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Go Against the Grain with David Heinemeier Hansson

Lesson 149 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

Go Against the Grain with David Heinemeier Hansson

Lesson 149 from: The Chase Jarvis LIVE Show

Chase Jarvis

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149. Go Against the Grain with David Heinemeier Hansson


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Lesson Info

Go Against the Grain with David Heinemeier Hansson

Hey everybody, how's it going? I'm Chase. Welcome to another episode of The Chase Jarvis Live Show here on CreativeLive. And you guys know the show. This is where I get to sit down with amazing humans and help unpack their brains to help you live your dreams, whether that's in career, in hobby, or in life. My guest today is, as all the guests are, truly amazing. However, this person has changed the future of technology because they are the creator of Ruby On Rails, among other things. Also the founder of Basecamp, a project management software that I have used for years and years and years. My guest is David Heinemeier Hansson. Welcome to the show. (high intensity rock music) (audience applause) We love you! Thank you man, thanks for having me. Super happy to have you. So I've been tracking you and your work, and your partner, Jason Fried, with, specifically, one of the things that was very impactful for me was the book Rework. So you can say a lot of things about your career. Te...

chnologist, author, how do you identify? Like to me, self-identification is one of the, is a weird thing in this world where we're all a bunch of hyphens. Say, "Oh cool," We're at a party, "What do you do?" And you describe yourself. That's a good question. Usually, when I get it, I just say I run a software company. Got it. So that's the short summary, but it really doesn't encapsulate it all. Because I think one of the things that's happened is that people have gotten so pigeonholed. Yeah. Lots of people are like, "Oh, he's getting deeper and deeper," especially in technology, right? It used to be a single programmer could create the whole thing. Yep. And now that more and more people are going, "Oh, I'm a front-end developer, doing React, with Redux, duh duh duh duh duh, and then you're down a rabbit hole, right. I like to, sort of, stay up as a generalist. Yeah. As a generalist in technology. Cool. And, well, I think, we're gonna go straight at, actually, let me give one element of context here, which is, I've had a really wide-ranging set of guests on the show. People like billionaire entrepreneurs, esoteric photographers that are just starting, but doing something really really cool and crazy, and a whole spectrum. But I've been, admittedly, I think a little shy on pure technologists. Mm-hmm. And, I understand that you don't have, you don't like the word pure technologist. Though you just talked about yourself as a generalist. But conceptually, when you come up with a framework, an entire ecosystem for programming, like that's a super big deal. It's like, a language basically. So, a, I feel this me, just like, I've underrepresented that community, and so, like, following you for some time and wanting to have you on the show, is some redemption so. Sure. Thank you for being a part of my personal redemption. But also, it's absolutely creative in the most, in so many ways that are similar to all the other disciplines that have been featured on the show. But I wanna know how you think, we'll just use Ruby for example. But you can talk about it generally. The way that creativity and programming and computers come together. I think it's really interesting, because I think it's really changed. When I came into programming, in sort of, early 2000's, late 90's, a lot of programmers did not identify themselves as creatives, in my mind. Mm-hmm. They identified themselves as engineers. Or scientists. Yeah. And, I mean, there are some of them who would say, that's creative work as well. But it was quite distinct from, say, I'm a writer. Yeah. Or, I'm a designer. And, they saw, sort of a split between these two things, and we're actually quite proud of being like, not creatives in that sense, right. Yeah, yeah. And I think that that really didn't jibe with me at all. It was one of the reasons why I didn't want to become a programmer. I've been a pretty reluctant programmer. I've known programmers, I've been friends with programmers all my life, and it wasn't until basically, my late teens, early 20's, that I kind of, sort of stumbled into it because I needed it. Yeah. And then, once I stumbled into it, and I needed it, and I started using it, I started realizing, "Oh, I have the wrong conception." This isn't just all about math. Yeah. Which is, that was my early conception of programming. Oh, this is just, if you like math a lot, you are gonna like programming. Which was because I grew up with demo programmers, and game programmers, it was all about vectors, and polygons, and like, I have no interest, patience, or passion for that. Yeah. And it wasn't until I really discovered information technology, the Web in particular. Yeah. That, it ignited something else, and I went like, "This is pretty cool." Yeah. And then in particular, once I discovered Ruby. So, I had tried a bunch of programming languages that I never really took to, that I was a reluctant programmer of. I never thought of myself as a programmer when I was doing PHP or Java, or other things I did in school, or just, to make things work. Then I found Ruby, and all of a sudden, it's like, my mind just goes poof. Whoa, this is something totally different. I could actually see myself doing this. So, all of these things came together right at the same time. We started Basecamp, the software that I'm still doing today. The whole foundation of our business. Yeah. Back in 2003, that was my first real project in Ruby, and, that was what gave birth to Ruby on Rails. Yep. And all of these things came together at sort of the apex, and I just, connected all the dots, and it was just like, this is what I want to do. Like up until that point, as I said, very reluctant programmer, I had a lot of other things I like doing. I liked writing, I had this idea of being in business, and so on. Yep, entrepreneur. But once it clicked, and once Ruby sort of grabbed hold of me, I thought like, "Wow, okay, I can be a programmer." Wow, so... That was a beautiful, elegant, weaving of a lot of things together, so I'm gonna try and pick those apart. Sure. So let's, let's talk, I think that's a great conceptual framework of how you identify. Now, so, let's talk about Basecamp. Because I'm, like passionate Basecamp user, and I think it goes back to a piece in my world where as, sort of creators, I ran my own photo studio, and at the time, the thought of like, being organized, it felt like, the man keeping me down. Like, these are my ideas, then when you realize, you know. Ideas need frameworks to really happen, and come to life. Whether those are very intricate and detailed, or even just general. And Basecamp, the fact that it was online, and the fact that it was easily sharable, and it was simple. Like to me, it was brutally simple. Yes, right. And you guys actively, it was clear to me, were deciding to not go feature crazy. That, I loved it. So, a, thank you. Sure. I keep giving you a lot of money, over the years. But, very happily, so. But, b, like, what were some of the guiding principles? A, talking about the founding of the company, but b, like, why, and, you know, what was your vision there? Sure. So, before Basecamp there was 37signals. Mm-hmm. And 37signals started as a-- Was a blog, right. It was a blog, too, Signal versus Noise. Founded in 1999, along with the company, 37signals. And 37signals started out as a web design company. Jason Fried, my partner, and three other designers came together, and like, started making web designs for clients. Yep. And I started working with Jason in 2001. Okay. We started working on a couple of client project together and after we'd worked together for a couple years, we just came to this one point, where I think we dropped something. Like, we're working with some client, and it just, the e-mail got lost, or the files got sent the wrong way, and we're like, this is silly. We're trying to manage this whole project, and there's four on our side, and there's, I don't know how many on their side, and it's kind of a mess. Yeah. We're just doing it all in e-mail, there's no process. There's no central place. We can't find anything. Yeah. We make software. Can't we fix this? Yeah. (laughs) And we thought like, "Let's give it a shot, right." Yeah. So we started making, essentially, just a tool for ourselves. Yeah. And we just like, we had the inspiration at the time, like, blogs were just taking off, like, hey, if you had like a project blog, that could be one thing. If we could just have a to-do list here, so we know what work needs to be done. If we could just upload some files and put 'em in this one place, just those three, four things, like that'd be great. So we stared doing that, and we put together a package that was well enough for us to start using ourselves. Yeah. I mean, I think we spent maybe three weeks, initially tinkering. And then we started using it. Immediately threw a real project in there, started using it with a client, and it didn't take much more than that to think, like, oh, this is a huge upgrade over e-mail. Yeah. This is a huge upgrade. Now we have a system, we look better, right. (laughs) A lot of that was like, you have clients, you kind of, you wanna look good. Of course. And you don't look good if you miss the e-mail. Yeah. It's just this huge thread, and it's just a mess, right. So it made us look good, and we thought, there's probably others who would like that too. Yeah. And at the time, we were-- Somehow, there are other people that want to look good, hmm. Exactly. (laughs) Is this a market, that we can exploit? Um, so the software was kind of cooking and we were sharing a office with Coudal Partners at the time. Advertisement, and these days all sorts of things, kind of company, and we showed them. Showed Jim Coudal, like, "What do you think of this." And he was like, "Can I give you my money?" I'm like, "Okay." Hmm. I, we paid for this. Yeah. Before, again we were sort of reluctantly building this. We had tried a bunch of different things. We had tried just use blocking system, there's like movable type, and there was, this, that and the other thing. Yeah. Never really fit. We started building something, it's starting clicking. We show it to a couple of people in the industry, they go like, this is awesome. We wanna do this. And we're, "Okay, well let's try turning into a product." Yeah. All the while, we're not dropping anything, right. Like, this isn't like this epiphany that just goes like, "Oh my God, we have the world's best idea, "let's drop everything else that we're doing "and put everything on red." Yeah. "And then hopefully if it works out, "this is gonna be