Last evening I caught up with Jason Fried, one fifth of the quintet known as 37 Signals. He had just settled into his new home in Chicago, and well was hoping to feast on some middle eastern goodies when I rudely interrupted his dinner. Jason, being a gentleman spent a lot of time with me, and at some point during the conversation, we talked about the recent buzz in Silicon Valley. I asked him, if he would ever move here. And well, his answer took me back to my story, Escape From Silicon Valley. Jason and his virtual bandmates are spread all over the country/world, and make a comfortable living from their efforts such as Ta-Da List and Basecamp. 37 Signals should have part of my story, but somehow I missed them. Shame on me!
They are a prototypical next-gen start-up, that shuns venture capital, has realistic expectations of itself, and is highly distributed. Jason says they are comfortable in the knowledge that they are not going to be the next Google. This self awareness has to be part of any start-ups DNA. There are many entrepreneurs who are “do-it-themselves” who often tell me that they are immensely worried about the unrealistic expectations placed on them by VC investments. You won’t find them in Silicon Valley, where these days features are posing as companies. They can only wish to get the fierce loyalty 37 Signals enjoys from its customers.
In the past 24 months I have touched on many of these topics in different articles for Business 2.0. I think they also belong to another big trend – user experience companies. 37 Signals actually spends the time to figure out how humans, not early adopters actually use their products and try and build intuitiveness into their product. (iPod is a perfect example of this instant intuitiveness that is in sync with human expectations. Another good example is Six Apart’s TypePad blogging system, even though I am partial to WordPress myself.) I have been talking about that (to those who know me well) for almost three years now, and Basecamp exemplifies that. (Here is what Jason has to say about UI stuff!)
I wish there were more 37 Signals. If you know of any, do let me know.
16 thoughts on “37 Signals – Anywhere But Here”
Does it count if a company has a decent amount of Angel backing, some big dreams, and reasonable (in the black) revenue?
of course it does. and a lot of it depends on how the company feels about itself.
Om: Most of our companies fit that mold. Thx for the post, as usual.
So Mr. Jeeves,
I see you often respond to Mr. Malik on his blog. And you keep talking about your companies but where are they? I don’t see h them on realtimeenterprise.com — so they must be vapor hitting the paper.
Anyway, one of my favorite Middle Eastern restaurant’s in Chicago is Reza’s. Looks like the White Sox are headed to the playoffs this year and with some luck the Cubs might squeek into the Wild Card in the NL!
It’s a very impressive/interesting company with some very nice products… I don’t agree with their keep it absurdly simple model since I’m a power user, but for the mass-class I think their products are brilliant.
In general the principle is that bigger players make simple products that cater to the general audience & smaller innovative & smart companies come out with niche stuff for the power users. (cars are the best example)
I hope 37signals goes on to become a big player in this field, though i see that as difficult. That, despite seeing the example of google doing well without any publicity (though a lot of distribution).
i think the beauty of their model is their smallness, their virtual status. i think they understand what their end users want, and perhaps its tough for power users or early adopters to understand the simple-is-beautiful virtue of their model, but i just am amazed by the good will they enjoy from their customers. that is the ultimate pay-off. call me old fashioned.
Alright Om – well I got a company for you – pretty sure you know about its existance 🙂 maybe someday it’ll get a mention!
Running a virtual office is no small feat. My company has been running a virtual office for about a year now, with my team mates spread as far south as Miami, and as far north as Houghton, Mi.
I have looked to Jason and others that demonstrate the success of the virtual office model for suggestions. In fact Basecamp has been a large key to our success of the virtual office. The usability and versatility has made this application a staple in my company.
Also, Jason has one of the best-combined visions for business, web development and user interfaces in my opinion. Their Blog archive has some great reads on investment vs. boot strapping, focused interfaces, and other virtual office discussions. I think that more companies should listen up to what this small powerhouse is doing.
True .. customer satisfaction is key – to all business.
And they almost have a cult like following ..
another name that come to my mind when thinking of a cult like following is apple – and thats exactly my worry.
Someday i hope apple’s & 37signals’ simple & intuitive interfaces make it to the common man ..
Well, simplicity doesn’t allways jibe with project management. Their Basecamp system is fine for a flat linear process but can’t help define larger project workflows.
Not a bad product just doesn’t have enough depth.
Check out Blinksale, made by Firewheel Design.
Feel pretty close their getting real concept. Small enthusiatic teams can do better products than fortune 500 companies. Check out http://www.citycita.net/blog if you want see where web future is going -> the first open source community website that will GPL his code.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you want a funny story about two do-it-themselves french guy in china.