Reader Question: Jason Fried and 37signals

March 23, 2006 in Reader Question

Win a free copy of 37signals' latest book Getting Real Contest Completed.

Ok gang, you're all invited to vote in the poll below and share the rationale for your vote in the comments of this post. Two lucky commenters (one at random, one with the most thoughtful rationale) will receive a FREE copy of 37signals' latest ebook Getting Real. I'll hand out the free book copies on Monday, 27 March 2006.


Ok, I selected 3 winners.

I think Carolyn Wood provided the most thoughtful rationale arguing for "their ideas" and Rob Drimmie for "their software."

The random winner (slips of numbered paper picked blind by my 3yr old son Owen from a bowl) was Tim (yes he was pretty proud of himself after I asked him to "pick one from the bowl" and he picked out the number "one.")

Congrats to the winners, you'll get an email from Matt at 37signals with your download link shortly.

Thanks to 37signals for the prizes, and thanks to all of you who submitted thoughtful entries, I'm not sure about anyone else, but I enjoyed reading through them.

Oh, and my vote? Their ideas.

Technology moves at too rapid a pace to imagine that it will be their software. 10 yrs really is a long time. I have confidence that 37s can create lasting software, but I think their biggest impact will be that they were front and center championing this shift, which in many ways is the antidote to the dotcom bust. 

With the generosity of Jason and crew in sharing their ideas on business, marketing and software development, and backing it up with an impeccable case study (their own success); I suspect in 10 years time a lot of water will have passed under the bridge, but that these solid ideas, and the businesses and approaches that sprang up as a result, will be a lasting legacy.

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Less is more, magic mantra !

Posted by: tim | Mar 23, 2006 10:53:30 AM

37signals and the software associated, is gaining traction, and is starting to pick up steam. I would say that Ruby on Rails is soon to become the largest known (to developers) and unknown (to people using products based off RubyOnRails) software/thing. It will last more than 10 years.

Posted by: Daniel Nicolas | Mar 23, 2006 11:15:43 AM

I am a huge supporter of Jason and 37signals. Great philosophies, great products. However, I think the fact that they truly want to remain small may mean that the legacy won't have as much of a chance to grow into legend. I'm sure Jason and the rest of the gang love what they do, but judging by the success they have had thus far, 10 years from now, they'll probably be retired. I know I would be.

Posted by: Rich | Mar 23, 2006 11:16:32 AM

You never know what might happen in 10 years time, but I will admit I enjoy their message of simplicity - their ideas can be applied to just about anything...

Posted by: Fin | Mar 23, 2006 11:24:16 AM

I voted that their products and software will be more influential.

If you look at influences in software development over the past say 40 years or so, I argue that applications have more influence than theory.

Their theory is tight, don't get me wrong, but the number of people who use Basecamp is significantly larger than the number of people that will read their book, blog, or any other arguments they commit to, uh, electrons.

More important than pointing to a book of any sort and saying "look at these arguments, they make sense!" to sway people who don't care about the details of development is being able to point at a successful, profitable, well-known, dominant company and say "look at the way they did it".

Ruby on Rails itself influences people who use it and applications built with it, but its popularity and successfulness extend the influence far beyond. It is popularising MVC as a design pattern for people who use it or don't. The success of Rails lends credence to and influences the development of web frameworks for other platforms.

I don't think in 10 years people are going to care about Web 2.0, we'll have gone through at least 2 more revolutions by that point. Influence in software development, design and most every creative medium comes more from doing than telling.

Posted by: Rob Drimmie | Mar 23, 2006 11:26:57 AM

In 10 years I think some people will still be using Ruby on Rails, and probably a few will still be using the 37 Signals products, but it won't be the HOT item anymore. Something better will come along, it always does. What is more likely to last is their ideas (such as those in the Getting Real book). A lot of the principles of Getting Real can be applied to any language and any type of project, so they can outlast the language fads that come along.

Also, if I were them, I'd sell it off in a couple years and retire, or move on to the next big thing.

Posted by: Patrick | Mar 23, 2006 11:34:28 AM

I did not read any of the comments so that I would not be influenced...

I think their biggest legacy will be the "simple is better" methodology in all aspects of business. Even while being a minimalist at heart, specifically with design, I find that I now have the vocabulary of ideas to sell simple is better and show that simple things can be more valuable than more complex ones.

I see them becoming the IDEO of software...