great. "And if it doesn't work out, we're totally bust." Yeah. So we continue just to have clients. Treating Basecamp essentially as a third or fourth client, along the way, spend about six months building it. And in early 2004, we just had enough to be like, "Alright, let's try to put it out there." And it was a kind of a funny launch. Because, we had built it for ourselves, and it was sort of just barely adequate for that. And we put it out there, and we think like, okay, if we can get like, I don't know, make 2,000 bucks a month off this thing, after a year. Yeah. That'd be pretty great, right. $4,000, that's what it was. That was the target. Yeah. We're like, $4,000, after one year, if we can make that a month, that'd be great. Like, two weeks, we cleared that. And we're like, "Holy shit, this is crazy," right? (laughs) And it's so funny, because I remember a lot of those numbers. Yeah. And if you think of those numbers today, in sort of, a comparisons, they're pathetic. Right. We had no one sign up for this thing, essentially. But we had like, I don't know, 150 people sign up the first day, and we're like, "Wow, it's crazy!" Incredible. Like today, you're like, "Oh well, you didn't 100,000 people sign up on your opening day, that's a total flop." It's a bust, right. So we went through this slow process, because there weren't really a lot of other people doing it at the time. Right. One of the main things we actually had to convince people was, put in your credit card. Yeah, we're gonna be here. It was still a thing, right. In 2004, it was still a thing, like, "Ah, I don't know if I want to put in my credit card." Online shopping, hmm. And actually, one of the hardest things when we were just about to launch was, we had built out this whole system to charge by the year. Right, it was gonna cost $499 a year, or something else. $499 was the entry plan. And we built all the software, get ready for that, right. And then we go to the bank, at that time, there was no Stripe. There was not a thing, you could just sign up. You had to actually go down to the bank and like, sign a stack of papers, and say, "I wanna take credit cards." And they of course, they took like five weeks to review this. And we're all busy, just about getting ready to launch. I think like, the week before launch, they then come back to us and say like, "I don't know what you're thinking, "but this is not gonna happen. "We are not gonna let you charge credit cards, "and basically charge people for a year in advance. "What if you guys go out of business in like three weeks? "Everyone is gonna charge back the amount, "and we're gonna be on the hook." Like, fuck. Yeah, help! Um, help! What are we gonna do? "Okay, I guess we can just change it "and charge it by the month. "Is that gonna be okay?" And they're like, "Hmm, okay. "I guess we'll believe enough in you that you could "stay in business for a month." (laughs) Um, so we changed it over, started charging for the month, and charged $49 instead, or whatever it was. But that was just, that was the atmosphere, right. Like, we didn't really know what was going on, we didn't have anyone to sort of look at, there were none of these frameworks. Not just for payment processing, but also the technology, right. I had gotten enamored with Ruby, but there wasn't a Rails. Yeah. I had to build a bunch of that stuff myself. And if you had told me today, like, "You're gonna build Ruby on Rails." I'd be like, "No way." I just built a little thing. I've gotta get this thing to talk to a database. "Oh, shh, how do I do that, let me look that up. "Let me put that together." Oh, then I gotta get it to render the thing. Oh, you also gotta send e-mail? Oh, I don't know, I gotta configure this sent mail thing, and whatever. So it was a very slow process. There was not a grand vision, we kinda just stumbled into it step by step. Yeah. And without any of the risk, right. So there was none of the risk, there was none of the, "Oh, we put like all our money on four credit cards "and whatever." Which is, a founding myth that I hear a lot. Yeah. And a lot of people are resonating somehow with this heroic ideal, that unless you're risking everything, and you're basically on the verge of starvation, like it's not really worth it. And we were like, we're having, we still had clients, they're paying us money. We were just fine, right. Yeah. Yeah, what's wrong with that. So there was none of that stuff going on, which also meant of course, there was no external money, there was no-- Funding, or yeah. Seed funding, there was none of this stuff, because we were paying ourselves just off these clients that we already had. And that's what kind of bootstrapped the business. And then by the time it was bootstrapped, I think, it took about a year, and then we were paying ourselves. The company was making just enough money to pay our meager salaries, and we were like, "Now we can do this full time." Yeah. With, again, zero risk, right? Wow. So, embedded in that narrative, are so many individual things that I'd like to sort of try and frame. So, the summary, I'm gonna let you put it into your own words, but, you talked at one point about like it's, there's a myth. So, talk to me about the myth, and then, what your experience is relative to that myth. So the myth is-- Myth is that entrepreneurship requires massive risk. And in many cases, also that it requires huge amounts of capital. Yep. And that you have to have someone who just have, is in a position where they can do both of those things, right. They can take a bunch of personal risk, and then they can convince people to give them hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars, right. And that was always sort of the archetype of the Silicon Valley-style entrepreneur. Yeah. And, we came out of a completely different atmosphere. First of all, we came out of Chicago, right. Yeah. Right there, Chicago, 2004, do you know how many technology companies were in Chicago in (mumbles) None of them, right, right. Motorola, I think, someone, somewhere out in the 'burbs making Razr phones or something. Yes! That was about, so it was kind of like a desert, in that sense. Which, it wasn't so much that, just that we had issues with the myth. Although we did. Both Jason and I had worked in the dot-com era. Mm-hmm. Jason had worked for a couple San Francisco companies. I'd worked in Denmark, for a couple of incubators. And we were both deeply, deeply skeptical of that system. Yeah. It had just bust, right. Yeah. 2001, the whole thing just exploded, and we just like, "This is fake." Yeah. "This is unsustainable." "This is, all the things we don't want to do if we get a crack at it." Yeah. And then of course, there was just the necessity, that like, even if we wanted to, that wasn't an option. No one was going to give a couple of fellows in Chicago any money to build any kind of system at that time, right. Right, yeah. So we were born both out of sort of a sense of disgust, somewhat, by being exposed to it, and then a sense of necessity. Yeah. And then we just, it just kept on rolling. And I kept, as Basecamp was taking off, 2004, 2005, 2006, sort of the industry woke up again. Yeah. Like there was this lull, and then it woke up again, and all these software companies started happening. And we started seeing sort of the same things that were happening with dot-com boom and bust. Like, people were raising big money. This whole narrative just came together that this is how you make software companies. And we're like, "Hello, no." We're over here! "We're over here! "We're not doing it like this, at all." Yeah. And in fact, we think the way we're doing it, is a lot easier, is a lot more accessible to a lot more people. Yeah. And it's more sustainable, and in many ways is more nourishing-- Healthy. Is more fun, is more healthy, it's all of these things. And we're like, "Why is all the attention, "why is all the light being shown on this one particular, "very narrow path." Yep. That, arguably yes, has churned out some spectacular successes, right. Mm-hmm. But, you look at what's left, for the rest of it, right. There's the one in 10,000, one in 100,000 breakouts, of the Facebooks, of the Googles, of whatever. And then there's just this mass underneath that just get wasted. Yeah. And I just, we looked at that and thought like, this is such a waste of human potential. Yeah. It's not that we shouldn't have those things. Sure. It's that there's this whole other segment of the market that should also be there, and if someone wants to start a new business, if they want to be an entrepreneur, especially in software, they should be able to look at two, at least, they should be able to look at 50 paths. But, at least they should have two paths. Not just being presented with this one option that says, you have to raise this massive amount of capital, you have to have this crazy burn rate. You have to hire 150 people in nine months. You have to do this, full blast, right. And that what I ended up being so, um, angry actually, at. That, we had this, the web. Yeah. We had this phenomenal commercial platform, that gave so many people so many opportunities. Yeah. And we narrowed the whole thing down to this one archetype of what a software company was gonna be. And it was just, it was driving me mad, right. And it was actually driving Jason mad. So, we started writing about it, right. We started writing about how did we come up? Yeah. Because, we didn't do anything special! Like, how many people out there, can do a client business, where they can get a couple clients, that can pay the bills, and still have a little bit of time left over? So they can pursue their things as a side project? Yeah. Lots of people, right? Yeah. Versus this tiny group of people who can manage to convince Sand Hill Road VC's to give them money, right. Yeah. So I thought, this is just a broader message. We've gotta, gotta get that going. So that's been sort of a, a mission and a passion for the past decade, plus, to communicate that there's a different way to create not just software businesses, but businesses in general. That kind of goes like, "We don't need all this stuff." In fact, in a lot of cases, you're better off without it. If you want to build a wonderful, 10 million dollar a year business, like, you cannot do that with that path. You can build a hundred million dollar, or billion dollar business with that path, you cannot build a wonderful 10 million dollar business. 