Did you have yesterday off from work? If you didn’t, we’re sorry. But even if you did, chances are you still answered a few emails, checked a few Slacks, and furrowed your brow thinking about all the things you’ve got to catch up on this morning.
Did you have yesterday off from work? If you didn’t, we’re sorry. But even if you did, chances are you still answered a few emails, checked a few Slacks, and furrowed your brow thinking about all the things you’ve got to catch up on this morning.
But what if work...didn’t have to be like that?
This week on Morning Brew’s Business Casual podcast, we tear apart how work came to rule our lives—and what some in the business world are doing to fix it. Basecamp CEO, remote work enthusiast, and Bezos-approved founder Jason Fried explains why today’s idea of a work/life balance isn’t doing us any favors. Plus…
Listen and let us know what you think.
Note: Business Casual transcripts are generated using speech recognition software and human transcription. They may contain errors, although we do our best to avoid them. Please check the corresponding audio before quoting a transcript in print. Questions? Errors found in a transcript? Email email@example.com
[00:00:01] [sound of coffee being poured]
[00:00:04] [intro music plays]
Kinsey Grant, Morning Brew business editor and podcast host [00:00:05] Hey there, and welcome to Business Casual, the weekly podcast from Morning Brew answering your biggest questions in business. I'm your host and Brew business editor, Kinsey Grant.
Kinsey [00:00:14] And now, let's get into it. So today, I'm actually the only person in the recording booth. And no, I'm not going to finally record my solo episode exploring the business implications of the transcendentalist elements of Gilmore Girls. I do have a guest today. He's just phoning it in in the most literal sense [laughs] of those words today. I'm speaking with Jason Fried, the co-founder and CEO of Basecamp. Jason, thank you so much for joining me, wherever you are in the world right now.
Jason Fried, founder and CEO of Basecamp [00:00:40] Thank you. I'm in Chicago.
Kinsey [00:00:41] Are you cold? I'm sure that's the first question everybody asks you when you say you’re in Chicago.
Jason [00:00:45] Well, I'm indoors. I'm OK. If I went outside, it would be a different story.
Kinsey [00:00:49] Good. Good. So Basecamp is a digital project management tool. You've called it a, quote, one-stop shop for all the things the teams do together, end quote. Which kind of sounds like a PR-approved way of saying it's a tool to make remote work and management a lot easier. Is that right?
Jason [00:01:06] Yeah. Basically Base Camp is a project management tool that lets teams keep track of the work that needs to get done, when it needs to get done by, who's responsible for what. It gives you a place to have discussions centralized. So you don’t have to shoot emails around or spread stuff across a bunch of different chat rooms, keeps all your files in one place, keeps all your truths and answers and debates and discussions and decisions in one place, in just one tool. You know, a lot of people these days, they tend to use four or five or six different tools to try and work on one thing. And it's kind of a mess. So Basecamp brings it all together in one place.
Kinsey [00:01:38] That sounds great. But part of the genesis of Basecamp is definitely this conversation you've gotten really involved in online about your thought leadership when it comes to remote work. You've been very active [laughs a little] on Twitter talking about remote work. A couple of debates in the past couple of months, and you're a vocal proponent for it. And from what I can tell, Basecamp employees can live and work wherever they want?
Jason [00:02:01] That's correct.
Kinsey [00:02:02] Awesome. So today we're gonna kind of talk about how that works, about leading a company that is, in its essence, remote, but how remote work impacts work in general, when and why it doesn't work, and kind of what it means for the everyday nine-to-fiver, we'll call them. You know, I bring this up now because I'm preparing for this. I was trying to kind of gather some statistics and figure out what share of the workforce is actually working remotely. About 43% from the U.S. workforce regularly works outside their office, according to Gallup, which is a big chunk of the workforce [chuckles].
Kinsey [00:02:36] And I think that it's worth exploring this kind of theme before this becomes 93% instead of 43%. But I also would think that there are some drawbacks of remote work, and I want to kind of dig into those as well. But let's kind of just dive in and figure out what the future of work looks like. Just simple question. I'm sure we'll be able to answer it. [Kinsey and Jason laugh] So, you know, like I mentioned, you've become pretty outspoken about remote work. I want you to explain to me what you think of the way we work today and what you think that will end up looking like tomorrow or a decade from now.
Jason [00:03:10] Sure. So, whether or not you’re local or remote, I think there's some fundamental issues with the way people are working today, which is that we tend to be more distracted than we've ever been before. And that's not a function of local or remote. It's actually a function of tools, although local actually—when people are together, they tend to disrupt each other even more. So I do think that there's some real benefits to being remote and not actually seeing the people you work with all day long. So anyway, what I think the problem is, is that people have less and less time to actually do good, deep work at work anymore. So that's why people are working later at night and they're working on the weekends and they're working early in the morning.
Jason [00:03:48] It's because the day—the workday itself—has been broken into so many small, tiny chunks that they're actually unable to get into anything. Like you've got 15 minutes here, then you've got a meeting, and you've got 20 minutes here, and there's a conference call and someone taps you on the shoulder, and people just can't get into work anymore. So I think that's actually the way work feels to a lot of people today. It feels very scattered and disjointed, and that's a problem. And I don't think it's actually gonna get better for quite a while. I think at some point, though, people are gonna throw up their arms and go, this just doesn't work anymore. And then I think that's when there's going to be some breakthroughs. But I think it's gonna be a while. It’s gonna get worse before it gets better.
