Go Against the Grain /w David Heinemeier Hansson | Chase Jarvis LIVE

– Hey everybody, how’s it going? I’m Chase. Welcome to another episode
of the Chase Jarvis Live Show here on CreativeLive, and
you guys know this show. This is where I get to sit
down with amazing humans and help unpack their brains
to help you live your dreams, whether that’s in career,
in hobby, or in life. My guest today is, as all the
guests are, truly amazing. However, this person has
changed the future of technology because they are the
creator of Ruby on Rails, among other things, also, the founder of Basecamp,
a project manager software that I have used for
years and years and years. My guest is David Heinemeier Hansson. Welcome to the show. (soft techno music) (applause) They love you! – Thank you, man, thanks for having me. – Super happy to have you. So, I’ve been tracking you and
your work and your partner, Jason Fried, with
specifically one of the things that was very impactful for
me was the book, Rework. So you can say a lot of
things about your career. Technologist, author, how do you identify? Like to me, self-identification, it’s like a weird thing in this world where we’re all a bunch of hyphens. So, “Oh cool,” or we’re at a
party, “well, what do you do?” How do you describe yourself?
– That’s a good question. Usually, when I get it, I just
say I run a software company. – Got it. – So, that’s the short summary, but it really doesn’t encapsulate
it all, because I think one of the things that’s happened is the people have gotten so pigeonholed. – Yeah.
– Lots of people are like, “Oh, it’s getting deeper and deeper,” especially in technology, right? It used to be a single programmer could create the whole thing. – Yep.
– And now, more and more people are going, “Oh, I’m a front-end developer “doing React with Redux, da, da, da, da,” and then you’re down
the rabbit hole, right? I like to sort of stay up as a generalist, as a generalist in technology. – Cool. I think we’re gonna go straight at, well, actually let me give one context, one element of context here which is, I’ve had a really wide-ranging
set of guests on this show, people like billionaire entrepreneurs, esoteric photographers
that are just starting but doing something really,
really cool and crazy, and a whole spectrum. But I’ve been admittedly,
I think, a little shy on pure technologists, and I understand that you don’t like the
word pure technologist, though you just talked about
yourself as a generalist, but conceptually, when you
come up with the framework, an entire ecosystem for programming, that’s a super big deal, it’s
like a language, basically. So, A, I feel this is me, I underrepresented that community, and so, following you for some time and wanting to have you on
the show is some redemption. – Sure!
– So, thank you for being a part of my
personal redemption, but also, it’s absolutely
creative in the most, in so many ways that are similar to all the other disciplines that have been featured on the show, but I wanna know how you think of, we’ll just use Ruby for example, but you can talk about it generally, the way that creativity and programming computers come together. – I think it’s really interesting because I think it’s really changed. When I came into
programming in early 2000s, late 90s, a lot of programmers did not identify themselves
as creatives, in my mind. They identified themselves
as engineers or scientists. – Yeah.
– And I mean, there’s some of them who’d say
that’s creative work as well, but it was quite distinct from say, I’m a writer.
– Yeah. – Or I’m a designer, and
they saw sort of a split between these two things, and we’re actually quite proud
of being like not creatives in that sense, right?
– Yeah, yeah. – And I think that that really
didn’t jive with me at all. It was one of the reasons why I didn’t want to become a programmer. I’ve been a pretty reluctant programmer. I’ve known programmers, I’ve been friends with
programmers all my life, and it wasn’t until,
basically, my late teens, early 20s, that I kind of, sort of, stumbled into it because I needed it. – Yeah.
– And then, once I stumbled into it, and I needed it, and I started using it,
I started realizing, “Oh, I have the wrong conception.” This isn’t just all about math. – Yeah. – Which is that was my early
conception of programming, “Oh this is just if you like math a lot, “you’re gonna like programming.” Which is because I grew
up with demo programmers and game programmers. It was all about vectors and polygons, and I have no interest,
patience, or passion for that. – Yeah.
– And it wasn’t until I really discovered
information technology, the web in particular–
– Yeah. – That it ignited something else, and I went like, “This is pretty cool.” – Yeah. – And then in particular,
once I discovered Ruby. so I had tried a bunch
of programming languages that I never really took to, then I was just a reluctant programmer. I never thought of myself as a programmer when I was doing PHP
or Java or other things I did in school or just
to make things work. Then I found Ruby and all of a sudden it’s like my mind just goes poof. Whoa this is something totally different, I could actually see myself doing this. So all of these things came
together right at the same time. We started Basecamp, the software– – Yep.
– That I’m still doing today, the whole foundation of
our business back in 2003. That was my first real project in Ruby, and that was what gave
birth to Ruby on Rails. – Yep.
– And all these things came together at sort of the apex, and I just connected all the dots, and I was just like, “This
is what I want to do.” Up until that point, as I said,
very reluctant programmer. I had a lot of other things I liked doing. I liked writing, I had this idea of being
in business, and so on. – Yep, entrepreneur, yeah.
– But once it clicked and once Ruby sort of grabbed hold of me, I thought like, “Wow, okay,
I can be a programmer.” – Wow, so… That was a beautiful, elegant, weaving of a lot of things together, so I’m gonna try and pick those apart. – Sure.
– So let’s talk, that’s a great conceptual
framework of how you identify. So, let’s talk about Basecamp because I’m a passionate Basecamp user, and I think it goes back
to a piece in my world where as sort of creators,
I ran my own photo studio, and at the time, the
thought of being organized, it felt like The Man keeping me down. These are my ideas and when you realize ideas need frameworks to
really happen and come to life, whether those are very
intricate and detailed, or even just general, and Basecamp, the fact that it was online, and the fact that it was easily
shareable and it was simple, to me it was brutally simple
and you guys actively, it was clear to me, were
deciding to not go feature-crazy, that I loved it, so A, thank you. – Sure. – I’ve given you a lot of
my money over the years, but very happily, but B, what were some of the guiding principles? A, talk about the founding of the company, but B, why and what was your vision there? – Sure, so, before Basecamp
there was 37signals, and 37signals started as a–
– There was a blog, right? – There was a blog, too, Signal
v. Noise founded in 1999, along with the company 37signals, and 37signals started out
as a web design company. Jason Fried, my partner, and three other designers came together and started making web
designs for clients, and I started working with Jason in 2001. We started working on a couple
of client projects together, and after we’d worked
together for a couple years, we just came to this one point where I think we dropped something. Like, we were working with some client, and the email got lost, or the
files got sent the wrong way and we were like, “This is silly. “We’re trying to manage
this whole project, “and there’s four on our side, “and there’s I don’t know
how many on their side, “and it’s kind of a mess. “We’re just doing it all in email. “There’s no process,
there’s no central place. “We can’t find anything. “We make software; can’t we fix this?” And we thought, “Let’s
give it a shot,” right? So we started making essentially
just a tool for ourselves. We had the inspiration at the time like blogs were just taking off, like, “Hey, if you have a project blog “that could be one thing, “if we just have a to-do list here “so we know what work needs to be done. “If we could just upload some files “and put them in this one place. “Just those three, four
things, that’d be great.” So we started doing that,
and we put together a package that was well enough for us
to start using it ourselves. I mean, I think we spent maybe three weeks initially tinkering, and
then we started using it. Immediately threw a real project in there, started using it with a client, and it didn’t take much more than that to think, “This is a
huge upgrade over email.” – Yeah.
– “This is huge upgrade, “Now we have a system,
we look better,” right? A lot of that is you have clients, you kinda wanna look good!
– Of course, yeah. – And you don’t look good
if you miss the email and it’s just this huge thread,
and it’s just a mess, right? So it made us look good and we thought, “There’s probably others
who would like this too.” Half the time we were–
– Some other people that want to look good, hmm.
– Exactly! (laughs) “Is this a market that we can exploit?” So, the software was kinda cooking and we were sharing an office with Coudal Partners at the time, advertisements, and these
days all sorts of things, kind of company, and we showed them, showed Jim Coudal like,
“What do you think of this?” And he was like, “Can
I give you my money?” I’m like, “Okay.” We paid for this. Again, we were sort of
reluctantly building this. We had tried a bunch of different things. We tried to use blocking systems. There’s like moveable type and there’s this, that,
and the other thing. Never really fit, we
started building something, it started clicking, we show
it to a couple of people in the industry, they go
like, “This is awesome. “We wanna do this with you.” Alright, well let’s try
turning it into a product. All the while we’re not
dropping anything, right? This isn’t this epiphany
that just goes like, “Oh my God, we have the world’s best idea! “Let’s drop everything
else that we’re doing “and put everything on red, “and then hopefully if it works
out, this is gonna be great, “and if it doesn’t work
out, we’re totally bust,” so we continue to serve clients, treating Basecamp, essentially, as a third or a fourth
client, along the way, spend about six months building it, and in early 2004, we
just had enough to like, “Alright, let’s try to put it out there,” and it was kind of a funny launch because we built it for ourselves, and it was sort of just
barely adequate for that. We put it out there and we think, “Okay, if we can get like, I don’t know, “make 2,000 bucks a month
off this thing after a year, “that’d be pretty great, right?” $4,000, that was the target. $4,000 after one year. If we can make that a
month, that’d be great. Like two weeks we cleared
that, and we’re like, “Holy shit, this is crazy,” right? And it’s so funny because I
remember a lot of those numbers, and if you think of those numbers today, in sort of comparison, they’re pathetic. We had no one sign up for
this thing, essentially, but we had like, I don’t know, 150 people sign up the first day, and we were like, “Wow, this is crazy!” – Incredible! – Today, you’re like,
“Oh man, you didn’t have “100,000 people sign
up on your opening day? “That’s a total flop.”
– It’s a bust, right. – So we went through this slow process because there weren’t really a lot of other people doing it at the time. One of the main things we actually had to convince people was
put in your credit card. – Yeah, we’re gonna be here.
– It was still a thing! In 2004, it was still a thing like, “Well, I don’t know if I want to put “in my credit card.”
– Online shopping, huh. – And actually, one of the hardest things when we were just about to
launch was we’d build up this whole system to
charge by the year, right? This was gonna cost 499
a year or something else, 499 was the entry plan, and we’d built all the software, get ready for that, and
