37signals Introduces Once
In a world where subscriptions have become the norm for everything from streaming services to heated car seats, the team at 37signals recently unveiled a new venture that’s poised to reintroduce the notion of software ownership with a pay-once model called ONCE.
Today, Kimberly Rhodes sits down with Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, the co-founders of 37signals to introduce ONCE to listeners of the show.
Listen in for a behind-the-scenes look at the driving principles, unique challenges, and potential impact of David and Jason’s vision to offer simpler, more user-centric software, that they hope will transform the digital landscape and empower users worldwide.
Check out the full video episode on YouTube
[00:00] - Kimberly opens the show, with the team introducing ONCE today on the show.
[00:25] - Jason clarifies exactly what ONCE is.
[01:16] - Inundated with software subscriptions? Why 37signals is aiming to reintroduce software ownership with a pay-once model.
[02:03] - The shift from software as a product to SaaS and why now is the time for an alternative.
[02:58] - The distinction between product and service.
[03:42] - When SaaS models just don’t fit (and when they lead to data ownership concerns).
[04:56] - Basecamp in the White House? David shares the story.
[05:57] - How transitioning from a service to a product model will change the landscape.
[07:08] - Jason shares that ONCE is an umbrella for future products and offers listeners insight into the future of Basecamp and HEY.
[09:18] -David shares the challenges of applying the ONCE idea to different software solutions.
[11:38] - David shares the desire for a simpler and more straightforward user experience akin to turning on a TV.
[13:22] - The need for a different software development approach, and why it will be a good time—even if it doesn’t work.
[14:51] - Kimberly inquires about the availability of the code.
[15:42] - Jason highlights the transparency of the ONCE concept, sharing his hopes that it will serve as an educational tool for other product teams.
[16:40] - David reflects on how newer products have lost their repairability, emphasizing the value of open source principles and the lasting legacy embodied by a product like ONCE.
[20:41] - The importance and value of transparency and open collaboration.
[21:47] - Kimberly raises questions about branding, the origin of the name ONCE, and the challenges of acquiring a short domain name.
[21:51] - Jason shares some of the optional names they tried out and the philosophy behind the name ONCE.
[22:40] - The process of acquiring premium domain names. Jason shares 37signals previous experiences and the behind-the-scenes of the recent negotiation to purchase ONCE.com.
[24:18] - A symbolic gesture of their commitment to the ONCE concept and a convenient home for their umbrella of products.
[24:50] - The significance and cost of valuable domain acquisition and why David advises against doing it on your first venture.
[26:16] - Kimberly inquires about how they manage updates and product development across Basecamp, HEY, and the new umbrella product with their current team.
[27:06] - Jason shares their approach to allocating resources to manage multiple products.
[28:28] - David recounts how Basecamp was developed, and 37signals ongoing commitment and dedication to both simplicity in product development and tools that empower single individuals to build entire products.
[30:09] - A calculated bet and the essential attitude needed for Founders when pursuing ambitious goals.
[32:06] - For more information about ONCE click here. The REWORK podcast is a production of 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website. You can also find full video episodes on Twitter (also known as X) and YouTube. If you have a question for Jason or David about a better way to work and run your business, leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 or send us an email.
Links and Resources:
Jason’s LinkedIn Post About Once
Basecamp: It Doesn’t Have to Be Crazy at Work
Books by 37signals
Sign up for a 30-day free trial at Basecamp.com
HEY World | HEY
The REWORK podcast
The 37signals Dev Blog
37signals on YouTube
@37signals on Twitter
37signals on LinkedIn
Kimberly (00:00): Welcome to Rework, a podcast by 37signals about the better way to work and run your business. I’m your host, Kimberly Rhodes, and I’m joined as always by the co-founders 37signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. And today we’re talking about an announcement Jason recently made about a product called Once. There’s a lot of questions about it, a lot of feedback. Jason, why don’t you dive right in and tell us a little bit about this Once manifesto that you wrote.
Jason (00:25): Yeah, well first off, it’s not a product, so this is something that not everyone was clear about either, so that’s kind of in a sense my fault. But also I kind of like the mystery. Once is more like a brand, it’s more like a product line. So we’re going to be releasing a series of products that are going to essentially live within the Once world. So in a similar way too, there’s certain products that used to live within the office world and Microsoft office, that kind of thing, like a suite of things. They don’t necessarily need to work together, but they’re going to live in this other kind of thing, other section of the business basically. So the idea is we’ve been noticing, as a lot of people have been noticing that there’s this subscription overload going on. I think people are, I don’t think, I know people are paying basically for almost everything these days in subscription, including heated seats in some cars.
