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The Scientist

Nathan Kontny
Nathan Kontny wrote this on 8 comments

Last week, Consumer Reports pulled their recommendation of Tesla's Model S, Elon Musk's electric car. Once touted as the best-performing car they ever tested, now it has a "worse-than-average" reliability rating. Actually this might not be that big of a blow to Tesla, yet. Typical Model S customers are folks who own two, three or more cars. The Model S is a novelty. If it doesn't work, they have something else to drive.

But Tesla is making a huge bet that their upcoming Model 3 will strike it big in the mainstream market with a price target of $35,000. That's a market where drivers often rely on a single car as their sole means of transport. One that would be less forgiving of reliability problems. If Tesla can't get it right now, can they satisfy an even more demanding crowd? Tesla's stock dropped 7%.

In 2004 at Burning Man, a yearly gathering in the Nevada desert, someone erected a 30 foot wooden pole with a dancing platform on top. Dozens of people failed to climb the pole. And then there's another who gives it his try. He doesn't look like someone who could climb it. And as he's trying, suspicions are confirmed. He's terrible and looks like he's about to fail. He hugs the pole the whole time as he squirms and inches his way up. With sheer determination he reaches the top of that platform. Who was he? Elon Musk.

That's one of many stories you can read in Elon Musk's recent biography from Ashlee Vance. And if you read some of these stories, like how he battled through getting fired from Paypal or survived a close-to-death case of malaria, you might come to the conclusion that it's his perseverance that will help him see Tesla out of this current predicament. But you'd be missing a key ingredient that makes Elon who he is.


Grave Matters

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on 1 comment
“I guess I was always memorable, if for nothing else than oh, that’s the girl whose parents have the death business.”

Lisa Troost is the fifth-generation president of the Peter Troost Monument Company, which has been making grave markers, headstones and mausoleums in the Chicago area since 1889. A monument is a one-time purchase that’s meant to last forever, and Lisa Troost takes that responsibility seriously. The new episode of The Distance takes you behind the scenes at this unique family business.

Remove the stress, pick a deadline

David wrote this on 7 comments

October 20 was the internal deadline we picked for Basecamp 3 back in early Summer. It was computed by the highly scientific method of two-parts sussing, one-part calendar dart throwing, and the full awareness of its arbitrary nature.

The purpose of a self-imposed deadline is to sharpen the edge of your prioritization sword and stake a flag of coordination for the team. It’s not a hill to die on. It’s not a justification for weeks of death marching. It’s a voluntary constraint on scope.

Yes, deadlines are wonderful! They’re the tie-breaker on feature debates. They suck all the excess heat out of the prioritization joust: “Hey, I’d love to get your additional pet feature into the first release, but, you know: THE DEADLINE”.

The opposite of the deadline, the once much heralded When It’s Done, is the oppression of a blank canvas. Unless your system has fewer moving parts than you can count on two hands, objective perfection is impossible. It’s always a trade-off, but one that now needs to happen in the uncharted territory of a team-sized illusion of agreements.

Putting in a good day’s work relies on the knowledge that you just moved a little bit closer to the finish line. If the finish line is constantly moving and constantly in dispute, it’s impossible to reap that satisfaction. Which in turn leads to stress and misery.

Don’t let the self-imposed deadline kill you, let it free you.

Poaching is for animals, not employees

David wrote this on 11 comments

The language of hiring is broken. From the cog-like “human resources” to the scalp-trophy chase of “head-hunting”. Yuck. But no term gets me more riled up than “poaching”. It’s shockingly revealing: You’re an animal, our animal, and other hunters better keep their hands off our property.


Employees should go wherever they can get the best deal for themselves. I would! Better deal in the holistic sense of everything that’s involved with working for someone else: Most interesting and rewarding work, most freedom in living arrangements, autonomy/responsibility, and, yes, pay and benefits.

If you can only retain employees by fencing them in with non-competes, hiding them away from your about page, or blocking competitive deals from even reaching their attention, well, then you suck.

All your energy should be poured into making sure you have the better deal. That work aligns perfectly with having a better business in general, so it’s not like you’re taking a detour here.

If you’ve done all you can, if you sleep sound with a smile knowing you’re offering a great deal, then the sting of someone leaving should be manageable too. They found something that was better for them. Be happy! You helped someone get to a better place, and you’ll surely be able to find someone else to fill their shoes.

You can’t keep everyone forever, and you shouldn’t try. That’s called captivity. Some people will want to try something else regardless of how good your deal is. That’s natural, and fighting it is only going to make matters worse.

So stop nurturing your poaching fears with defensive moves and start putting in the work to make your deal better instead.