Kinsey [00:04:23] Interesting. Explain to me a little bit more what you mean by this concept of deep work. I know this is something that's kind of been a hot button topic lately, but what is your definition of deep work?
Jason [00:04:33] Sure. So for me, deep work—well, let's talk about the environment that would allow for it, first of all. So I think people need long, uninterrupted stretches of time to get good work done, whether or not it's deep or shallow. I still feel like you need really good contiguous blocks of time. So an hour or two or three to really get into the flow, to really get into something. It's very hard to start working on something and be pulled away and have to get back to it later and get pulled away again and have to get later because there are high switching costs involved with that mentally, physically, all sorts of different things, your focus goes away. It's hard to get back into stuff. It's no different than sleep. You know, I think we all know what a good night's sleep looks like. You go to bed, you wake up rested. You weren't interrupted in the middle of the night. You weren't woken up all the time. Like, that's a good night's sleep.
Jason [00:05:18] A good day's work should feel like a good night's sleep. It should be long and uninterrupted. If we were being interrupted every 15 minutes while we're sleeping, every 20 minutes or every hour, and those of us who have kids and young kids that understand what that's like—we know that that's a crappy night's sleep. We should also know that that's a crappy day's work. So I think what's a good way to think about this is that long stretches of time let you get into things. They eliminate disruptions, and they let you get deep. That's the whole idea behind deep work, which is that some things take time to get into.
Kinsey [00:05:51] Right. And we at the Brew call it going into a hole [laughs] when we need to kind of siphon ourselves off and say, “Nobody bother me for an hour. I really need to write this story. I really need to edit this podcast episode.” But I'm interested to hear your perspective on how tools like Basecamp or remote work tools are making that kind of deep work more possible.
Jason [00:06:11] For the most part, I think a lot of technology actually makes work a bit worse. It might make it easier on the surface, like we're able to reach out to people faster, quicker, maybe get answers quicker. But it also means we can interrupt people more frequently and faster. So there's some trade-offs to the convenience that we get from things like chat, instant message, and stuff, which is definitely handy at times. But I think it's way overused. It's like a dish that's way oversalted. Salt can be very important for a dish, but it can also ruin one pretty quickly. And I think that chat and instant message are some of those tools that can ruin things pretty quickly. So we feel like what's important, actually, when it comes to communication is asynchronous communication. And so asynchronous communication is very valuable in that way because it encourages people to write down complete ideas and present them to people in a complete way, where the receiver can also take their time to think it through and respond in kind completely versus having to receive something one line at a time when it's sort of on a clock, essentially.
Jason [00:07:16] If you think about chat—chat’s like on a conveyor belt, it's just like sliding by you. And if you're not there right when it comes in, you feel like you've already missed out. And so people are having to follow a bunch of real-time conversations and try to respond by rushing their responses because they have to get it on the record before it scrolls away. It's just a really difficult way to work. So, I think asynchronous communication is a really valuable tool, even though it technically seems slower in some ways. But what's the rush?
Jason [00:07:42] Why are we rushing all the time? Slow is OK. It's good. It's better. It's considered. So I think that's kind of—those to me—any tool that encourages asynchronous communication encourages deeper work. And I think that that's a really valuable thing to do. Again, I'm not against real-time communication. We use it here at Basecamp. It's even built into Basecamp. Basecamp has chat, it has instant messaging. But it's not the primary way to communicate. It's a way, when necessary. But if you primarily use chat to communicate as the primary method of communication is that of an organization, that's when I think it's a problem. When everything goes to chat versus most things going to asynchronous, then using chat is an exception.
Kinsey [00:08:20] Right. And I think that one of the issues that we kind of face in any workplace, I would argue, is if someone is Slacking you or messaging you a ton of different messages, one after the other, and they're in the same room as you, you definitely feel a little bit more obligated to answer that right away because they could come up to your desk and say, “Hey, did you get my message?” Whereas something like an email, it feels like there's a little bit more time allotted for really kind of poring over what a person said, figuring out how you want to respond, and then responding. But I think it's also worth taking into account some of the drawbacks of this kind of communication and even remote work in general, that I would argue deadlines probably become an issue at some point. Has that been something that you've experienced before?
Jason [00:09:06] Not for us, because we were very thoughtful about how we schedule our work and how we structure our work. But here's the thing. Talking faster doesn't get things done faster. It just means you're talking faster. And in fact, what it means is you can't do a lot of work. If people are hitting you up constantly, you can't work. So it's faster. But what's faster? What's faster is that a lot of the surface level stuff is faster. But the actual work that needs to get done to get a project done, has to be pushed aside when you're constantly being interrupted on the surface.
Jason [00:09:38] So the speed of communication is actually—it doesn't have a lot to do with how quickly you can get things done. It has only to do with how quickly you can communicate. What the problem is, is that if you send me an instant message, let's say—and you just kind of referenced this—there's sort of an obligation or an expectation that because you wrote me quickly, that I should get back to you quickly. So at Basecamp, no matter the method of communication we have or we use, sometimes it's chat, oftentimes it's asynchronous. Sometimes it's comments on things, whatever it might be. There is never an expectation of immediate response. There's only an expectation that you will get back to me when you have time to do so. Just because I had time to ask, doesn't mean that you immediately have time to answer. You'll have time to answer when you decide that you have time to answer.