then we’d go to the bank, at that time, there was no Stripe. There was not a thing
you could just sign up. You had to actually go down to the bank and sign a stack of papers, and say, “I wanna take credit cards,” and they, of course,
they took like five weeks to review this, and we’re all busy just getting ready to launch. I think the week before launch, they then come back to us and say like, “I don’t know what you’re thinking, “but this is not gonna happen. “We are not gonna let
you charge credit cards “and basically charge people
for a year in advance. “What if you guys go out of
business in like three weeks? “Everyone’s gonna charge back the amount, “and we’re gonna be on the hook.” I’m like, “Fuck.”
– Yeah, “Help!” – “Help, what are we gonna do? “Okay, I guess we can just change it “and charge it by the month,
is that gonna be okay?” And they were like, “Okay, “I’ll guess we’ll believe enough in you “that you can stay in
business for a month.” So we changed it over to
start charging for the month and charged $49 instead,
or whatever it was. But that was the atmosphere, right? We didn’t really know what was going on, we didn’t have anyone to sort of look at, there were none of these frameworks, not just for payment processing, but also the technology, right? I had gotten enamored with
Ruby, but there was no Rails. I had to build a bunch
of that stuff myself, and if you had told me today, “Oh, are you gonna build Ruby on Rails?” I’d be like, “No way.” I just built a little thing, I gotta get this thing
to talk to a database. “Oh jeez, how do I do that? “Let me look that up,
let me put that together. “Oh, then I gotta get
it to render this thing. “Oh, we also gotta send email? “Oh, I don’t know, I gotta configure “this Send Mail thing, and whatever.” So it was a very slow process, there was not a great ambition. We kinda just stumbled
into it step by step and without any of the risk, right? So there was none of the risk. There was none of the,
“Oh, we put all our money “on four credit cards,” and whatever, which is a founding
myth that I hear a lot, and a lot of people are resonating somehow with this heroic ideal that unless you’re risking everything, and you’re basically on
the verge of starvation, it’s not really worth
it, and we were like… We still had clients,
they’re paying us money! We’re just fine, right? – Yeah, what’s wrong with that? – So there was none of
that stuff going on, which also meant, of course,
there was no external money, there was no–
– Funding. – Seed funding, there
was none of this stuff, because we were paying ourselves just off these clients that we already had and that’s what kinda
bootstrapped the business. And then by the time it was bootstrapped, I think it took about a year, and then we were paying ourselves. The company was making just enough money to pay our meager
salaries, and we were like, now we can do this full-time
with, again, zero risk, right? – Wow, so, embedded in that narrative are so many individual
things that I’d like to sort of try and frame. So the summary, I’m gonna let you put it into your own words but, you talked at one point
about like there’s a myth. So talk to me about the myth, and then what your experience
is relative to that myth. So the myth is– – The myth is that entrepreneurship
requires massive risk, and in many cases, also that it requires huge amounts of capital, and that you have to have
someone who just have, is in a position where they can do both of those things, right? They can take a bunch of personal risk, and then they can convince
people to give them hundreds of thousands, if not
millions of dollars, right? And that was always sort of the archetype of the Silicon-Valley-style entrepreneur, and we came out of a completely
different atmosphere. First of all, we came
out of Chicago, right? So right there, Chicago, 2004. You know how many
technology companies were in Chicago in 2004? None of them, right, right? I mean, Motorola, I think, somewhere out in the ‘burbs
making RAZR phones or something. – Yes! – So it was kind of like
a desert in that sense, which, it wasn’t so much just that we had issues with
the myth, although we did. Both Jason and I had
worked in the dot-com era. Jason had worked for a couple
of San Francisco companies. I’d worked in Denmark for
a couple of incubators, and we were both deeply, deeply
skeptical of that system, and it just bust, right? 2001, the whole thing just exploded, and we just like, this is fake. This is unsustainable,
this is all the things we don’t want to do if
we get a crack at it, and then, of course, there
was just the necessity that even if we wanted to,
there wasn’t an option. No one was going to
give a couple of fellas in Chicago any money to build any kind of system at that time, right?
– Right, yeah. – So we were born both out of sort of a sense of disgust somewhat by being exposed to it, and then a sense of necessity.
– Yeah. – And then it just kept on rolling. As Basecamp was taking
off, 2004, 2005, 2006, the industry woke up again. Like there was this lull, and then they woke up again and all these software
companies starting happening and we started seeing
sort of the same things that were happening with
dot-com boom and bust. People racing big money
and this whole narrative just came together–
– Yeah, radical growth. – That this is how you
make software companies. And we were like, “Hello? “No.”
(chuckling) – “We’re over here.”
– “We’re over here, “we’re not doing it like this at all. And in fact, we think that
the way we’re doing it is a lot easier, is a lot more accessible to a lot more people.
– Yeah. – And it’s more sustainable and in many ways, is more nourishing– – Healthy.
– Is more fun, is more healthy, it’s all of these things and we’re like, “Why is all the attention, “why is all the light being shown “on this one particular, very narrow path? That, arguably, yes, has turned out some spectacular successes. But you look at what’s
left for the rest of it. There’s the one in 10,000,
one in 100,000 breakouts of the Facebooks, of the
Googles, of whatever, and then there’s just this mass underneath that just gets wasted.
– Yeah. – We look at that and thought like, “This is such a waste of human potential.” It’s not that we shouldn’t
have those things. – Sure.
– It’s just that there’s this whole other
segment of the market that should also be there and if someone wants to
start a new business, if they want to be an entrepreneur, especially in software,
they should be able to look at two, at least, they should be able to look at 50 paths. But at least they should have two paths, not just being presented
with this one option that says you have to raise
this massive amount of capital, you have to have this crazy burn rate, you have to hire 150
people in nine months, you have to do this full blast, right? And that was what I ended up being so… Angry, actually, at.
– Yeah – That we had this, the web.
– Yeah. – We had this phenomenal
commercial platform that gave so many people
so many opportunities and we narrowed the whole thing
down to this one archetype of what a software company was gonna be. It was driving me mad, and it was actually driving Jason mad. So, we started writing about it. We started writing about
how did we come up? Because we didn’t do anything special. How many people out there
can do a client business where they can get a couple
clients, they can pay the bills, and still have a little
bit of time left over just so they can pursue their
things as a side project? Lots of people, right?
– Yeah. – Versus this tiny group of people who can manage to convince
Sand Hill Road VC’s to give them money, right?
– Yeah. – So I thought, “This is
just a broader message. “We gotta get that going.” So, that’s been sort of
a mission and a passion for the past decade plus to communicate that
there’s a different way to create not just software businesses, but businesses in general, that kinda goes like, “We
don’t need all this stuff.” In fact in a lot of cases,
you’re better off without it. If you wanna build a wonderful
$10 million a year business, you cannot do that with that path. You can build $100 million, or a billion dollar
business with that path, you cannot build a wonderful, $10 million business.
– ‘Cause they don’t wanna get behind it.
– And there are so many businesses that are wonderful
$10 million businesses. There are wonderful one million
dollar businesses, right? Shouldn’t we have those too? Shouldn’t those be part of it? Should we just focus on these– – Billion dollar–
– Grand slams? Well, there’re some people
who make all their money off their grand slams, right? With the VC’s.
– Sure. – That whole ecosystem, and they have very loud megaphones, and they have a very compelling story. I remember one of the
pivotal moments for me where I just got like furious, which is, not about the
person, Kevin Rose, right? – I know Kevin, yeah.
– So, with Digg, at the cover of Business
Week in I think 2016, going like this, how this kid
made $60 million in 18 months. And I’m just like, “He
didn’t make $16 million.” Someone gave him a big check to build Digg which then imploded and never created any economic value whatsoever.
– Right. – And I was just like, “This
is such fucking bullshit!” – Right, (laughing) it’s so true. – “This is bullshit!”
– Yeah. – And like, how is this just happening? How is this just rolling? How is this just the one narrative that everyone is going like, “Clap, clap, clap,
(hands clapping) “Oh, isn’t this wonderful?” And I’m just like, “This
is just too goddamn much.” (laughing) So, this is sort of that fire that has propelled a lot of
what we have been writing about on Signal v. Noise, it’s what propelled us to write three books already. Getting Real, which was
basically an extraction of a series of workshops we did that was called, Building of Basecamp, where we were just telling people like, “Hey, here’s how we did it.” And not just, “Here’s how we did it,” like, “look at what went into it. “Do you have those things too? “You probably do, do you
have like 10 hours a week?” Which is what I spent building Basecamp on the technical side, 10 hours a week. Not 10 hours a day, 10 hours a week to build
it, you probably do! You can probably squeeze
that in if you have clients, if you have other ways
of making this happen. And here’s how we otherwise went about it, here’s how we went about
building an audience, here’s how we went about
developing a message, here’s how we went about
making software itself. So, that was Getting Real,
that was 2006 I think, and then Rework, 2010. We took basically all those ideas we had from over a decade, mashed them into the book, sold the manuscript to a
publisher for the first time, we had self-published Getting Real, signed a contract that said, “You must deliver a book of 40,000 words.” And we had 40,000 words and
we showed up to them like, “We’re gonna cut the book in half, “here’s 20,000 words,
publish that instead.” This whole thing just
kept rolling with us, kept screaming about this alternative path and we still are today. I keep thinking like there’s
gonna be this tipping point where we don’t have to
yell so hard anymore. But we’re not there yet, so I’m here, I’m everywhere, yelling about this
(laughing) (clapping) alternative way of doing this. – You’re yelling at the right people, or you’re with the right people ’cause I think I’ve also
tried to be a champion of rebelling against that sort
of one path false narrative. You know, for me it’s around education, that if you go to school,
you go to these schools, and then you get a good job
and if you get a good job, then you’ll be happy and it’s just like, that was just like, yeah,
don’t get it started, right? – Right, I was just about to turn the key. (laughing)
– Exactly. Jump backwards off the building. So, A, you’re in a safe space, B, I’m fascinated with the loud megaphone and everyone sees the handful
of people that are on, you know, whether it’s Kevin, bless his heart, love the guy, he’s been on the show before, he’s an amazing guy.