'Cause they don't want to get behind it. And there's so many businesses that are wonderful 10 million dollar businesses. Right. There are wonderful one million dollar businesses, right. Shouldn't we have those, too? Shouldn't those be part of it? Should we just focus on these-- Billion dollar. Grand slams. Yeah. Well, there's some people who make all the money off their grand slams, right. With the VC's. Sure. That whole ecosystem. And they have very loud megaphones, right. And they have very compelling story. "This kid." I remember, one of the pivotal moments for me, where it just got like furious, which is, not about the person, Kevin Rose, right. I know Kevin, yeah. So with Digg. Add the cover of Businessweek, in I think 2016, going like this. "How this kid made 60 million dollars in 18 months." And I just went, "He didn't make 60 million dollars." Someone gave him a big check to build Digg, which then imploded and never created any economic value whatsoever. Right. And I was just like, "This is such fucking bullshit!" (laughs) Right, it's so true! Right, there's just, this is bullshit! And like, how is this just happening, how is this just rolling. How is this just the one narrative, that everyone is going like, clap, clap clap, whoa, this is wonderful. Yeah. And it's just like, "This is just too God damn much." (laughs) So, was the um, this is sort of that fire that has propelled a lot of what we've been writing about on Signal versus Noise. It's what propelled it to write three books already. Getting Real, which was basically an extraction of a series of workshops we did, that was called Building a Basecamp. Where were just telling people like, "Hey, here's how we did it." And, not just here's how we did it, like, look at what went into it. Do you have those things too? You probably do. Do you have like 10 hours a week, which was what I spent building Basecamp on the technical side, 10 hours a week. Not 10 hours a day, um, 10 hours a week to build it, you probably do. You can probably squeeze that in if you have clients, if you have other ways of making this happen. And here's how otherwise went about it. Here's how we went about building an audience. Here's how we went about sort of developing a message. Here's how we went about making software itself. Yeah. So that was getting real. That was 2006, I think. And then, Rework, 2010. We took, basically, all those ideas, we had from over a decade, mashed them into the book, sold the manuscript to a publisher for the first time, we had self-published Getting Real. Uh huh. Signed a contract that said, "You must deliver a book of 40,000 words." And we had 40,000 words and we showed up to them, they're like, "We're gonna cut the book in half, "Here's 20,000 words, publish that instead." It was just, sort of, so this whole thing just kept rolling with us, kept screaming about this alternative path. And we still are, today. I keep thinking like, there's gonna be this tipping point. Where, we don't have to yell so hard anymore. But, we're not there yet. So, I'm here, I'm everywhere, yelling about this. (laughs) Alternative way of doing it, right. You're yelling at the right people, or you're with the right people, 'cause it, um, I think, I've also tried to be a champion of the false narrative, or sorry, of rebelling against that sort of one, one path false narrative. Whether, you know, for me, it's around education. That fact that, if you go to school, and you go to these schools, and you get a good job, and if you get a good job, then you're gonna be happy. And it's just like, that is just, yeah. Don't get us started, right. I was just about to turn the key. Right, exactly. Jump backwards off the building, so. A, you're in a safe space. B, I'm fascinated with the loud megaphone, and everyone sees the handful of people that are on, whether it's Kevin, bless his heart, love the guy, he's been on the show before. He's an amazing guy. Wonderful. Right. But he didn't write the headline. No, and nor did he do the prop with the earphones and everything, right. I got Ben out for one of those photo shoots. You probably directed some of those photo shoots. You're like, "Hey, what about you put a prop on here. "It'll look better, yeah. "Yeah, just do a thumbs up." And before you know it, you're like this shmuck on the cover of a magazine. Ben, guilty as charged. But, I'm fascinated by culture's obsession around a handful of folks that largely are anomalies Yes. And I think it contributes to a terrible amount of anxiety, unnecessary anxiety, that compare a friend of mine, Marie Forleo. you know the liquor, Jagermeister? Mm-hmm. Or, Goldschlager? Which is even worse, Goldschlager is like bad Jagermeister with little flakes of gold in it, so it's like the worst thing. And she calls this, compare-schlager. Because it's terrible for you, looks ugly, and it's terrible. Which is, you're comparing your real life, with everybody else's highlight reel. Yes. And so, this is now, I think, epidemic proportion in our culture. It's refreshing to hear honest, like heartfelt stories that are radically different. So, that I think in a way, is shaping Basecamp, right. That's how it came up. Hugely, yep. What, like there had to be a few other takeaways from Basecamp, that, sure I hear ya on that counter-narrative, and we're putting a flag in that. What else, like what's the peripheral stuff that you learned that was really surprising when you were on that journey? So with Basecamp in particular, I think, it's that generalist sense. So, when people ask me, what is Basecamp? Well, Basecamp is sort of a lot of things. Basecamp is a way to help you grow. To cope with things taking off, and all of a sudden you have more things coming on. But what are the actual tools? There's a lot of things in Basecamp, right. Yeah. Because just like how I approach technology, from a very generalist sense of like, "Oh, I want to be able to know a bunch of things "about a bunch of things," and I'm not gonna go super deep, right. Yeah. Basecamp is sort of the same way. Like it's simple because it stayed up there, right. Yeah. Like, we just built a couple tools, and we put 'em together, and we made the integration, and the integration story was actually, in many ways, more important. Or do we have the best to-do section in the business? No we don't. There's someone else who just does that, right. Do we have the best messaging system in the business? No we don't. The value is that we put all those things together. And what I found, selling Basecamp, and making Basecamp, was that there's just, the vast majority of people just don't need that much software. Yeah. They need a little bit, right. Yeah. They're coming from, still today, our number one competitor is e-mail. Number one, when we ask people, where did you come from when you signed up for Basecamp? The majority of them did not use software to help them in their process before at all. Yeah. Or, they used software in the form of e-mail. Yeah. Or stickies, or something else like that, right. Yeah. So just that that's still true, right, that we're at such a base level, there's such a focus, especially once you get sucked into once you get sucked into the web sphere and you start knowing about apps and you start following along, there's such a temptation to all these micro-comparisons. "Oh, you've got this feature, do that," and whatever. Most people just, they don't know, they don't care, they just need a little bit. Yeah. And, our focus on bringing them just that little bit at a reasonable price, in a simple way, is still controversial. (laughs) Which is just, it's such an odd thing. I would have thought, today, given the fact Basecamp had had the success that it had, that we have just a million of competitors that were trying to do this integration story. And instead, everything else that's breaking out right now, Slack for example, chat, just the chat part, right. Asana, just a to-do list part, right. Like, Trello, just the boards and the Kanban style, right. Dropbox, just the files, right. Yeah. All wonderful tools, great great tools. And then we talk to customers who's trying to make all those five things talk to each other, and they go like, just making that happen, it's just like, "Can you just give me something that does that?" Like, I don't need all of those things. And that integration story is still so open and so right there, right. It's available, yeah. So that's where we've focused on it, and it continues to surprise me. And the same thing on the technology side. So Ruby on Rails, we created 2003 I started working on it. I released it in 2004. And, 2005, six, seven, it really blew up, right. Like, tons of people started using it and thought like, "Okay, this is gonna last a couple years, and then there's gonna be a Ruby on Rails in every single language, and whatever. And, whatever an early advantage we have, will be gone. And here we are, what, 14 years later, just pushed out a new release of Ruby on Rails. Never been more popular. Even if there's less buzz. Yeah. There were more people using Ruby on Rails, why? Because it's still controversial. Because it's still doing disintegration. Ruby on Rails is just like Basecamp. Trying to take a lot of ideas, put 'em into one package, then, a small individual team could go, like, "Alright, let's get on with it." Right? Versus, most technology today, if you think it's taking off. React. Redux. A lot of these things in the JavaScript world are very narrow-focused tools that very good at this one thing. And then it's basically like a box of Legos that just someone empties on the floor and go like, "Oh yeah yeah yeah. "Isn't this easy? "Just put the whole 4,000 pieces together by yourself." (laughs) And I'm like, I just want to play with a freaking truck. Toy, yeah. (laughs) Right? Could someone just put the truck together? Like, do I have to put all 4,000 pieces together myself? I just want a God damn truck. Right? Yes. So therefore, we try to sell. Both with Basecamp, with Ruby on Rails. Let's just sell some trucks. Like, everything doesn't have to be a construction kit. Yeah. Which, let me just, quick anecdote. When I moved to the U.S. in 2005, I had just finished my degree at Copenhagen Business School, I just finished my bachelor's degree. And Jason's like, "Oh, this Basecamp thing "is going pretty well." This was 2005, we'd been in it for two years. I was like, "Eh, I don't know. "Maybe I should just do the master's degree. "Since they're free in Denmark." Should I just do that, and I was like, "Oh, okay. "I'll move to the U.S." Right. I arrive in the U.S., and I think one of the first places Jason took me out to dinner, was some burger place. And, the food arrives, and it's in pieces. Like, here's the meat. Here's the salad, here's the tomato, here's the onions. Here's the bun. And I'm like, "Where's the chef?" (laughs) Like, no one assembled this burger for me. What am I buying here? Am I buying ingredients? (laughs) Like, why didn't we just go to a store? I didn't know of Whole Foods, at the time. Like, couldn't we just go to a store and get these things? And, this is one of those things that I just find so fascinating. Like, I want finished things. Yeah. If I go out to eat, I want the chef to prepare the meal for me, and I'll just eat it, right. Yeah. When I use technology, most of the time I want it assembled. Yeah. Right? And, I think that that's still such a controversial idea in a lot of circles, that, the assembly shouldn't be part of it. And, especially in technology, where it really offends me, is that everyone puts their shit together in the same way. Which is, what offends me about the burger, too. Like, "How many ways are there to put