Basecamp: The origin story
Basecamp has been around for 12 years now — it’s easy to forget where it came from, why we made it originally, and how it all came together over time. So here’s the origin story — the beginnings of Basecamp.
Basecamp was born back in February 2004. It was conceived a few years earlier, inspired by a need that wasn’t being filled and a frustration with the tools of the trade.
Back in 1999, our company — then called 37signals — started out as a web design firm. We were doing work for hire. We were known for helping companies streamline their sites, making them easier to use and more straightforward.
As demand for our services grew, we found ourselves increasingly disorganized. You can get by without processes and systems for a while, but once you have a few plates spinning at once, you really have to get yourself organized, disciplined, and focused so you don’t drop any. Unfortunately we began dropping some.
At the time we were managing projects via email. Which, nearly 16 years after, is still what most companies do. Maybe that’s what you’re doing right now! Maybe that’s why you’re here, reading this. It’s time for something better.
A few emails here and there are fine, but email chains break quickly when someone forgets to reply-all, and disorganization begins to reign. Communicating everything via email becomes tedious and no one knows where to go to get the latest status of a project. Email isn’t a place, it’s a method, and projects need places, home bases.
We eventually hit a breaking point. We didn’t like the rag-tag image we were portraying to our clients. They were paying us good money — and our work was good — but the way we organized the work, communicated about the work, and presented the work wasn’t becoming. It was time to tidy up and get our shit together.
We went looking for a tool to do this. What we found were ancient relics from a time when project management meant blasting people with gantt charts, stats, and graphs. To us project management was all about communication. None of the software makers at the time seemed to agree. So we decided to make our own.
We focused on a very specific of bundle of integrated tools — a message board to post updates, work, and get feedback. To-do lists to keep track of all the work that had to get done. And milestones to keep track of big picture deadlines. This was all the first version of Basecamp did. It’s all we needed and nothing we didn’t.
We started using it internally with our clients and they all kept asking “What is this thing? Can we use it to run our own projects?” Once you hear that enough, a lightbulb turns on and you say “Maybe we’ve got something here”. This idea, this thing we made for ourselves, perhaps it’s a product. If we need it, surely hundreds of thousands of businesses just like ours need it too.
So we spent a few more months tightening it up, improving it on every dimension, and then, on February 4, 2004, we released the first version of Basecamp. We announced it on our blog, and waited. Initially offered everyone one free project, and then if you wanted more you could upgrade to one of our three pay plans.
We decided early on that if we were able to generate around $5000/month after a year (or about $60,000 in annual revenue), we’d have a good thing going. Turns out, we hit that number in about 6 weeks. So we absolutely were on to something.
Basecamp grew and grew and became more and more popular — especially with design firms and client services firms that worked with clients. And about a year later, Basecamp was doing more business than our web design consulting business, so we stopped taking on new web design clients and focused all of our energy on building Basecamp.
Since then we’ve made the product better in a thousand ways. We’re released hundreds of major updates, and thousands of minor ones. From humble beginnings, Basecamp has grown into a major force — the world’s most popular project management tool.
Over time, Basecamp has made its way into every industry across the globe. From client services, to software development, to publishers, to universities, to international charities, to mom and pop shops, to religious organizations, to architects, lawyers, accountants, and doctors, anyone with a project can turn to Basecamp and end up with a better project, a smoother-running project.
Millions of people, hundreds of thousands of companies, non-profits, and institutions come to rely on Basecamp to help them make progress on their projects. We are so thankful for everyone’s trust and support. We promise to continue to do our best work for all our customers.
And now, at the end of 2015, we’re set to release the best version of Basecamp we’ve ever made: Basecamp 3. All new from the ground up, layered with improvement after improvement, this is the most ambitious version of Basecamp we’ve ever released.
We’ve learned so much over the years. Fueled by insights generated from extensive customer feedback and direct experiences, we’ve made Basecamp 3 exceptionally powerful without sacrificing any of the simple, clear, straightforwardness people have come to expect from us. Aside from being the best version of Basecamp we’ve ever made, it’s also the most approachable, the easiest to use, and the friendliest version there is.
We’ll initially be launching invite-only, so if you want in early, grab yourself an invite here. We can’t wait to hear what you think!