– Wonderful. – Right, but he didn’t write the headline. – No, nor did he do the prop with the earphones and everything. Like I’ve been on one
of those four shoots, you probably directed some of those photo shoots, just like,
(laughing) “Hey, what if I can put a prop on here? “It’ll look better, yeah,
just do a thumbs up.” And before you know it, you’re like this schmuck
on the cover of a magazine. – Been guilty as charged. But I’m fascinated by culture’s obsession around a handful of folks that largely are anomalies.
– Yes. – And I think it contributes to a terrible amount of
anxiety, unnecessary anxiety that compare a friend
of mine, Marie Forleo, you know the liquor, Jagermeister? Or Goldschlager, which is even worse. Goldschlager is like bad Jagermeister with little flakes of gold in it. So, it’s like the worst thing and she calls this Compare Schlager, ’cause it’s terrible for you. It looks ugly and it’s terrible, which is you’re comparing your real life with everybody else’s highlight reel. – Yes. – And so, this is now epidemic
proportion in our culture. It’s refreshing to hear honest, heartfelt stories that
are radically different. So, that, I think in a way,
is shaping Basecamp, right? That’s how it came up.
– Yep. – There had to be a few other
takeaways from Basecamp. I hear you on that counter narrative and we’re putting a flag in that. What else, like, what’s
the peripheral stuff that you learned that
was really surprising when you were on that journey? – So, with Basecamp in
particular, I think, is that general sense. So, when people ask
me, “What is Basecamp?” Well, Basecamp is sort of a lot of things. Basecamp is a way to
help you grow, to cope, with things taking off
and all of a sudden, you have more things coming on. But what are the actually tools? There’s a lot of things
in Basecamp, right? – Yep.
– Because just like how I approach technology from
a very general sense of like, “Oh, I wanna be able to
know a bunch of things “about a bunch of things, “and I’m not go go into these super deep,” right?
– Yeah. – Basecamp is sort of the same way. Like, it’s simple because
it stayed up there. We just built a couple tools
and we put them together and we made the integration
and the integration story was actually, in many
ways, more important than, “Do we have the best to-do
section in the business?” No, we don’t, there’s someone
else who just does that. “Do we have the best messaging
system in the business?” No, we don’t, the value is that you put all those things together.
– Yeah. – And what I found selling
Basecamp and making Basecamp was that the vast majority of people just don’t need that much software. They need a little bit, right?
– Yeah. – They’re coming from, still today, our number one competitor is email. Number one, when we ask
people where did you come from when you signed up for Basecamp? The majority of them did not use software to help them in their
process before at home. They used software in the form of email, or Stickies, or something else like that. So, just that that’s still true, that we’re at such a base
level, there’s such a focus, especially once you get
sucked into the websphere and you start knowing about apps and you start following along,
there’s such a temptation to, all these micro comparisons,
“Oh, do you have this feature, “do you do that,” and whatever. Most people, they don’t
know, they don’t care, they just need a little bit. And our focus on bringing
them just that little bit at a reasonable price in a simple way, is still controversial. (laughing)
It’s such an odd thing. I would have thought today, given the fact Basecamp
had the success it had, that we would have just
a million of competitors that were trying to do
this integration story. And instead, everything else
that’s breaking out right now, Slack, for example, the chat, just the chat part, right? Asana, just the to-do
list part, like Trello, just the boards on the camp-engine style, like Dropbox, just the files, right? All wonderful tools, great, great tools. And then we talked to customers who are trying to make
all those five things talk to each other and they go
like, “Just making that happen, “can you just give me
something that does that?” – And you’re like, “Here.”
– “I don’t need “all of those things,”
and that integration story is still so open and
so right there, right? – It’s available, yeah. – So, that’s where we’ve focused on, and it continues to surprise me. And the same thing happened
on the technology side. So, Ruby on Rails, we created in 2003, I started working on it,
I released it in 2004, and 2005, six, seven, it
really blew up, right? Tons of people started using it and I thought like, “Okay, this
is gonna last a couple years “and then there’s gonna be a Ruby on Rails “in every single language,” and whatever. – Yeah. – Whatever early advantage
we had would be gone. And here we are, what, 14 years later? Just pushed on the new
release Ruby on Rails, we’ve never been more popular. Even if there’s less buzz, there are more people using Ruby on Rails. Why? Because it’s still controversial. Because it’s still doing this integration. Ruby on Rails is just like Basecamp, trying to take a lot of ideas, put them into one package just so that a small individual team could go like, “Alright, let’s get on with it.” Versus most technology today, everything’s taking off, React, Redux. A lot of these things
in the actually world, they’re very narrow-focused tools that are very good at this one thing and then it’s basically
like a box of Legos that just someone empties
on the floor and go like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, isn’t this easy? “Just put the whole 4,000
pieces together by yourself.” (laughing) And I’m like, “I just wanna
play with a freakin’ truck.” – Yeah! (laughs)
– Right? Could someone just put the truck together? Do I have to put all 4,000
pieces together myself? I just want a goddamn truck, right? So, that’s what we tried to sell, both with Basecamp with Ruby on Rails, let’s just sell some trucks. Everything doesn’t have
to be a construction kit. – Yeah. – Which, let me just, quick anecdote. When I moved to the US in 2005, I just finished my degree at
Copenhagen Business School, I just finished by bachelor’s
degree, and Jason was like, “Oh, this Basecamp thing
is going pretty well,” this was 2005, we’ve been in
it for two years, I was like, “Yeah, I don’t know, maybe I should “just do the master’s degree,” since they’re free in Denmark, so, “Should I just do that?” And it’s like, “Oh, okay,
I’ll move to the US.” I arrive in the US and I think one of the first places
Jason took me out to dinner was a burger place. And the food arrived, and it’s in pieces. Like, here’s the meat, here’s the salad, here’s the tomato, here’s the onions, here’s the bun, and I’m like, “Where’s the chef?” Like, no one assembled this burger for me. What am I buying here? Am I buying ingredients? Like, why didn’t we just go to– – A store.
– I didn’t know of Whole Foods at the time, I’m like, “Couldn’t we just go to a
store and get these things?” And this is one of those things that I just find so fascinating. Like, I want finished things.
– Yeah. – If I go out to eat, I want the chef to prepare the meal for me,
and I’ll just eat it, right? – Yeah.
– When I use technology most of the time, I want it assembled. – Yeah.
– Right? And I think that that’s still such a controversial
idea in a lot of circles, that the assembly shouldn’t be part of it. And especially in technology, what really offends me is
everyone puts their shit together in the same way, which is what offends me about the burger too. Like how many ways are there
to put a burger together? Are you gonna put the
salad on top of the bun? There’s just not that many
stereotypes for it, right? Can’t we just agree on a couple of them and then like we just do that, right? So, that’s what I tried
to do with Ruby on Rails. We don’t all have to configure how a code talks to a database. Can we just decide once,
and then we can move on to something that’s more interesting and focus on that?
– Yeah, I love that, to me, there’s so many
permutations of the same argument. Like the fact that every, most
of the creators that I know, they’re trying to invent
an entirely new thing when what you did is you
just took the four things out there, the four Legos.
– Yes, put them together. – And you put ’em together
and that’s the remix. And nothing is new–
– Exactly. – There are so many ideas
and we’re just trying to reassemble those ideas. People are worried
about inventing some new once-in-a-lifetime thing–
– Yes. – Which keeps so many
people from doing shit. – Absolutely.
– Yeah. – And I think it’s because
there’s such a focus on the glory, this grand insight. Something brand new no one
has ever heard of before, that’s the 1%.
– Yeah. – And then there’s the 99 which
is we just take the pieces that are already there, put them together in a different order, and all of a sudden, that order is exactly what a group of people need, right?
– Yeah. – And I think there should
be more focus on that and there should be more validation that not only is that like
good and totally okay, it’s fucking great!
– Yeah. – It’s what the vast majority of people in the world should be doing, taking things that already exist and putting them together in interesting, slightly twisted, slightly
subtly different ways, and that’s how we’d go. If you look at both
technology and the tools that we’re using, so, Basecamp is a to-do
list, and file uploads, and some blocking and some
messaging and whatever, there’s nothing new in any
of them in their archetypes. Basecamp invented nothing. Ruby on Rails invented nothing, all the patterns of use that we took. I went shopping in
textbooks, and I’m like, “I want one of those, I
want one of those, I want,” and then I’m gonna put them together and I’m gonna give you a truck. – To me, the again, false narrative that the best ideas are
these sort of wild thing that you have to come up with and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime deal–
– And you have to be a genius. – Right.
– Right? If it’s only the 1%,
it’s only the geniuses that are allowed.
– Yeah. – It’s only the geniuses that
really have this sort of, they can come up with
this brand new thing. Sometimes when I get accolades
with the work that I’ve done, I’m just like, “Thank you, that’s nice.” But it wasn’t genius.
– Right. – It was a bunch of work, and it was actually
also, it’s not even that because the flip side
sometimes of that is like, “Well, okay, maybe I wasn’t a genius, “but I outworked everyone.”
– Yeah. – This is one of those
things that happened with Gary sometimes.
– Right. – He’s all about like 18 hours a day and I’d be like, “No, just
like seven or eight is fine.” (laughing)
Like 40 hours a week is plenty of time to
assemble all the trucks the world will ever need for the vast majority of people, right? So, if you think of things like, “Either I have to be a genius, “or I have to be willing
to work 120 hours a week.” Clearly, a lot of people
would look at those things, they’re like, “I’m not a genius, “I don’t wanna work 120 hours a week, “entrepreneurship is not for me.” Which I just go like, “That is false!” – Yeah.
– The same thing with risk. They’re all these things
that the characteristics we ascribe to these heroes
of entrepreneurship, they’re the ones that
turn everyone else off. – Yeah.
– And we need to just… Take those out, we need to
actually shoot them down and we need to puncture them and say, “No, you can create great,
sustainable, wonderful, “impactful businesses on 40 hours a week. “You can create great software
inventing nothing,” right? “Just putting things
together in novel ways. “You can get a business off the ground “without mortgaging your
house five times over, “just treating it as a side project “until there’s some
traction you get going. “All of a sudden, if I
take those three barriers “away from you, what’s left now? “Why aren’t you doing it?” And all of a sudden,
people can go like, “Okay.” They might still not do it, right? I think sometimes there’s
also an attraction to those barriers.
– Yeah. – Because people go like– – “I tried.”