Posted by: Gianni D'Alerta | Mar 23, 2006 11:44:46 AM

Software isn't the only thing that's bloated today, and I'm inclined to believe that Jason's work promoting simplicity as concept will have much deeper reverberations than any piece of software (Ruby is one hell of a platform, but I agree with the folks above: 10 years is a long time). We don't need a blender with 21 speeds, a remote control with 72 buttons or a wallet capable of holding 42 credit cards. We probably won't return to the days of the alarm clock that you can set with two dials or the indestructable single-button Atari controller, but I can dream ...

Posted by: Rebel Dad | Mar 23, 2006 11:45:26 AM

I think that the impact of Ruby on Rails is going to go far beyond that of the business ideas of 37Signals - other ideas will come along and stand alongside their business ideas, but RoR will continue to gain ground and become a major force in the world of web application development.

Posted by: Christopher | Mar 23, 2006 11:51:06 AM

As most platforms become larger and more general purpose, 37signals has shown once again that to create a great product, you need to focus.

Posted by: Jeff Lewis | Mar 23, 2006 11:56:10 AM

Coming from a strictly non-tech perspective, Jason's thoughts on simplicity are truly visionary. They're also an inspiring case study aout web2.0 and the blogosphere - showing that it isn't big ads and big budgets that make you successful. It's passion and authenticity.

37 signals' blog is must-read reading for all entrepreneurs.

Posted by: Ben Rowe | Mar 23, 2006 12:22:20 PM

Parachute pants were big once too ... and ten years from now who's even going to remember you had this contest?

Posted by: Alan Brewer | Mar 23, 2006 12:22:43 PM

I will Alan, I just set a reminder in Outlook.

Posted by: Carson McComas | Mar 23, 2006 12:31:36 PM

things will be much simpler.

Posted by: tyamada | Mar 23, 2006 12:43:51 PM

I think that what the 37signals crew has done is bring a lot of positive light to Dynamic Programming Languages as well as pushing Agile practices. As the big names in lights this is going to be their biggest contribution. Rails is great but someone will come up with something better. Ruby is enjoying a huge amount of publicity which I think is great.

Posted by: Dru | Mar 23, 2006 12:56:51 PM

Going for random :-) I may come back with something more insightful when I have more time ;-)

Posted by: James Paden | Mar 23, 2006 12:57:45 PM

I voted for their software tools. In most instances actions speak louder than words - I listen to the 37signals crew, along with many others, in various podcasts and read their blog, along with many others.

I also use their products and experience their approach day after day while working with the tools they provide.


Posted by: keith bohanna | Mar 23, 2006 1:19:53 PM

"Perfection is achieved, not when there is nothing left to add, but when there is nothing left to remove."

-- Antoine de Saint-Exupery

As great as their accomplishments have been, I'm not sure that a few guys in Chicago writing software can propogate the mindset quoted above to a culture that is driven by "bigger, better, faster, MORE".

Big ups to them for trying, though.

Posted by: Craig | Mar 23, 2006 1:42:10 PM

Thoughtful rationale not being my speciality, I'll hope for dumb luck.

Posted by: John S. | Mar 23, 2006 2:11:40 PM

Ruby on Rails has built amazing and professional applications, all of them making impacts in the Web 2.0 space. Ruby on Rails and the bar that 37signals set for product quality have overall increased the quality of Web 2.0 applications.

Posted by: Chris | Mar 23, 2006 2:25:43 PM

I voted software and products -- as for why, Daniel Nichols said it first and best.

Plus, it seems awfully early to try to second guess what the hindsight view of postery will be on the "founding fathers of web 2.0."

Posted by: Shaula Evans | Mar 23, 2006 2:28:33 PM

Less is more is not going to sustain...

Posted by: Victor | Mar 23, 2006 2:59:52 PM

While their products will probably evolve and do have a big userbase compared to their blog readership etc, the smaller group are the movers and shakers who are leading a software 'revolution' and they are heavily influenced and shaped by the writing of 37 Signals. The first group are the end users, 37 Signals influence stops there, the second group however, are actively involved in defining and creating the next generation of the web. This looks like it will have some of the biggest impacts on society in the next ten years, so the role of 37 Signals's ideas in shaping this is massive. Their products may experience short term hype (and long term usefulness), but their real longevity is in their influence.

Posted by: Natalie Ferguson | Mar 23, 2006 4:00:33 PM

I don't think it's fair to look 10 years down the road, hopefully by then their will be several more Jasons/37signals and I really feel that is what defines them, because their philosophy and message has greater reach as inspiration for others.

Posted by: Robert Velasquez | Mar 23, 2006 5:13:15 PM

Ruby on Rails will last in some form, but I think it is the nature of small, agile enterprises that in 10 years they will be almost unrecognisably different from today, as they probably should be.

