Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of Basecamp, offer a joyous, unique, fast-moving guide to building, structuring and maintaining a truly modern company.
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, co-founders of the project management software firm Basecamp, explain how they created a “calm company.” They abandoned goal-setting, decided not to plan beyond six weeks ahead, offer a flat salary structure, hire provisionally and hold very few meetings. The authors believe most goals are artificial targets that stress employees. In this informative, quick read of short chapters and shorter sentences, the authors underscore that they strive only to serve their customers, retain their employees and stay in business
A “Calm Company”
Many people believe “it’s crazy at work” because they work 60 to 80 hours a week. With today’s technology, the authors believe, people should work less.
People are working more but getting less done. It doesn’t add up –until you account for the majority of time being wasted on things that don’t matter.Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Basecamp instituted policies to create a calm workplace. It does not take on rush jobs, and its employees don’t work late nights or face artificial goals or deadlines. As of this writing, its 54 employees work 40-hour weeks in 30 cities.
Control Your Ambition
Working 14 hours a day blunts creativity and eventually causes burnout.
When companies talk about burn rates, two things are burning: money and people. One you’re burning up; one you’re burning out.Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Don’t try to change the world. Stay within your comfort zone. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Simply do right by your employees and customers.
If another company is more profitable than yours, so what? You aren’t dividing a pie of finite resources. Basecamp does not set quarterly, end-of-year or customer acquisition goals. Instead, it emphasizes excellent customer service.
Imagine the response when we tell people that we don’t do goals. At all. No customer-count goals, no sales goals, no retention goals, no revenue goals, no specific profitability goals (other than to be profitable). Seriously.Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Most business goals are fake. The CEO makes up a number, and managers and employees try to meet it. They either fail – which stresses everyone – or they give up the original number and make up a new one.
Abandon long-term plans because business changes constantly. Basecamp plans for only six weeks at a time.
Employee Time and Attention
Eight hours of work per day is sufficient. Meetings and conference calls steal from regular work time. Basecamp doesn’t hold status meetings; it sends out group update emails employees can read at their leisure.
Running a calm company is, unfortunately, not the default way to run a company these days. You have to work against your instincts for a while. You have to put toxic industry norms aside. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Being effective is better than being productive. A sound work ethic means putting in a full day’s work and doing what you say you’ll do.
Decline extra work or work that resists easy automation. For example, Basecamp gave up customers who weren’t willing to pay by credit card because processing checks was too time-consuming.
A 40-Hour Workweek
Establish regular routines, get rid of shared calendars, embrace remote work and quit expecting an immediate response to every request. People who don’t get back to you right away are busy working.
Companies spend their employees’ time and attention as if there were an infinite supply of both – as if they cost nothing. Yet employees’ time and attention are among the scarcest resources we have. Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hanson
Shared work calendars are distractions because when people see open space, they want to fill it. At Basecamp, nobody has access to anybody else’s calendar. If you want an appointment, ask for it. Treat meetings, especially big meetings, as a last resort.
Good companies know that work-life balance matters, and they give you time off to be with your family. If you want your employees to take vacations, take one yourself. Don’t be the boss who says, “my door is always open” and then gets mad when workers bring up potential problems. Check in with your employees regularly, and ask them pointed questions about any issue.
Take Time Off
Sleep-deprived people get less done and have little patience or creativity. Getting eight hours of sleep is critical. Almost everything can wait until the next day.
Basecamp hires new people based on the work it needs to have accomplished. It auditions candidates by having them work on a project and then hires them if they pass muster. Because Basecamp employees work remotely, it hires globally.
Basecamp offers a flat salary structure based on position; everyone in a particular role gets the same pay. The firm reviews salaries annually and readjusts to San Francisco market rates – the highest in IT. Basecamp doesn’t offer free meals, games or onsite massages – perks that keep people at work. Instead, it provides time off, paid vacations after one year, four-day summer workweeks, a monthly massage at a spa and a fitness club allowance.
Eliminate Unrealistic Deadlines
Group chats are useful for something that needs a quick turnaround, but terrible for everyday discussion. A group chat is equivalent to an all-day meeting with participants constantly coming in and out.
Send emails, so people can digest information in a reasonable timeframe. Avoid dreadlines – unrealistic deadlines that require too much work in too little time. Don’t expect high quality within time constraints.
How do you know if someone’s working if you can’t see them? Same answer as this question: ‘How do you know if someone’s working if you can see them?’ You don’t.Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Let employees submit ideas, let everyone listen and offer input, and then have one person make the final decision, even if others disagree.
You can take calculated risks without putting your company at risk. Basecamp remains profitable because it keeps costs under control, and that keeps employees calm. People feel stressed if their company isn’t making enough money because they fear downsizing.
Promises are easy and cheap to make; actual work is hard and expensive. If it weren’t, you’d just have done it now rather than promised later.Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson
Launch new products quickly and learn from your mistakes. Some companies test-market new products forever, but the authors prefer feedback from customers.
People don’t like changes they can’t control, especially changes they didn’t request or that don’t fit their timeline. Customers get upset when you fix something that wasn’t broken. Basecamp lets current customers keep what they have, while new customers get the latest version of its software.
A Party on Every Page
Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson don’t seem to have invested much time organizing their book. Their chapters mostly run only two to three pages. Their prose reads like a collection of tweets. However, regardless of their slapdash presentation, Fried and Hansson offer credible, useful and, at times, cutting edge advice. The authors bolster their page count with quotes about how famous people structure their workdays, including naturalist Charles Darwin and authors Atul Gawande, Colson Whitehead and Isabel Allende. Like much of the book, these snippets prove amusing, if not always germane.