a burger together? "Put the salad on the top of the bun, or?" Like, there's just, there's not that many stereotypes for it, right? Yeah. Can't we just agree on a couple of them, and then like, we just do that, right? So that's what I tried to do with Ruby on Rails. Like, we don't all have to configure how code talks to a database. Can we just decide once, and then we can move on to something that's more interesting. Yeah. And focus on that? I love that, to me there's so many permutations of the same argument. The fact that every, most of the creators that I know, they're trying to invent an entirely new thing, when, what you did, is you just looked at four things out there, and they're four Legos, and you put them together, and that's the remix. Yes. In that, nothing is new. Like, there's so many ideas, and we're just trying to reassemble those ideas. People are worried about inventing some new, once-in-a-lifetime thing, which keeps so many people from doing shit! Absolutely. And I think it's because there's such a focus on the glory, on this grand insight, right. Yeah. Like, there's something brand new, no one has ever heard of before. That's the one percent. Yeah. And there's the 99, which is, we just take the pieces that are already there, and put 'em together in a different order, and all of a sudden, that order is exactly what a group of people need, right. Yeah. And I think that there should be more focus on that. And there should be more validation that not only is that like, good, and totally okay, it's fucking great. Yeah. It's what the vast majority of the vast majority of people in the world should be doing. Taking things that are already existing, putting them together in interesting, slightly twisted, slightly subtly different ways. And that's how we go. I mean, if you look at both technology and the tools that we're using, like, so Basecamp is what, to-do list, and file uploads, and some blocking, and some messaging, and whatever. There's nothing new in any of them, in their archetypes, right. Like, Basecamp invented nothing. Ruby on Rails invented nothing, right. All the patterns of use that we took, I went shopping in textbooks, and they're like, "I want one of those, I want one of those, "and then I'm gonna put it together nicely, "and I'm gonna give you a truck." (laughs) It's so, like, to me, that, again, false narrative, that the best ideas are this sort of, wild thing that you have to come up with, and it's a once-in-a-lifetime deal. And you have to be a genius. Right. Right. Who, if it's only the one percent, then, it's only the geniuses that are allowed. Yeah. It's only the geniuses that really have this sort of, they can come up with this brand new thing. Which is what I, sometimes when I get accolades for the work that I've done, I'm just like, "Thank you." (laughs) That's nice, but it wasn't genius. Right. Like, it was a bunch of work. Yeah. And it was actually also, it's not even that. Because the flip side, sometimes of that, is like, "Well, okay maybe I wasn't a genius, but I outworked everyone." Yeah. This is one of those things I have with Gary sometimes, he's all about like, 18 hours a day. And I'm like, no, just like, seven or eight, is fine. (laughs) Like, 40 hours a week, like, is plenty of time to assemble all the trucks the world will ever need. For the vast majority of people, right. So, if you think of things like, either I have to be a genius, or I have to be willing to work 120 hours a week, clearly a lot of people would look at those things, and like, "I'm not a genius, I don't want to work "124 hours a week, entrepreneurship is not for me." Which I just go like, "That is false!" Yeah. Right, the same thing with risk. There are all these things that the characteristics we ascribe to these heroes of entrepreneurship, they're the ones that turn everyone else off. Yeah. And we need to just, take those out. Yeah. We need to actually shoot them down, and we need to puncture them and say, like, "No, you can create great, sustainable, wonderful, "impactful businesses on 40 hours a week. "You can create great software, inventing nothing." Right, just putting things together in novel ways. You can get a business off the ground without mortgaging your house five times over, just treating it as a side project until there's some traction, and you get going. All of a sudden, if I take those three barriers away from you, like, what's left now? Like, why aren't you doing it? And all of a sudden, people can go like, "Okay." They might still not do it, right. I think sometimes there's also an attraction to those barriers. Yeah. Because people can go like, "Oh yeah, I'd totally be "an entrepreneur, if it was just because like, "I was a genius, or if I had 120 hours a week, or whatever, "I'd totally do it." Right? But if you take those things away, you don't have those excuses anymore. Yeah. And then, you might still say, like, "Okay, entrepreneurship is just not for me. "I don't want to start anything new, that's kind of risky." Or whatever. Yeah. But there's also plenty of people where legitimately put off, who now go like, "Okay, I guess I could do it." Yeah. I've heard so many times from people who read Rework, or Getting Real, that it was that permission. Yeah. I'm allowed to do it too. And I'm allowed to do it, on a sustainable way, that I can picture, right. Yeah. A lot of people can't picture themself jumping from like, "Okay, I work at a job, right now, 9 to 5. "And I gotta jump into this other mode, where I'm risking "everything, I'm risking my house, I'm risking my kids, "whatever, I'm working 120 hours a week, "and I'm raising money." I can't even picture that jump. It's way too far of a jump. Yeah. And there's so many steps, not just in between, but steps that you can stop at and say like, "Alright, this is it." "This is a lovely existence. Yes. "This is a great business. "This makes all the money, and gives me all the free time, "and all this." And that's where I really also, just get fired up. Is on these success criterias, right. There's such a focus on like, "Oh, if you're a success in businesses," or in software in particular, it's if you built Facebook, or Google, or whatever. There's just, the difference between being an entrepreneur who starts something, and like, is barely scraping by, and getting a business that makes, say a million dollars a year, that is 97% of the difference you will ever experience in material goodness. Yeah. Once you get to the point where you have a million dollars clean, in the bank. Yeah. Your life is 97% different from having zero, and having to worry about every paycheck, and so on. Yep. Versus the difference between jumping from a million to ten million, maybe that's another 2%, and then, the difference between ten million and billion is the last percent. Why would you focus on those things? And why wouldn't you focus your odds on getting to like the 97% of the value? Because the odds are totally different. Yeah. The odds of you setting out to start a business that's gonna make a million dollars a year, like, they're still not great, it's hard. Yeah. But they're infinitely better than the odds of you starting the next Facebook or Google. It is the cultural narrative around that as failure. Versus, raising money is seen as success. Yes. Like, raising money, basically, and as someone who's done it. Right. If Mark Cuban sat here, he's like, that's your first big loss. Yes. When you raise a bunch of money, and-- Yes, now you owe a bunch of people money. Right, and yeah. Or your blood, sweat and tears. Yep. I think, I really appreciate you helping, that's part of the journey and the vision of this show, and on CreativeLive in general, is that we're helping to rewrite that narrative. Yes. So, you bringing your passion and your heart into that, couldn't ask for more. So, if we stopped recording right now, it'd be like a slam dunk. But I do want to get to Rework-- Sure, mm-hmm. Because that was something that really, um, I would say, was more than, I looked at you guys more, I was familiar with 37signals, and you know, read the blog. As, when I carved out a lot of my world, was really, really early in that community. Yep. And, Rework, though, there was something um, like you said earlier, I think permission. Yes. So, talk to me a little bit about the concept behind Rework, give a couple of the overarching themes, and why you guys wrote it. So, Rework is really a compilation. Surprise, right? Surprise! There's a pattern here. It was not a book written from scratch. It was a compilation of everything, the best ideas we'd been talking about, over the past 10 years. And we put them into this one format. And you know what, the number one, maybe even today, if you go into, the number one critique of the book was, "Hey, I read Signal versus Noise, "every article for ten years. "This has nothing new." Thumbs down. You're like, "Do you know what, you are the slivers "of the slivers of the slivers," right. Yeah. The tiniest, the tiniest percent. Who are all these people who followed us for 10 years and read everything that we ever wrote? Right. No one, right? Except that guy, clearly. Yeah. And I think that that's one of these other misconceptions, if you have something to say, you're only allowed to say it once. Then it's not new anymore. Know what, if you want an impact, you better damn well be ready to say the same thing 10,000 times. So true. Before you even start to scratch the surface, right. Yep. So that's what Rework tried to do, is to say the same things we had been saying for years and years and years, in a different format, that could reach a wider audience. Or a different, or wider, yeah. Yes. And have a different kind of impact. And a lot of the things that we put into Rework, was basically just the lessons and the differences that we had took from running Basecamp, the business. One of the things, for example, A-S-A-P is poison. So, we had, at some stage, sort of lulled ourselves in, as most people do, is you're like, "Oh I need this A-S-A-P." "I need this right now." Right, there's this-- Yeah. (fingers snap) Constant urgency around, you have drop everything to do this one thing for me, right now, and then, in three hours, I'll tell you something else is A-S-A-P, and then you gotta drop that to do that for me. Yeah. And we just found that, just such a toxic idea. Yeah. That, A-S-A-P, and the constant context switching, that "Oh, now you gotta do this, now you gotta do that." Yeah. Was not a good way to get things done. Yeah. Right? And we always looked at things, in the sense of, "How can we get things done?" We are a tiny team. When Basecamp was founded, we were just four people, right. And it took us years, and years, and years, and then we were seven people. And years, and years, and years, and years more, and then we were like 14 people. We didn't have a lot of people to spare. Yeah. So we had to make the hours count. Yeah. And, not thrashing those hours with A-S-A-P, this, that and the other thing, was a big point. The other part that sort of relates to that, is that meetings