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What I learned at The Basecamp Way To Work Workshop

Last week was amazing. I made my first trip to Chicago where I was lucky enough to meet Jason Fried, amazing architecture, deep-dish pizza and a beautiful skyline (plus tons of friendly people).

I’m excited to bring home the experience with me — plus the confidence from seeing first-hand what running a great company looks like. Here’s what I learned at the Basecamp Way To Work workshop:

Your best product is your company

Your company makes everything else. That’s one reason Basecamp puts a crazy amount of effort into running their company. It’s obvious when Jason breaks down how they work together that they’ve put a great deal of thought into this and made it a priority.

There’s people behind the product. Those people come first not just because that’s what’s best for them but it’s also best for the company and it’s products. The best products come from the best people doing their best work. The company is at the center.

Work is the magic sauce (and it can be slow)

One of the most surprising things about being at Basecamp was the culture of work ethic that seemed to radiate through the office. There was clearly a lot of talent behind the company, but what stuck out during my time there was effort. It takes commitment and dedication to have the level of deep understanding they have — even for them.

It’s good to know because in the past I’ve felt embarrassed by how long or hard it is for me. I learned that instead of resisting this slow-build I should embrace it. That was the most inspiring part of my trip. Seeing just how hard Jason has to work to keep improving. Something about that got to me.

Product strategy happens before product development

At Basecamp, Jason, DHH, and Ryan Singer have a seperate area for discussing the product strategy and vision of the company. This is seperate from actual development on a product.

You may be mixing these two seperate tasks together (I have), which is wrong because you’re not able to discuss and pair down projects to a tight scope of work before you commit to them. In fact, you should pluck new ideas out of your product strategy discussion only after they’ve been very well-defined.

DON’T use chat if it’s important or needs to be read

Chat is used as a default form of communication at most companies. Yet chatroom discussions rarely evolve into something better. In fact, they’re more likely to deteriorate because they force companies to think one line at a time — instead of in a complete well-rounded discussion. Chatrooms are particularly susceptible because:

❌ There’s no context
❌ Constant interruptions
❌ An expectation of instant gratification 
❌ Not enough time time to write for quality

Basecamp mostly uses their chatrooms for culture-building and silly stuff. Their rule of thumb was that if you have something important to say or that you don’t want people to miss — than it belongs in a well-written post (or to-do) instead of a chat.

There’s one story behind your decisions

Chat also forces you to lose the context behind your decisions, discussion, and ideas. Ultimately long-form posts and to-dos provide more of a complete story behind the rationale and work you’re doing. Chat leaves bits everywhere that you can’t reference later.

When you keep everything together and focus on great writing you have a distinct competitive advantage because it allows you to pinpoint exactly how far you are on a feature, where a conversation left off, and exactly how the work is divided, without interrupting other people.

Writing it up and pitching ideas is the job of everyone in the company

Writing stuff up in a cohesive way allows everyone in the company to see for themselves which ideas get worked on and why. It re-enforces that putting effort into communicating is what will make you stand out. Unlike chat, when you write a long-form post, you have to think deeply about what you’re saying and why. Putting effort into your writing makes everyone else follow suit. People are less inclined to respond quickly because they have take time to digest what’s written. This sets a different tone to the discussion.

Jason even shared that he regularly tells people in the company to “write it up” if there’s an important discussion happening in a chat.