?

My name is Jack Mallers (@jackmallers). I’m a 20 year old kid from a small city called Evanston, right outside Chicago. I wear sweats. I’m better than your average chess player. I stole the ball from Jabari Parker once. But the most valuable thing in my life by far is the education I received at Starter School.

Dropping out of college was not easy. To be honest, I was crushed. You grow up thinking there’s this path you have to walk to live what other people consider a good life. I felt judged by some of my friends. I felt like I was letting my dad down. I felt like I had let myself down.

I had no idea what path I was going to walk next. I didn’t want to sit in a bunch of boring classes. I didn’t want to struggle through every week just to have a beer at the tailgate on Saturday. I didn’t want to spend my days turning in homework that only effected my GPA, which then effected whether I got some internship. That life felt limited, and I knew I didn’t want to do that.

What I didn’t know was that I had a choice.

I will never forget walking into Starter School to meet Neal, the founder. He told me “people don’t come here to build resumes, they come here to build things that solve problems.” I looked over to my dad and we both smiled with that “hell yeah” look on our face. I was sold. This was exactly where I wanted to be.

Two months into Starter School I built my first app. I had a classmate named Mohammad. Mohammad is handicapped and uses a wheelchair to get around. He came to class one day with a ridiculous story.

One night Mohammad was heading home from Starter School and got stuck at a train station that wasn’t handicap accessible. At this point the other stations were now closed for the night, so Mohammad had to wait in his wheelchair on the street in Chicago at midnight for his mom to drive an hour to take him home.

When Mohammad told me his story, we realized we had the skills to solve this problem now. We built a tool that filters out non-accessible routes when you search for directions. Now, Mohammad no longer has trouble getting home in his wheelchair by train.

I then built an app for gyms to track their personal training clients with my classmate Harsha. We made it to the final round of interviews with TechStars Chicago with it. Now we’re in negotiations to have the product acquired.

Today, I’m building ChessExplained, an app I’ve wanted to exist since I was 8 years old. There have always been too many variables that factor into a good chess experience where someone can learn from a coach. You need to be in the same room, you need to be free when they are free, and they can’t be too expensive. That’s too long of a checklist. Chess is too beautiful of a game. That’s why ChessExplained exists. I can now learn and experience chess whenever I want with whoever I want over the internet.

I have no idea if you are a gym owner or want to learn chess. That’s not the point of this story. The point is a college dropout can become a developer, designer, and entrepreneur in one year.

Don’t settle. You don’t have to work for someone else’s dream, you can build your own. This past year has been unreal, and I am so thankful for everyone that has helped me through it. But my journey wasn’t magic. It wasn’t chance.

It was a decision.

I chose Starter School because I love solving problems and making a difference. I’ve paved my own path. I hope you realize you are only a decision away from doing the same.


Disclosure: Basecamp is a minority investor in The Starter League which runs Starter School.

Big news for Highrise

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 50 comments

Today we have a major announcement to make regarding Highrise, our popular CRM tool. It’s a good one!

The story starts back on February 5, 2014, the day we announced that we were becoming Basecamp. We announced we’d be renaming the company from 37signals to Basecamp, and we’d slimming our product line down to one product – Basecamp. This meant we’d be finding new homes for our other products. We said we’d either sell them or spin them off into stand-alone companies.

And wow! Right after making the announcement, floods of emails came in from companies, investors, and individuals who were interested in buying one or more of these products. I expected some interest, but I never expected so much so soon. We were off to a great start!

We decided to start the process with Highrise, since it was our second most-popular product behind Basecamp and it would command the highest price. On its own, Highrise generates multi-million dollar annual profits, so it’s very much the real deal and very attractive to a wide variety of potential suitors.

We fielded the interest, vetted the buyers, and narrowed down the field to about a dozen companies that we felt would provide a great home for our customers and fertile soil to grow Highrise to its full potential. The fit was critical – we outright rejected a few deep-pocket buyers because their plans included shuttering Highrise and rolling the customers into their existing product. That wasn’t an outcome we could live with.

The finalists were notified, we shared the prospectus, and they had a few weeks to submit their bid package and long-term plan for how they’d improve Highrise. I can’t say who was involved in the bidding, but it was some of the usual suspects (big software companies) and some unusual suspects (smaller software companies and PE firms with great track records). A healthy mix, for sure.

In the end, we couldn’t make a deal. Ultimately the sticking point wasn’t the valuation or price, it was the fact that Highrise didn’t come with a team. Everyone who worked on Highrise would be staying at Basecamp. All the serious buyers wanted the team too. No deal. We weren’t downsizing the company, we were just slimming back the product line. Everyone would be staying on board to work on Basecamp.

This meant selling Highrise was off the table. Next we turned to a spin-off. We successfully spun-off Know Your Company a few months prior, so we had some experience with this. Claire Lew was an awesome fit to take the reins and run Know Your Company, but who would be the right fit for Highrise?

A couple names came to mind, but I felt one was a perfect fit. I knew him, I knew his background, I knew people who worked with him, and I admired his energy and drive. He was a great programmer, a great product thinker, a great leader, a hell of a nice and decent guy, and he just happened to be in Chicago. We’d talked before about working together somehow, but there was never anything to do. Until now.

I dropped him an email. I heard back. And a few months later – today – we have a big deal to announce. We just signed the official papers last week. Argggg lawyers!!

Highrise is now its own company (legally it’s a subsidiary of Basecamp). Highrise will run as its own company with its own leadership, its own team, its own board, and its own budget (fully funded by customer revenues). During the transition period, Highrise will lease some infrastructure from Basecamp, but ultimately it’ll be completely self-sufficient. Plus, because Highrise is profitable, no outside money is required to get it off the ground. It’s on very stable ground right from the start.

And who’s running this new company? Nathan Kontny!

Nathan’s a Y Combinator alum (founder of Inkling & Cityposh). He was also an engineer on the second Obama for President campaign. And you may know him for his latest product, Draft. In fact, I’m using Draft to write this very announcement. It’s an outstanding product.

As CEO, Nathan will be tasked with building the team and executing his vision for Highrise. We couldn’t be happier with Nathan. Highrise is going to get a whole lot better.

What does this mean for the product and our customers? Like any transition, it’ll take some time to get up to speed, but he’s already been digging into the code, getting to know the customer base, and riffing on some ideas. There will be no interruption in service during the transition.

We couldn’t be more confident in Nathan and we’ll do everything we can to support him. If you’re a Highrise customer, we know you’ll be thrilled with his leadership, vision, and dedication to making Highrise the best it can be. If you’re not a Highrise customer, you may want to check it out once Nathan and his team hit full stride. 2015 should be a great year for Highrise.

So please wish Nathan and his team well on their new journey! Here’s to Highrise thriving again!

RELATED: Nathan wrote a story about taking over Highrise on Fast Company and a more personal story on his blog.

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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.

Jason Fried on Jul 31 2014 9 comments