were toxic. That it's so easy, especially for people who are managers. Yeah. To call creatives, into a room, and go like, "Alright, let's have a meeting. "Let's brainstorm this out, and like, "let's spend an hour on this." And usually they'll place that meeting at like 10:30, right. Someone showed up to work at nine, or whatever. "Hmm, in an hour and a half, I have that meeting. "Um, let me surf Reddit." Am I gonna dive into like the hard work of the day, like an hour and a half in advance of when I need to have a long meeting with someone? No I'm not. So I'm gonna waste that time, right. Then we're gonna have the meeting, which is not just like a one hour meeting, right, because there's probably seven people in there, so it's a seven hour meeting, all of a sudden. Now we spend seven hours figuring out, what, what we took turns telling each other what we did. We could just have written that down and sent out a God damn e-mail, right? Right. And then on the other side, then, your day's kind of splintered. And this was one of the things that as us, as creators, both Jason and I, we make this stuff. Yeah. Like, we didn't just hire a bunch of people, and then they make the stuff. Yeah. Jason made a bunch of the designs, I made all of the code and the programming in the beginning. We didn't have the time to waste. Yeah. Right. And then, we got on this schedule, that and realized that we started bombarding our day, and we started splitting it up, and like slicing, "Oh, let's do a meeting at 10:30, "and then there's this one guy that wants to meet for coffee "at two, that's the day. "It's done." I'm gonna get zero out of that day, even though I really only have two things on my calendar. It's done as a creative day. Yeah. Like I'm not going to make a huge leap forward in creating a new feature for Basecamp, or extracting something out of, into Ruby on Rails, or any of these other things. That has to happen on days where I have these long stretches of uninterrupted time. And that was one of the things where people kept coming up to me, and like, "Oh, what's your secret? "How do you get to do so much things? "How do you get so much done? "Is it because you worked all these hours, "is it because you do all these things?" No, I just like, don't take lunch meetings, and I don't meet for coffee, and like, I have five hours of nothing. You know how much stuff you can get done in five hours, if you just, if no one's interrupting you for five hours you can do the world. Yeah. Right? You need no more than four to five hours out of any given day, if you get them in one chunk, uninterrupted. And it was lessons like that where we took, and said like, people are doing it wrong. They keep staffing up, they keep thinking they need more people, when they just need to find out ways to make the hours count. Not the number of hours, it's the quality of those hours. And most people are making do with some really terrible, low-quality hours. Yeah. It's not just things like meetings, and things that interrupt them. It's also the quality of the hours themselves. Yeah. So, as a programmer, as someone who's creative, I need like headspace. Focus. Dedication on the screen, I have to keep 1,000 concepts in my mind, to put it all together, right? If I'm sitting right next to the sales guy, who's yelling on the phone, what's the quality of that? It is shit. Yeah. And I've worked at places like this. Especially this thing, and I find it so hilarious, like, "Oh, we're gonna have a modern office. "We're gonna have this open office, "and we're gonna sit at a long desk, and like, "this is all gonna be great, and we're gonna mix people, "like, the salespeople, and programmers, and designers, "and they're all gonna collaborate, all of the time." And, all the programmers just went, like, "Give me the gun now." Yeah. Right. This is not progress, this is not modern, this is not better. This is shit. And, the reason it's shit is because it's designed by people who are not actually creatives, doing the work. Yeah, so true. And it's things like this, we're just like, "This is so unnecessary." Like, you talk to any programmer, or designer, or writer, anyone who needs this-- Dedicated, focused, yeah. Dedicated, creative time to get done. This is where happiness lies, right. For me, if I get, which is rarer these days than it used to be, and I'm regretting it. I've been trying to find ways to get back to it. Getting those five hours where I can just dive deep into a problem. Yeah. That is the day where I'll sit, with the rest of the day it's just like, "Ahh." (laughs) Right? You get into that flow state, you get all the dopamine rush of creating something good. Yeah. And it's a wonderful day. Compare that, to a day, as we talked about, the one I'd been punctured five different ways, where you're sitting next to the salesperson. That's a day, where you go home at the end of the day, "What did I get done today?" Yeah. That's a shitty day. Shitty days like that make you feel shitty. (laughs) Like, why would we want to make people feel shitty? And get less interesting work done, right? Yeah. So it was just these things, like, on their face, there is no upside to this shit. Except for maybe the aesthetics of the workplace. I worked at a place like that once, right. And we had, um, this was in Copenhagen. An investor was going to come by. And like, we all had to get arranged up at our little desks, and like, we got turned around, so people, some of us had to sit like facing the hallway, with our backs to it, so everyone could see the screens, "Oh, aren't they busy?" Like, "Aren't these monkeys really typing in there? "You should really invest in this thing, they're typing. "They're typing, oh, they're so busy!" (laughs) And it was just like, this is such shit. When I'm gonna make my own God damn company, we're not gonna do this monkey business. (laughs) And, that was a lot of it, right. Like, that's a lot of what Rework was, was, both Jason and I, we got this of dose of shitty company running, when we worked for other people, and we're like, "If I get the chance to call the shot, "we are not going to be this stupid." We are gonna go back to first principles, and we're gonna build our way up, and we're gonna find all the shit that doesn't make sense, and we're not gonna do it. What are some other things that don't make sense that you don't do? Well, for me, I don't work in an office. So, remote working is just huge for me. It's like the most natural way to get a lot of these properties we just talked about. No one can pull me into a meeting when I'm like 4,000 miles away from Chicago in Malibu, or in Spain, or other places where I've lived, right. Even better, the times over the past six, seven years, I've lived part time in Spain. We got started on the whole business, by the way, the origin story there. I was in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wrote Jason an e-mail, and we started working together. And I was seven time zones off, right. So we did the bulk of the formative work on Basecamp seven time zones apart. Wow. And, initially we thought, "Oh man, that's such a handicap. "If we were just sitting next to each other, all the time, "that would be great." Then I moved to Chicago, I started coming to the office, and we started getting like half the work done, and we're like, "What the fuck?" (laughs) So I started working from home, very early on. And just realizing, this is the environment for me. When I can control my own environment, and I can just like not respond to people, and ignore people, right. It's just a huge advantage. So, remote work, for us, has just been huge. Yeah. Not just for me, and Jason, and the other people who are over at the other company, but what it allowed us to do. We've hired people from all over the U.S., from Canada, from Europe, just wonderful, great people who live in not tech hubs. Right now, we have no one who lives in New York, and no one lives in San Francisco. Not because there aren't good people there, but because there's wonderful people everywhere else too. Yeah. And they are completely overlooked. Yeah. And they're a completely untapped market of just intense talent. Right. Of people who don't want to move to any of those cities, right. And right now, there's such a focus on like, "Oh, we all gotta get everyone to the office." And we're like, remote is such a, an easy win. You just decide that this is what you do, and now you have access to world beating talent. Wow. Of course we're gonna do this. We wrote a whole book about that too, called Remote: Office Not Required, where we kind of just tried to put all these thoughts into like, this is how you should do it. Because, a lot of these cases, with both Rework, and with Remote, they way we actually get the inspiration with it is, when I start talking to other people. And then, I listen to like, how their business runs. And I just go like, "What? "Are you fucking kidding me? (laughs) "This is the stupidest thing I've ever heard." And I had the same thing with Remote, right? Yeah. Remote got kicked off, after I had, I don't know how this happened, but I had talked to three CEOs from three companies, and we were talking about remote work, right. And they were giving me their reasons for why they weren't doing remote work. And I just had this reel, running in my head. "Oh my God, you're so stupid." Like, you really have not thought this through, and just, an iota of it. Like, someone should really help you think this through. Right, because, your arguments are so shallow. Yeah. Your defenses of why we all need to sit at the same table are so idiotic, and I know you're not that dumb. Yeah. I know you're just misinformed, and underinformed. Yep. Someone should inform you about this shit. What about, let's talk about, I think-- Alright. I'm gonna throw a rock at this, because I think I know the answer, but. There are some people for whom the social aspect-- Yes. Is part of their personality. Yes. And for whom connecting, it feeds a part of their soul. Do you think that, like, people getting together physically that there's, there is some upside? Do you feel like it could be, it could be, a myth? Like how do you think about it, for, or is that just because the world used to be much more extroverted and now there's room for both introverts and extroverts, that we're seeing these blended models. Like, what of the why-- No, that's good. And, I'm putting things I've been on the edge-- Of course, we're doing that on purpose. But that's, otherwise it's a boring conversation. This is good, because, it isn't that cut and dry. And, even though we embrace remote work intensely at the company, Yeah. I have since the formation, we still meet up. The entire company flies to Chicago twice a year. Yep. For a week. Yep. Where, all we're doing is basically connecting. Yep. Directly, with people, in person. Because it has a huge value. Yeah. And, we've had lots of cases of that, where someone ends up in a situation, if all you do is you work for a remote company, you sit at home, and your breakfast blends into your