Lessons from the Founder of Basecamp and Ruby on Rails

Matty Kerr is co-creator with John Brancaccio of The Working Experience. He is also a filmmaker and published author. Listen to our podcast on iTunes and Spotify and visit our website: theworkingexperience.com for videos, merchandise and more. You can also find us on Facebook, Linked In, Instagram, and Twitter.

David Heinemeier Hansson is one of the founders and owners of Base Camp and Ruby on Rails, as well as the author of It Doesn’t have to be Crazy at Work, which offers lessons on how to run a successful company without driving yourself and everyone else nuts. Ruby on Rails helped create Twitter, Shopify, GitHub and Hulu and a bunch of other tech platforms.

David was interviewed for The Working Experience Podcast. You can listen to the full interview on Spotify, iTunes and other podcast platforms.

“I’m originally from Copenhagen Denmark. I met Jason Fried who was my business partner at Base Camp. Back in 2001 he posted an entry on his blog saying, “I’m trying to learn a PHP to build this application. Can you help me?” And I had just been a fan of the company, which was called Thirty Seven Signals at the time. And I thought, Hey, I know the answer. I’m just sitting here in Copenhagen, Denmark. Jason is in Chicago, Illinois. I sent him an email. We start talking and before, you know, it, he decides it’s easier to hire me than to learn how to program. And we started working together and we worked for a couple years together on a variety of consulting projects. And then in 2003, we started work on Base Camp.

I was the sole technical person on the project and, Jason led the design side with a couple of people helping out and we launched Base Camp in 2004. Um, basically sort of as a side project, as a side project to a consulting business that was just doing web design for clients. Well, about a year or so later, we went full time committed to being a software company and have been doing that ever since. And in the process of running this software company for the past 15 years, we we’ve learned a lot of things. And we’ve tried to share those lessons in a variety of forms, including four different books. The latest of which is called: It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work.

So I think that part of the unique appeal of our story is that we aren’t just either academics or journalists or someone describing how other people work. We’re telling you how we work and how we have been and working for the past 15 years. So this isn’t sort of a, a thought experiment. This is a description of facts. They were afraid to question, uh, basically the paradigm that they were under. A big part of that comes by deconstructing the myth of success and the glorification of overwork. The purpose of It Doesn’t Have to be Crazy at Work was to watch a large part of the entrepreneurial class in the U.S. continue to harp on deeply discredited notions of work ethics that the way to have success was working 80 a 100 a week. Or in some extreme cases, Marisa Mayer (from her infamous memo while working at Yahoo) 130 hours you could work a week if you were strategic with your bathroom breaks and your showers. But what an utterly miserable existence this is to promote, and what a myopic view of success in entrepreneurship. We want to spread that message to look beyond Silicon Valley or the tech industry and see that there are other people around the world who’ve actually arrived at better solutions of getting creativity and productivity out of people and out of themselves without devoting the entire life that they have to just work, work, work.”

What to Know

· Use the New Technology to Save Time and Energy: Given the tools that we have today, there’s absolutely no reason why people should sit 30, 40, 60 minutes in traffic to commute into some office that will just make them absolutely mad and waste their life away. Instead we can work remotely over the internet and do even better work than we could have if we sat in the same office together.

· Focus on Quality not Quantity: In the old model there is a great focus on the quantity of hours. We have a focus on the quality of hours and that the argument is that that’s ultimately far more impactful. If you can allow someone to have four great hours where they can dive deep into a problem, they can come up with those amazing solutions that otherwise can evade people for weeks at the time, if they only get 45 minutes here and an hour and a half there, because their workday full of either physical or electronic interruptions.

· Time away from Work: Forget the so called perks, the catered lunches and video games, designed to keep people at the office for more hours of work. At Base Camp, they focus on getting people out of the office and recuperating away from the computer. I think a key aspect of mental health is to have time to recuperate, have downtime where, uh, not only do you have time for sleep, you have time for something else to get on your, your mind.

The Take Away:

1. Technically, digging a hole and filling it in and digging it out again and filling it in again is work. But is it meaningful?

2. People who tell you how many hours they work are not really working those hours. They just feel guilty and depressed over their lack of productivity.

3. Stop with all the meetings and emails and IM’s and DM’s. Let people get their work done at work or let them stay home.

4. Get a fulfilling hobby outside of work.

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Matty Kerr

Matty Kerr

Co-creator and cohost of The Working Experience Podcast. We explore what people do for work, how they do it and how they feel about it. Twice a week!