Just got back from a great talk hosted at Chicago’s ITA TechNexus on 200 S Wacker. The speaker for this event was Jason Fried, co-founder and President of 37signals, a private Chicago based software company whose products include, Basecamp, Highrise, Backpack and Campfire to name a few.

The question was posed of how Jason became so popular over the years. He attributed his success to his sharing of knowledge and ideas. He advocates outsharing and outteaching rather than trying to outspend the competition in the marketing department. The small guy simply cannot win by outspending the competition on advertising.

On Exit Strategies
He doesn’t believe in them. Rather, his long term goal is to simply stay in business and be happy.

On the Current State of Software
The current model of software is broken. Companies are too feature obsessed. Also in the enterprise market, there is a disconnect between the buyer and the end user. Software is made to tailor to the buyer with disregard to the actual person using it.

Good software should do a few things well and get out of your way. His analogy was the hammer. It’s a one purpose tool and it does its job really well and you can charge money for it.

Release half a product, not a half assed product.

Favorite Word: Clarity. The word simplicity has been so overused that to him, it has ceased to mean anything. However, a good tool is clear and effective.

He’s a big fan of “good enough”. A software product shouldn’t take more than 3-4 months to develop. Otherwise the feature set has to be parred down. I couldn’t agree more. I’m a big fan of release early, feedback and iterate.

On Being the 1st Mover
Jason also doesn’t think that its important to be a first mover. Many of the software giants and brandnames today were not first movers – they were just better.

On Ad Support Sites and Applications
those applications are optimized for the advertisers and not for the users. Again, the disconnect between the user and the “buyer”.

I totally agree with his statement that us software developers are EXTREMELY lucky in that it’s very easy to create and change software. We don’t have to worry about issues such as warehousing, inventory, waterproofing. Even changing software is much easier than changing a building once its built. Truly. Software developers live in an age where we can create applications and businesses at a very low cost now than ever before.

On Beta
Beta is BS. If it’s out there, it’s not Beta. Private betas are ok.

Had a PR firm for about 3 months. PR and marketing is just what you do. Just be yourself. All the press has come from sharing, being opinionated (because boring people are not newsworthy).

On the Team Being Spread Apart
Get more done when not together. People meet all the time when they are together and lose work time.

New Stuff On the Horizon

  • Tighter integration between the products
  • New book on entrepreneurship
  • Products sold as a suite

On Jeff Bezos, investor in 37signals
Jeff has a similar mindset to Jason – a long term view not driven by quarterly earnings or a need to cash out. Jeff is in it for the long run.

On What to Focus On
Focus on things that don’t change. Invest in usability and reliability for example. “Ten years from now, who knows if Facebook is going to be around, but people probably don’t want harder to use software or unreliable software.”

On Hiring
Hire when you absolutely need to. Hire when it hurts.

On Growth
When asked if he wanted to be a 100 person company, he didn’t particularly care. The metric he’s more interested in is revenue per employee. Dude is speaking my language.

Some sites he considers cool:

After the talk, I went up to him and got to say hello and shake his hand. He’s a pretty cool guy, very approachable. I was surprised that some of the people in the audience weren’t even familiar with him. I guess I don’t expect people to think of him as a huge Hollywood celebrity, but it’s just strange to go listen to someone talk if you’ve never even heard of him.

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