After almost 8 years, today is my last day at Basecamp. It’s been a wonderful run, and I’m excited for my next adventure: Elevated Woodworking, where I make and sell wooden topographic maps.
Wouldn’t you like a nice wooden topographic map? Keep it for yourself or give it as a gift (or both)! Send the link to all your friends!
It’s been an amazing ride at Basecamp, and I leave with many great memories and lessons learned. The memories I’ll keep for myself, but the lessons learned I’ll share with you. Here are some lessons I learned at Basecamp that I will take with me to Elevated Woodworking.
Run your business the way you think businesses should be run.
When you start a business, you get to decide everything about it. What matters to you? What will your return policy be? How will you treat your customers?
I’m not perfect, but I’m trying my hardest to build the business that I’d want to do business with. I don’t play pricing games, I pick up the phone when people call, I return emails promptly, I try to be a good steward of the environment, and if I make a mistake, I make it right for the customer, even if it hurts me.
Basecamp has made a number of choices about its business: to eschew outside capital, to stay small, to focus on building simple products, to provide great customer service. Fundamentally, those decisions are all about building the business that Basecamp wants to see in the world, and I’ve tried to do the same thing in my business.
Don’t quit your day job (until you quit your day job).
Leaving a stable, well-paying job to work full time on my small business is scary. I don’t have a guaranteed paycheck coming in every week, and the success or failure of the business really comes down to me.
It’s a lot less scary, though, because I’ve been building it for the past two years. I financed all of my capital investments from my day job paycheck, developed products, sold to hundreds of customers, and found a profitable business model.
I don’t know for sure if Elevated Woodworking will succeed or not, but I know that I’ve taken a lot of the risk out of it by keeping my day job to this point.
If you want to know if people will buy something, try selling it to them.
When I started making wooden topographic maps, I never intended on it being a business. I liked maps, I figured out I could make maps like this, so I made a map. It’s hanging on my living room wall.
When I shared my map with the world, people started asking me if I would sell them a map, so I started selling them maps. I adjusted the size of maps and my pricing based on what people bought, introduced new products because of what people were buying, and went from there.
No market research, no focus groups, no surveys. I made a thing, I tried selling a thing, I learned how that thing sold, I adjusted.
The worst case scenario is pretty unlikely, and probably not the end of the world.
I am naturally a very risk averse person, and maybe even a worrywart. I tend to think a lot about worst case scenarios and how things could turn out well in advance of them happening.One of the biggest lessons I’ve taken from my time at Basecamp is that worst case scenarios are pretty unlikely, and even when they do happen, they’re probably not as bad as you think they are.
Basecamp has taken some pretty bold steps in the time I’ve been here: launching Basecamp 2 and 3, changing the pricing model for Basecamp, discontinuing profitable products, etc. In most of those cases, I was concerned about the risk of them — what if things go wrong? Is there an incremental step we could take instead?
Happily, I was wrong about most of those bold steps. Things worked out just fine, and when they didn’t, we made the changes needed. Almost every decision is reversible if it doesn’t work, but most of the time it will actually work.
The people are everything.
At the end of the day, the only really valuable asset that a company like Basecamp has is the people. Sure, Basecamp owns some physical things and some intellectual property, but without the people it’s not a vibrant and valuable business.
The people I’ve had the opportunity to work with over the past eight years have been nothing short of amazing. Pick an adjective and it probably applies: the people I’ve worked with have been intelligent, passionate, caring, and funny.
One of my greatest pleasures has been getting to build out Basecamp’s “team data” into an actual team with the addition of Justin White a couple years ago. He’s the best teammate I could ever ask for, and he’s going to do a great job continuing the legacy of team data.
The past decade of has been the best post-graduate study in business I could ask for, and the time has come for me to put those lessons to work for myself.
Thanks, Basecamp, for everything.