dinner? That's misery. Yeah. Like you're not gonna be a happy, wholesome human being. Yeah. After, just three weeks of that, right? Yeah. Humans are not built for that. Humans are built for different amounts of social interaction and with different people, and it doesn't have to come in this package. Yeah. That the office used to provide us, right? Yeah. So for me, I'm definitely an introvert. Yeah. And most of the people who work at Basecamp probably is. A lot of creatives, I think, tend to be. If you look at programmers, writers, designers, whatever. A lot of them are introverts, not all of them. Yeah, for sure. But they've been ignored for so long. Yeah. Right? Everything has been driven by like what the management, sales, all these other roles that are traditionally much more likely to be extroverted, wanted. Yeah. And they wanted, "Oh yeah, we should have this thing, "and wouldn't it be great if we could be there all day, "and we'll put in some foosball tables, "and we can brainstorm at like 11 at night, "if that's what I want." And all these introverts just, quietly, had to take it. And I think, remote as an idea is kind of like starting to flip tables around, right. Yeah. But even with that said, we have plenty of people at Basecamp, who like don't want to sit at home all day, so they go work somewhere else. Like there's coworking spots, there's plenty of those-- Yeah, go to WeWork, or yeah. Yep. Plenty of people go to coffee shops, they go somewhere else to mix it up, but it's on their schedule. Yeah. And they can sort of mix and match. They can choose to say, "Alright, the four hours, "where I really need to dedicate at work, I'm just gonna "lock myself into my home office, and do that, "and then I'm gonna go to a coffee shop in the afternoon, "and get sort of the vibe, and whatever." Those things are hugely important. It shouldn't be seen as it's either or. Yeah. The best setup of that is some sort of mix. Yeah. So, you, Ruby on Rails. Let's go to like, it's a big deal, okay. Just, let's just acknowledge it, that's badass. How do you think about it today, what role, like how do you touch it, what role does it play in your life, how do you think about it, where is it going? Tell me a little bit of a story, create a narrative around like, what that technology platform, or way of thinking is. Sure. What's it's about now? So, I released Ruby on Rails in 2004. When I had just extracted it, pulled it out of Basecamp, essentially, right. Yeah. And it got sent into the world as a sense of gratitude. So, when we built Basecamp, I built Basecamp on all these open source tools. MySQL, Apache, all these long-running projects that had been around for quite a long time. And I got them all for free. And the fact that I could get all those things for free, Ruby itself, is open source as well, the language. I got all those things for free, were one of those barriers that were taken away. If you were trying to make a website in '95, you had to buy an, license from Oracle, and you had to buy a license from this, and a license from that, which meant that like these barriers of entry were really high. Yeah. When we started building Basecamp, there were none of those. I paid zero dollars for any of the software that sort of went into creating the application itself. And, that was why we could do it. We couldn't have done it otherwise. Yeah. So I just felt an immense gratitude, that I had to give back, when I had something of value that I could share with others. Yeah. So that was the first instinct. That, I don't know if anyone's gonna like it, I like this thing I built, it allowed me to use Ruby, this wonderful programming language that really opened my mind, and that allowed me to self-identify as a programmer. And this helped me do it. So, here's Rails, and I hope that it does the same to you, and, thankfully it did, right. To a lot of people, then picked it up and got inspired by it and started using it. And like, as I said, that's 14 years ago. And in the interim years, I've just kept on doing it. Because it was never about a destination. It was about a creative outlet for me, where I could take everything as I'm working on a piece of code, and extract the common things. It's just that I don't have to do it again. One of the things I absolutely hate, is repeating myself. Right? Yeah. I've sometimes, I've written chapters for books where like the computer crashed, and like I lost the whole thing. And I was just, "Yeah, we don't, "that chapter's not happening." It's not in the book. I'm not writing it again, I'm sorry. Done. Right, I just, I cannot stand repeating myself. Which is also one of the reasons I'm a really bad conference speaker. Because I cannot deliver the same talk twice. Right. I can do it one time, so I have to put all of this energy into it, and then I, (fingers snap) do it one time and that's it. I cannot repeat myself. Record it and share it, yeah. Yes, exactly. Which is one of the wonderful things, at the YouTube, that at least you could then share it, en masse. It wasn't just, you did it for like the 50 people or 100 people who showed up. But I feel the same thing about technology. I hate repeating myself. I don't wanna do the same things again. I wanna solve new problems. Yeah. If I keep solving the same problem I've been solving, over and over again, I will get bored, and I'll disconnect. So the way that my sparks fire, is that I get to solve new problems. And the only way I get to solve new problems, is if I encode the solutions to all the old problems, into a box, and I can just take that box, next time I need that, right. Yeah. And I can share that box with other people, and they can share their solutions with me, and then I end up just creating new stuff. Which is really the fun part. Alright, not necessarily creating new stuff, but putting it together in new ways. Yeah. And not having to redo the same stuff, over and over again. So, there's that whole aspect to it, and this just the aspect of like, it allows me to program Ruby. And that's just fun. Yeah. I like programming Ruby more when I'm creating something real, and that's usually the impetus to it. But I also just like doing it itself, right. Yeah. Like photography, obviously. Like I got into photography, and like, it's just fun to do it. It's like, it's also great to get a great picture of it, but there's just something in the process itself, the flow that it provides you as a creative person. Yeah. That's inherently rewarding. So that's why, with Ruby on Rails, I just keep on doing it as long as it's fun, and as long as I get this energy out of it. And then of course, you also get this sense of belonging, this sense of meaning. Yeah, yeah. There's hundreds of thousands of programmers who've used, or are using Ruby on Rails, all these wonderful applications that's been birthed from it, that I get to look at and say, like, "Oh, I played a small part in that." And, I can get to continue to play a small part in that, and can I continue to get programmers to focus on programming as creative endeavor. Yeah. Not just as scientists. Not just as engineers. But that there's this whole expression of yourself, and your writing into this. This is one of those terms I'm really fond of, is to be a software writer. It's not, we don't have software engineers at Basecamp. We have a lot of software writers. And-- Emphasis on writer, yeah. Getting that emphasis on writing, and getting to do it. Yeah. Is just fun. Like, I also like actual writing, right. Like, I cannot not do that. If I take um, I was just talking about it to people at Basecamp about this recently, doing your favorite things. One of the reasons, we just recently decided that we're freezing all hiring at Basecamp. We're 54 people, the business, for 2007, was the the best year it's ever been. 2007 or '17? '17, sorry. 2017, best year it's ever been for the business. And, we're not gonna hire anymore. Which, is, "What?" Most people go like, "Oh, you do a hiring freeze "because like, things are a little tough, or a little tight, "and you gotta cut back." Things are the best they've ever been, we're hiring freezing. And we're hiring freezing, in large parts, because I want to do my favorite things. Do you know what my favorite things are not? They're not doing whatever-- Interviews. Review of things you have to do when you have 54 people. And like, I can just already see all the shit that I have to do to run, help run a company of 54. Yep. Is like, that slice of my life, is big enough. If I make it any bigger, I'm gonna puke. And I'm gonna quit. And I don't wanna puke, and I don't wanna quit. So, this is it. We can have 54 people, that's what we can manage. And then I get to do my favorite things. I get to write, I get to program, and I want to do more of that, right. And I want to stay in that state forever. People keep asking me, "Oh, what's next? "What's the next big thing you're gonna--" Yeah. What do you mean? I wanna keep writing, I wanna keep programming. That's good enough. I can do, 50 years? Yeah, sounds good. (laughs) Sign me up! Exactly. So, I think this is beautiful, and it's elegant. But, doesn't it, and I'm, for what it's worth, I agree. I am capitulating right now, I think when, I have at different times in my life, through the expectations of others, it's very hard to stake out this claim, which is one of the reasons I love how strongly you're-- Yes. Presenting this. And I feel like I have done the same thing, I had to, you know, bailed on professional soccer, and dropped out of school, a couple, you know-- Yep. To do the thing. And I felt like that was hard. But once you've done that a couple times, you're like, "Wow, I'm actually the boss. "I'm the boss of me." Yep. I'm in charge, I don't have to do the shit, if I don't want do the shit, I gotta do the thing. And I might have to carve out my own path, but I am the author of my life. Yes. And no one else is. And so, it's very courageous. But, what about all of the success? Of course, I'm speaking tongue-in-cheek here, but what about all the success that you're walking away from. Yes. By having, Ruby on Rails be even bigger. To have Basecamp instead of, you know, 10 million in revenue, what about 100 million? Yep. And we get this all the time, I get this accusation that like, I'm not ambitious enough. Yeah. And like, first of all, really? Like, usually I feel slightly embarrassed of like iterating of the things that I've done over the last 15 years, because it sounds like, "Oh, there's one of those--" Created Ruby on Rail, and wrote a couple bestselling books, and-- But, but right, right. So like, I'm well past good enough, and done enough. Like, I don't owe the world anything more than what I've put into it, right now. What I do owe myself, is that I have complete freedom to do what I want to do. If I wanted, tomorrow, walk away from Basecamp, I could not work for the rest of my life, and I'd be totally fine, right. When you have that freedom, when you've reached that point, you get to this sort of mirror, where you look at yourself, like, "Why am I doing this?" Like, what