Pull Back on Your Ambitions and Get Small Things Right First

My takeaways from fireside chat with Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp on business, work, and culture.

Christopher Chae
· 4 min read
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Last night, I attended a fireside chat at our co-working office with Jason Fried, CEO, and Co-Founder of Basecamp. (He’s a prolific thinker and writer, so if you haven’t had a chance to read his thoughts, you should.)

While I’ve read his ideas many times before, watching him lay those ideas out in person was so inspiring and helpful that I felt more people should get it. Jason’s insights are amazing, and you always have something to take away from his thoughts, so I wanted to share some of them with our readers.

I wrote below with pronouns from the perspective of Jason as if he was doing the talking. Enjoy!

Why he gives away his business playbook for free

You can think of it as a chef giving away her recipe for free. Chefs don’t hide their recipes; chefs give them away want people to know that they’ve done a decent job of crafting a delicious recipe. And if people like her recipe, then they might try her restaurant out someday. It’s the same with business. There are no secrets in business; in fact, this is the way a lot of people got to know about Basecamp. We posted our thoughts for free. We never did “content marketing”, we simply wrote what we want to write. Thoughts on how we work, how to make decisions, and how to run a business.

Why long-form, written communication is better than short-form messages.

You’re expected to engage in immediate response when it comes to work. Real-time chats. Emails. Phone calls. Should you be answering your client’s request at 10 PM? I don’t think you should.

At Basecamp, we work asynchronously, and that means long-form text communication are prioritized. Long-form writing allows the writer to express her ideas in depth and the reader to better understand the context.

At work, write long-form texts than short-form text. The long-form text gives the writer and the reader some time to digest the topic, think, and respond. It makes the discussion more productive.

Short-form communication is dangerous at work. It doesn’t reveal the full intent or emotion behind the writer. People misunderstand when you write too little.

On work

At Basecamp, we believe 40 hours a week is enough to do great work. Companies in Germany achieve great things even though most people work 32~40 hours a week. And 8 hours a day doesn’t have to be in a single setting! It could be spread out throughout the day if you want. You can’t work for 8 hours straight, and at times you’ll be exhausted. You might have to take care of your kids or any other personal matter during the day.

It’s okay to take care of your personal life. The more you do this, the better job you’ll do at work, because you don’t have to worry about your personal matter at work.

Even if you don’t have things to take care of, it’s okay to day-dream if you’re feeling exhausted. If it feels you’re rushed at work, it’s okay to pause and think. We don’t log hours for our employees, and it’s up to the employee to manage one’s time.

On starting something

Build what you need. It’s easier to solve your problems versus what you see in others. If you build what you need, you can judge whether what you’ve built has value.

Basecamp was built because we needed a way to keep track of our projects when we were providing web development services to our clients. So we built it, then clients started to ask us if they could use it for their projects. That’s when we knew we had a product.

On JOMO (the Joy Of Missing Out)

Learning to let go and having some JOMO - Joy Of Missing Out - is essential when you’re leading a team. As a leader/CEO, you have this urge to step in and micromanage because it’s the work that you used to do. Assuming you hired great people, chances are you’re going to do more harm than good. Let them do their job.

Have some JOMO. It’s okay to miss out a little. At Basecamp, we don’t make people to know everything about what’s going on in the company. It would be best if you only cared about what you’re working on. Information is all there if you like to know, but you’re not expected to.

On hiring

I read cover letters more often than resumes. In fact, I hardly ever read resumes. Cover letters are far more important because it reveals a lot more about the candidate’s personality than resumes do.

People write “designed” on their resumes. Yeah, that may be true, but probably with 40 other people, and you designed a small portion of it. Cover letters are different. Cover letters show whether this person just wants a job or wants to work at Basecamp.

By looking at cover letters, you can evaluate the candidate’s ability to express their ideas in writing as well. Basecamp only hires good writers. It’s important for our employees to write well because that’s how Basecamp works. We write to each other.

If we think a candidate is good, then we pay the person $1,500 to work on a week-long project with us. The work product is the only truth. If the candidate does a good job, we’ll offer the position.

On compensation

We pay our employees with top tier salaries. San Francisco rate, no matter where you are. We pay the same amount of money to everyone in the same role/level. We do this to remove biases and negotiation out of the equation. You don’t need to be an excellent negotiator to get paid for doing good work. What’s more important is feeling valued and knowing that you are treated fairly.

On advising startups and entrepreneurs

"Pull back on your ambitions."

Focus on getting smaller things right first. A lot of startups and entrepreneurs who tried to do everything from the beginning end up taking too long to get it right. Instead, you should focus on the essentials and get them right first. Just build the half of it and get that half right. That’s better than meeting people’s expectations halfway.

On managing emotions

We’re humans! Embrace the fact that we’re humans. There’s going to be times where you will feel disappointed, sad, angry, and there will be times for joy, happiness, and laughter.

Be sure to check in on your people regularly. Don’t wait for people to come to you, because they won’t. Approach them first with a positive mindset.