I think they will be still be making impacts, but in other ways, other areas. It may be that in 10 years their biggest impacts will have come from something that nobody has even conceived of yet. That would be my bet.

Posted by: Mathew Patterson | Mar 23, 2006 5:18:13 PM

Going for random too ;)

Posted by: zin | Mar 23, 2006 5:20:27 PM

lets win this thing

Posted by: Josue Salazar | Mar 23, 2006 5:47:50 PM

Throughout history and throughout each of our lives what often has the biggest impact is shifts in thinking.

When we start seeing the world a different way, and adopt a different set of values our behavior changes, and as a result what we produce changes. 37signals produce great products, and while thats what gets initial recognition and utility, what it does to them and others as creators and entrepreneurs is either highlight or confirm what the real drivers are. You need to look at the surface to see if somethings any good (successful products), but to understand why its good, you need to figure out whats behind it, and whats behind it is what lets other good ideas and products be developed by more of us, and that spells big change.

Evident from the amount 37signals are now starting to make off selling their views, approaches and concepts, its clear that whats driving their ability to create value in products is in their thinking.

As entrepreneurs, i think this is what we are all looking for, not success, but the key to success, not just another idea, but the ability to continue creating more successful ideas.

Posted by: Tim | Mar 23, 2006 6:28:33 PM

The 'Less is Less' mantra. And for pulling off one hell of a blogging/PR/marketing/product business, using the power of the 'sphere to successfully push their product on a massive scale, create a conversation with their users, and making the users love them personally.

Posted by: Alvin | Mar 23, 2006 7:58:40 PM

Jason & Co. have made a huge impact. As has been pointed out, 10 years is a long time, and things will change. They'll probably change with lightening speed, and I wouldn't be surprised if Jason and 37signals are at the forefront of the change.

Posted by: Shari | Mar 23, 2006 9:33:43 PM

Their products. The simplessity they have introduced combined with beautiful user interfaces which hopefully will still be around into the future. If Ruby on Rails isn't around in ten years time that would also be a great thing because there will be something that helps developers kick even more arse around :) RoR has taken best practises and put them together in a way that works great.. 37Signals definitely practise what they preach, even if their preaching can get a bit loud at times.

Posted by: Ross | Mar 23, 2006 10:30:43 PM

What I really appreciate as web project manager is the pragmatism and goal focus approach of Jason & Co. I've always try to focus my projects on the same ideas but Jason always clarify it ;-)

Posted by: Frederic Vandaele | Mar 24, 2006 1:48:54 AM

Less is the new more.

Posted by: Steven A Bristol | Mar 24, 2006 3:42:35 AM

Steven... that's not what he said. He said: "less is less" - which I like even better.

I think 37signals will be remembered as the founding fathers of web2.0. Will they be around forever? I don't think so. I think Jason will be off to bigger things (he'll go someplace with MORE :-)).

Posted by: Topper | Mar 24, 2006 4:50:36 AM

To Carson ... re: comment above ... not even I use Outlook (aka LOOK OUT!) ... so ten years from now how will you ever get the reminder you sent yourself?

Posted by: Alan Brewer | Mar 24, 2006 5:23:27 AM

I admire Jason's entrepreneurism. I think 37Signal's apps and the way they were created warrant an entry in the software development encyclopedia. But... 10 years are like centuries in software development. Not to demerit Jason in any way, but in 10 years he might just be a trivia question on Programers Jeopardy.

Posted by: Sergio Pereira | Mar 24, 2006 7:06:11 AM

Since when are 37Signals the _originators_ of "less is more" and "simple is better"? You guys give them way too much credit - they are simply promoting an old idea. Very effectively, admittedly, but come on!

The same thing goes for the whole "less design more building" mentality - hasn't anyone heard of agile processes or extreme programming (XP)? The first time I worked in an XP environment was at the height of the dot com boom and I thought it was AWESOME. But it wasn't new then, and it's not new now.

As for Ruby on Rails, it may be a great environment, but I'm not sure that it's going to change the world. There are a zillion languages and frameworks out there, and each has its own adherents. Personally, I'm content to stick with PHP for web.

Posted by: Anonymous Coward | Mar 24, 2006 8:37:38 AM

Now that I re-read my post, I see that it could be a little "ranty." Not meant to be - I think they are doing a great job and I'm insanely jealous of them - I just think it would be wise to have some historical perspective (parachute pants).

Posted by: Even more cowardly | Mar 24, 2006 8:53:54 AM

less in not more--MORE is more!

