An opinionated company

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We love to see a rock & roll attitude in business anywhere we can find it.

And we've found it at 37signals, a web application company that checks off on two key qualities we always look for in a team or organization: a distinct personality/identity and an anarchistic spirit.

37signals (named after the 37 radio waves detected from outer space that have never been explained) is a business that likes to keep things REALLY simple—and they’ve made it their signature.

Co-founder Jason Fried: “I like to make things easier for people. I love competing on easy.”

As 37signals says on its website,

We believe most software is too complex. Too many features, too many buttons, too much confusion. We build easy to use web-based products with elegant interfaces and thoughtful features. We’re focused on executing on the basics beautifully.

Fried and his partner David Heinemeier Hansson also love to blast away at what they see in business as an infatuation with planning and meetings. A sample of quotes from their best-selling book Rework:

Unless you are a fortune-teller, long-term business planning is a fantasy.

The problem with abstractions (like reports and documents) is that they create illusions of agreement.

Workaholics aren't heroes. They don't save the day, they just use it up. The real hero is home because she figured out a faster way.

Decisions are temporary.

Meetings are toxic.

Their contempt for bells and whistles and for preparation and planning has drawn fire from critics who say this approach may be suitable for developing some web-based products but not for running a business and serving customers. (In live presentations Hansson used to have a response for detractors: a slide featuring in bold letters “F*ck You”—an example, perhaps, of a simple but elegant interface.)

Of course we can quibble with some of their patented hyperbole. Meetings, for instance, are a handy piñata for small businesses. But they’re only a problem IF you don’t know how to run them (or if you schedule them without reason).

But the lesson here is that 37signals stands for something that makes them distinct: keeping it simple, stupid! It’s also a reminder that a little ‘tude is a good thing. Says Fried: “Our company has opinions, and we build products and do business based on those opinions. We need more opinionated companies.” Rock and roll.


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8 Comments

  1. “I love competing on easy.”

    This is how to win. This is a race to the top, not the bottom.

    These guys have fascinated me for years. I sucked a lotta juice out of their first book "Getting Real" for my business consulting. Again, a book about creating software which easily applies to business (and life) in general.

    They are rock and roll, for sure.

  2. There are interesting reviews of Rework on Amazon, pro and con. Just to present the other side: one review says, "What they call the ‘simplicity’ of their products, most people call the ‘limitations’ of their products.”

    1. For "most people" read "not their target audience."

      Getting Real explains their strategy to build what matters to them, and to gladly exclude anyone who wants something else. I don't use their tools, because they don't suit my needs. But I do subscribe to the philosophy: if you want something I don't sell, you should look elsewhere.

  3. Yeah, the actual quote (from Hansson) is “I’m not designing software for other people. I'm designing it for me.” But that’s valid. You have to please yourself first. (I'm paraphrasing the great social philosopher Ricky Nelson.)

    These guys at 37S have written the book on arrogant axioms. It's an art form to them. One of my faves, by Fried: “Any time someone starts asking a lot of questions I tell them to simplify all of their concerns into a single question, which I then ignore.”

  4. Great to see Ricky Nelson quoted.

    He was, of course, one of pop / rock's original and finest philosophers; clearly, his work has chimed with the folk at 37signals.

    Songs like 'Never Be Anyone Else But You' and 'Just A Little Too Much' paved the way for the minimalist, if-I-like-it-then-it's-great philosophy of 37signals, Apple and others. And then there's the paean to straight-down-the-middle, tell-it-as-it-is, opinion-holding: 'Believe What You Say.'

    A lot of people have Ricky down as a pleasant country rocker but that guy was way, way ahead of the pack.

    1. Yeah, "Garden Party" rates right up there with the best of classic pop verse. ("Eve of Destruction" of course is the gold standard for penetrating insight.) But I always liked “Ozzie & Harriet” — the American TV show that sprung him (probably a few years before your time, Mark).

      1. I just wish there was a definitive way to settle the Joe Osborn/Carol Kaye gefuffle so I knew who it was that made me into a bass player. Both of 'em claim so much of Nelson's stuff, and all the Simon & Garfunkel stuff that cinched the deal.

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