Kinsey [00:10:26] Right. And you bring up an interesting point. As a business leader, it sounds like you really have to trust that your employees are doing what they need to be doing and delivering on what they are expected to deliver on. And I think that that oftentimes is one of the biggest criticisms of remote work, is that you really have to trust these people not to be sitting on their couch watching TV and just moving their mouse around every couple of minutes so it looks like they're online, but actually be doing their jobs.
Jason [00:10:51] Yeah. And I've heard that criticism and I understand where that comes from. But the funny thing about it is that if you actually look at—if you walk by people at work, people aren't working all day long. They're doing stuff. They're on Twitter here and there. Maybe they're on Facebook, maybe they're on Instagram. Maybe they're on LinkedIn. They're taking breaks. It's fine. There's nothing wrong with taking breaks. And if you want to take a break on the couch, fine. If you want to take a break in your desk chair at work, fine.
Jason [00:11:17] It used to be that people would actually go outside and take a smoke break, and that was fine. It's all fine. The point is, is that, do people have actually enough time during the day, contiguous blocks of time, to actually get their work done? It's not that they're taking breaks or they're sitting around on the couch or going to pick up their kid at work or they're going for a run. All that's fine as long as they have enough time to actually do their work. So, I think the fallacy is that if you can see someone and if they're pounding away on their keyboard, that means that they're working.
Jason [00:11:49] No, it doesn't mean they're working. The only thing that means that they're working is if they're actually producing the work itself. And the only way to judge that is to see the work itself. That could see the act of working because the active working, the active playing looks the same.
Jason [00:12:03] The work is what you actually end up looking at. So, yes, you have to trust people a lot, but you also have to trust people a lot local. You have to trust people a lot, period. Otherwise, like, you're going to get great work out of people.
Kinsey [00:12:14] Right. The proof is actually in the pudding. [laughs]
Jason [00:12:16] Exactly. Exactly.
Kinsey [00:12:17] So what about this idea, though, that some people just aren't cut out for remote work? You know, we talk about is this the future of the workplace? I personally do not like working from home. I find it isolating. I find that I'm less focused. I find I get distracted a lot more easily. How do you kind of confront that as a company that's made almost entirely of people who are not working in an office?
Jason [00:12:37] It's not for everybody, and it's not for everybody for a number of reasons. And some of them you mentioned. It can be isolating, certainly. Some people have different personalities. Some people are more extroverted, some people are introverted. Some people don't like working in environments that they don't control. Other people do. It really is a personal thing. Completely agree with that. It is not for everybody.
Jason [00:13:00] I think a big part of it, though, is first of all, understanding yourself and what you're into. And luckily, there's lots of opportunities to do both kinds of work, local or remote. And for some people, what remote means is that it gives them a certain amount of flexibility to live their life in a certain way. So it's not like—there's trade-offs, which is it might be a bit isolating some time, but you also might go might get to go pick up your kid at three o'clock. And that might really mean something to you, or you might get to see your kids more frequently if you have them. Or it might mean that you get to go for a run in the afternoon in the forest preserve, which is not where your office would be, but where your home is.
Jason [00:13:41] So like it's a series of trade-offs. And I think people just have to understand what those are and get comfortable with them. But I also completely agree that for some people, just no matter what. It's just not a good fit. They need to be around others. And I think what's important is when you're looking for a job or when you're hiring someone for a job, that you're very honest about that, you're very clear about it. And you ask, have you done this before? Do you want to do it? Some people have never done it before and they want to try it. Other people have done it before, and they love it. Other people aren't so sure. And some jobs are better fits than others and, of course, some jobs it's impossible. If you work in a restaurant, you work in retail. Like those kinds of things, of course, need to be physical, physically present.
Kinsey [00:14:20] So while we're kind of on this this vein of arguments against remote work [chuckles], I want to bring up a couple others. It's that this is a very spirited debate. I don't know if anybody has ever looked into the remote versus in-person work debate online, but it is incredibly spirited. [laughs] So some of the other criticisms of remote work, I'm just gonna run through a couple. And I would love for you to just give me in, say a sentence or so, what your answer to these criticisms would be. So one of them being that remote work is skewed a lot more toward young people. There is a recent report in 2019 that 74% of millennial and Gen Z managers have employees who work a significant portion of their time remotely versus 58% for baby boomer managers. What is your response to that?
Jason [00:15:03] I would just say that's not been our experience.
Kinsey [00:15:07] OK. [Kinsey and Jason laugh] Simple enough. And now you also brought this criticism up a little bit as well, that if you are one of the vast majority of U.S. employees or workers who are working something like retail or in a restaurant, you need to be in person to get something done. If you're not just relying on creating software or creating social media or something like that, you have to be in person to actually do your business. What do you say to that?
Jason [00:15:28] Yeah, I think if you physically have to be somewhere, then you physically have to be somewhere, but there's most jobs, like writing, designing, consulting, accounting, law, like all these—it’s funny. We all will hire an accountant or a lawyer or a contractor or whatever, a consultant or something. None of these people work out of your office. They work somewhere else. And guess what? They get the work done. We all hire remotely all the time. But we think that for whatever reason, people who work at our company can't do that. So, I think we're actually all quite comfortable with hiring people remotely. We just forget that that we that we do it.
