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Business of Software 2008 - A New Type of Company - 37 Signals

Business of SoftwareI'm starting a series of blog posts from the Business of Software conference that I attended last week in Boston. If you are part of a small technology business (software, hardware, etc.), especially if you are an owner, I'd highly recommend that you attend this conference next year. It's small, 250 or so people, and everyone is interested in business. It's not a lot about technology, but it's inspiring and exciting to talk about business with lots of people looking to build their businesses.

The second talk that I saw was from Jason Fried of 37 Signals. It was an interesting session in that Jason basically spoke for 20 minutes, just some thoughts on his company, and then he took questions from the audience.

He has a very interesting way of running his company. In many ways I think he's the type of business owner that I've tried to be, along with Andy Warren and Brian Knight. He perhaps is a little more laid back, but he's concerned about building a company for the long term, not just developing an investment he can sell. It seems that the "lottery mentality" is still alive and well in the software world and many people are thinking of how they can get someone to buy them.

Instead Jason is focused on building a better company and a better workplace. He wants employees to stick with him for 20 years and is trying out various things to help that. What is he doing?

  • The Four Day Work Week - 37 Signals has gone to a four day work week for most employees. Someone mentioned support and Jason admitted that the customer support person needs to work Fridays and he helps out on Fridays a as well. However they've found that peope are more productive. This doesn't mean 4 10s, but just 4 days of work a week.
  • Paying for Hobbies - 37 Signals helps people that work there pay for their hobbies. They are helping one person learn to fly, another with photography. Their goal is to get people to work there for 20 years, not the next year. This means taking care of the person more than just paying them a salary.

There might be more, but I missed some things as I was fairly captivated by Jason's words.

In terms of business, they want to build a sustainable business, selling to companies like them. So they are targeting certain companies, not every company. They want to sell to other small companies, help them be more productive and they focus there.

This also means that they don't always respond to customer requests. One of the specifics mentioned was that Gantt charts have been requested, but 37 Signals, or at least Jason, doesn't believe in Gantt charts. He doesn't think they represent data well and they are an abstraction. They don't represent the real world, but some idea, and that distracts people. So he'll never add them.

Same for personas and spec documents. They don't believe those accurarely model things, they're abstractions and you're not building an abstraction, you're building software. So they start to build software, they do more of what works, less of what doesn't. I like that.

They also don't track bugs. They work on things they need to work on, and they think that developers and customer support people will know what causes problems often and respond to those ideas. They're a young company, but with a few products, and successful. I hear good things about their software, so perhaps some of these ideas make sense.


The Voice of the DBA

Steve Jones is the editor of SQLServerCentral.com and visits a wide variety of data related topics in his daily editorial. Steve has spent years working as a DBA and general purpose Windows administrator, primarily working with SQL Server since it was ported from Sybase in 1990. You can follow Steve on Twitter at twitter.com/way0utwest


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