Listener Questions Part 3
On the previous episode of the Rework podcast, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of 37signals, joined host Kimberly Rhodes to answer listener questions and share their insights on various topics such as project ownership, attracting talent, and building a successful team.
This week, they return to address one question that deserved its own episode.
Tune in as they reflect on a significant reset that occurred at 37signals in 2021 when many people left the company simultaneously due to a “no politics on work forums” stance.
They discuss how they dealt with the high turnover rate and how that pivotal moment became the catalyst that caused them to reassess and make necessary changes to their company culture.
Plus, what they learned about the importance of making bold moves to drive progress and overcome stagnation.
[00:15] - Kimberly shares a listener question from a cardiac surgeon, Jeffrey Gibson, about the employee resignations at 37signals in 2021 when they implemented a “no politics on work forums” policy and asks for an update about how the policy is working.
[01:24] - David discusses the importance of time in evaluating a decision and his pride in the decision. He highlights the positive outcomes that have resulted from it.
[03:27] - David talks about renegotiating the separation between work and home and how this decision has helped to clarify the company’s focus and values.
[05:51] - The media gets involved: David shares his experience with media reports and how it has changed his perspective on them.
[06:31] - “My personal sense is that the media, in general, has been covering itself in glory for a bit now, not just on that point, but on a lot of points.” - David Heinemeier Hansson
[07:23] - One of the most important and difficult decisions they have made as a company (and the positive outcomes for their workplace culture).
[10:06] - A few regrets: Jason shares that the decision-making process during that time taught him to be careful about making other decisions in a fog and encourages others to project ahead and look back before making a decision.
[11:38] - Kimberly asks if turnover allowed them a fresh start with changing the company culture.
[12:00] - A mass exodus and a major reset.
[13:22] - An opportunity to consider what matters—David explains how going through something challenging offers the chance to reassess your life, what you stand for, and where you’re going.
[14:53] - David discusses how difficult it is to ask big questions in daily life and how companies go through a similar process of reassessing what they want to be, what they stand for, and where they want to go.
[15:38] - David reflects on the fruits of the company’s efforts.
[16:11] - Do you have questions for David and Jason about a better way to work and run your business? Leave your voicemails at 708-628-7850 or send an email. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website. You can also find us on Twitter.
Links and Resources:
Listener Questions / AMA | REWORK
Listener Questions Part 2 | REWORK
Changes at Basecamp by Jason Fried (April 2021)
Basecamp’s new etiquette regarding societal politics at work by David Heinemeier Hansson (April 2021)
Sign up for a 30-day free trial at Basecamp.com
HEY World | HEY
37signals on YouTube
The REWORK podcast
The 37signals Dev Blog
@reworkpodcast on Twitter
@37signals on Twitter
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. Our last two podcast episodes have been Ask Me Anything episodes and this week we wanna continue with one last question that we thought deserved its own episode.
I’m joined by the co-founders of 37signals, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson. And our question comes from Jeffrey Gibson who writes, “I’m a cardiac surgeon in Nashville and I follow DHH, Jason and 37signals because they have so much to teach about how to run a small business. I read mostly online about the employee resignations in 2021 at 37signals, as well as the statements put forth by Jason and David. I was disappointed with the negative slant of many of the articles, ‘Basecamp implodes’ by The Verve, for example. To them I say the reports of Basecamp’s implosion have been greatly exaggerated. The implication was that the company was failing because of a common sense business decision. Don’t talk about politics on work forums. I think this is a smart move and I would like to hear an update about how the policy is working, mostly interested for what it teaches other companies, but also as a middle finger to biased, hot take negative reporting. Or is it too soon? Love the podcast and everything about the company. I wish I could go back and change my major in college.” Jeffrey. I feel like we need cardiac surgeons.
I was gonna say, do we have an opening for cardiac surgery?