Kinsey [00:16:06] OK. And then I would say one of the biggest criticisms is just that if you are not getting kind of, you know, we call it face time, but if you're not getting time in front of the higher-ups in your company, that maybe you feel like you're at a disadvantage when it's promotion time. Do you find that that is something that you’ve encountered? And is there an answer to that when it comes to remote work?
Jason [00:16:25] I think that's a really fair one for a lot of companies where they have a very imbalanced hybrid situation. So if you have a number of people who work locally, and then a minority of people who work remotely, I can see the people who work remotely, in a sense, not having those same opportunities. Because it's certainly easier if you see someone every day to create a relationship with somebody and encourage that person do better and perhaps promote that person. However, I will tell you that at Basecamp, our head of technical operations lives in Texas, our head of customer service—she lives in Portland, Oregon. My CTO—my business partner lives in L.A. I live in Chicago. We have people from all sorts of different groups here who work in all sorts of different cities and all sorts of different places. So, that has not been our experience. But I do understand that that's, in a more traditional organization, I can see it being more difficult to be promoted as a remote worker.
Kinsey [00:17:24] OK. And then the last criticism here that I'll bring up is just this idea that it sounds great. It really does. That you can work whenever you want and you get to spend more time with your kids or go for a run where you want to go for a run as long as you're getting your work done. But it's difficult to kind of shift an entire way of thinking in a school of thought. And we've been conditioned to think about working hard as kind of being the last one in the office at the end of the day. How do you go about changing that whole idea of what hard work looks like if you believe in remote work, but the person who's actually doing the promoting or doing the hiring doesn't necessarily share those beliefs?
Jason [00:18:00] Yeah, this is a good one. So first of all, I don't think hours worked equals hard work. Hours worked equals hours worked. And I know that historically there's been this notion that whoever's first in and last out is working the hardest. No, they're not. They're just there the longest. It doesn't mean they're working the hardest. Also, like working hard is not—to me, that's not an end goal. It's getting the right things done at the right time, saying no to the things that don't matter. It's about being smart about the things that you're doing.
Kinsey 00:18:33] Work hard, don’t work long.
Jason [00:18:35] Yeah, I just don't think a lot of hours are required. I think like, for us, eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks are what we do. And in fact, in the summer, we work 32-hour weeks because we take a day off. That's enough time. It's plenty of time. Eight hours is a long day. That's a long, actual day. And if you don't believe it's long, hop on a flight from Chicago to London. That's an eight-hour flight. I guarantee you that feels like a long flight. And you're going to look at your watch halfway through. We think you're almost done. And it's like only four hours. And you're going to look at your watch again 90 minutes later. You think you're almost there. It's not. You still have three hours to go. Like eight hours is plenty of time.
Jason [00:19:09] So this notion that people who are the last ones to leave are the ones with the best work ethic—no. In fact, they might be the worst. They might be the absolute worst because they're screwing around all day. They're not getting stuff done. They're very inefficient with their time. You know, that sort of thing. So, I don't buy that notion of hard work or anything like that. I just don't think that’s what really matters at all. I think looking at the actual work, seeing how efficient someone is, seeing how thoughtful someone is, seeing how well someone can simplify some complex concepts—to me, that's the interesting part of work. It's not about how long you work.
Kinsey [00:19:46] OK. It makes sense, but you've got to change people's minds because it sounds exactly right. [laughs] At the end of the day, trying to actually convince people that leaving at five o'clock, even if you've got all your work done, that you're not shirking off your responsibilities.
Jason [00:20:05] Yeah. And I think that comes down to leadership. So, I leave at five o'clock. But if I don't leave at five o'clock, if I'm working till 11:00, well, of course everyone else is going to want to work long too, because you're going to see this is what the owner does. And if the owner does this, the owner probably values this. If the owner values this, then I should do it because I want to be valued. I want the owner to value me.
Kinsey [00:20:24] Right. It starts at the top.
Jason [00:20:25] Totally. Yeah, it has to. It has to start at the top with vacation days, with reasonable work hours, with eight-hour days and 40-hour weeks and not chiming in on the weekends and not chiming in at night. And if you do chime in at night, you explain yourself like, I took three hours off during the middle of the day, so I'm chiming in at night. I don't expect anyone else to respond until the next morning. You have to set that tone because people will follow the leader. So it's very, very important to do that.
Kinsey [00:20:49] Yeah. I've don’t want to say it's sad, but it's interesting that in my head right now, I'm thinking, what kind of hobbies would I pick up if I weren't working on Sundays and I weren't working until 7:00 p.m. those days. That is the way we've been conditioned to think—that our lives are our sort of cut short outside of our professional careers because that just eats all of our time. And I think it's part of a hustle culture that I've sort of talked about before on this podcast that I take a lot of issue with. And I think is really dangerous. But I don't know, I guess, like you said, it's probably going to get worse before it gets better. But hopefully, eventually it does get better.
Jason [00:21:24] Well, I'm glad that you push against that, because we just need more voices there. Life is so much more than work. It's so much more than work. And there's so many amazing, interesting things you can do. And work doesn't have the right to take your life; it just doesn't have the right. We've all given it the right. We've all said, like, well, it's Sunday. Something needs to happen. We need to do the work. Well, what about like a movie? Doesn't a movie need to happen on Sunday? Doesn't time with my family or time with my friends or time with myself or whatever else I want to do? Doesn't that have to happen?
