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What Every Bootstrapper Can Learn from Basecamp
Earlier this year, Basecamp (formerly 37Signals) announced that they would be slimming down to one product: Basecamp. Doing so meant that they needed to do something with Highrise, their second most profitable and popular product. They ended up making Highrise a subsidiary of Basecamp. You can read more about this at big news for Highrise by Jason Fried of Basecamp.
Basecamp has long been one of my favorite companies, as they're a great model of a bootstrapped tech company. For a few years, I became a bit disenfranchised with them as a customer, though, despite loving their story. Basecamp (the product) was underdeveloped and their customer support was inadequate. I also used and recommended Highrise, but it, too, was underdeveloped and under-supported.
It was quite apparent that the company was a victim of its own success. Their strategic focus was spread too thin, but a great portfolio of products kept them in the "good enough" stage.
But Basecamp's earliest successes didn't come from them being merely good enough. They were fanatical about being the best product on the market. I don't know that they ever lost their fanaticism, but they lost their focus and ability to deliver on it.
Before the big switch from 37Signals to Basecamp, the team had already started investing in a better customer support infrastructure, so they were already well on their way to addressing core strategic problems. But the products no longer had their competitive edge.
While splitting off Highrise was clearly the right move, it remained to be seen whether it was actually going to pan out for their customers.
Fastforward to today.
The Basecamp team is improving Basecamp multiple times per month. There are things I miss about classic Basecamp, but it's undeniable that we have a much better product at Basecamp now and they're improving it every day.
Nathan Kontny's team at Highrise is finally working on the basic stuff I and others had been bugging Basecamp about for years. I'm excited about the product again. It might seem funny to be excited about things like being able to email a customer from directly within your CRM, but when it's been something you've been waiting for for years, it's pretty exciting. You can see what they're improving on the Highrise blog AND I hope you check out their WHY on Why We Work on Highrise.
Both products and teams are better. Not just better because they're more profitable, but better because they're able to focus on making their products better for their customers. Their customers actually won in all of this, too.
I'm sharing this to highlight a few points:
You don't have to buy into the terribly short-sighted built to flip model just because you're a tech or fast-growing company
Sticking with a bloated but unfocused company OR killing a product is an unnecessary EITHER/OR
Leadership matters just as much in small companies as in large companies. Kudos to Fried and Kontny.
Your customers might be paying more attention to what you're doing than you think they are
This is a great case for what doing what's right for the company AND for its customers looks like
Few things market your business better than satisfied customers
Is there anything that jumps out at you that I've missed?