It is difficult to call Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, a workaholic. He works no more than 40 hours a week, and the same requires from the members of his team. Less is better, but with more quality. And he is not the most ambitious person in the world. He does not want to build a «new Google» or make Basecamp a unicorn. He does not need unnecessary problems, which are often associated with global goals. Jason avoids the problems and prevents them from arising.
Many business problems arise from themselves. Many wounds we inflict ourselves. You can win in the competition, but even more often the competitors lose to themselves.
Entrepreneurs are good at making things difficult. I communicate with many people and constantly come across this. If they were to devote more time to avoid future problems than to solving real ones that they had previously created themselves, they would have done better in less time.
We built our business to avoid problems. This is the main reason why we were able to do what we are doing and continue to do it profitably for 18 years. Whatever decisions we take, we proceed from their future value. In simple words, how messy it will be tomorrow, if we do something today.
We see no reason for pride in meeting big problems. We prefer to avoid problems that can be foreseen. Below are a few things that help us in this.
Avoid company growth
We specifically restrain Basecamp in growth. We serve more than 100,000 paying customers and several million individual users with a team of 50 people. Small companies avoid the problems of large ones. Less management, fewer lawyers, fewer difficulties in translation, much less bureaucracy and formalities, because of which people are forced to wait for permission before moving forward in some business.
In small companies, everyone is closer to customers. Of course, there are some things that small companies can not do, while large ones can, but it seems to be very good.
Avoid staff growth
We intend to keep our company from growing, and our team as well. Almost every project in Basecamp is performed by no more than three people — two programmers, one designer. Many projects involve only two people — one programmer, one designer. And some involve only one person — either a programmer or a designer.
Perhaps, if we had a bigger team, we could solve the problems more seriously. But with a large team, we would have created more serious problems. It’s not worth it. We are happy with small projects and small teams. We can still do everything we want — just in pieces. This makes it much easier for us to stick to the right direction in our path. And, frankly, it is in all cases the best version of the approach to solving problems.
Avoid large horizons
There are some very demoralizing things in business, and one of them is a long-term project when you do not see the light at the end of the tunnel. Irregular infrastructural projects, as a rule, have no end. For us, all fits in cycles for six weeks. Many projects are small enough to manage to close them in a couple of weeks or even days.
But even if we do a project for which we allocate six weeks, we are not afraid that something will go wrong, because the worst that can happen is that we will lose six weeks. We avoid any difficulties associated with the desire to continue what we see is not worth continuing. Compare this with the projects «too big to fail» or «will be ready when finished», which takes 6, 8, 12 or more months. Hardly you will give up such a project after all the work done.
Long projects are a very demoralizing.
Avoid plans and promises
We rarely look forward further than six weeks. We have a common big picture of where we are going, but we keep it in mind, not on paper. This is an unofficial rule.
And we rarely make plans for the future. Promises are an inexhaustible source of headaches and conflicts. It’s easy to say «yes» to something that will happen later because now you can not do it. But when the time comes, you probably will not want to do what you promised long ago.
Past promises are a generator of business problems. We avoid such promises like the plague.
Scale up! Scale up! Everyone wants to scale! But we are not. We try to avoid everything, in which the key to success is scaling. We are interested in things that work without scaling — large or small.
For most companies, scaling is synonymous with «now we are unprofitable, but one day we will start earning money.» Do not run ahead of the locomotive — grow within your capabilities. Become profitable as soon as possible with as few users as possible, and not with an unimaginable multitude.
We have deadlines. And we avoid dreadlines. Dreadlines are deadlines that nobody cares about. They force you to run and rush, teasing the ephemeral finish line. This is not what you want. It’s bad not to see the end, but it’s even worse to see it and do not believe in it. «Something will go wrong again», «Impossible to do it on time». Thinking process becomes negative. The quality is sacrificed. All the fun is lost when you are regularly behind schedule.
Companies do not have problems with communication, but there are problems with mutual understanding. And every additional person, who participates in the dialogue, increases the risk of misunderstanding at times. Communications, as a rule, result in failures with rare exceptions.
Small companies and small teams essentially have the advantage over large ones. Of course, two people can also misunderstand each other, but small teams, groups, and companies have more chances that the information will be correctly interpreted by all parties involved.
We are constantly called by large companies. They want to become our partners. We used to do this before, and everything always ended in a dead end. Just wasted time. Especially often this happens in unbalanced situations when a large company wants to work with a small one. Usually, this means a lot of work for a small company and very little for one of the many business developer employees who does not even need to do something on their own. Avoid!
We avoid everything that hinders the free flow of information and the flow of processes. We do not establish a hierarchy in which someone needs someone’s permission for something. If what you are about to do will not destroy the company, just take it and do it. There is no need to bureaucratize processes and people. Let everything go smoothly, do not stop and confirm each step. Of course, sometimes mistakes happen, but only sometimes. After all, much more often everything goes right and without irritation.
The metaphor may seem strange, but I still say: it’s like washing dishes after you eat. If you do this, you will never have to wash the dishes afterward. You have avoided the hassle and unnecessary work in the future. If you ate and left dirty dishes in the sink to wash it later, you created yourself or others much more work. It will be harder to wash over time. You have increased the complexity of the work, which sooner or later you still have to do. Over time, a bunch of dirty dishes grows, and you less and less want to communicate with it. Oh, one more dirty plate — just leave it here.
If you wash dishes at once, as part of dinner, you will never have to return to this later – everything is already done. The future is free and clear.
Do not leave dirty dishes at work.