Big Think Interview With Jason Fried
Jason Fried is the co-founder and President of 37signals, the Chicago-based web-application company. He has co-authored all of 37signals' books, including the upcoming, "Rework," as well as the 'minimalist manifesto,' "Getting Real: The Smarter, Faster, Easier Way to Build a Successful Web Application" He also helps to maintain the company's popular blog, Signal vs. Noise, and is regularly invited to speak around the world on entrepreneurship, design, management, and software.
And I should say that one of the really cool things has been "Rework" has been received, our book, by a lot of people all across the spectrum. So we knew technology companies would like it, but we’re hearing from, you know, people in their 80s, we’re hearing from—we heard from some hairdressers actually who’ve read it and loved it. A lot of restaurant owners from big huge manufacturers. There’s a spring company out in Chicago that just sort of, they make springs. They’re like an industrial manufacturer and they’re like, "These ideas are great. We’re going to try working on some of these." And other people have written this and saying, "I’m glad I’m not the only one who thinks this way. You know, I’ve had this business for 20 years now making this, that and the other thing and we’ve been working this way too, and everyone’s been telling me we’ve been crazy." So it’s great to sort of hear from all these other different people in different industries who think these ideas do work for them as well.
And the main reason why I think this is important is because people often make decisions with the wrong information. So they make decisions far into the future, based on information they have today. You’re better off making decisions today based on information you have today because that’s when you make your best decisions. You make your best decisions when you have the best information. That’s always right now. You and I know more about this interview right now then we did three months ago. So, you can ask me a new question right now. If you had all your questions, you have some written now, but if you had all of them written out and never changed your ideas on the questions you might want to ask, the interview wouldn’t be as good as you can say, "Jason just said something now I can ask something else." So, that’s why... that’s the agile side of it. So there’s a little bit of planning, but there’s the agile side of paying attention to the information you have right now. And that’s why I don’t like the big long plans because you’re saying in two years you’re going to be here and in three years you’re going to be here. Well you’re just saying that based on information you have today. It’s not really going to be any good in two years. The best information today is the information you have today and that’s the information you have to make decisions.
Try them out. So we try to try people out, we give them a project. When we hire designers, we give them a project to do for us, a one-week project to do for us and we pay them for their time. So because, when you look at someone's resume or the work that they’ve done, you don’t really know like, was this just them or did they work on a team, it’s very hard to tell. And a lot of work, especially with developers, you can’t see their code because it’s written for proprietary product that’s owned by a company. So we looked at the open source world, because that code's available. We can look at their actual code submissions and look at their documentation, look at all the stuff that they’ve actually contributed, not said they’ve contributed. So we want to try to get to real as soon as we can. So real code, a real design. If we have to hire someone temporarily on a project basis to show us what they can do, that’s far more valuable than looking at their resume or looking at their portfolio because that’s usually not a great representation of who they are today.
Our marketing approach is, first of all to make something great because that’s the best marketing you’ll ever have. When people talk about your products and we don’t really spend, we've spent maybe $10,000, $20,000 over five, 10 years advertising, or so, our whole thing is word of mouth. And you only get that if you make something great. You don’t get that by faking it, you don’t get that by seeding viral marketing stuff. I mean, you get that by making something great. And so we’re focused on that first and foremost. And then sharing. So we try to share everything that we know and we learn and that’s a great way to get the word out. Just like chefs share. Chefs have cooking shows, which ultimately leads people to their restaurants; ultimately it leads people to buy their chips or their salsa at the stores, because they get to know the people when they teach them something on TV, or in a book. So, we’re big in to sharing. Sharing, building something great, and...
My thing also, I will say one more thing about marketing is I don’t believe in a marketing department. I don’t believe marketing is a department. I think marketing is in everything you do. It’s from the error message in your product when something goes wrong, what does it say? It’s from the sign-up form, are you asking too much from somebody? If you ask too much from someone, that’s not good marketing. It’s in, you know the customer service response times, it’s in the customer service friendliness, it’s in the designs and the copywriting, its on the button, what does the button say, it’s clarity, it’s all of those things. That’s marketing. And if you only think of marketing as this thing that these people over here do, I think you’re going to have... you’re not going to be as well off as you could be if you thought of everything you do as marketing.
Recorded on July 22, 2010
Interviewed by Peter Hopkins
A conversation with the co-founder and president of 37signals.
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