The Egotist Interviews: Jason Fried

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Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of 37signals, a privately-held Chicago-based company committed to building the best web-based tools possible with the least number of features necessary. 37signals’ unconventional approach to business brings a fresh new perspective on how to be an entrepreneur and build a successful business today. 37signals’ products include Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack, Campfire, Ta-da List, and Writeboard. 37signals also developed and open-sourced the Ruby on Rails programming framework. 37signals’ products do less than the competition – intentionally.

Q: Despite your background in design, you’re mainly a software guy now. Why do you think you’re being invited to speak to an ad club? How does your philosophy overlap both industries?

A: I actually went to school for finance! I’ve always loved design so I’ve always designed. As far as why I’m being invited, it’s hopefully because you think my point of view is valuable. And generally my point of view is that it’s time to cut the bullshit and get to work. Enough with all the planning and strategizing and documenting and diagramming – let’s just build. You’re better off building quick and failing quick than planning long and failing later. You don’t know if anything is any good until you build it anyway. So just build.

Q: The name “37signals” doesn’t seem to fit your company ethos of “keeping things simple.” Could you fill us in on where it came from
and why you’re sticking with it?

A: Click Here.

Q: What’s your favorite ad campaign in the last 6 months, and what can programmers learn from advertising?

A: I loved the Audi spot in the superbowl for the R8. I think it was the perfect ad. Great ads give me the chills because they communicate perfectly. The tell me something, make me feel something, and give me something I can take with me. Anyone who studies that can be better at what they do.

Q: You have a reputation in the industry of being a bit of an iconoclast. How do you explain this and does it work to your advantage?

A: I just stay true to myself and speak my mind. I definitely think it helps 37signals. We’re a small company in Chicago that doesn’t spend any money on marketing, has never really advertised anything, and doesn’t have a PR firm, yet there are millions of people who’ve used our products, we’re profitable and have doubled our revenues every year since 2004, we’re in big media magazines and newspapers, sold over 30,000 copies of our self-published Getting Real book, and our blog is read by over 100,000 people a day. We wouldn’t be anywhere if we weren’t outspoken. Being quiet is being safe and being safe is being irrelevant today. You have to have a point of view. We’d rather be loved and hated than be in the middle where no one cares.

Q: A lot of your business sense and success is based on the notion of repackaging work that you’ve already done (ie. taking what you’ve learned from developing software and selling it down in book format), or taking programming that you’ve already developed and turning it into a full fledged language (ie. Ruby on Rails). This makes a lot of sense in the industry of product development, but do you think that it’s a useful mentality in service-based design and advertising?

A: Basecamp, the product that put us on the map, was originally designed for our own use when we were a web design company. We didn’t build it for other people, we built it for ourselves. But soon after we finished it we realized that other design firms could use it too so we polished it up, slapped some prices on it, called it Basecamp, and put it on the market. And now Basecamp makes us more money than client work ever did. Plus, it’s freed us from the tyranny of clients. So, yes, absolutely – taking your creative capital and turning it into your own product/service is definitely the way to go.

Q: One constant issue in the design and advertising world is high demand and lack of availability of good programmers. Do you have any words of wisdom for everyone in the audience for how they might go about finding the best talent?

A: Assuming someone is qualified, the next most important thing to us is curiosity. You have to find people who are curious. It’s the most important trait for anyone who wants to be great at something. Finding the greatest people now isn’t the goal – finding good people who are curious enough to be great soon is a better deal.

Q: Why should we come hear you speak on Thursday instead of working a late night at the office like every other weeknight?

A: Cause you shouldn’t be working late! Work less and you’ll do better work.

Comments

Somebody needs to tell him that Basecamp sucks donkey.

I couldn’t disagree more, Ivy. I think Basecamp does what it does amazingly well.

37 Signals is an amazing company with a genius business model. I wish I was as smart as those guys.

FANTASTIC INSIGHT! Thank you for that Mr. Fried, and thank you Egotist for bringing it to us.

(I’m surprised CP&B hasn’t put in a request to edit out his last comment, though.)

I have to agree with Ivy on this one... Basecamp is to basic for marketing agency / website design needs.

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