Sunset at DoubleM Systems (, Del Mar, California

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Focus: Basecamp gets it, and then doesn't

The best laid schemes of mice and men
Go often askew,
And leave us nothing but grief and pain,
For promised joy!  

(Robert Burns)

Below the dotted line is the post from April 25, about how Basecamp was focusing on work instead of politics. I thought that was great, but then the Basecamp world spun out of control, and the whole story, so far, can be read about at this link, from The Verge, a couple of days later. It's a great example of how things can get completely sideways in a hurry. They lost a third of their team members almost overnight. Yikes!

-----------------------------  (the original post below)

Focus is everything in a startup. There's too little time and too much to do, so it's absolutely imperative to do only the stuff that really matters and skip the rest. I like to think of it as a Plate-Spinning Act. But there's always new stuff that pops up masquerading as "important" and of course with limited time, something else has to suffer. 

Basecamp released a post today that addresses how they are eliminating some initiatives that crept into their list of important stuff and that they are now eliminating to focus on the really important stuff.

Click here for the full post, but the following is the heart of their new policies, from Jason Fried, founder/CEO:

1. No more societal and political discussions at Basecamp. Today's social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn't have to wonder if staying out of it means you're complicit, or wading into it means you're a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It's become too much. It's a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. It's not healthy, it hasn't served us well. And we're done with it at Basecamp.

2. No more paternalistic benefits. For years we've offered a fitness benefit, a wellness allowance, a farmer's market share, and continuing education allowances. They felt good at the time, but we've had a change of heart. It's none of our business what you do outside of work, and it's not Basecamp's place to encourage certain behaviors — regardless of good intention. By providing funds for certain things, we're getting too deep into nudging people's personal, individual choices. So we've ended these benefits, and, as compensation, paid every employee the full cash value of the benefits for this year. In addition, we recently introduced a 10% profit sharing plan to provide direct compensation that people can spend on whatever they'd like, privately, without company involvement or judgement.

3. No more committees. For nearly all of our 21 year existence, we were proudly committee-free. No big working groups making big decisions, or putting forward formalized, groupthink recommendations. No bureaucracy. But recently, a few sprung up. No longer. We're turning things back over to the person (or people) who were distinctly hired to make those decisions. The responsibility for DEI work returns to Andrea, our head of People Ops. The responsibility for negotiating use restrictions and moral quandaries returns to me and David. A long-standing group of managers called "Small Council" will disband — when we need advice or counsel we'll ask individuals with direct relevant experience rather than a pre-defined group at large. Back to basics, back to individual responsibility, back to work.

4. No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions. We've become a bit too precious with decision making over the last few years. Either by wallowing in indecisiveness, worrying ourselves into overthinking things, taking on a defensive posture and assuming the worst outcome is the likely outcome, putting too much energy into something that only needed a quick fix, inadvertently derailing projects when casual suggestions are taken as essential imperatives, or rehashing decisions in different forums or mediums. It's time to get back to making calls, explaining why once, and moving on.

5. No more 360 reviews. Employee performance reviews used to be straightforward. A meeting with your manager or team lead, direct feedback, and recommendations for improvement. Then a few years ago we made it hard. Worse, really. We introduced 360s, which required peers to provide feedback on peers. The problem is, peer feedback is often positive and reassuring, which is fun to read but not very useful. Assigning peer surveys started to feel like assigning busy work. Manager/employee feedback should be flowing pretty freely back and forth throughout the year. No need to add performative paperwork on top of that natural interaction. So we're done with 360s, too.

6. No forgetting what we do here. We make project management, team communication, and email software. We are not a social impact company. Our impact is contained to what we do and how we do it. We write business books, blog a ton, speak regularly, we open source software, we give back an inordinate amount to our industry given our size. And we're damn proud of it. Our work, plus that kind of giving, should occupy our full attention. We don't have to solve deep social problems, chime in publicly whenever the world requests our opinion on the major issues of the day, or get behind one movement or another with time or treasure. These are all important topics, but they're not our topics at work — they're not what we collectively do here. Employees are free to take up whatever cause they want, support whatever movements they'd like, and speak out on whatever horrible injustices are being perpetrated on this group or that (and, unfortunately, there are far too many to choose from). But that's their business, not ours. We're in the business of making software, and a few tangential things that touch that edge. We're responsible for ourselves. That's more than enough for us.


MM: I love the idea of profit sharing to get the entire team to focus on the one thing that really matters: the bottom line, profits, without which the company will surely cease to be.  

