Case Study: 37signals

Big Think: What are the common mistakes new businesses make?

Jason Fried: When you borrow money from somebody else, you’re on their schedule, you’re renting time. When you have your own money, or when you’re generating money through customers, you own your own time, you own your own schedule, and so you can take your time. We can take 10 years to do something because we have revenue coming in and there’s not someone saying your loan's due in three years, you know. So I think a lot of people struggle because they start of by borrowing money and then they’re sort of on someone else's schedule and they don’t have time to sort of get in the groove. So there’s some of that. I think people just typically just try too hard, actually. That’s weird because you have to try hard to succeed, but I mean try hard on the wrong things. You focus on the wrong things too early. And those can range, depending on the business you’re in.  

I guess my point is, I don’t think it’s competition that puts these businesses out of business, I think it’s the business themselves putting themselves out of business by hiring the wrong people, being afraid of making money, spending too much money early on, maybe getting a storefront that's too big if you’re a physical store. You know. Doing all that stuff when you really got to focus on the product first and keep it as small as you can and if you’re going to open a bakery, open it out of your house first. Just make – I mean, that’s probably technically illegal in some place, but make some... if you want to open a cupcake bakery, make some cupcakes and sell them at the Farmer’s market for six months, for a year first, on the weekends. See if it works. If it works, okay, now you have some people who like your cupcakes, you’re selling out every weekend. Now maybe you can move into something else. Instead of saying, "I’m going to open a bakery" and go buy a storefront and some expensive machinery and stuff like that. So I think people kind of start a little bit too quickly sometimes too and they should just make their time and starts something on the side and see where it goes.

Big Think: How did 37signals transition between business models?

Jason Fried: The big thing for us was that, we started out as a web design firm. And we were doing client work for hire—web design work for hire. And it was great. We were doing really well and things were going all right. And then we hit on this idea to make project management software. Right? But we didn't stop our client work business to build software. We started building software on the side. So we treated the new product like Base Camp, which was our first product, as a client. So we still were doing client work. So there was an overlap. So we kind of treated Base Camp as a side project, as a side business and let’s see what happens. And it turned out in a year or a year and a half later, it was making more money for us than our consulting business. So then we could stop doing consulting—which was a great day—and sell software instead.

But we didn’t say, like we’re going to stop doing consulting and start doing software the next day because that’s very risky. And I’m not a big fan of risk. I know like the whole entrepreneurial myth is like you know, the risk, take on risk and the entrepreneur with the risk. I just don’t buy that. So I think side businesses, trying something on the side, spending a few hours a week, seeing where things go first is the right way to do it. And especially if you have a day job. People dream of starting their own business, I don’t recommend people quit their day job and start their business. I think you should start your business on the side a couple of hours a night, a couple of hours a week, see what happens. You know, use your day job salary to pay the bills, to fund your new idea, and then maybe a year later you’ll be all right and you can do that. So, the business model shift for us was a slow and gradual shift making sure we were able to sustain ourselves on the new model before we give up the old model

The co-founder of the web application firm discusses common pitfalls of starting a new business and the need to be flexible with your business model.

Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

Videos
  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

Credit: fergregory via Adobe Stock
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Meet the worm with a jaw of metal

Metal-like materials have been discovered in a very strange place.

Credit: Mike Workman/Adobe Stock
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