David (01:24): Yeah, I think this is one of those things where time is one of the most important ingredients in evaluating any decision of any kind. That there’s just, um, so many unknowns when something like that happens to a company where, you know what? Trying to offer a definitive version of that, like, uh, three months later or six months later is impossible. But now it’s been two years, and it’s clear to me at least that this was one of the most important decisions we’ve ever made as a company. And I would also chalk it up to one of the decisions I’m most proud of us ever making, cuz this was a incredibly difficult decision and period to live through, particularly the immediate aftermath and, and sort of being in it. Um, it was absolutely awful. And yet here we are two years later and all the things we just talked about, like being a company with principles that stand for something and is the kind of place to work that we wanna work has shown itself to be immensely enhanced by that decision.
(02:34): It’s almost to a point where if if you had tried to tell me like the positive outcomes we would’ve arrived at today versus where we were then I would’ve thought like, you know what? That’s too good of a story to be true. I also think there’s just something again, in time of that moment, 2021 was just at the senate of a bunch of things happening broadly in society that was really just turned up to 11 or even 15 for a moment. And that’s just been turned down. Like all this stuff that we’re focused around these discussion, it seems like in a lot of companies, not just in ours, have receded somewhat. Um, but they’ve received far more at our company than I think at most because we had such a clean break. We’re like, you know what? This is not the company we want. We want the company to be like this, that we can have people come here and they can come from all sorts of political backgrounds.
(03:27): We’re not gonna discuss those things and they can work together and we can see each other’s humanity in that and around the work. And you can go be whoever you want to be outside of work, right? Like this was part of renegotiating this separation between work and home, which is something we’ve always been on about, we’ve always been 40 hours is enough. Um, you don’t need more than eight to have the separation, but we’d let it drift somewhat just like most tech companies had, right? Um, I mean the the, the joke or the slam against a lot of tech companies were they were adult, uh, daycares, right? Like, oh, you can get your laundry done, you can get your meals prepared, you can have like a whole almost living at home situation, but you’re in your twenties or thirties or forties at a company campus, yet no wonder it gets blurry.
(04:15): Um, what, what’s, what’s my out of work self and what’s my at work self? And I think we have fallen into that somewhat to some degree and really renegotiating that and saying like, Hey, um, 37signals is a place where you come to do great work with kind, caring coworkers who you will engage with on fun projects that simulate yourself, that’s enough. It doesn’t have to be more than that. It ha doesn’t have to be all of it. It doesn’t have to be all of you. You don’t have to bring all of you to work. You, you can bring sort of your best work self and your best colleague self and your best creative self. Is that not enough? Why, why can’t that be enough? Right? And then we can go off and be our our own expressive selves outside of work too. I think that separation, um, to me has been just really clarifying.
(05:04): Also just for me personally. I used to engage in all sorts of discussions of different kinds at work that I just, I wouldn’t do today. And I feel like, yeah, it’s just much better for it. So I mean, in summary, I mean, we are now just under 80 people. I I feel like we’ve never been this large and have that good of a vibe inside the company, right? It’s a smaller vibe. It, again, it doesn’t try to encompass all of it, but within the scope that we’ve designated intently that that’s it, that’s what we’re gonna focus on together. It’s incredible. I really feel just so, I mean, I was about to say hashtag blessed here, but now I’m really getting soapy. But like of the opportunity to work with people from so many different places. We just talked about the hiring, right? Like we were hired all over the place.
(05:51): We have such an incredibly, um, diverse group of people who work here from all over the world, all sorts of backgrounds, who are coming together to make great software. And you’re like, you know what? That’s, that’s great. I I wish there was more of that where we could just accept like the finite space of something and just say like, you know what, that’s enough. It’s enough. It’s plenty. It’s more than enough, right? I don’t want more of it. I don’t want more of you. I don’t want more of your time. I don’t want more of your brain. I don’t want more of your heart. It can just be like this – 40 hours that we spent together isn’t that wonderful. So yes, I, I will say that that experience living through that changed my perspective on a lot of things. And one of them was media reports.
(06:31): And I try and it’s hard for anyone and it’s, that’s hard for me as well, to use an experience like that, like a mirror. To which extent did I participate in like pile-ons based on media reports that were compiled through a very slanted set of either facts or testimonials that obviously were gonna come from a certain direction. I look at that very differently now after having been through a meat grinder like that. And like, oh, do you know what? You can really come out with that and see things from a certain angle that gives you a completely distorted sense of what reality can also be. Um, so that definitely changed my mind on a lot of things. And I think my personal sense is that the media in general hasn’t been covering itself in glory for, for a bit now. Not just on that point, but on a lot of points.