– “Oh, yeah, I’d totally be “an entrepreneur, if it was just because I wasn’t a genius–
– “I don’t have billions.” – Or, “If I had 120 hours a week, “or whatever, I’d totally do it.” But if you take those things away, you don’t have those excuses anymore. And then you might still say, “Okay, entrepreneurship
is just not for me, “I don’t want to start anything new, “that’s kind of risky,” or whatever. But there’s also plenty of people who were legitimately put off who now go like, “Okay,
I guess I could do it.” I’ve heard so many times from people who read Rework or Getting Real, that it was that permission. – Yeah.
– “I’m allowed to do it too. “I’m allowed to do it on a sustainable way “that I can picture.” A lot of people can’t picture
themselves jumping from like, “Okay, I work at a job, nine to five, “and I gotta jump into this other mode “where I’m risking everything,
I’m risking my house, “I’m risking my kids,” whatever. “I’m working 120 hours a
week and I’m risking money, “I can’t even picture that jump, “it’s way too far of a jump.” And there’s so many steps,
not just in between, but steps that you can stop at and say like, “Alright, this– – “This is a lovely existence.” – Yes!
– “It’s a great business. “This is makes all the money “and giving me all the free time and all– – That’s where I get really
also just get fired up. – Yeah. – There’s at least
success criteria, right? There’s such a focus on
your success in businesses, or in software in particular, it’s as if you build Facebook,
or Google, or whatever. The difference between
being an entrepreneur to start something and
just barely scraping by and getting a business that makes, say, a million dollars a year,
that is 97% of the difference that you will ever experience
in material goodness. Once you get to the point where you have a million
dollars cleaned in the bank, your life is 97%
different from having zero and having to worry about
every paycheck and so on, versus the difference between jumping from a million to 10 million,
maybe that’s another 2% and then the difference between 10 million and a billion is the last percent. Why would you focus on those things? And why wouldn’t you focus your odds on getting to like the 97% of the value? Because the odds are totally different. The odds of you setting
out to start a business that’s gonna make a
million dollars a year, they’re still not great, it’s hard, but they’re infinitely better than the odds of you starting
the next Facebook or Google. – The cultural narrative
around that as failure versus raising money as seen as success. Like, raising money basically, and someone who’s done it, Mark Cuban sat here, he’s like, “That’s your first big loss–
– Yes. – “When you raise a bunch of money and– – Now, you owe a bunch of people money. – Right, and yeah, or you’re
blood, sweat, and tears. – Yeah. – And I think I really
appreciate you helping, that’s part of the journey
and the vision of this show and of CreativeLive in general, is that we’re helping to
rewrite that narrative. So, you bringing your passion
and your heart into that, couldn’t ask for more, so if
we stopped recording right now, it would be like a slam dunk. But I do wanna get to Rework because that was something
that really, I would say… I looked at your guys more,
I was familiar with 37signals and you know, read the blog
when I carved out a lot of my world, was really,
really early in that community, and Rework though, there was something, like you said earlier, I think permission. – Yes. – So, talk to me a little bit about the concept behind Rework, give a couple of the overarching themes, and why you guys wrote it. – So, Rework is really a compilation. – Surprise, right?
– Surprise! – There’s a pattern here.
– It was not a book written from scratch, it was
a compilation of everything, the best ideas that
we’d been talking about over the past 10 years. And we put them into this one
format, and you know what? The number one, maybe even
today, if you go on amazon.com, the number one critique of the book was, “Hey, I read Signal v. Noise,
every article for 10 years. “This has nothing new, thumbs down.” You know what? You’re the sliverest of the sliverest of the sliverest, right? The tiniest, the tiniest percent. Who are these people who
followed us for 10 years and read everything that we ever wrote? No one, right?
(laughing) Except that guy, clearly. And I think that’s one of
these other misconceptions is if you have something to say, you’re only allowed to say it once. Then it’s not new anymore. You know what? If you want an impact, you
better damn well be ready to say the same thing 10,000 times– – So true.
– Before you even start to scratch the surface, right?
– Yep. So, that’s what we were trying to do, is to say the same
things we’ve been saying for years and years and
years in a different format that could reach a wider audience. – Or different, or wider, yeah. – Yes, and have a
different kind of impact. And a lot of the things
that we put into Rework was basically just the
lessons and the differences that we had took from running
Basecamp, the business. One of the things, for
example, ASAP is poison. So, we had, at some stage,
sort of lulled ourselves, as most people do, is like,
“Oh, I need this ASAP.” And you just run out, there’s
this (fingers snapping) constant urgency around.
– Yeah. – “You have to drop everything
to do this one thing “for me right now and in three hours, “I’ll tell you something else that’s ASAP, “and then you gotta drop
that to do that for me,” and we just found that
as such a toxic idea. That ASAP and the constant
context switching, that, “Oh, now you gotta do
this, now you gotta do that,” was not a good way to get things done. And we always looked at
things in the sense of how can we get things done? We are a tiny team, when
Basecamp was founded, we were just four people. And it took us years and years and years, and then we were seven people, and years and years and
years, and years more, and then we were like 14 people. We didn’t have a lot of people to spare. So, we had to make the hours count. And not thrashing those hours with ASAP, this, that, and the other
thing, was a big part. The other part that sort of relates to that is the meetings were toxic. That it’s it’s so easy, especially for people who are managers, to call creatives into a room and go like, “Alright, let’s have a meeting,
let’s brainstorm this out “and let’s spend an hour on this,” and usually, they place that
meeting at like 10:30, right? Someone showed up to
work at nine or whatever, in an hour and a half,
“I have that meeting, um, “let me surf Reddit.” Am I gonna dive into
the hard work of the day like an hour and a half in advance of when I need to have a
long meeting with someone? No, I’m not, so, I’m
gonna waste that time. Then we’re gonna have the meeting, which is not just like a
one-hour meeting, right? Because there’s probably
seven people in there, so it’s a seven-hour
meeting all of a sudden. Now, we spend seven
hours figuring out what? What we took turns telling
each other what we did? We could have just written that down and sent out a goddamn email, right? And then on the other side, then your day’s kind of splintered. And this is one of the things
that as us as creators, both Jason and I, we make this stuff. We didn’t just hire a bunch of people and then they make the stuff. Jason made a bunch of the designs, I made all of the code and
programming in the beginning. We didn’t have the time to waste. And then we got on this schedule and realized that we
started bombarding our day, and we started splitting it up, and like slicing, “Oh,
let’s do a meeting at 10:30, “and then there’s this one guy “that wants to meet for coffee at two,” that’s the day, it’s done. I’m gonna get zero out of that day even though I really only have
two things on my calendar. It’s done as a creative day. And I’m going to make a huge leap forward in creating a new feature for Basecamp or extracting something
out of into Ruby on Rails or any of these other things. That has to happen on
days where I have these long stretches of uninterrupted time. And that was one of the things where people kept coming up to me and they’re like, “Oh, what’s your secret? “How do you get to do so much things? “How do you get so much done? “Is it because you worked all these hours? “Is it because you do all these things?” No, I just like don’t take lunch meetings and I don’t meet for coffee and I have five hours of nothing, do you know how much stuff you
can get done in five hours? If no one’s interrupting
you for five hours, you can do with work.
– Yeah. – You need no more than four to five hours out of any given day. If you get them in one
chunk uninterrupted. And it was lessons like that where we took and said like
people are doing it wrong. They keep staffing up, they keep thinking they need more people when they just need to find out ways to make the hours count. It’s not the number of hours, it’s the quality of those hours. And most people are making do with some really terribly,
low quality hours. It’s not just things like meetings and things that interrupt them, it’s also the quality
of the hours themselves. So, as a programmer, as
someone who’s creative, I need like head space, focus. Dedication on the screen, I
have to keep 1,000 concepts in my mind to put it all together. If I’m sitting right next to the sales guy who’s yelling on the phone,
what’s the quality of that? It is shit.
– Yeah. – And I’ve worked at places like this, especially if they, I
find it so hilarious, it’s like, “Oh, we’re gonna
have a modern office– – Open.
– “We’re gonna have “this open office and we’re
gonna sit at a long desk,” and like, “this is all gonna be great, “we’re gonna mix people, like sales people “and programmers and designers, “and they’re all gonna
collaborate all the time.” All the programmers just went like, “Give me the gun now,” right?
– Yeah. – This is not progress,
this is not modern, this is not better, this is just shit. And the reason it’s shit
is because it’s designed by people who are not actually
creatives doing the work. – Yeah, so true. – And it’s things like that that’s just like, this is so unnecessary. You talk to any programmer,
or designer or a writer, anyone who needs this– – Dedicated focus, yeah.
– Dedicated creative time to get done, this is where happiness lies. For me, if I get, which
is rarer these days than it used to be and
I’m regretting that, I’ve been trying to find
ways to get back to it, getting those five hours
where I can just dive deep into a problem, that’s the day where I’ll sit with the
rest of the days just like– (softly sighs)
(Chase laughing) You get into that flow state, you get all the dopamine rush
of creating something good and it’s a wonderful day. Compare that to a day, as we talked about, the one that had been
punctured five different ways where you’re sitting
next to the sales person. That’s the day when you go home at the end of the day thinking, “What did I get done today?”
– Yeah. – That’s a shitty day. Shitty days like that
make you feel shitty. Why would we want to
make people feel shitty and get less interesting work done, right? So, we see these things
like on their face, there is no upside to this shit, except for maybe the
aesthetics of the work place. I worked at a place like that once, right? And we had, this was in Copenhagen, and an investor was gonna come by. And we all had to be arranged, jump in our little desks, we got turned around just so people, some of us had to sit
like facing the hallway with our backs to it so
everyone could see the screens, “Oh, aren’t they busy?”
– Yeah. – Like, “Aren’t these monkeys
really typing in there? “We should really invest in this thing, “they’re typing, they’re typing, “oh, they’re so busy!”
(laughing) And I’m just like, “This is such shit. “When I’m gonna make
my own goddamn company, “we’re not gonna do this monkey business.” And that was a lot of it, right? That’s a lot of what Rework was, was both Jason and I, we got this dose of shitty company running when we worked for the