is the meaning behind it? And what I've found is, the meaning behind it is not adding another zero to my bank account. Like, I've kind of stopped counting. At one point, I totally did count. Right? (laughs) 'Cause you needed to. I needed to! And it as also just this, tension, like, I didn't come from money, and you get exposed to this thing, and you like, your brain kind of goes a little haywire, and I think, we're, humans are wired for that, right, like this accumulation. Yeah. And then all of a sudden, you accumulate and you accumulate, and you're like, "Shit, my life isn't any better than it was five years ago, "I've accumulated all this extra stuff." What is it that I actually want out of life? And when I looked for those sort of, pillars of meaning, they are things like, I want to continue to spend most of my time, doing my favorite things, like programming, and whatever. I want to have the impact in the form that I want to have the impact. I don't want to be forced into some constraints where I'm gonna sort of bend, right. A lot of people go into business and ideas with the best of intentions. And then once the pressure starts squeezing, they're human. Yeah. And they crack. And they break. In all sorts of ways, where I think, I'm no different. If you took me, and you inserted under the standard pressure cooker of a high-flung VC-backed startup, my ethics might start to squeak. Yeah. Here I am though, have none of those pressures, right. I feel like I have an obligation to myself and the world, to like, okay, like, let me then live the very best life, closest to the ethics that I can get, closest to the best use of the time that I can get, and then, what more is there? Isn't that already perfection? Isn't that the arrival point? Right, what else is it I'm gonna get to, is it like, if you can afford the jet? Yeah. That's when everything starts getting magic? No, come on, seriously. Right. Like, as we talked about, there are these thresholds, and there are these barriers, when you're worrying about like, paying the bills, and whether the water's gonna get shut off. Yeah. Like, money is very large part of what's going on, right? Your psychology, of course. Then you reach these points which we reached like 10 years ago. When, "Like, okay, I have a million dollars in the bank." I have none of these concerns. Right, maybe I'd have if I just stopped working, I didn't work for 20 years, I might have some of these concerns, but. They're just, they're erased. So, whatever else I can accumulate really is not gonna add so much to it. I'm at 97, right. I love the 80/20 principle, right. Yeah. If I can put in 20% and I can get 80 back, that's the stuff that I wanna do, right. Like, I don't wanna keep squeezing and squeezing and squeezing to get the last 2% out of the citrus, right. It's just, it's sour. And... That's a contentment and, that's still hard. Yeah. Because, everything in our culture, especially in the entrepreneurial work, it's all about like serial entrepreneurs, doing the next thing. Building a bigger thing. Growing, growing, growing, growing, right? To reach the point where you can say, "Enough." I have everything that I need, I'm at a good place, I wanna stay there, is really hard. Yeah. And this is one of the things where I've been so happy to discover stoicism. Tim Ferriss, and plenty of others have been, um, Ryan, been really pushing it. And I think it's a really healthy antidote to all these other pressures that we have in life. We have these Roman emperors, and whoever else from, 2,000 years ago, telling us like, "Hey, you know what, "even though I have everything, like including the whole "Roman Empire, I am still susceptible to all of these "pressures, and uncertainties and whatever, "and I need to step back and get to a better place where "I'm at ease, and I'm at rest with the world." Yeah. So that has been part of sort of my focus over the last five years, is to realize what I have, and not fuck it up. Let's-- I think the easiest thing you can do, when you have something good, is to fuck it up by keep striving for more and more and more. It's beautiful. I want to understand the psychology behind that. What do you have to do, clearly you have to actively deprogram, Yes. So let's get tactical for a second. Do you shape every day, do you have a set of values that you write on the mirror in the morning? Is it like the meditation on the thing of staying status quo? Like, what are some of your tools, you mentioned stoicism. Presumably, there's a half a dozen others, because again. I feel like I've lived that in a lot of different ways. Yep. And it resonates so deeply. And you know, there are frankly not a lot of people out here in the world talking in the same way that you're talking right now, so, the people that have tapped into that, and I'm sure there's, you know, a lot of people who are watching and listening that are like, "Oh, shit. "This is my unlock." So let's shift gears for a second. Yep. And try and get really tactical, and what are some of the key things that you've done, that have helped you. Presumably you've got some shit in your childhood that's really good. You had parents that did x, or y. But maybe not. So what's the thing? What is the set of things, that have helped you, a, get to, and b, maintain, this point of view. Love that. Because, one of the reasons I resonated so dearly with stoicism was, I felt like I had a crotchy version of it running my own personal operating system already. That I already had a bunch of the tactics that stoicism preaches, built in. And one of the key ones, is negative visualization. This idea that loss is going to happen, and you better start preparing for it, now. It's just that if it does, and when it does, because it will, you won't get destroyed. So, negative visualization is something I practice everyday. I practice thinking, some calamity is gonna happen. Basecamp is gonna blow up, get hacked, and plundered, or whatever. And the whole thing is gonna fall apart, right? What's left? Have I invested everything that I have? Have I invested my entire ego into that, such that if it goes away, poof, then I'm no one? If I have, or if I'm too heavily invested in it, I need to pull back. I need to have other things in my life. I can't just be all in on this one thing. If you're all in, on one thing, and that thing goes away, you're all out. Right? Yeah. There's nothing left. So, that's not a good strategy in life, in finance, in anywhere. Like, you go to any stockbroker like, "Oh yeah, I'd like to put everything into this one growth stock." They'd go like, "What, you crazy? "You've gotta diversify, right." Yeah. So I think about like ways I can diversify. My ego, my sense of self worth, and all the things that I'm, my interests, right. So it's that if this one pillar crashes down, I'm still here. And I'll still be totally fine. And I think about it, then even within the categories of things that I do like, especially around coping with success and wealth. I know a lot of people who've made it very well, who've narrowed their comfort zone down to like a very thin slice. Because their expectations about what life now owes them, now that they're rich or whatever, are extremely high. And then, the put it on themselves, like, "Agh, I'm in first class! "I mean what the fuck, "I haven't even gotten my champagne yet, "this is outrageous!" And you just go like, I-- "Dude, you're flying through the air at 600 miles an hour." (laughs) In a fucking seat that reclines and you can sleep? Have you seen the people traveling with three kids back in coach? Like, that's fucking hard. Stop God damn complaining. And I think, most people, like, it's not that that person is a bad person, this is the natural outcome. Yeah. This is autopilot. When you just run, like once you get to like, you acclimate, right. Yeah. And then you become an asshole. Once you acclimate to that level, like, you reach the level of asshole, right. You're like, "Alright, now I wasn't an asshole, "now I'm an asshole." And, to push back against that, you constantly have to think like, "Do you know what, I could be back in coach "and that'd still be fucking wonderful." We'd still be flying through the air! I'd still be going some amazing place, that like, 100 years ago-- On the internet, at 600 miles an hour. (laughs) Exactly! Like, how is this not wonderful, right? So you have to constantly go back, and think through those things, and try to resist. And broaden your comfort zone. Yeah. That, the natural sense is that it's going to shrink, and you have to constantly widen it out, right. So I tried to do that through all sorts of things, and I tried to put into 'spective, what are the things that I actually like and enjoy? So, if everything went to shit tomorrow, right. And we lost everything, and we went bankrupt, and whatever. If I still had my hands and my eyes, I could still program, hey, wait a minute. Programming is one of my favorite things in the world. So I lost everything, but I still had my favorite thing in the world? It's probably not that bad, right? Life is probably still pretty good. And once you get to that point, I think, you remove a lot of the anxiety. So I know a lot of people who've made it really well, who have a lot of anxiety. Yeah. Because they're so afraid of losing the things that they have accumulated. But, if you stop looking at the thing you've accumulated, and you look at yourself, did I grow as a person, like, how is anyone gonna take anything away from that, right? Like, if I get wiser, if I get better, if get smarter, if I get kinder, how am I going to lose these things, just because something happens in the market to something outside of me, out of my control, takes my material things away. I'm not, right? And it gives a sense of peace. Yeah. Like, I'm at peace now, with the fact that Basecamp could end tomorrow. There's no indications it's going to, it's, as we just talked about, best ever, blah blah blah, right. Things are great. But I've been at times in my life, where I thought like, "Oh shit. "What if this thing stops, right?" Yeah. And you just get such a sense of ease, and a sense of comfort, once you let go of that. So, negative visualization to realize, to expand your-- Gratitude. Comfort zone, to your range, and your, the acceptable outcomes, right. Which gets me to sort of the second point of this, which is, amor fati. Loving your fate. Not trying to change anything. Like, people always talk to me, in interviews, like, "What's the one thing you would tell yourself, "like five years from now, that you wanna do different?" I would tell myself nothing. The fact that it's been a journey like this, where we've made mistake, that's what makes it worth it. I think back of um, when I used to play video games a lot. You'd have cheat codes. You could look up at the back of the magazine, and you could like, ah, I get it, infinite lives. As you as you got infinite lives, the game was uninteresting. Yeah. I haven't even read this book, but I just like the title, The Path is the Struggle, or The Struggle is the