(01:16): It’s just kind of become pervasive and when you start to look at how much you’re paying month after month after month after month for essentially the same thing, you start to wonder, why am I paying so much for this thing? Why am I paying hundreds or thousands of dollars a month collectively for all these pieces of software that are kind of the same as last month? Now it’s different when you subscribe to let’s say a magazine or newspaper, you get something new every month. And in the software world people might say, well, you’re getting updates all the time. That’s true, but ultimately these updates are pretty marginal at the end of the day. Some of them are bigger than others, but essentially you’re probably using the same product you mostly used last month. And so we just have this hunch. This is mostly a hunch frankly.
(02:03): I mean, we don’t know what’s going to happen, that there are enough people out there who are tired of that, who would rather own software again and buy something and pay for it once, install it on their own local setup servers, whatever it might be, and run it and be in charge of when they want to put updates in place. They might want to see the code as well, which we’re going to give them too when they buy these products, but mostly it’s something that they can pay for once and get it out of the way and then use it as it is, just like most products always were before and still a lot of things are, and we want to bring that idea back to software, which of course isn’t it already is here. Most people buy iOS apps, they’ll pay for ‘em once or they’ll buy some desktop software and pay for it once. But so many things that become subscriptions these days that we just want to push back on that, especially in the realm of business software. Most business software’ s become a service and not a product. So we want to go in a different direction here.
David (02:58): And I think that distinction between product and service is really where a lot of this lies. So much of the cost that is involved with offering these services is in the maintenance, in the running, in the support, in the operations, in the continued embellishment. And a bunch of those things are actually not necessarily valued by customers, which creates this opportunity that there are these luxury-priced products, services that people would perhaps rather just buy as a commodity product. And I think this is trying to follow that hunch, see if that’s actually true. It may very well not be as Jason said, I mean my beloved iPhone 13 mini, it looks like that’s at the end of its road and Apple actually today as we record, is probably going to announce that that doesn’t exist anymore. It’s possible to see a market that doesn’t exist, but it’s also possible that that market does exist, that there’s a huge latent demand for something else here.
(03:56): And I think focusing on something else than the product features themselves is just a novel, interesting space for us. We focus so much on making Basecamp for example, the best project management tool could possibly be finding all these way to integrate it and offering that asset service offering extremely high-end customer support, amazing operations and uptime for it and that’s wonderful. That’s a great product. We’re not saying that SaaS as an industry is dead. We’re saying it’s taking up too much space for too many people in too many domains where they might not actually care about this. There are so many different types of software where you’d be happy if it was the same, it didn’t need to upgrade. I often use the example of my printer. I don’t think I’ve ever updated the firmware on a printer ever unless I positively had to because the thing just stopped working and I couldn’t proceed without it.
(04:51): I just don’t care. I want to buy a box, I want to buy it once and then that’s it. Problem solved. I’m no longer in the market for upgrades. I’m no longer in the market for all this other stuff, and why is that option not there when it comes to these kinds of web services, software you want to use with others through a browser? And then there’s just a litany of other benefits that spill from that fundamental insight that perhaps some of these services should be products instead. There’s a bunch of discussions around data ownership, for example. Whenever you use SaaS software, you are giving and placing your data with someone else and sometimes that’s fine. And sometimes you’re in a context where that’s not fine. I remember many, many years ago the White House in the United States reached out to us, some team at the White House love Basecamp, we’d love to use it, but of course we can’t use SaaS software. That just doesn’t work. The kind of data we deal with is just too sensitive, whatever it was, and they were asking us could we install Basecamp?
(05:57): At the time, we actually looked seriously at this and there were people who were doing it at the time, but usually at the very high end it was even more of a service. So it wasn’t like you were buying a product. GitHub for example, have been selling an enterprise model of their solution for a very long time, but it was even higher priced, even more service like in the ways of operating. We’re like, we don’t want to go upstream. This is the opposite direction. We have a service business that’s medium touch and we want to go lower down to no touch or minimal touch, just that we can make it cheaper, it can still be profitable for us and potentially undercut the competition by an order of magnitude or two orders of magnitude. Once you change the whole packaging of something like this from a service to a product, you’re no longer tinkering at the margins of what’s possible on price, what’s possible in terms of distribution and longevity. You’re changing the entire picture.
