This past spring we decided to prune our product line.
We stepped back, took inventory, reviewed how things were growing, considered which products mattered most to us, thought about which direction we wanted to go, talked about what we were proud of, and made some decisions.
This process reminded me a lot of pruning a tree. Before you start pruning, you circle around the tree and take in the shape. You have to step back and get a wide view in order to see the whole thing.
Then you start making some observations.
You notice this branch crossing and rubbing that branch. You see suckers shooting straight up taking energy from the healthy limbs. You see dead wood, you see thriving wood, you see leaders, and you see future problems. And depending on when you’re looking, you might see next season’s buds.
It’s always hard to cut something you grew from scratch. You feel a fundamental obligation to see it blossom and continue to grow strong. You know how long things take to grow, so cutting things back is an emotional process. “Man, this branch has been growing for 10 years and I’m going to cut it down in 10 seconds…”
But you also know that cutting things back means that you’ve favoring what’s left. You pick the winners, you help the tree grow up strong. And most importantly, while pruning gets rid of a lot, it also opens up new opportunities. Light gets in where it couldn’t before. Air circulates better. And new growth comes to life.
Now let’s get back to software.
Initially when we decided to prune our product line, we did it because we felt we had too many products to maintain. We’re bigger than we used to be, but we’re still a small company. It’s so easy to create (because creating is fun), but it’s also easy to ignore (because ignoring doesn’t involve work). Over time, if you create too much and don’t clean it up, you can lose control over quality. Quality, like time, is a limited resource. We felt like we might be on the verge. Hence the pruning session.
So we decided to stop accepting new signups for Ta-da List, Writeboard, and Backpack. We also stopped selling our Draft iPad app. We sold Sortfolio, stopped selling the Getting Real PDF (we’re giving it away for free now), and pruned some internal non-customer facing tech, too.
But an interesting thing happened. Not too long after we pruned, a couple new product ideas started bubbling up. Before pruning, the last thing we were thinking about was adding more products. Now, with some breathing room, new ideas are getting light, getting fresh air, and coming to life.
Not only are we thinking about a few new products, but we’re thinking very differently about these new products. One is a variation on an existing product. And one is entirely new for us. But both are also attached to a new business model.
I feel like our exploration into new business models would have never happened had we not cut some old growth back and let some new light in.
We’re finishing these two new products up now. We aren’t ready to announce release dates or talk much about them yet, but hopefully it won’t be too long now.
So, while it’s hard to cut back, it’s good to remember that subtraction can lead to addition. New shoots, new sprouts, and new ideas often need new room to grow. They’re waiting, but you need to clear the way.
Signal vs. Noise is a founding member of The Deck advertising network
I’m looking to hire an “iOS Prototyper” for one year. This is a full-time, 1-year contract. You must be in Chicago. Pay starts at $100,000 – I’m all ears if you want to make an alternate pitch. After the year is up we may decide to work together some more, but that’s a discussion for another time.
The role is clear: You’ll work with me on a daily basis to explore a variety of iOS app ideas for 37signals. We have a good half dozen ideas in the idea closet already, and more will materialize as time goes on.
This is a distraction-free position. Your only job will be exploring iOS ideas for 37signals. Ideas include new apps, new interface concepts, and a healthy helping of crazy ideas. You’ll report directly to me. We’ll riff, review, and spend time together nearly every day.
This position is for one person. You have to have the Obj-C chops and the design/ui/ux chops to be a one-person-iOS-shop. You have to be strong – and already up to speed – on both.
This is a perfect position for someone who knows how to work fast and smart. You know where the rabbit holes are and you’re good about avoiding them early on. You know which details make all the difference, and which ones don’t make any difference. You know the difference between spending time wisely and wasting time.
You’ll teach me a few things and I’ll teach you a few things. We’ll both gain great experience.
This job is primarily about prototyping, not shipping. Some ideas may ultimately ship, but the main goal here is to explore. You have to be OK with that.
If you’re interested, please email me directly. email@example.com. Since we’ll be working together closely, you must live in Chicago or be willing to relocate to Chicago for at least one year. Creative applications are encouraged.
I’ll be accepting applications until November 30th. I’m looking forward to working with you.
Some people get excited about building something new that the world has never seen.
Others get excited about making something more beautiful than it was before.
Others like making things faster.
And some others get off on making something less expensive.
To differing degrees, these are all personal driving factors of mine as well. But the one that stands out above all the others is the drive to make things easier. I like to make things easier for people. I love competing on easy.