Jason [00:21:54] Why are we just willing to say whatever work needs is what we give work versus whatever life needs is what we give life? These are important things. And by the way, America—and it's mostly the U.S.—it’s a U.S. problem—and it's also a problem in China and Korea. A little bit of Japan as well—actually quite a bit in Japan. Most cultures, though, around the world, are not obsessed with work like we are. You look at most European countries; they work 40-hour weeks or they work fewer. They get up—look at Germany. Germany has an incredible economy. They manufacture some of the most amazing products in the world. They work 40-hour weeks. In some cases, they work less. And they also enjoy life a bit more.
Jason [00:22:35] And there's a whole bunch of other things going on in Europe. They're very interesting in Scandinavian countries and a variety of other countries. So the fact that we in the U.S.—we think our way is the only way. This is a little bit of a U.S.-centric thing in general, that we just think whatever we do is the right way. But there's other examples of countries doing quite well and societies doing a whole lot better, in fact, by not overworking and not treating work as the only thing that matters in life.
Kinsey [00:23:00] Right. And I want to talk more about those sort of specific examples in just a second. But really quickly, let's take a break to hear from our sponsor. — And now back to the conversation on remote work with Jason Fried. So right before the break, we were talking about some of these Scandinavian countries that we see statistics—it feels like all the time—that they're way happier, like quantifiably happier [laughs] than we are in the United States. And I'm sure there are a lot of factors there, but that part of this is because they have a different approach to work. And you mentioned that a lot of these countries, including Japan, have kind of a similar culture to the United States in that you're expected—for work to be your life. But we saw, and we wrote about it in the Brew when it happened, but Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek over the summer and productivity increased by 40%. Do you think that that is a useful kind of reference case for the argument in favor of remote work?
Jason [00:23:53] When you have less time, you take better care of that time. You use it more wisely. It's no different than any resource.
Kinsey [00:24:02] Supply and demand of your time to do things.
Jason [00:24:02] Yeah, and scarcity. And I think what ends up happening, and I don't know if this is true, but my guess would be in the Japanese case and the Microsoft example, people had less time to get stuff done. Now, they're still expected to get the work done. So what they end up doing is squeezing out the things during the day that don't matter. They cut back on, perhaps on meetings, they cut back on waste, they cut back on other things that have been taking their time away.
Jason [00:24:28] And they end up being more efficient and effective with that time that they have left because they know they have less of it. So I think this is a very human thing. It happens in all realms. And I think time is one of those things.
Kinsey [00:24:39] Right. Do you find that when you, in your personal experience, are only working 40 hours a week, are those 40 hours more stressful than they need to be? Like, do you find that it is a precious resource, and that you're lacking in it, and that you have to just kind of push yourself really, really hard and then you just stop at five o'clock?
Jason [00:24:57] The way projects are managed, the way work is managed, the expectations of growth and endless growth and anything, whatever it takes, mentalities. These are dangerous and toxic mentalities. And this is why people—it doesn't matter if you're working 40 hours or 80 hours or 120 hours, if work is crazy all the time and every hour, you're going to be stressed out. But if you work calmly and you have reasonable expectations, and the organization creates an environment where you can actually be by yourself to do the work that you need to get done and not be interrupted all day, then work calms down and then 40 hours is plenty of time anyway.
Kinsey [00:25:32] Do you think that some of these big companies that have been, quote unquote, American success stories in the last decade or so, think about Facebook and Google and things like that. Have they kind of propagated that sort of using your word, toxic idea, that this is the way it has to be?
Jason [00:25:47] I do think so. And I also I think that there are generally toxic companies, so they're successful in some ways and also hugely detrimental in other ways. But that's not so much about the hours worked or the type of work, that's more about the things that they actually do.
Kinsey [00:26:01] The actual products. [laughs]
Jason [00:26:02] Yeah. But yeah, I think Silicon Valley—the Silicon Valley mentality, which is growth at all costs, big, big, big, big, big. I think that's typically the root cause of a lot of the stress at work, which is unreasonable expectations. We’re not big enough. We need bigger. We're not going fast enough. We need to go faster. It's all of that perpetuated primarily by venture capital firms that put big amounts of money into companies and then set them up to have unreasonable expectations of massive outsized returns. They push, push, push, push, push people. And then everyone's so obsessed with being a billionaire that they push, push, push, push, push their employees. And then that's just kind of what ends up coming out. And you might get one or two or three of those kind of companies that come out alright. But so many people burn out in the process, so many companies go out that could've been great companies.
Jason [00:26:55]. But they didn't hit the billion dollar mark. So they kind of aren't important in that world. And when someone has invested hundreds of millions of dollars into you, think about the pressure that is put upon you to deliver.
Jason [00:27:12] And if you tell that investor that we're really only going to work 40 hours a week, they're going to destroy you because they don't care about how much time you put in. They don't care about burnout. They don't care about any of those things. They care about their returns. It's also they prey on youth. I think they prey on people.
Kinsey [00:27:31] Everybody wants to work at Google. [laughs]
Jason [00:27:34] Yeah. And, look, I'm not dismissing some of the things that these companies have done. And I'm sure that you can learn a ton working at places like this. But, again, there are trade-offs. And sometimes people don't realize those trade-offs until they’re later in life and they realize, man, I really wasted my youth, my the best years of my life working all the time. Like I spent my whole 20s working 80-hour, 90-hour, or 120-hour weeks for this mission. What's the mission? Selling ads? I mean, that's the mission for most of these companies. Ultimately it’s selling ads.