Regarding the Plate-Spinning Act mentioned in the first paragraph, if you watch the video all the way through to the finale, you almost surely get the impression that everything would come crashing down if there were just one more plate added to the mix. Imagine running your business that way! Obviously that is a recipe for ultimate failure and debilitating stress. Choose wisely!

Thursday, April 22, 2021

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Wisdom of Habits


You should be far more concerned with your current trajectory than with your current results.

You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.

Every action you take is a vote for the type of person you want to become!

Self-control is a short-term strategy, not a long-term one.

Imagine changing just one word: You don't "have" to. You get to.

Never miss twice. If I miss one day, I try to get back into it as quickly as possible.

Until you work as hard as those you admire, don't explain away their success as luck.

source: Atomic Habits, via Michael McGill @mcgillmd921

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Twitter wisdom


I'm not building a bank account, I'm building a business.

The bank account is just a side effect.

Wise words on twitter this morning.

Friday, March 26, 2021

Building a better Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

The best advice I've seen on building a better MVP.

From Menlo Ventures. Read the entire story here


It’s commonly believed that the top two reasons startups fail is because “there’s no market need” and “they ran out of cash.”

These reasons, however, (and many more listed) are mental gymnastics to avoid a plain truth: startups fail when they don’t build a simple solution to a problem many people have.

Many startups fall into the trap of building toward a “mission” rather than a minimum viable product (MVP).

Your mission is your baby. It’s the North Star that got your people on board and inspires them daily. However, solely focusing on your mission is the same as being unfocused.

Read the entire story here

Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Purpose of Life

The purpose of life is not to be happy.

It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate,

to have it make some difference that you have lived, and lived well.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

Product Invention

Product Invention is a magical process, a dark art. 

Here is how Jason Fried (37 Signals/Basecamp) describes it:

I'm often asked how I know when an idea might make a good product.

First, I never know. It's always a guess, a bet. I'm just trying to do what I can to increase the odds, to beat the house.

But more specifically, it's always a feeling. It's never a number. It's never a quantity of yeses. It's never about early feedback. It's never about research.

What does this feeling feel like? It feels like gravity, like magnetism.

An idea starts somewhere. Low density, like interstellar gas.

And often times it just stays there. Particles too far apart to attract one other, forces too weak to bind. Just a set of disparate ideas, no product to be had.

But sometimes, a few things start to come together. Excitement, insights, concepts start to spin. Potential begins to orbit the idea. And then the initial idea grows. It gains mass. And more and more things are attracted. Concepts tie together, cases become clear. And then... Snap! Stuff begins to snap into place. Pulled into the core by a force that feels like gravity. A strong magnet. Snap! Ah, this could work with that, and that feature begets this one. Flows materialize. A name might even be pulled in. Snap!

That's when I feel like I'm on to something. It pulls.

Monday, February 22, 2021

CEO/founders = 4x more depression

We're not meant to sit and look at screens our whole lives. 

The good news is that there's a work-around:

I've kept this post short so you can use the extra time to Do something. 

I really dislike the entire concept of "Exercise" so I find ways to make it more interesting. The first way to enjoy "Exercise" is to reframe the entire concept. I prefer to re-frame it and call it something like "Build a healthy body". Now that's something I can relate to. 

"Exercise" gets a bad rap when it's talked about in reference to the pain of exercise being a good thing: "Pain is weakness leaving the body" and "No Pain, No Gain" and so on ad nauseam. I much prefer to do it until it feels good rather than until it hurts. That way, I'll do more of it... because it feels good!

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Chatter: The Voice in our head, and how to harness it


You're not alone...

You know that voice in your head, the one that keeps asking what if questions and doesn't give you a moment's peace, especially when you're trying to get some sleep or do some real work or just trying to relax... you know, like all the time!

This book is about that voice, and some real research that has been done and what it tells us that we can do about it, and even make it work for you instead of holding you back, causing anxiety, lack of confidence, etc.

I found this book by accident; it's not something I would normally read. But I was drawn in by the writer's conversational style. 

There was a time in my life when the voice in my head was just as described, and I was spiraling downward, finally ending in divorce, bankruptcy, and cancer. That was a time of some serious chatter going on. 

I knew that my survival depended on ending the habitual negative thinking. I escaped that negative voice in my head and started back on the road to success. Some of the things I did are mentioned in the book, so I can validate a lot of it. Additional techniques are mentioned, based on new research.

If you have been wishing that voice in your head would just shut up and play something more productive, then this book is for you.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Absolute Importance of Sleep

Matthew Walker is Professor of Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, and Founder and Director of the Center for Human Sleep Science.

Sleep helps us in so many ways, even in building effective habits.

Many suggestions on how to get the best sleep, all based on good science. Check this video!