Kimberly (06:52): So just to clarify, not a product, an umbrella, and I know some people have written on both of your Twitter feeds and asked the question, does this mean that the products you guys already have are now going to be a one-time cost? I’ve seen that question pop up.
Jason (07:08): Yeah, I have too. Yeah. So yes, once it’s an umbrella and there will be products coming out under that umbrella and we have not discussed which products they’ll be and we’re just going to release one at a time. The first one, hopefully by the end of this year, that’s the plan. Basecamp is going to stay Basecamp and HEY is going to stay HEY. These are untouched by this new thing. This new thing is another thing. It’s a separate thing entirely. So we’ll continue to improve and make Basecamp better and hay better, and we’ve got a lot of stuff come out for that. Every six weeks we got more stuff coming out, so that’ll stay. And this doesn’t affect that at all, but sometimes when you want to experiment with something brand new, you need to sort of carve off a whole new thing or lob off something new and put it over here and focus differently.
(07:51): Focus on in a different way. Part of that too is the approach which we’ll be talking about more as we get into it, but the approach that we’re taking with these products, I’ll give you one quick example. We’re aiming, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to get there, but we’re aiming to have no words in the UI. The idea being that we want to create what we’re calling universal software, software that can exist in any market, in any language and is so intuitive that people will essentially know how to use it without having a single word in there. It might turn out that we can’t quite reach that ideal. As it is right now we are there but we’re not finished with the product. So it’s possible we may have to inject a few words and if we do, we’ll have probably a rotating marquee of languages.
(08:35): So for every word you see, it’ll shift every second or two to a different language. And so we just want to make universal products and to do that, Basecamp and HEY are full of words, they’re full of descriptions, they’re full of explanations. To modify those in a way where it would fit under the Once umbrella wouldn’t even make any sense. It’d be kind of impossible the way they’re designed because designed for a different kind of thing. And so to break something off, approach it differently, radically differently. You kind of need to do a different product in a different model in a different place. So that’s sort of the idea. So yeah, existing products will continue to exist, no one has to worry about that. Might we down the road eventually offer installable versions of these things? I don’t know, maybe, but that’s not in the cards anytime soon.
David (09:18): I think looking at what the specifics of the solutions are also is really just important. If you look at something like, HEY, you just can’t do that yourself. You just, unfortunately, I’m actually really sad that that is no longer possible that you can’t run your own mail servers in a way where you’re sure of delivery. It really has narrowed in, in a way where we had to spend just absolutely wild amounts of time and expertise figuring out how do you even deliver an email? Because in this world of spam, a lot of the major providers will just be extremely harsh about who they allow to even send an email in order for that email to be assured delivery. So HEY is a bad fit for the Once idea. And that’s a way of looking at these things and going, do you know what? Here’s a product category.
(10:07): Email services not a good fit for a product solution. And then there’s this entire other category of products that just make perfect sense for that. They don’t have those things at all. This is actually one of these other principles we’re trying to avoid email altogether in the product design, which is an interesting challenge because email is typically used for things like reset password or a lot of other transactional updates or notifications. And we’re finding what if we want to be assured that these things, notifications, for example, are always delivered. Email is not a great thing to rely on for someone individually setting up a product. They need to then bring in their own email server. They need to sign up actually for a service that does that, a transactional email service provider kind of defeats the purpose, which is such a fascinating constraint. And we go like, all right, here’s a constraint.
(10:59): What if we have to design a web application? We can’t use email, and we just go like, wow, that is a really interesting challenge. We haven’t had to think about that challenge for a long time. And there’s a bunch of those challenges. A bunch of those constraints are coming in, which is making this just such a joy to work on. It feels like such a novel new field, even though it’s like a throwback in many ways. We’re taking something old. The idea that software can be a product and we’re bringing it forward into today’s world and going, what has to change? So we’re not going to put boxes on shelves like that distribution model. No, right? This is a software that’s going to be distributed over the internet. It’s still going to be a product, but we can’t use things like email we’re traditionally used to using.