Kinsey [00:28:06] Jason, you're about to bring on an existential crisis for a lot of our listeners. [laughter] I'm a little worried I'm gonna get some frantic email. [laughter]
Jason [00:28:10] Well, I'm trying to do public service here. [laughter] You know what I mean.
Kinsey [00:28:18] Yeah, I do. And I hey, I'm 25. I think about this a lot. You know, I enjoy my work. And I'm lucky because I know a lot of people don't get that kind of luxury to enjoy what they're actually spending a huge chunk of their time doing. But at the same time, I'm like, should I be writing a book? Are there things I should be doing, you know?
Jason [00:28:36] And I should say it just to be clear: work is a noble thing. I'm all for working. And if you love what you're doing and feel like you're being productive, that's all wonderful. Absolutely, positively wonderful. It's just that there's more to life than that.
Kinsey [00:28:50] OK. Well, I want to talk more in just a second about the specific argument that you're kind of making here about venture capital and the sort of company that it tends to breed, and we'll talk about that in just a second, but really quickly, let's take a short break to hear from our partner. — And now back to the conversation on remote work with Jason Fried. So obviously, in the life of this podcast, we've talked to a lot of people who have brought up venture capital. It's obviously a huge part of the business world as it is today. You guys at Basecamp have not raised hardly any money. But I think the investor that you do have is a very interesting one. Jeff Bezos is on your board, your only investor.
Jason [00:29:29] Well, a couple things. We don't disclose how much he invested. Always say he’s a minority investor. And the last thing is that none of his money actually went into our company. So, just to give you a little bit of background, we've never raised any money to fund the company. So all of our revenue income dollars have all been from customers.
Kinsey [00:29:50] So where did that $6 million I read about on Crunchbase go?
Jason [00:29:52] Well, the number is incorrect, I'll just say that. [laughter] Regardless of that, it went in my pocket and David's pocket—my business partner, David. So we sold a portion of our business to Jeff in the early days in 2006 to take some risk off the table, which I think is a really good thing for founders to do. And so that's what we did. It's as if we were selling shares to the public markets, but we were selling them to one person. But yeah, so we've never raised any money to operate the business—and never will ever.
Kinsey [00:30:21] OK. That that's a pretty declarative statement.
Jason [00:30:25] I'm absolutely certain—I would much rather go out of business. I'd much rather shut the business down than ever take anyone's money to run the business. Absolutely.
Kinsey [00:30:33] That's not the attitude that even a lot of these companies preaching a lean startup even take. And that's like ultra-bootstrapping. [laughter]
Jason [00:30:42] It isn't. Here's the reason why. First of all, we don't have to; we're done very well for ourselves and we don't have to. But more so than that, this is a personal choice. To me, independence is the most valuable thing I have as a business owner. I don't want to ever have to go to work to satisfy. A billionaire who wants a certain return on their investment. That would just make me miserable. I want to be able to do whatever I want to do, run our business however we want to run our business, without having to explain anything to anybody.
Kinsey [00:31:17] OK. I have two questions. First, just a quick one. Are you profitable?
Jason [00:31:21] Yes. We've been profitable every year for 20 years.
Kinsey [00:31:24] And you were started in the ’90s?
Jason [00:31:26] 1999. This is our [indistinct] year in business. We've been profitable every year. And we generate tens of millions of dollars in profits every year.
Kinsey [00:31:35] OK, so I guess the kind of follow-up to that is the general theme that we've seen in a lot of startup companies is that profitability is not necessarily always goal number one for a lot of these companies. It's more so reinvesting and growth and profitability will hopefully happen down the road. But, part of the reason that they do end up taking on venture money is because they want to make sure the people they're hiring have a job. Like you said yourself, that Jeff took some risk off the table. Did you ever worry in the early days that you needed [Kinsey chuckles] a little more risk taken off the table or the worst case scenario would be the—now you have 50-some odd people. I don't know what you had then. But that those people would be out of a job.
Jason [00:32:12] Yes, sure. The answer is no, because we never get ahead of ourselves. So this is a fundamental basic business thing, which I think is lost on so many people. And I don't know why, but you just don't spend more money than you can afford to spend. So if I can't afford to hire somebody, I don't hire them. I don't ever want to get out ahead of my skis. People create hardship for themselves by getting ahead of themselves. And a big part of it is ego. They want to seem bigger. They want to seem faster. They want to grow bigger. They want to have more influence. And all that's doing is feeding your ego. But all that's doing then is making things difficult on yourselves. We've been very careful about that over the years.
Kinsey [00:32:51] Right. I think maybe this is why then this entire argument you just made is why I find it so interesting that Jeff Bezos is your—I guess—I don't even know if he counts as an investor, but they do some sum that is in your pocket that, you know, he is kind of like the poster child for a lot of years of unprofitability. And also for maybe, allegations of 80-hour work weeks at Amazon. And he preaches obsession with the customer. And that just seems to me so at odds with what you guys are doing.