(07:23): And, and that’s been sort of, uh, illuminating. Um, but uh, yeah, I, I would, I would not trade that decision. I would not go back for any amount of money for anything in. I would literally rather as Chase and I joked at the time, before it wasn’t so funny like before, um, was like, I, I’d rather like, I’d rather work in the field. I’d rather do something entirely different, um, change my profession than continue to work at the company as it was. Um, so that was also kind of what gave us the, I think impetus or, or, or kind of nudge to do it. Do you know what, we don’t have to work here. We could also just quit. And do you know what I’ve thought about quitting more times than I care to count around that time. Um, so okay, if if this goes sour and it, I mean, it, it did go sour in, in a variety of ways, but not terminally so.
(08:17): Then, okay, that was, that was the end of it. And now we’re at the other side and we’re like, all right, we made the, the gamble to some extent it was a gamble, right? Like Jason, um, recently posted about the founder’s job is to inject risk into the business. This was perhaps the biggest risk we’ve ever taken on anything that we’ve ever done. And it certainly panned out that way. Um, and that’s exactly why I’m so proud of us going through with it nonetheless. And then thankfully being able to be on the other side live to tell the tale, right? Because it could also have gone a different way. I mean, they’re companies stop being companies all the time for all sorts of reasons. This could have been one of those reasons not, uh, sort of a third of the company left, but like everyone left and then there wouldn’t be any more company.
(09:04): And then that would be the end of it. And okay, so those were the stakes. Like we often talk about like, well, you know what? We don’t take risks that risk the company. This was one of those things. It it, yeah, it risked the company for a moment. Thankfully the, the, the risk didn’t turn out dire. And, uh, and here we are two years later and it feels, this is the other thing that’s so funny about time. It doesn’t feel like two years, it feels like 10. It really feels like 10 years ago that, oh yeah, there was that thing. Like two years doesn’t feel like it’s that long ago. If you, like you hear a song on the radio, oh, that just came out, right? No, no, that was actually three and a half years old. Oh, oh yeah, all right. This thing, it feels like it’s 10 years ago. But, um, yeah, evermore fondly, I’m looking back on that decision, which is in itself is a, a deceit you should be careful about. I mean, nostalgia has a way to erase all the hard parts, and you just remember the, the sunny side of it. I don’t wanna forget that it was absolutely awful for a good solid two, three weeks. And then it was hard for number of months afterwards, but it’s been freaking amazing for a long time now.
Jason (10:06): The only thing I would add that was a really complete and lovely summary of it, the thing I would add is, um, what I learned is be careful making other decisions in the fog of a decision that you made. So we made this decision to say no politics at work, and then we made a variety of other decisions rapidly in this sort of moral panic moment after that, some of which I regret, some of which I wouldn’t have made again. And it’s a good reminder that like when you’re in that situation, you gotta find a way to just remember that a year from now, if you look back, there will be decisions that you make in that fog that you didn’t wanna make. We were very comfortable making that initial decision, but there’s probably a few others that we made that we weren’t that comfortable with, and I wish we wouldn’t have made them.
(10:55): But when you’re in this moment, you’re, you’re, you’re shuffling, you are, you’re slipping you, you’re, you’re scared and it’s, and you make some other permanent decisions that, that aren’t the ones you’d like to do. So I think that’s just something that stuck with me whenever there’s some stressful decision to be made or some moment where of indecision, I just try to think like, how will this feel a year from now if we do this? Cuz right now it might really hurt, but a year from now, it’s probably the right thing to do. So I, I always project ahead and look back. That’s what I’m doing now at least. Yeah, that was a good thing to do, and we’ll just wait a year and this whole, all this pain will be away and we won’t make any other mistakes along the way. So that’s sort of a lesson that I’m taking from this beyond all the other things that David said.
Kimberly (11:38): That’s great. Okay. I have a follow up question. I wasn’t here during the 2021, but I’m curious if having so many people leave all at the same time allowed you guys to kind of have a fresh start. I mean, changing a company culture, I think when there’s, everyone’s still there might be harder than moving forward when there’s, you know, fresh people coming in.