I find easy to be the most personally rewarding, too. It has such direct impact. When something is easier, you feel it. You’ve done it the hard way before, so when you experience the easy way you immediately know the difference.
Easy feels like a cold Coke on a hot day. It’s just so satisfying. The harder it’s been – the thirstier you are – the better it tastes, too.
Another thing about easy – it’s personal. “Thank you” is often a response you hear when you make something easier for someone. Easier is appreciated.
Easy could mean faster. Easier could mean more obvious. Easy could mean a lot of things. But the part of easy I like is when you take an existing problem, study it until it becomes clear, toss out everything that makes it blurry, and carefully polish what’s left over.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately because we’re finishing up a brand new product. In some ways it’s entirely new territory for us, but in other ways it’s familiar.
This new product eliminates the hassle of one thing in particular. After that it’s about the same as anything else it competes with. In some ways, it does significantly less than the competition.
Plus, the other products are totally free. Ours won’t be.
We’re charging – betting, even – on easy. I like our chances.
Find more opportunities on the 37signals Job Board.
In the past, we used to define “work” as a place you’d go to. These days, we define “work” as what you do instead of where you go.
Gerb Kingma, Head of Customer Experience at Herman Miller, as delivered on a tour of the beautiful Design Yard Campus. Thanks Gerb, we agree with you.
Jeff Bezos stopped by our office yesterday and spent about 90 minutes with us talking product strategy. Before he left, he spent about 45 minutes taking general Q&A from everyone at the office.
During one of his answers, he shared an enlightened observation about people who are “right a lot”.
He said people who were right a lot of the time were people who often changed their minds. He doesn’t think consistency of thought is a particularly positive trait. It’s perfectly healthy — encouraged, even — to have an idea tomorrow that contradicted your idea today.
He’s observed that the smartest people are constantly revising their understanding, reconsidering a problem they thought they’d already solved. They’re open to new points of view, new information, new ideas, contradictions, and challenges to their own way of thinking.
This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a well formed point of view, but it means you should consider your point of view as temporary.
What trait signified someone who was wrong a lot of the time? Someone obsessed with details that only support one point of view. If someone can’t climb out of the details, and see the bigger picture from multiple angles, they’re often wrong most of the time.
Take a tour to see why others use Basecamp every day.
Customers don’t just buy a product — they switch from something else. And customers don’t just leave a product — they switch to something else.
The first workshop sold out in just 5 days, so if you‘d like to attend, register now.
It’s in these switching moments that the deepest customer insights can be found. On the 2nd of November, a select group of 24 people will attend a unique, hands-on, full-day workshop to learn about “The Switch”.
Most businesses don’t know the real reasons why people switch to — or from — their products. We’ll teach you how to find out.
The workshop will be at the 37signals office in Chicago. The cost to attend is $1000. The workshop will be led by 37signals and The Rewired Group.
You’ll participate in live customer interviews.
You’ll learn new techniques for unearthing the deep insights that most companies never bother to dig up.
You’ll understand why people switch from one product to another and how you can increase the odds that the switch goes your way.
And you’ll be able to put everything you learned to immediate use.
There’s only one simple requirement: You’ll be asked to bring something with you. It won’t be a big deal. Details will be provided one week before the workshop.
Spots are limited. Only 24 people will be able to attend and participate. Want to be one of the 24? Register now. We will see you on November 2.
I haven’t met someone who doesn’t like Uber. Drivers included. Every time I take a ride with Uber I chat up the driver to see how they like it. They love it. They rave about it. They feel liberated. They feel in control. They feel modernized. And they love getting paid faster (and more – Uber takes a smaller cut than a traditional limo/car company).
But what I really love about Uber is how they’ve smartly focused the full experience on the ride, not the ride plus a transaction.
This is a fundamental shift – and a stellar example of designing the whole customer experience.
Cabs and traditional limo rides have always ended with a transaction. They pick you up, but before they drop you off you have to transact. You give them money, or give them a card, you wait, they give you change or charge your card, you have to think about tip, and then you get out. It’s like a retail store, except that I’m not going in to buy something, I just want a ride. That whole process hasn’t been rethought for decades.
Since you store a credit card on file with Uber, and since the Uber rate includes the tip, you just get in the car and get out of the car. The transaction happens, but it doesn’t happen in front of you. It’s not a condition, it’s not a step, it just happens behind the scenes, automatically, so you don’t have to bother. You call for a ride, you get a ride. That’s Uber.
Yes, there’s a downside – you don’t know how much the ride is when you pay for it. But no matter what it is, you’d be paying anyway (you can’t choose not to pay after you get to your destination). This is just about where the transaction happens – in your way or out of your way. Uber bet it’s best out of your way. I think that was the right bet. It was a risk, but they took it and they made the experience better.
