Question: What is 37signals?
The company started in ’99 as a web design company actually. And we
were doing client work for hire, you know, redesigning people’s sites.
And we started getting really busy. In about 2002-2003, we needed a
better way to manage our client projects, and so because we were
shooting things back and forth via email, which is what people typically
do. And we said, you know, we looked around at some software that
existed and we weren’t really happy with what we saw, so we decided to
build our own product internally to use with our clients to share
designs and ideas online with people. And it worked out pretty well.
And we said, hey, maybe there’s a business here. If we need this
thing, someone else needs it. And that was kind of the... that’s sort
of what 37signals is all about, that we build stuff for ourselves and we
recognize that if we need it, other people probably need it too. And
so since then we’ve launched six different products, we’ve wrote a book,
and we’ve done a variety of other things all based on the things that
we need or we want for ourselves realizing that we’re not special and
other people would like it too.
Question: How is your company different?
Jason Fried: We’re
kind of a virtual company and a physical company. So we’re 20 people,
half in Chicago and then half elsewhere in 10 other cities around the
world. So we’re a little bit of a mix of the traditional and the sort
of next-generation, new wave, or virtual sort of company. Our general
feeling though is it’s best if people stay away from each other as much
as possible, because when people are all together all the time, it’s
really easy to interrupt each other. And we found that that’s kind of
the biggest problem with the traditional workplace... is interruptions.
So we’re trying to avoid that at all costs.
Question: How do you develop your ideas about how to run a business?
Jason Fried: Sure, well it kind of happened because originally, my partner in the business, a guy named David Hanssen—Heinemeier Hansson
actually is his full name—he was working in Denmark and I was working
in Chicago. And we got a lot of stuff done working together seven time
zones apart. And then eventually he moved to Chicago. And we're like,
"Man, he's in Chicago, this is going to be great, we’re going to get
more work done together." And he comes to Chicago and we get less work
done together. And we start to realize that because we are both in the
same physical place in the same physical office, we’re just interrupting
each other all the time by talking. And there's something good about
talking and face time, you know, but too much of it is a bad thing. So
we decided that we’re going to try to simulate the old way of working,
which was he was in Denmark and I was in Chicago, so we wouldn’t see
each other very often. So he worked at home and I worked at home and if
we came into the office we came in at off times often. And we found out
that we started getting more work done again when we were split up.
And so we’ve sort of carried that through, throughout the business now.
That, you know, we try to stay away from each other as much as we can.
We have a physical office, we just built a new office, and I can talk
about that a little bit ‘because we try to take this philosophy and
build it into a physical space. But most of the time, we don’t talk to
each other. We communicate over the Web using our products or email or a
variety of other tools you can use. And then when you do that, someone
can hide the thing when they don’t want to be bothered. But you can’t
stop someone from like calling your name across the room, or pulling you
into a meeting or something like that. That’s hard to stop. But if
you communicate virtually through, you know, Base Camp or instant
messaging or email, it’s easy for you to hide that and then get back to
it later when you’re free. So then you decide when you want to be in
communication with somebody else instead of someone deciding when they
want you to talk to them.
Recorded on July 22, 2010
Interviewed by Peter Hopkins