people and we’re like, “If I get the chance to call the shots, “we’re not gonna be this stupid. “We’re gonna go back to first principles, “we’re gonna build our way up, “and we’re gonna find all the
shit that doesn’t make sense “and we’re not gonna do it.” – What are some other
things that don’t make sense that you don’t do? – Well for me, I don’t work in an office. So, remote working is huge for me. It’s like the most natural way to get a lot of these
properties we just talked about. No one can pull me into a meeting when I’m like 4,000 miles
away from Chicago in Malibu, or Spain, or other
places where I’ve lived. Even better, the times, over
the past six, seven years, I’ve lived about part time in Spain. We got started on the
whole business, by the way, the origin story there, I
was in Copenhagen, Denmark. I wrote Jason an email and
we started working together, and I was seven times hours off. So, we did the bulk of the formative work on Basecamp seven times hours apart. And initially we thought, “Oh,
man, that’s such a handicap. “If we were just sitting next
to each other all the time, “that would be great.” Then I moved to Chicago, I
started coming to the office, and we started getting
like half the work done and we’re like, “What the fuck?” So, I started working from home, very early on, and just realizing this is the environment for me, where I can control my own environment and I can just like not respond to people and ignore people, right? It’s just a huge advantage. So, remote work for us has just been huge. Not just for me, and Jason, and the other people who
are over at the company, but what it allowed us to do, we’ve hired people from all over the US, from Canada, from Europe, just wonderful, great people
who live in not TechOps. Right now, we have no
one who lives in New York and no one who lives in San Fransisco, not because there aren’t
good people there, but because there’s wonderful
people everywhere else too. And they’re completely overlooked. And they’re a completely untapped market of just intense talent of people who don’t want to move
to any of those cities. And right now, there’s
such a focus on like, “Oh, we all gotta get
everyone to the office.” Remote is such an easy win. You just decide that this is what you do and now you have access
to world-beating talent, wow, of course we’re gonna do this. We wrote a whole book about that too, called, Remote: Office Not Required, where we kind of just tried
to put all these thoughts into it, like, “This is
how you should do it.” Because a lot of these cases, with both Rework and with Remote, the way we actually get
the inspiration with it is when I start talking to other people. And then I listen to
how their business runs and I just go like, “What? “Are you fucking kidding me? “This is the stupidest
thing I’ve ever heard.” (Chase laughing)
And I had the same thing with Remote, right?
– Yeah. – Remote got kicked off after I had, I don’t know how this happened, but I had talked to three
COs from three companies and we were talking about remote work. And they were giving me the reasons for why they weren’t doing remote work and I just had this
reel running in my head, “Oh, my God, you’re so stupid.” Like, “You really have
not thought this through, “in just an iota of it,
someone should really “help you think this through. “Because your arguments are so shallow.” – Yeah. – “Your defenses of why we all need to sit “at the same table is so idiotic, “and I know you’re not that dumb. “I know you’re just
misinformed, under informed. “Someone should inform
you about this shit.” – What about, I’m gonna
throw a rock at this, because I think I know the answer, but, there are some people for
whom the social aspect is part of their personality–
– Yes. – And for whom connecting, it
feeds a part of their soul. Do you think that people
getting together physically that there is some upside? Do you feel like it could be a myth? How do you think about it, or is that just because the world used to be much more extroverted, and now there’s room for both
introverts and extroverts, that we’re seeing these blended models? Like, what of the, why–
– No, no, that’s good. I’m putting things a bit on the edge. – Of course, we’re doing that on purpose, otherwise it’s a boring conversation. – This is good, because
it isn’t that cut and dry and even though we embrace
remote work intensely at the company I have since the formation, we still meet up, the entire company flies to Chicago twice a year for a week, where all we’re doing
is basically connecting. Directly with people, in person, because it has a huge value.
– Yeah. – And we’ve had lots of cases of that where someone ends up in a situation, if all you do is you work
for a remote company, you sit at home and your
breakfast blends into your dinner, that’s misery.
– Yeah. – Like, you’re not gonna be a happy, wholesome human being after
just three weeks of that. Humans are not built for that. Humans are built for different amounts of social interaction and
with different people, it doesn’t have to come in this package that the office used to provide us, right? So, for me, I’m definitely an introvert and most of the people who
work at Basecamp probably is. A lot of creatives, I think, tend to be, if you look at programmers–
– Yeah, sure. – Writers, designers, a
lot of them are introverts, not all of them.
– Yeah. – But they’ve been ignored for so long. Everything has been driven by
what the management, sales, all these other roles
that are traditionally much more likely to be
extroverted, wanted. And they wanted, “Oh, yeah,
we should have this thing, “and wouldn’t it be great if
we could be there all day?” – “All get together and brainstorm.” – “We’ll put in a foosball table. “We can brainstorm at like 11 “at night if that’s what I want.” And all these introverts
just quietly had to take it. And I think remote as an
idea is kind of like starting to flip tables around, right? But even with that said, we have plenty of people at Basecamp who don’t wanna sit at home all day, so they go work somewhere else, like there’s co-working
spots, there’s plenty of– – Yeah, go to a WeWork or, yeah. – Yeah, I have plenty of
people who go to coffee shops, they go somewhere else to mix it up but it’s on their schedule.
– Yeah. – And they can sort of mix and match, they can choose to say, “Alright, “the fours hours where I
really need to dedicate “where I’m just gonna lock myself “into my home office and do that, “and then I’m gonna go to the
coffee shop in the afternoon “and get sort of the vibe, and whatever,” those things are hugely important. It shouldn’t be seen as an either/or. The best setup of that
is some sort of mix. – Yeah, so, Ruby on Rails. It’s a big deal, okay? Let’s just acknowledge it, that’s badass. How do you think about it today, what role, how do you touch it? What role does it play in your life? How do you think about
it, where is it going? Tell me a little bit of a story, create a narrative around
what that technology, platform, or way of thinking is. – Sure.
– What’s it about now? – So, I released Ruby on Rails in 2004 when I had just extracted it,
pulled it out of Basecamp, essentially, right?
– Yeah. – And it got sent into the
world as a sense of gratitude. So, when we built Basecamp, I built Basecamp on all
these opensource tools, MySQL, Apache, all these
long-running projects that had been around for quite a long time and I got them all for free. And the fact that I could get
all those things for free, Ruby itself is opensource
as well, the language. I got all those things for free were one of those barriers that were taken away. If you were trying to
make a website in ’95, you had to buy a license from Oracle, and you had to buy a license from this and a license from that which meant these barriers of entry were really high. When we started building Basecamp,
there were none of those. I paid zero dollars
for any of the software that sort of went into creating
the application itself. And that was why we could do it. We couldn’t have done it otherwise. So, I just felt an immense
gratitude that I had to give back when I had something of value that I could share with others. So, that was the first instinct, that I don’t know if
anyone’s gonna like it. I liked this thing I built, it allowed me to use Ruby, this wonderful programming language that really opened my mind and that allowed me to self
identify as a programmer, and this helped me do it. So, here’s Rails, and I hope
that it does the same to you, and thankfully, it did. So, a lot of people then picked it up and got inspired by it
and started using it. And like as I said, that’s 14 years ago and in the interim years,
I’ve just kept on doing it. Because it was never about a destination, it was about a creative outlet for me where I could take
everything as I’m working on a piece of code and
extract the common things just so I don’t have to do it again. One of the things I absolutely
hate is repeating myself. I sometimes, I’ve written
chapters for books where the computer crashed
and I lost the whole thing, that chapter’s not happening.
– It’s not in the book. – I’m not writing again, I’m sorry, done. I cannot stand repeating myself, which is also one of the reasons I’m a really bad conference speaker, because I cannot deliver
the same talk twice. I can do it one time so I have to put all this energy into it and then (fingers snap) do it
one time and then that’s it, I cannot repeat myself.
– Record it and share it. – Yes, exactly, which is
one of the wonderful things at the YouTube, at least
you can share it in mass, it wasn’t just you did it for like the 50 people or
100 people who showed up. But I feel the same
thing about technology. I hate repeating myself, I don’t wanna do the same things again. I wanna solve new problems. If I keep solving the same problem I’ve been solving over and over again, I will get bored and I’ll disconnect. So, the way that my sparks fire is I get to solve new problems and the only way I get
to solve new problems is if I encode the solutions
to the old problems into a box, and then I could just take that box next time I need that, right? And I can share that box with other people and they can share
their solutions with me, and then I end up just creating new stuff, which is really the fun part. Not necessarily creating new stuff, but putting it together in new ways. – Yeah.
– And not having to redo the same stuff
over and over again. So, there’s that whole aspect to it and then it’s just the
aspect of like it allows me to program Ruby, and that’s just fun. I like programming Ruby more when I’m creating something real, that’s usually the impetus to is, but I also just like doing it itself. – Yeah.
– Like photography, obviously. I got into photography and
it’s just fun to do it. It’s also great to get a
great picture out of it but there’s just something
in the process itself, the flow that it provides
you as a creative person that’s inherently rewarding. So, that’s why with Ruby on Rails, I just keep on doing
it as long as it’s fun, as long as I get this energy out of it. And then of course you also
get this sense of belonging, this sense of meaning.
– Yeah, yeah. – There’s hundred of
thousands of programmers who have used or are using Ruby on Rails, all these wonderful applications
that’s been birthed from it that I get to look at and say, “Oh, I played a small part in that.” And I can get to continue
to play a smart part in that and I can continue to get programmers to focus on programming
as creative endeavor. Not just as a scientist,
not just as engineers, but there’s this whole
expression of yourself and your writing into this. This is one of the
terms I’m really fond of is to be a software writer. We don’t have software
engineers at Basecamp, we have a lot of software writers. – Emphasis on writers.
– Getting that emphasis on writing and getting
to do it, it’s just fun. I also like actual writing,
I cannot not do that. If I take, we were talking with people at Basecamp about this recently,
doing your favorite things. One of the reasons, we
just recently decided that we’re freezing