(11:44): We also can’t do updates in the same way. So this is another thing we’ve been talking about from two angles. One is how do you get started? How easy is it to get going? What’s the setup process? And Jason had this wonderful metaphor of the tv, you plug in a tv, let’s take an old school TV here, you plug in a tv, you plug in the antenna, you turn it on and you might dial a knob or it might even have a picture already and boom, you’re on. Like on-off button, picture. I think that’s just such an appealing notion that software, hey could actually be like this. It doesn’t have to be this multi-step or process and handholding and all these other things. It goes with the design as well. That design is really simple and the product itself is really simple and I think it then also goes with how do you design software?
(12:32): So if you think of the idea of turning on and off a tv, that’s actually also how software used to work. If you think about video games, especially in the early days, they were literally written on hardware on cartridges. If you got a Nintendo game, they burned it into a chip and that chip got printed onto a board and you put this cartridge in there. There were no updates. If there were bugs, there were bugs. No, no. There were features. They were Easter eggs, there were cheat codes, there were all these other things. You couldn’t update the software. Now again, we’re not quite there, but we’re sort of there. When you’re installing your own software, you have to have some idea that updates are not automatic anymore. It’s not like a web application. Oh, we find a copywriting issue, boom, push a new version. Everyone has it two seconds later.
(13:22): That’s not how it’s going to work here. Another constraint, oh, we have to develop the software differently. We should make it simpler so that there’s a less likelihood of having issues in the first place. We still need a way of upgrading if we find a major security issue or something. There has to be a way to upgrade that, but we can’t expect that every buyer of this software is going to upgrade on the same time. It’s going to upgrade the next second. Another one of those wonderful interesting constraints. And I think, yeah, that’s why this is just so fun. Even if it is a hunch, even if it is a gut reaction to seeing things in the market, maybe there’s something here and maybe there isn’t, right? This is the other thing that constantly just keep in mind. If there is nothing here, if there is not actually a market believe there is, but if the market says, no, there’s not, this is just going to be fun regardless.
(14:09): We’re going to learn a bunch of things about how to write software package software, set it up that I am just so curious to find out and we’ve already solved a bunch of these issues and it’s already sort of filtering it and as it did with everything else. When we first built HEY, we have the same kind of thing. Does anyone want to pay for email? We live in a world with Gmail has existed for long. I don’t know. If they don’t, then we build a wonderful email system that Jason and I, the rest of the people at 37signals would use. That’s fine too. So I think part of how you look at something like a new product development has to be that, you set your expectations in a way where it’s going to be a good time, even if it doesn’t work. Okay.
Kimberly (14:51): I’m curious because Jason, you said that the code base will be available, people will be able to see the code. Have you guys done that before? That doesn’t seem typical, but I also am kind of out of the tech loop to know.
Jason (15:02): Well, it is in the open source world for example, but commercially it’s not very common at all. David could probably talk in this more, but I mean certainly with SaaS you have no control at all. You don’t even know. I think with SaaS is there’s a lot of trust in SaaS. I mean, you don’t know what they’re doing. It’s a black box. It’s an algorithm in a sense. You don’t know if they’re recording keystrokes, you don’t know where the datas going. You don’t know who can see the data. You don’t know how many employees of that company can see the data. You really don’t know anything. You pay your monthly fee and you trust the company. And there are great companies out there. I’m not suggesting companies are untowards or anything like that, but you don’t know. In this case, you see the code, you can investigate the code, you can see everything.
(15:42): If you know anything about this stuff, you would know exactly what it’s doing and there are no questions. And that’s I think, a wonderful thing. The ability to examine, to open the hood and to examine and see how the thing works is actually a rare thing. I also think frankly, it’s going to be, and we’re making this up like a model application and that it’s going to be beautifully written, built, structured, designed and as an educational tool for other product teams who want to see how a product like this is put together. No one gets to see anyone else’s products ever. You can see sometimes there’s a little code review online or there’s a snippet of this or a solution of that, but you don’t get to see someone else’s code base really. You can look at open source again, but that’s not a commercial product that doesn’t have the same, I would say, attention to detail that this does. And so this is going to be fairly rare and I think quite wonderful for a lot of people to see what goes into building something like this.