Jason (12:00): It was a major reset, obviously. Yeah, I mean, you know, on so many different levels, like the reason we are where we are today is because of that, and that we’re doing two products at once and about to work on a third product. Um, it was a reboot there, it was a reboot of our ambition. Um, there’s a lot of reboots that happened and it was a perfect moment to do that. And like you said, you can’t, it’s very difficult. I shouldn’t say you can’t, but it’d be very difficult to manufacture that moment again. Sometimes a moment hits you and you need to take advantage of it if you wanna make some change. And that is, that’s when you dig in and you make many, many changes because change is on your side at that point. Change is in motion. Just go and make new changes.
(12:37): So the, the, that’s the, it’s a, again, the blessing thing. It’s like, it’s a wonderful thing to have happened to you in a moment where you get a chance to reconsider something that’s been around for a long time. It’s different if you’ve been around for two years. We’ve been around for 20 plus years at that moment. It’s very hard to change an organization’s that been around for 20 years. Um, but change was, you know, essentially foisted upon us and we took advantage of it and made some big moves. And, um, I think that’s also, frankly, uh, a great cure for boredom, um, which is making big moves and, uh, we’re making some more. We’re working on another product right now, which people find out about next year and, uh, and some other things. So that’s, uh, that’s pretty exciting. And I don’t think we would’ve gotten here had that not happened.
David (13:22): And I think that’s the clarity that you somehow emerge with when you go through something really difficult. I mean, for us as a company, if you look at it that way, it was kind of like getting a, a, a very, like a bad disease or something that realized, oh shit, I’m, I’m really gonna reassess everything in my life. I’m gonna take stock of everything. Like, what matters to me? Who, who am I? Where are we going? Like all the big questions just reign down over you when you go through something that’s really difficult. And those questions just, they don’t pop up in the daily, I was gonna say grind. I don’t feel like that’s what we do here, but the, the daily gears turning, they just have like, okay, you’re on the clock frequency. You just, you’re going with the, the motions. It’s very difficult to truly step out having be forced upon you to reconsider everything.
(14:13): Like what do you stand for? What do you wanna fold over? When do you wanna give up? And then go like, okay, no, we’re not going to, we’re not gonna fold. We’re not gonna give up. We’re gonna persevere and go through it. Life looks different on the other side. Um, again, I, I wouldn’t do these comparisons as a, as a one-to-one, but I find inspiration in reading about individuals who’ve gone through, for example, getting cancer and looking at a life sentence. And like, I have two years left to live. And I mean, usually you read the happy version of the story where the person’s still alive 10 years later or 15 years later. That’s why they can tell the story, but they go like, do you know what, that was one of the best things that to me. It completely changed my outlook on life.
(14:53): What’s important to me, who to spend my time with, what to spend my time on. All the fundamental questions of what it means to be human. They’re difficult questions to get in on the day-to-day. There’s a funny TikTok meme that’s the, basically you see someone get up in the morning and then you hear the cars honk, and then you see the person at, uh, at the end of the day and just like, are you coming to bed, honey? And then it just loops, right? That your life can become monotonous in a way that’s perhaps comfortable, um, and fine to some extent. But unless you have an opportunity to really break out of that, you don’t get to ask the big questions and then maybe you don’t get to ask them at all until it’s too late and you go like, geez, what did I just waste 10 years of my life on?
(15:38): Or 20 years of my life? Or I really wish I had done something else. I wish I’d ask these questions at another. And I think companies go through that too. What does this company wanna be? What does it wanna stand for? What does it wanna go? What do we want to try? And, um, all that was forced upon us in a way where we can now look at the fruits of that and go like, man, what a great place to be right now. There’s so many things, so many lovers to be excited about and go like, okay, yeah, that was worth it, even though it was unsure in the moment whether it was going to be.
Kimberly (16:11): Well, thank you guys for being so open and honest and answering that question. Jeffrey, thank you for your question. We’re gonna wrap it up. If you have any other questions for us, you can leave us a voicemail at 708-628-7850. You can also send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Rework is a production of 37signals. You can find show notes and transcripts on our website at 37 signals.com/podcast.