all hiring at Basecamp. We’re 54 people, the business for 2007 was the best year it’s even been.
– 2007 or ’17? – ’17, sorry.
– Yep. – 2017, best year it’s
ever been for the business, and we’re not gonna hire anymore. Which is, “What?” Most people go like, “Oh,
you do a hiring freeze “because things are a little tough,” or a little tight–
– Yeah. – And you gotta cut back. Things are the best they’ve
ever been, we’re hire freezing. We’re hire freezing in large part because I want to do my favorite things. Do you know what my
favorite things are not? They’re not doing a weekly–
– Interviews. (chuckles) – Review of things you have
to do when you have 54 people, I can just already see all the shit that I have to do to
help run a company of 54. It’s like, that slice of
my life is big enough. If I make it any bigger, I’m gonna puke, and I’m gonna quit. And I don’t wanna puke
and I don’t wanna quit. So, this is it, we’ve got 54 people, that’s what we can manage, and then I get to do my favorite things. I get to write, I get to program, and I want to do more of that, and I want to stay in that state forever. People keep asking me, “Oh, what’s next? “What’s the next big
thing you’re gonna do?” What do you mean? I’m gonna keep writing,
I’m gonna keep programming. That’s good enough. I can do 50 years? Yeah, sounds good. – Sign me up.
– Exactly. – So, I think this is
beautiful and it’s elegant, but doesn’t it, and for
what it’s worth, I agree, I’m capitulating right now. I think when I have at
different times in my life through the expectations of others, it’s very hard to stake out this claim which is one of the
reasons I love how strongly you’re presenting this.
– Yes. – And I feel like I’ve
done the same thing, I’ve had to, you know,
bailed on professional soccer and dropped out of school,
you know, to do the thing. And I found that was hard. But once you’ve done that a couple times, you’re like, “Wow, I’m actually the boss. “I’m the boss of me.”
– Yep. – I’m in charge, I don’t
have to do this shit. If I don’t wanna do this
shit, I gotta do the thing, I might have to cover up my own path, but I’m the author of my life– – Yes.
– And no one else is. And so, it’s very courageous. But what about all the success, of course, I’m speaking
tongue in cheek here, but what about all the success that you’re walking away from?
– Yes. – By having Ruby on Rails be even bigger, to have Basecamp instead of, you know, 10 million in revenue,
what about 100 million? – Yep, I get this all the time, and I get this accusation
that I’m not ambitious enough. – Yeah.
– And like… First of all, really? Usually, I feel slightly
embarrassed of like aerating through the things that I’ve
done over the last 15 years because it sounds like, (mumbling) – Created Ruby on Rails,
and wrote a couple of best-selling books, and– – But right, so first of all,
I’m well past good enough and done enough, I don’t owe
the world anything more than what I’ve put into it right now. What I do owe myself is
that I have complete freedom to do what I want to do. If I wanted tomorrow to
walk away from Basecamp, I could not work for the rest of my life and be totally fine. When you have that freedom,
when you’ve reached that point, you get to this sort of mirror where you’re looking at yourself like, “Why am I doing this? “What is the meaning behind it?” And what I found is the meaning behind it is not adding another
zero to by bank account. I’ve kind of stopped counting. At one point, I totally did count, right?
– Yeah, ’cause you needed to. – I needed to and it was
also just this tension, like I didn’t come from money and you get exposed to this thing and your brain kinda
goes a little haywire, and I think humans are wired for that, like this accumulation. And all of a sudden, you’re accumulating, you’re accumulating, like, “Shit, my life isn’t any better
than it was five years ago. “I’ve accumulated all this extra stuff. “What is it that I
actually want out of life?” And when I looked for those
sort of pillars of meaning, they are things like I want to continue to spend most of my time
doing my favorite things, like programming and whatever. I want to have the impact in the form that I want to have the impact, I don’t want to be forced
into some constraints where I’m gonna sorta bend. A lot of people, I think, go into business and ideas with the best of intentions. And then once the
pressure starts squeezing, they’re human.
– Yeah. – And they crack, and they
break in all sorts of ways where I think I’m no different. If you took me and you inserted me onto the standard pressure cooker of a high-flung VC-backed startup company, my ethics might start to squeak. – Yeah. – Here I am though, have
none of those pressures. I feel like I have an obligation
to myself and the world to, “Okay, let me live the very best life,” closest to the ethics that I can get, closes to the best use of
the time that I can get, and then what more is there? Isn’t that already perfection? Isn’t that the arrival point? What else am I gonna get to? Is it like, if you can afford the jet? That’s when everything
starts getting magic? No, come on, seriously. As we talked about these,
there are these thresholds and there are these barriers
where you’re worrying about paying the bills and the
water’s gonna get shut off. Money is a very large part of what’s going on, right?
– Your psychology, of course. – Then you reach these points which we reached like 10 years ago, when like, “Okay, I have a
million dollars in the bank.” Have none of these concerns. Maybe if I just stopped working,
I didn’t work for 20 years, I might have some of these concerns. But they’re erased. So, whatever else I can
accumulate really is not gonna add so much to it, I’m at 97, right? I love the 80/20 principle. If I can put in 20% and I can get 80 back, that’s the stuff that I wanna do. I don’t wanna keep squeezing
and squeezing and squeezing to get the last 2% out
of the citrus, right? It’s just, it’s sour. And that’s that contentment and that’s still hard.
– Yeah. – Because everything in our culture, especially in the entrepreneurial world, it’s all about like serial entrepreneurs, doing the next thing,
building a bigger thing. Grow, and grow, and grow, and grow, right? To reach the point where
you can say, “Enough, “I have everything that I
need, I’m at a good place, “I wanna stay there,” is really hard. This is one of things
where I’ve been so happy to discover Stoicism,
Tim Ferriss and others have been–
– Yeah, some others, and Ryan, and all, yeah.
– Ryan had been really pushing and I think it’s a really healthy anecdote to all these other pressures
that we have in life. We have these Roman
emperors and whoever else from 2000 years ago telling us like, “Hey, do you know what? “Even though I have everything, “like including the whole Roman Empire, “I am still susceptible
to all of these pressures “and uncertainties and whatever
and I need to step back “and get to a better
place where I’m at ease “and I’m at rest with the world.” So, that has been part of sort of my focus of the last five years,
is to realize what I have and not fuck it up. I think the easiest thing you can do when you have something
good is to fuck it up by keep striving for
more, and more, and more. – That’s beautiful, I wanna understand the psychology behind that,
what do you have to do to? Clearly, you have to actively deprogram, so let’s get tactical for a second. Do you shape every day, do you have a set of values that you write on
the mirror in the morning? Is it the meditation on the
thing of staying status quo? What are some of your tools? You mentioned Stoicism, presumably, there’s a half a dozen
others because again, I feel like I’ve lived that
in a lot of different ways and it resonates so deeply, and there, frankly,
are not a lot of people out here in the world
talking in the same way that you’re talking right now. So, the people that have tapped into that, and I’m sure there’s a lot of people who are watching and
listening that are like, “Oh, shit, this is my unlock.” So, let’s shift gears for a second and try and get really tactical, what are some of the key
things that you’ve done that have helped you? Presumably, you’ve got
some shit in your childhood that’s really good, you had
parents that did X or Y, but maybe not, so what’s the thing? Or is there a set of things that have helped you A, get to, and then B, maintained this point of view? – Love that, because one
of the reasons I resonated so dearly with Stoicism was I felt like I had like a cruddy version of running my own personal
operating system already. But I already had a bunch of the tactics that Stoicism preaches built it. And one of the key ones
is negative visualization. This idea that loss is going to happen and you better start preparing for it now. Just that if it does, and
when it does, because it will, you won’t get destroyed. So, negative visualization is
something I practice everyday. I practice thinking some
calamity’s gonna happen, Basecamp is gonna blow up, we get hacked and plundered or whatever and the whole thing is gonna fall apart. What’s left, have I invested
everything that I have? Have I invested my entire ego into that just so that if it goes
away, poof, then I’m no one? If I have, or if I’m too
heavily invested in it, I need to pull back, I need to
have other things in my life. I can’t just be all in on this one thing. If you’re all in on one thing and that thing goes away,
you’re all out, right? – Yeah.
– There’s nothing left. So, that’s not a good strategy in life, in finance, in anywhere. You go to any stock
broker and you’re like, “Oh, yeah–
– Diversify. – “I’d like to put everything
into this one growth stock.” They’d go like, “You crazy? “You gotta diversify,” right?
– Yeah. – So, I think about ways I can diversify. My ego, my sense of self worth, and all the things, my interests, especially if this one pillar
crashes down, I’m still here. And I’ll still be totally fine. And I think about it then even within the categories of
things that I do like. Especially around coping
with success and wealth. I know a lot of people
who’ve made it very well, who’ve narrowed their comfort zone down to like a very thin slice. Because their expectations
about what life now owes them now that they’re rich or
whatever, are extremely high. And they put it on themselves like, “Oh, I’m in first class,
I mean, what the fuck? “I haven’t even gotten my champagne yet? “This is outrageous!” And you just go like–
– Dude, you’re flying through the air at 600 miles an hour. – In a fucking seat that
reclines and you can sleep! And you see the people
traveling with three kids back in coach, like that’s fucking hard. Stop goddamn complaining!
(Chase laughing) And I think most people, it’s not that that person is a bad person, this is the natural outcome. – Yeah.
– This is autopilot. Once you get to, you acclimate. An then you become an asshole. Once you acclimate to that level, like, you’ve reached the
level of asshole, right? You’re like, “Alright,
now I wasn’t an asshole, “now I’m an asshole.” And to push back against that, you constantly have to
think like, “You know what? “I could be back in coach “and I’d still be fucking wonderful.” We’d still be flying through the air, I’d still be going to some amazing place that like 100 years ago–
– On the internet at 600 miles an hour.
– Exactly! Like, how is this not wonderful right? So, you have to constantly go back and think through those
things and try to resist, and broaden your comfort zone. The natural sense is
that it’s going to shrink and you have to constantly widen it up. So, I tried to do that
through all sorts of things and I tried to put it into perspective. What are the things I
actually like and enjoy? So, if everything went to shit tomorrow, and we lost everything, and
we went bankrupt and whatever, if I still have my hands and
my eye, I can still program. Hey wait a minute, programming is one of my favorite things in the world. So, I lost everything, but I still have my favorite thing in the world? It’s probably not that bad, right? Life is probably still pretty good and once you get to that point, I think you remove a lot of the anxiety. So, I know a lot of people