Meet the Bales Girls

Wailin Wong
Wailin Wong wrote this on Discuss

Stacey Bales has worked in almost every department at her family manufacturing business, from the front office to the shop floor. But when it came to running the entire company, she expected her father, Steve, to do that for at least another decade. That all changed with Steve Bales’ sudden passing in 2009. Stacey and her sister, Sara, found themselves in charge of the business without their father, boss and mentor. Today, they’re building on Steve Bales’ legacy while crafting their own vision for the company. We share Stacey and Sara’s story on the latest episode of The Distance.

If you haven’t already, please subscribe to The Distance so you can get all our new episodes as we release them!

Studies of conversation both in the laboratory and in natural settings show that when two people are talking, the mere presence of a phone on a table between them or in the periphery of their vision changes both what they talk about and the degree of connection they feel. People keep the conversation on topics where they won’t mind being interrupted. They don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.

We’ve gotten used to being connected all the time, but we have found ways around conversation — at least from conversation that is open-ended and spontaneous, in which we play with ideas and allow ourselves to be fully present and vulnerable. But it is in this type of conversation — where we learn to make eye contact, to become aware of another person’s posture and tone, to comfort one another and respectfully challenge one another — that empathy and intimacy flourish. In these conversations, we learn who we are.

Jason Z. on Oct 13 2015 7 comments

REWRITE: Why Basecamp 3 is a brand new code base, the evolution of code, transcendent software, and executing your very best ideas.

Why Basecamp?

Jason Fried
Jason Fried wrote this on 11 comments

I’m working on some copy for the new Basecamp 3 marketing site, and I figured I’d share some work in progress here. This needs editing, and it should probably be half as long, but I wanted to share it in its current state. I’ve always enjoyed seeing work in progress, so here’s some of mine:

Why Basecamp? That’s a fantastic question! In fact, it’s the question, in’t it? We’ve got some great answers for you.

1. Basecamp understands what you’re up against

You’re in charge. You’re running something. It’s on you to get it done. You have to pull people together to make it happen. That’s a huge responsibility, and you can use a hand making it all happen. You need to communicate, you need to stay organized, you need to make sense of feedback, you need to share work, you need to set deadlines, and you need everyone to deliver.

And on top of all that, you have to manage people and personalities and different work styles and preferences. People are often the hardest part! Talk about pressure! We get you, and we’ve got your back.

The reason we built Basecamp was because we had the exact same requirements you do. We worked for clients (and bosses and stakeholders and organizations…). They demanded the best from us, and we were paid to deliver for them. Before Basecamp we dropped balls, stuff slipped through the cracks, deadlines were missed, and communication was scattered in too many places. This is why we built Basecamp – we had to calm the chaos. We had to get organized. We had to stay on top of things. We had to reduce the anxiety. We had to get our shit together.

So we made the tool we always wanted. We’ve honed it and – with the help of hundreds of thousands of bits of feedback from customers along the way – shaped it and perfected it over a decade. Today’s version of Basecamp is the best we’ve ever made. If you’re nodding your head at anything written above, then we think you’ll absolutely love Basecamp.

2. Basecamp bundles everything you need together in one place

Any work you’re doing with any group of people requires a few things… You need a place to outline and divvy up the work that needs to be done. You need a place to discuss the work – sometimes quickly (chat), sometimes more carefully (topic-based, organized message threads). You need a place to keep decisions and feedback on the record so it’s official and visible to everyone you’re working with. You need a place to lay out key dates and deadlines. And you need a place to organize key assets, files, and documents so everyone knows where everything is and nothing gets lost.


Don’t base your business on a paid app

David wrote this on 10 comments

The App and Play stores have turned out to be exceptionally poor places to run a software product business for most developers. They’re great distribution channels for service makers, like Facebook or Lyft or Basecamp, but they’re terrible places to try to make a living (or better) selling software products.

At a buck or few per app, how could it be otherwise? That type of pricing will work for Angry Birds and a handful of other games, but very poorly for most other types of software products. The scale you need, the sustained influx of new customers, well, it’s a place for mega stars, and people who think they can beat the odds at becoming just that.

That’s why I’ve been discouraging people from chasing dreams of a successful, sustainable software product business by pursuing paid apps. Far better be your odds at succeeding with a service where the app is simply a gateway, not the destination.

Watching users of Tweetbot heckle the team for daring to charge $5 for a 8-month upgrade only reaffirms that belief. It’s a sad sight of entitlement, but at this point also entirely predictable.

Apple and Google both benefit from having apps be as cheap as possible. For Apple, that means people will buy an iPhone more readily when the cost to fill it with software is near nil. For Google, it means app makers have to shove ads into products to make them pay. Win-win-lose.

What’s good for platform makers is often not good for those who build upon it. That’s where the whole picking up pennies in front of a steamroller comes from. Yes, a few may be quick enough to pickup enough pennies to fill a jar, but for most, it’s not a wise trade of risk vs reward.

Forget the paid app.