David (16:40): And in many ways that’s a throwback to a time even before software. We often talk about physical production companies like watchmakers. This is one of the things I love about watchmaking. You can see, and the competitors can see everything that you’ve put in that. The 325 tiny little pieces that went into this watch, it can be taken apart, it can be analyzed, it can be puzzled over. Cars used to be this way too. Manufacturers would buy a car from another manufacturer and they’d like, oh, I wonder how they’re making it. This is really interesting. Oh, they’re using carburetors in this way or another. And now so much of everything from watches to cars to cameras to most consumer goods have turned into computers and computers have gotten increasingly opaque. It’s no longer possible to figure out like, oh, how is a modern Audi doing its engine management? That’s a chip.
(17:37): You’re not getting into that software. It doesn’t come with the blueprints. They treat that as the intellectual property of the makers. And I think there’s just something, there’s something lost in that. This is one of the reasons loved the internet, especially in the early days because view source. So you could go to any website and you’d go like, wow, this is the coolest website. I wonder how they built that. You’d right click your mouse and you’d go view source and you’d see. You’d literally see, oh, interesting. They used a tag in this way. They used the C S Ss in this way. And tragically even some of that has been lost. Even though view source is still an instrumental part of the internet, it can work. There’s minification, there’s obfuscation, there’s so many. Maybe it’s just trying to make it hard to figure out how things are built and just thinking, do you know what?
(18:24): That’s really sad. And I love that this is an opportunity for us to push back against that and go like, no, actually in this case, you’re buying the whole thing with the blueprint, with the whatever. You could fix it essentially if you kinda knew what you’re doing and keep this running until the end of time. You’re not relying on us to keep it going. Another parable of this is like a washing machine. So old school washing machine or fridges, first of all, they were built a different way because they were built to last in a different way, but they were also built in a simpler way. They didn’t have these management chips. They were mechanical and you could fix them. The company could literally go out of business and you go like, alright, there’s no more spares produced, but I’ll find a way. I’ll fix it in way.
(19:08): There’s just something so beautiful about that. Not just right to repair, but opportunity to repair. And I like that idea that we can build something that can outlast us the services they won’t. Right? If 37signals, the company somehow went out of business, do you know what the services, if they weren’t sold and carried on by someone else would kind of go with them, as happens with every single service there is and is offered on the internet. If the company behind it goes out of business and they don’t sell it, that’s it. Alright, it’s over. Not so with a product. Not so when you have the source, this is one of the key appeals of open source software in general, which is of course something we’ve been heavily involved with for well over 20 years. And when you said like, oh, it’s not usual to give this software away.
(19:54): In many ways we have. We’ve been giving all the plumbing work that we’ve been building for the last 20 years away, but now we’re taking one step further and also giving the product on top away. And I think that’s just terribly exciting. I always would love to see how other people make things. I find it so fascinating when there’s the writeups and you get a glimpse. Sometimes people will take a little snippet of code and they’ll show it and go like, ooh, ah, fascinating. It’s like that scene from Terminator two where they find this bit from the Terminator from the future and they were like, we saw a thing we would never have imagined. And it gave us ideas on how to build things. This is how we get ideas. We inspire each other, we build on each other. And the more you have transparency into that, the easier it is for people to build on top of each other, to get inspired, to take it further.
(20:41): And I think that’s just, we need more of that. So that’s also one of the things where I just go, that’s going to be a beautiful thing regardless of what happens commercially. Just that injecting some of that spirit, some of that philosophy into product realm, into business realm, not keeping it isolated over here in open source world where it’s all sort of running on a different set of principles. We can also do some of that in business. And that used to be how much of the market worked and it wasn’t like people were going out business because they were giving the source away, like Rolex, it’s not going out of business because they literally give you all the parts that you can take a roll, watch your part and oh, there’s a main spring, it’s made out of this and whatever. It’s still hard to manufacture. It’s still hard to come up with that, but you can see how it’s done. I think that’s beautiful.
Kimberly (21:28): You guys are clearly pumped up about it. I love it. Okay, my question is this about creating brands because this is a whole new umbrella. The name Once, I don’t know where that came from, who came up with that, and then also I know people have asked about once.com and actually acquiring that short domain name, which is kind of hard to do, but y’all have done it a couple of times now.
