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Changing Midstream, and Going Against The Current

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Basecamp is a software company.  They build software that allows people to collaborate.  I first heard of them back around 2010-11 in Chicago where they started.  They were also super interesting to me because it was the very first company I had heard of that had a decentralized workforce from the very beginning.

This was an idea not embraced by anyone in 2010.

In 2009, I had led a funding round for a company that was going to do a decentralized workforce after not having one at their founding.  They weren’t doing it because it was core to their business model.  They were doing it out of convenience.  It didn’t work.  In 2012, I ran into Sam and Pat.  They were building Deskpass and we talked about what Jason was doing at Basecamp.  Sam, Pat, and Jason are friends.  Deskpass is a company who’s time has come and if you don’t know about them click the link and sign up.  Post-Covid, they are on point.  Since  2012, I have met Jason a couple of times in passing but don’t really know him.

But I followed what Basecamp was doing because it was tangential to the co-work movement where I had a couple of investments, Deskpass being one of them.  My wife and others I knew used Basecamp for organizations they worked with.  It seemed like really good software.

I listened to Jason actively when he spoke at conferences I was at because I was trying to learn how Basecamp was able to do what it did so well with a decentralized workforce.

The other day, Jason and his co-founder David released a letter to their employees.  I encourage you to read it.  It reminds me of the letter that Coinbase put out over a year ago.  It’s a wonderful read.

When you institute policies at companies, it’s often very hard to change them.  It’s hard to go against the grain, even though in your gut you know that is the right thing to do.  It’s also hard because you know that if and when you change, the public backlash against you might be a tidal wave of dissonance.  Why?   Because you are deciding what’s best for your company and going against the current.  People don’t like that and today they publicly penalize free thinkers.

But, in my opinion, Basecamp is one of those companies that has gone against the grain since its founding. So, their move seems true to their corporate culture.  They also famously never raised institutional VC money either.  They just aren’t your average startup.

I have seen companies totally messed up over politics.  Especially in this political climate.  When you allow politics to infect the corporate culture, your company is weakened.  It will lose resiliency.  This is especially true in startups where you need every ounce of resilience to weather the storms you will face.

I don’t care if the politics infecting the company is left, right, libertarian, or whatever.  All of them sap energy from the culture.

I have seen employees at companies hurt emotionally and mentally by other employees’ actions done in the name of politics.  Employees will leave your company and not mention it because the environment has become so overtly political they do not want to have it follow them.  Even just putting out a message reminding everyone to vote which seems innocuous but is political since the act of voting is political can be damaging.

If you walk into their office and CNN, MSNBC, Fox, or one of the other political news channels is on, it’s a sign that the culture is off base.

On their personal social media channels, employees can do whatever they want.  If it’s a business channel, they can’t.

What is great about Basecamp’s communique is it extends to benefits and other things.  Basecamp is treating its workforce as adults that can make up their own minds.  Basecamp is embracing the fact that each employee is an individual, and individuals have their own preferences.  Pay them enough to take advantage of it on their own.  I would be very interested to hear Jason talk about how it affected their corporate culture after being in place for a year.

Ideally, I always have told companies not to do anything on their websites, social media channels, or anything else that smacks of politics.  Just build your brand. Stay focused on delighting your customers.  Stay focused on building top-line revenue.  Growing your customer base and growing your top-line revenue create a feedback loop that gives your company resiliency and helps build your corporate culture.

The post Changing Midstream, and Going Against The Current first appeared on Points and Figures.


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