Jason [00:33:23] Yeah, it is. It is at odds. I think back then, especially 2006, I feel like, mentally, we were a lot closer and Jeff was a lot closer to us all. At the same time, though, we knew he was building a big company and we knew we were gonna be a small company. And he liked that. He likes—he often would say, I admire what you guys are doing because I can't do that anymore. Like, there's so many things I can do in the world, but I can't do what you're doing. I can't have a small business anymore. It doesn't exist. That option does not exist for me. And I want to be along for the ride, for something that—I want to support that kind of company.
Kinsey [00:33:58] Right. And you kind of bring up this idea of changes. And this seems to be a big theme in a lot of what we've talked about in the last however long you've been chatting here. But, you know, I think that one of the changes that, to me, is maybe underindexed in terms of how impactful it will be on the future of work in general, is this sort of idea that, quote unquote, perks are art masquerading as perks, but are really things that are kind of designed to keep you in the office for as long as humanly possible? I honestly didn't think about in some of my previous jobs.
Kinsey [00:34:29] You know, I interned at Bloomberg one summer and at Bloomberg, they have lunch. They have an endless array of snacks. They give you ice cream on the weekends during the summer. If you're in the office, it's like all of these things that on surface level you think, wow, it's so great to work here. I get to eat Swedish fish whenever I want. [Jason laughs] But then you realize, like, they're feeding me so that I literally don't leave this workplace, that I can stay here for an entire day and not get distracted by the outside world. And we've kind of seen a similar thing with a lot of these tech companies that are building these giant campuses that have housing and transportation and restaurants and daycares and places like that that sound really good. But you have to wonder, are they actually just designing these things and orchestrating this kind of environment such that you can't leave?
Jason [00:35:14] Yeah. It's a great question. And, you know, we touched on this in a few places in our book and elsewhere about like, the word “benefits.” It's like the question is benefits who? And it's also like, hey, if you'd like ice cream and you're working on Saturday, like maybe that benefits both of you to business and you. [Kinsey laughs]
Jason [00:35:32] But what are these really designed to do? And I think one of the most egregious ones is when companies will cook you dinner or like dinners free or like we'll do a delivery after hours and it's free or free pizza. You know, that is truly designed to keep you at work longer.
Kinsey [00:35:51] But like, I would have just rather time and a half for overtime. [laughs]
Jason [00:35:54] Agreed. Right.
Kinsey [00:35:56] Just pay me. [laughs]
Jason [00:35:57] Exactly. Exactly. Just pay me. And that's what they should do. But in the moment, especially if you're 21 or 22 or straight out of school, it’s exciting and, you know, whatever. I get it. And these campuses are beautiful, some of these are objectively beautiful places. I'm sure the Apple campus, I haven't been to the new one, but like, my God, it's incredible. Like, how could it not be incredible? How could you not want to stay there? And it's a great recruiting tool and all these things. But also, it is a way to say, like, don't leave.
Kinsey [00:36:23] Yeah. I smell ulterior motives.
Jason [00:36:25] Yeah, a little bit. And I don't want to be totally cynical about that stuff because—
Kinsey [00:36:29] Right. And it's like a lot of the things we've talked about. It’s highly variable from case to case.
Jason [00:36:34] For sure. It's a blend. It's totally a blend. But I think—you have to just be aware of the trade-offs and you have to look at these things carefully, understand what you're getting yourself into. And if you decide that you're totally all in with what you're getting yourself into, then, of course, that's your decision. I think what concerns me, though, is that when companies, trick, basically and falsely lure people into doing certain things, like for the mission or for the purpose or we're all family here, it's like, no, we're not, we're not family here. And when they say family, what they actually mean is you're going to sacrifice whatever it takes, because that's what you do for your family. Right. You'd sacrifice whatever it takes for your family. So since we're a family here, we're taught we're all about self-sacrifice. Right. And no, we're not. This is a job.
Jason [00:37:24] But they try to—it's those sort of tricks and manipulations that I think people need to be very aware of because it absolutely happens.
Kinsey [00:37:33] OK. So we've kind of covered an immense amount [laughter] of ground.
Jason [00:37:39] Absolutely fine, by the way.
Kinsey [00:37:40] Boy, I'm glad to hear that. I agree. But I kind of want to sort of like stick a pin in this a little bit. So I guess if you had to say in as brief an answer as possible, if work is broken today, how do we unbreak it for the future workers of our world?
Jason [00:37:57] Great question. Deep question, hard to answer quickly, but I think—I think it has to start with expectations. Because if the expectation is eternal, endless, rapid growth, always doubling from the year before, whatever it is like, very few things are going to be able to be changed, because the pressure is going to be so significant that people are just going to put in extra time and work extra long and always be stressed out and always being pushed too hard. It's like, that's just what's going on.
Jason [00:38:36] So I think we need to be reasonable about expectations, about growth. I think we should be a little bit closer to a natural form of business, which is more of a humanistic scale, which is we shouldn't be doubling it. Nothing doubles every year. Trees don't double in size every year. That's sort of a—you can just kind of look around and see what actually healthy growth looks like. It's slow and steady and consistent and never getting ahead of itself and never taking too many resources. It's a little bit more of a natural stick point of view. And I think that that's where things are going to have to begin to change. People are going have to get used to enough. Versus too much. Yep.