Path, or something. This idea that we're built to strive-- The Obstacle Is the Way. Yes, The Obstacle Is the Way, that's what it is. Ryan's book. I haven't read the book, I just love the title, right. Stoic. It resonates with me in just that sense that like, it is meant to be somewhat of a struggle. Not a, deeply uncomfortable struggle in all the ways, but a struggle somewhat. And once it stops being a struggle, once there stop being meaning to it, the whole thing falls apart. Which is also the whole reason why like, people go like, "Oh, what if you could sell your company "tomorrow, like, Google came by, and they would buy it for "a billion dollars or something. "Would you do it?" Like, no. Then what am I gonna do? Like, I can already sit on a beach and drink a Mojito for three months if that's what I want to do. Like, then I would do it for nine months? No. Do you know any entrepreneur who's sold their company, and then like, just retired to the beach, and leaned back, and like, for the next 10 years just sat there, and sipping Mojitos? They'd be dead, right. Yeah. That's not what humans are built for. They're built for doing things. They're built for having a purpose, and having meaning. And, those things come from such different things than we tend to think they come from. So, there's a lot of focus on that, and I think about that a lot. And trying to line these tactics up, and these perspectives. Yeah. Like amor fati. Like, a negative visualization. Like, expanding your comfort zone. Like, constantly having like self-criticism running as a dialogue for not becoming that asshole. What about specific tactics. To me, those are ideals. Like, what are the actual things that you do? Do you carve out 20 minutes a day? Do you write, do you have a journal, do you, let's get tactical for a second. Sure. So, one thing I do, a way I think through all of this is through writing. Mm-hmm. So, I write quite a lot, we have a blog, Signal versus Noise, that we've been running since '99. Yep, I know it well. It's the continuation of the same thing. It's where we extract the books from. And it's how I think through and how I process a lot of these things. So, whenever I have something that I'm wrestling with, I'm always trying to, can I write it out? Can I get something out of it? Because it's not just about, oh, this is an interesting piece of writing. Yep. It's also like, a way for me to think. And, writing as a way to think, and a way to get clarity, is just such a powerful tool. So, I write, I have, maybe, I don't know 50 blog posts that I haven't published that are in my notes, on my iPhone. I tend to write, actually, a lot on planes, and I'm just writing on my iPhone, in the Notes app. And it's such a calming way to, sort of, get these things out of my system. Mm-hmm. I have a lot of that, like, this idea, even though I'm not a big fan of these productivity hacks, but idea of getting things done, for example, right. It's a framework for getting things out of your mind, so you don't have to keep fussing about them. Keep stressing about 'em. And I have the same thing with these tensions. When I have anxieties, when I have discomforts, you can get them out of your body by like typing them out. It's almost like extracting them out, you're like, bloodletting, right? Yeah, couple of leaches on your skin. Even though that's totally not a thing, and you shouldn't let your blood, and whatever. (laughs) But, I do that with writing. That's a key tactic. And the other thing I do is, I keep thinking I have enough time. So, when I'm really engaged in a project or whatever, I have a natural temptation to being just obsessive about it, right. Like, "Oh, let's just keep going. "Like oh, it's six o'clock, let's just keep going. "Like oh, it's eight o'clock, let's just keep going." And a lot of people celebrate that, and I don't. I actually get to that and like, oh it's five o'clock, I've been at my desk for eight hours, do you know what, the kids are next door, I should just go play with them. And I, and I think like, I have this good flow going, and that's wonderful, but I'll also be there tomorrow. And like, I'm gonna do this for, what did we talk about, next 50 years? Will I put another hour in now, or tomorrow? Probably doesn't matter that much, right. So this notion of constraints. I love constraints. I love constraints, as I said, we freezed hiring at Basecamp, we're 54 people, because that's a way to set constraints. Yeah. It sets constraints about our ambition, our vision. These are the things we can do, and we can't do everything, and that's great. The worst things I have is like, when I have this blank canvas, right. When you can do anything you want, it's incredibly intimidating. I want like a space. Like I can draw within these lines, in here. I have eight hours today, to do something. (hands clap) Let's get to it. Right? Not, I have unlimited hours. Not, I could work 22 hours, if I could somehow get myself into it, right. There's no constraints there. I could just be flappy and inefficient. Yeah. If I say to myself, I just have the eight hours, I can just do that, then, that's what I got. Let's go. This is an extraordinary, I feel like, reframing of so many cultural memes or ideas, or constructs, and, in a very sort of authentic way, that's to me, unlocking the ability to go against the grain. Like, the meta-narrative here is one of the things that I'm most excited about, what we've covered. And we've covered a lot of ground. But, like, to try and synthesize all that, is there, do you have, are these key operating principles for you, and do you think about them, and are there three of them, or five of them, or, of course we've been talking about it all along, but when you think about it, like, it's the ability to go against the grain. Yes. The ability, when everyone, you know, I think about this as a founder and CEO of a company that has a bunch of really smart people on the board, and really smart people that are on the executive team, and every level of the company, company of yours, was always competing ideas. Yes. And it's your sort of willingness to say no under a lot of pressure. Right. Your willingness to stick to your own internal values. Yes. Either as a leader, or as an independent thinker. Yes. To me, that's the meta-narrative, what we've been talking about. Right. So, I think as a sort of a bow on this, is there something that you've done to cultivate the ability to go against the grain? Because that is massively useful. What have you done? I think one of the tactics that I've picked up is this notion of, if I'm saying something where everyone is nodding, I'm not saying anything. Like, then we're all agreeing, right. Which means that, most of the time, and I'm not saying just you and me. Sure. I'm saying like, the world at large, as a sounding board for ideas. If I send something out, and like it just comes back 100% positive, Yeah. It was probably trite. It was probably banal. Yeah. When I send something out, I want to get at least some part back that go like, "You're a fucking idiot!" "You're crazy!" Right, "You're crazy!" Um, "This is stupid, it's never going to work. "It's dumb." It's like, "This is not how you build a successful company, "you're unambitious, you're all these things." I've actually trained myself to be a little addictive, to that, like vinegar. Yeah. Right, that, when I sent out, and I get in some of that vinegar back, I'm like, (hands clap) "There might be something here." Yeah. That doesn't mean just because people call you stupid, that you're not also actually stupid. Yeah. But it just means, that like, there's got to be a mix of that, right. Kathy Sierra, who's one of my all-time favorite writers, and idols, she's not writing a lot online anymore, but, in the mid-2000's, she had this blog called Creating Passion in Users. And she had this notion of, you can be bland, you can be in the middle, you can be, sort of just whatever. And no one cares, right. Or, you can have people absolutely love what you do. But if you have people who absolutely love what you do, in order for the universe to balance, there has to be an almost equal-sized group of people who absolutely hate what you do. Yeah. So you have to embrace the fact that there's gonna be these two poles. You cannot have people who love what you do, without also having people who hate what you do. Right? So these are are on of these ideas that I have on like, am I doing something meaningful and worthwhile? Do I have both poles? If I just have one of the things, I'm probably not, I'm banal and trite, and whatever. If I have the other pole, there might be something here, right? So that's one of the ideas. The other thing is to cultivate a sense of intrinsic self-worth. That, I shall evaluate the quality of my work. And even though I have these two poles, and they provide some feedback, right. Yep. The main feedback comes from the fact, am I happy with it, what I've done? And, I think it's, it's hard to maintain that, in this world of likes and hearts, and whatever. Because it erodes your own sense of self-criticism. Yeah. Because you have this instant reaction from the crowd. Like, "Oh, we liked it!" Or, "We didn't like it." Right? And you can grow addicted and you can grow weak, very quickly, from that. So I try to really keep an arm's-length distance to that. And then I keep thinking about passages in works that I had that were ridiculous, that people liked. I go like, "Yeah, that was stupid." So, Rework, for example. We have um, I think there's like five phrases that are the most quoted phrases, right. One of those phrases is, "Watch the waves, "see where they break, adjust accordingly." I'm like, "That sucked. "Stupid. "That is so stupid." A lot of people have reacted like, "Oh yeah wow." That sounds like it has something, and to me it has nothing. (laughs) Right, it's such a, empty calorie, poster with like the wave, and like, where we can all be like, "Oh, that is hanging "in the waiting room, in a doctor's office". (laughs) Right, and like, I wrote that? I mean, that's just dumb. So that's a good grounding effect, just to look back at your own idiocy. To just go like sometimes, "Yeah--" Have a good laugh. Exactly, have a good laugh at it, right? I'm so grateful for you coming on the show. This has been an absolute treat. I'm already reading the show notes in my mind. Thank you for being wildly, radically, unconventional, and for helping the rest of us think that way. Well thanks for having me. It's been a huge treat, David. Thanks bud. Cool. Alright, signing off. Until, probably tomorrow. (heavy electronic music)

Ratings and Reviews

Dream Focus Studio

By far the best classes on Creative Live!! Thanks Chase Jarvis for bringing so much greatness to the table for discussion! Just LOVE it!

René Vidal

@ChaseJarvis - love chat with Gabby about hope and the "relentless optimism" you share at the end of Creative Calling. Many thanks. -- René Vidal McKendree Tennis


Excellent interview with thoughtful questions. Thanks!!

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