What is The Starter League?
The Starter League (formerly known as Code Academy) is a small school in Chicago that teaches Rails, Ruby, HTML/CSS, and User Experience Design. The classes are intensive, three months long, two or three days a week, and taught in person. The goal is to go from knowing nothing to being able to build and ship software. Not the best software ever written, but something real, workable, and distinctly your own.
Here’s why we invested.
A little over a year ago I met Neal Sales-Griffin. He came to take a free one-night Ruby course that was being taught at our office. I was in the audience too and Neal was sitting behind me. After the class he introduced himself and we chatted for a bit.
Neal had been trying to learn HTML, CSS, and Rails on his own. He holed up in his house, bought every well-reviewed book on the subject he could find, read them all, and spent countless hours trying to go from no knowledge to just enough knowledge to be able to build the basics of whatever he wanted.
Problem is, he couldn’t. And it’s not because he’s an idiot – he’s anything but an idiot. But he just couldn’t learn from books or online tutorials. They only got him as far as the examples themselves. He wasn’t learning how to think, he was only learning how to put this code in front of that code to build whatever the book or tutorial prescribed.
Further, he didn’t feel like online tutorials or books encouraged him to make a definitive commitment to learn the material. They were too passive. He was looking for immersive. He wanted to go all-in, not just dabble in his free time.
He knew there had to be a better way. But there wasn’t.
So he said fuck it, hooked up with his friend Mike (his co-founder), and built the school that they wished already existed. They tapped Jeff Cohen, recognized as one of the best Rails teachers in the world, to be the first teacher. They were lucky that Jeff just happened to live in Evanston, just outside of Chicago.
They priced tuition for their first 3-month Rails class at $6000. They put up a simple web site and announced that they were accepting applications. And soon enough they had more applications than they had spots. So they added another class (which still wasn’t enough to cover the demand). With nearly $200,000 in tuition revenue, they bootstrapped their school to profitability before the first class even graduated.
Now you can see why we like these guys. Self-starters, bootstrappers, talk walkers. They built something for themselves on the hunch that there were plenty of people out there just like them. And they were right.
Just one year later, from a couple of classrooms in Chicago, they’ve graduated nearly 300 students from over 25 states and 12 countries, generated over $1,000,000 in revenues, kept their company small, stayed focused on quality over growth, and maintained healthy profit margins. Remember: All within a year, from nothing, from nowhere, with no outside funding, from a couple of guys who had an idea, the drive, and the dedication to make it happen.
I’ve been watching Neal and his crew build this thing from the sidelines. I love their opinions about teaching, their point of view, their philosophy about requiring commitment to learn something new, their hustle and hard work, their focus, and their genuine interest in making something that matters. These guys are doing something amazing, and they’ve only just begun.
We also have strong opinions about teaching. Teaching is core to 37signals – from our books REWORK and Getting Real, to our blog Signal vs. Noise, to our many speaking engagements at conferences and universities around the world. We even dedicated about 20% of our office space to a classroom.
So a couple months ago, Neal and I began talking about how we could work together. How could 37signals help The Starter League teach students something they couldn’t learn anywhere else?
After a few lunches and discussions with Neal and Mike, we saw the way forward. We knew how 37signals could help.
So we decided to go all-in and buy a small, non-controlling, non-voting slice of The Starter League. This isn’t the kind of tech investment that you’re used to reading about. We’re not looking to get out, we’re looking to stay in. We’re investing because we want to help these guys build the best place to learn how to ship software and build profitable software businesses. No school like this exists, but it will. The Starter League will be this school.
So that’s where we are today.
Where do we go from here?
This isn’t just a cash investment – it’s a sweat investment, too. Here are the other ways 37signals will be investing in The Starter League:
- 37signals will host an all-new Rails for Designers class in the 37signals office starting this fall. The class will run on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 3-6pm. Tuition will be $6000.
- 37signals will take at least one intern per quarter from the current Starter League class. The internship could be in Rails, design, or whatever other classes are taught.
- 37signals will help The Starter League develop curriculum around 37signals-style practices of software development.
- 37signals will help The Starter League design the best student experience in the business.
- Various people from 37signals will serve as mentors and guest speakers during The Starter League classes.
…and I’m sure plenty more as time goes on.
So if you’re looking to learn how to build a web app from scratch, The Starter League can help you get where you need to be. No experience required, either. Let’s learn together, let’s build together, let’s make great products and profitable companies that last.
Here we go!