Kinsey [00:39:19] Sounds like you just summed up somebody’s thesis someday. [laughter] OK. Well, at the end of each episode of Business Casual, we bring out a wheel and I think we might have just found the only big problem with doing a remote podcast is that [laughter] you don't get to actually spin the wheel yourself. So I guess I will remotely spin it for you, and we're just gonna have a little fun. So I'm about to take it for a spin now and it lands on: Call me crazy. So call me crazy. What's either one hot take and you're kind of full of them. One hot take that you have made that you ended up being right about or one kind of call me crazy moment that you are experiencing right now that you feel like you're in the minority.
Jason [00:40:03] What the people will say is, I'll feel like, you know, we work 40 hours a week, hours a day. They're like, well, you're just not ambitious. Maybe we're not—what's wrong with that? What does ambition? Whose ambition? Ambition to do what? We want to do the best work we can. We want to have a reasonable workday. We want to go home and have a reasonable life. We want to have a reasonable night's sleep. Like, that's our ambition. Our ambition is not grow, grow, grow, grow, grow, billionaire, a unicorn, whatever.
Jason [00:40:29] That's to me like a very, very shallow sense of ambition. So, I think we argue about what ambition means all the time with people. And I love being told I'm not ambitious enough. People have a hard time imagining anyone else who's not just all in it for ego and growth. And it's not.
Kinsey [00:40:48] OK.
Jason [00:40:49] I like this wheel. I like this wheel!
Kinsey [00:40:50] I'm about to take you on another spin around the wheel. [indistinct chatter and laughter] OK. Truth or truth. [indistinct chatter] Truth or truth. So I've got a couple here that I want to just—you have to be totally honest with me. What CEO or thought leader to you has had the worst impact on today's work culture?
Jason [00:41:12] Probably Mark Zuckerberg.
Kinsey [00:41:13] OK, fair. What's the worst workplace saying in your opinion? And I'll give you a couple options, but they're really endless here. Ping me, circle back, close the loop. Any that come to come to mind that absolutely just grind your gears?
Jason [00:41:29] Yeah. I don't like circle back. I also just don't like the whole thing I'd mention earlier, like we're all family here. I don't like that either.
Kinsey [00:41:35] OK. And then the last truth or truth: we work net good or net bad for the future of work.
Jason [00:41:42] Oh, my God. Can I make this kind of a—this is a good one. Can I go a little bit longer than just a quick one?
Kinsey [00:41:47] All right.
Jason [00:41:48] OK, so I think co-working is a good idea. I think working in small spaces and not having to take a big office, please. I think all of that is good. I think that WeWork, like the Adam Neumann version of WeWork, in how we’re the most important thing in the world, yada, yada, yada and enlightening. That's all complete bullshit. It was very bad. Very, very, very bad. Cult-like whitewashing, brainwashing, I mean, of work. But I think co-working is a good idea.
Kinsey [00:42:24] OK. OK. Bullish on co-working, not on WeWork. [laughs]
Jason [00:42:27] Yes. Yes.
Kinsey [00:42:28] I think you are not alone in that.
Jason [00:42:30] Yes, I know. Now it's pretty common.
Kinsey [00:42:32] OK. We're gonna take one last spin around the wheel and we got in or out. So this is kind of like a bullish-bearish question and I already know your answer, but I'm eager to hear you explain it. Are you in or out on Google paid search ads?
Jason [00:42:49] Oh, I'm out.
Kinsey [00:42:50] You're like way out on, right? [laughs]
Jason [00:42:53] Yeah. I mean, here's the thing. I am not against and I'm going to elaborate if that's OK. But I'll make it quick. I'm not against advertising. I think advertising is wonderful. And in fact, advertising is an art form. When you see a great ad, and it gives you goose bumps—amazing. It's film. It's art. It's amazing storytelling. Wonderful.
Jason [00:42:12] What I'm against is personal, targeted advertising based on people's personal habits that they didn't give anyone permission to collect or personal behaviors which they didn't give anyone access to collect. It's the personal targeting that really, really bugs me. It's not advertising. If I'm looking for a pair of shoes and I type shoes in a Google, I'm finding ads around shoes. That's fine, but I'm not fine when Google assumes that I'm this or assumes that I'm that based on my personal data they've amassed from a variety of different behaviors. That I'm not OK with.
Kinsey [00:43:47] OK. Well, Jason, thank you so much for taking this time. I really enjoyed our conversation. I feel like I learned a lot and I'm really, really grateful that you came on Business Casual. So thank you.
Jason [00:43:56] Thanks for having me on. This is really fun. I really enjoyed this conversation too. The questions were great. And for everyone who's listening, we didn't talk about the questions ahead of time. [Kinsey laughs] These were really great questions. I really thought they were thoughtful and I liked some of the pushback too. So thanks for having me on.
Kinsey [00:44:10] Well, thank you very much.
[00:44:11] [sound of coffee being poured]
[00:44:14] [outro music starts]
Kinsey [00:44:16] Thank you so much for listening to this week's episode of Business Casual. Before I tell you who's coming on next week, I just want to say we are now past episode 20 of Business Casual. So I want to hear from you and get to know you, whether you've been with me from the very first episode or you're just joining us. Email me at Kinsey@morningbrew.com—that’s K I N S E Y. Let me know what you think. Who you want to hear from, what you want to hear about, and how I'm doing. Next week on Business Casual, I am speaking with the founder and CEO of [indistinct] is going to explain to us all about why software as a service works as a business model and how he stays innovative in a really competitive tech field.
Kinsey [00:44:54] I can't wait for you to hear the interview and I will see you on Tuesday.