Jason (21:51): It’s actually not hard to do. What’s hard to do is to save up enough money to do it. That’s the hard part to do. We can talk about that though in a minute. So there’s actually well over a dozen differentiations between what we’re doing and what SaaS is doing essentially. But the clearest differentiation is that you pay for it once. And so that word once just it’s the line between the two things. There’s this which is you pay all the time and there’s this, you pay once and again while there are differences, that’s the main one. We wanted to really focus on that and kind of highlight that and hover on that orbit around that idea. And so it’s also just kind a really short, beautiful word. It’s easy to spell as we’re talking about being universal. I know once in Spanish means something else, but it’s kind of universal and it’s spelling.
(22:40): It’s short enough that people can figure out what it is. Even if you don’t know what it is, it’s easy to tell someone four letters and since we’re going to be trying to market this all around the world, it just felt good. Kind of like Sony feels good. It was sort of tied to that in a sense. So it just made sense and we were going to roll with it anyway. We were just going to go at 37signals.com/once. We also bought once.software, the software’s a new top level domain, but we’re like, what could we get once.com? I don’t know. Could we get it? Could we try to get it? We got hey.com a while back. That took about 18 months to get. So I reached out a couple months ago to, well, I went to once.com and it was for sale, so it was a domain broker who owned it, said inquire.
(23:30): So I inquired and went back and forth a bit and the price they were asking was too high for us. So I’m like, thank you. We’ll keep in mind, let me think about it. And then a few weeks ago we started the negotiation again and I went back to them and asked 'em and made an offer and we can’t talk about the number itself. That’s part of the nondisclosure confidentiality part of the deal. But we went back and forth a few times. We were close, it kind of stalled, kind of broke off and then kind of got it back on track. So it was actually a couple weeks of going back and forth. And the actual process itself is pretty simple. We use escrow.com, you send the money, they send the domain. Once the domain’s transferred, they release the money. That whole thing is pretty tight, but this was an easier one because it was a broker and they’re in the business of selling domains.
(24:18): So we just had to find a price that made sense for everybody and a process that made sense for everybody and in terms it made sense for everybody, but we feel like in the end, is it worth it? I don’t know. I mean it is to us, it’s a fun thing. I think it helps hammer home the fact that we’re serious about this. It’s a great place to go and you’ll be able to go to ones.com slash whatever the product names are and grab the products there. And it just kind of felt like a good home for it. But had we not gotten it, that’d been fine too. 3s com slash ones would’ve been good or one software slash whatever would’ve been fine as well.
David (24:50): This is one of the reasons I never recommend that someone try to do this for their first venture. When we first launched Basecamp, we launched it as basecamphq.com because that was just available and you can always take whatever your product name is and stick something like HQ or
Jason (25:05): All of them. So basecamp hq backpackit.com. Yes, that’s right. Campfire now.com and Highrise HQ I think. What are the other ones? Yeah,
David (25:15): Exactly. Because you don’t need it until you reach a point where this is, it’s a luxury. It’s not trivial for us, it wasn’t trivial. I mean it’s a serious investment, serious amount of money, but that’s a statement of gravitas both to ourself and to the market that as Jason said, we’re serious about this, but we’re serious about this because it’s possible. Don’t break the bank. Don’t spend half your runway or a third of your runway on this cool domain as though that’s going to be the thing that makes or breaks this thing. At least not, I think with HEY was maybe a little different. I’d say, Hey was uniquely powerful to get us a domain because it was going to be part of everyone’s email address. If we had to go with heyemail.com, that would’ve been actually a worse product. It would’ve made the product itself worse.
(26:02): You can’t say that about Basecamp. BasecampHQ .com or basecamp.com. It’s the same once you’re signed up and using the product, basecamp.com gives gravitas. We’re serious. We’ve been here for a long time and all this stuff. But yeah, so some of that feedback is like, oh, how did you guys do it? Were you really shrewd? Or something like, no, we just made enough money that it wasn’t that consequential of a decision for us to make an offer. And then also I think be content with the fact that the offer might not pan. We had a number in our head that, do you know what? If we could do it for this, we’re going to do it. And if they don’t want to sell it for that, that’s fine. We’re going to pass. Don’t fall so much in love with this concept, this idea that you’ve got to have something that’s where you can get into real trouble.
Kimberly (26:45): So I am curious about the new product and that whole umbrella and how you’ve worked that with your current team because we’re still seeing updates in Basecamp every six weeks, updates in HEY, and you’ve had people working on this other umbrella product. How do you manage all that? I think people are always surprised how much we get done, but we haven’t added staff for this new wing of the business.