who’ve made it really well who have a lot of anxiety.
– Yeah. – Because they’re so afraid of losing the things
that they’ve accumulated. But if you stop looking at
the things you’ve accumulated and you look at yourself,
“Did I grow as a person?” How is anyone gonna take
anything away from that, right? If I get wiser, if I get better, if I get smarter, if I get kinder, how am I going to lose these things just because something
happens to the market, something outside of
me, out of my control, takes my material things away. I’m not, and it gives a sense of peace. I’m at peace now with the fact that Basecamp could end tomorrow. There’s no indication it’s going to, as we’ve just talked about, best ever blah, blah,
blah, things are great. But I’ve at times in my life where I thought like, “Oh,
shit, what if this thing stops?” And you just get such a sense of ease and a sense of comfort
once you let go of that. So, negative visualization to realize, to expand your comfort zone–
– Gratitude. – Your range, and the
acceptable outcomes, right? Which gets me to sort of
the second point of this, which is amor fati, loving your faith. Not trying to change anything. People always talk to
me in interviews like, “What’s the one thing
you would tell yourself “like five years from now
that you wanna do different?” I would tell myself nothing. The fact that it’s been
a journey like this where we make mistakes,
that’s what makes it worth it. I think back of when I used
to play video games a lot. You’d have cheat codes, right? You could look at the back of a magazine and you could go get,
I’d get infinite lives. As soon as you got infinite life, the game was uninteresting.
– Yeah. – I haven’t even read this book but I just like the title, The Path Is The Struggle,
or The Struggle Is The Path, or something, this idea that we’re built to strive–
– The Obstacle Is The Way. – Yes, The Obstacle Is The Way! That’s what, I haven’t read the book, I just love the title, right?
– Okay, yeah, Stoic. – It resonates with me in just the sense that it is meant to be
somewhat of a struggle. Not a deeply uncomfortable
struggle in all the ways, but a struggle somewhat, and
once it stops being a struggle, once there stops being meaning to it, the whole thing falls apart. Which is also the whole
reason why people go like, “Oh, what if you could
sell your company tomorrow? “Like Google came by and they would buy it “for a billion dollars or
something, would you do it?” Like, no, then what am I gonna do? I can already sit on a
beach and drink a Mojito for three months if
that’s what I wanna do. Then I would do it for nine months? No, do you know any entrepreneur
who sold their company and then like just retired to the beach and leaned back and like,
for the next 10 years, just sat there sipping Mojitos? They’d be dead, that’s not
what humans are built for. They’re built for doing things. They’re built for having a
purpose and having meaning. And those things come
from such different things that we tend to think they come from. So, there’s a lot of focus on that and I think about that a lot, and trying to line these tactics up and these perspectives. Like amor fati, like
negative visualization, like expanding your comfort zone, like constantly having
self criticism running as a dialog for not becoming that asshole. – What about specific tactics? To me, those are ideals, what are the actual things that you do? Do you carve out 20 minutes a day? Do you write, do you have a journal? Let’s get tactical for a second. – Sure, so one thing I do, the way I think through all of this is through writing. So, I write quite a lot. We have our blog, Signal v.
Noise, that we’ve been running since ’99.
– Yep, I know it well. – It’s a continuation of the same thing, it’s where we extract the books from, and it’s how I think through and how I process a lot of these things. So, whenever I have something
that I’m wrestling with, I always try to, “Can I write it out? “Can I get something out of it?” Because it’s not just about, “Oh, “this is an interesting piece of writing.” It’s also like a way for me to think. And writing is a way to think
and a way to get clarity, it is just such a powerful tool. So, I write, I have maybe, I don’t know, 50 blog posts I haven’t published that are in my notes on my iPhone. I tend to write, actually a lot on planes and I’m just writing on
my iPhone in the Notes app and it’s just a calming way to sort of get these things out of my system. This idea, I’m not a big fan
of these productivity hacks, but the idea of getting things
done, for example, right? It’s a framework for getting
things out of your mind so you don’t have to
keep fussing about them, keep stressing about that. I have the same thing with these tensions. When I have anxieties,
when I have discomforts, you can get them out of your
body by typing them out. Almost like extracting
them out, you’re like, bloodletting, right?
– Yeah. (laughs) Couple leeches on you.
– That’s totally not a thing, you shouldn’t let your blood and whatever. But I do that with writing,
that’s a key tactic. And the other thing I do is I keep thinking I have enough time. So, when I’m really engaged
in a project or whatever, I have a natural temptation to being just obsessive about it. Like, “Oh, let’s just keep going. “Oh, it’s six o’clock,
let’s just keep going. “Oh, it’s eight o’clock,
let’s just keep going.” And a lot of people
celebrate that and I don’t. I actually get to that and I’m like, “Oh, it’s five o’clock? “I’ve been at my desk for eight hours. “Do you know what? “The kids are next door, I
should just go play with them.” And I think like I have
this good flow going, and it’s wonderful, but
it’ll also be there tomorrow. And like, I’m gonna do this for, did we talk about, the next 50 years, whether I put another
hour in now or tomorrow probably doesn’t matter that much. So, this notion of constraints,
I love constraints. I love constraints as I said, we freezed hiring at
Basecamp with 54 people because that’s a way of
setting a constraint. – Yeah.
– It sets constraints about our ambition, our vision, these are the things we can do and we can’t do everything,
and that’s great. The worst things I have is like when I have this blank canvas, when you can do anything you want, it’s incredibly intimidating. I want like a space, I can draw
within these lines in here, I have eight hours to do something, (hands clap) let’s get to it, right? Not I have unlimited hours, not I could work 22
hours and I could somehow get myself into it, there’s
no constraint there. I could just be flabby and inefficient. If I say to myself, “I
just have the eight hours. “I can just do that,” then
that’s what I got, let’s go. – This is an extraordinary, I feel like, reframing of so many
cultural memes or ideas or constructs, and in a
very sort of authentic way, that’s, to me, unlocking the ability to go against the grain. Like the meta narrative
here is one of the things I’m most excited about,
what we’ve covered, and we’ve covered a lot of ground. But to try and synthesize all that, are these key operating principles for you and do you think about them? And are there three of
them or five of them, of course, you’ve been
talking about it all along, but when you think about, it’s the ability to go against the grain.
– Yes. – The ability, when everyone, yeah, I think about this as a
founder and CEO of a company that has a bunch of really
smart people on the board and really smart people that
are on the executive team and at every level of the company, there’s always competing ideas. – Yes.
– And it’s your sort of willingness to say no
under a lot of pressure. – Right.
– Your willingness to stick to your own internal values. – Yes.
– Either as a leader or as an independent thinker.
– Yes. – To me, that’s the meta narrative of what we’ve been talking about. So, I think as a sort of a bow on this, is there something that you’ve
done to cultivate the ability to go against the grain? Because that is massively
useful, what have you done? – I think one of the
tactics that I’ve picked up is this notion that if
I’m saying something where everyone is nodding,
I’m not saying anything. Then we’re all agreeing, right? Which means that most of the time, and I’m not saying just you and me. – Sure.
– I’m saying like the world at large as a sounding board for ideas. If I send something out and it just comes back 100% positive– – Yeah.
– It was probably trite. It was probably banal, right?
– Yeah. – When I send something out, I wanna get at least some
part back that go like, “You’re a fucking idiot!”
– “You’re crazy!” – “You’re crazy!”
– Yeah, yeah. – “This is stupid, it’s never gonna work. “It’s dumb, this is not how
you build a success company. “You’re unambitious,
you’re all these things!” I keep training myself
to be a little addictive to that like vinegar, right?
– Yeah. (laughs) – That when I send that out and I get some of that vinegary
back I’m like, (hands clap) “There might be something here.” And I don’t mean just because
people call you stupid that you’re not also actually stupid. But it just means that there’s
gotta be a mix of that. Kathy Sierra, who’s one of
my all time favorite writers and idols, she’s not writing
a lot online anymore, but in the mid 2000s, she had this blog called, Creating Passionate Users. And she had this notion
of you can be bland, you can be in the middle, you can be sort of just
whatever, no one cares, right? Or you can have people
absolutely love what you do. But if you have people who
absolutely love what you do, in order for the universe to balance, there has to be an almost
equal sized group of people who absolutely hate what you do. – Yeah.
– So, you have to embrace the fact that there’s gonna
be these pole to poles. You cannot have people love what you do without also having people
who hate what you do. So, these are one of
these ideas that I have, I’m like, “Am I doing something
meaningful and worthwhile? “Do I have both poles?” If I just have one of the things, I’m probably not, I’m banal
and trite and whatever, but if I have the other pole,
there might be something here. So, that’s one of the ideas. The other thing is to cultivate a sense of intrinsic self worth. That I shall evaluate
the quality of my work. And even though I have these two poles and they provide some feedback, the main feedback comes from the fact am I happy with what I’ve done? And I think its’ hard to maintain that in this world of likes,
and hearts, and whatever because it erodes your own
sense of self criticism because you have this instant
reaction from the crowd, like, “Oh, we liked it,” or,
“we didn’t like it,” right? And you can grow addicted
and you can grow weak very quickly from that. So, I try to really keep an
arm’s length distance to that. And then I keep thinking about passages, and the worst that I
have that are ridiculous that people liked, I go like,
“Yeah, that was stupid.” So, Rework, for example, we have, I think there’s like five phrases that are the most quoted phrases. One of those phrases is, “Watch the waves, see where
they break, adjust accordingly.” I’m like, “That’s so stupid.”
(laughing) That is so stupid, and
a lot of people react, they’re like, “Oh, yeah, wow!” That sounds like it has something, and to me, it has nothing.
(laughing) It’s such an empty calorie,
poster with like the wave and like we’re we can all be like, oh, that’s hanging in the waiting
room in a doctor’s office. And I wrote that? I mean, that’s just dumb. So, that’s a good grounding effect, just to look back at your own idiocy. To just go like, “Yeah–
– Have a good laugh. – Exactly, have a good laugh at it, right? – I’m so grateful for
you coming on the show. This has been an absolute treat. I’m already reading the
show notes in my mind. Thank you for being wildly,
radically unconventional and for helping the rest
of us think that way. – Thanks for having me. – It’s been a huge treat,
David, thanks, bud. – Cool. – Alright, signing off
until probably tomorrow. (soft techno rock music)