Posted by: jpd | Mar 24, 2006 8:54:00 AM

My answer was:
Their products and software: The user base and quality of the 37s applications and Ruby on Rails

Guy Kawasaki's blog had a quiz on "What's Your EQ (entrepreneurial quotient)?" Here was is a related question... and the answer is "E"

The foundation of a successful brand is:

a. Effective marketing
b. Evangelistic customers
c. Extensive advertising
d. Attractive packaging
e. An excellent product or service

Posted by: Kurt Krejny | Mar 24, 2006 10:18:42 AM

The idea of simple solutions to everyday problems has been around for along time. However, 37signals explains to developers how to apply the principle when building software. But they don't stop at explaining, they put them into practice, to prove the value of what they say.

They practice what they preach.

Posted by: SR | Mar 24, 2006 10:27:16 AM

Good point Alan, I'll make a Backpack reminder instead. ;)

Posted by: Carson McComas | Mar 24, 2006 12:29:18 PM

I voted parachute pants, simply because Google will have taken over the world in 10 years, and guys like these will fall into the category of web app legends such as Netscape (Marc Andreessen), Napster (Shawn Fanning), etc. Google will probably have bought basecamp & tools by then anyway.

Posted by: Kirk | Mar 24, 2006 12:37:38 PM

I voted for the first one, but what about how they shifted from providing design services for other companies to developing and launching their own products?

I think that attribute of 37sigs (and their loftmates, Jim Coudal & co) is hugely important. It marks the beginning of an era where creative agencies and firms leaving the client service side and going into business for themselves.

Posted by: Jack Cheng | Mar 24, 2006 3:18:37 PM

37Signals will be remembered as one of the early groups who pioneered a significant shift in the process behind web based initiatives. They have played a uniquely significant role in this shift by being one of the few companies publicly documenting their progress and the progress of the community at large.

Posted by: Jeff | Mar 24, 2006 10:39:24 PM

10 years is a long time...can we even remember who started e-commerce? Amazon? Ebay? It's all a little cloudy. I'm not saying that 36signals didn't have an impact (because I think they've had a huge impact on Web 2.0), I'm just saying that we all have short attention spans and anything we need to actually remember in 2016 will be done by the an app called gMemory made by Google.

Posted by: Rob | Mar 25, 2006 12:20:49 AM

I eliminated the last three choices based on the following:
"Products and software": The likelihood that we will still be using their current products in 10 years, even updated versions, seems slim to none. Their current user base may have moved on. We may not even be using computers in the same way in 10 years. Ruby on Rails may be completely outmoded by 10 years from now.
"Jason who?": I would venture a guess that virtually anyone who knows about workhappy knows who Jason Fried of 37 signals is.
"10 years? Are you joking?": Regardless of what anyone thinks about him, Jason is smart, inventive, a master of marketing, obviously loves a challenge and loves to create. In ten years I doubt he will be retired, forgotten or left behind. He'll be doing something, and it will be something that a lot of people in his business know about, regardless of what that business might be ten years from now.
So, that leaves the first choice in the survey. Now, I can only give this one a partial vote, not that you've offered that option. :) I don't believe I can confidently say that Web 2.0 will be viewed as having "changed everything." In fact, I doubt it. However, some of 37signals' ideas are having a major impact on people who are working in the web- and elsewhere- right now. They provide inspiration particularly in the areas of working for yourself, taking chances, marketing yourself, stepping beyond self-defeating perfectionism, turning assumptions upside-down, eliminating bureaucracy, showing that good design sells, overcoming self-doubt and procrastination, using transparency as a tool, creating community, and so forth. While there are many others whose message overlaps with that of 37 signals, the 37 signals team aren't just teachers or motivational speakers/writers; they are also in the trenches themselves, and that makes a big difference. With the large readership they have, and the articles written about them, they are obviously turning on a lot of idea "light bulbs" and influencing and inspiring a great many people. These people-their audience-will be making choices and inventing businesses (not just in the web world) that will still be making an impact in 10 years, no matter what Jason and company are up to by then.

Posted by: Carolyn Wood | Mar 26, 2006 1:10:18 PM

Look back 10 years at what was around in the technology space... AOL was huge, Prodigy was still around, e-mail was barely on college campuses, and Windows 95 just came out.

Ten years is a long time in technology and only the truly revolutionary are still around and making waves for that long. Jason will be remembered, but they still need to finish paving their path of what they have started if they want to still be around and influential in ten years.

Posted by: Mike Mosseri | Mar 26, 2006 8:19:14 PM