Jason (27:06): So one of the principles, and this is something I’ll be publishing soon, is that every Once product should be able to be built by essentially two people in a few months. So we took two people off other things and in fact, not completely off. The designer’s also working on some other stuff elsewhere, but essentially one programmer, one designer, we’re going to bring another programmer on soon. David’s been poking around in there too. I’ve been poking around in there too on the design side, but essentially it’s two people and we have enough people for that now. That’s one of the reasons we hired a lot more people over the past year and we’re the biggest we’ve ever been is so we can have a little bit more capacity to do things like this. But also we have slack in the organization to do things like that.
(27:51): And also we don’t need that many people. Again, it’s two people and it’s a few months. So even if we have to pull someone off something else for a few months and it slightly slows something else down, nothing’s grounding to a halt, no one on the outside would notice because other people would pick it up and it’d be fine. And so that’s again, the plan here is not just hire more people, but it’s to do these things and make these products with our existing team, which we can do. Way back in the day, we had 20 people and we had four products and we’re making new things every year. We can do this and we can certainly do these kinds of products, which are among the simplest products we’ve ever built with just a couple people. So it’s all possible.
David (28:28): It’s even more possible when you think back upon how this whole thing got started. When we built Basecamp back in the day, it was me on the technical side for 10 hours a week, boom. And then it was Jason and Ryan mainly on the design side treating Basecamp as a third or fourth client. And that was it. And that built Basecamp, which is the foundation of the business that we continue to run on profit from to this day right. Now, certain things have gotten harder, some standards of what you need to deliver are different than they were back then, but we are also just heavily invested in pushing back against that complexity that you know what? Not every product needs to complicated. In fact, a lot of products would be way better, even services would be way better if they were less complicated. This is part of the ethos too.
(29:17): How can we identify sort of the epicenter of what these products are trying to solve? Just focus on that and then peel away a bunch of the other stuff so that we can get to the universal software so that we can get to fewer, simpler features so that we can package something up we feel confident about putting into a cartridge that’s not going to get updated every five seconds. All of these things work together with this idea that we also built tools for exactly this way of working. Everything that we work on from Ruby on Rails to Hot Wire to Turbo to Stimulus, they’re all about trying to make single individuals capable of building entire products. And this is intentionally a proof of concept for that. That’s still true. I like to think of Ruby on Rails as the one person framework, that one individual, one programmer should be able to build an entire system that is actually competitive.
(30:09): And we’re putting that to test right now. The first, Once product is majority built by one programmer. Now there’s going to be a bit of help and we’re going to push things together to get it over the line, but it is within this. We’re not sort of taking a big gamble here either. This is the other thing of bets in general, and even the original Basecamp bet, the original Basecamp bet was a side bet next to a business that we’re already paying the bills. We’re not going to, oh, we are completely convinced that the future of all software for the internet is products. We’re going to just drop Basecamp, we’re going to drop hay. We’re going to get 80 people at this company focused on this idea right now, all in every chips on black number 24. If it comes up good, woo. If it doesn’t explosion, we’re out of business, right?
(30:58): No, absolutely not. This is a hunch, this is an idea. We believe in it. We invested in the domain. We’re doing all these things. We’re talking about it. We’re excited about it. But it is a bet and I think that it’s just such a lower stress way of running an operating business. I mean, we literally wrote a book a few years ago called It Doesn’t Have To Be Crazy At Work. This is one of those kind of moments that this doesn’t have to be crazy. We have an idea that’s a genre busting or challenging idea. It has a lot of ambition and yet we’re putting modest investment into it until we see whether it’s going to take off and then we can build out the whole umbrella and we can launch 20 products under this if this now turns into be the biggest thing ever, and if it turns into be a medium thing, we can treat it medium. If it turns into be a small thing, we can treat it small. We make sure that we are upfront okay with the entire realm of possible outcomes. And I think even if you are an ambitious person, even if you are really passionate about making something work, just so much healthier mentally to approach things in that way.
Kimberly (32:06): Okay, well, with that, we will put in the show notes where you can find more information on Once that’s once.com, and you can read some of Jason’s philosophies and David’s around this new product umbrella. Rework is a production of 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website at 37signals.com/podcast. You can also find full video episodes on Twitter and YouTube, and if you have a specific question for Jason or David about a better way to work and run your business, leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850 or send us an email to email@example.com and we just might answer it on another episode.