25 thoughts on “Go Against the Grain /w David Heinemeier Hansson | Chase Jarvis LIVE

  • Yessss. New one. Listening to this while wordpressing the hell out. 🔥🔥🔥🔥🔥thank you chase&team. ❤️

  • #chasejarvis thank you for the great content. Love the title, 'Go against the grain'🔥🔥…. watching it now 🤘🏻💙

  • He's such a beautiful being! I love his perspective. Both of you, absolutely beautiful people. Bravo❤

  • Thanks so much for showcasing someone who doesn't fit the mould and still found success and their own work life balance. This was super encouraging and relatable for those of us just starting out. You rock, Chase! 😀

  • Great talk.
    I just think you can imply that you're listening to someone by just looking at him and nodding your head, not only by saying "Yeah…" after each of his sentences. It was kinda distracting.

  • Wonderful episode, Chase and David. Virtually every point David made in regards to these cultural norms of how "massively successful" businesses are built each genuinely resonated with me. The idea that you can build a life of freedom without essentially sacrificing your values and well-being is something I wish more people would invest in. The fact that just because we want to create our lives in our own way doesn't mean we're not ambitious. I consider myself an ambitious soul, but certainly not the kind that is willing to put my mental health, my relationships, and my pastimes on the line for that 2% difference in my bank account. I fully believe that you can create a life of freedom with your values, relationships and well-being intact. It seems our culture preaches that you have to sacrifice at least one of those things in order to "make it," and I agree that idea alone is preventing many talented, ambitious individuals from pursuing or even creating their own goals for that life.

    I've had the pleasure of meeting a few individuals in my life who have built their massive success on a consistent work ethic spread out over years of their life without ultimately shunning their values, their friends and family, and their own well-being. It is possible, and I hope to one day reach a similar position and be able to tell others the same thing.

    Excellent stuff, again, thanks for another great episode Chase and crew. Keep up the incredible work!

  • I've watched a lot of your interviews through the years, but this one….wow. It has resonated a lot with me to a point where I needed to listen to the interview twice to properly absorb the content and appreciate his mindset/approach to the work and life in general. His message was totally worth sharing. Thank you Chase for doing those interviews and please continue doing your great work. It is an inspiration!

  • I think the only "new" these days is something that iterates and combines on what already exists no matter the discipline. If what a creative's doing is so novel and unique that it has no resonance or familiarity with what has come before, the audience, the viewer won't be able to comprehend or know how to engage with something that's so alien.

  • Oh wow. Two of my favorite creatives together. Chase and DHH in the same room equals exhausted cognitive pool🤯. But oh boy, is it worth it! A ton of inspiration as well as very concrete wisdom that we can apply and go practical with. Thank you Two. Fabulous duet.

  • Amazing interview for a developer like me who tries to build a project alongside all the other "life-required" things #developermindestgoals

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